The "politically correct" school: a dystopia that becomes reality
In his 2015 satirical video Modern Educayshun, Indian-born Australian comedian Neel Kolhatkar imagined a dystopia (evidently making fun of an unfortunately unimaginary trend) in which scientific work was judged not on its objective validity, but on how well it aligned with the inclusion of "minorities."
Six years later, something similar really happens in "progressive" Canada, as witnessed by another character of Indian origin, namely the American chemist Patanjali Kambhampati, who works at McGill University in Montreal. Accustomed in the past to obtaining millionaire research funds, for two years he has been refused funding for a scientific research project as not sufficiently in tune with the rules that promote "equity, diversity and inclusion" (identified with the initials EDI).
In Canada, scientists must pledge allegiance to "equity, diversity, and inclusion"
“I develop lasers and instrumentation to measure the motion of electrons and atoms in materials that could be used for all kinds of things, from solar panels to flat screens and lasers for next generation computers” , told Kambhampati to the American site“ The College Fix ”. Over the past fifteen years, you have received approximately $ 7 million in funding from both the Canadian government and other entities and organizations. “But that all changed about a year or two ago,” , she explained. "Over the past two years, federal grants have begun to require declarations of equity, diversity and inclusion" .
“We were initially asked to define our position on this, and it was new. But something even newer has happened in the last year, when federal agencies said they would look at our EDI statements before anything else. ". In practice, if a researcher does not compile and sign a convincing declaration of "inclusiveness", his project will not even be taken into consideration, regardless of scientific merits and practical utility.
If you're not "inclusive" enough, your research project won't even be considered
To illustrate the situation, Kambhampati showed in the interview the statement he signed to obtain funds from the Canada Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Committee. In it, he emphasized the ethnic and cultural diversity of the students who help him in the lab, as well as pointing out that he himself belongs to a minority, is an immigrant, and that he could have used his personal experience to make the work environment more "inclusive." He also did not fail to emphasize the great female participation in the project, so much so that one of his former co-workers is now a physicist with prestigious positions working in Germany.
But despite all these declarations of openness and inclusion, the Committee did not consider it sufficiently in line with their policies and the funds were refused. To be precise, in the mail received in November (and of which you can see the image in the original interview), it was explained to him that: "The considerations on equity, diversity and inclusion in the demand are insufficient. The training plan does not adequately describe specific and concrete practices to be put in place to ensure that EDIs are actively supported. Vague and generic statements are not enough, and therefore the application is rejected ”.
The researcher was amazed at the response:
I've had to endure a lot of racism in my life, and as a result I try to treat everyone the same, and yet that doesn't seem to be good enough [...] You know, I've personally supervised fifteen doctoral students and three master's students, all from different walks of life, and apparently this achievement is not good enough. What they are asking us to do in EDI policies seems to me to be the opposite of what Martin Luther King taught us in the 1960s.
A totalitarian regime scenario
According to Kambhampati, the issue presents mainly two types of problems: the first is to continue to receive funds, even if he managed to win a private tender (which did not require ideological declarations but only looked at scientific merits). The other, more thorny, concerns the divergence of political views: "One may not always agree. That's the point. One might have different opinions and views. And those differences will not be tolerated. You must swear allegiance to everything created to promote EDI. You can't disagree ”.
Where, if not in a totalitarian regime, is science funding conditional on the researcher's adherence to the ideology in power? In "progressive" Canada, moreover, it is not enough that this adherence be merely proclaimed: if the political commissioners do not perceive sufficient "commitment", the scientist may still be left high and dry.
Giornalista pubblicista, ha scritto per le testate Mosaico, Cultweek and Il Giornale Off. Laureato in Beni culturali (Università degli Studi di Milano) e laureato magistrale in Giornalismo, cultura editoriale e comunicazione multimediale (Università di Parma).
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