It May Not Be Possible to Achieve Racial Equity in American Scientific Research

“NIH Stands Against Structural Racism in Biomedical Research.” This was the title of a statement released on March 1st, 2021, by Francis S. Collins, who was then the Director of the National Institutes of Health. The statement continued:

As a science agency, we know that bringing diverse perspectives, backgrounds, and skillsets to complex scientific problems enhances scientific productivity. NIH has long supported programs to improve the diversity of the scientific workforce with the goal of harnessing the complete intellectual capital of the nation. These efforts, however, have not been sufficient. To those individuals in the biomedical research enterprise who have endured disadvantages due to structural racism, I am truly sorry. NIH is committed to instituting new ways to support diversity, equity, and inclusion, and identifying and dismantling any policies and practices that may harm our workforce and our science.

This is just the beginning of an effort that has a concrete goal of achieving racial equity but has no scheduled end point.

In previous months and years, other influential voices in the world of science and medicine have issued similar statements. On June 6th, 2018, the journal Nature announced that “Science benefits from diversity” and that “Statistics from the US National Science Foundation show that the representation of minority ethnic groups in the sciences would need to more than double to match the groups’ overall share of the US population.”

On March 31st, 2021, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported, “This study found that Black, Hispanic, and Native American people were underrepresented in the 10 health care professions analyzed. Although some professions had greater diversity than others and there appeared to be improvement among graduates in the educational pipeline compared with the current workforce, additional policies are needed to further strengthen and support a workforce that is more representative of the population.”

On April 9th, 2021, the journal Science declared that “The lack of diversity in the scientific and health professions—a longstanding manifestation of racism—can no longer be ignored, excused, or attributed to uncontrollable factors.” Then, a perspective entitled “Racial and Ethnic Diversity at Medical Schools—Why Aren’t We There Yet?” published the New England Journal of Medicine on November 4th, 2021, argued that “In medicine, diversity at all levels—from the frontline workforce to executive suites and from classrooms to laboratories—is an essential component of efforts to achieve equity.”

These voices are not calling for equality of opportunity, but equality of outcome (commonly referred to as “equity”)—proportional representation for minorities in the fields of science and medicine. So, if blacks make up 13 percent of the US population, then advocates for equity expect blacks to make up 13 percent of the workforce in these fields. (Statements deploring the deficit of minority racial and ethnic groups in STEM fields do not typically include Asian Americans—hereafter referred to as Asians—since they are well-represented. Calls for diversity also demand greater representation for women, but I will not be discussing that issue here.)

There are facts available, however, that can help us to determine whether or not the stated goals of diversity advocates are actually attainable. For example, how many minority students in the STEM pipeline today could realistically become the medical practitioners and medical and scientific researchers of tomorrow? The claim that “systemic racism” is the main reason for minority under-representation in STEM fields cannot be proven unless there is first an assessment of how many academically qualified minority students are available to meet equity goals. Data are hard to come by, but there is a way of estimating the percentage of minority students with the academic potential to succeed in a STEM field.

Most readers will be familiar with the SAT (formerly known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test), a college admissions test administered by the College Board since 1926. A less publicized test is the ACT (formerly known as the American College Test), which originated in Iowa City, IA, in 1959. The SAT and ACT are administered to high-school students to assess their academic readiness for college. At first, this test was mostly administered to high-school students in the Midwest and South. (I took the ACT as a high-school senior several decades ago.)

More students take the SAT than the ACT. But over the years, the ACT has gained in popularity, and by the mid-2010s, approximately two million high school students were taking the test each year. The SAT consists of two parts: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, and Math. Scores on each section range from 200–800. Adding the two parts of the test yields a total score ranging from 400–1600. The ACT consists of four parts: English, Reading, Math, and Science. Each test has a range of scores from 1–36. A composite score is calculated by averaging the scores from the four parts of the test and rounding to the nearest whole number. The highest possible composite score is 36. An ACT to SAT score converter is available online.

The SAT total score and the ACT composite score are highly correlated (approximately .86 where a correlation coefficient of 1.0 represents perfect agreement). In other words, the two tests measure very similar academic skills. Since 2007, all US colleges and universities that accept college admission test scores have accepted both the SAT and the ACT (although many schools have recently gone “test optional” or do not require either test). Some schools outside of the US also accept SAT and ACT scores as part of the college application process.

