Race in Science at ScienceOnline09

The not-just-for-science-bloggers-anymore, thank you, conference ScienceOnline09 is scheduled to include a session on Race in Science moderated/facilitated by Danielle Lee (Urban Science Adventures) and Samia Ansari (49 percent).
The blurb describes the session as follows:

The issues of gender and race are related and have overlaps, yet there are differences as well that need to be explored. If there is no profile picture, most readers will automatically assume that the author is white. What can be done to promote minorities blogging? How can blogs by minorities be used to attract kids into science careers? How to get and make allies? What allies can and should be doing? How the Web provides new methods and means for action and effecting positive change.

Preliminary posts soliciting contributions from readers have been posted by Danielle Lee here and here and by Samia Ansari here.

33 responses so far

  • Dave says:

    I don't assume bloggers are white guys without a photo. My guess, for example, is that Danielle Lee is an Asian-American female and Samia Ansari is an Indian or South Central Asian female. If their names were Bill Smith and Jack Miller, then I'd assume otherwise. Or I'd use language or contextual cues. Humans in general have highly developed skills for identifying cultural and racial cues, and making subsequent stereotypes. There are plenty of cues provided in a blog, even without a photo. So I think an interesting discussion should not be based on the (I think) inaccurate premise that readers think bloggers are all white guys. Rather, I think a more interesting and productive discussion would be about how bloggers can overcome cultural and racial stereotypes in general, by giving readers a 'view into the mind of _______'.
    I do agree very much that blogging by minorities in science can encourage minorities to enter and persist in science careers. I think this is an important role minority bloggers can play. Minority bloggers, by advertising themselves as successful and/or sharing how they deal with issues, can play an important role in recruiting others who identify with them. Everyone is intimidated by situations where no one is 'like them'. Minority bloggers can help dispel the notion that there are no successful and happy minority scientists.
    Of course, this means that it is important that minority scientists portray themselves as happy and successful. It would be a shame if the blogosphere were filled with nothing but disgruntled minority scientists whining about how the system sucks. What kind of example would that serve?
    Basically, in my opinion, the blogosphere needs more success and adventure stories, and fewer diaries by people with an axe to grind. No minority blog reader is going to say: "Hey, look! A bitter twisted person! I want to be just like them!"

  • becca says:

    "What kind of example would that serve?"
    Fair Warning?
    "No minority blog reader is going to say: "Hey, look! A bitter twisted person! I want to be just like them!" "
    Well there is Physiogroupie...
    Personally, I'm inclined to assume bloggers without a photo are *less* likely to be white guys. And less likely to be generation.com'ers.

  • Of course, this means that it is important that minority scientists portray themselves as happy and successful. It would be a shame if the blogosphere were filled with nothing but disgruntled minority scientists whining about how the system sucks. What kind of example would that serve?

    Why am I not surprised that you are the first sleazy asshole concern troll to chime in on this topic, to tell minority bloggers what to do, and to be completely, utterly, eleventyfuckingbajillion percent full of fucking shit?

  • leigh says:

    nobody is going to believe a blog about how making your way through science education and careers is a happy fairytale full of adventure and success. from anyone, regardless of race. that's the biggest line of bullshit i've ever heard.
    guess it's a good thing i didn't have a blog during the several times i came near to walking away from the phd and telling the institution to shove it, i might have discouraged people by being HONEST.
    i think it is better for people to walk into something as thick as a science phd with eyes open, than to get blindsided and feel even worse about how much it sucks, like maybe they're the only ones. i'm not about to go telling minorities what to do, but i can say that reading isis's very honest blog about her experiences has been very good for me as a female scientist.
    the system DOES suck, and that's the point.

  • Yeah, it would be awful if the minorities had the temerity to post about discrimination they faced, or the general difficulties of science, or any downers like that.
    Also, women. Women should stop posting complaints about how they get excluded from urinal conversations or whatever and chin up! That's the only way to lure more women into the trap scientific community.
    Because I'm equal opportunity, I'd furthermore like to stipulate that white men should stop posting about how they're angry about affirmative action.
    In fact, I think blogs in general would be better if people stopped talking about how to change the system, and just posted cheery notices like, "Another experiment worked today! Wow, science is The Best Ever. Even if you cut my salary in half, I would still be as fulfilled and happy as a person could be, my love for science burns so brightly."

  • Why am I not surprised that Dave, a white guy, is telling me, minority women, how I can better serve my peeps? I personally would love to dispel the notion that there are numerous successful female scientists that also are women of colour, unfortunately I"ve only met 1 so far.

