Posted on May 10, 2021

Diversity over Discovery

Heather Mac Donald, City Journal, May 6, 2021

President Joe Biden has now taken the push for “diversity” in STEM to a new level. His candidate to head the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the largest funder of the physical sciences in the U.S., is a soil geologist at the University of California, Merced. She has no background in physics, the science of energy, or the energy sector. She has never held a position as a scientific administrator. The typical head of DOE’s Office of Science in the past has had managerial authority in the nation’s major physics labs and has been a physicist himself, Science reports. The new nominee’s only managerial experience consists of serving since 2020 as an interim associate dean of UC Merced’s graduate division.

Asmeret Asefaw Berhe is, however, a black female who has won “accolades for her work to promote diversity in science,” as Science puts it. Berhe would be the first black woman to head the $7 billion office, and that is reason enough, according to the diversity mantra, why she should oversee X-ray synchrotrons, the development of nuclear weapons, and ongoing research on nuclear fusion. Her nomination requires Senate confirmation; if Berhe will not commit to hiring and grantmaking on the basis of scientific expertise alone, irrespective of race and sex, senators should vote her appointment down.

As head of the Office of Science, Berhe would be asked to choose strategic directions for DOE-funded science. Should the agency try to expand understanding of fundamental particle physics or of the physics of the universe? How much attention should be given to solid-state lighting, semiconductors, or artificial intelligence? With regard to energy conservation and clean energy, should DOE pursue geothermal or biomass, tackle storage issues, or seek greater energy efficiency through insulation and refrigeration? Each day, the Office of Science turns out dozens of “one-pager” descriptions of projects and proposals. It is unlikely that a soil geologist (with an M.S. in political ecology) will have the knowledge to evaluate proposals for, say, advanced scientific computing research or nuclear physics, or make the policy judgments that those “one-pagers” require.


{snip} Berhe argues that the lack of race and sex diversity in STEM is due to exclusion, rather than to the absence of a proportional number of competitively qualified “diverse” candidates in the hiring pipeline. Her co-authored articles include: “Leaky Pipeline vs. Vicious Obstacle Course: metaphors for the persistent exclusion of minoritized scholars from STEM,” “A critical feminist approach to transforming workplace climate in the geosciences through community engagement and partnerships with societies,” and “Hostile climates are barriers to diversifying the geosciences.” She will undoubtedly further elevate the importance of race and sex as criteria for federal research awards.