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 view then 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 view, 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 is, as Hughes points out, 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 confirms my opinion.  Please do 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, but that’s because its message challenged the progressive orthodoxy of privileged TED viewers, and TED had to somehow punish Hughes for that.

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?

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

July 24, 2023 • 11:30 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

Total: $13,634,335

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All proposals should have a knowledge generation component.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is evolutionary biology racist?

July 19, 2023 • 10:30 am

The first article below is from a creationist website, Creation Evolution Headlines, and its author is a young-earth creationist. Oddly, though, its own headline and its discussion isn’t too far from what some “progressive” evolutionists maintain: evolutionary biology is racist, which explains the paucity of minorities in the field. The first paper, then, is not that different in its theses from the second and third papers below, although both were published in academic journa, Social Psychology in Education and in Evolution: Education and Outreach; and both papers include at least one evolutionary biologist as an author.  Click headlines to read any of them.

(The pdf for the article below can be found here.

In both papers religion is mentioned: African Americans are more religious than whites, and that makes them resistant to studying evolution. This may well be true, but I don’t know what to do about it. Here’s one anecdote I’ve told before. I was invited to lecture on evolution to a black “magnet school” (a high school) on Chicago’s South Side.  At the end of my talk, a girl stood up and asked me if I was saying that Noah’s Flood and (as I recall) the Garden of Eden didn’t really exist. I had to tell the truth and say, “Yes, that’s what I think.” It caused a ruckus, and I could clearly see that the students became resistant to my message. (After the talk, the principal took me aside and said I really should have mentioned all the innovations that Africans had made, like inventing the airplane.)

But here’s from the paper:

In contrast to scientists, African Americans are significantly more religious than most every other American ethnic group. They also overwhelmingly self-identify as Protestant Christians. Thus, African Americans may be more likely than Whites to experience a major dissatisfaction with their pro-evolution courses and faculty. This perception could well affect their feelings about evolution classes and professors. In effect, African-American undergraduates appear to be more aware than Whites of the foundation of evolutionary theory which is

methodological (and de facto metaphysical) naturalism. Their religious inclinations will therefore be in conflict with the culture within the [evolutionary] community and it will be difficult for them to feel a sense of belonging in that community. The same with their moral objections to evolution, moral objections that are well founded in the African-American experience. The demands of methodological naturalism thus become an impediment to the greater participation of people of color in ecology and evolutionary biology.

Evidence exists that religiosity functions as a challenge to inclusion within evolutionary biology. Religiosity is negatively associated with exposure to evolutionary theory, knowledge about evolution, and acceptance of evolution. In a sample of African-American college students, Bailey found that the more religious the students were, the less knowledge they had about evolution. Moreover, religiosity is also associated with having moral objections to the theory of evolution. Thus, a cultural mismatch exists between the religious beliefs of students, and those of evolutionary faculty who are unable to properly deal with religious differences and moral objections to evolution. This  may create a challenge that leads to a lower sense of belonging in fields of study that are entrenched in evolutionary thinking.

But if it’s “methodological naturalism” that religious people object to, they should object not just to evolutionary biology, but to ALL science. For “methodological naturalism” is simply the proposition that the laws of the universe are all that occurs in the sciences: there is no divine intervention.  (This, by the way, is not an a priori decision of scientists to exclude God, it’s a method used because invoking God to explain natural phenomena never gets us anywhere. You all know the story of Laplace and Napoleon: “I had no need of that hypothesis”. Nor do we need The God Hypothesis now; it’s only an impediment to understanding.)

It’s not just evolutionary theory that’s founded on methodological naturalism, but all of science.  If metaphysical naturalism makes you uncomfortable, then you have no business doing science at all.

More problematic is religiosity, since for some believers evolution poses no problem for their faith, but for others it’s an insuperable problem. Yet most Americans reject the naturalistic view of evolution: in fact, a 2019 Gallup poll (data below), a poll taken every few years, shows, that 40% Americans are young-earth creationists, another 33% are theistic evolutions (who believe that God helped evolution along, especially creating humans), while a mere 22%—a bit more than 1 in 5 of us, accept the naturalistic view of evolution as we teach it in college.

