Heather Mac Donald is claiming that identity politics is harming the sciences. It’s an amazing exercise in willful blindness and coded assumptions.
Identity politics has engulfed the humanities and social sciences on American campuses; now it is taking over the hard sciences. The STEM fields—science, technology, engineering, and math—are under attack for being insufficiently “diverse.” The pressure to increase the representation of females, blacks, and Hispanics comes from the federal government, university administrators, and scientific societies themselves. That pressure is changing how science is taught and how scientific qualifications are evaluated. The results will be disastrous for scientific innovation and for American competitiveness.
Yes, we’re always changing how science is taught. When I was a college student, you’d go into a huge classroom, sit on your butt, and a professor on a distant podium would lecture at you. That was great for some things, and I learned a lot, but the most formative experiences in my training were all in small lab settings where we did stuff. Good teachers experiment all the time and try new approaches to engage students. I don’t think Mac Donald is a teacher, or has any experience in STEM, so she’s lacking in qualifications to judge how teaching works, and she doesn’t present any evidence that teaching is getting worse as we reach out to diverse students.
But look at that coded assumption at the end of the paragraph: it is going to have a “disastrous” effect on American science if we increase representation of “females, blacks, and Hispanics”! Why? Does Heather know something we don’t? Are we just supposed to assume that those groups are intellectually inferior to white men, so it’s going to downgrade our scientific institutions if we don’t staff them entirely with white guys?
This next paragraph is actually correct.
The National Science Foundation (NSF), a federal agency that funds university research, is consumed by diversity ideology. Progress in science, it argues, requires a “diverse STEM workforce.” Programs to boost diversity in STEM pour forth from its coffers in wild abundance. The NSF jump-started the implicit-bias industry in the 1990s by underwriting the development of the implicit association test (IAT). (The IAT purports to reveal a subject’s unconscious biases by measuring the speed with which he associates minority faces with positive or negative words; see “Are We All Unconscious Racists?,” Autumn 2017.) Since then, the NSF has continued to dump millions of dollars into implicit-bias activism. In July 2017, it awarded $1 million to the University of New Hampshire and two other institutions to develop a “bias-awareness intervention tool.” Another $2 million that same month went to the Department of Aerospace Engineering at Texas A&M University to “remediate microaggressions and implicit biases” in engineering classrooms.
Yes. The funding agencies are awake to the fact that American demographics are changing. We can either ignore the shrinking pool of white male students entering the sciences, or we can try to address and incorporate the growing pool of brown-skinned and female people. There is an understanding in the funding agencies that Heather Mac Donald lacks: there is an immense group of intelligent, talented, ambitious people who don’t look like Dennis Miller. We have an aging, largely white male professoriate (who, moi?) and we need to take active steps to end the natural tendency to favor people who look like us.
We were the recipient of an HHMI grant for 5 years, and it’s true: part of the deal was being sent a constant stream of information about how to address imbalances in our student population — in fact, the whole grant was about looking forward to the next generation of the professoriate and tapping into diverse audiences. It was helpful and informative.
Another of Heather’s assumptions is that reaching out to black kids or the children of immigrants requires dumbing down the curriculum. It doesn’t. The last HHMI meeting I attended was all about increasing rigor and math skills in biology students. Does she really think the best scientists in the country want to downgrade science education? The message was always, “You have to be really smart to succeed in science, how can we help really smart kids of all colors learn?”
Look here, more coded dog-whistles.
Somehow, NSF-backed scientists managed to rack up more than 200 Nobel Prizes before the agency realized that scientific progress depends on “diversity.” Those “un-diverse” scientists discovered the fundamental particles of matter and unlocked the genetics of viruses. Now that academic victimology has established a beachhead at the agency, however, it remains to be seen whether the pace of such breakthroughs will continue. The NSF is conducting a half-million-dollar study of “intersectionality” in the STEM fields. “Intersectionality” refers to the increased oppression allegedly experienced by individuals who can check off several categories of victimhood—being female, black, and trans, say. The NSF study’s theory is that such intersectionality lies behind the lack of diversity in STEM. Two sociologists are polling more than 10,000 scientists and engineers in nine professional organizations about the “social and cultural variables” that produce “disadvantage and marginalization” in STEM workplaces.
Of course “un-diverse” scientists were successful! None of this is about saying white students are suddenly inferior — there is no policy in play to shut out wealthy white kids. The goal is to tap into a larger pool of intelligent, science-minded kids of all genders and skin tones. We’re on the path to becoming a minority-majority counter in the next few decades — how do we maintain scientific progress if we only cater to a shrinking group of people on the basis of their skin color and sex, which are totally irrelevant to scientific expertise?
I had to stop reading at the next paragraph, though. The raging racist presuppositions were just too much.
Racial preferences in med school programs are sometimes justified on the basis that minorities want doctors who “look like them.” Arguably, however, minority patients with serious illnesses want the same thing as anyone else: subject mastery.
Why, Ms Mac Donald, are you assuming that giving opportunities to minority doctors will lead to a reduction in subject mastery?
She did all this railing against implicit-bias training, but she’s a picture-perfect, flawless example of implicit bias herself. It would be a useful exercise in recognizing implicit bias to give this article to scientists along with a red pen and ask them to highlight all the examples — as one of those cunning scientists myself, I’d have a quick answer. I’d just pop the pen open, dump the ink into a small beaker of alcohol, and pour it over the paper to give it a nice red wash.
Or maybe it would be quicker to just set it on fire. Fire is red, right?