Ring a Bell? Charles Murray and the Resurgence of Scientific Racism

My latest article is now on The Humanist (first published 15 May 2017). Below is an excerpt.

In his latest podcast episode titled “Forbidden Knowledge,” atheist author Sam Harris guides political scientist Charles Murray through an extensive defence of Murray’s widely debunked body of work, focusing mostly on The Bell Curve. Co-authored with psychologist Richard Herrnstein (who died around the time it was published in 1994), the book was universally critiqued as an example of modern-day scientific racism.

The Bell Curve was founded on a flawed premise that inferred a correlation between intelligence, socio-economic achievement, and genetics, without accounting for the effects of discrimination. The research was funded by the eugenics-promoting Pioneer Fund, while academics like Stephen Jay Gould showed that The Bell Curve obscured data.

Time has proven the book to be scientifically “reckless.” It enjoys a resurgence in 2017, the era of Trump, specifically because it is read as proof that White people are superior to racial minorities, especially Black and Latin people. […]

Harris’s characterizations of Murray’s critics are a projection of the push back he feels he’s unfairly faced. “You were one of the canaries in the coal mines,” Harris tells Murray. Having previously dismissed Murray, Harris now feels an affinity due to facing rebuke for racism (while continuing to espouse similar views).

The atheist movement has changed. Once the almost-exclusive domain of White men, calls for equality have challenged conversations, as diverse groups of women and minorities seek a more inclusive vision for atheism. It is telling that aggrieved White men feel more comfortable hosting uncritical discussions on scientific racism than engaging in anti-racism practices to reform the movement.

Read more on The Humanist.

We must fight the doctrine of The Bell Curve both because it is wrong and because it will, if activated, cut off all possibility of proper nurturance for everyone's intelligence. Prof Stephen Jay Gould
We must fight the doctrine of The Bell Curve. – Prof Stephen Jay Gould

Better Leadership through Diversity: A Case Study of the March for Science

My latest article is now on The Humanist (first published 08 May 2017). Below is an excerpt.

The best way to redress the inequities in science is through structural reform. This means reviewing policy through an evidence-based process. A more productive approach to diversity focuses on responsibilities of leaders to enhance measurable results. In other words, for science to make the most of everyone’s talents, leaders must “walk the talk,” modelling best practice and promoting accountability for themselves and other managers.

A vision for social change that eliminates existing inequalities must incorporate the leadership, professional expertise, and lived experiences of minorities from diverse backgrounds. Without decision-making power to shape the strategy and planning of any event, program, or organization, minorities remain on the margins. Subsequently, lacking the active representation of humanity, the full benefits of science and social justice endeavors will be limited in influence and impact.

Read more on The Humanist.

Crowd listens to speeches at the March for Science in Sydney
Science will never reach its full potential if large segments of the population are locked out from participating in, and shaping, its future.

Media Interviews on March for Science

Protesters at a rally in a park, in Sydney

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. Continue reading Media Interviews on March for Science

Making the Most of Diversity Lessons from March for Science Australia

March for Science protesters at Martins Place, Sydney

My latest article is now on Women’s Policy Action Tank (first published 24 April 2017). Below is an excerpt.

Over the weekend, thousands participated in the March for Science, both in Australia and globally. Influenced by the Women’s March, the March for Science has struggled with reflecting the highly diverse scientific community. In today’s post, sociologist Zuleyka Zevallosprovides a brief history of the controversies, explains why diversity in science is important, and provides practical suggestions for moving forward on stronger footing. 

The issues for the global March for Science, as well as the national marches in Australia, are fundamental to issues of diversity in STEM around the world. The march is a microcosm of the battle to create a more inclusive culture in STEM that truly values and promotes diversity.

We start with the backwards logic. The march began without diversity in mind. The diversity statements by the global march came only after various mistakes and in response to critique from underrepresented scientists. Locally, there is no publicised diversity statement in the first instance, let alone a detailed strategy for equity, inclusion and access.

Extensive, longitudinal research shows that diversity statements and policies alone do not lead to greater diversity in the workplace. In fact, individual programs, whether it’s mentoring women or one-off training, do little to advance (only some) White women’s individual careers, and many programs have little effect on women of colour and other minorities. This is because programs are designed to “fix” individuals, without committing to changing the system.

Diversity is effective, and pays dividends in productivity, where equity, inclusion and accessibility are at the core of leadership and organisational practice. For an organisation to realise the full potential of diversity, leaders must not only model behavioural changes, but also lead proactive planning, evaluation and targeted solutions to transform their workplace culture. Superimposing a diversity statement on the existing structure allows only a few individuals to succeed while White men’s dominance remains unperturbed.

