Tag Archives: race science

Canadian Black Scientists Network (CBSN)

If I understand the message from the Canadian Black Scientists Network’s (CBSN) president, Professor Maydianne CB Andrade correctly, the first meeting was in July 2020 and during that meeting the Canadian Black Science Network (CBXN) was born and the website was established (in August 2021?).

The Canadian Black Scientists Network (CBSN) is a national coalition of Black people possessing or pursuing higher degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine/Health (STEMM), together with Allies who are senior leaders with a demonstrated commitment to action for Black inclusion. Our network is young and growing. We were founded by a small group of faculty and held our first meeting in July 2020. Since then, we have expanded to include hundreds of members from across the country, including academics, graduate students and postdocs, research administrators, and STEMM practitioners. We have established a very active steering committee of volunteers, an online presence, and are increasingly recognized as the face of a multidisciplinary, national vanguard of Black excellence in STEMM.

….

We focus on those who identify as Black, which we define as those of Black African descent, which includes those who identify as Black Africans, and those found worldwide who identify as descendants of Black African peoples. We acknowledge and will be open to working in partnership with other organizations that focus on dismantling the challenges, discrimination, and barriers to inclusion in STEMM that are experienced by others.  We simultaneously emphasize the need to maintain our network’s focus on Black Canadians. Deliberate, tailored interventions for Black communities are required to remove the long-standing discrimination, exclusion, and oppression that was initially created to justify slavery, and the ways in which those structures and stereotypes still manifest in systematic anti-Black racism in the lives of Canadians (see: the United Nations Report of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent on its mission to Canada). We will not shirk from pointing to these realities, but will maintain a strong commitment to joining with all Canadians to build a more equitable society. 

Prof Maydianne CB Andrade
Inaugural President & Co-Founder
August 10, 2021

They’ve already been in involved in a number of media programmes and events. That’s a lot to get done (i.e., establishing a network, participating on [10 – 13] panels, podcasts, etc., and organizing a conference [BE-STEMM conference for January 30 – February 2, 2022], developing sponsorships, putting together a website, and more) in a little over 18 months.

Funding, conference, award-winning CBC programme

They must have gotten money from somewhere and while they don’t spell it out, you can find out more about the CBSN’s sponsors (i.e., funders and other supporters) here. As one would expect, you’ll find the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the Natural Research Council of Canada (NRC), and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

Information about the BE-STEMM Conference (January 30 – February 2, 2022) can be found here,

We are pleased to announce our first annual conference for Black Excellence in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine/Health (BE-STEMM 2022).

This virtual, interdisciplinary conference will highlight established and rising star Black Canadians in STEMM fields through plenary talks and concurrent talks sessions. Three days of academic programming will be anchored by a fourth day dedicated to leadership summits aimed at sharing best practices for actions supporting justice for Black Canadians in STEMM across sectors, educational levels, professional roles, and intersectional identities. Other highlights include a career fair, public panels and talks, and sessions featuring research of high school and undergraduate students.

Funded by grants from CIHR, NRC, NSERC, FRQNT [Fonds de recherche du Québec], and supported by MITACS [Canadian, national, not-for-profit organization designing and delivering research and training programs] and several academic partners, this bilingual, accessible conference invites all to attend. Black Canadians, Indigenous Canadians, and Allies of all identities from across the STEMM landscape are welcome. Visit this site often for more details on how to participate or become a sponsor.

The timing for the establishment of a Canadian Black Scientists Network couldn’t be much better. Just months after the July 2020 meeting, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) radio broadcasts a February 16, 2021 interview featuring Maydianne Andrade and Kevin Hewitt, co-founders of the Canadian Black Scientists Network, on the Mainstreet NS [news stories?] with Jeff Douglas.

On February 27, 2021, CBC’s Quirks and Quarks radio programme broadcasts an award-winning, three-part special “Black in science: The legacy of racism in science and how Black scientists are moving the dial,” which featured an interview with Angela Saini (author of 2019’s SUPERIOR; The Return of Race Science), as well as, Prof Maydianne CB Andrade (CBSN Inaugural President & Co-Founder), and many others.

The 2021 AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) Kavli Science Journalism Award for “Black in science …,” was announced November 10, 2021,

Audio

Gold Award:

Amanda Buckiewicz and Nicole Mortillaro

CBC/Radio-Canada

“Quirks & Quarks: Black in science special”

Feb. 27, 2021

Buckiewicz and Mortillaro, producers for a special edition of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s long-running “Quirks & Quarks” program, looked at the past and future of Black people in science. The episode examined the history of biased and false “race science” that led to misunderstanding and mistreatment of Black people by the scientific and medical community, creating obstacles for them to participate in the scientific process. Buckiewicz and Mortillaro spoke to Black researchers about their work and how they are trying to increase recognition for the contributions of Black scientists and build more opportunities and representation across all disciplines of science. Judge Alexandra Witze, a freelance science journalist, called the program “unflinching in describing science’s racist history, such as how Carl Linnaeus classified people by skin color and how Black scientists have been intentionally marginalized and pushed out of research.” Through a variety of interviews with expert sources, she said, the episode illuminates the work required to make science more equitable. Rich Monastersky, chief features editor for Nature in Washington, D.C., said: “The show explored the difficult and important topic of racism in science—from its historical roots to the impact that it still has and to the ways that researchers are combating the problem. It should be required listening for all students studying science—as well as practicing scientists.” Commenting on the award, Buckiewicz and Mortillaro said: “We often think of the practice of science as being this unflappable, objective quest for knowledge, but it’s about time that we face some hard truths about the way science has been misused to justify the mistreatment of generations of people. With this radio special we really wanted to shed light on the long legacy of racism in science and unpack some of the ways we can do science better.”

