Scott K. Johnson

#ShutDownSTEM asks researchers to work on racism today, instead

shutdownstem

Social media, as a whole, takes a lot of flak for facilitating the creation of bubbles that intensify divisions. But over the past few weeks, there has been a lot of bubble-bursting on the subject of racial inequality. That includes a torrent of images and stories that have been shocking to some—but painfully unsurprising to others.

This extends far beyond the realm of policing—science is no exception to society’s problems. Under the hashtag #BlackInTheIvory, black academics are sharing examples of roadblocks and disrespect they’ve had to deal with in their careers. In addition, the #BlackInSTEM hashtag has been used to encourage new connections with researchers and students in STEM fields who chime in to introduce themselves.

On Wednesday, it’s everyone else’s turn. Efforts organized under hashtags like #ShutDownSTEM, #ShutDownAcademia, and #Strike4BlackLives are asking academics to clear their agendas and spend some time working on concrete steps to improve the enterprise of science. The website behind #ShutDownSTEM, for example, lays out specific suggestions for people in different roles, from students to department chairs. So does a letter from a group of geoscientists shared with the hashtag #NoTimeForSilence.

The physicist-led group Particles for Justice explains, “We are conscious of the ways in which Black students and scholars, including two authors of this letter to the community, are expected to do the heavy lifting to advocate for and support justice and representation in academia. We know that this burden functions as an unfair and unevenly distributed barrier to their ability to thrive in academia. We call for a universal strike to give them a break and because those of us with the most privilege have the greatest responsibility to use that privilege to enact change.”

Prominent scientific journals have also spoken out in support. The journal Nature published an editorial Tuesday and delayed its release of papers that would have come out Wednesday. In addition to noting a plan to collect studies for a special issue on racism in academia, the editorial says:

Black people, including researchers, are taking to social media to spell out what that action should look like, calling attention to decades of literature on the steps necessary to make academia and science equitable. This outpouring is, in part, because Black researchers have long been denied a space and a platform in established institutions and publications such as this one.

We recognize that Nature is one of the white institutions that is responsible for bias in research and scholarship. The enterprise of science has been—and remains—complicit in systemic racism, and it must strive harder to correct those injustices and amplify marginalized voices.

The journal Science and the journal Cell published editorials on Monday. Science Editor-In-Chief H. Holden Thorp wrote:

The U.S. scientific enterprise is predominantly white, as are the U.S. institutions that Science’s authors are affiliated with. The evidence of systemic racism in science permeates this nation. Why are so few Science authors from historically black colleges and universities? Why are the scientific areas studied more frequently by people of color continuously underfunded by the government? Why do students who are people of color have to remind society that they are almost never taught by someone who looks like them? Why has the United States failed to update its ways of teaching science when data show that people of color learn better with more inclusive methods? If there had been more diversity in science, would we have the painful legacy of the Tuskegee syphilis study and the shameful nonrecognition of Henrietta Lacks’s contribution to science?

The editorial in Cell reads:

We are the editors of a science journal, committed to publishing and disseminating exciting work across the biological sciences. We are 13 scientists. Not one of us is Black. Underrepresentation of Black scientists goes beyond our team—to our authors, reviewers, and advisory board. And we are not alone. It is easy to divert blame, to point out that the journal is a reflection of the scientific establishment, to quote statistics. But it is this epidemic of denial of the integral role that each and every member of our society plays in supporting the status quo by failing to actively fight it that has allowed overt and systemic racism to flourish, crippling the lives and livelihoods of Black Americans, including Black scientists.

One thing all these statements have in common is a recognition that statements aren’t worth much on their own. To last beyond this civic moment, they’ll have to be continually translated into actions in the absence of reminders from mass protests and trending hashtags.

If you know of any additional efforts, please share them in the comments.





Source link