White House plan to foster equity and excellence in STEMM is all about equity, not excellence

January 30, 2023 • 9:35 am

In December the White House released a longish plan to “transform” STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine) in the U.S. It turns out that the main goal—if not the only one—is equity, and there’s precious little mention of making science more “excellent”. Click to read:


I don’t want to go over this line by line, but I’ll give a few extracts to show you that this initiative has virtually nothing to do with improving excellence, but everything to do with improving equity: i.e., ensuring that the proportion of members of the two sexes or of diverse ethnic groups who are funded, who get jobs, or who go into the STEMM pipeline are roughly equal to their proportion in the U.S. population.

Further, the present inequities in STEMM are automatically assumed and loudly ascribe to ongoing “structural racism”, bigotry, and so on. That assumption, of course, is not only unwarranted, but anyone in science knows that graduate schools and hiring programs are doing everything they can to bring women and ethnic minorities into the field.  Sure, there may be some bigots here and there (I’ve never encountered any scientist trying to deny opportunity to someone because of their sex or ethnicity, but that’s just my lived experience); but I simply can’t discern features of the field itself that have been put in place to perpetuate inequities.

This proposal, in other words, is identical to the “progressive” editorials appearing in every science journal around. I didn’t think Biden and his administration would capitulate to the woke demands for equity (I favor equal opportunity, not proportional outcomes), but at least they have in STEMM. The administration is much more “progressive” than I thought, though had I know that I still would have voted for Biden, as there’s simply no way I’d mark a ballot for Trump. (“Progressive” is my synonym for “woke,” since every time I use the “w” word I get Pecksniffs writing me to say, “I would have read your post but then you said ‘woke’ and I stopped reading.”)

Can you increase excellence by increasing equity? That seems to be the tacit assumption of this program, but one for which there is very little evidence. (The classic paper supporting the idea that diversity itself increases net excellence is this 2004 PNAS paper, arguing that diverse groups do better at solving math problems than groups of high achievers. But this it was a mathematical model with no empirical data, and was later found to be fatally flawed.) There are no strategies in this document intended to increase excellence by itself, though plenty to increase equity by itself. Excellence is just seen as an inevitable byproduct of equity (my bolding below):

To achieve these urgent priorities, people across all sectors must meet the President’s call to confront and overcome the challenges that prevent us from having a science and technology ecosystem defined by both equity and excellence.

The national vision for STEMM equity and excellence calls for bold concerted leadership, focusing our national efforts and synchronizing cross-sector initiatives across five core action areas. Each action area proposes promising practices, sources over the course of OSTP’s national engagement, to focus interventions:

At least insofar as affirmative actions are concerned, those are predicated on the view that there is an antithesis between excellence and equity, ergo you must sacrifice excellence (at least in terms of formal scientific achievements or qualifications) to achieve equity.  Now that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t strive for more diversity (although I think it’s misguided to try for “equity”), but we need to recognize that that is a social goal, in which diversity is seen as an inherent good (as in Powell’s crucial opinion in the Bakke decision) or as a form of reparations.

Here are some bits of the paper, the first one seeming to indict science in an unfair way.  And I would contest the first sentence (bolding mine):

Despite this track record of national leadership, history has shown that new investments in science and technology rarely translate to equitable results for all peoples and communities without sustained, intentional effort. Indeed, such advances have often served to deepen inequality and reinforce systemic barriers, with the benefits of science and technology not reaching all communities equally. Further, our science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine ecosystem shuts out and diverts away too many talented individuals, limiting opportunities for discovery and innovation, and our national potential for the greatest impact.

Do such inequities fall on science’s doorstep? I think not. If minority communities didn’t get their Covid vaccines equitably, that can be due to a host of other factors, though of course anyone who wanted to get vaccinated could do so.

As the paper notes (their bolding), “Bias, discrimination, and harassment plague the science and technology ecosystem, from school to workforce and beyond. Systemic barriers—including bias, racism, sexism, ableism, exclusion, discrimination, cultural disincentives, and chronic underfunding—deter people of all ages from considering, pursuing, and persisting in science and technology careers and limit participation in science and technology.

For some reason characterizing STEMM as an “ecosystem” irks me, as there’s a biological meaning for that word that doesn’t correspond to its usage above. Why not just say “STEMM”? The word “ecosystem” appears 27 times in this document, while there are 11 uses of “equity”, 5 of “excellence”, and none of “merit.”

Back to the document. Here’s an example they give imply structural racism. But it’s construed wrongly:

  • Funds and resources are unevenly available, often exacerbating existing disparities, stunting science, and building distrust of the scientific system. Many documented trends have caused these gaps to grow deeper and wider: Persistent late-career funding trends undermine the potential of early innovation, with the average age for receiving a first significant federal or equivalent grant hovering close to 45, and principal investigators (PIs) over 65 receiving twice as many RO1s as those under 36. Studies have consistently shown inequities in the allocation of research funding, including a landmark 2011 NIH study which exposed that Black PIs were funded at roughly half the rate of White PIs. These problems have early roots, with minority-serving institutions (MSIs), emerging institutions, and community colleges receiving on a small fraction of all of the science and technology research and development funds available each year. While many initiatives and programs in federal agencies and academic institutions work to advance community priorities, they are chronically underfunded.

