The National Science Foundation budgets millions to fight a problem not demonstrated to exist: systemic racism in STEM

July 24, 2023 • 11:30 am

The other day I posted about what I saw as a divisive and ineffectual paper published in Nature Chemistry, a paper called “Critical Race Theory [CRT] and Its Relevance for Chemistry.” The author wasn’t a chemist, but rather an educational psychologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Nor did the paper have anything to do with improving chemistry: its thesis was that inequity of minority representation in chemistry was due to ongoing structural racism, and these inequities could be repaired only by thoroughly imbuing chemistry instruction with CRT.  (As one colleague noted, ““I wonder what would happen if chemists started writing papers about the need to use the scientific method in education, and published them in top educational journals.”)

At any rate, other colleagues looked up the author’s c.v., and found that he’d garnered a huge amount of funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF).  Here are the grants listed.

National Science Foundation: 2140901, Collaborative Research: EHR Racial Equity: Examining Blackness in Postsecondary STEM Education through a Multidimensional-Multiplicative Lens. Education and Human Resources Directorate, $8,826,392, Principal Investigator

National Science Foundation: 2217343, RCN-UBE: Deepening and Expanding the Mission and Outcomes of the Re-Envisioning Culture Network. Division of Biological Infrastructure, $500,000, Principal Investigator

National Science Foundation: 2100823, Community for Advancing Discovery Research in Education (CADRE): Expanding the Reach and Impact of Innovations in STEM Education. DRL – Discovery Research K-12, $3,307,943, Co-Principal Investigator

National Science Foundation: 2020709, Louis Stokes Regional Center of Excellence for the Study of STEM Interventions. Division of Human Resources Development, $1,000,000, Co-Principal Investigator

Total: $13,634,335

The researcher’s papers are also listed on the c.v. page, and you can check them out for yourself.

To some scientists who strive (and usually fail) to get NSF grants for doing “regular” science, this whopping pot of money, aimed at achieving equity in STEM, seemed unfair. (Note: I was always funded not by the NSF, but by the NIH.)  At the expense of finding out more about the universe through genuine science, the NSF is busy engaged in achieving social justice. And to do that, it appears, as you’ll see below, that they’re spending a lot of money on “solutions” that in all probability are useless.

Well, you can respond that “It’s the NSF’s job to evaluate these proposals, not the job of other government agencies. After all, the NSF evaluates proposals scientifically, and who better to judge ways to reform STEM?” That’s all well and good, but it’s reasonable to suspect that the standards for evaluating proposals like those above and below may be more lax than evaluating regular science.

But what I want to emphasize here is that the NSF is busy evaluating proposals to study a problem that is likely not even a problem: the problem of “systematic” (or “structural”) racism in STEM, which probably doesn’t exist. Yes, scientists can be racists, but “systematic racism” comprises features of science that are installed and maintained to keep minorities out. As everyone in science now realizes, the field is falling all over itself competing to hire minority professors and students, and this argues against the idea that science is trying to keep minorities out. In fact, it’s just the opposite!

A scientist sent this email after seeing the grant windfall above (and the existence of many other NSF programs addressing “structural racism” in the sciences, like the one below):

In the last couple of years, NSF established a $25 million program to fight systemic racism in science.  Not to find out if there IS systemic racism, not to document it.  No, that was assumed.  This is to fight something that hasn’t even been demonstrated to exist.  If I based a research program entirely on an untested assumption, with no intent to actually test it, I’d be laughed out of the profession.

Everyone knows how hard it is to get funding for doing science. But peddling CRT under the guise of science education — a windfall. This partially explains why universities are willing to hire these people.

Here you can read about that $25 million program (actually, it says the funding will be between $15 million and $25 million), and its aim to dismantle structural racism. Click on screenshot below:

It’s a long solicitation, and you can read it yourself, but note in the excerpts below the emphasis on the importance of addressing “systemic racism” in STEM, as well as the aim to advance equity (proportional representation). The assumption is that systemic racism is the cause of inequity.  The guidelines for the proposal are much longer than this, but you can see the implicit assumption that science is riddled with built-in forms of racism.

Bolding is mine (I haven’t bolded “inequities” as it would be too confusing, but note the word):

All proposals should conceptualize systemic racism within the context of their proposal and describe how the proposed work will advance scholarship of racial equity and address systemic racism

All proposals should have a knowledge generation component.

All proposals should be led by or in authentic partnership with those who experience inequities caused by systemic racism.

All proposals should center the voices, knowledge, and experiences of those who experience inequities caused by systemic racism.

