Logo for Dr Anna Clemens PhD who teaches scientific writing courses for researchers
Logo for Dr Anna Clemens PhD who teaches scientific writing courses for researchers

Anti-Racism in Science

Anti-Racism in Science

This blog post is a little different. Normally, I’m sharing scientific writing advice with you. Today I would like to use this space to ask you to help to fight racism in science and beyond – especially if you are a white person like me.

The murder of George Floyd and the following wave of Black Lives Matter protests shook me up. Even though this is not the first time that people have taken to the streets to protest against racism and police brutality, this time was different for me. Probably for the first time in my life I REALLY understood my privilege of having fair skin. (I feel ashamed and guilty that this took me more than 30 years but that’s irrelevant.)

White privilege comes with great opportunities in life, and I now understand that it comes with responsibility too.

I never considered myself a racist but at the same time, I didn’t exactly go above and beyond to do anything against racism. But that is what we need to do.

Black and other people of colour (POC) cannot fight racism alone. It’s white people who need to do the antiracist work because they hold the majority of power in our society and continue to preserve racist structures.

So, I‘m urging you today to ask yourself what YOU could do to fight racism in your life and work.

There is a lot of work left do, especially when it comes to science. Scientists historically played a big role in formalising, legitimising, and perpetuating racist ideologies that still have an influence today.  For example, Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish botanist in the 18th century, not only classified plants and animals in his Systema Naturae but also humans. He was the first to divide the human species into four types: white European, red American, brown/yellow Asian and black African.

285 years later, in many countries it’s still almost exclusively white people (and mainly men) who publish in the top scientific journals, who get professorships and get most of the funding. And all this despite the fact that ethnically diverse research teams publish on average more impactful scientific papers than those that aren’t.

Not everyone, however, shares the vision of a diverse scientific landscape. We could just recently witness this when Angewandte Chemie, one of the top journals in the field of Chemistry, published an essay by Tomáš Hudlický, a professor at Brock University in Canada. Hudlický argued, among other outrageous things, that diversity harms organic chemistry research. Hudlický’s racist and misogynist opinions are painful to read but also serve as a good reminder that opinions like his are still tolerated at universities.

People like Hudlický won’t do the anti-racist work for us. WE have to do it. So, what can we do?

I suggest starting to examine your personal and work life. Take a closer look at who you are friends with, who’s is in your scientific network, whose papers you cite, who you collaborate with, who works in your research group, who you invite to speak at a conference, who sits next to you on a panel, who you give funding to, whose papers you accept in the journal you’re an editor for. Is it mainly white people? If so, why? And what could you do to change that?

Could you actively look for POC who work in your field to collaborate with or cite? Could you advertise open positions to networks where scientists from different ethnicities gather? Could you reach out to an event organiser if you notice that they don’t have any speakers of colour on their programme? Could you speak up next time your colleague makes a racist comment in a committee meeting?

You may not be the editor-in-chief of an impactful scientific journal or the head of a university department, but we all have some power and influence. It will take effort to change the status quo, but it is our responsibility.

While you take action, please don’t forget to listen to the voices of non-white scientists. Learn what their experiences are in academia and how you could be an ally.

You can start listening right now by reading the experiences academics are recounting under  #BlackInTheIvory on Twitter.

There are a lot of great anti-racism resources out there. For example, Mya Roberson, a PhD candidate in Epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, summarised a few important points on how you can support the academic careers of black scientists:

A must-read for every scientist is in my opinion “Superior: The Return of Race Science” by science journalist Angela Saini. Next week, you can listen in on a conversation about racism and science between Saini and Dr Odekunle, an antibody engineer and science communicator.

There are many other books on racism you could read too – a popular one is “Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race” by Reni Eddo-Lodge, which is on my reading list.

If you aren’t in the US, please try to understand the kind of systemic racism that is happening in your country, there are probably great books and resources available on this topic too. (I’m happy to give recommendations for anyone in Germany.)

