Science

Video: What Does Diversity Have to Do With Science?

Heather Mac Donald explains where these destructive ideas are coming from.

Media Editors · Jan. 8, 2019

The promoters of identity politics—the idea that we are primarily defined by our race and gender—have taken over the humanities and social sciences.

That’s bad.

But not as bad as this: They are moving in on “STEM” – science, technology, engineering and math.

“All across the country,” a UCLA scientist reports, “the big question is: how can we promote more women and minorities by ‘changing’ (i.e., lowering) the requirements we had previously set for graduate level study?”

The National Science Foundation (NSF), a federal agency that funds university research, exemplifies this approach. Progress in science, the NSF argues, requires a “diverse STEM workforce.” Why this is the case they don’t bother to say. Somehow, NSF-backed scientists managed to rack up more than 200 Nobel Prizes before the agency realized that scientific progress depends on “diversity.”

No matter: 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 went to the Department of Aerospace Engineering at Texas A&M to “remediate microaggressions and implicit biases.”

The science diversity charade, as I discuss in my book The Diversity Delusion, wastes extraordinary amounts of time and money that could be going into basic research and its real-world application. If that were its only consequence, the cost would be high enough. But identity politics is altering the standards for scientific competence and the way future scientists are trained.

“Diversity” is now an explicit job qualification in the STEM fields.

The physics department at UC San Diego advertised an assistant-professor position with a “specific emphasis on contributions to diversity,” such as a candidate’s “awareness of inequities faced by underrepresented groups.” Solving the mystery of dark energy apparently now takes a back-seat to social justice. Maybe it was a coincidence, but all five candidates on UC San Diego’s short list were females.

If traditional standards are keeping women and minorities out of STEM fields, it stands to reason that changing standards must be the way to get them in. Or maybe standards are just another expression of the white patriarchy and thus no longer relevant.

An introductory chemistry course at UC Berkeley reflects the new “culturally sensitive pedagogy.” A primary goal, according to its teachers, is to disrupt the “racialized and gendered construct of scientific brilliance,” which defines “good science” as getting all the right answers.

This same diversity obsession extends to medical schools—not a happy thought when they wheel you into the operating room for emergency surgery.

The promoters of identity politics are literally playing with our lives. Medical schools admissions committees are now told to overlook the low test scores of black and Hispanic applicants in favor of a more “holistic” approach. From 2013 to 2016, medical schools admitted 57 percent of black applicants with a low medical college admission test score of 24 to 26, but only 8 percent of whites and 6 percent of Asians with those same low scores, according to Claremont McKenna professor Frederick Lynch.

Racial preferences in med school programs are sometimes justified on the basis that minorities want doctors who “look like them.” Really? Seems much more likely that minority patients with serious illnesses want the same thing we all do: a well-trained, skilled doctor.

The desperate attempt to get women into STEM fields is also based on the idea that, absent discrimination, women and men would be equally represented in the sciences.

This is highly unlikely, however. Differences in math proficiency between boys and girls show up as early as kindergarten. In the top .01 percent of math ability, where we find scientific genius, there are 2.5 males in the US for every female, according to a recent paper in the journal Intelligence.

This may help explain why women make up 14 percent of engineering workers and 25 percent of computer workers. To acknowledge this was once common sense; now it can get you fired. Ask James Damore, the Google engineer who questioned the company’s hiring preferences for females.

The National Labor Relations Board upheld Google’s firing of Damore on the grounds that his statements about “purported biological differences between men and women” were “discriminatory and constituted sexual harassment.” This decision means that every evolutionary biologist, neurologist, or economist who acknowledges the differences between males and females is at risk of his job.

The unique accomplishments of Western science were achieved without regard to the sex or skin color of its creators. Now, however, funders, industry leaders, and academic administrators want us to believe that “diversity” is the key to the future.

But the truth is the exact opposite: we want our best scientific minds to be free to do their best work. In our highly competitive world, identity politics is an indulgence we can’t afford.

I’m Heather Mac Donald, fellow at the Manhattan Institute, for Prager University.

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