One of the more absurd emails to arrive in my inbox — amidst a flurry of unsolicited corporate pandering on the current state of race relations in the United States — was an email from Live Science. I originally subscribed to Live Science for updates on the COVID-19 pandemic (and was disappointed to see that the organization is devoted solely the usual pop-culture tripe, subverting actual scientific analysis whenever the current demands of wokeness require it). I was thus not surprised to see more pandering from Live Science… but I was amazed at precisely what they were advocating.
“Live Science stands with #ShutDownSTEM and Strike4BlackLives,” proclaimed the headline. Curious, I opened the email, only to find my bemusement growing with each paragraph.
Hi science fans,
I learned a striking, disappointing fact yesterday: Harvard University’s astronomy department has graduated 425 Ph.D.s since 1925. How many of those degrees were awarded to Black astronomers? One.
So, the tone has been set: Using the “god of the gaps” theory of statistical analysis, Live Science Editor-in-Chief Jeanna Bryner believes that any under-representation of black Americans in Harvard University’s astronomy department must be some manner of deliberate injustice. Further, she is implying, on the basis of no evidence, that not only does this correlation point us to causation, but that this cause is necessarily racism. She goes on:
There are too many of these same statistics across the U.S. to think this is just a blip. The Harvard astronomer, David Charbonneau, who tweeted that statistic also wrote, “There is no way to look at that fact and think we are not racist, that astronomy isn’t racist, that it’s ok because everyone was doing it.” These are the very institutions that Live Science depends on and interacts with to bring amazing scientific discoveries to our readers.
Uh… actually, there are many ways to to look at that fact and think we’re not racist… because we’re not. There is not now in the United States any law, guideline, admissions policy, or regulation that disadvantages black students seeking entry into any academic program. There are, on the contrary, a number of affirmative action programs that seek to elevate black students over students of other races, on the theory that the academic institution will benefit from these skewed admissions. Asian students sued Harvard on these grounds, alleging that they were being penalized, and denied admission to Harvard, on the grounds that Harvard has been favoring black students with lower academic scores.
Stated differently, Bryner alleges that the lack of black students in a specific department, in this case astronomy, MUST be racism, and that there can be no other explanation. What if black students are not interested in astronomy? What if a higher percentage of black students are from poor families that cannot afford admission to Harvard? What if the racial disparity in graduates of Harvard’s astronomy program is at least partially explained by the racial composition of the population at large? None of this is considered. Ironically, Bryner invokes science in expressing her deep outrage… even as she ignores the scientific method that would demand we look at all these potential causes for the correlation.
Acknowledgement of these numbers (and the discomfort they bring to me and I think many other white individuals) has come only after the latest killing of a Black person at the hands of a police officer. Protests and demonstrations and strikes spurred by the killing of George Floyd by a now-former Minneapolis police officer have led to a lot of reflection by many industries, including now science and academia.
And here we come to it. If a white cop kills a black man unjustly, all white Americans — cops, civilians, Harvard astronomers, scientists, non-scientists, waiters, garbagemen, nurses, SoundCloud rappers, and Valvoline oil change technicians alike — are guilty of the crime. They are presumed to be part of, and to benefit unfairly from, a “system” of oppression that is the magical explanation for any and all statistical disparities in any profession when race is considered.
Just what is the “system” at play? It is never defined. Just how is the “system” institutionally oppressing people? This is never explained. In a country whose legal system explicitly forbids prejudicial treatment under the law, and which arguably institutionalizes advantages for black citizens at the expensive of, or irrespective of, white citizens, white Americans remain guilty of any and all imagined crimes — based solely on the accusation that they must be racist.
…Today, Live Science will stand with #ShutDownSTEM, #ShutDownAcademia and #Strike4BlackLives. As such, instead of spending the day looking for and reporting on incredible research and exploration, Live Science staff will spend the day making a plan to do better: to do better in hiring staff and freelancers; to do better in calling up more Black scientists and other minority groups as sources; to do better at educating ourselves on systemic anti-Black racism and implementing actions to combat it; to do better at celebrating Black lives and Black scientists across our site; to do better at taking everyday actions to make the world a more equitable place for Black people.
Rather than “doing science,” Live Science spent the day ruminating on how terribly, terribly evil white people are, while promising to “do better.” The problem is that there is no entrenched or institutionalized racism in science or STEM. There are no laws to this effect. There is no legal discrimination against, or rationalized maltreatment of, persons of color in any scientific field of endeavor.
There is no evidence of this. We are simply told that white people are racist, and therefore science is racist, and somehow these problems will be repaired by refusing to do science while contemplating our navels and muttering to ourselves that we are very, very bad people who must do better.
Our hope today is to take the first steps and then to carry out our plan moving forward. We’d love to open a dialog with our readers, our sources and anyone curious about the world and interested in making the sciences more equitable. Please feel free to email me at [redacted].
I guarantee that Ms. Bryner does not want to “open a dialog.” Any message contrary to the mantra that all whites are racist, and that they have infected science and the rest of the nation’s institutions with their insidious, systemic racism, will be ignored (if not condemned). All messages catering to this self-loathing, this racial resentment and hatred, will be amplified. This message of racial hatred will be repeated ad nauseam, prompting many more Americans within the nation’s institutions to forego their mission statements in favor of hating themselves for the conditions of their births.
Lost in this orgy of contrition, this flurry of contrived mea culpas , will be the notion that the most fundamental of scientific principles is being ignored: The need for evidence.