Fermilab Concedes to Woke Physicists

Christopher Sanfilippo

This article was originally published by the Washington Examiner and is republished here with permission.


Physicists at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, known as Fermilab, look at the smallest scales and greatest expanses of the universe. Known for its powerful particle accelerator, Fermilab epitomizes American physics research. But after accusations of racism, a group of woke physicists now controls the lab.

Last summer, Change–Now presented a 17-page list of demands to the Fermilab Directorate. It claimed that "anti-Black racism and other elements of white supremacy ... are embedded within structures at Fermilab." They envision a new Fermilab "that prioritizes humanity over productivity."

Herman White, a tenured black physicist who worked at Fermilab from 1971 to 2019, questions this perception: “If they’re saying African Americans aren’t welcome [at Fermilab], then I disagree. I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s in Tuskegee, Alabama, and people shot at our houses to stop us from integrating.” White’s account of his experience at Fermilab bears no resemblance to the white supremacist dystopia Change–Now describes.

Among their demands, they ask that black scientists be paid for voluntary social justice work. They want the activism of Fermilab employees to be funded by the government. They demand the absurd: "We call for hiring Black people into scientific and leadership positions in the laboratory to produce full representation (15%) within three years ... [but] they cannot all be cis-hetero Black men."

Fermilab employs 298 scientists. The most granular data says that 3.8% are either black or Latino, so probably around 1% are black. To attain a 15-fold increase, Fermilab would have to hire dozens of black scientists. Even if diversity was the sole goal in hiring, 15% representation within three years would be impossible: On average, black people receive only nine Ph.D.s in physics each year. The number of new noncis-hetero black male physicists doubtless averages fewer than one a year. Because black people earn 1% of physics Ph.D.s, the demographics of Fermilab scientists reflect the demographics of those qualified for the job.

Their ideology distorts reality to find racism everywhere. During the riots last summer, Fermilab urged its employees to "reject racism and lack of inclusion.' It also wrote that there is a "spectrum of views on these events represented at the lab, and all thoughtful and constructive views should be respected."

Predictably, Change–Now condemned the statement as "racist, insensitive, and harmful." It is racist, they write, to suggest that hiring black scientists would benefit the lab, as it contributes to the 'commodification of Blackness."

They reveal themselves as radically intolerant: "The message suggests ... that many perspectives (‘a spectrum of views’) are equally valid. This is incorrect ... [The existence of white supremacy] is a fact that is not open for debate. Just as gravity holds us to the Earth, white supremacy holds down Black individuals in our institutions and communities."

Nigel Lockyer, director of Fermilab, took this personal insult in stride. He said he was "disappointed" in the response of Change–Now. Unfazed by the willful misrepresentation of his words and the incoherence of the response, Lockyer succumbed without a fight. Of the four black members of Change–Now, three were promptly promoted; Brian Nord, the most vocal of the group, received tenure. Lockyer tapped Nord to lead the renewed push for diversity, saying, "Here’s the keys, and we’ll support you as much as we can."

Nord, however, has reservations about the responsibility: "It sets me up as the point of failure." But the push for diversity continues at Fermilab. It announced in May a new fellowship "open to Black and African American postdocs" and created a new position, chief equity, diversity, and inclusion officer. All told, Fermilab hired or promoted nine black scientists since last summer.

Fermilab was the first to verify the existence of top and bottom quarks — the particles that constitute protons and neutrons. If Fermilab leadership concedes to radical demands for diversity, such monumental contributions will doubtless become less frequent. These woke physicists champion diversity at the expense of quality research.

Lockyer should resist the harmful demands of Change–Now, which endanger the very purpose of Fermilab. He should reject the unscientific notion that lack of diversity at Fermilab evinces racism and preserve a meritocratic evaluation of scientists. Ultimately, Lockyer must decide whether Fermilab’s purpose is social justice or good science.

Christopher Sanfilippo is a research associate at the National Association of Scholars investigating diversity in the sciences.


By Z22 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42266003

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