Diversity is just one of many important STEM issues in Australia, and one that should not take a backseat role to other pressing science issues. In fact, diversity undercuts all STEM policy matters. For example, Indigenous science is vital to addressing climate change and developing sustainable practices, as well as being indispensable to health initiatives, technology R&D, and other STEM ventures. Scientific potential will never be met unless Indigenous Australians lead STEM programs and activities, moving away from a deficit model to one of self-determination and empowerment in STEM. This includes activities like the March for Science. Imagine how an event that aspires to be a critical moment of change in STEM would have looked like with 60,000 years of ATSI wisdom leading its strategy!

Read more on Women’s Policy Action Tank.

March for Science crowd at Martins Place Sydney
Diversity is a quintessential tool in science

Event: Race and Dating, 26 April, Sydney

I’ll be on a panel in Sydney, on 26 April, talking about the sociology of race and dating!Details about the event from the promoter.

Conscious Dating – Race and Dating

Conscious Dating Co explores what it means to date consciously in a series of panels and workshops.

What influences attraction? Is racial bias affecting your dating life? How do you deal with being fetishised? And can we all expand our dating pool by mindfully inspecting our own racial biases?

Conscious Dating Co-founder Kaila Perusco will host a panel discussion with award-winning journalist, documentary filmmaker and host of SBS’s Date My Race, Santilla Chingaipe; writer and equal rights advocate Andy Quan; and applied sociologist Dr Zuleyka Zevallos.

Join us for a fascinating insight into modern dating!

Get tickets.

Details
Wednesday, April 26, 2017
7:00pm 8:30pm
107 Redfern Street Redfern, NSW, 2016 Australia

Conscious Dating - Race and Dating

The Walking Dead: Gender, Race & Sexuality

Rosita and Tara from The Walking Dead

This article was first published on Medium, 2 April 2015

Warning: analysis and spoilers for Seasons 1 to 5.

Like millions of fans around the world, I love The Walking Dead, and I’m an avid horror aficionado. Yet after five seasons, with breathtaking plot twists and turns, The Walking Dead’s treatment of gender, race and sexuality remains stagnant. For a show that takes many liberties when asking the audience to suspend disbelief, there’s one area it has no trouble maintaining a familiar narrative: the dominance of White, heterosexual men.

Since it launched, the show has focused on relationships and character development. This proved a novel way to bring horror to popular TV. Anthropologist, Professor Juan Francisco Salazar and Dr Stephen Healy, a geographer, argue that Season Five “reflects on the meaning of group solidarity in a brave new world.” The researchers demonstrate how various social science readings of the show centre on social anxiety. In their view, this most recent season was concerned with “Rick’s communitarian family.” That is, the other characters on the show who have bound together supposedly through Rick’s leadership, even when there have been long periods (notably Season 3) when Rick provided little guidance.

The show invites its audience to consider their own bravery under zombie duress. Would we panic and leave sweet Noah stuck in a revolving door swarming with zombies? Would we become “weak” within the walls of Alexandria? Should this frustrating person or that annoying character be killed? The show does not encourage us to think about why the writers persist on upholding White men as leaders, and why White women, people of colour and other minorities are notably absent from the narrative landscape.

It’s no accident that the diplomatic and inclusive leadership of Deanna (a White woman), flawed as it may be, is presented as fundamentally irrational because of its inclusive ideals. Meanwhile, Rick, a White man, is presented as the only model for viable leadership in spite of his flaws.

Michonne looks at her sword as she runs moves it through the air
Michonne from The Walking Dead

Continue reading The Walking Dead: Gender, Race & Sexuality

Analyzing the March for Science Diversity Discourse

Analyzing the March for Science Diversity Discourse_HEADER

This article was first published on DiverseScholar, on 27 March 2017.

Given the high profile of the Women’s March against the Trump Administration on January 21, 2017, the March for Science (MfS) seeks to rally against the science policy changes, funding cuts, gag orders, and the administrative overhaul of science organisations by the Trump Government.

The March for Science is scheduled to occur globally on April 22 in over 400 cities. The aims and functions of the march have been drastically altered in the first two months of its existence, especially as the organisers began to receive critique from the scientific community regarding diversity issues. By setting up the march as being “not political” and by reproducing various problems of gender inequality, racism and other forms of exclusion, the march organisers have inadvertently created an anti-diversity discourse, which has been subsequently adopted by a vocal majority of the MfS supporter base.

In sociology, the concept of discourse describes how language comes to convey and justify dominant ways of thinking, talking, and behaving. Discourses are built around the social identities, values, interests, and power of dominant groups. This means that the stories we tell about “why things are the way they are,” reinforce the status quo, and thus justify the reasoning, policies, and practices of groups that already have institutional control.

