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
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.
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.”