Advancing how Science is done

Oct 23 2013 Published by under Uncategorized

“The more ‘revolutionize how science is done’ proposals I read the more I am certain that lack of diversity is a critical failing of the profession”


I personally have a lot of experience with systems. Education, Justice, Academic, etc. They all have conventions, incentive structures, power structures, rules, and ‘rules’. Shit is complicated. Look at the newspapers, there always some attempt or proposal to improve one of these. Or simply a lament about how fracked up and off kilter the system is.

A lot of people seem to feel that way about science. That seems totally reasonable. There is serious room for improvement. It seems we are awash with ideas of how science could, and should change. My response to these proposals is often ; How is this going to work well for everyone?


Fig. 1 "don’t you worry your  little head about that"

The responses have been a bit tepid to me.

What does this have to do with current lack of diversity in science?

Story time: college aged Bashir visits the big city with a few buddies. We happen to wandering the city at the same time as a huge anti-war protest (smart move on our part). We came across an area where dozens of riot police were setting up and waiting for the protesters who were allegedly just minutes away. My buddies wanted to stay and watch. I wanted to leave immediately. I had zero interest in being near riot police in action. It did not occur to them that the system, in this case criminal-justice system manifest by riot police, would not work right. It was supposed to work. The riot police would somehow know we were just nice college kids and not protesters. I can tell you that did not match my expectations of the possibilities.

Same thing here with science (no tear gas though!). Is the shiny new system going to get fracked up and screw over some people (women, minorities, students, etc). Take a look at the back and forth about Open Access and the glamor publication game. I was really feeling Dr. Isis’ responses (here & here).

Folks who do not have a lot of experiences with systems that don't work well for them find it hard to imagine that a well intentioned system can have ill effects. Not work as advertised for everyone. That is my default because that is my experience.

Bad intentions are not required for things to not work well for everyone. Even with the best intentions. Systems are run by people. People have biases. Systems are complex. Things can add up. Ignore this possibility at your peril. Equity and diversity cannot be a side dish to be brought up every now again, it has to be baked into everything.

There are a lot of ideas out there about where to take science. Many good in principle. I appreciate the idealism that is driving this forward but the ideas require just as much critique and skepticism as we put into our work.

This is not about blame for current or even possible issues. It’s about getting it right being a high priority from the jump, not just post-hoc lip service.

4 responses so far

  • DJMH says:

    This post, but especially the part in bold, was great. Really gets to the core of the issue re people's blindness to problems in a system that worked for them. Thanks.

  • AEF says:

    And? There's nothing here as to how to actually advance science. It's just a rant about how bad things are. Ok, awesome. How do you propose to make it better?

    • bashir says:

      Seek out diversity. Make it a high priority. When you are inviting speakers. Hiring postdocs. Forming departmental committees. Admitting students. Creating outreach opportunities. Thinking up ways to improve he publishing system. Etc.

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