Science Is Not Immune to Racism (and That Includes Us)

A message from our host

Published Jun 23, 2020

A message from our host

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Welcome to the Got Science? podcast. I’m your host, Colleen MacDonald.

In light of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade, among many others, and the demonstrations for Black lives and against police violence over the past weeks, we’ve decided to suspend our regular format for this episode, to amplify some timelier messages.

Our team’s mission is to show how science can be used to make the world a better place. We must also tell uncomfortable truths about times science has been used to harm Black people in this country, and to uphold and even justify systemic racism.

The protests in all 50 states are a direct response to the fact that racism is an inescapable reality in the United States. That these protests are happening right now, in the midst of a pandemic that places protesters’ lives at risk from being together, speaks to the depth of injustice, and the urgency of the moment.

White supremacy is pervasive in our country. It harms us in insidious and overt ways. It threatens the lives and safety of Black, Indigenous, Latinx people, and members of other racially marginalized groups.

And despite its veneer of objectivity, rationality, and impartiality…science is not immune to white supremacy. And neither is UCS.

Science is practiced by people, and people have biases. Science can be a powerful tool for solving problems and making people’s lives better. But it can also be used to do harm and obstruct progress.

We can look to the historic examples of the enslaved Black women who were operated on without anesthesia by the founder of modern gynecology. Or the Tuskegee experiments that kept Black men unknowingly infected with treatable syphilis.

Or we can look to today—because the sciences still have a long way to go. For just one example, more than 75 percent of almost 600 Black women scientists surveyed in a 2015 study reported having to prove themselves over and over in their workplaces. Nearly half of all Black and Latina scientists surveyed reported having been mistaken for custodial staff.

Today’s protests are about the continued injustice of white supremacy, which manifests in so many ways. As police violence and profiling. As Black people being used as guinea pigs for public health. As institutional and systemic racism in housing, healthcare, food, workplaces, and all spheres of American life.

We condemn the racism that persists in the United States and the racist actions of the Trump administration, which are literally killing Black and brown people across the country.

We condemn the Trump administration's flagrant abuses of power.

We condemn the use of police and military violence against unarmed and peaceful protestors and journalists.

We condemn the targeting of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color; journalists; and all those who stand up against police brutality and violence.

We stand for our democracy, our Constitution, and our first amendment rights.

We stand in solidarity with those who are risking their lives to challenge injustice.

We commit to identifying and making amends for the times we have used science to uphold white supremacy.

Systemic racism has fundamentally shaped our institution, the Union of Concerned Scientists. We have fallen short and need to work much harder and much faster to change our practices and structures to create a more equitable workplace and world, and to be an anti-racist organization.

We commit to using science—and our own influence—in support of racial justice.

And we urge our supporters, allies, partners, and new friends tuning in: to speak out, to protest, and to act together in the fight against racism.

Our podcast team will be taking a look at our format and programming to address our own shortcomings on this front. In the meantime, here are a few podcasts we recommend you check out now: 

Code Switch from NPR

Seeing White from the Center on Documentary Studies at Duke University

Momentum: A Race Forward Podcast

1619, an audio series from the New York Times

Thanks for listening to them and hopefully sharing them with others. And thank you for staying with us. 


Show credits

Editing: Brian Middleton and Omari Spears
Research and writing: Jiayu Liang and Pamela Worth
Executive producer: Rich Hayes Host: Colleen MacDonald