Opponents of standardized tests (including the SAT and ACT, but not limited to them) have claimed that the tests are biased against minority students because those students get lower scores, on average, than white and Asian students. However, a sizable body of scientific literature—examining tests such as the SAT, ACT, Graduate Record Examination (GRE), and Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)—demonstrates that this is not the case. An article in the American Psychologist concluded that:

(a) tests of developed abilities are generally valid for their intended uses in predicting a wide variety of aspects of short-term and long-term academic and job performance, (b) validity is not an artifact of socioeconomic status, (c) coaching is not a major determinant of test performance, (d) tests do not generally exhibit bias by underpredicting the performance of minority group members, and (e) test-taking motivational mechanisms are not major determinants of test performance in these high stakes settings.

Other studies (see here and here) have reported similar results. The ACT’s own research has shown that white students get better overall college grades than minority students at any given level of ACT composite score up to approximately 31; at that level and above, white and minority students earn the same grades. This means that, at most levels of ACT composite scores, minority students actually underperform expectations when they get to college. At no level do minority students get better college grades than those predicted by their ACT composite scores, which is what we would expect to see if the ACT were biased against them.

Source: ACT

The ACT also has an extensive process to ensure that its test is fair and unbiased, and has conducted extensive research on the reliability with which its test predicts college grades. That research has found that both high-school grades and ACT scores predict success in college, and a combination of high-school grades and ACT scores is better than either one alone in predicting success.

The ACT has also conducted empirical research into what score on each of its four component parts makes a student “college ready”—when the student has a 75 percent chance of getting a C or higher grade, or a 50 percent chance of getting a B or higher grade in a freshman-year college course in the relevant subject area. Students taking the ACT can be “college ready” in anywhere from zero to four of the subject matter areas. Obviously, being “college ready” in all four subject areas of the ACT provides a student with the best chance of success in college. “Students who earn first-year grades of B or higher, on average,” reports ACT, “are much more likely to complete a postsecondary degree.”

The data in the following table have been extracted from Table 1, ACT College Readiness Benchmarks:

Source: ACT

For STEM majors, the ACT score requirements established by its empirical research are 25 in Science and 27 in Math (ACT now defines “STEM ready” as scoring an average of 26 in these two subject areas). Not all “college ready” students will be “STEM ready,” and a student who does not meet ACT’s STEM benchmark could still earn a degree in a STEM field. However, based on ACT’s research, students who met the STEM benchmark were more than twice as likely to earn a degree in a STEM field than students who failed to meet the benchmark. Meeting the STEM benchmark also means that the student will likely graduate with a higher grade point average. They will, therefore, be a more competitive candidate when applying to medical school or to a graduate degree program in a STEM field.

College readiness and STEM readiness vary considerably between demographic groups. The data in the following table are extracted from Table 3.3, Percent of Students Who Met ACT College Readiness Benchmark Scores by Race/Ethnicity:

Data based on 1,670,497 high-school students from the graduating class of 2020 who took the ACT. The data only show results for all students and for black, Hispanic, white, and Asian students, and include both male and female students. Source: ACT.

Black students made up less than three percent of the approximately 330,000 students from the graduating high school class of 2020 who took the ACT and were considered to be “STEM ready” based on their Science and Math scores. Hispanics made up eight percent of the “STEM ready” students, whereas white students and Asian students made up 64 percent and 11 percent, respectively.

Long-term trends in ACT composite scores by race/ethnic group are shown in the following table:

Source: ACT.

Data are for 2005, 2010, 2015, and 2020. Only Asians increased their average composite score over this period. The percentage of students in each group who were “STEM ready” is unknown for the years before 2020. But because STEM scores are positively correlated with composite scores, these data strongly suggest that the percentage of students who were “STEM ready” has increased only among Asian students since 2005.

This analysis of the percentage of minority (specifically black and Hispanic) students who are academically prepared for careers in STEM fields is sobering, and highlights the difficulty of achieving equity in STEM fields. It contains information, all in the public domain, of which advocates of equity in medicine and science seem to be unaware or which they refuse to acknowledge.

The instrument most commonly employed in recent years to increase minority representation in STEM fields has been affirmative action, which has been widely practiced in college admissions and in faculty hiring. However, despite these initiatives, minorities remain under-represented in the STEM workforce. The group Students for Fair Admission, representing Asian students, has filed a lawsuit against Harvard College alleging discrimination in its admissions practices. A federal district court judge has ruled against the plaintiffs.

The case has been appealed to the US Supreme Court, which has accepted it for review. The outcome of this litigation is difficult to predict. (See here for an explanation of the quantitative aspects of Harvard’s alleged discrimination co-authored by Duke Economics Professor Peter Arcidiacono, an expert witness for the plaintiffs. See here for a critique of the lower court’s ruling upholding Harvard’s admissions policy.) The Supreme Court’s decision could determine the future of affirmative action for college admissions in the US.