  • Dave says:

    I asked: "What kind of example would that serve?"
    becca answered: "Fair Warning?"
    Perhaps. But I thought the point was to ATTRACT minorities into science, not drive them away.
    I am not saying bloggers should be all misty pastel teddy bears and hearts about things that suck. There's no need to lie. I just think science bloggers should -- if they want to attract people to science -- preferentially talk about the wonder of discovery, the fun of intellectual debate, the relative freedom and flexibility of the job, the opportunities for travel. Be inspiring.
    Or, if one must occasionally dwell on the negative aspects of science, at least talk about how the career is worth it anyway, or how those aspects can be overcome. For example, one of the reasons I started reading this particular blog is because DM doesn't just whine on about how funding sucks. He talks about how, despite limited funding and intense competition, success can be obtained. That's positive. I also enjoy blogs that discuss papers I haven't read or which interpret information from fields I have little/no background in. They get me excited about the science.
    Of course, there should be room in the blogosphere for disgruntled academics. Lots of people here obviously like to write and read that sort of stuff. I guess it's sort of an on-line support group or something (I dunno; I'm not a disgruntled academic). I just don't think disgruntled minority academics help minority recruiting.

  • Dave says:

    CPP asks: "Why am I not surprised that you are the first sleazy asshole concern troll to chime in on this topic, to tell minority bloggers what to do, and to be completely, utterly, eleventyfuckingbajillion percent full of fucking shit?"
    Dude -- I stayed up all freaking night waiting for another post here where I could drop the first bomb, make you go all red, and hopefully hear later that your head exploded in rage. Don't spoil my fun.
    And yes, I am also the one who keeps hiding your keys and stuff. I stole eleven dollars from your wallet the other day, and peed on your toilet seat.

  • DNLee says:

    Wow, this is a very heated discussion. Good. One thing a friend/colleague pointed out to me is that the word RACE is an outdated and inaccurate term. One of the first things we as scientist should do is lead the discussion in throwing the term out. Even though semantics matter, the word is still very much understood and conversational, so I'm not willing to throw the conversation completely off track from the main issue. So let's focus:
    How can we create a Diverse AND Inclusive Science community (in the blogosphere and in the halls of academia)?
    That will be the ultimate purpose of the discussion.
    Now to address points raised in this thread.
    1. Context clues such as names can be helpful, but not necessarily accurate. Perhaps I should take on the pseudonym Shaniqua Washington, then it might be easier to deduce that I am woman of African descent and raised in the inner-city US. (But I get the Asian thing; it's funny. My advisors tease me about it all of the time.)
    2. The sad fact is that most people, especially students of color, assume a scientist is an older European (or New England) male unless you tell or show them otherwise. I sometimes wish there were more pictures in textbooks of scientists at work.
    3. Happy tales only. That is hard. I love science, but it can be hard - academically and socially. I don't want to mislead anyone... the pitfall of portraying only the "cool stuff" to minorities to get them hooked into STEM...or the image of the "bitter person of color" who is never satisfied, even when justified. That's why more participation is better. Balance is created when students and faculty members know several people from under-represented groups. No one person is EVER the model ______citizen. It's too much pressure and completely unfair.
    As far the tone on my blog, most of my posts are upbeat, because I am a giddy person and my target audience includes youth and novice naturalists. My tales of woe and being pissed off have no place on that blog, those complaints would be more appropriate for an adult audience and fellow scientists/academics. Samia's blog - which is aimed at adults, fellow science students, and science academics - occasionally portrays the "realness" of being a minority in science. I really relate to her posts.
    That's all for now.
    Danielle Lee

  • But I thought the point was to ATTRACT minorities into science, not drive them away.
    There's no point in attracting people to science and actively keeping them in the dark about the issues our profession is facing. Students need to have their eyes wide open when making career choices.
    There's no need to lie. I just think science bloggers should -- if they want to attract people to science -- preferentially talk about the wonder of discovery, the fun of intellectual debate, the relative freedom and flexibility of the job, the opportunities for travel. Be inspiring. Or, if one must occasionally dwell on the negative aspects of science, at least talk about how the career is worth it anyway, or how those aspects can be overcome.
    Maybe you've just been focusing on the more negative aspects of some blog posts, particularly the recent ones about the economic meltdown. The regular bloggers and most of the commenters here at DM/PP all exhibit a passion for science and discovery - that's also why a lot of debates get heated. Some days science is like being a kid let loose in a candy store but we can't sustain that sugar rush every single day.

