Jesse Singal on Coleman Hughes vs. TED

September 30, 2023 • 11:30 am

By now most of us know that Coleman Hughes, a heterodox black thinker, got into trouble when he gave a preapproved TED talk echoing Martin Luther King’s “don’t judge a person by their skin color” trope. Hughes’s point wasn’t that we shouldn’t be aware of color, but what we need to do is concentrate on fixing general societal inequalities, and should do that by a form of socioeconomic affirmative action versus pure race-based affirmative action.

As I said, this talk was approved by TED well in advance. I didn’t realize this, but giving a short TED talk involves months of preparation, which includes interacting with TED people so that they know in advance and approve of everything that is going to be said.  So they knew what Hughes was going to say! Then a group called Black@TED, made up of TED employees, objected to the “let’s not concentrate on race but on well being” trope.  As has been described by Hughes and verified by Chris Anderson (TED’s boss), post-talk objections by this group (and others) to what Hughe saids led to TED’s attempt to put video “asterisks” on the talk.

First TED asked Hughes to okay the release of a single video that included both original TED talk as well as a moderated discussion of it. Hughes naturally bridled at this. It’s unheard of!

TED then offered a deal in which Hughes’s talk could be released as a standalone video, but then there would be a long “debate” released separately (it was, with Jamelle Bouie as the interlocutor).  But TED broke its part of the deal by not promoting Hughes’s talk like other TED talks, so it got relatively few views. (TED talks are, of course, very important for young people’s careers, and Hughes, though spectacularly smart and accomplished, is only 27).

As Jesse Singal describes in his analysis of this fracas below (click on screenshot; you may have to subscribe), TED (or at least its head Chris Anderson) screwed up big time. Given that Hughes’s talk was vetted extensively beforehand, there is no excuse for publishing it with post facto conditions.  This was done solely because Black@Ted (which refused to meet with Hughes) said that the talk would cause “harm”, a palpably ridiculous assertion. What it would cause was discussion.

The other issue came from the social scientist Adam Grant, who, after the talk, claimed that Hughes ignored a meta-analysis by Leslie et al. showing that a “color blind” attempt to achieve equality was less effective than one based on racial awareness. I haven’t read that paper yet, but Hughes has. Here’s his reaction, which I present without agreeing or disagreeing:

I read the paper that Grant referenced, titled “On Melting Pots and Salad Bowls: A Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Identity-Blind and Identity-Conscious Diversity Ideologies,” expecting to find arguments against color blindness. I was shocked to find that the paper largely supported my talk. In the results section, the authors write that “colorblindness is negatively related to stereotyping” and “is also negatively related to prejudice.” They also found that “meritocracy is negatively related to discrimination.”

Singal, in his Substack piece below, says he’ll provide an analysis of the Leslie et al.  paper later, and I’ll be sure to call that to your attention. If you want to read it now, be my guest. At any rate, even if Grant is right, his objections came post facto, and why didn’t TED, which is supposed to vet all the empirical claims of a talk in advance, know about it?

Singal is really angry, especially at Anderson, and it shows. I’ll give a few substantial quotes from Singal if you can’t read his site (but do subscribe; he writes about important stuff):

First, Singal on Adam Grant:

Grant is a superstar within psychology, and he claimed that Hughes’s argument was “directly contradicted by an extensive body of rigorous research,” linking to this meta-analysis. I’m hoping to do a more in-depth piece on this particular facet of the controversy soon, if I have time to do enough reading about it. But based on my own knowledge of the field of diversity trainings, I think Grant is badly overstating (1) the strength of the evidence that any one particular approach to framing these issues “works” better than others (though different people define “works” differently, which is part of the problem); and (2) the extent to which that meta-analysis could in any sense “directly contradict” Hughes’s argument.

Singal is good at dissecting papers, so I sure hope he take a look at this one.

But Singal reserves his ire for Anderson, who, he claims, dropped the ball, and that that is irrelevant to what Grant claims. A few quotes:

This was already a ridiculous story, and the available facts suggest Chris Anderson botched it every single step of the way. As anyone who has read about the polished, whirring machine that produces TED Talks knows, the organization does not leave anything to chance in terms of quality and content. TED Talk participants run a bit of a gauntlet, and that includes, obviously, TED knowing exactly what’s going to be said during the talk long before the speaker actually steps onstage. This is far from a poetry slam open mic night.

And then he reveals what I think is the real reason Hughes was given an asterisk:

I can’t say for sure, but based on what we know and the approximately zillion other instances of this sort of dysfunction seizing liberal institutions in the last few years, I would bet that Chris Anderson is far more concerned about an internal revolt, about “Black@TED,” than whether Coleman Hughes’s talk was perfectly in line with a nerdy meta-analysis. And, supporting this theory, his botching continued Wednesday, in a follow-up piece in which The Free Press allowed him and Adam Grant to respond.

Anderson explained that Coleman’s talk “was received with huge enthusiasm by many in the audience. But many others heard it as a dangerous undermining of the fight for progress in race relations. So yes, there was controversy. When people on your own team feel like their identity is being attacked, it’s right to take pause.”

In recent years radical types within liberal organizations have realized that if they utter certain magic phrases, they can extract sympathy and sometimes other concessions from management regardless of the merit of their claim. It has the effect of turning off management’s brain and getting the organization’s leadership instead to react from a fearful, gut-oriented place. A common tactic is to claim that the presence of some person or idea in their workplace constitutes “harm” or makes them less “safe.” In many cases, these claims are on their face ridiculous, but I think the choice of words evolved because some phrases contain implicit threats that whatever the employees are freaking out about could cause legal problems for management. An unsafe workplace summons HR, and once HR is involved, who the hell knows where things could end up?

Yes, it’s the “harm” trope again, a trope that for some reason the Left takes way too seriously.  To think that Hughes’s talk would harm people is ridiculous. In fact, Singal says that if you think you’ve been harmed by that talk, you need therapy. (It’s true unless you’re simply doing performative outrage.) Or, if you don’t want therapy, get another job:

But if these TED staffers aren’t just being strategic in their language — if they genuinely, viscerally feel like “their identity is being attacked” by a black man advocating for a color-blind approach — that’s something they should take up with their therapists.

This is not mean-spirited, for Singal says he’s in therapy, too, partly as a way to dampen his overreactions. He continues:

 . . . If you work for an Ideas organization and you can’t psychologically handle your organization platforming someone expressing a popular view, and you don’t want to seek out therapy to gain more resilience, then you should honestly consider a different line of work. It’s just not a good fit, in the same way journalists who get deeply upset when their colleagues refuse to toe the activist line 100% on some fraught subject should go into PR instead. Jobs like “being a journalist at a major outlet” or “working for TED” are cushy by any sort of international or historical standard, to be sure, but for some people they’re not cushy enough, and such folks should seek out a job that will fully embrace their delicate nature: a big, comfy, plush sofa of a job.

Anyway, back to Chris Anderson. As these employees’ boss, he should obviously not say the mean-sounding things I’m saying.He also shouldn’t suggest his employees go to therapy or find different work. (Though I would reiterate that telling someone who might need therapy to consider it is not, in fact, inherently mean, and the fact that it’s taken as such points to the ongoing stigmatization of mental health care).

But he very easily could have effectively ended this conversation by telling his disgruntled staffers something like this:

We appreciate your feedback and we have heard it, but at the end of the day, as an organization sitting at the intersection of ideas and public speaking, we simply can’t outlaw or restrict speakers’ ability to express popular but contested views — even views some of us disagree with strongly. Heck, for this to be a truly robust and useful and thriving organization, we might have to sometimes platform people expressing certain unpopular views. But this particular case isn’t a close call, frankly. All the available evidence suggests Hughes’s views are popular, his talk was well-researched enough to get a green light from our fact-checking team, and while we seriously value you all as staffers and always welcome your feedback — TED is stronger when you provide that feedback — we simply can’t grant you veto power over individual talks, nor the power to alter preexisting editorial and production processes, especially after an approved talk has already been filmed.

Instead, Anderson appears to have been held hostage by a group of employees making rather hysterical claims — again, sorry for the harsh language, but that’s what this is. And not only did he fail to compassionately but firmly push back against these hysterical claims for the health of his organization (and to prevent the negative PR event that subsequently occurred, which I’m happy to contribute to given how ridiculous this is and how sick I am of these sorts of incidents), he went out of his way, in his response, to reemphasize how seriously he was taking them:

Many people have been genuinely hurt and offended by what they heard Hughes say. This is not what we dream of when we post our talks. I believe real progress can be made on this issue by each side getting greater clarity and insight from the other. We share more in common than we know. We all ultimately want a just world in which all can thrive.

The problem is simply one instantiation of why wokeness has prevailed even though most people aren’t down with it: people are simply too afraid to stand up to accusations of “harm” or “racism”, even if those accusations, like the ones we’re discussing, are ridiculous.

The solution, of course, is what John McWhorter suggested in his anti-racism book: ignore these people and stick up for your principles, which is what Anderson should have done. Singal’s suggested speech for Anderson is right on the money.

In the end, this too will pass, but it’s already besmirched the reputation of TED. And it will only create a Streisand Effect for Hughes, as all the press this kerfuffle is getting can only be good for him,  Even if he got the data wrong about ameliorating equity, which we’ll know soon, he didn’t know about the paper (and TED should have), and the “colorblind” discussion is still relevant in many contexts.

TED stiffs Coleman Hughes for conveying a message ideologically unpalatable to the woke

September 26, 2023 • 11:30 am

Here’s a TED talk by Coleman Hughes, a really smart young guy (he’s just 27) who’s angered the establishment by not hewing to the standard Kendi-an view on “antiracism”. (I was on his podcast and was really impressed by how much evolution he knew given that he’s a writer with a degree in philosophy who works largely on issues of race.) He’s more of the stripe of John McWhorter, saying things that run counter to what black people are expected to say.

