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Limitations to Scientist-Led DEI+ Intiatives: an Interview Study

Presentation #320.04 in the session Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility in Planetary Science (Oral Presentation)

Published onOct 23, 2023
Limitations to Scientist-Led DEI+ Intiatives: an Interview Study

DEI+ work in the Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences has increased in recent years, with both Decadal surveys addressing issues of workforce composition and development [1,2]. To a considerable degree, however, this is observedly advanced by scientists in the field rather than external experts or social scientists. We present the results of thirty-one structured interviews in the spring of 2022 conducted with scientists working on diversity initiatives within these fields, to investigate how DEI+ work is currently conceived and how its effectiveness might be improved.

All of our participants explained their interest in diversity initiatives as due to personal experience. Being one of few women or people of color suggested “an obvious need for something.” Others spoke of witnessing the ill treatment of their colleagues. Despite these shared experiences, scientists gravitated to quantitative data [as in 3,4]. They reported their preference for “tracking” numbers, statistics, and quantitative measurement. This appealed to the sensibility of scientific objectivity, and the idea that quantitative data can “really inform us as to whatever topics we’re trying to really understand.

Scientists’ data collection posed several limitations. Absent survey analysis techniques, causal reasoning was absent [5]. Resistance to interview data denied qualitative analysis [6]. Despite scientists’ cultural “trust in numbers,” [7], such counts do provide insight into causal origins or potential solutions. As a scientist expressed, “we might not know how to analyze the data…because we don’t have that training.” While many sought training through specialized programs, journal clubs or reading initiatives, they admitted to limitations of this self-training alongside their continued professional commitments.

Social theory, quantitative and qualitative reasoning in the social sciences can point to group mechanisms and to solutions. In their absence, we suggest that homegrown diversity efforts in the planetary and astrophysical scientists are at risk. Future work in this domain should seek opportunities to cross-train social and physical scientists to harness the power of experience and numbers to the betterment and diversification of the sciences.

Refs. [1] Pathways to Discovery (NAP 2021). [2] Origins, Worlds and Life (NAP 2022). [3] Rivera-Valentín, E. et al. (2020) DPS 52:502.07. [4] Rathbun, J. et al. (2021) DPS 43: 435. [5] Gelman, A. (2011) AJS 117:955-966. [6] Small, M. (2013) AJS 119:597-601. [7] Porter, T. Trust In Numbers (Princeton, 1995).

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