Policy ForumDiversity in Science

Without inclusion, diversity initiatives may not be enough

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Science  15 Sep 2017:
Vol. 357, Issue 6356, pp. 1101-1102
DOI: 10.1126/science.aai9054

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  • The "Geek Syndrome" Complication
    • Matt Wimble, Assistant Professor, University of Michigan-Dearborn

    In their recent commentary, Puritty et. al. make excellent recommendations about how to increase diversity in STEM disciplines [1]. The question I have is whether there something about STEM that makes it stubbornly resistant to efforts to increase diversity? More specifically, is there something different about the people in STEM?
    In the popular press, there is phenomena which has been coined the “geek syndrome” among IT professionals [2]. This term refers to the apparent increased rates of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) among IT professionals. I wondered is this just urban myth or is there scientific evidence to support this notion? The reason why this would matter is that this could partially explain both the lack of gender diversity and microaggressions the authors cite. ASD is a primarily male affliction, with gender ratios of 4:1 to 5:1 most commonly reported [3,4]. Also, those with ASD have difficulties empathy, interpersonal relations, and reading non-verbal communication cues [5-7].
    It turns out there is evidence which shows that students diagnosed with ASD are more likely than the general population to choose a STEM major and that science and mathematics majors score significantly higher in terms of Autism-Spectrum Quotient (AQ) [5,8]. The limitations of the disability suggest that individuals with ASD gravitate to STEM occupations as a means of coping with their disability [9]. Further complicating matters is that ASD has historically be underdiag...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • Finland has several solutions for diversity initiatives problems
    • Pekka Neittaanmaki, Dean/Professor, University of Jyvaskyla
    • Other Contributors:
      • Yoshiyasu Takefuji, Professor, Keio University

    Chandler Puritty, et al., wrote an article entitled "Without inclusion, diversity initiatives may not be enough," published in Science (1). They addressed several diversity initiatives problems in the paper. Finland has several solutions for them (2). Finland public health and school system have been paid 100 % by taxpayers where the services are free for everybody including students from underrepresented minority groups (racial, ethnic, gender, sexual identity, or persons with disabilities) (3). All can receive free education based on social-economical background. Education is personalized learning so that learning process should be adapted to the personality of each individual learner (4). Smart education system in Finland has been tested for basic education and adult education (4). Finland social system with smart education system can overcome some of diversity initiatives problems.

    1. Chandler Puritty, et al., "Without inclusion, diversity initiatives may not be enough," Science, 15 SEPTEMBER 2017, 357 (6356), 1101-1102.
    2. The big lesson from the world's best school system? Trust your teachers.
    3. Finland: government increases support for education of immigrant students and teachers.

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    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • RE: Puritty et al., Without inclusion. diversity initiatives may not be enough, vol 357, pp1101-1102

    Re: Puritty et al. Science, Policy Forum, 357, Sept 15 2017, p. 1101

    "The list of former..students..who have been mentored by Steven Oppenheimer goes on for pages. Medical doctors. Dentists. Ph.D.s. Professors.
    Biotechnology researchers." (CSUN Magazine, Fall 29016, p. 20).

    The key to minority student success is one-on-one mentoring. It's the individual mentoring that does it....whether in formal or informal programs. When I asked a Latino alum, who is now a director of emergency medicine in a major hospital, who said my mentoring changed the trajectory of her life, exactly what did it? She said without my mentoring she was just running around with no goals, with no purpose. She is funding an annual scholarship in my honor.

    When I won a U.S. Presidential Award for mentoring presented by President Obama in the White House they said...He calls his mentees Professors.
    His sense of humor is contagious. The numbers of successful mentees are mind boggling (lists available).

    It's in people's hearts whether they love mentoring. Productive scientists may not have time to do much one-on-one mentoring. But if universities made mentoring SUCCESS a criterion for advancement, that could lead to monumental improvements in student success. The programs need not be formal or funded. Just including mentoring success in advancement criteria would change the face of what has been a dismal record as noted in Puritty et al.'...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.

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