Certainly, non-cognitive factors are also important for college and career success. Conscientiousness, for instance, is a personality trait associated with college success. Although conscientiousness can be measured by psychometric tests, those tests are not generally used by college admissions committees or by employers. Instead, the “holistic” approach to college admissions and hiring used by many institutions probably takes indirect indicators of conscientiousness into consideration. However, a high level of conscientiousness cannot make up for academic underperformance.

How, then, is it possible to achieve the goal of equity in medicine and science given the low percentage of minority students who have demonstrated the academic potential for successful STEM careers? There is no easy answer. It is not my intention to make policy recommendations here. Nothing in this article should be interpreted as suggesting that minority students in general are not academically capable of succeeding in STEM fields. Nor am I blaming minority groups for their academic underperformance or suggesting any specific cause. I am simply pointing out that academic underperformance by those minorities under-represented in STEM fields is well-documented, that it is not an artifact of biased testing, and that it has shown no sign of improvement over a 15-year time span.

It is therefore inappropriate and irresponsible to attribute the under-representation of minorities in STEM fields to “systemic racism” without first addressing the issue of minority academic underperformance. “Reality,” the science fiction novelist Philip K. Dick once remarked, “is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.” The reality of minority academic underperformance is not about to go away but it is something that proponents of equity don’t want to face. It is time they did.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://quillette.com/2022/03/11/it-may-not-be-possible-to-achieve-racial-equity-in-american-scientific-research/
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My question would be: why achieve racial equity in American scientific research?
What does equity have to do with scientific research?
Scientific research should be about talent, merit and excellence, not about the skin color and gender of the researchers.
The explosive progress of science and technology of the last two centuries was achieved without equity being an issue.
If anything, equity will act as a barrier to progress, as capable people will be rejected because they dont have the right skin color and gender to fulfill equity quotas.

How is lack of diversity a manifestation of racism? Pathological feminism (of which CRT is just an offshoot) has infiltrated all branches of social activity, including academia and scientific research, and is threatening to bring the whole system down.

When someone needs a doctor, the only requirement is that the doctor is competent, skin color and gender of said doctor does not matter.

Who would like to be treated by a doctor that got there based on affirmative action quotas?

Now about the admittedly nice quote from a science fiction writer: “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it doesn’t go away”
Yeah i agree but let me complete the phrase: when you start believing in something, that does not make that something a reality.
So reality is something that doesn’t go away when you don’t believe AND doesn’t pop up when you do believe.
Or to sum it up, reality is independent of our beliefs, something that feminist theorists will never accept.

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I know. Let the Supreme Court issue a decision that finds that a penumbra and an emanation of the Constitooshun mandates that all scientific papers be published in the form of a rap song. That should take care of the equity issue in ten minutes.

It is all about IneQuity.

Of course the author is avoiding specific causes because the whole premise of his argument of the ‘impossibility’ of improved equity would collapse.

It’s also been well documented that student success correlates to social class or socio economic factors. And social class doesn’t only provide financial, health, educational, emotional and nutritional benefits. It also provides less visible privileges. A middle-class student probably had role models like relatives who went to university & culture of expectation. Minorities that lack role models, finances that enable equal access to education (including tutoring) parental involvement/support & cultural practices that can over come barriers to access are obviously at a racially systemic disadvantage to educational success.

Focusing on ‘what is’ & lack of improvement over a time span as a proof of the futility of striving for racial equity rather than the causes that fail to be addressed is a dishonest representation of reality designed to absolve responsibility.

But while we’re at what ‘what is’ the author may want to reflect on the words of Peter Arcidiacono he conveniently left out of the cherry picking:

“The lawsuit Students For Fair Admissions v. Harvard University provided an unprecedented look at how an elite school makes admissions decisions. Using publicly released reports, we examine the preferences Harvard gives for recruited athletes, legacies, those on the dean’s interest list, and children of faculty and staff (ALDCs). Among white admits, over 43% are ALDC. Among admits who are African American, Asian American, and Hispanic, the share is less than 16% each. Our model of admissions shows that roughly three quarters of white ALDC admits would have been rejected if they had been treated as white non-ALDCs. Removing preferences for athletes and legacies would significantly alter the racial distribution of admitted students, with the share of white admits falling and all other groups rising or remaining unchanged.”

This hits the proverbial nail on the head. The progressives who complain about underrepresentation of minorities in professional fields don’t ask why the public schools they so viciously defend are failing minorities.

