Race and “The Scientist”

Thomas Jackson, American Renaissance, June 1997

The Scientist Magazine

It would be tempting to think that science writing, with its emphasis on data and reproducible results, is relatively free from the woolly thinking about race so common elsewhere. It is true that there are still a few objective publications that accept papers from people like Philippe Rushton and Arthur Jensen, whose findings do not conform to racial orthodoxy. They are exceptions. The most influential science publications, such as Science and Nature are extremely cautious about violating current intellectual fashion, and “popular” publications like Natural History and Scientific American are firmly in the hands of dogmatic egalitarians.

Not surprisingly, the mid-level trade journals read by science workers follow the fashion. The Scientist, for example, is a well-regarded trade publication that bills itself as “the newspaper for the life sciences professional.” It appears twice a month, and runs announcements of research and teaching positions as well as ads for “pre-owned lab equipment,” “high quality antibodies and proteins,” “hazardous gas detection instruments,” and other specialist gear.

One of its issues for Black History Month (formerly known as February) was devoted almost entirely to non-whites, with the four front-page articles covering the following subjects: why blacks are unwilling to serve as research subjects, how black churches can help recruit black research subjects, the dearth of non-whites in the biotech industry, and the means by which non-whites “demonstrate that success in science can come despite barriers.”

The first two of these articles deal with a real problem. In response to widespread claims that science “ignores” minorities, the National Institutes of Health and other major grant-making bodies now require that biological research include large numbers of non-white subjects. This is not easy, because so many blacks refuse to take part.

As the first article points out, anyone who tries to recruit black subjects runs into a wall of suspicion, and nearly everyone The Scientist interviewed seems to think this is because science is so “white.” America needs more non-white scientists, if only to encourage blacks to act as research subjects.

However, the most frequently offered explanation for black mistrust is the Tuskegee syphilis experiment. This was a nearly 40-year study, stopped only in 1972, in which U.S. government scientists charted the progress of syphilis in 400 Alabama black men. The men were deliberately left untreated so doctors could study the full course of the disease.

Although this is the only recorded instance of this kind of government malfeasance, it stands as the definitive symbol of white medical research for many blacks and even a few whites. As Arthur Caplan, the director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Bioethics explains—without elaboration—”there’s certainly been many, many areas where minorities have been exploited, mistreated, abused, and used by the research community.”

As The Scientist reports, the other thing blacks frequently say is that since AIDS was probably invented by the U.S. government to exterminate them, medical research cannot be trusted. Various people interviewed in the article have a breezy, ready-made explanation for this mortifyingly implausible point of view: Blacks do not have “equal access” to medicine. As James Bowman, a black professor of medicine at the University of Chicago explains, “As long as we have an inequitable health care system, minorities must be suspicious.” “If they’re not, they’re foolish,” he adds sympathetically.

Kathleen Boozang, a Seton Hall University professor of unspecified race, draws slightly different conclusions from “unequal access”: “If you’re asked to be a subject of research, but then aren’t going to reap the benefits, why should you participate? It ultimately goes back to the structure of the health care system and the lack of access to it.” Thus we arrive at the doubtful but reportedly widely-held view that non-whites don’t like to be research subjects because there is not enough free medicine for poor people. If they thought there was something in it for them they might take part.

The pages of virtually any black newspaper are filled with advertisements for psychics, faith healers, and good luck charms.

According to one black woman who is a genetics counselor, blacks are afraid of science in general because of books like The Bell Curve. “[It says] we’re inferior. You have scientists or even educators saying this,” thus tainting the entire scientific enterprise.

Some of these explanations for low black participation may have a grain of truth, but the main reason—never touched on by The Scientist—is probably the nature of blacks themselves. Whites do not ordinarily agree to be part of a medical study only because they think the research will benefit them or their families. They care about the public good and take a long-term view of how to contribute to it.

These are not traits particularly characteristic of blacks. High crime rates are the classic sign of a short-term view and contempt for society at large. But even among non-criminal populations, when people are matched by income blacks give much less to charity than whites do. Likewise, black neighborhoods are notorious for ignoring municipal recycling plans, and only with the greatest difficulty can blacks be made to participate in blood drives.