73% of Americans, then, think that God had some hand in evolution. That’s nearly 4 out of 5, and those objections are obviously religious ones. The biggest impediment to accepting evolution, as I wrote about in my Presidential paper in the journal Evolution, is religion. (As you can imagine, I had trouble getting this palpably true thesis published.)  I know of no anti-evolution organization that is, at bottom, not based on religion, and there’s a negative correlation among U.S. states and among countries in the world between religiosity and acceptance of evolution.

With respect to minorities in particular, the “solution” that Bergman offers to the inequities in evolutionary biology is for us to learn to talk about religion and evolution:

O’Brien et al. [JAC: the paper below] concluded that

cultural differences in religiosity as well as the moral objections to evolution cannot be ignored in efforts to increase URM’s sense of belonging in EEB educational contexts (or other science fields that are rooted in evolution). A large proportion of the U.S. population is religious and disbelieves in evolution. African Americans and Latinos/as are more religious than the U.S. population as a whole and scientists in particular (Pew Research 2009a, b). One method to improve religious students’ feelings of belonging in EEB contexts might be teach EEB faculty to navigate conversations around religion.

Based on the studies below, and experiences of my colleagues, yes, black students or URMs (underrepresented minorities) are more wary of taking evolution classes because of their greater faith. What do do about that?  Well, I have talked to students who had religious objections to evolution, but only in my office, not in class. And really, one has to be a therapist to deal with this issue. I can tell the students that many people find evolution compatible with their faith but, as you see from the figure above, most don’t. And if they ask me my own opinion, I will tell them that I don’t think religion is compatible with evolution, but, fortunately, I rarely got asked that by students.

Finally, the issue of eugenics comes up, as it does even in scientific societies. The mantra goes that evolutionary biology was founded on eugenics (no, it wasn’t), and that the discipline is still deeply imbued with eugenics (no, it isn’t). True, there was a period about ninety years ago when some evolutionists proposed eugenic schemes, but these schemes were not adopted wholesale by governments (and not at all in the UK), and those countries who did adopt them weren’t hugely influenced by evolutionary biology (if you want to blame any field for eugenics, blame genetics, but that’s hyperbole as well).

The quote below, reproduced in the paper above3 comes from the paper of Joseph Graves, Jr. (below):

During the same period in which African Americans were fighting for a legal end to Jim Crow, evolutionary biology became a coherent disciple. This occurred between 1936 and 1947 (Mayr 1982), with the founding of the Society for the Study of Evolution (SSE) occurring in 1946 (Smocovitis 1994). This was right after the end of WWII in which racial theories had been utilized to justify the slaughter of millions of people in both the European and Pacific theaters of the war. What is not as well realized is that these theories had their origin in the West and prominent evolutionary biologists and geneticists contributed to their rise (Graves 2005a).

First of all, evolutionary biology is not the sole source of bigotry (although in the past it has buttressed it), and the claim that evolution had something to do with the mass slaughters of WWII is either gross hyperbole or wrong. In every war, each side dehumanizes the enemy, and that began well before 1859.  The slaughter of Americans by the Japanese and vice versa had nothing to do with evolutionary biology. Nor did the mass slaughters of Russians by Germans and vice versa, as well as Hitler’s Holocaust. And if you think evolutionary biology led to the Holocaust, read my colleague Robert Richards’ paper, “Was Hitler a Darwinian?“, free online. The answer is a firm “No!”

To blame past eugenics, or to bring up the Tuskegee experiment (a horrible and unethical study, though not an outgrowth of evolutionary biology) for racial inequities in evolution doesn’t comport with with any data I know of, nor with my own experimence. Has a single student ever said that if evolution had been involved with eugenics in the past, they’d be busy studying evolution now, sometimes with the goal of becoming an evolutionary biologist?

Click below to read the O’Brien et al. paper, and you can find the pdf here;

One of the factors these authors invoke as inhibiting minority participation in evolution is religiosity, and I’ll quote from this paper again:

Thus, challenges to inclusion that are likely the results of access to resources (e.g., knowledge, feeling comfortable outdoors) and challenges that are likely the result of real or perceived cultural mismatches between students and EEB faculty (e.g., religion) were both related to feelings of belonging. Moreover, the relationship between challenges to inclusion and sense of belonging remained after statistically controlling for ethnicity.