Addressing underrepresentation of minorities at the level of scientists, doctors, etc., is closing the barn door after the horses have escaped.

The left knows that they cannot go after public schools because of the huge financial and voting support that they get from unions. They know that unions don’t care about anything other than teacher salaries and teacher workloads.

I realize that education is a complicated issue, but there are no two ways about it, public schools can do a much better job of educating everyone, especially minority students. Instead, they teach students about the multitude of genders, the earth coming to an end (green stuff) and white racism. It’s time to ditch that stuff and get back to the 3-Rs.

Thanks for letting me share.

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Without forcing people into jobs they have no inclination to take and are ill-prepared for, it is probably not possible to achieve racial equity in any profession.

“As a science agency, we know that bringing diverse perspectives, backgrounds, and skillsets to complex scientific problems enhances scientific productivity.”

This sounds more like an article of faith than a demonstrated fact. What kind of study could objectively verify this assertion? Even granting that it is correct, a reasonable assumption might be that the " diverse perspectives and skillsets" to which it refers would be adequately identified by tests like the ACT which show a demonstrable correlation to STEM aptitude.

The implicit prejudice that this magical diversity of “perspective” MUST be evenly distributed across racial/ethnic lines seems to be yet another article of faith that lacks any compelling empirical justification.

Maybe this isn’t some mysterious or nefarious “systemic” failure. Maybe it’s just the way things are.

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The Nature article the author mentioned above has a link to various studies.

Research shows that stricter schools and a scientific approach to learning utilised during K-12 (deploying drill with Maths and Cognitive Load Theory) closes gaps in test scores. If the educational establishment really wants to see more African Americans in STEM fields then they will address the useless academic theories, perverse incentives and climate of fear within K-12.

With only minimal classroom disruption a child can miss out on two years worth of K-12 education- yet under Obama all disparities in levels of discipline for African American students- for which there are well-documented and thoroughly evidenced socio-economic and sociological reasons for higher rates of chronically bad behaviour- were reclassified as racism or implicit bias, according the the bureaucracy of apparatchik.

Tragically, a bureaucracy designed to punish teachers for mainly fictitious ‘implicit bias’ or wrongthink, actually makes matters a thousand times worse. It is their classrooms which are disrupted, they who cannot learn and they who miss out on at least two years worth of education which other demographics take for granted. This separate treatment, the ‘soft bigotry of low expectations’ has been going on for years- Obama only formalised it as rigid policy- with the net result that teachers are forced to fail their students in the most important aspect of their job- the facilitation of learning.

In many ways the debate over charter versus regular public schools is a red herring. At the mean, the results are the same. But with charters a greater degree of deviation from accepted norms in education results in skewed results at the very top of the performance tables which show what is really possible with revolutionary reform and imaginative evidence-based thinking. Critics of charters routinely argue that they are creaming off the best students and the best parents- but where this arguments falls flat is that the highest performing charters actually achieve the impossible- they get test results in sufficiently substantial numbers which shouldn’t be possible for the entire district from which their students are drawn- even if they were taking all the best students- let alone the small contingent of lottery-drawn students for whom a small bias in positive ability is present (their parents are motivated to seek out a better education for them, after all).

Success Academy recently posted average SAT scores of 1268. Even if one accounts for selection bias of parental obligations, the possibility that the model wouldn’t replicate perfectly and would have to be somewhat modified to reduce their atrociously high burn rate of teachers, if their method, their curriculum and their strict discipline was rolled out on a national basis and only applied to African American students, then we would rapidly begin to see African Americans outperforming white students by a significant degree at SATs and ACTs.

The problem is in the pipeline. The mistake is in thinking that colleges could ever correct for over a decade of poorly run schools and the imposition of a politically correct ideology which all but guarantees the failure of African American students. And, it is getting worse, as recent results from California have so amply illustrated.

Attempts to eliminate implicit bias in the school system are not the solution, they are the problem. What began as a feedback system in which white teachers routinely applied lax standards and expectations towards Black students out of sympathy- thus creating poorer results, ultimately leading to the mistaken conclusion on the part of teachers that the poor performance was irremediable (the problem was the sympathy and white guilt all along)- has metastasised into a pathology which sees any chronically bad behaviour on the part of African American students as evidence of the white teachers racism or implicit bias. The pathological application of this ideology is fast becoming a Crime Against Humanity with Black children its victims.

This is what is possible in a world where this ideology doesn’t prevail or fester:

And this is how they did it:

The Cultural Revolution has been happening in education for some time. It’s the children who suffer.