. . . Collectively, proposals funded by this solicitation will: (1) substantively contribute to institutionalizing effective research-based practices, policies, and outcomes in STEM environments for those who experience inequities caused by systemic racism and the broader community; (2) advance scholarship and promote racial equity in STEM in ways that expand the array of epistemologies, perspectives, ideas, theoretical and methodological approaches that NSF funds; and (3) further diversify project leadership (PIs and co-PIs) and institutions funded by NSF.

. . .Efforts to address systemic racism in STEM education are complementary to NSF’s efforts in Broadening Participation in STEM. The portfolio of projects funded by this program should be diverse in theoretical approaches, epistemologies, and methodologies, yet all proposals should 1) conceptualize systemic racism in the context of the project, 2) be led by or in authentic partnership with communities impacted by systemic racism, and 3) articulate a rigorous plan to generate knowledge and/or evidence-based practice via fundamental or applied research.

Conceptualizing Systemic Racism: EDU recognizes that systemic racism is multifaceted and can be addressed in various ways, requiring varied approaches and diverse perspectives. Approaches may include but are not limited to how systemic racism influences STEM knowledge generation, STEM participation and experiences, and access and outcomes in STEM. As the constructs of systemic racism and racial equity may have different meanings in different settings, each proposal should conceptualize systemic racism within the bounds of the project context and indicate how racial equity is advanced by the proposed work. Contexts may include, but are not limited to: preK-12, two-year and four-year undergraduate, and graduate institutions; municipal organizations; STEM workplaces; and informal STEM contexts, such as museums, community organizations, and media.]

. . .Solicitation-Specific Review Criteria: For all Racial Equity projects, the proposer can decide where to include the information that addresses the following questions:

  • How does the proposal conceptualize systemic racism with respect to the proposal topic or context? In what ways will the proposed work advance scholarship of racial equity and address ssystemic racism?
  • In what ways are the voices, knowledge, and experiences of those who experience inequities caused by systemic racism are at the center of the project?
  • How is the project led by or in authentic partnership individuals and communities who experience inequities caused by systemic racism?

I’m calling attention to this just to show you how the NSF, which is part of the government, is using taxpayer dollars in what is likely to be a futile exercise in social engineering.

And, once again I hasten to add that scientists can be racists, and that might act to prevent minority scientists from succeeding. If that is the case, it’s reprehensible and should be addressed. But before you conclude that any racism is “systemic,” you’d better ensure that such is the case. As Davy Crockett said, “Be always sure you are right – then go ahead.”

36 thoughts on “The National Science Foundation budgets millions to fight a problem not demonstrated to exist: systemic racism in STEM

  1. Interest convergence (Wikipedia link below) would explain some of the insistence on systemic racism – akin to the Queering of biological sex (IMHO). It is the point of the “theories” – if systemic racism is not observed, then it must be hidden so well that special effort is necessary to “expose the problematics” of (here) science, specifically, racism.

    “… because racism is beneficial to white people they have little incentive to eradicate it.” (Wikipedia).

    Queering biological sex works differently but similarly has no endpoint because “Queerness is not yet here. Queerness is an ideality.” (J. E. Muñoz).

  2. Skipping right over the first steps of defining, describing and quantifying what systemic racism exists. It’s assumed.

    1. It’s a Kendian thing; all differences in racial makeup in any part of our culture and society is due solely to racism. There are no other acceptable explanations and none are allowed to be voiced. There are only two types of people in the world; racist and anti-racist. It’s a central part of the catechism of the New Racists.

      To question the premises of the Kendian worldview means you are a racist. To suggest that there are other explanations to racial differences means you are a racist. One must never, on any account, point to areas of society where existing racial disparities favor POC. To do so proves one is a racist.

      Just like with other religions, there is a whole lot of money to be made too, and if you question the public use of that money… you are a racist.

  3. It sounds like a good show for Monty Python. Create a problem that does not exist and then solve it. Entertaining and maybe worth a lot of money. Also pathetic.

  4. And more importantly it’s a war on excellence – either lowering or eliminating tests that some minority students do badly at, because the “tests are rascist”. Not possible to be due to cultural differences in how education is valued, the amount of time spent on homework, the level of application. Or letting people onto courses for which they are not qualified, so they are set up to fail. Or further diluted, becasue the courses are now racist.

  5. $25 million would fund a lot of undergraduate and graduate scholarships for underrepresented minorities.

    1. Ah, but why do something that would actually benefit society when you could give all that money to hack academics, who will then justify their high salaries by claiming science is racist and they’re somehow combatting it?

