Sciences Po at the heart of a controversy because of a canceled seminar on Darwin and gender

The cancellation of courses around the theory of evolution at Sciences Po has caused a stir on social networks.

“Biology, Evolution and Gender”: here is the title of the seminar that two doctors in political science and philosophy of science, Leonardo Orlando and Peggy Sastre, were to give to students from the Reims campus of Sciences Po Paris. Leonardo Orlando also had to train them in the«evolutionary political psychology». Courses canceled by the establishment last January, a few hours from educational registration, on the grounds of breaches “to the scientific criteria which the teachings of the institution must meet”revealed L’Express .

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The personality of the stakeholders involved

A decision that outrages the two speakers, Leonardo Orlando and Peggy Sastre. “Enteaching a gender course involving biology is the ultimate taboo”, said Peggy Sastre to the weekly. Asked by the Figaro StudentPatrick Tort, science theorist, director of the Charles Darwin International Institute, slice : “Darwin is rather censored in the United States but not in France. In the present case, the question arises in my opinion more about the personalities of the actors in question”.

Leonardo Orlando is a researcher in the department of cognitive studies at ENS Ulm. But it is especially Peggy Sastre who disturbs. This new kind of feminist, author of Male dominance does not exist (Anne Carrière editions), affirms loud and clear that if men are stronger, more powerful and brutal, it is the fruit of evolution. A situation that has suited women for thousands of years, when their survival and that of their children depended on male power. A point of view that goes against the current of gender studies which firmly maintain that the differences between men and women are essentially cultural. “It’s an ideology, but it gets repeated over and over again by the media, because it’s declared politically correct”, insists Peggy Sastre in the participatory platform Le plus de l’Obs. She also signed the rostrum of the Monde written by a collective of 100 women, including Catherine Deneuve, in order to defend the freedom to annoy women, recalling that “insistent or clumsy flirting is not a crime”.

Unsurprisingly, the theories put forward by Peggy Sastre did not please the experts of the Gender Knowledge Research and Education Program (Presage), a research institute at Sciences Po founded in 2010 to promote gender research by through the social sciences.

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“Rigorous course selection procedure”

The management of Sciences Po, for its part, suggests that “both courses had been refused for purely scientific reasons”. And is justified: “In the syllabus, it was stated that ‘the theory of evolution is the greatest idea that humanity has ever had’, without any problematization, perspective or confrontation of positions as is the norm in social Sciences”. However, in their view, “the subject does not consist in prompting students what they should think but rather teaching them the tools so that they can form an opinion”. Management finally sweeps away the controversy: “There are around 4,000 classes given each semester, accepting or refusing some is routine. And even, having a rigorous procedure for selecting courses contributes to the reputation of the establishment, a demanding filter guarantees its quality”. According to the management of Sciences Po, Leonardo Orlando, acting head of education at the Reims campus at that time, was doing a two-month replacement which ended on December 17, 2021, even before the decision was made. Thereby, “Léonardo Orlando validated his course himself, without the agreement of Sciences Po.”