How Identity Politics Is Harming the Sciences

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.

A scientist at UCLA reports: “All across the country the big question now in STEM is: how can we promote more women and minorities by ‘changing’ (i.e., lowering) the requirements we had previously set for graduate level study?” Mathematical problem-solving is being deemphasized in favor of more qualitative group projects; the pace of undergraduate physics education is being slowed down so that no one gets left behind.

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.

The tortuously named “Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science” (INCLUDES) bankrolls “fundamental research in the science of broadening participation.” There is no such “science,” just an enormous expenditure of resources that ducks the fundamental problems of basic skills and attitudes toward academic achievement. A typical INCLUDES grant from October 2017 directs $300,000 toward increasing Native American math involvement by incorporating “indigenous knowledge systems” into Navajo Nation Math Circles.

The INCLUDES initiative has already generated its own parasitic endeavor, Early-concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER). The purpose of EAGER funding is to evaluate INCLUDES grants and to pressure actual science grantees to incorporate diversity considerations into their research. The ultimate goal of such programs is to change the culture of STEM so that “inclusion and equity” are at its very core.

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.

One of the study’s directors is a University of Michigan sociologist specializing in gender and sexuality. Erin Cech has received multiple NSF grants; her latest publication is “Rugged Meritocrats: The Role of Overt Bias and the Meritocratic Ideology in Trump Supporters’ Opposition to Social Justice Efforts.” The other lead researcher, Tom Waidzunas, is a sociologist at Temple University; he studies the “dynamics of gender and sexuality” within STEM, as well as how “scientists come to know, and hence constitute, sexuality and sexual desire.” Such politically constituted social-justice research was not likely envisioned by Congress in 1950 when it created the NSF to “promote the progress of science.”

The National Institutes of Health are another diversity-obsessed federal science funder. Medical schools receive NIH training grants to support postdoctoral education for physicians pursuing a research career in such fields as oncology and cardiology. The NIH threatens to yank any training grant when it comes up for renewal if it has not supported a sufficient number of “underrepresented minorities” (URMs). One problem: there are often no black or Hispanic M.D.s to evaluate for inclusion in the training grant. If there is a potential URM candidate, the principal investigators will pore over his file in the hope of convincing themselves that he is adequately qualified. Meantime, the patently qualified Indian doctor goes to the bottom of the résumé pile. For now, medical schools can claim Argentinians and the sons of Ghanaian plantation owners as URMs, but if NIH bean-counters become more scrupulous in their “diversity metrics,” this aspect of biomedical research will reach an impasse.

The diversity mania also determines the way medical research is carried out. The NIH has onerous requirements that government-sponsored clinical trials include the same proportion of female and minority patients as is found in the medical school’s “catchment area” (its geographic zone of study). If some of these populations drop out of medical trials at disproportionate rates or are difficult to recruit, too bad. If these URM and female-enrollment quotas are not met, the medical school must “invest the appropriate effort to correct under-accrual,” in the words of the NIH guidelines.

That “appropriate effort” can cost a fortune. Schools such as the Mayo Clinic, located in overwhelmingly white areas, must still meet a diversity quota. Lung cancer and coronary-artery disease afflict adults. If a particular immigrant group in a research trial’s catchment area contains a disproportionate share of young people compared with the aging white population, that immigrant group will be less susceptible to those adult diseases. Nevertheless, cancer and heart-disease drug researchers must recruit from that community in numbers proportionate to its share of the overall population.

Accrediting bodies reinforce the diversity compulsion. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education requires that medical schools maintain detailed diversity metrics on their efforts to interview and hire URM faculty. Medical school search committees go through lengthy implicit-bias training sessions and expend enormous amounts of effort looking for something that they often know a priori doesn’t exist: qualified URM faculty candidates. The very definition of diversity used by academic review panels is becoming ever more exacting. A 2015 panel assessing the academic strength of San Diego State University’s biology department complained that the faculty, though relatively representative of traditional “underserved groups,” nevertheless failed to mirror the “diversity of peoples in Southern California.” The use of a school’s immediate surroundings as a demographic benchmark for its faculty is a significant escalation of the war between the diversocrats and academic standards. Naturally, the accrediting panel made no effort to ascertain whether those Southern California peoples—including Hmong, Salvadorans, and Somalis—are netting Ph.D.s in biology in numbers proportional to their Southern California population.

Many private foundations fund only gender- and race-exclusive science training; others that do fund basic research, such as the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, nevertheless divert huge sums to diversity.

The major scientific societies push the idea that implicit bias is impeding the careers of otherwise competitive scientists. In February 2018, Erin Cech presented preliminary findings from the NSF intersectionality study at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting; naturally, those results showed “systemic anti-LGBTQ bias within STEM industry and academia.” Another AAAS session addressed how the “hierarchical nature” of science exacerbates gender bias and stereotypes, and called for the “equal representation of women” across STEM.

STEM departments are creating their own internal diversity enforcers. The engineering school at UCLA minted its first associate dean of diversity and inclusion in 2017, despite already being subject to enormous pressures from UCLA’s fantastically remunerated Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and other bureaucrats. “One of my jobs,” the new engineering diversocrat, Scott Brandenberg, told UCLA’s student newspaper, is “to avoid implicit bias in the hiring process.”

The science diversity charade 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 now altering the standards for scientific competence and the way future scientists are trained.

“Diversity” is now an explicit job qualification in the STEM fields. A current job listing for a lecturer in biology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst announces that because diversity is “critical to the university’s goals of achieving excellence in all areas,” the biology department “holistically” assesses applicants and “favorably considers experiences overcoming barriers”—experiences assumed to be universal among URMs. The University of California at San Diego physics department advertised an assistant-professor position several years ago with a “specific emphasis on contributions to diversity,” such as a candidate’s “awareness of inequities faced by underrepresented groups.” Social-justice concerns apparently trump the quest to solve the mystery of dark energy. All five candidates on UC San Diego’s short list were females, leading one male candidate with a specialty in extragalactic physics to wonder why the school had even solicited applications from Asian and white men.

Entry requirements for graduate education are being revised. The American Astronomical Society has recommended that Ph.D. programs in astronomy eliminate the requirement that applicants take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) in physics, since it has a disparate impact on females and URMs and allegedly does not predict future research output. Harvard and other departments have complied, even though…

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