It used to be that students—mostly men, mostly white in the past, now increasingly diverse—who went into Science, Technology, Engineering and Math—STEM—thought they were safe if they kept their heads down. But they aren’t safe anymore. Having successfully suppressed the numbers of white males in most other departments, the diversity, inclusion and equity movement (DIE, an unfortunate but apt acronym) has turned its Sauronic eye on STEM, the academy’s Alamo of merit-based research.
DIE’s ways are not subtle, as a friend of mine recently discovered. He’s a long-time tenured professor in the physical sciences at a major Canadian university. I can’t name him or his university, and by now, if you follow “cancel culture” and the potentially ruinous effects on the careers of its “outed” victims, you understand why.
I’ll call him Nick. Nick is a classical liberal, who judges his students as individuals, not as identity pawns. He has mentored women students and students of colour to success, but not on those accounts. Indeed, his present research team, he told me, is an “advertisement for diversity.” He himself, for heaven’s sake, is “diverse” (although I must refrain from further precision to preserve his anonymity.)
Nick has been denied a major grant he applied for to further research that would benefit high-tech industry and the energy field. Being turned down was not in itself a problem, for Nick tells me it is quite usual, especially with the highly lucrative grants, for a proposal to be turned down once or even twice, then accepted on a third application. However, this is the first time in his career that he has been turned down on DIE, rather than technical grounds.
In fact, the Review Panel wrote to him that while they “appreciated the enthusiasm for creating diverse and inclusive teams, the requirement for concrete measures was not met,” and therefore, “the application was not reviewed further extensively.” (my emphasis.) In other words, it would not have mattered if Nick’s project was homing in on a vaccine for Covid-19, if the team—however socially engineered it needed to be—did not meet DIE standards of proportionality. They decided it didn’t (Nick still does not understand why), so the tech part of the proposal was simply not assessed on its merits. The fix was already in.
This came as a stunning blow to Nick. Over 15 years, Nick has raised six million dollars in research funding. He writes about two grants a year. It used to be, he told me, that in writing up the grant, you would fill five pages detailing the technical aspects of the project and how it would benefit society as a whole, and one paragraph on how it would help to advance the fortunes of traditionally underserved populations. Now you have to write as many or more pages on how your project will serve DIE, especially women and Indigenous people, who both tend to shun STEM.
The DIE goal posts have been moving for years, Nick noted, and now his younger male colleagues feel discouraged and anxious at what they see as a DIE “pincer movement.” It certainly isn’t their imagination that white males face rising obstacles to entry and advancement in STEM.
In 2006, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released an influential study suggesting that women face a hostile environment in the hard sciences. The NAS report ignored any research—and there has been a great deal—that finds gender disparities in STEM closely align with inherent biological differences between men and women. (For example, women have flocked to veterinary science without any affirmative action for decades; today they constitute over 80 percent of the student body in that field. Because in general women prefer interaction with living beings to interaction with “things.”) The NAS called for systemic pro-active correction of the imbalance in education, government, and business. And that is exactly what has happened.
In a hard-hitting April Wall Street Journal op ed on this subject (aptly) titled “Would you care if a white man cured Covid-19?”), Heather MacDonald of the American Enterprise Institute canvases the DIE takeover of STEM. At University of California Berkeley, she writes, the life sciences department rejected 76% of job applicants received because they were not good enough at discussing DIE “distinctions and connections.” Indeed, “[t]he hiring committee didn’t even look at the failed applicants’ research records.” From their initial shares of the hiring pool, there was a 75 percent drop in white students, but a 450 percent rise in Hispanics and a 325 percent rise in African-Americans.
In Feb, according to MacDonald, Harvard University’s Dean of Science announced he would be hiring two junior STEM faculty based on their ability to strengthen DIE in the science division. At Cornell University, there are 2.5 times as many male candidates for undergraduate engineering as women. But their classes are now 50-50 men and women, thanks to a 300 percent admissions advantage for women.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) will spend $29m over the next years to promote DIE in STEM. A working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests grading on a curve would benefit women students in STEM because women value good grades significantly more than men and “[r]estrictions on grading policies that equalize average grades across classes helps to close the STEM gender gap as well as increasing overall enrollment in STEM classes.”
In Canada, the New Frontiers in Research Fund granted $163K to a Concordia University research team (two women, one man) who are “collaborating to reimagine approaches to physics education and research by involving Indigenous knowledges.” The project “aims to decolonize contemporary physics research and attract Indigenous students.” (By “indigenous knowledge,” they mean completely unscientific cultural legends; this is tantamount to funding an oceanographic study on how the Bible story of Noah’s Ark might be incorporated in the curriculum in order to combat antisemitism and attract under-represented Hasidim).
The dumbing down of the hard sciences to accommodate the theory-based dogmas of the DIE movement is like a glacier whose creep, in the 1980s, was too slow for detection, but is now picking up momentum, and really—especially speaking of glaciers and glaciology – one hardly knows whether to laugh or cry at the gobbledygook employed to justify DIE’s indifference to actual science.
For illustration, a 2016 interview with science historian Mark Carey by Science Insider on the topic of “feminist glaciology” is both instructive and—if only it were actual satire—most entertaining. In 2013, Carey landed a five-year NSF grant in response to an article he wrote: “Glaciers, gender and science: A feminist glaciology framework for global environmental change research.”
The verbal goulash Carey provides to his interlocutor in apparent earnest needs no commentary. Snippets:
- “People and societies impose their values on glaciers when they discuss, debate and study them – which is what we mean when we say that ice is not just ice. Glaciers become the platform to express people’s own views about politics, economics, cultural values and social relations (such as gender relations.)”
- “A woman’s experiences securing postdisaster aid, rebuilding a home, and raising a family after a glacial lake outburst has destroyed her community is different from those of men.” (Women’s experiences might differ from men’s in a region struck by an asteroid; how is that relevant to the science of astronomy?)
- “The research is partly about men versus women in science but more deeply about issues of credibility and legitimacy in science. Who is able to make credible statements about the natural world, given the larger societal structures of inequality? What qualifies as legitimate science?”
Any scientist who can’t answer that last question is somebody who should have taken up the pseudo-science of Gender Studies (or anything else that ends in “Studies,” an indication that it is a stranger to actual science) as his area of interest.
To return to the question of whether one would—or should—care if a white man discovers a vaccine for Covid-19, I am sure 99.9 percent of us would answer, “of course not.” Unfortunately, our cultural mandarins, including those who control scientific research funding and university hiring policies, are clustered amongst the .1 percent who would rather people keep dying than admit that STEM’s gender imbalance is a result of natural selection based in evolutionary biology.
I suppose we should be grateful that Albert Einstein and Jonas Salk got their academic credentials and research grants when the going was good for white men in science.