    2. But you wouldn’t really want to fund scholarships that were race-restricted, would you? That seems perverse. Surely any deserving but financially needy student should have a crack at that imaginary $25 million without being summarily excluded from consideration because her skin was the wrong colour.

      Worse, the way you word your proposal seems to suggest that black students from wealthy families would be candidates for scholarships just because they’re black.

      1. ChrisC offered no details on his imaginary $25 million scholarship fund, who would be eligible or how beneficiaries would be selected. It is surely possible to conceive of such a scheme that would benefit many students from impoverished black backgrounds without excluding impoverished students of other ethnicities (including caucasian). If the fund targets the financially needy without reference to race it can still be beneficial to any minorities that are over-represented in the category ‘financially needy’.

    3. When this criticism is levelled at university DIE infrastructure, and the hiring of wealthy educated administrators and professors, the response is always that it’s too soon to spend a lot of money to bring poor (or not so poor) black and indigenous students onto campus. First we have to till the ground by staffing the campus with black and indigenous administrators and faculty members who look like those students. Only then will it be safe and effective to invest in students. This isn’t self-serving. No, it’s forward thinking (also brave, stunning, etc.).

  6. The “proof” of structural racism is always linked to proportionality; there are proportionally fewer Blacks people in science ergo there is structural racism. It’s a dangerous ploy; the “proof” racists use is always linked to proportionality as well, but with opposite conclusions.

    1. Right – there are also discrepancies in genes besides those associated with skin pigmentation, but the naked eye cannot infer them – is what I wonder about now.

      E.g. digestive enzymes, … etc.- but those are not sites of racism.

      1. Lactase persistence shows a high frequency in the populations of northern Europe and also the western Sahel, but a low frequency in southern and central Africa [for example ( )]. Let us hope that NSF is ready to devote plenty of money to this burning issue of systemic lactism. If my lab were still active, we could apply for a few $ millions to address this problem in ways that expand the array of epistemologies, perspectives, ideas, theoretical and methodological approaches that are dear to NSF.

        1. Right…

          [ systemic lactism… oh, that is good…]

          The general example group of enzymes I hesitated to note is alcohol dehydrogenase. Aldehyde dehydrogenase possibly…. a friend told me about it at the pub, shall we say.

          … I guess bone enzymes might not be sites of racism?

          That’s what I’m looking for – genes that contribute to traits imperceptible by the naked eye.

      2. Some gene variations (sex, body shape, etc.) are quite visible to the naked eye. Other gene variations (blood type) are not. No simple rule exists. I have seen a claim that humans can (subconsciously) detect some gene variations.

    2. If we take this line of reasoning to its logical conclusion, it gets a bit Hitlery: Who’s most overrepresented in science? Jews! So the system must be set up to elevate Jews among all others.

      Obviously that’s not true, but it’s where the “logic” of CRT leads you.

  7. I also received many grants from NIH and served for many years on review committees. I think this nonsense appalling and shameful. I could not in good conscience serve on a review committee now.

  8. I wonder what would happen if an academic proposed using NSF grant money to actually test for the existence of systemic racism in STEM. Would that proposal be rejected? I suppose it would. Since systemic racism is assumed to be true, a grant to study whether it exists or not would be akin to a grant to study whether or not the earth revolves around the sun. The problem has already been solved. No grant for you!

    1. I don’t think such a grant applicationl would just be dismissed; a proposal for a study like that would risk their jobs. Some research questions are simply too risky to ask… let alone think.

      1. Yeah, especially since it would be pretty easy to find actual systems and institutions specifically set up to discriminate in favor of blacks (and therefore, to the extent that this is a zero-sum game, against whites and Asians).

  9. I see this as yet another example of “mission creep.” It should be enough for the NSF to fund excellent science. It doesn’t need any other missions. Just as the CDC need not concern itself with obesity, and the CHIPS act should not have concerned itself with child care.

    If an agency loses focus on its mission it is liable to become mediocre at everything it does.

  10. “Just as the CDC need not concern itself with obesity…”

    ???? Obesity is one the world’s deadliest chronic diseases, well within the CDC’s remit. Not clear why you’d say something like that.

    Methinks there’s a politicial underpinning to your statement, Lysander. In which case, you can have it. I’ve got no use for that.

      1. Government organizations only fail when the “other” party is in charge. When our party is in charge, those organizations are all goodness and light. To even question their success is evidence of villainy. To even question where things went wrong with an eye to improvement is evidence of disloyalty. Welcome to the bipartisan breakdown of America.

        For what it’s worth, I tend to agree with you: CDC has a great deal to answer for, as do many other organizations. But during their all-hands-on-deck COVID crisis, they did see fit to publish their CDC guidelines to woke language–I mean, their “Health Equity Guiding Principles for Inclusive Communication.” Those work-from-home gigs must have been stressing. How dare you call it mission creep!