And race is what he talks about in this 13-minute TED talk (below). His theme is basically Martin Luther King’s statement, in his “I Have A Dream” speech, that

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Hughes goes on to discuss the obsessions of American with race, which has recently led to a worsening of relations of whites and blacks.  The solution: “color blindness”, not a pretense that you don’t notice race, but “support[ing] a principle that we should try our best to treat people without regard to race, both in our personal lives and our personal policy.”

That sounds good, or used to in the days of MLK, but the “color blindness” trope is not in good stead these days. There are many, for example who think that race is not only the most important aspect of someone’s persona, but should be a dominant aspect in how we treat individuals or members of a racial group. But Hughes points out that the “colorblind” philosophy comes not from conservatives, but from early abolitionists and black antiracists. (Also from Martin Luther King, Jr., whose words are either ignored or criticized these days.)

And then Hughes says this:

“Wouldn’t color-blindness render us unable to fight racism? Wouldn’t it mean getting rid of policies like affirmative action that benefit people of color? I believe that eliminating race-based policies does not equal eliminating policies meant to reduce inequality. It simply means that those policies should be executed on the basis of class instead of race.”

He then gives two good reasons why we should use class- rather than race-based policies and give an example of what he says was a “disastrous race-based policy”: the 2020 “Restaurant Revitalization Fund.”  He also mentions traffic cams, which cannot be racially biased, but are opposed by many because they still yield proportionally more violations by blacks than by whites. This disproportionality, or “inequity”, would indicate to a Kendi-an that the cameras are biased against blacks, but of course that’s ridiculous. The answer is that blacks are violating traffic rules more often. But that answer, which must be the correct one, is unacceptable.

At the end, Hughes answers a question by the moderator involving how to maintain colorblindness while auditioning members of orchestras. He gives a good answer.

You may disagree with Coleman, but it would be hard to unless you’re of the Kendi-an stripe. Hughes wants inequality eliminated, but finding the remedy by using class instead of race asthe best proxy for low status on the equality scale.

Watch the short talk:

So far so good. We have a TED talk that, instead of dispensing feel-good bromides, actually challenges prevailing views and inspires discussion.  But that’s not the way TED felt about it. There was pushback, and Coleman’s talk was released in a way that diluted its message. TED even required that if Coleman’s talk were posted by itself, there had to be a related discussion talk posted separately (it was, involving a 1¼ hour debate with NYT antiracist columnist Jamelle Bouie).  I haven’t watched the debate, but you can see it at the link. It’s a real debate, with fixed times to speak and respond).

Click to read Hughes’s take on his experience, published at The Free Press:

Here’s what Coleman says:

Like any young writer, I am well aware that an invitation to speak at TED can be a career-changing opportunity. So you can imagine how thrilled I was when I was invited to appear at this year’s annual conference. What I could not have imagined from an organization whose tagline is “ideas worth spreading” is that it would attempt to suppress my own.

As an independent podcaster and author, I count myself among the lucky few who can make a living doing what they truly love to do. Nothing about my experience with TED could change that. The reason this story matters is not because I was treated poorly, but because it helps explain how organizations can be captured by an ideological minority that bends even the people at the very top to its will. In that, the story of TED is the story of so many crucial and once-trustworthy institutions in American life.

The path to the required ancillary debate was long and convoluted:

TED draws a progressive crowd, so I expected that my talk might upset a handful of people. And indeed, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a handful of scowling faces. But the reaction was overwhelmingly positive. The audience applauded; some people even stood up. Throughout the meals and in hallways, people approached me to say they loved it, and those who disagreed with it offered smart and thoughtful criticisms.

But the day after my talk, I heard from Chris Anderson, the head of TED. He told me that a group called “Black@TED”—which TED’s website describes as an “Employee Resource Group that exists to provide a safe space for TED staff who identify as Black”—was “upset” by my talk. Over email, Chris asked if I’d be willing to speak with them privately.

I agreed to speak with them on principle, that principle being that you should always speak with your critics because they may expose crucial blind spots in your worldview. No sooner did I agree to speak with them than Chris told me that Black@TED actually was not willing to speak to me. I never learned why. I hoped that this strange about-face was the end of the drama. But it was only the beginning.

On the final day of the conference, TED held its yearly “town hall”—at which the audience can give feedback on the conference. The event opened with two people denouncing my talk back-to-back. The first woman called my talk “racist” as well as “dangerous and irresponsible”—comments that were met with cheers from the crowd. The second commentator, Otho Kerr, a program director at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, claimed that I was “willing to have us slide back into the days of separate but equal.” (The talk is online, so you can judge for yourself whether those accusations bear any resemblance to reality.)

TED threatened not to post the talk at all, but then agreed to do so if it were part of a single video that included a “moderated conversation” as an “extension” of the talk.  Hughes naturally didn’t like that, as it would out his talk as somehow different from the others, requiring an “asterisk”.  Finally, TED agreed to post the talk above separately and promote it as it would any other TED talk, but that an ancillary “debate” video would also be posted no fewer than two weeks after Coleman’s talk.  Along with this caveat came TED’s failure to promote Hughes’s talk, so that it got many fewer views than comparable talks (some far less challenging).


I held up my end of the bargain. TED did not.

My talk was posted on the TED website on July 28. The debate was posted two weeks later. By the time the debate came out, I had moved on—I assumed that TED had held up its end of the bargain and was no longer paying close attention.

Then, on August 15, Tim Urban––a popular blogger who delivered one of the most viewed TED talks of all time—pointed out that my talk had only a fraction of the views of every other TED talk released around the same time. Urban tweeted:

There have been a million talks about race at TED. For this talk and only for this talk was the speaker required to publicly debate his points after the talk as a condition for having it posted online. As it is, the lack of standard promotion by TED has Coleman’s talk at about 10% of the views of all the other talks surrounding his on their site.

Two days later, I checked to see if Tim was onto something. As of August 17, the two talks released just before mine had 569K and 787K views, respectively, on TED’s website. The two talks released immediately after mine—videos that had less time to circulate than mine—had 460K, 468K views, and 489K views, respectively. My talk, by comparison, had 73K views—only 16 percent of the views of the lowest-performing video in its immediate vicinity.

My debate with Jamelle Bouie—a New York Times columnist with almost half a million followers on X, formerly Twitter—has performed even worse on TED’s website. As of Tuesday, September 19—after having over a month to circulate—it had a whopping 5K views. That makes it the third worst-performing video released by TED in all of 2023.

Either my TED content is performing extremely poorly because it is far less interesting than most of TED’s content, or TED deliberately is not promoting it. A string of evidence points to the latter explanation: unique among the TED talks released around the same time as mine, my talk has still not been reposted to the TED Talks Daily podcast. In fact, it was not even posted to YouTube until I sent an email inquiry.

Given the stimulating nature of Hughes’s talk, at least in my opinion, I attribute its poor viewership to TED’s failure to promote it. Not putting it on YouTube until Hughes forced them to is absolutely unforgivable.

The lesson, as Hughes points out, is that TED shows all the signs of being an “institution captured by the new progressive orthodoxy,” one in danger of becoming “yet another echo chamber.” Indeed, TED is becoming the NPR of public elocution.

I’ve never been a fan of TED: to me it seems to convey bromides that make the audience feel good, telling them what they want to hear. I haven’t found it intellectually challenging, either. This account by Hughes, and the pushback by TED, confirms my opinion.  Please watch the talk above and, whether or not you agree with it, ask yourself if it deserved substandard treatment, to the extent of not even being put on YouTube.

Of course it didn’t deserve that treatment, but got it because its message challenged the progressive orthodoxy of privileged TED viewers, and TED had to somehow punish Hughes for that.

Co-leader of N.Z.’s Māori Party claims that Māori are a genetically superior group

September 15, 2023 • 11:30 am

Is it okay for oppressed minorities to evince blatantly racist attitudes, claiming, for example, that they are “genetically superior to other groups”? (Needless to say, the claim I’m discussing here is not backed by evidence.)

I’d argue that no, dismissing entire groups as inferior based purely on stereotypes is wrong, whoever does it. But it’s even worse when the racist is a co-leader of an important political party in a Western nation.  And what’s triply bad is that the national press and government of that country, which happens to be New Zealand, fails to call out the racist.

That is, of course, because the racist is Rawiri Waititi, a Māori who is co-leader of Te Pāti Māori (TPM): the Māori party in New Zealand’s House of Representatives.  And the report, which I can’t find elsewhere, comes from the World Socialist Website (click below to read). On the other hand, the racist quote seconded by Waititi comes from The Northland Age, part of the New Zealand Herald, the country’s most widely read newspaper:

Here’s the new excerpt, and the bolding is mine:

In an interview with TVNZ on Sunday, Rawiri Waititi, co-leader of Te Pāti Māori (TPM, the Māori Party) defended the blatantly racist statement: “It is a known fact that Māori genetic makeup is stronger than others.”

The statement was made to the Northland Age in September 2020 by TPM candidate Heather Te Au-Skipworth while outlining the party’s call for a $100 million fund to invest in “Māori sport.” It was then added to TPM’s website and was only removed last year after the far-right ACT Party complained about it.

TPM did not issue a public retraction or apology. Now, with an election approaching on October 14, Waititi has doubled down on defending the claim that indigenous Māori are a superior race.

His comments reveal the utterly reactionary character of Māori nationalism, a form of racial identity politics that is dressed up as progressive by the New Zealand political and media establishment. They highlight the sham being perpetrated by liberal commentators such as the Daily Blog and pseudo-left groups like the International Socialist Organisation (ISO), which are supporting TPM as a “left-wing” party.