In addition, cultural differences in religiosity as well as the moral objections to evolution cannot be ignored in efforts to increase URM’s sense of belonging in EEB educational contexts (or other science fields that are rooted in evolution). A large proportion of the U.S. population is religious and disbelieves in evolution. African-Americans and Latinos/as are more religious than the U.S. population as a whole and scientists in particular (Pew Research 2009a, b). One method to improve religious students’ feelings of belonging in EEB contexts might be teach EEB faculty to navigate conversations around religion (e.g., Graves 2019).

Feelings of belonging are a hard one, for one has to figure out how to rectify that. Mentors would help, though, as Graves points out below, there are very few black evolutionary biologists. If you need a mentor of your own race to succeed, there are two ways to fix that. First, departments could practice affirmative action in hiring faculty (we’re doing that as hard as we can given the restrictions on the practice, though it’s now become illegal). The reason it hasn’t worked that well is that there aren’t many minority evolutionary biologists looking for jobs. (One reason, I think, it that it’s not a very lucrative field, but that’s just my take). The underqualification in STEM that leads to this inequity has only one fix that’s permanent: provide people with equal opportunity from birth.  (There are other fixes that aren’t as good, like expanding outreach, and I’m in favor of them, but in the end the problem we need to solve is one that starts at birth, and there is precious little money or will to fix that.) The ultimate goal to me is equal opportunity, not equal outcomes, but the former is a lot harder to ensure.  And of course given cultural differences and preferences, equal opportunity need not lead to equal outcomes.

Finally, Joseph Graves, an African American evolutionist, weighs in with this paper (click to read, pdf here).

His thesis is that current racism (i.e., ongoing “structural racism”) is what keeps minorities out of evolution.

The central premise of this commentary is that racism in America as it is manifested in higher education (specifically evolutionary biology) creates a culturally non-inclusive environment that systematically disadvantages persons of non-European descent. The form of this disadvantage differs by the sociocultural positioning of individuals. Thus to change the patterns of underrepresentation within the discipline requires that the dominant social group (persons of European descent socially-defined as “white”) to address and act on how their position of privilege is subordinating “others.”

I’d agree with him insofar as the qualifications of minority scientists were eroded by the history of slavery and racism, but I can’t agree that racism is pervasive in evolutionary biology right now. There are simply too many efforts to find and recruit minority and faculty students to support the view that the field is riddled with systemic racism.

And then there’s religion, with Graves indicting my own views:

Darwin’s agnosticism on the existence of God is a well-known feature of his life (Desmond and Moore 1991). Jerry Coyne’s position on the incompatibility of evolution and religion is one that I shared earlier in my career (Coyne 2012). However I have since recanted. Such views certainly stand as an impediment to the successful recruitment of greater numbers of African American students to careers in evolutionary biology.

I question whether my position or views like mine have kept students out of evolutionary biology. Can you find one student who says, “I would have become an evolutionary biologist, but Jerry Coyne convinced me that science and religion are incompatible, so I didn’t major in science or take an evolution course”?  I doubt there are more than a handful of students in America who have even read Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible.” The recruitment of minority students into evolution may be because of religious belief that’s hard to overcome, but I doubt it’s because of the argument I made. That argument was not that religious people couldn’t accept evolution, or that scientists couldn’t be religious. Rather, it was that if you practice both science and religion, you are engaged in contradictory exercises: both fields are based on factual claims (religion, of course, is based on more than that), but only science has a way of determining whether those factual claims are true. This is a more sophisticated argument than simply saying, “Evolution makes a hash out of Christianity.”

