Diverse ideas and perspectives benefit science—as studies amply demonstrate—yet progress can be frustratingly slow. We think it’s time to amplify the conversation.
In 1985 about 57 percent of papers authored in the U.S. and published in scientific journals had exclusively “English” names. By 2008 that portion had dropped to 46 percent, with many more names of Chinese, Indian, Hispanic, Filipino, Russian and Korean origin. The increased diversity, according to a study published in February by the National Bureau of Economic Research, is good for science.
According to an analysis of more than 1.5 million papers, those with diverse authors tended to appear in journals with higher impact factors and received more citations than those without, even accounting for past publishing performance of the authors. NBER’s Richard B. Freeman, who performed the analysis with his colleague Wei Huang, told NPR that the avoidance of group think may explain the papers’ success.
“Ethnic diversity is an indication of ideas’ diversity,” he said. “People who are more alike are likely to think more alike and one of the things that gives a kick to science is that you get people with somewhat different views.”
Unfortunately, the analysis also found that people of similar ethnicity tend to co-author papers more frequently than would be expected given their proportions in the overall population of authors. Indeed, as noted in another study, published in February in Science:
“Although the representation of women and racial or ethnic minorities within the scientific community has increased in recent decades, the overall pace of diversification remains relatively slow. A number of factors may be involved, but one possible explanation for this limited progress is that gender and racial or ethnic biases persist throughout academia.”
Recognizing the barriers to progress, as well as the immense benefit that diversity brings to the scientific enterprise, Scientific American has been working on a series of initiatives since late last year. We are now proud to launch the first, Voices, a new blog in our award-winning network that will celebrate eclecticism in research, exploration and communication about science. (As we mentioned in October, you can expect some other editorial coverage coming soon in print and online.)
We believe that the future of discovery and understanding of the natural world, of scientific applications geared toward the individual and public good, and of an educated and enlightened populace rests firmly in society’s ability to make science more inclusive and less biased.
We cannot meet the greatest challenges of our time, from personal health care to environmental conservation to space exploration, without a multitude of voices weighing in with their expertise, insights and passions. Here at Scientific American, we have walked the walk, publishing the work of diverse authors on a vast array of topics. But with so much left to be done, it is now time to talk the talk.
Voices will be home for news, ideas and conversations related to gender, ethnicity, sexuality, physicality, socio-economic status and geography—all that makes us different, and all that makes us the same. How these factors bear on the world of science, technology, engineering and mathematics and on the ways that issues and advances in these fields are communicated to the general public will our chief concern. There are still too many barriers—from bias to privilege to ignorance—that keep us apart and hinder scientific progress. Our mission is to put on our helmets and run headlong at those barriers, to showcase what a wonderfully diverse world we live in, and to explain why that diversity is so crucial to our wellbeing.
Toward that end, Scientific American has received invaluable guidance and support from our Board of Advisors on diversity issues, which will continue to work with us on producing top-notch posts by the field’s most knowledable and insightful thinkers. We hope you will join us and invite you to send your ideas, thoughts, questions and comments to email@example.com.