Speaking to TVNZ interviewer Jack Tame, Waititi defended the comment by stating: “How can it be racist when you’re trying to empower a people that are climbing out from the bottom of the bonnet [sic] of colonial violence for the last 183 years?”

He continued: “We’re trying to rebuild our people… [after] years and years of colonial violence on our people. And so why can’t we call ourselves magic? Why can’t we call ourselves proud? Why can’t we believe in ourselves? And why can’t we say to our people that your genetics mean something, that you can be proud of that?

Umm. . . yes, of course the Māori can believe in themselves and empower their people. Yes, they can be proud, though calling themselves “magic” is a bit too close to superstition for my taste. And of course your genetics does “mean something”, like which group you’re most closely related to (I’m betting on Polynesians).

But what you can’t say is that your group has a “stronger genetic makeup” than other groups. The term “stronger” is meaningless here, and is not used by geneticists to compare genomes of different groups.

The original statement was apparently meant to refer to sports, as seen in the quote below from Heather Te Au-Skipworth, but then she extended it to intellect as well. Here’s the statement from the 2020 NZ Herald:

“Exercise has been a big part of who we are, how we came here and how we would traverse the lands of Aotearoa,” TeAu-Skipworth said.

“Māori invented many sports prior to European arrival – running, swimming, fishing, waka, hunting, kī o rahi, taiaha/mau rakau/te whare tū taua, to name a few – all examples of a tūpuna mindset, an ancestral way of being and acting that we call Whānau Pakari…

To interrupt, I doubt that hunting, swimming, fishing, and running were literally invented by Māori. This cannot be true because people were doing these things all over the world well before the Māori came to New Zealand about 800 years ago (e.g., the Olympics in ancient Greece). Hers is just a dumb statement that is not at all specific to the Māori.

Te Au-Skipworth continued:

“There is much to be taught and learnt from the navigators of our past and how we can use that mātauranga to sail and paddle our way into a future frame by Whānau Pakari.

“It is a known fact that Māori genetic makeup is stronger than others. When there is commitment, dedication and great support around Māori to achieve a high standard in sport, it is guaranteed that Māori will thrive.

“Our ancestors were not just athletic, they were also strategic thinkers with intentions to survive. This all required stamina, resilience, endurance, speed, agility and logic.

It was racist when she said it, and it’s racist when Waititi says it. As the anonymous Kiwi who sent me this link said:

Surprisingly (or not), neither the media nor the Race Relations Commissioner has shown any interest.

If a white New Zealander said that “colonialist genetics were stronger than Māori genetics”, it would be all over the Kiwi news as an arrant example of racism, which it would be. So it’s telling that when a big-time Māori politicians says something equivalent, it’s ignored by the press, the government, and the public.  That is what is known as “the soft bigotry of low expectations,” and all decent Kiwis, whether Māori or “colonialists”, should be demanding retractions and apologies.

Don’t hold your breath. It would be considered racist to call anything said by a Māori “racist.”  That’s how far the fear has spread in New Zealand.

Peter Boghossian interviews Luana Maroja (and a note on “transracialism”)

August 22, 2023 • 9:30 am

When my colleague, coauthor, and conspirator in crime Luana Maroja, a professor of evolutionary biology at Williams College, was teaching a short summer course at The University of Austin, she was interviewed on video about sex and gender issues by Peter Boghossian, also teaching at the U of A.

The interview, below, speaks for itself: Luana did a superb job clarifying the biological controversies about sex and gender (and Peter asked some great questions to draw her out).  As you can see, she’s spirited, eloquent, and amiable, with the latter trait helping her convey antiwoke truths without being seen as “strident”. She’s a great collaborator. The interview is well worth listening to, and I don’t say that because Luana and Peter are friends of mine.

Here are the YouTube notes:

Luana S. Maroja is a renowned evolutionary biologist, Professor of Biology, and Chair of the Biochemistry & Molecular Biology Program at Williams College. She was taken aback when the Society for the Study of Evolution released a statement promoting sex as a spectrum and declaring the validity of “lived experience” in sexual identity. What would inspire such a misguided, conspicuously anti-scientific declaration? In this conversation with Peter, she answers that question.

In plain language, Luana explains chromosomal differences in mammals and how the sex binary is expressed in animals. She addresses popular arguments about exceptions to the binary, such as variations in sex chromosomes, hormone receptor failure, and developmental sex disorders.

They also discuss: Moralistic and naturalist fallacies, bimodality, being “born in the wrong body,” social constructs, clown fish, non-biologists teaching bad biology, and trans racialism.

Luana S. Maroja earned her undergraduate and master’s degree from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and her PhD from Cornell University. Her research interests include population ecology, speciation, population genetics, phylogeny, and phylogeography. Luana studies a variety of organisms, including small mammals, insects, and plants, and has published more than 35 scientific papers.

Luana co-authored The Ideological Subversion of Biology, the cover article in the July/August 2023 issue of Skeptical Inquirer magazine.


0:00 Intro

6:30 Biological view of gender vs sex

12:40 Can you change sex?

15:23 Gender binary

23:55 Reality denialism

28:00 Reaction to SSE videos

38:13 Biological differences in behavior & expression

43:10 Transitioning/Wrap up

I want to make one point about “transitioning” at the very end, where hey discuss why for the woke it’s not only fine but admirable to transition genders, but not okay to transition races (“transracialism”). The philosophical basis of these two transitions was discussed by philosopher Rebecca Tuvel in a 2017 issue of Hypatiaand caused a big controversy after Tuvel concluded this in the abstract (my bolding):

Former NAACP chapter head Rachel Dolezal’s attempted transition from the white to the black race occasioned heated controversy. Her story gained notoriety at the same time that Caitlyn Jenner1 graced the cover of Vanity Fair, signaling a growing acceptance of transgender identity. Yet criticisms of Dolezal for misrepresenting her birth race indicate a widespread social perception that it is neither possible nor acceptable to change one’s race in the way it might be to change one’s sex. Considerations that support transgenderism seem to apply equally to transracialism. Although Dolezal herself may or may not represent a genuine case of a transracial person, her story and the public reaction to it serve helpful illustrative purposes.

and in the conclusions:

I hope to have shown that, insofar as similar arguments that render transgenderism acceptable extend to transracialism, we have reason to allow racial self-identification, coupled with racial social treatment, to play a greater role in the determination of race than has previously been recognized. I conclude that society should accept such an individual’s decision to change race the same way it should accept an individual’s decision to change sex.

Wikipedia describes the blowback from what I think was Tuvel’s a reasonable conclusion. The fracas included a groveling apology by the journal and the resignation of eight editors. Yet I still don’t see any fundamental philosophical difference between a white person claiming that they have a black identity because they “feel black” and a male claiming that they have a female identity because they “feel like a woman.”

On the other hand, the video above inspired some discussion on the Heterodox STEM site about the transracialism vs. transgenderism issue, and some people perceived a meaningful difference from a woke point of view.ˆ That difference is this: transgenderism is supposedly seen by the woke as turning one into a victim or a member of a protected class: it is a disadvantage. (Although transgender women participating in women’s athletics do accrue an advantage, this is largely denied by the woke.)

In contrast, some (but by no means all) forms of transracialism can confer advantages to people—advantages that are seen by the woke as unfair. The discussion centered on white people like Rachel Dolezal who say they are black because they feel black (she also modified her appearance so she could pass as a black person).  By passing as black if you’re not, several people argued that you would accrue an unfair “affirmative-action-based” advantage in things like college admissions and getting jobs.  Other forms of transracialism could also give one advantages: we’re familiar with Elizabeth Warren claiming she had Native American ancestry, a claim that she thought would give her credibility as a member of an oppressed minority. And there’s the book below by an Indian-American who couldn’t get into medical school because of poor grades until he decided to say he was black, and was immediately accepted by many schools. (He later dropped out.) Click to see the Amazon link:

Two points here. First, not all whites who pass as black will get advantages. I’m not sure how much Dolezal benefited personally from pretending she was black, though she did become president of the Spokane branch of NAACP.  On average, a black person is worse off than a white person in terms of prospects, education, income, and so on. Thus you gain the advantage of white—>black transracialism only if you’re assuming the identity of an “elite” black person, like someone in a position to apply to graduate school. And other forms of transracialism, including blacks assuming the identity of Asians or vice versa, wouldn’t get you these advantages because the assumed identity is not credible on a physical basis (though physical appearance shouldn’t matter).

Thus you could justify a difference between transracialism and transgenderism only if you’re woke, and it’s a practical rather than a philosophical difference.  Transracialism isn’t okay because some forms of it give one an unfair advantage via forms of affirmative action, while transgenderism is always okay because it puts one into a protected class that is said to be oppressed.

That’s one way the two forms of “trans” identity can be differentiated, but only by woke people, and only using practicality and ideology rather than philosophy.  Philosophically, I still agree with Tuvel that there’s no substantive difference between assuming a different gender or assuming a different race.

Jesse Singal sees no problem with transracialism

August 10, 2023 • 10:15 am

Not long ago I pondered the question of whether someone could be “transracial”, saying that they feel like (and assuming the accoutrements of) a member of a race that was not their natal race. After all, if you can be transgender, why not transracial? Rachel Dolezal, a white woman from Spokane who passed for black, is the paradigmatic case of transracialism. But her attempt to be identified as black was rejected by everyone, and she was fired as head of the local NAACP.

Despite that, philosopher Rebecca Tuvel analyzed the transracial question thoroughly, and concluded that “similar arguments that support transgenderism support transracialism.” (For that Tuvel was also demonized, with calls for her paper on the topic to be withdrawn.)