I’m not denying, though, that religion is an impediment for black students to enter evolutionary biology; I have had colleagues teaching at various schools who told me they were explicitly told this by minority students. Graves, however, thinks it can be overcome with complex discussion:

However, this [religious belief] need not stand as impediment to the recruitment and retention of African Americans (or other highly religious) individuals into science. I have found that most of my highly religious Christian students have never really discussed the foundation of their theological views. As a confirmed Episcopalian, these are conversations I have learned how to conduct in ways that do not automatically shut down critical reasoning. Indeed, there is variation within Christian denominations with regards to their willingness to accept evolution as compatible with their faith. In general, doctrinally conservative Christians reject evolution (Berkman and Plutzer 2010). For example, the Southern Baptist Convention (formed as the Pro-segregation Baptist Church in the 1920s) and the National Baptist Convention (predominately African American membership) both reject evolution as compatible with their faith; on the other hand, the Catholic Church accepts evolution as compatible with their faith (Martin 2010). Notably there is variation within the individuals who subscribe to major denominations concerning their acceptance of evolution. For example, for Doctrinally Conservative Protestants, surveyed from 1994 to 2004, those who felt that: humans developed from earlier species of animals 76% felt that this statement was definitely false or probably false, while 24% felt it was probably true or true. Similar values were recorded for Black Protestants, 66% and 35% respectively, for mainline Protestant denominations, the values were 45% and 55%; while for Roman Catholics, the values were 42% and 58% (Berkman and Plutzer 2010). Thus while a given church’s official position is to accept or reject evolutionary science, individuals within denominations tend to make up their own minds concerning evolution. I have found that exposing my highly religious students to the fact that that there is variation within Christian thought concerning evolution helps them be able to engage it critically while not feeling that they are abandoning their faith.

Yes, that’s one way to do it, and it’s a lot easier if, like Graves, you’re religious. Another, which a colleague mentioned to me yesterday, is to say, “You don’t have to change your religious beliefs to take an evolution course. All you need to do is study the contents of the course and answer the questions.” (This works for required evolution courses.) Although this may seem callous, to me it involves less dissimulation, for, to be truthful, most Christians do believe something that’s incompatible with the theory of evolution, even if that belief is just that God helped the evolution of only one species along H. sapiens.

All of these authors (save Bergman) are well meaning, and I’m with their goal: everyone deserves a chance to study evolution.  But the solutions involving religion, eugenics, affirmative action, and the like seem like Band-Aids on the wound.

There is only one workable solution, and that’s ensuring equal opportunity for all Americans. I won’t go into the problems with that solution, which may be insuperable, but should we be discussing that solution before we get to eugenics and religion?

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 <pinker@wjh.harvard.edu>
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 <pinker@wjh.harvard.edu> 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.

Conor Friedersdorf on why mandatory diversity statements for academic hires are both wrong and hypocritical

July 9, 2023 • 11:00 am

Several readers sent me the article in The Atlantic below by Conor Friedersdorf, who regularly criticizes woke statements and initiatives in that popular magazine, and is thus on the road to being demonized as an alt-righter or even a Nazi. But, as usual, he takes a heterodox but eminently reasonable stand on an issue regarded as almost taboo: requiring academics to produce “diversity statements” (“DEI statements”) when applying for jobs or promotions. Click the screenshot to read, though it might be paywalled:

Friedersdorf begins by mentioning the case of John D. Haltigan, which I’ve discussed twice before (here and here). Haltigan wanted to apply for a job in the psychology department at the University of California at Santa Cruz, and, represented by the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation, argued that the required DEI statement at UCSC would violate his First Amendment right as it would be compelled speech.  Haltigan is asking the courts for an injunction that would allow him to apply without a DEI statement, knowing that his own statement would render him unhire-able from the outset. I wrote this before:

As I wrote in a previous post, Haltigan didn’t actually apply for the job, because he realized that his own statement would never pass muster with the faculty. But he did write and publish the statement that he would have used had he applied. It wouldn’t have passed muster, though, because it included stuff like this:

I believe that the use of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) statements in evaluating candidates for positions in higher education and academia are anathema to the ideals and principles of rigorous scholarship, and the sound practice of science and teaching.

As Friedersdorf notes, this “is the first major free-speech challenge to a public institution that requires these statements.”  He muses about what would happen were it upheld by courts: everybody would require one, and they aren’t a violation of the Supreme Court’s ban on affirmative action for college admissions. But I think that if this case works its way up to the Supreme Court, DEI statements would be banned as violations of free speech. And that would be a good outcome, for I think that DEI statements are indeed a violation of free speech. As Freidersdorf argues, they act by “chilling” speech—by forcing applicants to hew to a particular interpretation of DEI, and that interpretation is not a King-ian “colorblind one”. (For more information, see my colleague Brian Leiter’s article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed, “The legal problems with diversity statements.”