The problem is that that 2011 study showed that the existing funding disparities were not caused by bias in grant reviewing (which a study showed did not exist), but on the fact that black investigators tended to apply for money in fields that were not well funded and also had poorer “track records” in publishing as shown on the NIH-required c.v.s  I discussed this 2011 study and the problems with the bias explanation on this website.  Didn’t the White House know of these explanations? Apparently not. They’d prefer to let people think it’s due to structural racism in the NIH.

Now the good stuff. After issuing a spate of accusations of how science is riddled with misogyny and racism, the document proposes some fixes to achieve equity. Some of these are fine, as they actually buttress opportunity, which is what I would go for. They also try to buttress good science teaching, which I’m always for.  Here are some proposals I like (you can read the document yourself to see ones that aren’t so good):

  • Offer opportunities at every stage of life, education, and career to help people enter STEMM, such as clearer pathways between early- and first-exposure science and technology experiences, those that focus on middle school girls and gender non-conforming youth, and existing scholarships and research experiences at community, vocational, and four-year colleges and universities.
  • Create opportunities for professional learning, and leadership along with the opportunity to work collaboratively within and across schools and learning communities.
  • Leverage and increase access to affordable, comprehensive, evidence-based pre-service teacher preparation programs.
  • Support teachers in earning initial, additional, or advanced certification in high-demand areas such as computer science.
  • Provide resources for experiential STEMM learning and research experiences for students and teachers in classrooms and in extra-curricular settings.
  • Support mechanisms that provide science and mathematics teachers with living wages and help to pay off forms of educational debt.
  • Fund and incentivize public participation and engagement in science and make participation in science accessible to the public in spaces that are already used.

There are others I like, but you can see that some of the proposals are designed to increase opportunity rather than ensure proportional outcome, while others want to fund and support science teachers who, like most secondary-school teachers, are grossly underpaid considering what they do and how important they are. (Many of us became scientists because we were turned on by good, passionate, and charismatic teachers.)

By concentrating its plans for the future of science on achieving equity rather than equal opportunity, and by completely ignoring merit and ways to create excellence by itself, the White House document is scuppering the future of science. And by characterizing science as a roiling hotbed of bigotry, racism, and structural features designed to hold down the oppressed, the document also insults science itself.


American Scientist goes “progressive” with a truly bizarre article

January 28, 2023 • 1:15 pm

American Scientist is a bimonthly science publication put out by Sigma Xi, the honorary fraternity for scientists and engineers. ( I think I’m a member but can’t recall.) At any rate, it specializes in popular articles about science but is now including articles like the one below, which could well be described with the “w word.”  Does this hijacking of a science magazine by “progressive” ideology remind you of any similar incidents?

At any rate, the article below, which purports to be about science and music, and has a very clickbait-y title, turns out to be a bunch of unevidenced assertions that add up to this claim: when people rank music, very often men come in at the top, and women lower.  That’s because, they say, of bigotry against women musicians. Further, just like in music, women don’t rise to their proper level in science. That, too, is because of present-day structural misogyny in science.

I’m not sure why they make this comparison, since the claim about misogyny has been made widely, and they could just write about women and STEM. But that has been done to death, so I suppose that’s why they dragged music into it. But they don’t substantiate the claims they make, blithely assuming that the ranking of women in both science and music reflects misogyny that, while abating in modern times, is still practiced by guys. It’s also very poorly written, with the connection between the two areas not made well at all. It’s just a comparison without data, presumably made to show the science magazine’s virtue.

Click to read

Again I’ll argue that yes, of course there used to be misogyny in science, and it was widespread. Women of enormous talent were forced into other areas, or, if allowed into science, weren’t often given regular academic jobs, and were discriminated against in many other ways. The predominance of men in science was palpably obvious, and the discrimination against women in the past is made clear from the fact that since prejudice has fallen, women are now pouring into the field.  Things aren’t yet adhering to “equity” (50% of each sex), but I doubt that once can make a convincing for present structural sexism in science. (Of course, there are male scientists who are sexists and act on it; I’m talking about the mores and practices of science in general.)

We have to remember, too, that there are data showing that some of the sex inequity in STEM reflects different choices of the sexes as well. This is the famous “gender equality paradox”, showing that the underrepresentation of women in STEM fields actually increases in countries that have more gender-equality. The explanation is that women aren’t as interested in STEM fields as men, and in gender-equal countries they are freer to exercise their preference, while in poorer and more gender-biased countries (the two factors are correlated), women gravitate more towards STEM because it’s professional, lucrative, and offers a step up in remuneration and quality of life. I wrote about this result at length, and showed the data, in a post from 2018.