Blacks are much less likely to make their organs available for transplant, despite government campaigns to explain to them that blacks often can accept organs only from other blacks. At the same time, one of the most consistent racial differences in polling data is the extent to which blacks believe that government can solve all problems (a view that coexists with the fear that AIDS is an extermination tool). Society is there to help them and not the other way around. This is not the view of people who volunteer their time in the name of medical progress.

Finally, anti-scientific superstitions are likely to be more common among blacks than whites. The pages of virtually any black newspaper are filled with advertisements for psychics, faith healers, numerology books, good-luck charms and other such mumbo jumbo. People who patronize faith healers may not have much interest in medical research.

The plan to increase the number of non-white in the sciences is getting a big push from the government. In President Clinton’s proposed FY 1998 budget for the National Institutes of Health, the second largest expense item is minority programs. Out of a total of $13.1 billion, $1.38 billion or more than ten percent will be spent on the quixotic quest of turning blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians into scientists. One typical NIH program offers five-year grants to universities in the range of $500,000 to $3 million. They are to “support minority scientists” by paying for salaries, lab space, technical support, and travel.

What is the only NIH budget item larger than “minority programs”? AIDS research, which gets $1.5 billion. Breast cancer research, for example, is well behind at $396 million. AR

But given that—for whatever reason—blacks are such reluctant research subjects, scientists are looking for them everywhere. The latest hope seems to be to persuade black churches to help find subjects, but The Scientist reports that this is by no means the happy ending. To the chagrin of some scientists, many black preachers expect to be paid if they are to round up subjects. One puts it somewhat delicately but unmistakably: “If you want to change a church’s agenda to fit something on your own agenda, you need to invest in the infrastructure of the church.”

Even if the research is on diseases like prostate cancer or hypertension, to which blacks are particularly prone, churchgoers are no more willing than anyone else to play the white man’s game. As one black breast cancer activist explains, “[the research institutions] usually send a very well-meaning white woman or white man into the community to pitch the idea. The congregation is very polite, but the people have no intention of complying.” If whites do not have the sense to send black recruiters they are advised, at the very least, to spend a lot of time attending church services and community events so as to “build a comfort level.”

Overcoming Barriers

The article about how non-whites manage to overcome “barriers” and become successes in science rather realistically points out that the biggest barrier is usually poor schooling rather than outright “racism.” A different but telling complaint comes from Kenneth Olden, the first black to run one of the National Institutes of Health. He says blacks in general show little interest in science or scientists, and “the community” seems not to care about his glowing record at Harvard and the National Cancer Institute. “Does it bother me?” he asks. “It does a lot.” Indifference began at home; Dr. Olden’s father could never understand why he wanted to spend so much time studying science.

The successful non-whites interviewed for this article do not appear to dwell on “racism” but The Scientist warns that “even in the academic world prejudice sneaks out.” One black academic complained that when he was hired for his first job, the chairman of the department actually told him it was because they needed a minority. Also, a Choctow Indian woman who says her “native background” is “a profound influence on my holistic approach to cancer patients” is nevertheless insulted that people have asked her why she doesn’t wear moccasins or braids.

Today’s success stories complain about how hard it was not have role models but also complain about how much work it is for them to be role models. “Fighting stereotypes,” is also said to be exhausting business.

The article about the dearth of blacks in the biotech business extols the efforts of companies that are trying to change things. Amgen Inc., for example, has given $1.5 million to Spellman, the black women’s college, to set up a center for molecular biology. It grants scholarships to Spellman students and offers summer internships. The Scientist is silent about how many black lady researchers Amgen has managed to nurture.

David Jensen, who is a recruiter for the biotech industry, is perplexed to note that employers who already have minorities don’t want to give them up: “I think there are more minorities in academia. I don’t know why, but when academia lands some sharp students of minority descent they glom onto them and really foster their interest in the academic research area . . . .”