What surprised me about Friedersdorf’s piece were two things. First was the pervasiveness of DEI statements in American college hiring:

UC Santa Cruz’s requirement is part of a larger trend: Almost half of large colleges now include DEI criteria in tenure standards, while the American Enterprise Institute found that 19 percent of academic job postings required DEI statements, which were required more frequently at elite institutions. Still, there is significant opposition to the practice. A 2022 survey of nearly 1,500 U.S. faculty members found that 50 percent of respondents considered the statements “an ideological litmus test that violates academic freedom.” And the Academic Freedom Alliance, a group composed of faculty members with a wide range of political perspectives, argues that diversity statements erase “the distinction between academic expertise and ideological conformity” and create scenarios “inimical to fundamental values that should govern academic life.”

Second, I was surprised that the University of California system is still using DEI statement to weed out applicants before evaluating their academic credentials. Some colleagues at UC schools have told me that this is no longer the case, but I presume Friedersdorf checked the data before writing the following:

Perhaps the most extreme developments in the UC system’s use of DEI statements are taking place on the Davis, Santa Cruz, Berkeley, and Riverside campuses, where pilot programs treat mandatory diversity statements not as one factor among many in an overall evaluation of candidates, but as a threshold test. In other words, if a group of academics applied for jobs, their DEI statements would be read and scored, and only applicants with the highest DEI statement scores would make it to the next round. The others would never be evaluated on their research, teaching, or service. This is a revolutionary change in how to evaluate professors.

This approach—one that is under direct challenge in the Haltigan lawsuit—was scrutinized in detail by Daniel M. Ortner of the Pacific Legal Foundation in an article for the Catholic University Law Review. When UC Berkeley hired for life-sciences jobs through its pilot program, Ortner reports, 679 qualified applicants were eliminated based on their DEI statements alone. “Seventy-six percent of qualified applicants were rejected without even considering their teaching skills, their publication history, their potential for academic excellence, or their ability to contribute to their field,” he wrote. “As far as the university knew, these applicants could have well been the next Albert Einstein or Jonas Salk, or they might have been outstanding and innovative educators who would make a significant difference in students’ lives.”

At UC Davis, 50 percent of applicants in some searches were disqualified based on their DEI statements alone. Abigail Thompson, then the chair of the mathematics department at UC Davis, dissented from its approach in a 2019 column for the American Mathematics Society newsletter. “Classical liberals aspire to treat every person as a unique individual,” she wrote. “Requiring candidates to believe that people should be treated differently according to their identity is indeed a political test.”

People at Berkeley and Davis have told me that disqualification based on DEI statements is no longer used, but perhaps they were referring to their own departments. It’s odious, though, to prioritize these statements above everything else, and Friedersdorf says why.  The statement about doing other stuff to help society rang true to me because I spent a great deal of time as an associate and full professor being an expert witness testifying in criminal trials about the use of DNA evidence, helping public defenders—one of the great institutions of our justice system—and working for free.  I could have doubled my income taking cases (some people offered me $400-$500 per hour), but I always did it for free (except for airfare and hotel fees), so that my views could not be challenged on the grounds that I was profiting from them.  And I never worked for the prosecution, because public defenders need to be supported as the only bulwark poor people have to get justice.

But I digress: here’s why DEI statements are “anti-pluralistic”:

Mandatory DEI statements send a message that is anti-pluralistic. I believe that diversity and inclusion are good. I do not think that universities should reward advancing those particular values more than all others. Some aspiring professors are well suited to advancing diversity. Great! The time of others is better spent mitigating climate change, or serving as expert witnesses in trials, or pioneering new treatments for cancer. Insofar as all academics must check a compulsory “advancing DEI” box, many will waste time on work that provides little or no benefit instead of doing kinds of work where they enjoy a comparative advantage in improving the world.