  • GirlPostdoc says:

    Well I don't think GirlPostdoc gives any of it away well other than the girl part. In my mind, diversity includes the state of mind, especially because it's hard to be happy all the time. Some days I'm a the happy poster minority scientist other days I want nothing to do with the "ivory" tower and it's gatekeepers. If you don't think there are enough of us around, then check out my blog. My latest post addresses race.
    http://girlpostdoc.blogspot.com/

  • If I write about the issues I'm facing in my lab, which are related to my gender, race, maternal status without discussing ways to overcome those issues it does not make me a disgruntled scientist.
    Dave - I get that you would like us to focus on why we (as minority women) love science and the wonder about it, but why is that only my job? Any scientist can do that. There are alot of barriers and pitfuls on the way to a TT position. Some of them are there for everyone, some of them are specific to certain gender / races. Without openly challenging and discussing them, we can not find solutions. If you would like to be an ally, a true advocate of diversity you need to do a better job of listening to what Samia, myself and others saying. We're telling the blogosphere what needs to be done. Its up you to stop telling us what to do and heed our words.

  • Dave says:

    "One thing a friend/colleague pointed out to me is that the word RACE is an outdated and inaccurate term. One of the first things we as scientist should do is lead the discussion in throwing the term out."
    I agree that 'race' is scientifically meaningless given the well-documented overall lack of genetic variability among humans compared to most other (non endangered) mammals and even primates. I and other human males have more in common, genetically/syntenically-speaking, with male chimps than we do human females (and vice versa).
    But I'm not sure this discussion can avoid it the use of the term. Even though we're using 'minority' as a noun, it's really an adjective. In which case, what are we need to keep in mind what minority is describing if not 'race'? A physical appearance? A culture? What makes someone a different 'race' anyway? Perhaps the answer to this question will help address the 'whys' of under-representation.

  • Alex says:

    ScientistMother-
    You write:
    I personally would love to dispel the notion that there are numerous successful female scientists that also are women of colour, unfortunately I"ve only met 1 so far.
    Do Chinese women in the physical sciences count? Because I see a lot of them at conferences. I'm not sure what your metric for "successful" is, but the ones I meet are often PI's with tenure. "Numerous" would be too strong of a word to describe them, but certainly they aren't so rare that I struggle to think of more than 1.
    None of this should be construed as any sort of apology for the status quo, and I freely acknowledge that the numbers are still far too low, but I am a bit surprised to hear you say you can only think of 1 successful woman of color in science. If Chinese women count, the numbers in most fields (at least in physical sciences) are greater than you describe.

  • Dave says:

    "Maybe you've just been focusing on the more negative aspects of some blog posts, particularly the recent ones about the economic meltdown. The regular bloggers and most of the commenters here at DM/PP all exhibit a passion for science and discovery - that's also why a lot of debates get heated. Some days science is like being a kid let loose in a candy store but we can't sustain that sugar rush every single day."
    Oh, well, then I guess there's nothing much to fix, or even discuss at the bloggers meeting.
    Let me suggest, however, humbly, that your attitude might be a case of blogger's myopia. My definite impression reading blogs from scientists is that science, as a career, generally sucks. Particularly so if you're a woman.
    Luckily, reading blogs from science journalists often gets me fired up again about my job.

  • Alex,
    Yes chinese women count. Yes there are more minority woman that are successful (successful = tenured faculty). I was referring to women that are accessible to me, ie at my university. Unfortunately at my university there are not alot of visible ones. The 1 woman I was referring to is an Asian Tenured Faculty member at my institute. Now that I start thinking about it, I actually know 2. The second one is retired. She is an absolutely amazing Parasitologist, was the only woman in her graduate class and tells the most inspiring stories. I absolutely love her.

  • Let me suggest, however, humbly, that your attitude might be a case of blogger's myopia. My definite impression reading blogs from scientists is that science, as a career, generally sucks. Particularly so if you're a woman.
    From my own perspective, and I suspect that a lot of other science bloggers would agree, a career in science is an amazing and exciting road. Sure, there are aspects about it that suck, but they are largely political and you get bullshit like that everywhere.
    As women, we are always going to find barriers and challenges when forging a career in a traditionally male-dominated fields. That doesn't make science suck. It makes a career in science more difficult and challenging. The same can be said for minority scientists.
    We can all have a passion for science, but that doesn't mean we can't be critical of the system that makes science and a career in science possible (I'm pretty sure DM has covered this in a previous post somewhere as I'm getting a touch of deja vu).
    Just as an aside, Dave, I respectfully suggest that your comments here at DM have been contributing to the sucky tone of late.