As I reported above, most of the people who want to transition races are trying to adopt an East Asian identity instead of a white one. But as Jesse Singal (below) and I noted, the NBC article by Emi Tuyetnhi Tran about this phenomenon was not in favor of it, copiously quoting critics of transracialism but not a single supporter.

Click to read Singal’s piece on his Substack site:

Singal quotes some of the critics of transracialism, whose arguments don’t make sense to either him or me. Below are quotes from the NBC article:

Experts agree race is not genetic. But they contend that even though race is a cultural construct, it is impossible to change your race because of the systemic inequalities inherent to being born into a certain race.

David Freund, a historian of race and politics and an associate professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, corroborates the idea that a “biological race” does not exist. What we know today as “race” is a combination of inherited characteristics and cultural traditions passed down through generations, he said.

In addition, Freund said, the modern concept of race is inseparable from the systemic racial hierarchy hundreds of years in the making. Simply put, changing races is not possible, because “biological races” themselves are not real.

Just to point out one bit of mishigass: if you can change gender from male to female, aren’t there “systemic equalities to being born into that gender”? And of course being female is inherited but also comes with a “culture” (societal expectations).

At any rate, Singal is puzzled why transgenderism is not only accepted but applauded, while transracialism is throughly damned:

Maybe I’m an ignoramus on this subject, but it certainly seems like race can be “changed” in a sense in certain outlying instances, at least. A Sephardic Jew who traces his recent lineage to Iraq might “look” “blacker” than a light-skinned African American whose grandparents are all from Nigeria, by the standards of the made-up racial category of American blackness. The Sephardic Jew could perhaps “change his race” by simply starting to claim to people he’s just met that he’s black (when the subject comes up), and the African American could pass as white by doing something similar. In this situation, haven’t they effectively “changed their races,” regardless of the particular “systematic inequalities” they face?

I don’t see why “outlying instances,” where you have some phenotypic traits of the race you want to assume, are the only defensible ones. After all, there are plenty of transgender women who look not like women but men, with beards penises, and so on. Singal continues:

That being said, I can’t even tell whether my example applies, because the article doesn’t really define what is meant by “changing race” in the first place. If race is just a social construct — supposedly the progressive orthodox understanding — why couldn’t you change it? If, on the other hand, all Tran is saying is that the “listen to this subliminal audio to change your DNA” part of this online trend is nonsense, then sure, of course that’s true, but wait, I thought race isn’t genetic anyway, so of course that can’t be what’s meant by “changing race,” except race is somewhat genetic (“inherited characteristics”), and. . . well, I’m kind of lost. It’s hard even to  hold this all in your head at the same time.

But despite all this confusion, the article is very clear that whatever race is, and whatever changing your race is, you can’t do it — it’s impossible. That very term is used twice. It’s very important that people recognize that while race is (mostly) a fiction (except when it isn’t, because it has a partial genetic footprint), you just can’t change yours.

Why? I’ve never quite understood that. The article contains a lot of somewhat perfunctory-seeming moralizing about how some people are offended by the idea of someone changing race, the overarching theory, I think, being that you can’t “identify into” an oppressed group, but “this thing offends people” is obviously not the same as “this thing is impossible to do.”

In the end, there is no rational argument against transracialism that I can see that isn’t also opposition to transgenderism. And since I have no beef with transgenderism, neither do I with transracialism, so long as it’s honest. And I think Rachel Dolezal was honest.

The real reason that people oppose changing races, and oppose it no matter what kind of change you’re making, is that for some reason transracialism offends people, as if race is a proprietary characteristic, somehow coded in your being, rather than, as transracial opponents contend, a social construct. And even if race is biologically real—and Luana Maroja and I contend it is to some extent, so is sex. If you argue that a biological man can be considered a real woman, or be accepted as one, why can’t a white person be accepted as black?

Singal argues—and he may be right—that race has become such an important part of people’s identities that it simply cannot be changed, though that doesn’t seem like a good reason to me. After all, gender is also an important part of people’s identities. And so Singal argues that people should take transracialism seriously, and, if they oppose it, give us serious arguments why. He ends with a jeremiad against the ubiquity of race as the essential characteristic of people:

It seems pretty obvious to me that the only way out of racism, in the long run, is for people to recognize that race is mostly made up. Even if it’s not a complete fiction (see haplogroups), of course it’s bad to see people as “black” or “Asian” or “Latino” rather than, first and foremost, individual human beings. These categories are much too broad and they’ve done far more harm than good.

But this view feels moribund in progressive spaces. Instead, it’s important to talk about race all the time. Someone with dark skin is capital-b Black, and this is a very important part of their identity, because race is an essential component of each individual’s identity. Race is so important that we don’t dare violate its sanctity by crossing boundaries that are best left alone.

Doesn’t it seem obvious that this obsession — that’s what it is, at this point — is going to have downsides, in the long run? Shouldn’t mainstream journalism outlets demonstrate some appetite to actually investigate this worldview? Or is the point of mainstream journalism to simply remind everyone, over and over and over, what good progressives are supposed to believe?

Why can’t you be transracial?

August 2, 2023 • 11:30 am

A while back there was some discussion about whether people could claim that they were members of a race/ethnicity other than the one they were born into. The paradigmatic example was Rachel Dolezal, a white woman in Spokane, Washington who claimed to be black, and altered her appearance to match her claims. She worked her way up to the presidency of the local NAACP before she was outed by her family and the press. She was thereby fired from the NAACP, and hugely demonized for pretending she was black. It became clear that “transracialism” was not something one could do, in huge contrast with claiming one is transgender, which is not only largely accepted but lauded.

My first reaction was to believe Dolezal’s claim that she did feel she was black, and so why was she demonized in contrast to a natal woman who claims that she really is a man trapped in a woman’s body? There doesn’t seem to be a fundamental philosophical or moral difference between transracialism and transgenderism so long as the claimant expresses honest feelings. Sure, you can make up reasons why slight differences would render the former unacceptable, but they’re just made-up reasons to somehow defend the sanctity of race. To see the lengths people will go to demonize transracialism, read some of the arguments in the NBC News article below.

The philosophical similarity of transgenderism and transracialism was thoroughly discussed by philosopher Rebecca Tuvel in the journal Hypatia in a 2017 article called “In Defense of Transracialism,” (see my take here), and Tuvel was instantly demonized, with the journal’s editor apologizing on Facebook and petitions circulating calling for the article’s retraction. This is all because, in a philosophical analysis, Tuvel didn’t find a substantive difference between transsexualism and transracialism. Here’s her abstract and a footnote:

(Note Tuvel’s footnote when you read the critiques of transracialism in the article below.)

And yes, I agree with Tuvel. If society deems it okay to assume the trappings of a sex other than your natal sex, then they should also accept one who assumes the trappings of a race different from their natal race, so long as the transracial persona comes from honest motivations. After all, both gender and race are said to be social constructs (they aren’t, but it’s irrelevant)(, so why is it okay to change gender but not change race? The only reason I see is that “race” is seen as somehow sacrosanct, even though, like sex, it’s something you’re born with (both natal sex and race actually have biological realities). Race is such a touchy and divisive topic these days that it’s apparently regarded as something that an individual cannot change, even if, like Dolezal, you’re transitioning from a “privileged” race to a “minoritized one.”  And this is often the direction in which it goes.

This controversy is the subject of this NBC News article. Click to read:

The upshot is that many people are now trying to assume a new race—most of them young women, and most of them trying to become East Asian.  This is often done by some numinous method called “subliminals,” whereby you can change your appearance by listening to audio files. That’s hokum, of course, but let’s ignore that and look at the arguments against people who feel they’re Asian and want others to accept them as such. Or against those who want to change their natal race to anything at all. NBC News doesn’t quote a single person in the article who says that this change is okay. Quotes from the article are indented:

Practitioners of what they call “race change to another,” or RCTA, purport to be able to manifest physical changes in their appearance and even their genetics to become a different race. They tune in to subliminal videos that claim can give them an “East Asian appearance” or “Korean DNA.”

But experts underscore that it is simply impossible to change your race.

“It’s just belief,” said Jamie Cohen, an assistant professor of cultural and media studies at Queens College, City University of New York. “It doesn’t ever really work, because it’s not doing anything, but they have convinced themselves that it works because there’s other people who have convinced themselves, as well.”

Well, maybe you’re not changing your genetics to correspond with the ethnic groups we call “races”, but neither are transgender (sometimes called “transsexual”) people changing their gametes. It’s changing your persona, and you can do that with race as easily as you can with gender. Cohen’s argument is simply incoherent, because both transgenderism and transsexualism are “just belief”!

Here’s another argument:

Experts agree race is not genetic. But they contend that even though race is a cultural construct, it is impossible to change your race because of the systemic inequalities inherent to being born into a certain race.

David Freund, a historian of race and politics and an associate professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, corroborates the idea that a “biological race” does not exist. What we know today as “race” is a combination of inherited characteristics and cultural traditions passed down through generations, he said.

In addition, Freund said, the modern concept of race is inseparable from the systemic racial hierarchy hundreds of years in the making. Simply put, changing races is not possible, because “biological races” themselves are not real.

Freund added that the idea of changing one’s race operates differently depending on a person’s racial background and that white people who seek to “transition” to other races can often sidestep the harms of racism.

First of all, as Luana and I show in our Skeptical Inquirer article, race (even in its crudest classification) does have a polygenic basis: races and ethnicities conform very well to cluster analysis based on many genes. And of course sex devolves to a activated genes that set off a pathway resulting in whether you have the equipment to make sperm or eggs. Biology is key in forming both one’s natal ethnicity and natal sex.  So if you can change one because you’re uncomfortable, why can’t you change the other? (By “change”, of course, I mean “change the claim of what you are”, not change the reality of your biological sex and race.)

