Dorian Abbot: From Climate and Exoplanets to DEI and Free Speech.
Dorian Abbot is an associate professor of geophysics at the University of Chicago, who uses mathematical and computational models to understand and explain fundamental problems in Earth and Planetary Sciences. His work on climate, and paleoclimate in particular is particularly important as we try and determine the likelihood that some exoplanets may be habitable. This is an area where may claims are made, most often on the basis of far too little solid evidence, so Dorian’s computer models have been particularly useful as we try and separate the wheat from the chaff in trying to determine if we are indeed alone in the Universe.
He and I discussed the evolution of climate on Earth, and the important features that may determine habitability elsewhere in the cosmos. And then we turned to an issue that has made his name far more recognizable outside of the scientific community.
Earlier this year, he was invited to give a named public lecture at MIT on climate, climate change, and exoplanet habitability. Previously, he and a colleague had written an unrelated op-ed piece in Newsweek that argued that “American universities are undergoing a profound transformation that threatens to derail their primary mission: “the production and dissemination of knowledge.” He laid the blame—as I and a number of my colleagues have independently also argued—on new "Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion" bloated bureaucracies at US universities that are stifling free speech, open inquiry, and merit based promotion.
As if to prove his point, under pressure from various social media complainants, MIT cancelled Abbot’s public lecture (which was later given online through a group at Princeton University). The subsequent uproar over the MIT cancellation has prompted many people to argue that it is time to rein in the current almost religious DEI proscriptions against open debate and discussion on these issues. Dorian and I discussed his experience, and ways to try and address this current problem with higher education.
I found the discussion provocative and enlightening. I hope you will too.