A short summary of the American Scientist’s argument:

a.) In December, the Philadelphia public radio station asked its listners to vote on the 2021 greatest albums of all time.

b.) They the played selections from those albums for a week.

c.) During one nine-hour period of this week, apparently by chance, all the music played was by male groups or vocalists, even though music by women was on the greatest-albums list.

d.) Ergo, there shows bias against women’s music. So does the fact, says the article, that over 80% of Rolling Stone‘s Top 50 albums of all time are by exclusively male groups or singers (many of those asked to vote were women).

e.) The bias towards male music is said to result from brain development, in which younger people develop their taste for music when their brains are forming—between ages 13 and 25.  For older people who voted, their musical tastes were thus formed when male music predominated, and those tastes are reflected in votes throughout their life, ergo the results above.

Have a gander at their theory:

The gender gap, both in STEM education and employment, has been shrinking over time. Is that shrinkage simply a matter of a gradual rise toward better equality from the ground up? I was somewhat surprised when Kurtis pointed me to arguments that the long persistence of inequality in musical tastes may be due to radio listeners’ brains. In a separate Twitter thread, she pointed to neuroscience research that Daniel Levitin wrote about in his 2006 book This Is Your Brain on Music, which suggests that individual music preferences are solidified between the ages of 13 and 25 because of the brain development that typically occurs around that age. Although WXPN did not ask for age or gender information from its listeners when collecting votes, Kurtis told me that this result from cognitive science may explain a generational preference toward certain bands and genres. “While I’m mainly talking about music that was NEW while you were 13–25, really, it’s any music you fell in love with during that time which leaves an indelible mark on your brain, so younger people are still apt to emotionally connect with music older than they are, but older music fans are not as likely to become attached to music released after they turn 25,” Kurtis told me in our email exchange.

I’d say that doesn’t constitute evidence at all. It may be true, and it seems likely that music preferences are indeed formed when you’re younger and are hard or impossible to change. And yes, twenty years ago there were more men than women producing music. (But ask: does this absolutely mean discrimination against women, or could it partly reflect preference for making music?)  But what that has to do with brain development eludes me.

And then the kicker: a sly but duplicitous transition into inequities in STEM:

Does something similar happen in the sciences? Is there a particular age when our brains are most impressionable and open to embracing a STEM-focused career path? If so, do we have to wait to outlive the generation of Baby Boomers reliving the greatest hits from their own teenage wasteland?

The article goes on, and I don’t want to waste my time correcting or highlighting all the conceptual errors that author Shapiro makes.  I will leave you to read it for yourself, but want to make three points:

1). Inequities between groups can have causes other than bias or bigotry. Thus you can’t assert that inequities are prima facie evidence for bigotry. (This is the most pervasive error in social-justice activism these days, and yet it’s almost taboo to discuss it.)

2). Still, women have had a hard time making it in science. This is now being rectified by a gazillion initiatives on many levels, and I see no present evidence of “structural misogyny” in science. Inequities don’t constitute evidence for misogyny going on now, but they likely reflect biases in the past: the invidious signs of history.

3). The piece above does not belong in a science magazine, particularly because of the dearth of evidence supporting their hypothesis (which is theirs).

h/t: Williams

On the inequity of sex representation in STEM, and extra review for papers that buck the current ideological climate

September 8, 2022 • 10:15 am

I have neither the time nor the space to sum up either of these two papers (the second is a short supplement to the first), but if you’re interested in gender parity in STEM fields, you should definitely read the longer Stewart-Williams and Halsey paper. It’s fairly new (2021) and is loaded with data and references about the widely-discussed deficit (“inequity”) of women in some STEM fields, what factors might cause it, and what, if anything, should be done to assure parity. It’s a big paper—26 pages of text—but also has nearly every reference up to 2021 that I know about on the topic (and many more), with over 11 pages of citations in addition to the text.

You can read the paper by clicking on the screenshot below, or downloading the pdf here (reference at the bottom of the page). Stewart-Williams is a professor of psychology at the University of Nottingham in Malaysia, while Lewis Halsey is a Professor of Environmental Physiology at the University of Roehampton.

There are many aspects of the paper, but the overall message is that a lack of equity between men and women in some (not all) STEM fields cannot be wholly imputed to bias or “structural sexism” because there are many other factors causing such inequities. These factors include sex-differing preferences, interests, the greater overall variability in performance (and other traits) of men, evolution, and so on.  The authors do note that there is evidence for bias against women, describing a long list of studies, but also show that there’s also evidence that women are favored in entering and succeeding in STEM, giving an even longer list of studies. We all know—though few mention—that the proportion of women in STEM goes down as countries become more equal in opportunity afforded to males and females, which suggests that in more gender-equal countries women’s preferences and other non-biasing factors are more freely excercised, perhaps leading to a decline in participation in STEM (I’ve written about this before).

Stewart-Williams and Halsey attribute some of the sex differences in interests (and variability) to evolution, but freely admit that any hypotheses they have are just stories and are very hard to test.