So Freund is wrong about that.  But what about the sex hierarchy of women’s inferiority that was also hundreds of years in the making? Again, though, I don’t see the relevance of a “hierarchy” argument, especially because most people who want to change their race are going from white to a “person of color”—the direction of accruing more bigotry. (Apparently black people “passing for white” because of their light skin is not so bad, except in the Jim Crow South that adhered to the “one drop” rule.)

Another critic:

Kevin Nadal, a professor of psychology at City University of New York, said: “There is a privilege in being able to change your race or to say that you’re changing your race. There are many people who would be unable to ever change their race. Particularly, Black people in this country would be unable to say all of a sudden ‘I’m white’ and be treated with the same privileges that white people have.”

Again the argument doesn’t make sense. People who want to change their race, like Dolezal, meet with huge opposition.  While there are indeed transphobes, the general tenor of liberal thought is to accept someone’s claim that their self-identified gender differs from their natal gender.  Again, why does race differ? Sure, it’s hard for a black person to claim that they’re white if their pigmentation and other traits are obviously black, but that’s also the case for many natal men who claim that their identity is that of a women but still look like men.  In both cases one can accept the change of persona while still recognizing the natal origins of someone. (To be polite, though, one should address someone as they wish to be addressed and identified—except in cases like sports and prisons, where natal sex should be recognized.)

One more:

Tiq Milan, a Black transgender activist and writer, said it is a disservice to transgender people to compare the two. Race historically emerged as a social construct to establish a racial hierarchy with the white race at the top, whereas variances in gender identity have existed for thousands of years, he said.

“When it comes to who we are as racialized people, it is how we present to the world, but it’s also how people treat you,” Milan said. “It’s not just putting on the hair and the makeup and talking and walking [in] a kind of way. That is fetishizing, and it’s objectifying, and it reduces the beautiful and complicated cultures of people of color.”

First, I don’t think race was “constructed” to establish a hierarchy; as far as I know, race wasn’t used by the ancient Romans or Egyptians to rank ethnicities, and at any rate Egyptians aren’t white.  Of course recognition of different types of both ethnicity and gender have existed for thousands of years. But that seems irrelevant too, as does the “beautiful and complicated cultures of people of color” (is this an implication that people of no color have inferior cultures?).  All that matters to me is that people can claim either a gender or an ethnicity different from their natal condition, and if there are good reasons for this, and it’s not a hoax but a real feeling, why should race and sex differ?

It goes on, but not one person was asked to defend transracialism. (Why didn’t they call Rebecca Tuvel?)

In the end, my view is that if you’re going to go along with people’s claims that they’re of a different natal gender than their natal sex, then there’s no reason not to do the same with race or ethnicity. It may be harder for race if natal race is obvious, but it’s often hard for transgender people too, like accepting the claim of a natal man with a mustache and penis that he’s of female gender.

Now in neither case do we have to accept the reality of claims like “I’m a woman” from a natal man or “I’m an East Asian” from a natal white person. But I think it’s entirely possible to identify with a race other than your natal race, and we should treat those who do so the same as we do transgender folks.

The only difference I can see is that there are racial set-asides, as in affirmative action, and it seems unfair to say you’re black when you were born white just to take advantage of these. But such set-asides are disappearing, and really shouldn’t exist at all. And remember that there are female set-asides as well, and those also seem unfair. Most of us think that a transgender woman should not be able to compete on female athletic teams.

Perhaps the readers can find a relevant philosophical difference for treating transracialism different from transsexualism.  I don’t fully understand why they’re treated differently, nor do the explanations above clarify things for me. It seems to pivot on the centrality of race in public discourse, but even that isn’t very helpful since biological sex and trangenderism are also hot topics these days.

For a sarcastic take on the NBC article, read the Not The Bee piece below (click to read, h/t Luana):


The National Academies post a position statement on affirmative action, followed by an email exchange between Steven Pinker and NA President Marcia McNutt

July 17, 2023 • 11:00 am

Note: This post originally was to include both Steve Pinker’s emails to National Academies President Marcia McNutt as well as her responses to Pinker (two from each), but in the end she decided that she did not want her emails reproduced here. (Both she and Pinker were sent my introduction given below.) Pinker, however, gave me permission to reproduce his.  You can try to infer McNutt’s response from Steve’s second email.

Steve sent the first email in response to the “National Academies Presidents Statement on Affirmative Action” below.


Intro (by JAC):

On June 30, the Presidents of our three National Academies issued a joint statement on the Supreme Court decision handed down the day before, the decision that found race-based admissions in universities unconstitutional. Affirmative action, at least as we’d known it for six decades, was dead.

In response to this decision, Marcia McNutt, President of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), John L. Anderson, President of the National Academy of Engineering, and Victor J. Dzau, President, National Academy of Medicine, issued the statement below. Because it’s on the home page of the National Academies website, was co-signed by all three presidents, is labeled “National Academies’ Presidents’ Statement” rather than “Opinion,” and lacks the standard disclaimer that the views expressed are those of the writers and not the organization, it’s natural to read it as an official position. I thus take it as an official position of the Academies and not just a personal expression of the Presidents’ sentiments.

National Academies Presidents’ Statement on Affirmative Action

Statement | June 30, 2023

Yesterday the Supreme Court issued a ruling to restrict affirmative action that will present challenges to efforts to diversify the nation’s colleges and universities. We strongly believe that the nation should remain committed to these efforts and find solutions that address racial inequities, including past and current racial discrimination and structural, systemic, and institutional racism in education.

A 2011 National Academies report stated that policies that have included affirmative action are fundamentally important to increasing the participation of members of historically underrepresented racial and ethnic minority groups at the postsecondary level across all fields (NASEM, 2011, p. 100). The report further states that increasing their participation and success contributes to the health of the nation by expanding the science and engineering talent pool, enhancing innovation, and improving the nation’s global economic leadership (NASEM, 2011, p. 3). A National Academies report issued in February 2023 recommends that leaders of organizations, including colleges and universities, take action to redress both individual bias and discrimination as well as review their own processes to determine whether they perpetuate negative outcomes for people from underrepresented racial and ethnic minority groups at critical points of access and advancement (NASEM, 2023, pp. 14-15).

It is essential that our nation extend the opportunity for a college education to all, enhance diverse learning experiences for all students, and create equitable pathways to grow a highly skilled workforce and to solve our most complex problems. Diversity is crucial to the success of our society and our economy.

We must also remain committed to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts within our own institution. We will continue to examine the implications of the decision for our staff and our work as an institution, our relationships with partners and volunteers, and our essential work of providing evidence-based advice to the nation on issues related to science, engineering, and medicine.

Marcia McNutt
President, National Academy of Sciences 

John L. Anderson
President, National Academy of Engineering 

Victor J. Dzau
President, National Academy of Medicine 

This statement could not be issued by my own school, the University of Chicago, as it violates the position of institutional neutrality laid out by our 1967 Kalven Report, which forbids our school from making official statements about politics, ideology, and morality unless they are essential to bolstering the university’s function: teaching, learning, and researching. (Our own five-line statement supporting equal opportunity and access for minority groups, while saying that we’re committed to affirmative action, says nothing about the Supreme Court decision, nor have we issued a statement about it.) The Kalven Report was issued because official statements by University officials or departments could be seen as chilling the speech of those who disagree with these positions. (Unofficial and personal statements, of course, are encouraged as free speech, but official statements impede free speech.)

The National Academies’ (NAs’) statement violates institutional neutrality in several ways. First, it is clearly a response to the Supreme Court decision, and to any reasonable individual says “that decision was wrong”. The first two paragraphs lay out why it was wrong, including the NAS’s belief that the Court’s decision presents “challenges” to the NAs’ policy to address and rectify “racial inequities”, and notes the NAs’ previous claim that affirmative action was “fundamentally important” in rectifying these inequities.

Another reason why this political statement couldn’t pass muster at Chicago is because it asserts as fact tendentious propositions like the value of affirmative action and the causation of minority underrepresentation as “past and current racial discrimination and structural, systemic, and institutional racism in education.” Again, this statement can be debated, particularly the part about existing structural, systemic, and institutional racism.

Further, the last paragraph urges people—I presume members of the NA—to engage in advancing “diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts within our own institution.” That now-familiar phrase does not, of course, refer to the abstract goals of diversity, inclusion, and equity per se, which are unexceptionable, but to a specific set of policies employed in many universities and other institutions that include affirmative action, reporting of data on racial composition, and race-conscious orientation and training sessions.

As such, this call for action again establishes an official policy, which is especially problematic because NA members are being adjured to advance “equity” in the recent sense of representation of groups in proportion to their presence in the American population. Given other causes of deviations from the population average besides bigotry (e.g., differences in preference or education), it’s debatable whether “equity” in the statistical sense is what we should be striving for instead of equal opportunity. Either way, what we have here is apparently an official endorsement of a particular political position: affirmative action was right; the Supreme Court was wrong; all discrepancies from population statistics are caused by bias; and we must keep striving to match institutional racial proportions to national ones. In taking a particular moral position—and note that both Steve Pinker and I agree with more limited ways to boost ethnic diversity, but disagree with institutional statements about such issues—the NAS is violating institutional neutrality. The Academies were created and tasked (and are still tasked) not with taking sides on ideological issues, but, as Steve notes below, to provide “independent, objective advice to the nation on matters related to science and technology”.

