Top Science Publisher Failing Minority Groups, Industry Leaders Say

Being more inclusive is not rocket science.
Pamela Moore

The world's largest professional organization for scientists has been feeding into "harmful stereotypes" about minority groups, including publishing sexist advice columns and transphobic cover photos, critics say.

In an open letter sent last week to the prestigious American Association for the Advancement of Science -- which is best known for publishing the well-regarded magazine Science and running career-advice site Science Careers -- 600 scientists and supporters called on the group to "work more diligently to ensure that Science’s web and printed material does not reinforce harmful stereotypes that hinder the advancement of underrepresented groups in [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] fields."

The letter, first obtained by BuzzFeed, suggests the AAAS should introduce diversity training for its editorial staffs and more closely monitor the comments sections of its online materials to weed out insensitive statements.

Women battling sexism in science is perhaps the most visible issue, but Jennifer Glass, an assistant professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology and one of the letter's three main authors, told The Huffington Post it's important to note their concerns are "not just a women's issue."

"This is a broader issue that STEM fields are, by-and-large, not currently welcoming career paths for under-represented groups, particularly people of color," Glass said.

Glass said telling minority groups that "it's dangerous to speak out about these issues or advising them to wait until they reach a certain secure point in their careers to point out weaknesses in the system" is an entrenched problem.

Letter co-author Lenny Teytelman agreed that many people are hesitant to speak out about inequalities in the field, noting there's a concern within the scientific community that calling out issues like sexism might be seen as a distraction.

"If people think you’re being a activist, they’ll think you’re not focusing on your research and they’ll take your research less seriously," he said.

Teytelman said there needs to be a concerted effort to move more minorities into faculty positions and noted the field's culture of "overwork" -- which can be especially difficult for working parents -- needs to change.

"Scientists often have imposter syndrome, male or female," Teytelman said of the competitive, pressure-cooker environment that runs rampant in science fields. "If I felt as a white guy having the questions of ‘is this for me?' or 'am I committed enough?', I can only imagine what it’s like if you’re black or if you’re a woman or someone trying to have kids, trying to breastfeed, trying to parent."

In addition to recommendations made in the letter, Glass said career advice columns should include more work by people who are just starting out in their careers, particularly if they are in underrepresented groups.

"Make space for them, share their stories, seek their opinions," Glass said. "Social media networks are great places to find potential early career contributors who are already blogging and tweeting about these issues."

"People will generally not feel encouraged to pursue careers in fields where they don't have a voice and a community of allies," Glass added.

Marcia McNutt, the editor-in-chief of Science, told BuzzFeed the AAAS acknowledged it had room for improvement.

"Science and Science Careers in particular have had a couple of missteps, which we regret," she said. "We’ve been rethinking our strategy and are in the process of changing oversight for Science Careers, but not fast enough."

"We all make mistakes," Teytelman said. "I don’t expect people to avoid mistakes, but what I pay attention to is how we avoid making them again."

A culture change for the science community would be positive for the community as a whole, he added.

"There's a lot of strength in diversity and not pushing people out who want to be in it."

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