“I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence.” –Frederick Douglass
I thought we were past this, I really did. Having grown up in New York, having lived in eight different states and traveled to 39 others — as well as maybe a dozen different countries — I truly thought there were a few things that were obvious. One of them, of course, is that you’ve got to give something a shot to know whether you like it or not. Hopefully, no matter who, where, or what you are, you’ll enjoy this upbeat song by Bob Schneider as much as I do, so have a listen to
Another, even more fundamentally simple and obvious one, is that people are individuals, and ought to be judged solely on their merits as individuals. You might be tempted to make generalizations about someone based on your preconceptions about their race, their gender, their country-of-origin, their sexual orientation, etc., but at the end of the day, each one of us is an individual.
And in no way — to me, at least — is that more obvious than when it comes to studying the Universe.
Which brings up my point: do you think race, gender, or ancestry determines who can or cannot succeed in a given career?
If the answer isn’t a swift and immediate “of course not” for you, congratulations, you might be a scientific racist! I would’ve thought this had gone out of fashion after World War II, and I certainly didn’t think I’d encounter it ever in my lifetime. In a famous statement all the way back in 1950, UNESCO had the following to say:
The biological fact of race and the myth of ‘race’ should be distinguished. For all practical social purposes ‘race’ is not so much a biological phenomenon as a social myth. The myth of ‘race’ has created an enormous amount of human and social damage. In recent years, it has taken a heavy toll in human lives, and caused untold suffering.
There are some of you out there who have no idea why this is offensive, why this isn’t science, and why this is racist.
Let me try to put this in perspective for you.
How do you feel when you see unequal treatment, based on race, in situations such as this?
Do I need to explain to you why this is offensive, why this is racist, or why this is grossly unfair treatment? Do I need to explain to you that the person on the left and the person on the right in each case deserve to be treated equally, regardless of what any test, statistic or study has said about outcomes?
Here’s why, for those of you who need the explanation: Every person in this world deserves to be treated with the dignity and respect that we, ourselves, would like to be treated with.
The idea that tests like an “IQ Test,” the “SATs” or the “GREs” are somehow indicators of what races or genders are better suited to certain types of careers are meritless, not borne out by evidence, and also incredibly offensive. And yet, you can apparently get a Ph.D. in this from Harvard.
This. Is. Not. Okay.
People have been using studies like this to argue about genetic inferiority for centuries, contending that some races are genetically inferior, the female gender is inferior at math, and that this makes them ill-suited to careers that involve heavy amounts of math/science/detail-oriented work.
And yet, if you’ve ever gone to school or met a substantial number of human beings of any race, gender, or ancestry, that notion seems like utter lunacy. It’s as plain to me as it was to Charles Sumner nearly 200 years ago.
Everyone should be not only allowed but encouraged to pursue their interests and passions, and should be granted the opportunity to develop their skills and do their best. We have a terrible track record of denying women their deserved place in scientific history, and despite the incredible successes of women and people of color in all sorts of arenas of life, we still stereotype that somehow, white (and maybe asian, too) men are simply innately better-suited to becoming scientists.
After all, you’ve probably heard the story of Carl Sagan’s first encounter with science when he was a boy, when he received a toy robot:
But the most fascinating things about this, was a panel you could take off the side of it, and you could actually see inside, all the gears and all the workings inside. After that, I was hooked. I had to see how all these things worked. I was always in competition with my… brother, to find out who could be the smartest, who knows the most about how everything worked.
Except I lied to you. That’s not Carl Sagan’s story; it’s Vincent Rodgers’ story!
The idea that someone would be denied the opportunity to pursue their dream career for any reason other than their own individual merits is absolutely bigoted, and always wrong.
So this week, I was heartened to come across something simple and straightforward being done to fight this evil, but almost no one has heard about it. Let’s change that together; allow me to introduce to you Scholars Against Scientific Racism.
Rather than focus on the latest egregious offense in this vein, let’s focus on ending this garbage once and for all. There’s a simple google document (I tested it, there’s no malware or anything) that you can sign your name to to say that this line of thinking has no scientific merits when it comes to crafting public or social policy, and does not deserve to be studied as though it does. Let’s get the racism, sexism and bigotry out of science once and for all, and we can start by fighting against this garbage:
Dean Ellwood at Harvard Kennedy School takes the position that this dissertation is part of an academic debate. We are not against academic freedom. However, there is no academic debate on whether or not Hispanics as a group are less intelligent than native-born whites. There are debates on whether or not Hispanic is a pan-ethnic, ethnic, or racialized category. There are debates on how and whether or why we should measure intelligence. There are debates on the extent to which intelligence is a heritable trait. But, there are no debates on whether or not Latino immigrants have the intellectual caliber to be part of the United States. Those kinds of debates happen in nativist and white supremacist circles, which have no place in academia, which prizes arguments and debates based on valid constructs and scientific evidence.
It’s not science, and it’s not right. Let’s do our part to make sure that people are judged on their merits as people, nothing less and nothing more.