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“Studies” has become a synonym to “fake” in the context you offered.
Feminist “studies”, nothing more than gathering of statistical data and presented as proof of whatever the feminist “scholar” wants to prove.
The very word “study” has been discredited.
In the good old days when someone uttered the word “study”, it imposed instant respect, nowadays the word “study” is just a replacement for feminist garbage that is passed as “science”.

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In the make believe fantasy world one can magically deem a study to be fake without justifying it but in the science based world one requires evidence to do so. There’s this called ‘analysis of methodology’ that’s routinely used in science to ascertain the validity of a study so perhaps when you’ve provided evidence of that you may have a leg to stand on in declaring a study fake with an iota of credibility….

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Just like in the make believe fantasy world of feminism one can magically deem a study to be valid even if it contradicts common sense, empirical observation and factual evidence.
In the make believe fantasy world of feminism, “studies” say that the western world is living under the tyranny of generalized systemic racism, a white patriarchy is oppressing women, gender is fluid, classical gender understanding is a social construct resulting from social pressure, a woman that is against feminism is just suffering from repressed misogyny, affirmative action is a valid form of action…all this nonsense is backed by “studies”. Feminist led studies that have been contested and debunked but who cares? Its still “studies show”. You yourself even linked “studies” conducted by Mckinsey Global Institute…
These “studies” have long ago ceased to be about science, they are all about politics and power.
As for the “iota of credibility”
Grievance studies affair - Wikipedia

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I knew you would write at length about this and save me the trouble. As you have covered the K-12 ground, let me add the family-to-school readiness foundation that is not to be considered either:

Two married parents (preferably one at home)
Reading aloud and day long conversion, eye contact
One daily meal together
No screens (especially hand held)
Unstructured play, time in nature
Regular sleep hours according to age
Activities that develop small motor skills

Yes, there are the “I was raised by a devoted single mom” overcomers. That is really just to a knowledge the deficients created by nontraditional family structures ( supported by the political class.) But ironically it’s my kids who will be “paying their salaries” and bearing our national debt burden, so pardon me if I am impatient with the alternatives.

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Stalling and giving people the runaround with BS studies while appealing to science is a definite sign of this religious zealotry.

It really has reached the point where people don’t have to disprove anything. The onus is on you to point to a specific study, cite parts of it, and explain the relevance of the findings in relation to the discussion at hand.

“There were studies linked,” isn’t good enough. You might as well say “but it says so in the Quran.”

…don’t ever let people like Ella waste your time reading bullshit just so you can disprove a point that was never even comprehensively stated much less ever proven in the first place.

There is no need to take any of these cultists or their studies at their word. I remember a time when if someone said they went to Harvard that would be impressive. Now, I’d just laugh at them. And it would be completely justified. Indeed any of us are completely justified in denying the supposed authority of places of ‘higher education’ today. They’ve fouled up their own reputation and its all on them. Don’t feel bad about laughing in their face. They deserve it.

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A realistic indicator that there is Systemic in anything to do with higher education, particularly STEM, would be to make a correction for admission rates that accounts for the fact that POC have lower average intelligence and the higher up the IQ curve one goes, the more pronounced the difference. Thus, looking it in the broadest way, we might conclude that whereas 13% of the US is black, just 4% of US blacks are intellectually capable of STEM, and should it be the case that admissions to whatever institution’s STEM courses fall below that number, then there is a case for Systemic. Force feeding blacks into a level of education they are not competent to handle does no one any favors in the long run. BTW, are there any affirmative action quotas for hillbillies?

As Geary says, if one wants to attempt racial parity, the project must be initiated from the very start of education, not via a quotas at university. Lets reintroduce voluntary segregation. Find some black educator who shares Geary’s no-baloney approach to education, give him/her total control of some public school somewhere who’s explicit mandate will be to produce black graduates who really do qualify for advanced education. I predict such students wouldn’t notice any Systemic at all.

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I should have added that it’s not only the importance of the 3-Rs it’s also instilling a reverence for education leading to life-long self learning.

The Left’s entire edifice for claiming that White Privilege and systemic racism are the core drivers of racial differences in academics falls apart when you include Asians in the mix. Their claim that this is due to Asians being “White Adjacent” is laughable on it’s face.

When asked to explain how it is that Asians being “adjacent” to Whites results in dramatic Asian superiority over Whites, the Left responds by 1) screaming “racism”, 2) pointing to “science” that isn’t science (isn’t falsifiable), 3) making shit up, and/or 4) running away.

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Have you read The Boy Crisis? One of the really important aspects of father nurture is rough and tumble play. Apparently, its aids both cognitive development and motor skills.

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