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Blinding Us With Science

On Saturday the world enjoyed the long anticipated March for Science, which transformed Earth Day into a global defense of STEM, led by quietly spirited people undaunted by weather, buoyed by conviction, and waving an unlimited supply of wry, funny signs. Fortune’s fearless leader, Cliff Leaf, had a great take on the March in today’s Brainstorm Health Daily that’s well worth your time:

They gathered at a biomedical research park in Barcelona, outside the Queensland Parliament House in Brisbane, and in a 70-person huddle in Blantyre, Malawi, chanting “Taima nji” (“We are standing strong”). They stormed the capitals of London, Paris, Tokyo, and Mexico City; assembled in cities accustomed to activism (San Francisco, Geneva, New York) and in those not so much, like Morgantown, West Virginia.

What began as a “throwaway” post on Reddit grew into a bullhorn of a message sounded from seven continents—from 610 cities and a frozen research station at the bottom of the world. On Saturday, untold numbers of citizens who support the idea of free scientific inquiry, and enough public funding to pursue it, took to the streets to tell everyone else on the planet they did.

Although U.S. based marchers didn’t fail to mention the current president, Cliff says to look deeper for the true meaning of the march. “For the most part, the scientists and science lovers who marched around the world on Saturday weren’t—and aren’t—protesting a specific person, or party, or policy. Even President Trump isn’t their main target. No, they’re taking on a core driver in the human psyche: fear.”

He’s absolutely right. The scientific method is a powerful antidote to fear, a rational skepticism that looks at the world and challenges status quo thinking in search of powerful solutions. Which is partly why it was so encouraging to see so many rank-and-file scientists taking to the street to defend, and where necessary, bravely heal themselves.

Science has had some soul-searching to do. Consider just a smattering of items we’ve covered in raceAhead in the past year: Oculus initially caused motion sickness in women because the equipment was developed and tested primarily by men. Dark and light skin tones couldn’t initially be accommodated by photo software, the continuation of a long history photography of being optimized for whiteness. People with mental health or other issues tried to get help from Siri and Alexa – and couldn’t. Racial biases are baked into the software products that are increasingly being used as predictive tools in criminal sentencing. Preventable disparities in health outcomes continue for black, brown and Native people, communities of people who not that long ago may have also been unwitting medical test subjects.

So, when a diverse group of scientists hit the bricks worldwide to fight for their right to peer review, they’re also fighting for their peers. You can read the organizer’s diversity statement here, but I’ll cut to their chase: “We acknowledge that society and scientific institutions often fail to include and value the contributions of scientists from underrepresented groups. Science itself can drive our conversations about the importance of diversity, as it provides us with the data to understand how systemic bias and discrimination impact our communities and how best to change it.”

That’s a method we can measure. So, keep marching, folks. With the introverts on the case, it’s enough to give you the statistical likelihood of hope.


On Point

Doing the math on Bill O’ReillyIn the aftermath of O’Reilly’s dismissal from Fox News, the Washington Post offers a blistering peek into the Murdochian mind; specifically how Rupert, his sons, and senior executives could justify re-signing the anchor after paying out millions of dollars to make the complaints against him disappear. In a culture that had utterly normalized this sort of behavior, it had become just another straightforward risk assessment. One journalism professor writing a book on media scandals calls out the “pattern of allegations, settlements and secrecy at 21st Century Fox” as a kind of “organizational deviance” which required the efforts of many individuals. “Essentially, the Murdochs made a business calculation as to how much and how long they could get away with all this before the price they had to pay was too great to bear,” he said.Washington Post

Seven black employees plan to join a racial discrimination suit against Fox
They will be joining forces with two other colleagues who are alleging that they were subject to years of race-based insults and harassment as members of the Fox payroll staff. In addition to being subject to name calling and demeaning language, they allege that Fox News’ longtime comptroller, Judy Slater, demanded that black female employees hold “arm wrestling matches” with white female employees in her office, just a stone’s throw away from Roger Ailes’s office. And that’s just for starters. According to media reporter Gabe Sherman, “The toxic culture, fostered for 20 years by former CEO Roger Ailes, is proving far more difficult to remedy.”
New York Magazine

A Michigan doctor was arrested for performing genital cutting on two seven-year-old girls; a community braces for more bad news
The story of the arrest, which hit the local press on April 14, sent shockwaves through the small but widespread Dawoodi Bohras sect, a Shiite branch of Islam based in Gujarat, India. It has, according to author Tasneem Raja, an estimated 1.2 million followers worldwide. “As little girls, nearly all my female Bohra friends and I underwent khatna, the sect’s term for this practice,” she says. (She describes what happened in significant detail.) And though genital cutting has been illegal in the U.S. since 1996, it remains widespread here. Raja was cut in the bedroom of a family acquaintance in New Jersey, in the late 1980s. Raja and her friends believed that the practice would stop over time and assimilation. “We’re now in our 30s, and it hasn’t stopped,” she says. “Some women our age and younger are still arranging or considering khatna for their own daughters.” The practice is both secretive and divisive. As younger women are speaking out, they risk alienating older women – largely responsible for continuing khatna- who are also victims of the practice.
Mother Jones