The biological difference in STEM representation can, say the authors, be partly imputed to the claim that “Men are more interested in things than are women, who in turn are more interested in people.” (Remember, this is an average, and doesn’t imply anything about whether some women can be more interested than many men in STEM fields, nor does it buttress any discrimination.) There are many studies implying that such differences are not only cultural universals among many societies (of course, one could argue that this is forced onto women by sexism in all societies), but they are also seen in very young infants who haven’t yet had a chance to be “socialized in sexism”, as well as in our primate relatives. These two points make an explanation based wholly on socialization less likely.

Rather than go into more detail, I’ll just say that if you strive for equity in gender or sex in STEM because you think inequities result solely from bias or sexism, do read this paper first. I’ll give one figure, below, and reproduce conclusion of the article.

First, a simplified diagram from the paper showing the many sources of inequities in sex representation in STEM. Each is discussed in detail in the paper:


(From the paper): Figure 3. Occupational outcomes are a product of many different factors; workplace discrimination is only one among many.

. . . and the paper’s conclusion. I’ve put part of it in bold because I agree with the goal of maximizing opportunity rather than enforcing pure equity and making unevidenced claims of bigotry.

Conclusion: Many factors at play

In summary, any exhaustive discussion of the relative dearth of women in certain STEM fields must take into account the burgeoning science of human sex differences. If we assume that men and women are psychologically indistinguishable, then any disparities between the sexes in STEM will be seen as evidence of discrimination, leading to the perception that STEM is highly discriminatory. Similarly, if we assume that such psychological sex differences as we find are due largely or solely to non-biological causes, then any STEM gender disparities will be seen as evidence of arbitrary and sexist cultural conditioning. In both cases, though, the assumptions are almost certainly false. A large body of research points to the following conclusions:

  1. that men and women differ, on average, in their occupational preferences, aptitudes and levels of within-sex variability;
  2. that these differences are not due solely to sociocultural causes but have a substantial inherited component as well; and
  3. that the differences, coupled with the demands of bearing and rearing children, are the main source of the gender disparities we find today in STEM. Discrimination appears to play a smaller role, and in some cases may favour women, rather than disfavouring them.

These conclusions have important implications for the way academics and policy makers handle gender gaps in STEM. Based on the foregoing discussion, we suggest that the approach that would be most conducive to maximizing individual happiness and autonomy would be to strive for equality of opportunity, but then to respect men and women’s decisions regarding their own lives and careers, even if this does not result in gender parity across all fields. Approaches that focus instead on equality of outcomes – including quotas and financial inducements – may exact a toll in terms of individual happiness. To the extent that these policies override people’s preferences, they effectively place the goal of equalizing the statistical properties of groups above the happiness and autonomy of the individuals within those groups. Some might derive different conclusions from the emerging understanding of human sex differences. Either way, though, it seems hard to deny that this understanding should be factored into the discussion.

People will of course bridle at the claim that there’s a “substantial inherited component” to gender disparities, crying that “it’s evolutionary psychology—Nazism!”. But there’s ample evidence that men and women differ in morphological and behavioral ways that can be explained (though not “proved”) by evolution. This of course goes against the “progressive” conclusion that men and women are on average identical in every trait except perhaps in those morphological differences (size, build, genitalia) connected with the biological basis of sex.  But those who believe that men and women are identical in every aspect of thought, behavior, and mentation are fighting a wealth of data.  (I have to emphasize again that differences do not imply superiority or inferiority, but that’s so obvious that I shouldn’t have to say it for the umpteenth time.)


The paper below is basically a short gloss on the paper above, and provides more data supporting the claim that while sex inequities in STEM can (and do) result partly from bias against women, that bias “cannot explain the corpus of findings related to gender differences in math-intensive disciplines. Click the screenshot to read it, and you can find the pdf here (reference at the bottom of the page).

The authors did their own three-year analysis of gender bias in six areas (letters of recommendation, tt [tenure track] hiring, journal acceptances, grant funding, salary, and teaching ratings). The fields surveyed aren’t listed, as the study isn’t yet published, but they found one area in which there was gender bias: “students of both genders rate women instructors’ teaching skills lower than men” [sic].  This is an average and shows heterogeneity among areas.

They found possible gender bias in “the academic salary gap”, but qualify it a bit:

In the second domain in which there is a possible gender bias—the academic salary gap—the presence or absence of bias is less clear. Although we tilted toward a bias explanation, we were unable to make an airtight case for it. The average gender salary gap in academia writ large is around 18%, but much of this is explained by the type of institution (e.g., two-year and four-year colleges, large research-oriented universities), discipline (more women are employed in lower-paying humanities fields than in higher-paying engineering and business fields), and years of experience. With these as controls, the gender difference among those on tt is less than 4%. And that difference might be even smaller if studies are able to control for productivity (publications), which no study of the salary gap has done. The evidence on publications, which we also summarized in our paper, points to gender differences in publishing, so this could account for the remaining 4% salary gap. So we are agnostic. We concluded that the evidence might point to some bias in salaries—although it is much smaller than averages suggest—and might not be the result of gender bias.

