Dear readers of The D.U. Quark,
Whether you consider yourself a scientist or not, I bet you have a general mental image of what the history of science looks like. Think back to those general science classes from elementary and middle school. Newton. Watson and Crick. Planck. Mendel. The standard group of players in the curriculum are a pretty homogenous bunch. I was very lucky to grow up in an area with an excellent school system, but even into high school my predominant understanding of science was based on the archetype of white, male from the western world. In light of recent events that have awakened so many people to the Black Lives Matter movement and to the struggles still faced by Black people and other people of color, it is important to reflect on the particular responsibility of scientists to address racism in their fields.
We must first rectify attempts to distort the history of science, acknowledging scientists who have been overlooked or discounted because of their race. We must honor the strong legacy of Black scientists such as George Washington Carver. Carver was an agricultural scientist. He proposed the rotation of nitrogen-fixing crops such as peanuts as a solution to the soil depletion caused by long-term cotton farming. Percy Julian was a Black chemist who pioneered synthesis of medicines such as cortisone and birth control pills from plants. Another Black innovator was Alice Ball who developed the first successful treatment for leprosy. Of course, this is only a small sample of the many Black scientists who have shaped our world through their discoveries. It is crucial that we dispel the distortion of history that has excluded them.
The role of non-western civilizations in scientific discovery is also often ignored in the standard history of science. For example, a middle eastern scientist named Ibn Haytham born in the year 965 made hugely important contributions to optics. Among his achievements was the correct description of the law of reflection long before Dutch astronomer Willebrord Snellius was credited for that “discovery”. The role of indigenous people in science is also often neglected. Take Mary Golda Ross, a Native American and member of the Cherokee Nation who contributed many scholarly works as a mathematician and engineer and who collaborated on a handbook for NASA about travel to Venus and Mars. As scientists, it is our responsibility to acknowledge how scientific history is deeply entrenched in racism. Acknowledging scientists who have been overlooked due to prejudice is a good first step, but it is not enough. We must ensure that these scientists become a permanent part of the standard curriculum for young students, so they are never again overlooked.
Scientists have the unique ability to shape the future of discovery. What do we investigate? What methods should we use to investigate? Who will benefit from those investigations? For a long time, that power has been mainly restricted to one group of people. As scientists, we have a responsibility to elevate the voices of people of color and create environments where they feel welcomed and respected for their unique perspectives and ideas. Working hard to diversify science is not only the right thing to do; it will also greatly improve the quality of science. It is in the interest of science to embrace the diverse perspectives of traditionally marginalized groups of people, because they will have unique ideas about the world and how to make it a better place. Addressing racism in science does not mean celebrating black scientists for one day and then going back to normal. It is not making statements of solidarity without taking the necessary action to eliminate the systemic racism that plagues so many aspects of the scientific process. White scientists must educate themselves about how racism has manifested itself in their fields. It is also the responsibility of white scientists to include and celebrate scientists of color, contributing to a scientific environment where they feel valued and respected.
The D.U. Quark recognizes the responsibility of scientists to address the systemic racism that exists within science. The journal exists as a platform for Duquesne students to join the ongoing conversation about science. As an organization, we will strive to use our platform to elevate the voices of people of color and welcome the diverse perspectives of all students at Duquesne.
Editor-in-Chief of The D.U. Quark
“George Washington Carver” by Maia C is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Leave a Reply