The idea that White men are the taken-for-granted norm of what it means to be a scientist is learned early in school, and then reinforced throughout education, career progression, prestigious prizes, and the publication and funding systems. Institutional mechanisms in science serve to reinforce a discourse that naturalises White men’s dominance in science.

My article on DiverseScholar shows how the MfS organisers have come to reproduce the existing discourse of science, by normalising the interests of scientists who are White and from majority backgrounds. I present an analysis on public reactions to the third (of four) MfS diversity statements that reflect this position.

I analysed 354 comments and over 3,300 reactions to the MfS diversity statement. There were two broad response types to the March for Science diversity statement on the public Facebook page: comments were either discouraging or encouraging of the MfS diversity statement.

The discouraging comments fell into four sub-groups: people who felt that diversity was either politicising or dividing the practice of science; and those who felt that diversity was depreciating or distracting from the goals of the march more specifically.

The encouraging comments included individuals who felt uniquely positioned to be informing others about why diversity is important to the march, and supporters who thought that diversity is enhancing science more generally.

Discourses reflect the history, culture, identity, and politics of those in power. To make the MfS truly inclusive, the organisers need to think more strategically about how to manage misconceptions about science. They will also need to be more proactive in promoting a new discourse about the march.

Read more on DiverseScholar.

Analyzing the March for Science Diversity Discourse

The March for Science Can’t Figure Out How to Handle Diversity

March for Science

This article was first published on Latino Rebels on 14 March 2017.

Inspired by the impact of the Women’s March, March for Science (MfS) emerged from a series of social media conversations. The ScienceMarchDC Twitter account was set up on January 24, and a Facebook page three days later. Their follower base ballooned from a couple of hundred people to thousands. At the time of writing, the Twitter account has 337,000 followers, the public Facebook page has more than 393,000 likes, and the private Facebook community has over 840,000 members. There are currently 360 satellite marches being organized in various American states and in many cities around the world.

The MfS organizers go to great pains to separate science from politics, and science from scientists, as if practice and policies are independent from practitioners. For example co-chair and biology postdoctoral fellow Dr Jonathan Berman says: “Yes, this is a protest, but it’s not a political protest.” Another co-chair, science writer Dr Caroline Weinberg, recently told The Chronicle: “This isn’t about scientists. It’s about science.” These sentiments strangely echo other highly publicized opposition to the march, and are being replicated in some of the local marches. The idea that a protest can be “not political” and that science can be separated from scientists are both political ideas. These notions privilege the status quo in science, by centring the politics, identities and values of White scientists, especially White cisgender, able-bodied men, who are less affected by changes to the aforementioned social policies.

The topic of diversity has dominated online conversations between many scientists across different nations who are interested in making MfS inclusive.

Even as the movement gained swift momentum, the leadership and mission were unclear in one key area: diversity.

Discussions over the march are important not just due to the planned demonstration. The debates matter because they reflect broader issues of diversity in science.

Read more on Latino Rebels.

March for Science Can_t Figure Out How to Handle Diversity

Turning Social Science Into a Business

Home office desk with laptop, phone, coffee cup and notebooks

In mid-2015, I was featured on the University College London Researchers about my time running my consultancy. Read more below about my career transition and how I use social science when working with not-for-profit organisations and businesses.

Dr Zuleyka Zevallos earned a PhD in Sociology from Swinburne University, Melbourne, where she remains an Adjunct Research Fellow. She currently runs her own business, Social Science Insights, a Research and Social Media Consultancy working with small to medium businesses, government, and not-for-profits who require social research, training and policy advice. She also provides research-driven social media content to help public education and health campaigns. Here Zuleyka shares her career journey, and offers tips to researchers thinking of moving out of academia.How did you move from studying for a PhD to starting your own consultancy?

After completing my PhD at the end of 2004, I continued to work as a lecturer. I left in 2006 because there was no job security in academia. I found it difficult to find full-time academic work in my field, but once I started looking in business and policy sectors, the job choices were surprisingly abundant. I’ve reflected on the fact that, at first, it was very disheartening to give up on my dream job in academia, but once I realised the multiple career possibilities in other industries, the decision to leave was empowering.

A career beyond academia leads to diverse experiences, and the work will likely take you to places you may not have expected. Having had little luck for months trying to get an academic job, I decided to apply for unconventional roles that sounded interesting. I received a number of different offers, which showed me how valuable my PhD degree was to non-academic employers. I took a job in federal government as a Social Scientist. I moved interstate to take the position. Within five years, I had led two interdisciplinary team projects working on social modeling and intercultural communication, and I also conducted research on a range of topics, from political violence to media analysis to the socio-economic outcomes of migrants and refugees. The role was varied so that I worked with many different clients, and I also attended conferences and published articles, which kept me engaged with my academic peers.

