ONE could argue that the true genesis of mankind was marked not by the emergence of hominids with less body hair or the expansion of the brain, but with the very first question about the world and how it works.
Every civilisation has attempted to provide answers, and these answers came in the form of religious doctrine. Whether it be Prometheus moulding the first men from mud or Adam and Eve, humanity has scrambled to find an explanation for the questions that nature continuously poses.
When religious reporting on nature failed to satisfy mankind, another approach was developed. This approach is now known as the scientific method. Within this method, ideas and postulation are given no credence, the scientific method deals only in evidence.
Finally, humanity uncovered some of the answers it desperately sought. Science has provided us with tools that are simply beyond the comprehension of someone from 300 years ago. Science is arguably the greatest thing humanity has created, and is most likely the force that will shape our future.
So why is it that #ShutDownSTEM has materialised on my newsfeed? What does this mean?
The killing of George Floyd has ignited a massive political upheaval, with slogans such as Black Lives Matter and ‘Defund the police’ taking centre stage. The topic of race has infiltrated everyday conversation as well as political dialogue. The concept of systemic/institutional racism is regularly articulated and often accepted as canon.
The scientific community hasn’t escaped judgment. On June 10 academic work was halted for a day in a campaign called #ShutDownSTEM (the acronym meaning science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). The organisers presented it as an opportunity for scientists and researchers ‘to reflect on their own complicity in anti-Black racism in academia and their local and global communities’.
The evidence put forth to demonstrate the ‘systemic racism’ within science is quite simple: that black people are under-represented in the sciences.
This is a classic example of the reduction fallacy, also known as the fallacy of the single cause. This is characterised by the assumption that there is a single cause for an outcome, when in reality there are myriad reasons. That isn’t to say that racism doesn’t contribute to the under-representation of black people in science, but to claim it as the main or only factor is an example of poor critical thinking.
It has also been said that women are massively under-represented in STEM. This is true to a certain extent. Women are under-represented in engineering and mathematics. However they are over-represented in the life sciences such as biology. Is there simply no sexism in the life sciences? Or are we failing to consider other factors?
Poor critical thinking is neither interesting nor uncommon. What fascinates me is the idea that black people being under-represented in science has to be a bad thing.
Why is it assumed that equality of outcome between different peoples should be enforced? Why is it assumed that different cultures will produce the same proportion of scientists?
The black community in America have dominated the music industry in America for decades. Even while persecuted the black community managed to outperform their white counterparts. Many of us have heard the story of Sammy Davis Jr having to enter a music venue through the back door despite being the star the audience had come to see. Should music labels reject more black artists because they’re over-represented?
The Jewish community is over-represented in the sciences. Twenty-five per cent of Nobel Prize winners in the sciences are/were Jewish. Should we reduce the number of Jews in science to allow for more black people?
To demand equality of outcome is an authoritarian argument, and an argument that lacks nuance. The goal is certainly to achieve equality of opportunity, and the black community should have access to resources and education akin to their white counterparts. But affirmative action will not accomplish this goal.