DEI Matters, But Only If Less, And Inferior, Science Is The Goal

by Thomas Bruno at

I have often written about my experiences as a scientist in a federal research lab and my years leading a group of other scientists. When I began my career 40+ years ago, the staffing was mostly (but not all) male and white, and mostly competent. I say mostly competent, because there was certainly a small collection of low energy, retired-in-place (mostly white male) goof-offs who we all wished would depart. There were always attempts to increase recruitment of minorities and women, but “grow your own” was ultimately the only approach that was barely workable

To illustrate the ham-fisted early efforts, I relate a story circa 1990; the local university was graduating a young, impressive guy with a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering (thesis and published research focused on mechanical and personnel operations in low gravity). My agency scheduled a day-and-a-half of interviews with all the supervisors, not because he was a potential Nobel prize winner, but because he was black. We had to give him a good experience and if at all possible, a job offer.  

My problem was that I led a chemistry research group; my knowledge about low gravity was from Hollywood. And probably the only chemistry he knew was from high school. Nevertheless, I was told my interview was to end with my (disingenuous) promise that I would do my damnedest to find him a place in my group.  

He walked into my office, clearly tired, well aware of the charade, and asked for a cup of joe. Immediately I knew aero companies would fight over him (and not because of his color). We drank our coffee, and I told him: “look, this is a chemistry group; I have two former students, one at Boeing and one at Pratt&Whitney.  Here are their cards.  Give them a call.”  Our “interview” took as long as the coffee lasted, and he left. I was called on the carpet for being racially insensitive by not taking up more of his time, but this fellow got interviews at both places I suggested, and I was the only person at the agency to get a thank-you card from him.

Things are different now, and not for the better. We are told that without “diversity” (read, ethno-racial diversity) the scientific and engineering enterprise will disintegrate. You wouldn’t believe the “hard data” trotted out to bolster this position.  A 2014 article discusses a study of 2.5 million U.S. scientific publications, in which surname was used as a surrogate for identity! At least these authors were honest enough to admit it is difficult to “tease out” implications from their approach (duh!). The authors concluded that papers with one or more “international” authors (again, based on surname) were more cited (and impactful) than those with, well, WASP-like (or dare I say, Jewish) sounding authors!