I have recently given a few media interviews on my analysis of equity, inclusion and accessibility and March for Science. I was interviewed about my articles on the problems with the march and the science of diversity, as well as the anti-diversity discourse by march supporters. Below, I briefly discuss issues emerging from the media interviews I’ve done with STAT News, Buzzfeed, The New York Times, Wired, and Living Lab Radio.
“Australian-based sociologist Zuleyka Zevallos, in an email to STAT, pointed to what she called ‘racist dog-whistling’ by the Los Angeles march chapter in a Twitter post that was since deleted: ‘some scientists [are] concerned with the march turning into [a] political event and losing its focus. What do YOU pledge to do to keep it peaceful?” The leap from ‘political’ to ‘violent’ did not sit well with some minority science advocates.
“Last week, Zevallos published an article about the march’s various diversity problems — a move she made after ‘close to two months of equity missteps, and many scientists were fed up by having offered their volunteering, advice and resources, only to be ignored,’ she said.”
This article has many troubling aspects. From how diversity is discussed by one of the March for Science committee members (diversity “diminishes science”); to the revelation post-publication that one of the former committee members quoted (Morris) has a long history of White supremacist and sexist behaviour; to, it seems, possible unethical practices by the journalist (this piece was updated with additional quotes by committee members in response to being misquoted).
What a mess.
“It took one tweet by one high-profile male scientist for the organisers to completely retreat from the diversity statement that they put out” Zuleyka Zevallos, a sociologist at Swinburne University in Australia, told BuzzFeed News. “It’s important because it shows that there’s a wavering commitment to diversity that is swayed by the status quo in science.”
I welcome the news of the three new honorary co-chairs of the march: Bill Nye, Dr Lydia Villa-Komoroff, and Dr Mona Hanna-Attisha, however there is a lot of work ahead to address diversity within the march.
The news is also soured by the fact that Nye was going to be announced solo. I was interviewed twice as a result. In my first interview I conveyed strong disappointment at the decision to make a White man the face of the march and noted that a woman of colour would have been a step forward. I also argued that the organisers needed to appoint transgender women and women with disabilities to address key gaps in leadership. Around this time, the STAT News article came out (for which I was also interviewed) and caused more controversy and so the organisers held off on announcing Nye. And so while these two accomplished women of colour scientists are wonderful leaders, they are, nevertheless, an afterthought. Their inclusion is also an outcome of strong negotiation by one of the women of colour on the committee and public lobbying by underrepresented scientists.
Nye’s comments in this article are counter-productive:
“With respect to diversity — is that the key word here? There’s a diversity committee on the march, and they’re working this problem. I was born a dorky white guy who became an engineer. I’m playing the hand I was dealt. We can’t — this march can’t solve every problem all at once.”
The only reason Nye can make this argument – that diversity can wait and that it’s someone else’s problem – is because he’s a White man. His comments are ill informed and will only feed the detractors.
Moreover, Lydia Villa-Komaroff and Mona Hanna-Attisha are practising scientists who have made a huge impact on pressing issues (insulin research and exposing lead poisoning in the Flint water crisis, respectively). It goes to the heart of problems in science that a White male personality gets top billing over more accomplished women of colour researchers.
Looking forward to better leadership moving forward, and for the march to make concrete progress on equity, inclusion and accessibility.
The New York Times
“‘It set off alarm bells,’ said Zuleyka Zevallos an applied sociologist from Swinburne University of Technology in Australia. ‘How can we trust them to look after inclusion and accessibility if they are going to buckle under pressure?'”
The statements from the organisers in this article are easily disproved from public record. For example, the organisers resisted the idea that science is political, and they have created a series of sexist, racist and ablesit problems (discrimination against people with disabilities). They have completely ignored the needs and representation of LGBTQIA scientists. Most tellingly, several women have left the organising committee due to a toxic organisational culture.
As I’ve said from the beginning: the problems with the march reflect broader issues of discrimination in science and academia. This includes a lack of awareness about the structural barriers inhibiting the full participation and success of minorities and White women in research. The march is also plagued by ineffective leadership, policy and practice responses to diversity, which is another troubling hallmark of science.
We must do better to ensure everyone can achieve their full potential in science.
Read more on The New York Times.
I was interviewed by WIRED on the disunity caused by scientists who have tried to split the March for Science from social justice activism.
The case study in this article is the appalling treatment of organisers in Memphis, USA. Scientists split from the Memphis March to form a separate rally in the same city. Both groups have scientists but the March has centrally been led by women of colour activists with more experience in social movements, and they incorporate a focus on inclusion of minority communities. This is symbolic in their decision to march to an historically Black university. Participation of minorities in science is not mutually exclusive to the goal of enhancing evidence-based science policies.
I’ll point out what I said in my interview: scientists from underrepresented groups have always been part of, and learned from, social justice movements.
“Both groups feel that their work isn’t done—and with the perception that science is under attack in the US, they wish they could show a united front. But ‘that in itself is a false picture of science, because we are not united,’ says Zuleyka Zevallos, a sociologist at Swinburne University in Australia who has studied the online reaction to the March for Science’s shifting messaging. Saturday’s marches, rallies, and other events around the world will surely pull some science supporters together. But they’re just as likely to highlight the clash over science’s priorities. Should the science community focus on fighting back against a hostile administration? Or on improving itself from within?”
Living Lab Radio
I was interviewed by Dr Heather Goldstone for Living Lab Science along with my colleague, Dr Caleph Wilson:
“They [March for Science Los Angeles] Tweeted in February that they’d been hearing from scientists that there might be problems with violence in connection with their focus on diversity,” said Zuleyka Zevallos (@OtherSociologist), a sociologist at Swinburne University. “That’s a dangerous historical connection that they are making from having minorities attend a science event to having it lead to violence. There’s actually no correlation between the two.”
Zevallos walked away from the March, as did Caleph Wilson (@HeyDrWilson), a biomedical researcher and digital media manager for the National Science and Technology News Service. They took to Twitter, instead, helping build hashtags – #marginsci and #AltSciMarch – that have developed into a vibrant public discourse about diversity and equity in science.
“One of the things that the hashtags were able to do is allow people to have those conversations in a way that can be visible,” said Wilson. “We could see each other having these conversations, as well as we could point the March for Science to these conversations.” […]
Zevallos says there is a silver lining, though.
“I do think that there’s a positive momentum in that these conversations have been happening for a very long time,” Zevallos said. “Underrepresented minorities have been doing activism for decades. But I guess the hashtags, in particular, allowed these conversations to converge, and for different networks from different parts of the world to join their voices together.”
As March for Science organizers work to foster a more lasting science activism movement, Zevallos and Wilson hope that the conversations started by the March can be leveraged into more awareness and meaningful changes in the science community’s prevailing attitude toward diversity and inclusion.
Read more and listen to the interview on Living Lab Radio.
Read my articles on the March for Science: