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Diversity

Events in recent weeks have put a spotlight on the inequality that exists in science

by Bibiana Campos-Seijo
June 13, 2020 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 98, ISSUE 23

 

Recent events have highlighted the inequality and racism that exist in our society. Whether we want to admit it or not, these attitudes are also prevalent in the science community, including the chemical sciences.

One such example of this attitude came to the fore upon publication of a peer-reviewed opinion piece by Brock University synthetic organic chemist Tomáš Hudlický in Angewandte Chemie, International Edition. If you are interested in an account of what happened, read our story on page 4. Hudlický’s essay caused a huge uproar because it put forward a collection of familiar but retrograde and prejudiced perspectives about our field. Among other views he cared to share, the author criticized the efforts to increase representation of women and underrepresented minorities in the field and even suggested that these efforts have led to prioritizing inclusion of certain groups at the expense of meritocracy.

Many within the community reacted immediately, criticized the journal for publishing such views, and demanded an investigation, which is ongoing. Some withdrew papers that had already been submitted, and some of the journal’s advisers resigned from their responsibilities.

The real issue is not that the journal messed up so badly but that the views reported are still far more commonplace than we’d like to admit. That is the real problem that needs addressing.

Further proof of this prejudice is the torrent of biased views that were shared on social media when journals like Science and Nature issued statements of solidarity with the Black community and in support of #ShutDownSTEM, a grassroots movement that took place on June 10 aimed at encouraging STEM professionals and academics to reflect and take action for Black lives and work to eradicate racism.

I’m not going to repeat those views. I’m not going to bring up any of the data connecting diversity with scientific innovation. I’m not going to engage in discussions about whether a just society is one that offers equal opportunities or equal outcomes. Data, words, and reasoning are unlikely to change those entrenched views.

I’m simply going to tell you that we need to do better because supporting diversity, inclusion, and respect is the right thing to do. C&EN is committed to bringing about real change, so we will continue to encourage every university, lab group, and leader in the chemical sciences to listen, reflect, and create a plan or strategy with specific actions to encourage long-lasting diversity and inclusion within our community.

At C&EN we were proud to support #ShutDownSTEM, which we did in a number of ways. First, we decided to only publish diversity-related stories on cen.acs.org, including one on what other chemists, universities, and institutions are doing to support #ShutDownSTEM (see page 6) and another on how grading practices in general chemistry courses hinder Black and underrepresented minority students from progressing in our field (see page 5). Chemjobber also dedicated his monthly column to how to support and promote Black chemists (see page 27). We rescheduled two webinars to a later date and deferred sending our weekly newsletters until Thursday.

On C&EN’s social media accounts, we issued a statement confirming our support for the campaign and focused on sharing and retweeting posts, including relevant hashtags such as #ShutDownSTEM, #BlackAndSTEM, and #BlackInTheIvory, with a view to amplifying related voices within the STEM community.

We also encouraged the C&EN team to take time to reflect and consider what specific actions each one of us would like to commit to in order to achieve our goal of long-lasting diversity and inclusion. My own reflection time yielded a list of such actions and, importantly, redoubled my commitment and a resolve.

We need to do better. We will do better.

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.

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