Introduction to Special Issue

Maintaining Diversity in Science

Science  29 Mar 1996:
Vol. 271, Issue 5257, pp. 1901
DOI: 10.1126/science.271.5257.1901

Summary

The scientific world has often seemed a bit cool toward women and minorities, but today a constellation of factors ranging from budget cuts to court rulings conspire to create a frigid climate for programs designed to promote diversity in the scientific work force. In this issue, we explore how current political and economic trends may threaten recent advances made by women and underrepresented minorities in the scientific work force, including African Americans, Hispanics, and American Indians.)

Tight budgets are expected to hit women and minorities hardest, in part because diversity programs may be left out in the cold, as reported by Ann Gibbons. But even if budgets were ample, such efforts face major legal challenges from recent rulings on affirmative action. Berkeley-based reporter Marcia Barinaga untangles the legal threads and their implications for scientists.

Such trends play out in different ways in different disciplines, and we zero in on two fields at opposite ends of the diversity spectrum. In computer science, diversity has actually dropped recently, and Virginia Morell explores subtle cultural factors that may help explain why. In contrast, the social sciences are the most diverse in science. But as reported by Constance Holden, the overall parity masks a gender split among fields. And ironically, some fear that the influx of women may coincide with lower prestige for the field.

Throughout the section, top-ranked women and minorities offer advice on how to succeed in today's competitive environment; we also present the latest diversity data. And Science's Next Wave presents an on-line forum on maintaining diversity.

Despite the frosty atmosphere, women and some minorities are still making strides. Stay tuned for updates on how current trends affect their progress.

Asian-Americans, although they face some obstacles common to other minorities, are not underrepresented in science and so are not a focus of this issue. See Science, 12 November 1993, p. 1117, and 13 November 1992, p. 1224, for articles devoted to Asian-Americans.