Tag Archives: racial bias

Science may not be the meritocracy we thought it to be: gender and race discrepancies are prevalent

In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), researchers highlighted the disparities in the scientific community in the US. Simply put, the US scientific workforce is not representative of the population. Barriers to entry and participation prevent important segments of the population, especially when it comes to race and gender.

Concepción Feminist Mural in Madrid. Wikimedia commons.

Researchers investigated the representation of different groups between more than 1 million articles in the Web of Science between 2008 and 2019. The groups are racial categories constructed in the American society: White, Black, Asian, and Latinx. These categories were also divided by gender (male and female).

The data showed that women, Black and Latinx scientists are underrepresented in various different scientific topics, while White and Asian men are generally overrepresented. In Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields, Black, Latinx, and White women are underrepresented and Asian women have a medium representation. This is different in Psychology and Arts, both Asian women and men are underrepresented.

The most over-represented group in STEM are Asian men and, and the same carries in social sciences more related to economy and logistics topics. Black scientists are better represented only in research fields related to racial inequalities and African or African American culture. Something similar happens to Latinx authors that seem to be more involved in topics such as immigration, political identities, and racism. 

This graphic shows the representation of various racial, ethnic, and gender groups as published authors in various fields. It shows that Latino, Black, and white women are significantly underrepresented as authors in engineering and technology, mathematics, and physics publications and are heavily overrepresented in health fields. Credit: Diego Kozlowski/University of Luxembourg.

The authors also compared how specialized each group is. Asian scientists are more focused on a specific topic compared to White authors who are more scattered among the topics. In contrast, topics regarding gender identity and inequality are the focus of Black and Latinx women, emphasizing the gender role imposed in society and signaling that women are trying to shift perceptions in this field.

In terms of citation, Asian men are more cited in Social Sciences and are more likely to be involved in topics that are highly cited. In the Health topics, White authors are more cited, followed by Black, Asian, and Latinx. This is a clear confirmation that minoritized groups are more cited in topics less favored in the scientific community and are less cited in both lowly and highly cited topics.

These inequalities are indicative of the inequalities in American society. While this study focused on the US, this is a global problem that needs to be addressed. In addition to making academia fairer and more inclusive, research has also shown that diversity among research teams fosters innovation and more impactful research. For now, it appears the open and fair academia may not be all that open and fair after all.

Racial disparities in police shootings in the US are even bigger than previously thought

An analysis of four US states finds that when you look at non-fatal shootings, the racial disparities are even greater than in fatal shootings.

According to data compiled by the Washington Post, police officers shot and killed 1001 people in the US in 2019, and 936 in 2020. Per capita, the rate of deaths for Black Americans is twice as high as that for white Americans. This is backed by studies that have found a consistent racial bias in police shootings that cannot be explained by differences in local crime rates.

However, most studies only look at fatal shootings. Not only does this data eliminate an important part of police shootings, but fatality can also be influenced by other types of factors (such as if police officers administered first aid or whether a hospital is nearby). Justin Nix of the University of Nebraska Omaha and John Shjarback of Rowan University in New Jersey wanted to analyze this data and see if they can get a more comprehensive picture of the bias.

The problem is, most states don’t even gather data on non-fatal police shootings. So they focused on four states that do gather it: Florida, Texas, Colorado, and California. They then used statistical analysis to account for demographics and other factors that could be influencing the data.

Overall, they found that Black civilians were more likely to be shot than white civilians, and the racial bias is even more pronounced than in fatal shootings. For instance, in California, Black people are 3.08 times more likely to be fatally shot, but 3.91 times more likely to be non-fatally shot. Overall, the risk of Black people suffering a non-fatal shooting was greater than that of a fatal shooting in all the analyzed four states. California actually had the smallest difference out of the four states, while in Colorado and Florida, Black people are over five times more likely to be shot than white people, the analysis found.

Hispanic people were also more likely to be shot than white people in California or Colorado, but in Texas and Florida, the differences were negligible. Here’s how the Black-white and Hispanic-white disparities compare across all four states:

Image credits: Nix, Shjarback, 2021, PLOS ONE.

There are still shortcomings to this study (for instance, there is no data on the number of rounds fired and the data is reported by the police without external verification), but overall, this paints a compelling picture of existing bias among US police shootings.

This could be better studied, the researchers say if more states would record and report data on non-fatal shootings.

“We currently have no comprehensive national data on police firearm discharges. Our study suggests there are likely hundreds of people non-fatally injured by police gunfire each year – a disproportionate share of them Black,” the authors note.

The study has been published in PLOS.