Myth: Science is becoming more diverse over time.
Truth: Although we want to believe that society is becoming more progressive and an increasing number of members of underrepresented groups (women, underrepresented minorities, LGBTQ+ etc.) are entering science, this is simply not the case. The percentage of women and underrepresented minorities entering STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) is not increasing at any appreciable rate. Unfortunately not enough data is available to make any such claim about LGBTQ+ scientists. This is a problem in itself.
On Wednesday we continued our discussion of “well represented minorities”, specifically focusing on Asians and Asian Americans. We read the National Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander Research in Education (CARE) Report on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in higher education. This report discusses Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in both 2-year and 4-year institutions of higher education. In our discussion we noted that the ‘model minority’ myth silences Asian Americans who do not attend one of the nation’s top 4-year colleges.
We also read Coloring the Academic Landscape: Faculty of Color Breaking the Silence in Predominantly White Colleges and Universities. We found this article to be a very good model for discussing challenges faced by minorities without needing to focus specifically on underrepresented minorities. We also found this article to address well the vital importance of intersectionality, the idea that an individual cannot be broken down into distinct identity groups, but rather that the interplay of multiple disadvantaged identities creates unique perspectives.
“Well represented minorities” present a very interesting perspective. While they are well represented at lower levels, they are still not found in management positions and positions of power. This is true despite the rampant stereotypes that Asian Americans are incredibly intelligent and hard working (in short, the 'model minority' myth). We determined from this that stereotypes do not tell the whole story. It is not true that scientists perform as well as the stereotype predicts they will. If this were true, we would see more Asian Americans in positions of power. We found that the structures in place in academic science do more than disadvantage women and underrepresented minorities. These structures actually privilege white men.
The rest of our discussion focused on the idea that Asian Americans are labeled as ‘perpetual foreigners’ and the xenophobia that produces this stereotype. We also discussed the need for equality beyond representation. Asian Americans have achieved representation in science similar to the proportion of Asian Americans in the American population at large. However we have yet to achieve equality as evidenced by the distinct lack of Asian Americans in positions of power.
On Monday, we looked at this NSF document and discussed whether the numbers given matched our experiences, and what we thought the report left out. We then moved on to look at an article written by Professor Anne Fausto-Sterling about a class taught at Brown in the 80s similar to ours in subject area but different in structure. For example, our class will look less at narratives and non-traditional forms of science, and more at social science. We discussed the merits of these two approaches, and decided that we were comfortable with our focus but would like to take a second look at our syllabus in light of this article and will include more readings about minority-serving institutions.
Wednesday’s class centered on establishing background in some theories in the philosophy of science, as well as drawing connections between these theories and the main subject matter of our GISP. We began by discussing Thomas Kuhn, a philosopher of science who asserts that what we think of as “normal science” exists within a given “paradigm,” and argues that transitions between paradigms are important “scientific revolutions,” which are highly influenced by non-objective/non-scientific forces. We then moved to discussing Helen Longino’s “Science as Social Knowledge,” which stresses the social factors that play into the production of scientific knowledge, and begins to critique the purported objectivity of science based on this intrusion of social forces. We then discussed the implications of these readings for the main subject matter of this GISP, i.e. race and gender in the scientific community. We discussed how social forces could lead to underrepresentation and bias within scientific fields, as well as how the social nature of science plays into paradigm choice. Of particular interest near the end of our discussion was how to translate the lessons learned from these readings into actual change. For instance, we discussed the difficulty of bringing up these issues with scientists who have never thought about them before.
On Friday, influenced by Kuhn's definition of paradigm, we discussed who gets left out of the scientific community and why. We looked at the peer review process and noticed that this process allows the current scientists to shape the future generations of scientists, allowing for a conservative social structure. We then thought about what a more fair system for determining merit in the scientific community might look like. During our discussion we asked ourselves whether survival (i.e. integrating into the scientific community, and perhaps forfeiting one's unique identity in the process) or resistance (i.e. broadening the definition of a scientist to include oneself) is more important for underrepresented individuals in the scientific community. We ended our discussion with a conversation about our midterm projects, which will focus on data collection and fact finding at Brown.