Practice of Science Friday: Challenges of Ideological Diversity in the Science Biz

I ran across this opinion piece from October in EOS (the science news journal of the American Geophysical Union or AGU). It’s called “Does our Vision of Diversity Include Social Conservatives?” and is authored by three professors at Brigham Young University.  The original controversy deal with whether professional science societies should handle ads for private universities with honor codes and hiring preferences to members of its religion as discriminatory. But what I thought was valuable, and related to The Smokey Wire, were their arguments for the practice of dealing with those with whom we disagree. Which is what we do here, and sometimes it’s difficult (at least for me)  to explain to others why we think it is important work. They also have some interesting citations on the social science of ideologies and political differences.

Their argument is that if people practicing science are not diverse (and people who decide funding what topics are researched), then scientific information is not as useful or trustworthy as it could be.

Diversity supports our moral values and practical goals. It gives us a glimpse into ways of living and thinking that were invisible or inaccessible to us. It humanizes our ideological and practical competitors and encourages compassion and concern. It ratchets down identity divisions that otherwise short-circuit exchange of ideas and values. It improves the accuracy and innovation of formal and informal research on political, social, and scientific issues [Duarte et al., 2015; Shi et al., 2019]. Liberals and conservatives alike have been shown to dismiss scientific evidence based on political allegiance, meaning that our public credibility depends on good science from diverse scientists [Ditto et al., 2019]. Perhaps most important from a community perspective, diversity favors equal representation and creates crucial opportunities for disadvantaged and discriminated-against individuals.
However, diversity is more than just looking different or even being different. Tolerance at arm’s length will not bring about the many benefits of diversity. Active relationships among deeply different individuals are needed to unlock the power of diversity to improve our science and our society [Holvino et al., 2004; Stevens et al., 2008]. Diversity is difference and disagreement in a context of community and collaboration.
LDS folks, like other religious folks, have great goals that are difficult to live up to:

An alternative response is to engage in discussions and develop relationships with those we perceive as adversaries. In our religious tradition, this diplomatic approach to enforcing norms and influencing others is required by a 19th century scripture: “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of [authority or majority], only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile.” Though our faith community falls short of this ideal often, it suggests that the way to persuade people of the validity of our worldview is not to silence theirs.

1 thought on “Practice of Science Friday: Challenges of Ideological Diversity in the Science Biz”

  1. No question that diversity of thought about science questions is important. Why should we assume though that any particular political or religious viewpoint is relevant to diversity of thought about a science question? Shouldn’t there also be diversity of thought within that political or religious group regarding science questions? If there isn’t, then doesn’t that really make them political or religious questions? At some point this kind of thinking could lead to false equivalency legitimizing deniers of evolution and climate change.


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