      2. Do you mean CDC is for sort of infectious communicable diseases that spread in a short time frame all of a sudden and need to have a response to contain/control them – while obesity is something for NIH, DHHS, FDA, or some other agency to address in the long term?

        1. Yes, exactly. I was frankly shocked at how poorly the CDC performed. Things like not having a stockpile of N95 masks for healthcare workers — basic stuff.

          1. I can understand that – I’d add that as a background condition, covid infection was “worse” with obesity – so perhaps an exceptional comorbidity (if that is the word).

            But I have no idea how that worked in practice.

          2. I was going to criticize your criticizing the CDC, as managing Covid was a world wide headache. Like a greased pig let loose into the lab, and very very few (if any) countries got a good handle on it for long unless their societies were exceptionally cooperative.
            But as for the mask shortage, I don’t know. Maybe it’s right the the CDC failed there. I can offer that for major sudden attacks of any sort, pandemics or military attacks, agencies in charge are never caught fully prepared the first time.

          3. Here is a report written by a Democrat documenting the failures of the CDC.


            Here is a capsule summary of the report:

            Thankfully, an extraordinary effort by Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), who chairs the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, may have provided the nation with the next best thing to a commission report. Last week, committee staff delivered a remarkably comprehensive report, 242 pages long, on the government’s response to COVID-19. Its title gives up the game: “Historically Unprepared.”

            Unlike previous reports by The Commonwealth Fund and the National Academies of Science, which studiously avoided criticism of the CDC, Peters’ report offers lawyerly “findings of fact,” that points out that the CDC was not remotely prepared to manage an epidemic that its own experts said was inevitable.

            Peters’ report tells that the CDC had no preexisting research relevant to developing a COVID test; no stockpile of PPE supplies or plan for distributing them; was uninformed regarding supply chain issues relating to therapeutic drugs and had no sense of the nation’s hospitals’ capacity to treat COVID victims. Further, it resisted help from private sector laboratories to develop testing. The simplest epidemiological reasoning about Americans at most risk, thinking that guided Britain’s focus on first protecting those over 65 with relevant co-morbidities, was missing in the CDC’s thinking.


  11. I have been wondering if you and Luana Maroja might write a Part II paper on ideology creeping into science, where this one is listed at #6 below. Some of these are pretty minor, but they all contribute to ideology creep and help stifle discourse. 1. Positionality statements ahead of a paper when they are irrelevant to the content of the paper. 2. Suppression and disinformation of research on the outcome and safety of affirmative care for youth claiming gender dysphoria. 3. DEI statements for applying for faculty jobs. 4. Departments and colleges issuing political statements. 5. Removing the names of dead white men from scientific society awards and from species names. 6. Poorly evidenced claims from science journals and scientific societies that their field is rife with racist bias.

  12. I am intrigued by the term “knowledge generation component”, I have no idea what it actually means but that alone is a scary thought as it is then so open to interpretation.

    1. Yeah, that’s a weird turn of phrase. I suspect it’s Postmodernese for “you need to pretend you’re doing science at least for a bit, pure activism would be too obvious”.

  13. Hypocrisy abounds.

    Giving more power to elected officials = autocracy.

    The people who complained the loudest about Russian interference in our elections want the U.S. to interfere in Israel’s politics.

    The people who are comfortable with Israeli judges picking their own successors would be apoplectic if the current U.S. Supreme Court justices were to pick their own successors.

  14. Let me try to argue the contrary case. From a certain perspective, ‘systemic racism’ is very real and very pervasive. Science (most assuredly including Biology) is based on Enlightenment values. The Enlightenment idea that 2 + 2 = 4 everywhere is very true. Math is the same everywhere (so is Biology). So in some sense, Enlightenment values apply to all mankind. That is true (at least in my opinion). However, that does not mean that all of mankind is equally good at these things. Let’s use PISA Science 2018 as a measure. China (Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang) gets a 590. At the other end, the Dominican Republic gets a 336. It should be noted, that the China numbers are suspect. All of China was not tested. However, other parts of Asia get very high scores.

    My guess is that as of today, a number for all of China (including the poor, rural parts) would be lower. I would also guess that the East-West gap in China will be mostly closed by 2050. My guess is that an all-China number for 2050 would be roughly equal to S. Korea, Japan, etc.

  15. “But before you conclude that any racism is ‘systemic,’ you’d better ensure that such is the case.”

    “Systemic” racism: the last refuge of progressives who weren’t around for real racism.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *