Phi Beta Cons

Scientific Racism

The NYT interviews a UMBC scientist who tries to recruit minority students to pursue science Ph.D.s. In the course of it, we get a patronizing question and a patronizing answer:

Q. I’ve heard it said that there is something inherent in scientific culture that’s uninviting to African-Americans. Is that true?
A. We have a once-a-year retreat where we talk, and the students tell of some astonishing experiences. For instance, one spoke about how she and her white male classmate went to a scientific conference together. They put posters up on their research, side by side. The white guy had a whole bunch of people come up to him and ask about his research. The young black woman had two people ask about her project.

This anecdote tells us precisely nothing. Isn’t it possible that the research topics might have had something to do with this response? We all know that scientists should be judged by the content of their posters rather than the color of their skin. A good answer might say a little bit more about content and a little bit less about skin color.
And don’t you love how the question is phrased? “I’ve heard it said.” Well, where have you heard it said? Around your dinner table? In the NYT newsroom?

John J. Miller, the national correspondent for National Review and host of its Great Books podcast, is the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. He is the author of A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America.