Correcting Biases: Daniel Crow Discusses Misconceptions in Scientific Discoveries

Science and mathematics are fields grounded in accuracy, yet the same cannot be said for the history behind its progress, according to Daniel Crow, Instructor in Physics. Crow recently researched historical instances of misrepresented minority groups, which he presented on January 22.   

Crow’s presentation, “Misrepresentation in the History of Science,” marked a start to the 2018-2019 Madison Smith, Class of 1873 Presentation Series, sponsored by the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies.

Crow began the talk by discussing the reason behind why scientists of color and of different genders might only seem to contribute little to the development of science.

Crow said in his presentation, “The problem is that we only learn one side of the story that is favored towards the accomplishments of white males. We learn this in passive, as our math and science teachers tells you the name of some theorem or formula, and simply who it is named after.”

Crow argued that many scientists and mathematicians of Greek civilization, who were believed to have made significant discoveries for the future generations, were not fully white or European. Crow said he believes that these features go unnoticed because the scientists were simply labeled by the country in which the discoveries or feats were achieved.

“If one looks at the historical territory of the Greek empire, it encompasses from the Mediterranean Sea to India. Everyone, even the non-Europeans within these borders were considered part of the empire, but not necessarily Greek in nature. Diophantus, known for creating Algebra, [who] was generally considered a Greek mathematician, was actually from Northern Africa. Even if they come from a different descent, skin color, or area, that just gets left out. I think that is the way we continue to tell history,” said Crow.

According to Crow, it is important to note that many more modern European discoveries referenced various studies from other parts of the world, often functioning as a guide for creating the theorems that we learn today.

Crow said, “We additionally learn in school that a lot of the content we learn comes from the Scientific Revolutionary Era in Europe. Actually, those were ideas that were starting and continuing to develop all across Asia and North Africa after the Greeks. All throughout the Arabic world, prominent scientists were already questioning the existence of gravity and force, six centuries prior to Newton.”

Crow additionally noted that despite the fact that women were rarely given opportunities to study in areas of science, there were examples of prominent female scientists in the past that often remain unnoticed.

“Women were generally excluded from access to math and science in general. In the most part, no access was granted until the late 19th century. Even nowadays, fewer than 10 percent of all Ph.D.s go to any underrepresented minorities in Physics and Astronomy. Despite all obstacles such as being able to teach only after permission from males, a female mathematician named Emmy Noether was accomplished enough to have certain areas of study named after her,” said Crow.

Lexie Mariano ’21, an attendee of an event, felt encouraged after listening to Crow’s presentation. Mariano said she believed that his evidence showed the equality of intelligence across all genders.

Mariano said, “As a female who is interested in STEM, I felt more encouraged after this talk, to hear that race and gender has no direct correlation to the capability of making a scientific discovery or just intelligence in general. It was great to learn that a lot of things are biased against us, and it is our goal to remove those biases.”

The Smith Presentation Series plans on featuring many more speakers in the future. David Fox, Chair of Interdisciplinary Studies, noted that many of the topics that Crow discussed were applicable for other areas of studies as well.

Fox said, “I hope the Andover community recognizes that Dr. Crow is pushing his own knowledge and understanding. This is not his formal field of study. They should notice his integration of various disciplines, and his engagement with issues of inclusion and exclusion, power and hegemony, in the STEM fields. These topics can be related to many more ideas, such as arts, humanities, and others.”