As Chinese Military Tech Dominates, American Science Bows to Racial ‘Justice’
China’s murky intentions regarding its alliance with Russia and the war in Ukraine are making headlines. Whatever the outcome, the next global conflict may well involve the deployment of Beijing’s growing technological prowess.
China has already overtaken America in several branches of quantum information science, which involves massive computations and near-instantaneous communications — and in critical areas of artificial intelligence, all of which have military applications.
So now doesn’t seem like the perfect time for America to direct its limited resources in science, technology, engineering, and math toward racial justice initiatives.
Yet legislation aimed at increasing our scientific competitiveness vis-à-vis China is criss-crossed by mandates to “diversify” STEM teachers, student bodies and research labs.
Never mind that diversity in STEM can, at present, only be achieved at the expense of scientific standards. Rather than sharpen our technological edge, Congress would blunt it.
The House passed the America COMPETES Act — a quarter-trillion-dollar, nearly 3,000-page behemoth — in February; the Senate passed a similar law last year. In both cases, the federal government is responsible for funding applied research and commercialization in areas such as domestic semiconductor manufacturing and clean energy.
The bills are in the conference committee for reconciliation. President Joe Biden will no doubt sign off on whatever comes out, having promoted the legislation during his State of the Union address.
Diversity is not a new quest for the federal STEM bureaucracy and its academic partners, of course.
The National Institutes of Health’s Neuroscience Initiative, for example, requires grant applicants to show how they will “enhance diverse perspectives” and “empower” individuals from “traditionally underrepresented” groups in biomedical research.
The National Science Foundation distributes millions to university STEM departments for “intersectional approaches” to achieving diversity.
Many universities require faculty applicants in physics, engineering, and other STEM fields to explain how their work will enhance diversity in science; diversity, equity and inclusion proposals deemed insufficiently enthusiastic result in the automatic rejection of a candidate regardless of their scientific qualifications. The surest way to pass the DEI reporting requirement is to be diverse yourself.
But the America COMPETES Act and the United States Senate’s Innovation and Competition Act greatly expand on this obsession with racial identity and justice. The following provisions are found in one or both bills; none have anything to do with actual scientific achievement:
- A new grant program for research on race and ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity in STEM.
- A new grant program for research on harassment of “vulnerable groups”, defined as ethnic minorities, people with disabilities and “persons belonging to sexual and gender minorities”.
- A new direction within the National Science Foundation to focus on “societal challenges” such as “inequality.”
- A requirement that the NSF fund historically black colleges and universities, tribal colleges and universities, and minority-serving institutions, whether or not they produce cutting-edge research. Funding decisions will also favor community colleges that enroll large numbers of underrepresented minorities, whether or not they produce cutting-edge research.
- Implicit bias training for program officers in all federal science agencies.
- Submission by the university of race and gender data on all aspects of STEM faculty hiring and promotion, data that will inevitably determine future grantmaking.
- The collection of race and gender of patent applicants and laureates.
- Significantly increased funding for NSF’s Director of Diversity.
- Workshops for university department heads and federal science laboratory managers on biases in hiring, tenure and promotion. Discussions will focus on the “unique challenges” faced by underrepresented groups in STEM.
- Grants for local school districts that prioritize “equitable access” to STEM for underrepresented minorities. School districts that partner with black colleges will receive a financial benefit.
American schools are eliminating gifted and talented curricula in the name of racial equity and downplaying — even eliminating — algebra instruction to cover up racially disparate performance in algebra classes.
China is taking the opposite path. He identifies his best math talents early on and gives math gifted students an accelerated education. Its rigorous college entrance exams reward effort and achievement, not identity. Undergraduate math competitions provide a pipeline for top STEM graduate programs.
These efforts are working. In 2018, China ranked number one in international K-12 math, science, and reading tests known as PISA; America ranked 25th. Chinese teams dominate Stanford Challenge for Machine Reading Comprehension and International Computing Olympiad. Highly qualified STEM doctors come out of its graduate schools.
Republican opposition to the House and Senate bills has focused on the federal government’s involvement in commercial research and development and the huge unconditional cost.
But of equal concern should be the continued promotion of race and gender irrelevance bills in science. Scientific research aims for one thing: to advance knowledge. Scientists are not in the business of closing the educational achievement gap; this task falls to families, cultural leaders and schools.
Diverting ever more American STEM resources from the pursuit of knowledge toward the pursuit of supposed racial equity virtually guarantees that a determined, merit-driven China will win the war for science and technology dominance, giving it a formidable military advantage. .
Heather Mac Donald is a Thomas W. Smith Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of “The Diversity Delusion.”