The March for Science Can’t Figure Out How to Handle Diversity

The March for Science Can’t Figure Out How to Handle Diversity

This article was first published on Latino Rebels on 14 March 2017.

Inspired by the impact of the Women’s March, March for Science (MfS) emerged from a series of social media conversations. The ScienceMarchDC Twitter account was set up on January 24, and a Facebook page three days later. Their follower base ballooned from a couple of hundred people to thousands. At the time of writing, the Twitter account has 337,000 followers, the public Facebook page has more than 393,000 likes, and the private Facebook community has over 840,000 members. There are currently 360 satellite marches being organized in various American states and in many cities around the world.

The MfS organizers go to great pains to separate science from politics, and science from scientists, as if practice and policies are independent from practitioners. For example co-chair and biology postdoctoral fellow Dr Jonathan Berman says: “Yes, this is a protest, but it’s not a political protest.” Another co-chair, science writer Dr Caroline Weinberg, recently told The Chronicle: “This isn’t about scientists. It’s about science.” These sentiments strangely echo other highly publicized opposition to the march, and are being replicated in some of the local marches. The idea that a protest can be “not political” and that science can be separated from scientists are both political ideas. These notions privilege the status quo in science, by centring the politics, identities and values of White scientists, especially White cisgender, able-bodied men, who are less affected by changes to the aforementioned social policies.

The topic of diversity has dominated online conversations between many scientists across different nations who are interested in making MfS inclusive.

Even as the movement gained swift momentum, the leadership and mission were unclear in one key area: diversity.

Discussions over the march are important not just due to the planned demonstration. The debates matter because they reflect broader issues of diversity in science.

Read more on Latino Rebels.

March for Science Can_t Figure Out How to Handle Diversity

5 thoughts on “The March for Science Can’t Figure Out How to Handle Diversity

  1. I was looking at comments on one of your previous posts, and let me say first that you are being too generous towards people whose only goal is abuse. Some people are intent on spoiling any possibility of rational conversation – I see that you disabled comments, which means they accomplished their goal. The new policy I’ve adopted is when someone posts an abusive comment, before wasting time with engagement, I take a look at their page. If they have posted nothing but diatribes or inane content, I will remove their comment and block them. Their stench should not waste everyone’s time and short-circuit legitimate conversation. There is an army of people who seem intent on disrupting legitimate conversation.

    The topic of that prior post was delay to a visa. Visas and travel to the US have been a hassle since 9/11. Compound that with Trump’s ineptitude (or Bannon’s calculated disruption of all systems), and you’ve got serious dysfunction. Could it have been your name? Maybe, but more likely it was because the entire system was brought to a grinding halt. Fortunately, this threw so many people into uncertain status that there were massive protests and subsequently a court order against DT’s ineptitude (or Bannon’s intent).

    On the topic of the current post yes but… divisiveness must not be allowed to stand in the way of the larger cause. Make the majority aware of various shortcomings and oversights, but don’t lose sight of the overall goal, the people who would be allies, and the enemies who are hardline for rigid social roles.

    Oh, and I tend to limit my controversial posts to “preaching to the choir” but I appreciate those who put it out there. As I mention, apparently there is an army out there who attack anything that doesn’t fit their narrow agenda.

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    1. James Lamb Strange that you are commenting on my moderation policy and about your own “controversial posts” on my thread. None of that has bearing on the topic at hand.

      People who call themselves allies don’t tell minorities how to behave about the oppression we experience. White people will either support social justice by listening to the expertise of minorities who are affected by unfair laws and systems; anything less is just support for the status quo.

      The “overall cause” of the March for Science is science policies and practices – which affect minority scientists who are also impacted acutely by a range of other social policies, as detailed in my article. “Divisiveness” is the act of telling minority scientists that our rights are secondary to the rights of White scientists. Regardless, as I’ve stated in my post: people should read the original article and all the scientific evidence I’ve cited before commenting. The March does not belong to any one racial or social group. Exclusion of entire groups of scientists is not any less important than the other policy changes happening; especially given that underrepresented groups are fighting these same policies on top of institutional discrimination in science.

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  2. It’s like you are talking about a completely different “science” than I have experienced. Being a (very queer) software engineer that focuses on scientific applications, particularly bioinformatics, I’ve worked with a wide variety of teams, and have never worked in an environment where women and people of color were not well represented. It’s often the case that white males are very much in the minority. I suppose other disciplines might have different cultures, but its not like capable scientists are dime a dozen. Nobody in their right mind is going to turn away a promising graduate student because of their gender or ethnicity!

    Looking at some data on minority participation here : scientificamerican.com – Diversity in Science: Where Are the Data?

    …I suppose one could say the glass is half full or half empty. No, women and minorities are not equally represented, but they’re obviously not excluded either. Overrepresentation by Asian scientists points to the ability of culture to overcome historical racism. White males are only a majority by a hair – 51% in the US. And that was seven years ago. I’d say that things are heading in the right direction and that the scientific community is actually a lot more inclusive than this essay would lead one to believe.

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    1. Tony Berno You’re a White man but because you are queer and have subjective observations about “diversity” in your workplace, you perceive this somehow undermines a plethora of empirical research. That your personal experience has not exposed you to discrimination is great for you, but then again, your White male privilege buffers you from other forms of oppression.

      The article you’ve linked to is a hodgepodge of various sources – and while you see “White men are the minority” this is not what the data tell us.

      The most recent federal report for the USA Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering, which I’ve cited, shows that White women, racial minorities and people with disabilities are grossly underrepresented. It shows that while White men make up a third of the national population, they make up half of all STEM workers. Although women make up half of undergraduates their numbers steadily decrease in early-mid-career stages. Black, Latin and disabled people are tiny minorities in science, whose education completion and employment does not match their proportional representation in society.

      What you, a White man, deems to be “a lot more inclusive” is not an objective measure, particularly since inequalities haven’t affected you. I’ve cited academic studies pointing out the various structural dynamics that perpetuate inequality in STEM, which you’ve curiously ignored. Interesting too, that of all the other evidence cited, and the issues discussed, which affect minority scientists from racial and disabled scientists – you are here defending racism. “Nobody in their right mind is going to turn away a promising graduate student because of their gender or ethnicity! “ Well that’s exactly what happens and it’s shown to be the case in thousands of studies – and I’ve cited this evidence. But for some reason you need to believe otherwise.

      Some may think that the status quo is acceptable. Thankfully, the NSF, UNESCO, and many other science and education organisations around the world are keen to address gaps in the STEM workforce.

      Exclusion and marginalisation of any minority group is unacceptable at any rate; but even more so given the chronic underrepresentation that persists today.

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  3. I need to close comments for the day as it’s very late in Australia.

    A reminder that you all have your own personal profiles where you can spread bigotry should you choose to, but it would be better if people rethought their own biases instead. Nevertheless, while lots of places on the internet feed misinformation, this is a sociology post, driven by scientific data and my professional expertise in sociology. This includes my professional experience working in equity and diversity in science. Feel free to learn, be bold and rethink your taken-for-granted assumptions about the world, but know that no one is entitled to dismiss science on my threads based on gut reactions.

    If you’re not here to work towards positive change in light of thoroughly documented evidence, perhaps make yourself a cup of tea, and reflect on why you want patterns of inequality to persist.

    If you’re unclear about why your first thought in reading this post is to argue that inequality doesn’t exist, or that “things aren’t that bad,” I’ve written about the science of why people don’t believe in science. http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2014/01/24/the-sociology-of-why-people-dont-believe-science/

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