Finally, they report “no systematic gender bias” in the other areas over a long period of time:

In the other four domains (letters of recommendation, tt hiring, grant funding, and journal success) we came to the conclusion that there was no systematic gender bias in the last 15–20 years. Looking at studies that directly measured tt outcomes such as the likelihood of grant application success, acceptance of journal submissions, etc., the vast majority of studies, including the largest ones and the cleanest ones that really compared apples with apples (e.g. actual experiments or matching methods) found no gender bias in either direction.

Theynote that their overall finding contravenes the dominant narrative. which may explain how the paper was handled by the journal (see below):

Note how divergent these conclusions are from the dominant narrative that pervades the scientific media. Figure 2 appeared in Nature (Shen, 2013) and captures what many regard as the ground truth, namely that women in science earn 18% less than men and are far less likely to get funding.

The funding claim isn’t supported, and while there may be a bias-induced difference in salary, it’s more likely to be closer to 4% than 18%. That still needs examination, though, and then fixing if it’s due to bias.  Note as well that this paper isn’t yet published.

One reason it may not yet be published is in fact that the findings of Ceci et al. are politically unpalatable: every inequity must, says the dominant narrative, be due to bias.  This is not just sour grapes, as the authors argue. This excerpt, though long, is worth reading:

Our study was submitted for review at a top journal but declined by the editor, based on seven reviews, four of which recommended publication. It is interesting that, unlike our analyses of less controversial topics, whenever we have attempted to publish work on the underrepresentation of women in science that argued against a dominant role for bias, journal editors have felt the need to solicit many more reviews than is customary. We have seen this phenomenon often.

For example, in 2014 when two of us (WMW and SJC) submitted a manuscript on hiring bias to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the editor solicited seven reviews, whereas the typical number of reviews for that journal was at that time only two. Many other articles that we have written individually or together have gotten this kind of extra scrutiny when we find no gender differences, and this can be compared to the relative [sic] lower scrutiny we get when we find gender differences. A similar situation may very well have been the case for this Stewart-Williams and Halsey paper. While we do not know how many reviews this article had, we know that it was submitted to several other journals because we or people we know were reviewers.

Perhaps an uncommonly large number of reviewers is appropriate when a manuscript challenges the dominant narrative that sex differences in academic outcomes is a consequence of gender bias rather than non-bias factors. Such a position goes against some reviewers’ “priors,” and therefore one could argue it is in need of stronger evidence than a claim that is congruent with the dominant narrative. Certainly, we would want a larger than usual number of reviews if a manuscript purported to provide evidence that validated ESP or voodoo, because such claims go against our deeply held beliefs that are based on decades of empirical and theoretical evidence.

However, what body of evidence leads to such deeply held beliefs that would require an alternative argument to findings such as ours showing no bias in tt hiring or Stewart-Williams and Halsey’s evidence of preference-based and perhaps biologically based career choices? What body of evidence would render such findings so aberrant as to require extraordinary evidentiary vetting? Note that we are not arguing that informed scholars cannot criticize these arguments. They indeed can, and should. Rather, we are arguing that in view of the scientific evidence they bring, why would Stewart-Williams and Halsey’s paper, or ours on lack of hiring bias, be so unbelievable? In light of the evidence on equal success rates for grant applications (both NIH R01s and NSFs in all of its directorates) for so many years, why do so many researchers continue to cite a 1997 article on gender bias at the Swedish Medical Council that—if ever there were gender differences—had disappeared by 2004 as demonstrated in a less cited but methodologically superior paper (Sandström & Hallsten, 2007)?

What would it take to get critics’ priors into sync with the published empirical data, when that data indicates no bias?. . .

By the way, I have no idea whether the Stewart-Williams and Halsey paper was given a harder review than normal given its conclusions; the authors say nothing about that.

Ceci et al.’s conclusion:

We believe that we can come to a deeper understanding of the causes of the differences in women’s representation in STEM if people drop their priors when evaluating evidence.

Dropping priors—that is, sitting down before the facts, as Huxley said, like little children—and remaining objective instead of trying to find data supporting your preconceptions—these are sine qua nons in scientific behavior. It is odd that scientists in this case are so clearly critical of data that go against their preconceptions and yet so willing to accept data that support them. We’re human of course, but we’re supposed to be fighting against our confirmation bias. That means giving all papers equal scrutiny, not extra scrutiny to papers whose results you don’t like. In fact, if anything, we should be giving more scrutiny to papers whose results we do like, or which support our biases.


Stewart-Williams, S. and L. G. Halsey.  Men, women and STEM: Why the differences and what should be done? Eur. J. Personality 35:3-39.

Ceci, S. J., S. Kahn, and W. M. Williams. 2021. Stewart-Williams and Halsey argue persuasively that gender bias is just one of many causes of women’s underrepresentation in science.  Eur. J. Personality 35:40-44.


