Here Are Some Antidotes to Science’s Old White Guy Problem

In 2010, more than half of all the people with science and engineering related jobs were White men. But—enough wallowing in disheartening numbers and bigoted language. Plenty of people are moving the conversation forward: writing, speaking, and tweeting intelligently about the lack of diversity in science.
Sophia Chen
July 24, 2015
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Science has a diversity problem. Period. You can see it in the headlines: Last month, a  Nobel Prize-winning biochemist said to a room full of journalists that he supports gender-segregated labs. And Science, arguably the most prestigious science magazine in the US, published a magazine cover page with headless transgender sex workers labeled with caption “Staying ahead of HIV/AIDS.” You can see it in the numbers, too: In 2010, more than half of all the people with science and engineering related jobs were white men.

But—enough wallowing in disheartening numbers and bigoted language. Plenty of people are moving the conversation forward: writing, speaking, and tweeting intelligently about the lack of diversity in science. We collected some of them for you:

Follow Karen James on Twitter and read her blog

By day, James is a biologist who develops resources for citizen science projects. But she also tweets actively about diversity issues in science (she curated the #ripplesofdoubt hashtag in 2013, for one). The hashtag was born out of a widely blogged sexual harassment scandal in the science writing world, but it became a space for people to share troubling interactions they’d faced in all types of jobs—interactions often based on their gender or race. Her feed is awash with on-point commentary about biases against minorities in science…and general cool science stuff besides.

Follow John Asher Johnson on Twitter and read his blog

Johnson is an astronomy professor at Harvard. He also happens to be African-American. That makes Johnson a minority among minorities: In a 2012 report, out of about 600 professors at the top 40 astronomy programs in the US, only six were African-American. Johnson’s uncommon perspective shines through in his blog posts on ethical issues in astronomy—like building an 18-story-tall telescope on a sacred Hawaiian volcano—and in his tweets about society in general.

Follow Janet Stemwedel on Twitter and read her pieces on Forbes

Stemwedel frequently writes about the philosophy and ethics of science—unsurprising, as she’s a former chemist, now turned philosopher. In addition to opining on the gender biases in science, she also tackles tough, important ethical conflicts. This old one from 2009, on why it’s so hard to have a constructive dialogue about animal testing, rings true today. “If your base assumption is that the other guy is evil, stupid, or unable to tell the truth, you can’t even start a dialogue, let alone get something useful out of it,” she writes. Sounds like an excellent mantra for dialogue about diversity, too.

Follow the LGBT STEM blog

Reading this blog gives me the same soaring feeling as a Disney movie. In addition to providing useful resources for LGBT scientists, it runs personal profiles by scientists who answer questions about how they got to their current career. In those profiles, most scientists say that they didn’t have an LGBT role model growing up. You can’t help thinking that maybe the site is filling that void for a lot of aspiring LGBT kid scientists out there.

Follow the Women in Astronomy blog

With a range of contributors, from university professors and researchers to NASA staff scientists, this blog is a candid lens into the work dynamics of astronomers. The posts with the most punch are the astronomers’ takes on high-profile sexism shitstorms (or in one case, Shirtstorm) and the studies about gender biases in STEM. But some of the more quotidian posts are worthy intimate nuggets—astronomers write about their struggle with work-life balance or the proper way for a professor to console a crying student. Both types of post make one thing sadly clear: The lack of diversity in science has consequences that get in the way of scientists actually doing their jobs.

July 26, 2015