“The dangers of misinterpreted science results” – May #DiversityJC

zombie_research_illo_1_mcquadeWe are living in an era of post-truth and alternative facts. Politicians and the public cherry-pick the data they trust, and choose to follow gut instincts and emotion over even ample but contradictory evidence. Our current president has been discrediting scientific results regarding many issues, such as climate change and vaccines. These trends are naturally deeply troubling to the scientific community.

But what happens when those trends also threaten the diversity and strength of the scientific community itself?

 

On our next #DiversityJC, we are going to discuss Maggie Koerth-Baker’s article: The Tangled Story Behind Trump’s False Claims Of Voter Fraud. It is a long piece with several links to relevant related articles, but very much worth the read. In short, it discusses how Trump and his team used the results from the peer-reviewed article Do non-citizens vote in U.S. elections? to backup his claims that “the election is rigged by millions of fraudulent voters — many of them illegal immigrants“.

This article brings up two themes for our next Diversity Journal Club:

First, what happens when science goes out in the wider world, especially newer findings on particularly polarized topics? The article is not open access, so in reading only to the highlights and abstract of the publication, it seems reasonable to infer that non-citizen immigrants might be voting at a higher rate than most experts thought. However, some additional reading identifies a potential pitfall with using very large databases in the study of low frequency categories, such as that in this paper: “in very large sample surveys, researchers may draw incorrect inferences concerning the behavior of relatively rare individuals in a population when there is even a very low level of misclassification.”

Scientists tend to think that larger samples sizes provide better results. But with some kinds of data, measurement errors come into play. And with large data, it is easy to find patterns that seem significant but are not – if you aren’t careful. For reasons like this, science can move slowly – it’s the process of many scholars reviewing and assessing the work to reduce uncertainty and make sure research is careful. This is clearly important for research using big data.

Yet while science can move slowly to address these issues – the rest of the world does not. Koerth–Baker’s story brings up how research that moves beyond the lab and into the wider culture can fall on deaf ears – or be twisted to fit an existing narrative or world view, especially on particularly topical topics (e.g. non-citizen voting is rampant and everywhere and must be stopped at all costs!).

 

Second, this article touches on immigration – and therefore some politicians have used it as an argument for restricting immigration. Yet science is a global human endeavor. The scientific method is the same everywhere on Earth, and scientists from everywhere contribute to science. Science works best without borders, engaging diverse collaborations and contributions, and the results enrich more of our lives the wider ideas and inventions can spread.

Collectively, then, the misinterpretation of a study like this, on a particularly critical but polarizing topic, can thrust results into the popular media in ways not supported by the facts and the data itself – to the detriment of science itself. To the detriment of scientists.

 

What are other dangers that misinterpretation of scientific results can bring – and when they speak to particularly pertinent topics, how do they then impact the scientific community? What other examples can you think of? What can be done to prevent this from happening?

Join our next #DiversityJC discussion this Friday, May 19th, 2pm EST.

Doctor PMS (@Doctor_PMS)
Ian (@IHStreet)
Emily (@DrEmilySKlein)

You can subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on Twitter, @Diversity_JC.

#BlackHistoryMonth & the importance of mentors. #DiversityJC recap

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February was #BlackHistoryMonth, and we decided to celebrate it in our monthly #DiversityJC, along the discussion about the importance of mentors and role models. You can read the complete Storify of our discussion here.

For our discussion, we addressed an article that indicated black science students are more likely to stay in science if they have at least one black professor (a discussion about the results of this study was also published by Inside Higher Ed).

Given that article and that February is Black History Month, we asked:

The point was connecting the research article about how black students stay in school with the point that we all need role models that look like us. This may not be recognized by those of us who see people like us in positions of power and in the people we look up to and go to for assistance.

And, as the research from Dr. Price demonstrates, it’s not just mentors and role models. It’s the people we see working in science every day that also matter.


This impacts all of us
, not just minority scientists. We are all trained that the people we look to for mentors and role models should be white, male, cis-gendered, straight, and able bodied. Whether we realize it or not, not only does leaving scientists out that don’t fit that bill marginalize them and their work, it also tells the the rest of us what a scientist should look like.
So – what can we do about this?

We can do better at both highlighting minority scientists of the past, and amplifying those currently working. We can assess our own internal biases and address our own internal ideas about what a scientist looks like. We can let go of the notion that groundbreaking science was done by a lone white man, and acknowledge instead is usually done by teams of scientists working together. We can encourage our institutions to hire diverse faculty and staff, and demand conference planners to ensure diverse speakers and panelists. Essentially, the importance of role models and seeing ourselves in the jobs we aspire to is another critical reason diversity and inclusion matter.