Another STEM field, particle physics, gets woke

September 5, 2022 • 11:30 am

A long time ago, I predicted that among all academic disciplines, science would be the least likely to become woke. I was wrong. These disciplines, I thought, are wedded to facts and to open discussion as well, so surely they could not all rush to conclusions that were unevidenced.  Yes, I was wrong, but I won’t discuss the reasons why I erred. The fact is that as soon as one department or scientific journal drank the Kool-Aid, the others rushed to the trough to imbibe along with them. The result is that nearly all scientific societies and journals (Nature and Science prominent among them), as well as many STEM departments in universities, are rushing to proclaim their virtue, while in the end doing very little to ensure equality of opportunity for Americans.

I of course favor equality of opportunity: a long and arduous project that involves putting effort and money into housing, education, and every aspect of culture that, inherited from the bigotry of the past, holds down minorities. It’s certainly true that the underachievement of “minoritized” groups in the sciences is largely a relic of discrimination—a relic that society (though not necessarily particle physics) has a responsibility to attack. But the woke people in STEM aren’t trying to rectify this by “widening the pipeline.” Instead, they use this kind of logic:

a.) There are “inequities” in science: disproportionally low numbers of individuals from some minority groups in fields like physics and chemistry.

b.) These inequities are evidence for current and ongoing “structural racism” in science.

c.) Therefore, we must root out the present racism endemic in scientific fields.

We all know by now the fallacy of this argument. Inequities now are largely the result of racism in the past, whose legacy remains with us. But to say that current inequities reflect current racism is fallacious (especially for scientists) because, for cultural and historical reasons, the obstacles to entry into scientific fields is simply lower for “privileged” groups—and the desire to do pure science may differ as well. As anybody in the sciences knows, the inequities persist despite years of attempts of schools and fields to recruit minorities. Of course some scientists are racists—every field has its bigots. Science is not 100% purified of bigotry. But to say that such bigotry is currently endemic, rife, and ubiquitous in science is to completely ignore all the efforts scientists have made to recruit minorities.

The equation of inequities with ongoing structural racism is a fallacy that one wouldn’t expect among evidence-adhering scientists, especially in view of the countervailing evidence, but it’s the kind of claim that’s simply taboo to question.  But what else are we to do to ensure equality unless we know the causes of inequality?

The new article from Nature below (click on screenshot) makes the familiar argument that a field of science—in this case particle physics—is structurally racist, and that’s why there are fewer doctorates going to women (22%) and underrepresented minorities (7%) than their proportion in the population. To the interviewee, Kétévi Assamagan, this constitutes evidence that the field is not only rife with discrimination, but is also not a meritocracy, for to Assamagan a true meritocracy would have more women and minorities than it does.  This claim again requires evidence, but none is given.

The article shows the characteristics of all such articles accusing scientific fields of being hotbeds of racism: not only the equation of inequities with ongoing racism, but the obvious omission of supporting data. Rarely do we see evidence of racism at all beyond assertions, and we never see evidence for systemic racism (or, for that matter, for “implicit bias” as its cause, an assertion that many are now questioning). Instead, we get anecdotes about people who feel “harmed” or disrespected. And sometimes that’s true, but apparently only a small handful of cases of “harm” are sufficient to indict an entire field, and then to call for changes in its standards and practices.

Here’s the article, and remember that it’s from Nature:

The background is that a bunch of American particle physicists engaged in a once-a-decade exercise called “Snowmass,” in which they assess the state of the field and recommend changes. This time, one of the ten topics included was “elevated diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI). Assamagan, a particle physicist at Brookhaven National Laboratory and a leader of the community-engagement project, was interviewed by Elizabeth Gibeney. Here are a few Q&As from the interview, which are indented. Things that are flush left are my own comments.

From the introduction:

Nature spoke to Kétévi Assamagan, a particle physicist at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, and co-convenor of the community-engagement frontier, about the DEI recommendations that emerged from the Snowmass process — and why meritocracy in particle physics an illusion.

I question, of course, how illusory the notion of a meritocracy in physics is, but the article makes clear that, according to Assamagan, physics should be a meritocracy—not, as you might think, that we should eliminate the meritocratic aspects of the field to increase minority representation. No, Assamagan says that if physics were a true meritocracy, there would be more more physicists from underrepresented groups. Here’s his claim:

How do you convince people that particle physics is not a meritocracy?

People in the dominant culture think: “I am not a racist, I don’t see racism in my group, so if these people work hard, it will be fine.” But research has shown that there is much more under-representation in our field than meritocracy would suggest.

The culture is not welcoming and the climate is not conducive for some people to be there. Unconscious bias feeds into how people progress and go into senior positions, and how the senior people then maintain that culture. We are not asking for favouritism for any group. We are talking about making the environment and culture work for everybody in the way that it does for the majority.

I am not aware of that research, but in fact I doubt that it exists. How can you actually demonstrate that if there were a true meritocracy, you would have greater representation of minority groups? The only way I can think of would be to show consistent and pervasive racism in promotion, hiring, and publication, so that really good work by minorities gets ignored, and that this brand of ignoring leads to greater inequities. Those data may in fact exist, but I’d like to see them for particle physics.  As in most fields, physicists, like evolutionary biologists, are eager to find qualified members of minority groups.