Finally, note the assertion that “diversity” is crucial to the success of colleges, our economy and society. What kind of diversity? The only kind mentioned is diversity of “racial and ethnic minority groups.” But other kinds of diversity may be even more important to the advancement of science, particularly diversity of viewpoints (the members of a given ethnic group, of course, don’t all share a single viewpoint!), political orientation, religion, and socioeconomic status.  Again, the Supreme Court made this point in its decision:

A benefit to a student who overcame racial discrimination, for example, must be tied to that student’s courage and determination. Or a benefit to a student whose heritage or culture motivated him or her to assume a leadership role or attain a particular goal must be tied to that student’s unique ability to contribute to the university. In other words, the student must be treated based on his or her experiences as an individual—not on the basis of race. Many universities have for too long done just the opposite. And in doing so, they have concluded, wrongly, that the touchstone of an individual’s identity is not challenges bested, skills built, or lessons learned but the color of their skin. Our constitutional history does not tolerate that choice.

This joint statement, then, makes a number of tendentious points that, in toto, would chill the speech of NA members who disagree.  This violates any institutional neutrality that the National Academies have—or should have based on its mission statement, which says that the job of the NAS is not to promote ideological positions but to provide scientific advice to the government.

And, as Steve points out below, taking political positions like this (again, a position that both Steve and I agree with to some extent) runs the danger of alienating the public, whether those statements be Left- or Right-wing. I recently posted about a survey in Nature showing that the magazine’s political endorsement of Biden for U.S. President (a one-off endorsement) led Republicans to be more distrustful not just of the journal, but of science in general.

It is for these reasons that scientific journals and organizations should remain as far away as possible from ideological, moral, and political statements. While editors and scientists may feel compelled to inject their opinions into official venues, they are best made in statements clearly labeled as “opinion” (and distinguished from official positions of the organization), as their overall effect on science is negative—both in chilling the speech of scientists and eroding public trust in science.  While I encourage scientists to express their own views on these issues, it should always be done in personal-opinion statements that don’t carry the imprimatur of institutions like the NAS.

In response to the statement above, Steven Pinker, a Member of the National Academy of Sciences, had an email exchange with Marcia McNutt, the NAS President  (His emails were copied to the Presidents of the other two Academies as well.)

There were two back-and-forths between Pinker and McNutt. Steve gave permission to put up his emails here, but Dr. McNutt decided not to have her emails published.

Although it will become clear that I agree with Steve’s point of view in this exchange (after all, I’ve been defending the Kalven Report for years), I am posting this material to begin a discussion about diversity, about affirmative action, and about institutional neutrality. I invite readers to go through this post and give their opinions in the comments.  All I can say now is that McNutt and Pinker were in unanimity about some matters, but differed strongly about others.

Pinker’s emails:

From: Pinker, Steven <>
Sent: Monday, July 10, 2023 11:20 AM
To: McNutt, Marcia K. [JAC: I’ve omitted the NAS Presidents’ email addresses]
Cc:  Anderson and Dzau
Subject: NAS Statement on Affirmative Action

Dear Marcia,

I would like to express my disquiet at the recent NAS Statement on Affirmative Action. The desirability of racial preferences in university admissions is not a scientific issue but a political and moral one. It involves tradeoffs such as maintaining the proportion of African Americans in elite universities at the expense of fairness to qualified applicants who are rejected because of their race, including other racial minorities such as Asian Americans. Moreover it is a highly politicized policy, almost exclusively associated with the left, and one that majorities of Americans of all races oppose.

It’s not clear to me how endorsing one side of a politically polarizing, nonscientific issue is compatible with the Academy’s stated mission “providing independent, objective advice to the nation on matters related to science and technology”.

The problem is worse than being incompatible with the Academy’s mission; it could substantially harm the Academy’s goal of promoting politicians’ and the public’s acceptance of science. Extensive research has shown that rejection of the scientific consensus on evolution, anthropogenic climate change, and other scientific topics is uncorrelated with scientific literacy but predictable from political orientation: the farther to the right, the greater the rejection of evolution and climate change.

In this regard, for the nation’s foremost scientific organization to identify itself with the political left is to all but guarantee that a substantial proportion, perhaps a majority, of politicians and the public will reject science as just another partisan faction with which they have no sympathy. This strikes me as unwise.

I wonder whether these considerations entered into the decision to issue the statement, and the Presidents decided to proceed nonetheless. Perhaps you considered the downsides and decided that the benefits outweighed the costs. Or, am I bringing up something that the Presidents did not even consider? If the latter, I urge you to at least take it into consideration in the Academies’ public communications, and other activities, in the future.

Steven Pinker
Member, National Academy of Sciences
Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology
Harvard University

Dr. McNutt teplied that day, and the next day Pinker wrote the following in response:

On Jul 11, 2023, at 11:15 AM, Pinker, Steven <> wrote:

Thank you, Marcia, for your swift reply. My concerns, though, have not been allayed.

First, if your goal in issuing the statement was not to criticize the Supreme Court decision, I believe you did not succeed. Nowhere did the statement distinguish legal from scientific issues, the first two sentences are:

“Yesterday the Supreme Court issued a ruling to restrict affirmative action that will present challenges to efforts to diversify the nation’s colleges and universities. We strongly believe that the nation should remain committed to these efforts …”

I don’t think any reader of the letter could read that as anything but a criticism. If the Presidents’ goal was to issue a statement that was not perceived as criticizing the Supreme court or defending affirmative action, was a draft shown to politically diverse commentators (that is, including ones who are not on the political left) to ascertain whether it would be understood that way?

It’s also hard to understand how the statement did not “defend the approach to diversifying the student bodies that was struck down by the courts.” The third sentence approvingly says, “A 2011 National Academies report stated that policies that have included affirmative action are fundamentally important….” But it is exactly the policy of affirmative action that the court struck down. Even more puzzlingly, the 2011 report in fact says little about affirmative action, does not review research on its effects on innovation or global economic leadership, and does not list it among its six “Recommendations” or two “Priorities.”  The citation on p. 100 merely lists it among a range of policies it deems “fundamentally important.”

Even more concerning, the statement could have been lifted out of the pages of any recent left-wing opinion magazine, since it reiterates the current conviction that racial inequities are primarily due to “past and current racial discrimination and structural, systemic, and institutional racism in education” and to “individual bias and discrimination.” Entirely unmentioned are other potential causes of racial discrepancies, including poverty, school quality, family structure, and cultural norms. It is surprising to see a scientific organization attribute a complex sociological outcome to a single cause.

Finally, the statement, and your letter, equate diversity of ideas with diversity of race. The advantages of intellectual diversity are obvious (though I have not seen any statements from the Academy addressing the shrinking political diversity among science faculty, nor the increasing campaigns that punish or cancel scientists who express politically unpopular views). The assumption that racial diversity is the same as intellectual diversity was exactly what the Supreme Court decision singled out and struck down, since it carries with it the racist assumptions that black students think alike, and that their role in universities is to present their race-specific views to their classmates.

Of course, citing rigorous empirical research that is relevant to the issues facing the court or guiding admissions policies going forward would be a highly appropriate role for the Academies. These might include comparisons of the outcomes of racial versus socioeconomic preferences, the effects of standardized test­-based admissions policies on student success, and the implications for scientific quality at institutions like UC Berkeley and the University of Michigan of mandates to eliminate racial preferences. But simply extolling the ambiguous word “diversity” would seem to be beneath the intellectual standards we expect of a scientific academy.

Our goals are the same: to enhance the progress and political and public acceptance of science. In that regard I urge the three of you to give more consideration to the way that communications from the Academies signal solidarity with a political faction rather than “providing independent, objective advice to the nation on matters related to science and technology.”


Dr. McNutt replied soon thereafter, but the response is redacted at her request.

John McWhorter: a personal take on affirmative action

July 4, 2023 • 12:30 pm

Lately John McWhorter appears to be injecting more personal information about his life into his discourse. On a recent podcast with Glen Loury, McWhorter admitted sadly that because of his heterodox writing and ideas, he’s been more or less ostracized from the community of academic linguists, and will likely not be invited to go to meetings or give talks on his field.  In his column in the NYT today, he recounts how his blackness helped him rise in academia over people with better qualification. In other words, he talks about being a beneficiary of affirmative action.  And at the end he gives his views about the issue. Like me, he appears conflicted.

Click the screenshot below to read or, if you don’t subscribe to the NYT, someone has archived the piece here.

Here are three episodes from McWhorter’s academic career:

I was hired straight out of my doctoral program for a tenure-track job at an Ivy League university in its august linguistics department. It became increasingly clear to me that my skin color was not just one more thing taken into account but the main reason for my hire. It surely didn’t hurt that, owing to the color of my skin, I could apparently be paid with special funds I was told the university had set aside for minority hires. But more to the point, I was vastly less qualified by any standard than the other three people who made it onto the list of finalists. Plus, I was brought on to represent a subfield within linguistics — sociolinguistics — that has never been my actual specialty. My interest then, as now, was in how languages change over time and what happens when they come together. My dissertation had made this quite clear.

This still rankles, and especially did so when he met one of the better-qualified candidates who wasn’t hired.

McWhorter eventually chose as his academic niche the development of creole languages, which served him well. He did get tenure, but again he says that his race helped. Referring at first to his efforts to get up to speed into linguistics beyond than his speciality, he says this:

But it all felt like a self-rescue operation, an effort to turn myself into a good hire after the fact. That backfilling of needed skills is a lot to ask of someone who also needs to do the forward-looking research necessary to get tenure.

Of course, not everyone endeavors this Sisyphean task, and the culture I refer to has a way of ensuring others don’t have to. There is a widespread cultural assumption in academia that Black people are valuable as much, if not more, for our sheer presence as for the rigor of what we actually do. Thus, it is unnecessary to subject us to top-level standards. This leads to things happening too often that are never written as explicit directives but are consonant with the general cultural agenda: people granted tenure with nothing approaching the publishing records of other candidates, or celebrated more for their sociopolitical orientations than for their research.