And mandatory DEI statements send the message that viewpoint diversity and dissent are neither valuable nor necessary—that if you’ve identified the right values, a monoculture in support of them is preferable. The scoring rubric for evaluating candidates’ statements that UC Santa Cruz published declares that a superlative statement “discusses diversity, equity, and inclusion as core values of the University that every faculty member should actively contribute to advancing.” Do academics really want to assert that any value should be held by “every” faculty member? Academics who value DEI work should want smart critics of the approach commenting from inside academic institutions to point out flaws and shortcomings that boosters miss.

This is a long article, which not only recounts the history of DEI statements but suggests ways that they might even be made acceptable. But I don’t think they should ever be used, and in the end I think the author agrees, claiming that the free-speech costs are higher than the benefits of diversity statements (does any research show that candidates with higher DEI statements make better professors?):

The costs of mandatory DEI statements are far too high to justify, especially absent evidence that they do significant good. Alas, proponents seem unaware of those costs. Yes, they know that they are imposing a requirement that many colleagues find uncomfortable. But they may be less aware of the message that higher-education institutions send to the public by demanding these statements.

And here are five of the costs (words are Friedersdorf’s). The first one probably encompasses the biggest mistake that people are making with respect to all aspects of college. Increasingly, colleges are no longer a place to learn, to teach, and to get excited about learning, but a place where you are molded into a person who will improve society. That of course will change depending on which authorities define what is “an improved society”!

1.) Mandatory DEI statements send the message that professors should be evaluated not only on research and teaching, but on their contributions to improving society.

2.) Mandatory DEI statements send the message that it’s okay for academics to chill the speech of colleagues. 

3.) Mandatory DEI statements send a message that is anti-pluralistic. I believe that diversity and inclusion are good. I do not think that universities should reward advancing those particular values more than all others

4.) And mandatory DEI statements send the message that viewpoint diversity and dissent are neither valuable nor necessary—that if you’ve identified the right values, a monoculture in support of them is preferable. 

5.)  Demanding that everyone get on board and embrace the same values and social-justice priorities will inevitably narrow the sort of people who apply to work and get hired in higher education.

So why, in the title, does Freidersdorf say that mandatory diversity statements are hypocritical? Because they are supposed to promote diversity, and presumably diversity of viewpoints and ideologies, yet are being used to create conformity and stifle dissent. Or, as the author says,

. . . mandatory DEI statements are profoundly anti-diversity. And that strikes me as an especially perilous hypocrisy for academics to indulge at a time of falling popular support for higher education. A society can afford its college professors radical freedom to dissent from social orthodoxies or it can demand conformity, but not both. Academic-freedom advocates can credibly argue that scholars must be free to criticize or even to denigrate God, the nuclear family, America, motherhood, capitalism, Christianity, John Wayne movies, Thanksgiving Day, the military, the police, beer, penetrative sex, and the internal combustion engine—but not if academics are effectively prohibited from criticizing progressivism’s sacred values.

Professor loses job offer at UCLA after grad students object to his views about DEI statements

June 29, 2023 • 9:15 am

I’m not sure why the Chronicle of Higher Education wrote such a long story about this issue, but probably because it instantiates an ongoing controversy in higher education. Actually four controversies, the last of which isn’t mentioned in the article:

1.) Should candidates be required to submit “DEI statements” when they apply for a job at a university?

2.) Should those statements be vetted against a given “correct” ideological position by the university or department?

3.) Should the candidate be denied a job if their DEI statements aren’t ideologically correct?

4.) Is it legal to require these statements (especially at a state university) since they may violate the Constitution by being loyalty oaths and subject to “viewpoint discrimination?”

In the case of psychologist Yoel Inbar, a professor at the Unversity of Toronto who applied for a joint hire with his partner at UCLA’S Department of Psychology, UCLA’s answer to the first three questions was, respectively, yes, yes, and yes.  He didn’t get the job. The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), however, thinks the answer to #4 is “no,” and is investigating the issue.

Click to read:

There are a lot of twists and turns here, and I won’t describe them, as they’re in the article. The short take is that Inbar was probably going to be offered the job, but lost it after a bunch of grad students in the department objected to his take on DEI—a take expressed in a five-year-old podcast. From CHI:

A psychologist spoke out this week about what critics see as a job offer gone awry over an ideological spat about diversity statements.

Yoel Inbar, an associate professor at the University of Toronto, was up for a job at the University of California at Los Angeles. But the psychology department there decided not to proceed after more than 60 graduate students in the department signed an open letter urging the university not to hire him.

