EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT: How ‘Diversity’ Subverts Science, Courtesy Of Those Who Gave Us COVID-19 Shutdowns

Heather Mac Donald Thomas W. Smith Fellow, Manhattan Institute
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The following is an excerpt from Heather Mac Donald’s “When Race Trumps Merit.” It can be purchased here.

In 2019, then–NIH Director Collins urged his biomedicine colleagues to boycott any “high-level” scientific conference that did not have women  and underrepresented minorities in marquee speaking spots. Critics  refer to these male-dominated abominations as “manels.” A manel is the  product of “subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) bias” that prevents a  fair evaluation of merit, according to Collins. But research on hiring  in scientific fields contradicts the notion that unequal representation is  the result of discrimination. Italian physicist Alessandro Strumia, for  example, found that in a sample of 70,000 physicists since 1970, women were hired with fewer citations on average than their male peers.

COVID-19 worries did nothing to lessen the identity-politics obsession. On April 20, 2020, five weeks after the World Health Organization had declared COVID-19 a global-health pandemic, the NIH and CDC announced the availability of grants to increase the “diversity” of  biomedical research labs. Academic virologists working on respiratory  failure, say, could receive hundreds of thousands more in taxpayer  dollars if they could find a “diverse” student to add to the project. No  scientific justification for the new diversity hire was needed; indeed, high school students were eligible, despite the virtual certainty that they would contribute nothing of value. In fact, such new hires would  be a drag on any medical advance, since the scientists had to pledge to  mentor the students, taking time and attention away from their scientific research. Those mentees would be chosen not because of their  science skills—they would not need to present any—but because of  their group’s underrepresentation in STEM.

The NSF also increased spending on the intersectional ADVANCE  program during the pandemic, while the New York City health department required its contact tracers to recognize “institutional and  structural racism” and show a “demonstrated commitment” to victims of  such racism (i.e. people of color, LGBTQ+ people, immigrants, and  justice involved persons [translation: criminals]).

If the federal science agencies did not treat COVID-19 as a reason to  make biomedical research meritocratic, then the legislative branch  and the White House do not view China as a sufficient threat to override  the diversity crusade either. China has already surpassed America in  several subspecialties of quantum information science, which entails  massive computations and nearly instantaneous communications. China  leads in critical areas of artificial intelligence, all of which have military  applications. The next global conflict could well involve the deployment  of Beijing’s growing technological prowess. But cultivating America’s best  STEM talent to compete with China is subordinate to the pursuit of  alleged racial justice.

In August 2022, President Joe Biden signed a bill intended to counter  China’s growing dominance in semiconductor manufacturing and to  spur the development of other technologies critical to national security.  The $280-billion CHIPS and Science Act is shot through with the usual diversity mandates and giveaways. An entire title is devoted to “broadening participation in science”—an aim tangential to geopolitical  competition. In order to broaden participation in science, federal research agencies are directed to “mitigate bias in the merit review  process.” Such bias is evidenced by unequal outcomes in grant awards,  according to disparate impact theory. Lack of bias is evidenced by proportional representation in grant-making, regardless of the sacrifice  of meritocratic standards that such proportional representation requires. The CHIPS and Science Act directs federal research agencies  to eradicate “institutional barriers limiting the recruitment and retention of historically underrepresented minorities.” Here, too, those  barriers are manifest simply by the lack of proportional representation in agency employment.

The law creates a new Chief Diversity Officer (and office) in the National Science Foundation. It is hard to conceive how much more diversity-obsessed the NSF can become, but that difficulty reflects  merely a failure of imagination. This superfluous diversity bureaucracy  will support research on “diversity, equity, and inclusion in the technology sector”—something that NSF has already been doing to the  tune of millions of taxpayer dollars a year, but will now do at an even  more frenzied rate. Bureaucrats working in the new office of the Chief  Diversity Officer will develop and monitor training for university administrators and faculty on “unbiased recruitment and evaluation of  underrepresented minority candidates”—more code for racial preferences. More STEM funding will be funneled into “minority-serving  institutions,” regardless of whether those institutions are producing  cutting-edge research on a par with Chinese science.

The flip side of boosting black and Hispanic participation in STEM is  to depress white and Asian participation, which is the aim of much K-12  policy. Gifted and talented programs in elementary and high school math  are being shut down or watered down across the US because of their disparate impact. California’s education bureaucracy is proposing to dismantle accelerated math classes because blacks are not proportionally represented in them. Without such equity reforms, math instruction  merely perpetuates “white supremacy,” according to a manifesto cited in  early drafts of the new California math guidelines. Under the proposed  curriculum, mathematically gifted students would not accelerate into advanced classes until the eleventh grade, in order to create more inclusive (i.e., racially proportional) math classrooms in middle school and early high school. Algebra I would be deferred until the ninth grade, in  the hope that more black and Hispanic students would be able to master  it. (Deferring introductory algebra means compressing subsequent  courses like pre-calculus and Algebra II into a shorter period of time,  which ironically would increase the difficulty for less gifted students.) A  watered-down course called “data science” would be offered as an alter native to pre-calculus and calculus. (Data science courses are spreading  across the country as a substitute for traditional math.)

China takes the opposite tack to this levelling mania. It identifies its  top math talent early on and gives mathematically gifted students accelerated instruction. Its rigorous university entrance exams reward  effort and achievement, not identity. Undergraduate math competitions  provide a pipeline to the best graduate programs in STEM. These efforts  are working. As of 2018, China ranked number one in the international  tests of K-12 math, science, and reading known as PISA; the US ranked  twenty-fifth. Chinese teams dominate Stanford’s challenge for machine-reading comprehension and the International Olympiad in Informatics, reports the Kennedy School’s Belfer Center. Highly trained  STEM PhDs are pouring out of China’s graduate schools. China will likely  overtake the US in research dominance in the coming years, predicts the  editor of the 2022 World University Rankings. While the absolute  number of US universities among the top 100 research institutions— thirty-four—remained much higher than China’s seven, the trend was  not auspicious. The number of US universities in the top 100 dropped by  nearly 21 percent between 2018 and 2022, while the number of Chinese  universities in the top 100 rose 250 percent. China has already displaced the US in the production of high-impact research studies, according to a  2022 paper in the journal Scientometrics.