Above we see him suggesting, as he has before, that it is patronizing to hold black academics to standards lower than you hold white ones. He makes this explicit when he talks about his own experience on admissions committees.

I had uncomfortable experiences on the other side of the process as well. In the 1990s, I was on some graduate admissions committees at the university where I then taught. It was apparent to me that, under the existing cultural directive to, as we have discussed, take race into account, Black and Latino applicants were expected to be much more readily accepted than others.

I recall two Black applicants we admitted who, in retrospect, puzzle me a bit. One had, like me, grown up middle-class rather than disadvantaged in any salient way. The other, also relatively well-off, had grown up in a different country, entirely separate from the Black American experience. Neither of them expressed interest in studying a race-related subject, and neither went on to do so. I had a hard time detecting how either of them would teach a meaningful lesson in diversity to their peers in the graduate program.

Yes, that’s a good question, and one that deserves an answer. As for the last bit, where he sees affirmative action as patronizing and condescending, there are black academics who would disagree with him—not just ones who didn’t need affirmative action to achieve their positions, but also ones who admit they did, but don’t care:

Perhaps all of this can be seen as collateral damage in view of a larger goal of Black people being included, acknowledged, given a chance — in academia and elsewhere. In the grand scheme of things, my feeling uncomfortable on a graduate admissions committee for a few years during the Clinton administration hardly qualifies as a national tragedy. But I will never shake the sentiment I felt on those committees, an unintended byproduct of what we could call academia’s racial preference culture: that it is somehow ungracious to expect as much of Black students — and future teachers — as we do of others.

That kind of assumption has been institutionalized within academic culture for a long time. It is, in my view, improper. It may have been a necessary compromise for a time, but it was never truly proper in terms of justice, stability or general social acceptance. Whatever impact the Supreme Court’s ruling has on college admissions, its effects on the academic culture of racial preference — which by its nature often depends less on formulas involving thousands of applicants than on individual decisions involving dozens — will take place far more slowly.

But the decision to stop taking race into account in admissions, assuming it is accompanied by other efforts to assist the truly disadvantaged, is, I believe, the right one to make.

And yet, at the beginning of the piece, he says that by the time of the Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard decision, “I’d personally come to believe that preferences focused on socioeconomic factors — wealth, income, even neighborhood — would accomplish more good while requiring less straightforward unfairness.” There’s a good case to be made for that, as it seems fairer, though some readers here think that using socioeconomic standards—giving a leg up to those most disadvantaged, regardless of race—won’t advance diversity at all.  I’m not ready to give up and go by a procedure that completely ignores race, and though we can’t take race into account, we can, perhaps, eliminate the complete erasure of ethnic diversity in elite colleges via using socioeconomic standards.

Another advantage of socioeconomic considerations is that, to me at least, they’d seem to create more intellectual diversity than would simply upping ethnic diversity. For some reason I think that mixing disadvantaged people from all groups (and also taking account of political and ideological diversity during admissions) would generate more useful discussion among students than simply race-based admissions. Those late-night bull sessions were pivotal in my education, and you don’t have them without discussion and disagreement.

Finally, I do agree with McWhorter’s views expressed elsewhere: the time is coming when affirmative action for race has to come to an end, for if it hasn’t done what it was supposed to after sixty years, it’s time to contemplate other methods, methods that involve creating equal opportunity from birth. And I also agree with him that, as far as we possibly can, we should not lower admissions standards for some ethnic groups. As McWhorter notes, “it is somehow ungracious to expect as much of Black students — and future teachers — as we do of others.”

The end of affirmative action

June 27, 2023 • 10:45 am

Here’s a prediction that’s a no-brainer: this week the Supreme Court will override the Bakke decision and rule that race-based school admissions are unconstitutional. (Several states, including California, have already done this.) This will leave schools in a quandary, since nearly all universities have declared that they’re in favor of “diversity” (they mean ethnic diversity), but they’ll no longer be able to attain it using race as one criterion for admission. (Bakke prohibited “quotas”.)

The title of the article below, from the Free Press, is a bit misleading, as we already know what will happen: schools will try to do an end run around the Court’s ruling by eliminating or downgrading indices of “merit” like grades or test scores, and concentrate intead on “holistic admissions”, a backet of intangibles that includes skin color, ethnicity, and “personality”.

And it’s the “personality” issue that ultimately brought this case to the Supreme Court. Investigation of Harvard’s admissions policy revealed that assessment of personality scores was used, probably deliberately, to lower the apparent “merit” of Asian American Applicants. As the article below notes:

A 2018 analysis of 160,000 applicant records uncovered during discovery in the suit showed that Asian Americans, while outperforming every other group on academics and extracurriculars, received low marks from Harvard admissions officers when it came to personality traits—lowering their odds of admission. Asian American students were consistently deemed less “likable, courageous, kind, and respectable.”

That this method was invidious was revealed by showing that when applicants were interviewed in person by Harvard alums or other university people, their scores were not lower than those of other groups.  They were lower only when Asian Americans were assessed on paper by admissions officers who never met them. To me, this gave little doubt that there was deliberate discrimination going on here, though two sets of Federal courts unaccountably ignored this and ruled for Harvard. An appeal took the case to the Supreme Court.

As I’ve said before, affirmative action is a tough one for me.  I am pretty much a merit-based admission person, but I don’t want to see colleges—especially “elite ones”—devoid of people of color. There’s something about the “optics” of that situation that bothers me.  We are a multicultural and multiethnic America, and that should be reflected in higher education. On the other hand, I don’t favor using “holisitic” admissions, which, in the Harvard case (and probably others) led to palpable racism against Asian Americans.  One solution I’m gravitating towards is class based admissions, which acts to give up a leg to all the socioeconomically disadvantaged regardless of ethnicity, and it’s legal.

I do not, however, favor lowering the merit bar so much that people unqualified to attend a college get in. After all, there are tons of colleges with widely varying admission standards, there are also technical colleges, and, as John McWhorter claims, perhaps not everyone needs to go to college. But in effect, there’s higher education for everyone.

At any rate, this article tells you what you really know: “holistic admissions” is in the offing. Click to read

Quotes from the piece are indented. The article begins by recounting what UC Berkeley did to boost diversity after affirmative action was banned in California, first by university rules and then by law:

Ultimately, the task force concluded that, to achieve racial diversity and not violate University of California policy, it had to deemphasize quantitative yardsticks like grades and test scores and focus on other things. “The prevailing opinion was that if we focused on these qualitative assessments of a person’s interests, lived experience, that would contribute to the diversity of students,” Carson said.

The task force’s conclusion was borne out when, in the spring of 1997—after affirmative action had been prohibited at the University of California but before Boalt could implement the task force’s recommendations—the numbers of minority students admitted to the law school plummeted.

That year, the number of black students admitted to Boalt declined from 9.2 percent the year before to 1.8 percent. Latino admits dropped from 4.2 percent to 2 percent. Meanwhile, the proportion of Asian American students jumped from 15.5 percent to nearly 19 percent, and that of white students, from 57.3 percent to nearly 68 percent.

Which made the task force’s proposal all the more urgent.

Within a few years, admissions officers across the country started to call the new ideas “holistic admissions” or “holistic review.” It sounded more palatable than affirmative action, but really it was a way of achieving the same outcome without saying so explicitly.

Over the past three decades, colleges across the country—public and private—have adopted this approach in an effort to boost their student bodies’ racial diversity.

“Holistic” now includes as a criterion “lived experience”:

Yvonne Berumen, the vice president of admissions and financial aid at Pitzer College, east of Los Angeles, shared Green’s perspective. “One of the most important things in the admission process is the lived experience,” she said. “Race is a part of that.” (“Lived experience,” affirmative action critics said, is like “holistic admissions” or “diversity.” It’s a way of signaling a preference for black and Latino students, while not appearing to be discriminatory.)

If schools are barred from taking all that into account, Berumen said, “it would really change the demographic landscape of higher education.”

The “Green” above is Sonia Green, a black student at Duke, who makes no apologies for using “lived experience” as a criterion:

Green said that the old, meritocratic way of determining who gets into elite universities was actually discriminatory. “Being colorblind is racist, because it erases part of somebody’s identity,” Green said. “By saying that you don’t see someone’s race or you don’t see their color and you just see them as a person, it tells black students that you don’t see the communities that they’ve grown up in and you don’t see the experiences that have made them who they are.”

She suggested that Asian Americans who felt as though they’d been discriminated against by elite universities should rethink that. “I don’t think it’s just because you’re Asian,” Green said. “It’s probably because the school didn’t see you as being a good fit, or the school didn’t get to know enough about you as a person.”

But the problem with this is that ethnicity is not a great indicator of “lived experience”. Does a well-off Nigerian student, or a black student from a middle-class home, have the same “lived experience” as, say, a kid from an impoverished home on Chicago’ South Side? I doubt it, yet I don’t doubt that race will be an important component (if not the only component) of “lived experience.”  Green’s view seems to be that there is a relevant commonality of the communities that black student grew up in that should give them a leg up in admissions.  Well, you can make the argument that ethnicity is a good index of lived experience, but you don’t need it if you use socioeconomic status, combined with merit, as criteria for admissions.

Further, the “holistic” route was exactly what was used to keep Jews out of places like Harvard in the earlier 20th century:

In the 1920s, he recalled, Ivy League schools introduced “holistic admissions” to keep out high-achieving Jewish newcomers—only then they simply called them quotas. The much revered Harvard Man (or, for that matter, the Yale Man or Princeton Man) was a type: WASPy, athletic, well-connected, well to do.

After World War II, the old antisemitism gave way to the new meritocracy, which emphasized quantitative metrics like the SAT and grade point average to ensure that discrimination against Jews or any other unwanted minority wouldn’t rear its ugly head.