The Scientist managed to find some small companies that admit they make no special effort to hire non-whites. “We’re looking for the very best scientists for the job without regard to their ethnic status,” says a CEO who manages 24 employees. However, the director of a scientific head-hunting firm says that affirmative action inevitably comes with size: “They’ll have developed to 80 employees and they’ll realize “Hey, we don’t have a very diverse work force here,’ and they’ll go out and try to correct that.”

One of the big stories in the issue is about “diversity training,” which is pitched for two main reasons, one moral the other economic. Bernard Scales, the black man in charge of “diversity” for Dupont, says “it’s the right thing to do, in terms of addressing equity, fairness . . . and equal opportunity for all of our employees. And right behind that is that it’s critical to our business success.”

Maurizio Velasquez, founder of Diversity Training Group, agrees: “The more diverse a company is, the more competitive it will be in a diverse society.”

Robert Hayles, a black man who runs his own diversity consulting business, says the same thing: “[W]hen there is diversity of style, of function, of age, of race, of language or of culture in a group contrasted to a group that is more homogeneous—given equal management and goals in both groups—the diverse groups quantitatively and qualitatively outperform the homogeneous groups.” The Scientist did not seem to think it necessary to cite Mr. Hayles sources.

The biotech company Genentech has been pushing diversity with great enthusiasm. For example, it has an association of black employees who put on programs to edify non-blacks. It has a Hispanic association and a Filipino association. The co-chairman of the company’s homosexual association says that such groups are “mushrooming” because of Genentech’s promotion of diversity. This is supposed to be great for business.

The same issue of The Scientist has two long editorials about racial matters. One is a rambling, largely incoherent piece by a black cancer specialist at the University of Texas. Two of its less opaque sentences are: “When the staff of a hospital deals with the health problems of minority patients without the training, insight, or sensitivity needed to approach these individuals, efforts are doomed to failure. You might not see this as racism but I do.”

In another editorial, Jordan Cohen makes two points: “Finding solutions to the most recalcitrant health problems, even being able to conceptualize what the problems are, will require a research work force that is much more diverse racially, ethnically, and by gender than we now have.”

How to get that precious diversity? “[T]here is simply no way admissions committees for M.D. and Ph.D. programs can select an adequately diverse class of students today without taking race and ethnicity—explicitly or implicitly—into account.” In other words, to get the “diversity” the country needs, standards for doctors and scientists must be selectively lowered, and better- qualified whites kept out. Ominously, Mr. Cohen is president of the Association of American Medical Colleges.

The last article in this special issue is a somewhat sheepish account of the “science” going on in black universities. After a bit of hemming and hawing, the article concedes that “research output is less important than is research for its educational value.” It goes on to conclude that black colleges “could fill an important niche in translational research—that is, research that bridges discoveries from the laboratory to the community.”

This special issue is probably typical of the kind of thing scientists read and think they have to believe. Even in the laboratory and operating room, there are strong pressures to have the right line up of non-whites rather than the most capable people. The Scientist‘s cheerful acceptance of this view is almost amusing in light of a claim the paper makes in the masthead of every issue:

The Scientist serves its readership in many ways, but one of its most valued aspects is its commitment to open discussion of controversial topics. While readers praise us for this commitment, they should also recognize that all articles . . . reflect the views of their authors and not the official views of the publication. . . .

Now, perhaps, we understand. The editors actually know all about race and IQ, but promote affirmative action only to be “controversial.”

The scientific world divides publications into two groups: journals and magazines. Journals publish hard research data and aim to expand the frontiers of knowledge. Anything else is a mere magazine.

Probably the most prestigious and influential journals published in English are Science, Nature, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They do not claim that race does not exist or that intelligence is unaffected by genes, but they are extremely cautious about accepting articles that violate current intellectual fashion.

