Second, it is no secret that minorities of most stripes are seriously underrepresented in science. Bloggers are even more pointedly underrepresented in the pool of scientists. (Hard to categorize the “pool” from which the non-working-scientist SBers are drawn, so let’s not even go there). It takes no genius to see that even if minority scientists were more likely to blog that this pool would be pretty dang small.
This is an interesting question. An acquaintance of mine switched from neuroscience to cognitive neuroscience and noted how all of a sudden the Asians disappeared and she was now a cinnamon speck in a sea of cream. Obviously things vary by discipline. How so though? I took data on the proportions of each group represented in the top 50 schools in the faculty for each discipline and compared them to the ratio in the population as given by the 2000 Census. The usage of 2000 data isn’t perfect, but it gives the general sense.
I assume you’re not surprised?
1) There’s a big difference between “Asians” and “Underrepresented minorities.”
2) In most cases Asians are more overrepresented than whites. In fact, there are so many Asians in Electrical Engineering that whites are a touch underrepresented!
3) I perceive two general dimensions in the Asian data. First, one of practicality, and second, another of mathematical rigor. The more “practical” a field is, the more likely Asians are likely to be represented. Therefore, more in engineering than in physics. How many physicists do you know who went into engineering related work when the academy didn’t pan out? For many of them a undergraduate engineering degree would have been the most optimal choice in terms of their career with hindsight. Second, the math aspect explains something like economics vs. the other social sciences. I know that political science, sociological and psychology use plenty of statistics, but econ can verge into applied math when it comes to the obsession with modeling.
So why are ScienceBlogsTM so white? I think it is a supply-side issue, and the dimension of practicality and lesser extent mathematical rigor explains much of it. I’m an Asian American science blogger I suppose, though I don’t think of myself as such normally. One personal data point you might want to know about me is that my parents are not “stereotypical” Asian American parents who take a strong interest in my life choices or academic career path. I have made most of my decisions with little parental input and pressure. Removing these parameters would result in a decrease, I suspect, in the number of Asian Americans going into pre-med and engineering tracks. Not that there’s anything wrong with these avenues, but not everyone really digs the subject matter.
Second, as Chad Orzel notes, there’s a lot of evo-bloggers on this network, and not as much physical science. I think some of this has to do with the mathematical & abstruse nature of these fields. Not that evolution is necessarily non-mathematical, but the basic logic of a rather formal work such as The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection can be fleshed out with relatively good accuracy and even a modicum of precision verbally. In contrast, most of physics has to be communicated with metaphors and analogies, which even if they impart the flavor don’t transmit the substance. Asians are more well represented in mathematical fields, which are not well represented among science blogs in relation to what their heft within academy is.
Finally, there are some specific issues which are known in regards to Asian students and their strengths. They do well on the SAT by overperforming on the mathematical section relative to the verbal or written ones, and are slightly inferior to whites in these areas. I’m sure some of you are faculty and teachers reading this, and feel free to correct me on this point, but I don’t see Asian American culture emphasizing literary talents in the same way as it does mathematical ones. This isn’t some deep or long-standing bias; Chinese intellectual tradition is almost totally literary, with a relatively weak emphasis on mathematical analysis (what there was). Writing a reflective essay on the role of science and society on a weblog cuts into GRE prep-time. Whether you value investment in the former depends on the norms you bring to the table.
I didn’t touch upon underrepresented minorities in these comments because the reasons for their relative dearth among science bloggers, and in science faculty, is far, far, upstream in terms of academic performance and orientation. But, I do think there needs to be some exploration as to why despite the overrepresentation of Asians in science they aren’t thick on the ground in the science blogosphere. I’ve been blogging for 5 years, and do occasional surveys, and Asians represented about 15% of my readership (American). Why aren’t they blogging? Some of them who I know are busy with things which they place greater importance on, e.g., graduating from Harvard Medical School or something trivial like that.
Could there be darker reasons? Sure. I believe that most humans exhibit some racial prejudice, more or less. I also believe people tend to unconsciously be biased toward their own social networks, which often exhibit a like-to-like attraction on a host of parameters, including race. But at the end of the day I think it’s mostly a supply-side issue, and frankly I’m a lot more interested in good blogging about science as opposed to having diversity for its own sake.1 Science is part of human culture so various social issues and dynamics are at work, but, at the end of the day the end-product is the same over the long term irrespective of viewpoint (please don’t get into non-Newtonian physics on me to quibble about this last issue!).
1 – There are some topics, such as particular illnesses which South Asians are susceptible to, to which I bring my own ethnically informed viewpoint. I don’t think diversity of various kinds is a net zero or negative, but, I think it’s a relatively marginal factor when set against the need for informed blogging on specific scientific topics.