Cato Institute: Terrorist acts are overwhelmingly committed by white, right-wing extremists
They reference a recent Government Accountability Office report indicating that far right wing violent extremist groups were responsible for 73% of the terrorist incidents resulting in death since 9/11, while “radical Islamist violent extremists” were responsible for 23% percent. And yet, says this recent piece from the conservative think tank, popular media continues to push the narrative that domestic terrorism is conducted exclusively by “Salafists,” or followers of a branch of Sunni Islam. “That incident-media reporting disconnect is matched by another: the notion that Arab/Muslim-Americans are more susceptible to radicalization, and thus to becoming terrorists,” says Cato. The belief “that there are a discreet set of reliable indicators that will tell authorities who is or is not more likely to become a terrorist,” makes us less safe, not more. Free speech is good. Evidence-free surveillance is bad, they conclude.
Cato Institute

Junot Díaz on America’s fear of invasion
The immigrant experience is at the center of Junot Díaz’s work. So when the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, 2007) took the stage recently to deliver the annual Goodrich C. White Lecture at Emory University, he got right to the point. “The simple logic is that when a nation-state begins to talk about a wall, it is by necessity imagining an invader,” he said. “The invasion narrative is one that is deeply embedded in America’s ideals of itself and sense of security,” he said. “For me as a writer, I’m deeply aware that the narratives and the stories that we tell ourselves not only reflect on our anxieties and our fears [. . .] but they also represent desires. And they are, themselves, very dangerous.” The Dominican American also encouraged Emory to become a sanctuary university. Writer Nneka Okona has an excellent review.
Arts Atlanta

The Woke Leader

Where were you when you first had Lemonade?
It’s been exactly one year since Beyonce blessed Planet Earth with the visual album Lemonade, a tribute to the labor and pain of black women, with extraordinary nods to Southern gothic traditions, diasphoric explorations, and black feminist signaling. How do I know all that? An extraordinary body of work emerged shortly after Lemonade’s release exploring the themes and influences that helped explain why the album meant so much to so many. What’s Good compiled this list of 19 analyses written by black women who were still feeling the Queen’s touch when they wrote them. Pour yourself a cup of strong tea and enjoy the black girl magic.
What's Good Blog

Black women are invisible, a superpower nobody really wants
Mia Brantley, a doctoral student in sociology, has written a poignant essay that begins with her own invisibility. She is listening as a fellow white student tearfully shares her academic travails with her parents. Outperformed by the other black woman in their program, she uses a derogatory term to describe her woes, knowing full well she is in a public place. “[O]utside of an office where she should be able to clearly see me, a Black woman, at my desk,” says Brantley. “This was the moment when I realized she could not see me…because she had already stripped me down as well.  To her, I was invisible.” This inability to see black women as fully human is not new, and has serious implications, she argues. As black women become leaders, competing with others for jobs and academic slots, it encourages others “to believe that it is okay to not see Black women or to strip us of our magic unless we are coinciding with your thoughts and actions.”
Black Girl Nerds

How one bridge and a racist joke defines the divide in Wisconsin
Milwaukee is one of the most segregated cities in the U.S., with a history of racial discrimination that links back to Great Migration. Running through Milwaukee is the Menominee River Valley, which has long separated primarily black neighborhoods on its north-side, with white, immigrant neighborhoods on its south-side. The 16th Street Viaduct (localese for “bridge”) was one of several that connected the two sides. The insider and racist joke about the bridge: It was called the “longest bridge in the world” because it connected Africa and Poland. Wisconsin Historical Society’s Bricelyn Stermer has put together a short but helpful presentation that helps explain the history behind the joke, and how the viaduct became the route for civil rights activists in the 1960s who demanded an end to restrictive housing covenants.


Racism in medicine, a problem with roots over 2,500 years old, is a historical continuum that continuously affects African-American health and the way they receive healthcare. Racism is, at least in part, responsible for the fact African Americans, since arriving as slaves, have had the worst health care, the worst health status, and the worst health outcome of any racial or ethnic group in the U.S. Many famous doctors, philosophers, and scientists of each historical era were involved in creating and perpetuating racial inferiority mythology and stereotypes. Such theories were routinely taught in U.S. medical schools in the 18th, 19th, and first half of the 20th centuries.
—W.M. Byrd and L.A. Clayton