Riffing off the discussion of racist arguments here and on Greg’s blog, DrugMonkey asked why ScienceBlogs looks so unlike the rest of the world. Shortly thereafter, Isis the Scientist took a bunch of us to task for advocating for diversity because it would make us feel better. (Utterly incomplete summaries of both posts. Read them and the comments.)
The conversation between Isis and her readers developed into a discussion of bottom-up versus top-down policies to increase diversity in science. After thinking about the matter further, I have to disagree with the dear Dr., and not just over the question of whether I’m “adorable.” I want diversity yesterday, and I’m not willing to wait until we get candidates who meet the same qualifications as the current crop of scientists.
Setting aside the social justice issues as givens, I have two very selfish reasons for wanting the inside of science to look the same as the world outside.
- It will increase the general trust in science.
- It will produce better science.
I’ve been in (probably far too) many discussions about the image problems of science. You know the refrain: “Those arrogant, irrelevant, condescending elitists? Why should I listen to them?” You’ll keep hearing it as long as science looks and sounds like “them” instead of “us.” As long as science doesn’t look like them, people won’t believe it’s working fully in their interest. And they’ll be right.
As long as science doesn’t include some group, it will fail to ask questions of vital importance to that group. Remember how the health of middle-class white men was once assumed to be the same thing as general human health? Nor is it over. What do decision-making and communication studies using undergraduate subjects really tell us about everyone else? Even when they’re replicated more broadly, how does the fact that they’re tailored for this group affect the results?
The best way to fix both problems is to make sure that the inside of science looks as much like the outside world as we can make it. I want everyone on the inside, all the insides.
I want men and women and the transgendered in there. I want people of all ethnic backgrounds. I want immigrants, native-born and aboriginals. I want parents and the childless and the child-free. I want the inspired and the plodders. I want people who came to science as a second or third career and those who have never once wanted to do anything else. I want the specialists and the bumblebees flitting from discipline to discipline.
I want workaholics and part-timers and hobbyists. I want people of all sorts of sexualities. I want grand theorists and precision techs. I want introverts and glad-handers. I want the poor and the economically privileged. I want administrators and people who want to play in the dirt. I want believers and skeptics. I want those whose personal ambition drives them to compete and those who view science as a community endeavor.
I want the followers and the feather-smoothers and the punks and the gadflies. I want gamblers and people who take only solid odds. I want city kids and farm kids and suburbanites. I want popularizers and people who qualify their jargon for precision’s sake. I want the disgustingly healthy and the disabled. I want the organized and those who will put ideas together because they pick up two seemingly unrelated papers when a stack tumbles to the floor.
I want everyone. I want people I don’t know I want.
The problem with having a limited outlook is that we don’t–we can’t–know what it is that we don’t know. None of us can know who will ask different questions than we do, important questions. None of us can know how different the world looks from even a slightly different angle, what connections others can see that we can’t. We need this information.
In science–in any endeavor that requires thinking–diversity is not just a nice idea. It’s a qualification in its own right. And it’s the one qualification that can’t be fostered without reaching outside.