On page 3 they clarify that the "Academic Left", as they use the term, is not merely a group of people who happen to have day jobs in academia and happen to support policies pursued by the more liberal members of the Democratic Party. Rather it is a collection of people pursuing a particular vision of cultural transformation, the overthrow of old categories and labels. This is certainly in keeping with the diversity vision of today's STEM reformers; one could say that the critique shifted from scientific knowledge to scientists.
On page 4 they mention scientists having encounters with "literary critics waxing sentatious over the uncertainty principle or Godel's theorem." It's almost as though they witnessed my freshman year of college!
On page 7 they issue a too-optimistic prophecy concerning education:
"We expect little early change in the teaching and learning of science on the basis of these politicized critiques (although proposals in that direction, including some from people who should know better, pop up now with regularity)."Indeed. Transformation of STEM education is now front-and-center in the agenda of technocrats, and they speak endlessly of identity issues when they promote their agenda. It's rarely as simple as "This group learns this way, that group learns that way"; they are mostly too smart to say something that explicitly bigoted and factually incorrect. But there is much "Your students are different from you, demographics are changing, science is more diverse, we must teach differently." Certain links are never made explicit (since stating such things explicitly would be both unpopular and factually wrong, a rare instance of a grossly false idea being unpopular). But diversity and identity are certainly close to everyone's minds, and are invoked to push people in warmer-and-fuzzier directions.
On page 19, they make the interesting observation that the Enlightenment is the ancestor both of free market ideas and Communist ones. Though Communism obviously failed very badly at liberating or enlightening people, it came from a rejection of traditional authority, including feudalism. Market capitalism has similar elements in common. I note this not to make any sort of special plea for communism, but simply to note that the Enlightenment was prodigious with offspring.
On page 20 they attribute the rise of Romanticism to, among other things, the horrific failures of the French Revolution. Romanticism, in my primitive understanding (supplemented with what little Gross and Levitt have to say), is an idea of things beyond reason mattering in human affairs, or even superseding reason in praiseworthy ways. Truthfully, I'm not wholly unsympathetic, having remarked many times on the impossibility of deriving "ought" from "is." Liberal technocrats always want to elide that point. I don't know that it's a terribly Romantic point, since it doesn't celebrate any particular alternative to empiricism, nor does it even reject reason. One could draw some "ought" postulates from non-empirical sources but then use those postulates, in combination with empirical evidence, to reason logically, e.g. "When spending money as the fiduciary of another person's interests I ought to spend thriftily, and Acme makes the cheapest widgets, therefore I will buy Acme widgets in this role." So one can be suspicious of those who are excessive in their pretenses to logic and empiricism (because they never make their arbitrary "ought" postulates transparent) but still support logic and empiricism.
So I guess that one of my favorite topics here is hardly "Romantic."
On page 23 they note that while many illiberal ideas sprang up under the guise of science (e.g. social Darwinism, racial ideologies), the scientific notions that have stood the tests of time and experimentation have fortuitously been mostly friendly to egalitarian and emancipatory projects.
On page 24 they note that science has remained congenial to the project of scholarship as a liberating force because science pushes back on superstition, which I take to mean religion. However, the study of humanities, which prepares one to interrogate texts in context, seems a more powerful force for inducing skepticism of the Bible than science class. Miracles aren't the main point of the Bible. Moral codes binding communities and bringing meaning to life are the main point of the Bible. The study of humanities will prompt much more searching questions about that than anything a physics professor might say.
On page 25 they say that American academic leftists rebeled against science to signal rejection of the Enlightenment and its failure to make further progress on racism, poverty, etc. They judge that it comes from restlessness and discontent with modern society. I find it interesting that modern academic leftists share the same restlessness, but approach it with a renewed faith in technocracy. "Studies have shown" that we are biased, irrational, etc., so if people can be persuaded of these points and induced to accept remedies then they will become more rational and (presumably) more supportive of projects for the liberation and betterment of humanity.
Or at least that seems to be the theory.
Finally, on page 33, we get to something that has most definitely carried forward: The idea that the oppressed have unique epistemological standing, access to more knowledge than the advantaged. However, whereas that was used to argue for rejecting the science espoused by the dominant power structures back in the "Science Wars", nowadays we have people seeking to do social science about microaggressions, biases clouding the minds of the privileged, etc. Whether or not one has a favorable judgment of the soundness of such research, it is indisputably an attempt to use social science to prove the epistemological limitations of the privileged and epistemological standing of the under-privileged. There is no romanticism here, it is thoroughly technocratic and accepting of science. The scientific validity of these research programs can only be evaluated through empirical work, but from a cultural perspective it is clear that it is not an anti-science program.