Here’s what one of my colleagues said about this, “Another way to demonstrate racism would be to compare the number of undergraduates interested in particle physics with their representation in PhD and professor positions. I would bet that the underrepresentation starts at level 0 – therefore it is a matter of choice, as interested people simply aren’t there to begin with (rather than they being weeded out by racism”.

He/she added, “Finally there is the issue of culture.  Why would a minority individual coming from an underprivileged background be interested in particle physics, a topic he/she was probably never exposed to?  Why would the person not want to be a medical doctor or a social worker or a teacher – dealing with things he/she might perceive as urgent?  Particle physics is an elitist area, frankly for people distant from the reality of the world.”

Note that Assamagan is saying here that particle physics should be a meritocracy, not that it shouldn’t be because meritocracy causes inequities.

As for the second claim, that’s the claim of structural racism caused by “unconscious bias”. Again, we have a claim with no evidence: that senior physicists unconsciously maintain a racist culture in the field.

Can you give me some examples of how an unwelcoming climate can affect particle physicists?

Someone might ask a female physicist, “Can you bring me some coffee?” Or I could go to my lab and a newly hired white person might ask: “When are you going to clean my room?” It is assumed that people who look like me can only be there to do that kind of work. Police have been called on colleagues because they were in the building where people don’t expect them to be.

These incidents make people really uncomfortable and mean you have to work to demonstrate that you occupy that space because you have the training and ability to be there. People might also say you are a ‘diversity hire’. We as minorities are expected to take all of these things, shrug them off and excel like everyone else.

My colleague added this: “Although I am not in particle physics, I would be shocked if it is common for people to say to a woman ‘are you going to clean my lab?’!

Now I’m not doubting that such incidents may have happened on occasion, but I simply cannot believe that they’re so common that they create an unwelcoming climate. That would suggest that we’ve made no progress towards moral equality since the Jim Crow era.  If these things happen all the time, I’d like to know about them. But it’s considered churlish to even ask for evidence. Believe the “lived experience”!

Note, though, that Assamagan does reject the notion of “diversity hires”, which means that he’s also rejecting the notion of hiring that favors members of certain groups—that is, affirmative action.  And indeed, he doesn’t even suggest affirmative-action hires or promotions, so I largely agree with his suggestions below for improving the scientific climate for everyone:

What are some of your recommendations for improving the workplace climate and encouraging diversity?

It starts with the application of a code of conduct for everyone — including anti-harassment policies and policies to protect victims when they report issues. Conducting surveys about workplace climate will tell you what your community needs. For example, for people with disabilities, you need to ensure that meetings are arranged with consideration of their needs.

You also need to start engaging with science in schools and building the pipeline — there are minority-serving institutions that have a lot of capacity that particle physics can tap into.

Leadership is also important. One of the papers submitted to Snowmass says there needs to be a cultural change where people are chosen for leadership positions through excellence, and then promote an environment of equity and excellence, for example by getting away from just automatically rewarding privileges such as being from a top university.

I’m not too keen on the endless codes of conduct promulgated in meetings and by departments, one reason being that this assumes that bad conduct is not already subject to supervision and sanctions. Do we really need this kind of policing? Not if particle physics is largely free from sexual or racial harassment.

As for building the pipeline: YES! To me that is the main way to increase diversity in STEM. But it’s a lot harder than just promulgating codes of conduct or requiring candidates for jobs and promotions to submit DEI statements. To Assamagan’s credit, he doesn’t suggest any such form of affirmative action.

The third paragraph above, where he emphasizes choosing leaders through “excellence,” is more evidence that Assamagan really does want a meritocracy in particle physics, but one that takes genuine quality into account, as it should. There is indeed too much emphasis on “elite schools.”  (This overrating of schools as a sign of one’s merit is the reason that, when someone asks me where I went to school, I say “near Boston.”) At the U of C, we try to avoid this elitism by concentrating solely on research records. For several years I was on the University of Chicago’s promotion and tenure committee in the Biological Sciences, and was continually impressed by how the meetings were dominated by discussion of research quality. Never once did I hear someone touted because they went to an elite university.

In the end, Assamagan’s article is a mixed bag. The good bits are his insistence on a real meritocracy (that will enrage some of his woke colleagues!), and his lack of insistence on affirmative action. Perhaps he realizes that affirmative action is at odds with the true meritocracy he wants—that’s another truth that nobody dare discuss, much less admit.  But Assamagan also implies that particle physics is structurally racist, and that this ongoing racism creates the inequities we see. If that’s true, I’d like to see the evidence.