  • jc says:

    PiT -
    The thing about Dave's comments is that he thinks he is enlightening us with the "majority"'s way of thinking... like we don't already know about that shit.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    If I were a complete stranger to science, reading some of the comments here and elsewhere would lead me to believe that the minorities, including females, are member prisoners in a gulag. While recognizing that there is a disparity where employment in science is concerned, I assume that the majority of the minority bloogers and commenters have succeeded in science to one degree or another. Thus, I tend to agree with Dave that promoting that success could increase recruiment of minorities into science. As a member of a minority group, where my real name and accent always identify me as one, I have used this fact to work harder and thrive to achieve more and better than my peers. I want to believe that any member of a minority group who attempts to penetrate an area dominated by a majority group, already has the necessary grit and inner streangth to take on the system.
    Continuous whining, especially by those who are already sitting at the table, I think only exaggerates the real problem and does paint academia as a gulag.

  • Dave says:

    " Samia, myself and others saying. We're telling the blogosphere what needs to be done. Its up you to stop telling us what to do and heed our words."
    I was offering suggestions. If you think they are impractical B.S., then forget about them. Or if you think they are worth discussing or arguing against, then super. Do so. Shoot me down. I am happy to be proven wrong. But please remember that, misdirected and ignorant though I may be, I am trying to help.
    As for the point above: Again, pardon my possible ignorance, but my impression is that the general advice on fixing underrepresentation in science is for: 1) All white guys in science to die or retire or something to make room for everyone else who is not a white guy, and/or 2) humanity to immediately give up racial and sexual attitudes that have dominated cultures all over the world for thousands of years, and/or 3) me to shut up.
    The first two don't seem practical. I'm working on #3 but I'm finding it hard. Perhaps it is a trait attributable to my caucasian* male background. In which case I request it either be forgiven or celebrated, as per your race, gender, and inclination.
    *I am not, for the record, from the Caucasus. Yet I am forced to mislabel myself with this racial slur on many government forms and especially at census time.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    first, an observation that is probably obvious. I'm not in my usual state of contact with the 'tubes, explaining both the even-less-edited-than-usual posts and my lack of interjection.
    This is unfortunate because we have a bit of ugliness descending with which I am unhappy. Please go back and read my hockey post. ALL of you.
    Then go back and review your intertoobs-discussion 101 notes. People are going to piss you off because of their "tone". Frequently. Sometimes they are going to really piss you off because of their content. All too frequently we confuse the latter with the former. Because, of course, it is hard to discern the line from an internet presence.
    In the ultimate analysis we are never going to "know" the motivations of anyone else. And we will surely disagree. My desire is to extend the maximum possible benefit of doubt when a commenter or blogger appears to have a disruptive and annoying personality pasted over a core of decency. I am very loathe to write anyone off as lost, even the unreconstructed types. I will note that you, DearReader, extend that courtesy to both CPP and myself. In spades.
    I would also suggest these are exactly the skills we need IRL to advance our various agendas. We are not going to slay all the dragons of inequity at a blow but must rather deal with the world as it is. Sometimes, this requires letting the snark roll off our backs, letting someone else deal with it or simply letting it go. I've been known to do that with a comment or two myself. Letting it go does not mean we agree, it means we don't feel like dealing right now.
    As a special note to my dear blog friends who think that they "know" what this blog is about. Sigh. I am happy that people think I put up starter kindling for interesting discussions. I'm delighted you put up with my tortured prose. Really. I love the commentariat. And I am happy to eat any cookies tossed my way.
    But I don't blog to any particular audience intentionally. I feel quite strongly that this is the shortest route to blogger-block and that whiny crap people put up about how they oh, just can't go on anymore...
    in case you were wondering.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    okay, on to the content.
    I was also struck by the suggestion that readers assume bloggers are "white" unless informed otherwise. This is really interesting to me. A while ago I asked a limited group of elder-bloggers for any examples of when a pseud / undercover blogger came out as part of GroupX to great surprise from a readership who assumed GroupY. The good Dr. FreeRide mentioned that when she came out from her original pseud blog there were many who thought she was a "he". Digby, I believe it was?, is the other commonly cited example.
    How about you Dear Readers? I guess I don't mean a full-on outing because those are fairly rare. In the gradual development of your reading of a given blogger (or commenter) has your perception of their group affiliation changed? Usually this is a matter of ongoing posts revealing more and more about "who" the blogger really is, I suppose. [Try not to identify specific bloggers, if you would, please]
    Something I would otherwise explore is the delicious conflict between my views on pseudonymous writing and my views on the importance of overt visual diversity. It seems a rich vein.