One asks: why do we consider it odious to have used holistic criteria to keep Jews out of schools, but perfectly fine to use the same criteria to keep Asian Americans (or whites out of schools)? You can respond that “discrimination like that is okay if it allows for more blacks and Hispanics to get into college,” but the whole problem is moot if you use socioeconomic criteria, which of course are correlated with ethnicity, but not perfectly. And to me, the imperfect correlation makes the whole process fairer, for there are disadvantaged people in every group.

The article winds up by noting that Asian Americans are pretty divided on the “holistic admissions” issue, but are gradually moving against this kind of affirmative action as they’re gravitating more towards the political right. In fact, as a new YouGov poll reveals, “considering race at all in the admissions process is viewed as unacceptable by 65% of Americans, while 25% say race should be allowed to be considered among other factors. About half of Democrats (48%) and Black Americans (47%) reject allowing colleges to consider race in admissions decisions.”

The graph:

I didn’t realize that so many Americans were opposed to any consideration of an applicant’s race. Surprisingly, 9% more black and 34% more Hispanics oppose using race as even one of several criteria. Even 8% more Democrats oppose affirmative action than support it. (The gap, of course, is much larger among Republicans, who don’t differ much from Independents.

Well, the decision will come down, perhaps today but almost surely within a week. Affirmative action will be dead, singing with the Choir Invisible. And colleges are already plotting workarounds.  This will involve devaluating data like grades and test scores, and more “holistic” admissions. But I don’t think that, in the future, universities will be able to get away with what Harvard did: using bogus “holistic” criteria to achieve the ethnic mix they want.  Let’s just think about to socioeconomic status, with more consideration of measurable “merit” and less “holism”.

h/t: Rosemary, R.

Berkeley, DEI, and FIRE

June 20, 2023 • 10:45 am

A while back (I’m too lazy to look this up), I reported on the University of California at Berkeley’s requirement for all job applicants to submit a DEI statement with their application. The statement was to cover three areas: the applicant’s knowledge of about DEI, track record in advancing DEI, and plans to advance DEI at UCB were they hired.  I also recall that the statements were given numerical scores on these areas, and if the total number was below a certain cutoff, the application was ditched without being further considered.

I am opposed to mandatory DEI statements because I think they’re illegal: a form of compelled speech that, at least in state schools like Berkeley, violates the First Amendment. There are other reasons to oppose them, including the possibility that really good candidates might have spent their time doing other non-DEI but useful activities like writing books, giving lectures to the public, and so on. (Or, just doing good science, which doesn’t seem enough these days.)  Further, candidates often have worked so hard during their postdocs and Ph.D.s (jobs are hard to get, and you need a good record), that even if you’re sympathetic to the aims of DEI, you have no time to compile a record. I think it’s sufficient for the university to post a statement that they do not discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity, disability, or other protected characteristics. In other words, they should simply say that there is no discrimination in hiring (or in student applications)

Moreover, there is ample opportunity to game the system: you can copy statements of successful candidates, make stuff up, and even pay someone to write your diversity statement for you! This, perhaps, is why Berkeley didn’t want its scoring system revealed, but, under law, it had to do so. Now all candidates can use it to write high-scoring statements.

Finally, the use of these statements is designed to turn universities into ideological juggernauts, with professors conforming to the preferred narrative of the university (there are many ways to be in favor of diversity and inclusion). The job of a professor is to teach, promote learning, and advance knowledge by doing research. If you want to save the world, that’s fine, but, as Stanley Fish said (it’s a book title), save the world on your own time.

Required statements are particularly invidious when, like the ones used at UC Berkeley (see below), they are given scores, and candidates are rejected right off the bat if their DEI scores are too low.  Think of all the famous and accomplished professors that wouldn’t make the cut today! If you answer, “well, Einstein should have been doing diversity work,” then I don’t know what to say.

While we knew that Berkeley was requiring DEI statements for its science faculty, and that they scored them numerically as the first cutoff for applicants, we didn’t know what the scoring rubric was.  Now we know, thanks to the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), which filed a request for Berkeley’s records (it’s a public school and must disclose these) and for its scoring rubric.

Berkeley sat on its hands for more than TWO YEARS before complying. And it’s no wonder, because the rubric and scoring system really is embarrassing. It’s also embarrassing because candidates are rejected if their statements aren’t up to snuff, no matter how great their scientific work has been. (These statements will probably also become illegal after the Supreme Court bans affirmative action.) Only a diehard DEI proponent would not cringe at seeing how the three areas are scored.

First, see FIRE’s new report by clicking on this screenshot:

Below: some stuff from FIRE.  Note that the rubric that Berkeley sent is from 2018-2019, but I suspect they’re still using it, as are other UC campuses (though I don’t know whether they use cutoff DEI ratings).

The University of California, Berkeley used diversity statements to weed out candidates for faculty positions, according to public records the university finally released more than two years after FIRE requested them.

Many universities now require or invite current or prospective faculty to demonstrate their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion — often through written statements that factor into hiring, research, evaluation, promotion, or tenure decisions.

As FIRE explained in a public statement last year, these diversity statement requirements can too easily function as ideological litmus tests and cast a pall of orthodoxy over campuses.

Berkeley is no exception. The university expects all new faculty hires to “be committed to advancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging[.]” During the 2018-19 academic year, Berkeley’s life sciences departments launched an initiative to advance faculty diversity. As part of the initiative, applicants for full-time faculty positions were required to submit statements on their “contributions to diversity, equity and inclusion,” including information about their “understanding of these topics,” “record of activities to date,” and “specific plans and goals for advancing equity and inclusion.”

These statements informed the hiring committee’s first round of review: If applicants’ contributions to DEI did not meet a high standard, they were eliminated from consideration.

On Berkeley’s dilatory behavior:

FIRE wanted to know more. So in March 2021, we filed a public records request seeking information related to how, exactly, the university was using and evaluating these diversity statements.

And then we waited. And waited. And waited.

Two years later, Berkeley still hadn’t handed over the records.

California’s Public Records Act requires that public agencies make records “promptly available.” Berkeley finally produced the records in May 2023 after FIRE sent a demand letter threatening legal action. It took Berkeley 795 days to comply with its duty under the act. Hardly prompt.

I have no explanation for a delay of nearly 800 days save that Berkeley was doing everything it could to NOT turn over its records, and, given that it had to under the law, delayed and delayed and delayed.

And now the rubric, which was required for all five life science departments at the University. Click below to see how each of the three areas was scored.

Here’s FIRE’s summary:

According to the rubric the hiring committee used to evaluate the statements, candidates who “discount the importance of diversity,” or who don’t feel personally responsible for advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion, received lower scores. As would anyone who “[d]efines diversity only in terms of different areas of study or different nationalities, but doesn’t discuss gender or ethnicity/race.” The rubric even penalizes candidates who “state that it’s better not to have outreach or affinity groups aimed at underrepresented individuals because it keeps them separate from everyone else, or will make them feel less valued.”

But read for yourself. Each of the three areas—knowledge, track record, and plans to advance DEI—are scored on a scale from 1 to 5, so the minimum score is 3 and the maximum 15.  No cutoff point is given here.

I’ll quote the rubric from only one of the three areas: the candidate’s track record:


These will get you the low scores of 1-2:

• Participated in no specific activities, or only one or two limited activities (limited in terms of time, investment, or role).

• Only mentions activities that are already the expectation of faculty as evidence of commitment and involvement (for example, “I always invite and welcome students from all backgrounds to participate in my research lab, and in fact have mentored several women.” Mentoring women scientists may be an important part of an established track record but it would be less significant if it were one of the only activities undertaken and it wasn’t clear that the candidate actively conducted outreach to encourage women to join the lab.

• Descriptions of activities are brief, vague, or describe being involved only peripherally. Or the only activities were oriented toward informing oneself (for example, attended a workshop at a conference)

This will get you a bit higher score: a 3

• May have participated extensively in a single activity. Less clear that there is an established track record.

• Limited participation at the periphery in numerous activities, or participation in only one area, such as their
research to the exclusion of teaching and service.

• In describing mentoring of underrepresented students, mentions specific strategies used for effective
mentoring, or awareness of the barriers underrepresented students face and how to incorporate the ideas into
their mentoring,

• Membership in a student or professional organization that supports underrepresented individuals

And if you want the highest score, between 4 and 5, you have to have done these things. 

• Describes multiple activities in depth, with detailed information about both their role in the activities and the
outcomes. Activities may span research, teaching and service, and could include applying their research skills or
expertise to investigating diversity, equity and inclusion.

• Consistent track record that spans multiple years (for example, applicants for assistant professor positions can
describe activites undertaken or partcipated in as an undergraduate, graduate student and postdoctoral scholar)

• Roles taken were significant and appropriate for career stage (e.g., a candidate who is already an assistant
professor may have developed and tested pedagogy for an inclusive classroom and learning environment, while a
current graduate student may have volunteered for an extended period of time for an organization or group that
seeks to increase the representation of underrepresented groups in science).

• Organized or spoken at workshops or other events (depending on career stage) aimed at increasing others’
understanding of diversity, equity, and inclusion as one aspect of their track record.

• Served as a leader in a student or professional organization that supports underrepresented individuals. 

In other words, to get a high score you must have a record in DEI activity showing that it was a major priority during your doctoral or postdoctoral work, and must have spent a lot of tim—over multiple years— engaged in such activities. Merely saying that you treated all students fairly and equally regardless of their ethnicity, gender, disability status, and so on will get your application rejected.

It’s no surprise that Berkeley wanted to sit on these requirements. If they were proud of them, or even not ashamed of them, why the long delay?