At issue, the students wrote, were Inbar’s comments on his podcast expressing skepticism about the use of diversity statements in hiring, as well as about other efforts intended to make the academy more inclusive.

In the letter, which circulated on Twitter, the students wrote that Inbar’s hiring “would threaten ongoing efforts to protect and uplift individuals of marginalized backgrounds” and that Inbar “prioritizes advocating for those he classifies as political minorities in academia” over fostering inclusivity. In a meeting with graduate students, the letter continues, Inbar’s answers to questions about diversity, equity, and inclusion were in some cases “outright disconcerting.” (Inbar shared his account on a podcast episode released on Tuesday, and spoke with The Chronicle on Wednesday.)

You can also see students’ letter here. This was one of those incidents that go viral on Twitter, though since I’m told that (or am sent tweets), I haven’t verified that for myself.

But what’s clear is that Inbar is a liberal, and that he’s not against departments promoting diversity. His objection was to mandatory DEI statements, an objection that repelled the students. There’s also another twist; the students think that, as a psychologist studying “moral and political ideology”, Inbar’s work wasn’t sufficiently imbued with issues of race, gender, and other work about discrimination. In other words, they objected as much to his lack of ideologically-infused research as to his objection to DEI statements, statements that he considers aren’t efficacious but which serve only to flaunt virtue.  From CHI:

The story began, Inbar said Tuesday on the podcast Very Bad Wizards, when his partner received a job offer from the UCLA psychology department. When she inquired about the possibility of bringing Inbar on as a partner hire, the department was receptive, Inbar said. During a campus visit in late January, faculty members seemed enthusiastic about him as a candidate.

But he told the hosts of Very Bad Wizards that his meeting with the diversity-issues committee was one of several “strange things” that happened while he was on campus. At the end of the meeting, in which the committee asked standard questions about his approach to diversity in his teaching and research, Inbar said he had been asked about a December 2018 episode of Two Psychologists Four Beers.

In that episode, Inbar said that diversity statements “sort of seem like administrator virtue-signaling,” questioned how they would be used in a hiring process, and suggested “it’s not clear that they lead to better outcomes for underrepresented groups.”

The committee asked: Was he prepared to defend those comments now?

“To be honest, I wasn’t, because this episode is like, four and a half years old,” Inbar said on Very Bad Wizards. But he explained his current stance: “The very short version is, I think that the goals are good, but I don’t know if the diversity statements necessarily accomplish the goals.” (One host of Very Bad Wizards, David A. Pizarro, a professor of psychology at Cornell University, said he’d let Inbar’s comments on the podcast speak for themselves.)

So Inbar is in favor of promoting diversity, but said that he didn’t think that DEI statements were the way to do that; that they are “virtue-signaling”.  I agree with Inbar, and diversity statements are not allowed at the University of Chicago precisely because, I believe, they violate freedom of speech and are a form of compelled speech when vetted compared to desired “rubrics.”

Here are the graduate students objecting not just to his views on DEI statements (it’s not enough that he’s in favor of the statements’ goals), but also to the insufficiently “minoritized” character of his academic work:

Then Inbar met with some of the graduate students. Both parties recalled the meeting as unusual. The students wrote in their letter that Inbar had told them that his “work does not really deal with identity,” which they found problematic. Inbar studies morality and political ideology, the students wrote, so “it was deeply troubling to hear that he does not believe identity (i.e., individual background as it pertains to race, gender, sexuality, class, or ability) has bearing on these research questions.”

But Inbar said the graduate students had never asked him directly about the podcast episodes mentioned in their letter. “To be honest, it wasn’t entirely clear what they were getting at” in the meeting, Inbar told The Chronicle; if they had asked more-direct questions about, for instance, his approach to mentoring students from diverse backgrounds, he said he could have answered them.

It seems to me that calling for Inbar not to be hired because his work isn’t centered on “identity” constitutes a violation of his academic freedom. Inbar is a highly respected scholar, and here we have students saying “you’re working on the wrong thing” when in fact they offer no critique at all of his research.

