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.