JUN 16, 2020 7:49 AM PDT

German Chemistry Journal Threw Away Anti-Diversity Commentary Piece

WRITTEN BY: Daniel Duan


On June 4th, a commentary titled"'Organic synthesis-Where Now?' Is Thirty Years Old. A Reflection on the Current State of Affairs", briefly showed up on the website of Angewandte Chemie. The flagship publication of the German Chemical Society has since removed the article due to complaints about its backward idealogy and offensive opinions on women and ethnic minorities.

As a rebuttal to the widespread criticism, the author Tomáš Hudlický, a senior chemistry professor at Canada's Brock University, insisted that his words "were totally taken out of context". For those who are curious about what the article entails, here a glimpse:

In the last two decades many groups and/or individuals have been designated with "preferential status". This in spite of the fact that the percentage of women and minorities in academia and pharmaceutical indutry has greatly increased. It follows that, in a social equilibrium, preferrential treatment of one group leads to disadvantagesfor another. New ideologies have appeared and influenced hiring practices, promotion, funding, and recognition of certain groups. Each candidate should have an equal opportunity to secure a position, regardless of personal identification/categorization. The rise and emphasis on hiring practices that suggest or even mandate equality in terms of absolute numbers of people in specific subgroups is counter-productive if it results in discrimination against the most meritorious candidates. Such practice affectsthe format of interviews and has led to the emergence of mandatory "training workshops" on gender equity, inclusion, diversity, and discrimination". 

Hudlický went on to address what he considers as a "problem" with equity and diversity-focused direction most institutes are moving toward: 

An example of focusing on "underrepresented minorities" can be seen in the recently established "Power Hour" at Gordon Research Conferences. While this effort is commendable in order to increase the participation of women in science it diminishes the contributions by men (or any other group). Universities have established various centers for "Equity, Diversity and Inclusion", complete with mandatory seminars and training. These issues have influenced hiring practices to the point where the candidate's inclusion in one of the preferred social groups may override his or her qualifications.

In the face of the large volume of worldwide backlash, Angewandte Chemie responded with a series of swift actions, including retracting the article, issuing a public apology, suspending two senior editors, and removing two referees from their list of peer reviewers.

But for some members in the journal's advisory board, these were just too little too late. Sixteen of them, including Frances H. Arnold, a 2018 Chemistry Nobel Laureate, resigned due to the incident. In a joint statement, they stated the obvious to the majority in the science community: "This moment in history demands actions that are highly visible. This action (their resignation) is intended to call as much attention as possible to the clear need for drastic change at Angewandte Chemie".

Even though most of us are working toward a more inclusive and equal world, some members of academia (as well as the public) still hold onto the idea of "good old days", which is neither surprising nor uncommon. However, what Hudlický advocates for in his misguided essay, a purely merit-based evaluation system disregarding gender and social background, is the main fallacy in his view.  

Meritocracy (The School of Life)

Meritocracy is the ideology in which economic and political power is assigned to individuals based on their talent, effort, and achievement. The feudalism-fighting notion was created to dismantle the system of nobility and wealth. However, by treating individuals of biased backgrounds as the same, meritocracy overlooks one's inherent advantages or disadvantages, which can drive inequality further. 

The current state of organic chemistry, or even science as a whole, is far from perfection. In fact, the scarcity of funding, the shortage of employment opportunity, research ethic scandles, as well as harassing behaviors have been plaguing both academic and industrial scientific organizations. But the difficulties we are facing shouldn't be an excuse for one to turn their discontent into desperation, then comtempt. The best way to solve our problems should involve all members of the community.    

Source: Retraction Watch

About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
Graduated with a bachelor degree in Pharmaceutical Science and a master degree in neuropharmacology, Daniel is a radiopharmaceutical and radiobiology expert based in Ottawa, Canada. With years of experience in biomedical R&D, Daniel is very into writing. He is constantly fascinated by what's happening in the world of science. He hopes to capture the public's interest and promote scientific literacy with his trending news articles. The recurring topics in his Chemistry & Physics trending news section include alternative energy, material science, theoretical physics, medical imaging, and green chemistry.
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