Why am I concerned with a two-page piece in Nature that, after all, is almost identical to dozens of statements from other areas of science? Because, as I said, to cure a problem you have to correctly diagnose it. It makes a substantial difference if you impute inequities in physics—or any field—mainly to ongoing racism or, alternatively, mainly as a historical relic of racism that has narrowed the opening of the pipelines to success. For the former, you do the fixes that departments are doing now:  codes of conduct, affirmative action, DEI statements, and the like. So far, those haven’t worked.  For the latter, you concentrate on rebuilding society from the ground up to afford everyone equal opportunity from birth. If you do only the former and don’t concentrate on education and opportunity, the problem of disproportionate representation will need constant policing and tweaking via diversity initiatives. If you do the latter, you have the chance to really solve the problem. And that’s why the last Q&A was this:

How much did physicists get involved with the community-engagement frontier during Snowmass?

Not enough. Very few people participated in community-engagement activities, compared with the big physics areas. All of this research-based work was done by just a few people. People feel they understand the issues and want solutions, but they don’t have a lot of time to devote to it.

It’s the time (and money), Jake!

A new “Heterodox STEM” group

January 1, 2022 • 11:00 am

The Heterodox Academy (HA) is a loosely-affiliated group of academics whose purpose is stated on its website:

Heterodox Academy is a nonpartisan collaborative of 5,000+ professors, educators, administrators, staff, and students who are committed to enhancing the quality of research and education by promoting open inquiry, viewpoint diversity, and constructive disagreement in institutions of higher learning.

What this means, I gather, is that the Academy is a place where virtually no speech is taboo; and we all know that academia is ridden with societies and journals, as well as departments and professors, that consider some subjects as “undiscussable.”  At the Heterodox Academy you can voice your opinions relatively free from worries that you’ll be cancelled.

I haven’t been following the HA’s doings as a whole, but I see that they have a number of “communities”: subgroups where people can discuss issues in their particular academic field or geographic area (e.g., sociology, humanities, philosophy, classics psychology, California, Canada, Australia, and so on). Readers may be interested in participating in their field or geographic region, and the field that most interests me is Heterodox STEM (“Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math”).  It’s at the link in the first line of this paragraph, one of the whole list of subgroups. Here’s a summary of what it’s about:


They have a Substack site here, which is a place to share writings, and if you subscribe by giving your email (I think), you can read the first article at the link below. You may have to join the group first, but try clicking on the site and subscribing.

The article written anonymously, and given the disapprobation falling upon those who criticizes DEI initiatives (you’ll know the story of Dorian Abbot), you’ll see why. I don’t know who wrote it, and it isn’t me. But if you want to see how those swimming against the tide of wokeness in STEM are thinking, do have a read (it’s short).

The beginning:

Over the past several years, there has been an increasing push within the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) for what has been dubbed diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).  After the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, which was filmed for all to watch in horror, DEI became the main focus of nearly all aspects of STEM communication.  You would be hard pressed to find a single university STEM department, professional organization, or publication that did not loudly signal their commitment to DEI, with their action plans to “do better.”  While the goals of this movement certainly sound admirable, the actions taken to achieve them are doomed to fail and have harmful consequences.  Whether this is due to the shortsightedness of well-intentioned people or a cynical and intentional attempt to destroy academia is less apparent.

There are many examples one can choose from to illustrate this fact, however in the interest of space, I will stick to several of the most prominent in recent news.  Dalhousie University in Canada recently advertised a tenure-track position in biological chemistry that is “restricted to candidates who self-identify in one or more of the following groups: Indigenous persons, persons with a disability, racially visible persons, women, and persons of a minority sexual orientation and/or gender identity.”  This ostensibly is an effort to increase the diversity of the faculty at Dalhousie University, which is an admirable goal, but the unintended consequences should be obvious.  To begin, a common complaint from non-white and female students or faculty is that at some point they have heard something along the lines of, “you were only accepted/hired here because you’re (identity group).”  This minimizes or flat out ignores the hard work and effort that people put in to reach their positions.  It should be clear as day that the discriminatory hiring at Dalhousie will further reinforce this sentiment among the hired professor’s peers.  It is also insulting.  The underlying assumption made by this policy is that if straight white men (the only group not mentioned in the allowable group) are allowed to apply, it will unfairly hurt the chances of those mentioned because they cannot compete.  I find it odd for a vocally “progressive” institution to echo the sentiments of right-wing twitter trolls, but here we are.

. . and it continues with other examples, ending with a list of ways we can fight the encroachment of wokeness in science.

I endorse a lot of what’s in this article, but not everything. My post is here is simply to call the program and its site to your attention in case you want to participate. I don’t how if it’s a “safe space” for dissent, and of course if you use your real name, you’re leaving yourself open for “cancellation.” I have joined, and post under my own name, but I find that my own website serves me better for expressing my own views than posting on the newsgroup. But I do make occasional contributions (sometimes just calling attention to posts here), and am really interested in hearing what other people have had to say.

Again, if you want to join, email one of the three directors (I haven’t listed them here because I’m loath to put email addresses on my site, but you can find them at the link above.)

I give these caveats for the same reason that the Heterodox Academy exists: you can get in big trouble these days for merely saying what you think, even in a rational discussion. And it’s simply not on to bring up certain ideas, even if they’re true.  That’s of course terribly inimical to free expression, but the HA is a place where such expression is encouraged.