From Dr. Price’s work, critical piece of this is addressing those communities most marginalized. While Dr. Price found black students stay in STEM with at least one black professor, the same was not found for female students, suggesting they already felt more “normal” in the scientific community. While this does not negate the importance of more women in STEM and leadership positions, it does speak to the fact that communities of color may be more marginalized.
Another point made by the discussion looked the other direction at our topic:

That is, systemic bias and resulting conscious or unconscious stereotypes alone may overtly discourage underrepresented minority scientists from attaining leadership or mentoring positions. This stress can potentially cut both ways…

These points come back again to the importance of inclusion, and ensuring our institutions not only want to become more diverse, but also be more welcoming. In so doing, that they actively work to address internal the internal culture.

 

Thank you to everyone who joined us for the Diversity Journal Club this month! Please check out the entire conversation on Dr. PMS’s Storify, and the Role Models we shared over the month. In addition, some important links shared during the discussion to check out:

George Washington Carver, Planter of Productive Farmers

Percy Julian, Natural Products Chemist

Til next month!

Doctor PMS
Emily Klein
Ian Street

Don’t forget to give our twitter account a follow at Diversity_JC!

It Does Matter, and We Have Work To Do: Post-election recap, Part II.

Speaking of using social media for good, some very important tweets from our #DiveristyJC discussion on the election. I’ll let them speak for themselves:

First, don’t allow people to tell you this, or that these things don’t matter to you:

Instead….

And we have to keep pushing on social justice in our scientific institutions.

For more on what you can do… stay tuned.

Does it matter? Post-election recap, Part I

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Does this election have to matter to us as scientists?

Indeed. It’s pretty likely that my world won’t have to change. I live in a white, liberal state, where “Republican” is usually just that – in quotes. We gave you Bernie, ok. I’m white. I was born the gender I identify with, I have an equally cis-gendered (cis=same), straight, white dude-life partner-person, so even though I identify as the B in the LGBTQ+ alphabet, I don’t have to tell you that. I already have an IUD.


My life, post-election, doesn’t have to change. I didn’t watch the news for years after Bush was re-elected. It worked that time.


But it does matter.


First, as a scientist, I am concerned about how our government treats science, whether science is respected and supported. Given the values of the president-elect, will the new administration care about science? What will happen to science-funding?


But it’s more than that. Here at DiversityJC, we discuss research around diversity in science, and how STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields can be more inclusive.

If our small pool of resources for scientific research shrinks further, will there be support for science around diversity, for science that strives to address environmental justice, or social justice, or diversity in science – or will it be the first to go?

Given the hateful rhetoric the president-elect has used, will anyone believe the new administration will value inclusion in funding proposals?


This rhetoric and behavior digs deeper than the support of scientific research. In Diversity Journal Club discussions, we’ve talked about the importance of inclusion for women in science, (also here), for minorities (also here), and for men too (also here). We’ve talked about the impact of bias on peer review, teach recommendations, even the accolades we give out and how we view ourselves.

Science believes itself to be objective. Above the fray. But nothing sums up what I’ve learned along the way than the fallacy of that belief. Science has deep issues around inclusion that mirror those of society at large. We are not above the fray – we can’t choose to believe that any longer. The rhetoric of the election and the president-elect, the people he is choosing to have around him, the resulting empowerment of hate groups… if the issues in science mirror those in society, we have to face these things too.

For example, how about addressing harassment in the workplace? Sexism in hiring and promotion? His right-hand man allowed news editorials to be printed on how there is no bias in tech, us ladies just suck at interviews (no I am not going to link to anything, I won’t give that site more traffic – search for “worst headlines Breitbart” if you must).

What of our immigrant communities in science? They are cornerstones at academic institutions and critical for the scientific enterprise (don’t believe me, just ask Nobel), but this election…

For these reasons, this election was unprecedented. This president-elect is unprecedented. For society. For science.


Yet, even in this despair, I see hope.

This is the silver lining, this is the long-term view that gives me hope. I am hearing more people talking about issues they never discussed before, wanting to be active for the first time on issues I didn’t even know they cared about. Maybe more people will ask questions, will listen, will be informed. Maybe more people will start paying attention to news they read, the “facts” they accept.

But that hope rests on whether or not we keep this fire alive, this desire to fight. We can’t normalize this, ignore it. Stop watching the news to, as Doctor PMS stated, save our sanity. We can’t allow this to not impact our lives. Given where we may be headed, we may not have a choice.


So….what we do? Our ideas and tips for action in the Post-Election Recap, Part II.