Science is mainly devoted to “big” science—astronomy, nuclear physics and, increasingly, human genetics. In fact, advances in molecular genetics published in Science were a strong impetus for launching the Human Genome Project. Science now covers the project regularly and devotes a yearly special issue to it.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science, which publishes the journal is strongly committed to affirmative action, and Science has a clear distaste for racial differences. Nevertheless, it deplores zealotry. Even before the term PC was invented, its long-term editor, Daniel Koshland, was publishing editorials denouncing political persecution and self-censorship. More recently, it ran not-entirely-hostile comments on the wrath visited upon Christopher Brand and Glayde Whitney for having suggested that race may have something to do with intelligence and crime rates. It has published letters to the editor from Philippe Rushton and even one from your servant, the editor of AR. It is not inconceivable that it will some day accept a feature article by Arthur Jensen, Philippe Rushton, or Richard Lynn, but that would be a major event.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) is another extremely influential journal. The National Academy of Science (NAS) itself is a government-sponsored body, established in 1863, whose members are elected by the existing members. It glistens with prestige and is supposed to make recommendations to government, perform good works, etc.

Since at least 1934, Science had been publishing abstracts of all papers presented at NAS meetings, thus giving them worldwide exposure. This practice came to a sudden end in 1968, after NAS-member and Nobel-prize-winning inventor of the transistor, William Shockley, began presenting papers on race, IQ, and eugenics. PNAS itself made a similar publishing decision. It used to accept all submissions from members, but changed its policy in 1972 so as to be able to shut out William Shockley.

Perhaps in repentance for this high-handedness, PNAS has since published a number of important papers on the genetic distance between races as well as DNA studies of how long ago the races diverged from each other. It occasionally publishes papers on behavioral genetics and in 1986 even accepted a report by Philippe Rushton on the heritability of altruism.

Nature, published in England, is strongly oriented toward biology. It is of distinguished lineage and at one time regularly published Francis Galton. It has drifted so far from these fine beginnings that in 1992 its editor, John Maddox, wrote a full-page editorial explaining why he would not accept Prof. Rushton’s work on race and brain size. He explained that science of this kind was so contrary to established opinion that it had to meet higher standards than other research. However, the raging letters controversy that followed this editorial was excellent publicity for Prof. Rushton’s findings.

Scientific American is a mere magazine about science and does not publish original research. However, it has a large circulation, is highly regarded, and is the oldest science-related magazine in America. Unfortunately, in the last 15 years or so, it has fallen into the hands of the determined opposition. Stephen Jay Gould, who carries forward the work of Franz Boas, essentially sets the tone for articles about race and human nature. Scientific American’s current leanings were on display during a radio interview with the editor to mark the 150th anniversary of the magazine’s beginning. He noted—with pride—that Vladimir Lenin had read and liked the magazine.

Another influential science magazine with an even larger circulation is Natural History, published by the American Museum of Natural History. The indefatigable Dr. Gould writes a column for every issue, and in perhaps 30 percent of them he takes off after racists, racialism, etc.

Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) is in yet another category. It sometimes publishes excellent medical articles and symposia on public health issues, but is known among scientists for its biases. The most obvious is that as the union magazine for doctors it is devoted to making their profession as lucrative as possible. On social science questions it is no less trendy than the New York Times, but can be read to equally good purpose: it reports useful information that undercuts—but somehow never changes—its editorial positions.

Which are the science journals most open to questions of race and genetics? Personality and Individual Differences, edited in England by Hans Eysenck, and Intelligence, edited in the United States by Douglas Detterman, are clear-thinking and widely read. Their articles are often cited in other journals. The Mankind Quarterly, published by Roger Pearson has for years been sailing courageously against the wind and has aired a large number of ideas now central to a realistic understanding of race, heredity, and social behavior.

Finally, Transaction Publishers—which has brought out such important books as Prof. Rushton’s Race, Evolution, and Behavior, Michael Levin’s Feminism and Freedom, and The IQ Controversy by Mark Synderman and Stanley Rothman—publishes a magazine called Society. Although its field is the social sciences, where the political constraints are even tighter, Transaction does seem to try to follow the data rather than the fashion of the day.

Although the science press is not much less unscientific about race than anyone else, it would be a mistake to blame this on a special and shadowy class of people known as editors. People in the field report that science journalism largely reflects the convictions and fears of scientists themselves. They are no different from anyone else in their preference that someone else risk his career by publishing “racist” or “sexist” findings. Science is a great ally, which continues to establish the factual basis for ancient wisdom that the current era would deny, but its direction and the uses to which it is put change only as society changes.

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