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What Science, Environmentalism and the GOP Have in Common

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorJanuary 2, 2013 10:38 PM


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In the aftermath of President Obama's reelection, there was much media discussion of the GOP's ever-shrinking demographic base. As the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza pointed out, with the aid of an astonishing chart:

That only 11 percent of Republicans’ total vote came from non-whites tells you everything you need to know about the large-scale demographic challenges that Republicans must confront. (The fact that 44 percent of all Democratic votes came from non-whites paints the Republican challenge in even starker terms.)

How and why this has come to be I'll leave to the political pundits. Suffice to say, if Republicans don't find a way to connect with (or not scare off) Asians, Hispanics, and African-Americans, they are doomed to irrelevance. The same might be said for the environmental movement, argues a recent story in Politico titled, "Greens confront own need for diversity." The whiteness of environmentalism (along with the perception that it serves mostly a white, upper middle class constituency) has long been a nagging issue that the big national green groups have been unable to fix--beyond cosmetics. This is a major concern that broadly extends to science, as well. One neuroscientist bluntly reminded his colleagues in the Fall:

It seems unnecessary to restate the problem, and yet it really cannot go without acknowledgement. The lack of racial and ethnic diversity at all levels of science, technology, engineering and mathematic or STEM fields including neuroscience remains a problem.

Those who regularly attend annual science meetings can attest to the sea of white faces in conference rooms and hallways. (The press room at these meetings is also filled with predominantly white faces, which tells us about science journalism's own lack of diversity.) How to make science more appealing to non-whites and more representative of the general population is taken up here and here. To complicate matters, the problem is also partly cultural, one scientist recently asserted. I'm not sure what the best formula is for diversifying the sciences, the environmental movement, and the Republican party. Obviously, it's going to be different for each. But whatever they're doing at the moment doesn't appear to be working so well.


(Scientists gathered at University of California, Berkley, in 1940. Source/Wikimedia Commons.)

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