Congratulations to Amanda Buckiewicz and Nicole Mortillaro; good luck to the CBSN; and thank you to Alon Eisenstein (https://twitter.com/AlonEisenstein) for the November 20, 2021 tweet that led me to the CBSN.

Director of nanotechnology centre removed after alleged casteist comments

I am covering this because the study of science does not insulate anyone from issues of discrimination. In fact, there is a long standing use of science to defend discrimination and, in some cases, the elimination of some groups perceived as substandard. Eugenics and race science come to mind.

For any Canadians who may still feel a little smug, it might be useful to note that the highly revered Tommy Douglas (1904 -1986), the father of universal health care in Canada, had an interest in eugenics and wrote a master’s thesis proposing its use. From his Wikipedia entry, Note: Links have been removed,

Douglas graduated from Brandon College in 1930, and completed his Master of Arts degree in sociology at McMaster University in 1933. His thesis, entitled The Problems of the Subnormal Family, endorsed eugenics.[15] The thesis proposed a system that would have required couples seeking to marry to be certified as mentally and morally fit. Those deemed to be “subnormal”, because of low intelligence, moral laxity, or venereal disease would be sent to state farms or camps; while those judged to be mentally defective or incurably diseased would be sterilized.[16]

Douglas rarely mentioned his thesis later in his life, and his government never enacted eugenics policies, even though two official reviews of Saskatchewan’s mental health system recommended such a program when he became Premier and Minister of Health. As Premier, Douglas opposed the adoption of eugenics laws.[16] By the time Douglas took office in 1944, many people questioned eugenics due to Nazi Germany’s embrace of it in its effort to create a “master race”.[17] Instead, Douglas implemented vocational training for the mentally handicapped and therapy for those suffering from mental disorders.[18][a]

Douglas seems to have quietly abandoned eugenics as a solution to social problems at some point after 1933.

Before moving onto the alleged casteist comments, a little bit about the caste system.

Caste and science

Here’s what I found about the caste system and race science in the Caste system in India Wikipedia entry, Note: Links have been removed,

Castes are rigid social groups characterized by hereditary transmission of life style, occupation and social status. The caste system in India has its origins in ancient India, and was transformed by various ruling elites in medieval, early-modern, and modern India, especially the Mughal Empire and the British Raj.[1][2][3][4] The caste system consists of two different concepts, varna and jati, which may be regarded as different levels of analysis.

The term caste is not originally an Indian word, though it is now widely used, both in English and in Indian languages. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it is derived from the Portuguese casta, meaning “race, lineage, breed” and, originally, “‘pure or unmixed (stock or breed)”.[30] There is no exact translation in Indian languages, but varna and jati are the two most approximate terms.[31]

Race science

Colonial administrator Herbert Hope Risley, an exponent of race science, used the ratio of the width of a nose to its height to divide Indians into Aryan and Dravidian races, as well as seven castes.[164]

Highly charged

A November 7, 2021news item in The Times of India breaks the story, Note: Links have been removed,

Mahatma Gandhi University on Saturday [November 6, 2021] removed Dr Nandakumar Kalarikkal from the post of the director of the International and Inter University Centre for Nano Science and Nano technology (IIUCNN) for alleged caste discrimination against a research scholar.

The vice-chancellor of the university Sabu Thomas has taken charge as the director of the centre.

The university is learned to have made the decision based on a directive from the state government. Deepa P Mohanan, a research scholar, who has been on an indefinite hunger strike in the varsity, had demanded Kalarikkal’s removal from the department alleging that she faced discrimination based on caste from him and that he prevented her from doing her research.

The action against the faculty member has been taken even as the hunger strike by the student entered the ninth day on Saturday [November 6, 2021].

Thomas said that Kalarikkal has stepped down and that the decision was made after holding talks with Kalarikkal based on a directive from the government.

“Kalarikkal is a brilliant faculty member. He was willing to step down,” the vice chancellor said. He also said that nobody can remove Kalarikkal as a faculty member, adding that he will be [sic] continue to serve in the centre as well as in the Physics department.

Earlier in the day, minister for higher education R Bindu had signalled her support to the student.

In a Facebook post the minister said that the government has asked the university what is stopping it from removing the professor and conduct [sic] a probe.

A November 8, 2021 news item on The Quint provides a followup to the story,

Deepa P Mohanan, a Dalit PhD scholar at the Mahatma Gandhi University (MGU) in Kottayam, Kerala, on Monday, 8 November [2021], finally withdrew her hunger strike. …

… Mohanan claims that for the last 10 years, her progress is being scuttled by the director of the institute, Nandakumar Kalarickal, allegedly because she is a Dalit.

Professor Nandakumar who was earlier removed from the director’s post, has now been removed from the university’s nanoscience department.

A few thoughts

Mohanan certainly found a very powerful way to protest; her hunger strike at the Mahatma Gandhi University had to have resonated with officials and bystanders.

For anyone not familiar with Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948), he was India’s first prime minister after leading India to freedom from British rule with nonviolent protests (including hunger strikes).

With regard to the allegations, I imagine there will be some further investigation. Should I hear more about the matter, I will update this posting.

In the end, this situation is a reminder that science is not practised by flawless people and can be prey to the same social problems one encounters everywhere.,