The most persistent — and infuriating — question about diversity in science writing has to be: “Why do we need diversity?”
Sometimes that question is followed by this: “Isn’t science color-blind?”
To answer that second question first — no, science is most definitely not color-blind, any more than history or politics or literature is color-blind. The under-representation of women and minorities in science — among scientists, as well as in in their studies — is well documented. And this is one reason it took decades to realize that women and African-Americans are at an increased risk for heart disease, and Asians for diabetes, for example.
Among those who write about science, too, the vast majority of those with any power are white and male.
This status quo needs to change. Why, you ask? Earlier this month, Buzzfeed released its new commitment to diversity, explaining clearly why diversity matters in journalism. It matters in science journalism for the same reasons — because it’s what’s ethical, but also because it’s what will help to create the best and widest range of stories for the widest range of readers.
A diverse community of science writers means a 50-person list of science Twitter accounts will include more than four women, and a compilation of the Best American Science and Nature Writing won’t only laud the work of white journalists. When cultural histories and scientific evidence tell contradicting stories, it means covering each side with rigor but also sensitivity. It means reporting on Ebola without being racist.
When science journalist Francie Diep surveyed our community of science writers this spring, she found that far from being color-blind, science journalism can feel isolating and unwelcoming to minority science writers. Her survey confirmed something we discovered last year: In response to a column about last year’s meeting of the National Association of Science Writers (NASW), dozens of writers of color told us they too felt disconnected from the mainstream science writing community.
That was when we came together to launch Culture Dish, to create a community that is connected and supportive of diverse representation. Backed by an Idea Grant from the NASW, we set up our website and planned a series of events towards this goal.
At this year’s NASW annual meeting in Columbus later this week, we are holding two events. The first is a welcome mixer on the evening of Friday, October 17, with easy access to food and a cash bar. Part of the goal is to provide a welcoming and safe space for minorities at the meeting, but we encourage everyone to attend.
Then, on Saturday, we plan to take an in-depth look at issues that journalists of color encounter every day. At this panel on diversity, we plan to address that old chestnut – Why do we need diversity? – and others such as, How do you hire a diverse newsroom? How do you survive in a newsroom where almost no one looks like you? As a minority in this business how do you find support?
We hope to see you in Columbus at both events. If you have suggestions or questions you’d like us to tackle at the panel discussion, tell us on Twitter (@culturedish) or email info@CultureDish.org.