  • Stephanie Z says:

    [Return snark suppressed for the sake of DM's holiday cheer. It was really good, though.]
    Nothing on topic to add really, except that I don't know a single person of any minority status who would look at a rosy picture of a life in science and not ask, "Where's the catch? What aren't you willing to let me see?" Danielle's blog is different, as she notes, in that she's presenting more the science and the joy of discovery than the life of a working scientist or student.

  • leigh says:

    allow me to clarify something:
    science for the sake of science is amazing. the thrill of finding something new and cool is what makes the lows in the rollercoaster worth it. (though wading through failures as a young grad student is not easy.) searching for new ideas, seeing what other cool stuff some of the groups in your field are publishing- that's exciting, fun stuff. i could go on.
    but let's be real. we don't get to do science in an interpersonal vacuum. there is a culture built into the profession, and that culture is not ideal. that's where the problem comes in, and not addressing the failures of the culture at large is not doing anyone any favors, no matter how many people of diverse backgrounds we may recruit by suppressing information.

  • Dr. Isis says:

    It would be a shame if the blogosphere were filled with nothing but disgruntled minority scientists whining about how the system sucks.

    And this is where the conversation goes...From now on, la Doctora Isis blogs only about shoes.

  • Dave says:

    I'm going to start a blog all about penile implants.

  • Becca, aka The Lizardqueen, responsible for ordering the Dragons of Justice to dispatch with the Dra says:

    +1 to leigh (and blessings upon your head for that aside about young grad students- I'm not quite out of the failure muck yet, but I think the thing that made it the hardest was the idea that I was alone when Things Didn't Work).
    Dave, dave, dave... the point is to ATTRACT science to minorities, not the other way around. Minorities are fine the way the are. It's the Old-Hidebound-Science-Traditionalists who must be modified... and you are first on our list. Wahahahahahaha! *insert Mr. Burns finger dance here* Ex-cellent.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Perhaps I just don't read the right blogs from minority scientists but for the most part they seem pretty upbeat to me. especially in comparison with known-white bloggers as a group. Of course, the numbers are way off so how could one possibly compare for real?
    One of the things I like about Urban Scientist Adventures and 49 percent is that the joy of discovery and learning is so palpable.
    but then again, I whine about how the system sucks all the freakin time so what do I know?

  • Samia says:

    Alex, you might want to do a little reading on sweat equity and the Chinese experience of the American workplace. Asians as a group (and Chinese in particular) need to work longer and obtain a higher level of education to make it into salary brackets and job titles that come "easier" to individuals belonging to the majority racial category of the United States.
    Frankly I'm not as concerned with "recruiting" minority individuals into science as I am with representing myself and expressing my opinions. It is my earnest hope that some of my concerns and viewpoints intersect with those of people who care about diversity issues. I would absolutely love it if someone who identifies as a minority individual got something out of my writing, either in the way of inspiration or simple commiseration. There's a lot to be said for knowing someone "like" you is at least trying to make it out there, and blogging lets us feel close to people in a special, day-to-day way.
    Science and I have been great friends for a while; it's these freaking people that get in the way sometimes. They're usually the reason for any ire in my own posts.

  • Dave says:

    "Science and I have been great friends for a while; it's these freaking people that get in the way sometimes. They're usually the reason for any ire in my own posts."
    The idea that science is an emotionless non-subjective process is a terrible myth. You need to get over it quick if you really plan on continuing in this business and staying happy. Science -- even at its most pure -- is a completely human endeavor. And by that, I don't mean that science is 'human' simply because flawed humans are doing it. Science is exactly the same as 'art' -- with the same goals and (largely) the same approach. The goal of both 'science' and 'art' is communication of a particular view of the world (which is always a subjective approximation; don't fool yourself otherwise). The best art changes your view of the world, as does the best science. Science (and art) lets you 'see' things anew. What people do with that view (engineering, decoration) is another matter.
    Happy new year, by the way, even though New Year isn't really for another month.

  • One outcome I'm really hoping for from this session is that we compile a central blogroll of minority sci/med bloggers, from students to professors.

  • Samia says:

    Dave, I'm guessing you didn't bother to read our session wiki. Might wanna.
    Rest of you: Due to recent events, I'm not going to the conference.

Leave a Reply