I was interviewed by WIRED on the disunity caused by scientists who have tried to split the March for Science from social justice activism. The case study in this article is the appalling treatment of organisers in Memphis, USA. Scientists split from the Memphis March to form a separate rally in the same city. Both groups have scientists but the March has centrally been led by women of colour activists with more experience in social movements, and they incorporate a focus on inclusion of minority communities. This is symbolic in their decision to march to an historically Black university. Participation of minorities in science is not mutually exclusive to the goal of enhancing evidence-based science policies. I’ll point out what I said in my interview: scientists from underrepresented groups have always been part of, and learned from, social justice movements.
“Both groups feel that their work isn’t done—and with the perception that science is under attack in the US, they wish they could show a united front. But ‘that in itself is a false picture of science, because we are not united,’ says Zuleyka Zevallos, a sociologist at Swinburne University in Australia who has studied the online reaction to the March for Science’s shifting messaging. Saturday’s marches, rallies, and other events around the world will surely pull some science supporters together. But they’re just as likely to highlight the clash over science’s priorities. Should the science community focus on fighting back against a hostile administration? Or on improving itself from within?”
I was interviewed by the The New York Times on issues of equity and diversity in the March for Science:
“‘It set off alarm bells,’ said Zuleyka Zevallos an applied sociologist from Swinburne University of Technology in Australia. ‘How can we trust them to look after inclusion and accessibility if they are going to buckle under pressure?'”
The statements from the organisers in this article are easily disproved from public record. For example, the organisers resisted the idea that science is political, and they have created a series of sexist, racist and ablesit problems (discrimination against people with disabilities). They have completely ignored the needs and representation of LGBTQIA scientists. Most tellingly, several women have left the organising committee due to a toxic organisational culture.
As I’ve said from the beginning: the problems with the march reflect broader issues of discrimination in science and academia. This includes a lack of awareness about the structural barriers inhibiting the full participation and success of minorities and White women in research. The march is also plagued by ineffective leadership, policy and practice responses to diversity, which is another troubling hallmark of science. We must do better to ensure everyone can achieve their full potential in science.
I was interviewed for this article by BuzzFeed on March for Science:
“It took one tweet by one high-profile male scientist for the organisers to completely retreat from the diversity statement that they put out” Zuleyka Zevallos, a sociologist at Swinburne University in Australia, told BuzzFeed News. “It’s important because it shows that there’s a wavering commitment to diversity that is swayed by the status quo in science.”
I welcome the news of the three new honorary co-chairs of the march: Bill Nye, Dr Lydia Villa-Komoroff, and Dr Mona Hanna-Attisha, however there is a lot of work ahead to address diversity within the march. The news is also soured by the fact that Nye was going to be announced solo.
I was interviewed twice as a result. In my first interview I conveyed strong disappointment at the decision to make a White man the face of the march and noted that a woman of colour would have been a step forward. I also argued that the organisers needed to appoint transgender women and women with disabilities to address key gaps in leadership. Around this time, the STAT News article came out (for which I was also interviewed) and caused more controversy and so the organisers held off on announcing Nye. And so while these two accomplished women of colour scientists are wonderful leaders, they are, nevertheless, an afterthought. Their inclusion is also an outcome of strong negotiation by one of the women of colour on the committee and public lobbying by underrepresented scientists. Nye’s comments in this article are counter-productive:
“With respect to diversity — is that the key word here? There’s a diversity committee on the march, and they’re working this problem. I was born a dorky white guy who became an engineer. I’m playing the hand I was dealt. We can’t — this march can’t solve every problem all at once.”
The only reason Nye can make this argument – that diversity can wait and that it’s someone else’s problem – is because he’s a White man. His comments are ill informed and will only feed the detractors. Moreover, Lydia Villa-Komaroff and Mona Hanna-Attisha are practising scientists who have made a huge impact on pressing issues (insulin research and exposing lead poisoning in the Flint water crisis, respectively). It goes to the heart of problems in science that a White male personality gets top billing over more accomplished women of colour researchers.
Looking forward to better leadership moving forward, and for the march to make concrete progress on equity, inclusion and accessibility.
I’ll be sharing with you some recent media interviews I’ve done on issues with diversity in the March for Science. The first is by STAT News.
“Australian-based sociologist Zuleyka Zevallos, in an email to STAT, pointed to what she called ‘racist dog-whistling’ by the Los Angeles march chapter in a Twitter post that was since deleted: ‘some scientists [are] concerned with the march turning into [a] political event and losing its focus. What do YOU pledge to do to keep it peaceful?” The leap from ‘political’ to ‘violent’ did not sit well with some minority science advocates.“
Last week, Zevallos published an article about the march’s various diversity problems — a move she made after ‘close to two months of equity missteps, and many scientists were fed up by having offered their volunteering, advice and resources, only to be ignored,’ she said.”
This article has many troubling aspects. From how diversity is discussed by one of the March for Science committee members (diversity “diminishes science”); to the revelation post-publication that one of the former committee members quoted (Morris) has a long history of White supremacist and sexist behaviour; to, it seems, possible unethical practices by the journalist (this piece was updated with additional quotes by committee members in response to being misquoted).
When I first arrived in Brisbane for a work trip, I was impressed to see braille on every major street sign. Sydney has many such signs; Melbourne and other cities have fewer or none.
On my second day in Brisbane, I came across an elderly woman who said the lift to cross this major bridge was broken and she was braving up the stairs to get to her bus stop. I asked if she wanted help but she said “I can do this. I’ll just go slow.” She said she couldn’t believe the lift had not been looked into. Many other people were struggling without the lift.
Brisbane is not alone here;
I travel a lot around Australia and few major cities are planned around accessibility, despite our diverse needs as a society, and in spite of the fact that our population is ageing rapidly. This is as much an issue of urban planning as it is about equity and social inclusion. A ripe area for applied sociology to make a useful contribution.
[Photo 1: street sign at night with braille reads “George Street to Brisbane Square. Photo 2: Aerial view of busy Brisbane road.]