In late 2011, I decided to move back to my home state permanently. I worked as a Senior Analyst on an environmental health and safety investigation. I led a team of 23 researchers examining 30 years worth of reports and company data, as well as analysing interviews with 300 emergency service workers. We evaluated the connections between training and environmental practices, the chemicals used during exercises, and the high rate of cancer and other illnesses amongst emergency service workers.

After the investigation ended, I decided to set up my business. I had plenty of leadership experience, and had worked autonomously in setting up various projects in my previous roles, plus I had worked with many different client groups. Setting up the business required a lot of research, and I also took a business management course. I’ve been working as a consultant for the past couple of years.
Continue reading Turning Social Science Into a Business

Science Inequality in the News: Avoiding Dangerous Gender Narratives in STEM

Two women and one man in a pharmacy

This article was first published in DiverseScholar, on 31 December 2014.

Throughout 2014, there were a couple of notable media controversies involving the reporting of social science research on gender. There have also been a range of other science publishing problems that have demonstrated the gender problems within science. These two trends are linked to media narratives and public confusion about issues of gender and science. One of the most recent media wrangles arises from The New York Times Op-Ed by psychologists Professor Wendy Williams and Professor Stephen Ceci (Williams & Ceci 2014). I have covered the methodological flaws of the study on which the Op-Ed was based (Zevallos 2014a). The study is headed by Ceci and, in addition to Williams, their research team also includes two economists. In this three-part series of articles for DiverseScholar, I provide supplementary analysis challenging the gender assumptions of their study. Specifically, I show how the study’s conclusions conflict with broader social science research on inequality within Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).

In this first article, I will show how social science research can be used to serve an agenda that undermines gender diversity. I use sociology to show the issues arising when the media and some researchers, such as Ceci and William’s team, draw on an individual narrative to explain gender inequality. In the second article, I will discuss why the media and the public enjoy discussing studies on “sex differences,” and how the appetite for simplistic explanations of gender entrench pre-existing gender biases. In the final article, I discuss why social scientists have to be extra careful when we write about gender in popular press, and how we can better support gender diversity in science.

I am focusing my analysis on cultural discussions of cisgender, as this was the (problematic) de facto focus of Ceci and colleagues, given that they only talked about “men” and “women.” Cisgender describes men and women whose gender identity aligns with their ascribed sex (the biology and bodies they were born into). This means I am not predominantly writing about transgender, intersex and other genders; but, I signal here that this is a narrow conception of gender.

The concept of sex is distinct from gender. Sex describes biological differences between men and women; but, gender looks at how culture influences the myriad of ways that these differences are perceived. Gender is more fluid than two binary categories of male and female (Zevallos 2014b). Explanations that draw on sex rather than gender, such as Ceci and colleagues’ study, implicitly rely on a biological narrative, by saying girls and boys are “naturally” attracted to different tasks and that they make different choices because they’re male or female. Herein lays the biggest problem with the communication of gender to the masses, especially via the media. Simplistic explanations win out, while the complexity of gender inequality is swept under a narrative of individual women’s choices. Let’s explore these issues by delving deeper into the biases in the study by Ceci and his team.

Continue reading at DiverseScholar.

Woman scientist using microscope

 

Study Confirms Intimate Partner Violence Leading Health Risk Factor for Women

Aboriginal woman medical doctor stares out of a large window

Kim Webster, University of Melbourne and Zuleyka Zevallos, Swinburne University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation, 1 November 2016.

Barely a week passes without a media report of the suffering or tragic death of a woman at the hands of a partner. Typically, these accounts focus on the individuals involved. While important, in isolation, such a focus can belie the fact intimate partner violence is a wider social problem, obscuring both the factors contributing to it and opportunities to prevent it.

A study being launched today by Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety confirms the serious impacts of intimate partner violence. The analysis, undertaken by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, provides estimates of the impact of intimate partner violence on women’s health.

Data from the Personal Safety Survey, Australia’s most reliable violence prevalence survey, was used as a key input.

Since the age of 15, one in four women in Australia have experienced at least one incident of violence by a partner. This includes violence perpetrated by a live-in partner as well as boyfriends, girlfriends or dates. This is based on a definition of violence, used by the Personal Safety Survey, which includes physical and sexual assault, as well as face-to-face threats the victim believed were likely and able to be carried out.

When emotional abuse by a live-in partner is included, (defined as controlling behaviours aimed at causing fear or emotional harm), it is estimated one in three women have experienced violence or abuse by an intimate partner. Continue reading Study Confirms Intimate Partner Violence Leading Health Risk Factor for Women