The death of George Floyd in 2020 sparked intense emotion, and increased recognition of the need to take active measures in matters of race within science and academia. This piece considers the field’s immediate actions with regard to Black representation at neuroscience conferences, and whether we are rising to the occasion in an area under our control.
In the spring and summer of 2020, there was a surge of emotion in the United States. Not only were we (along with the international community) dealing with a pandemic, but there was also a renewed focus on racial tensions, with a particular focus on Black and African Americans in the United States. This renewed focus stems from centuries-long issues of racial injustice that have been evident since the founding of the country. As a member (or past member) of several societies in my field, I noted great sorrow from colleagues globally on issues of American racial injustice, along with great energy regarding how science can be an active agent for change. As a Black person, I appreciated these responses. Following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, and others, there were numerous statements from scientific societies on diversity, equity, and inclusion that pushed their organizations and memberships to do better. Several of these statements included support of a fundamental fact: racial discrimination is toxic, and should not be tolerated by science or society. This is a logical extension of various laws centered around racial discrimination1,2,3. These statements also included general support of the Black community specifically, with concerns about institutional racism, systemic racism, and explicit and implicit bias within the scientific ranks. The scientific field appeared highly mobilized to pursue progressive change. For example, the Society for Neuroscience offered a commitment to “promoting diversity and fostering excellence; to recognizing that many talented scientists, especially those from minority groups, have been excluded from our field; and to committing to do better”4. The editorial board of Cell put it clearly: “Science has a racism problem”5. The editorial board of Science committed to listening, learning, and changing any systemic racist practices it holds6. The ‘diversity–innovation paradox’ was quantified, revealing that underrepresented groups produced higher rates of scientific discovery, yet their contributions were more likely to be devalued and discounted7.
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The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon request.
Civil Rights Act of 1964 78 Stat. 241 (1964).
Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 82 Stat.73 (1968).
Civil Rights Act of 1991 PL. 102–166 (1991).
SfN Statement on Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity https://www.sfn.org/publications/latest-news/2020/06/02/sfn-statement-on-diversity,-inclusion,-and-equity (2020).
Cell Editorial Team Cell 181, 1443–1444 (2020).
Nature 582, 147 (2020).
Hofstra, B. et al. The diversity-innovation paradox in science. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 117, 9284–9291 (2020).
Walker, R. Early Am. Stud. 19, 601–640 (2021).
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