I hope you desperately want to change our society and science as much as I do. Let’s not return to business as usual next week, next month or next year, let’s commit to doing the anti-racist work.

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Anti-Racism in Science

This blog post is a little different. Normally, I’m sharing scientific writing advice with you. Today I would like to use this space to ask you to help to fight racism in science and beyond – especially if you are a white person like me.

The murder of George Floyd and the following wave of Black Lives Matter protests shook me up. Even though this is not the first time that people have taken to the streets to protest against racism and police brutality, this time was different for me. Probably for the first time in my life I REALLY understood my privilege of having fair skin. (I feel ashamed and guilty that this took me more than 30 years but that’s irrelevant.)

White privilege comes with great opportunities in life, and I now understand that it comes with responsibility too.

I never considered myself a racist but at the same time, I didn’t exactly go above and beyond to do anything against racism. But that is what we need to do.

Black and other people of colour (POC) cannot fight racism alone. It’s white people who need to do the antiracist work because they hold the majority of power in our society and continue to preserve racist structures.

So, I‘m urging you today to ask yourself what YOU could do to fight racism in your life and work.

There is a lot of work left do, especially when it comes to science. Scientists historically played a big role in formalising, legitimising, and perpetuating racist ideologies that still have an influence today.  For example, Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish botanist in the 18th century, not only classified plants and animals in his Systema Naturae but also humans. He was the first to divide the human species into four types: white European, red American, brown/yellow Asian and black African.

285 years later, in many countries it’s still almost exclusively white people (and mainly men) who publish in the top scientific journals, who get professorships and get most of the funding. And all this despite the fact that ethnically diverse research teams publish on average more impactful scientific papers than those that aren’t.

Not everyone, however, shares the vision of a diverse scientific landscape. We could just recently witness this when Angewandte Chemie, one of the top journals in the field of Chemistry, published an essay by Tomáš Hudlický, a professor at Brock University in Canada. Hudlický argued, among other outrageous things, that diversity harms organic chemistry research. Hudlický’s racist and misogynist opinions are painful to read but also serve as a good reminder that opinions like his are still tolerated at universities.

People like Hudlický won’t do the anti-racist work for us. WE have to do it. So, what can we do?

I suggest starting to examine your personal and work life. Take a closer look at who you are friends with, who’s is in your scientific network, whose papers you cite, who you collaborate with, who works in your research group, who you invite to speak at a conference, who sits next to you on a panel, who you give funding to, whose papers you accept in the journal you’re an editor for. Is it mainly white people? If so, why? And what could you do to change that?

Could you actively look for POC who work in your field to collaborate with or cite? Could you advertise open positions to networks where scientists from different ethnicities gather? Could you reach out to an event organiser if you notice that they don’t have any speakers of colour on their programme? Could you speak up next time your colleague makes a racist comment in a committee meeting?

You may not be the editor-in-chief of an impactful scientific journal or the head of a university department, but we all have some power and influence. It will take effort to change the status quo, but it is our responsibility.

While you take action, please don’t forget to listen to the voices of non-white scientists. Learn what their experiences are in academia and how you could be an ally.

You can start listening right now by reading the experiences academics are recounting under  #BlackInTheIvory on Twitter.

There are a lot of great anti-racism resources out there. For example, Mya Roberson, a PhD candidate in Epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, summarised a few important points on how you can support the academic careers of black scientists:

A must-read for every scientist is in my opinion “Superior: The Return of Race Science” by science journalist Angela Saini. Next week, you can listen in on a conversation about racism and science between Saini and Dr Odekunle, an antibody engineer and science communicator.

There are many other books on racism you could read too – a popular one is “Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race” by Reni Eddo-Lodge, which is on my reading list.

If you aren’t in the US, please try to understand the kind of systemic racism that is happening in your country, there are probably great books and resources available on this topic too. (I’m happy to give recommendations for anyone in Germany.)

I hope you desperately want to change our society and science as much as I do. Let’s not return to business as usual next week, next month or next year, let’s commit to doing the anti-racist work.

Share article

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Photography by Alice Dix