In the end the department, rattled by the graduate students’ statement, convened an unusual special committee to re-evaluate Inbar’s application. The committee went along with the students and Inbar he didn’t get the job.

I think FIRE’s take on what happened seems accurate (read the students’ letter):

Meanwhile, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression has requested from UCLA documents related to Inbar’s case, including the committee’s report; the university denied that request in March and an appeal this month. Alex Morey, director of campus rights advocacy at FIRE, told The Chronicle that her organization is preparing a second appeal, arguing that the records are a matter of public interest.

“What we suspect may be happening here is that because Professor Inbar allegedly did not parrot the correct views on DEI and some students objected to that, he may have been discriminated against because of his views in the hiring process,” Morey said. That’s not allowed at a public university, she said: “They can hold faculty to viewpoint-neutral type of criteria, objective standards, but they can’t say, ‘If you don’t pledge allegiance to our particular view on diversity, you can’t have a job.’”

They’re right: there is strong evidence here for viewpoint discrimination. What’s odd is that the very views held by Inbar—that the goal of increasing diversity is good but mandatory DEI statements for applicants are not—is the very goal of schools like the University of Chicago, which tries to preserve freedom of speech and academic freedom while seeking a diverse student body.  DEI statements should not be required for application, and if that’s the case then questions #2 and #3 above become superfluous.

In 1972, the University of Chicago issued the Shils Report, which lays out the criteria for hiring, retention, and promotion within the University. Here are the four criteria listed in the report (my bold):

Any appointive body must have a standard by which it assesses the merits of the alternative candidates before it. Academic appointive bodies in general, and at The University of Chicago in particular, must have clearly perceived standards which they seek to apply to particular cases. They must seek to choose candidates who can conform most closely with these standards in their most exigent application. The standards to be applied by any appointive body should be those which assess the quality of performance in (1) research; (2) teaching and training, including the supervision of graduate students; (3) contribution to intellectual community; and (4) services. Distinguished performance in any one of these categories does not automatically entail distinguished performance in the others. For this reason, weighting of the various criteria cannot be avoided by appointive bodies. The Committee thinks that the criterion of distinction in research should be given the greatest weight.

It’s understood that “services” means “services to the University,” like serving on committees and the like. You’d be hard pressed to shoehorn “correct ideology towards diversity in there,” and, as I understand it, the powers that be here have decided that requiring DEI statements violates the Shils criteria. (This is my interpretation from what I’ve heard, so don’t take it as an official policy of the university.)  At the same time, the University is dedicated to maintaining diversity, including diversity of thought. We have a strong policy to that effect. It seems to me that our own policy, which promotes diversity while insisting on freedom of expression and academic freedom, expresses the very views that cost Inbar his job.

This is not a “cancelation,” but only the failure to offer a job, and Inbar is being sanguine about it:

Meanwhile, Inbar is not asking for sympathy. His partner received a one-year extension of her job offer from UCLA, which he told The Chronicle was “spectacular,” and the couple may consider moving to Los Angeles if Inbar can find a job in the area. “I don’t want people to cry over this for me,” he said on Very Bad Wizards.

In the past, he added, he’s urged faculty members to speak up about potentially controversial topics they believe in. His recent experience has changed his mind.

“Is there a cost to opening your mouth about this stuff? Absolutely, there is,” he said. “Would I advise a junior person to take any sort of heterodox position on this publicly? Absolutely not, because you only need to piss off a few people. It just takes one or two to sink you. Just stay out of it.”

That last paragraph shows how institutional policies requiring or promoting a specific ideology (in this case, one construal of DEI) can chill speech. And that’s why we don’t have such policies.

A few tweets. Below is Matt Yglesias laying out what happened, and then Sean Carroll apparently misunderstanding Yglesias’s tweet, which includes part of the students’ statement and a link to it.  The actual beliefs at issue are, in fact, part of what Yglesias said.

Jesse Singal then weighs in, saying that Carroll apparently missed what Yglesias was writing about.

FIRE has been trying to get UCLA’s records about the Inbar decision, records that should be public since UCLA is a state school. They have a series of ten tweets about it; I’ve put three below.  I doubt that this will lead to a lawsuit against UCLA, but it’s time that required DEI statements be adjudicated as possible violations of the First Amendment.

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?