Advocating for a More Diverse Research Community

Today, everyone is championing diversity. Seems this is the big buzz word finding its way in every place of employment, in every advertising campaign, among many religious institutions, and most certainly every college campus website. The science community—not to be excluded from this latest cultural trend—is similarly calling for more diversity among the research brotherhood . . . , or fellows . . . , or folks.

Much press has been generated recently concerning a study published in Nature Ecology and Evolution, examining same-sex behavior (SSB) in animals. In the article, the researchers took to task the science community for asking the question of why as opposed to why not with respect to SSB.  In other words, they challenged the notion held by most evolutionary biologists that SSB is an aberration, thereby requiring a "why" question in the first place. The better question they offer, is, why wouldn't animals engage in this behavior?

The authors opine that the constrictive why question stems from a research community lacking diversity where it matters. Co-author, Dr. Max Lambert at UC Berkeley suggests that since heterosexual men have dominated the research field historically, they are prone to projecting their own biases when collecting data, thus obscuring their ability to document and report with fidelity what they are actually observing. Lead author Julia Monk echoes this sentiment, asserting that the why vs. why not question is the unfortunate outcome of dominant cultural norms. In the paper's concluding remarks the authors state that the prevalence of, ". . . heteronormative and patriarchal Euro-American cultural norms across evolutionary biology have influenced the discussion of sexual behaviors."

Recognizing the bias of evolutionary biologists to assume that different-sex behavior (DSB) in animals is the norm, and SSB is aberrant, Ms. Monk and her colleagues have proffered a solution for improved research. Diversity. By bringing in researchers who self-identify as queer, the cultural assumptions concerning animal sexual behavior can be flipped. She adds outside disciplines such as social science can also lend a hand to better research.

Conceivably diversity could improve the way questions concerning the natural world are asked, and answered. Ms. Monk, in her displeasure of the influence of dominant cultural norms suggested these often get in the way of having a more holistic view of actual biology, adding, "It's important for us as scientists to recognize that while we'd love to think about what we do as objective, it might be really framed by our culture and context."

Diversity it seems then, is the key to more informed, and well-rounded research. I might ask Ms. Monk, would her plan for diversity be all-inclusive? In the hallowed quest to examine the biological world holistically, would she permit on her research dream-team diversity pertaining not just to sexual orientation or gender identity, but perhaps diversity of thought or world view?

Monk and colleagues presciently acknowledged how culture and context can color the way one sees the world. I wholeheartedly agree. At present, the all-encompassing Darwinian culture is setting the framework for nearly all research inquiries. I would challenge anyone to find more researchers than they can count on their hands, who are carrying out research that is not dominated by the Darwinian leviathan. Yet how many questions concerning the natural world remain unasked because researchers are not allowed to subscribe to any other world view?

The challenge for the precious few actively carrying out research not framed by the Darwinian culture and context is not that their design paradigm is necessarily flawed, rather they suffer exclusion by the very institution ("science") that purports to embrace diversity. Now while I see many in the science establishment advocating for the inclusion of transgenders and self-identifying queers, I've yet to witness any doing the same for those who express skepticism of the creative power of Darwinian processes.   

In the same way patriarchal Euro-American norms have influenced the framework by which questions regarding animal sex are asked—possibly concealing from researchers what is true concerning animal behaviors – are Darwinian norms concealing truth? What kind of secrets would the natural world tell us if we considered a design hypothesis? Is it possible that a world view embracing the notion of a designing intelligence would enable researchers to ask questions they've never even considered before? Perhaps the question regarding this is not why a design hypothesis, but why not?

Emily has had a lifelong appreciation for science, teaching, and research. She graduated summa cum laude from California State University, Fresno with a BS degree in molecular biology and a minor in cognitive psychology. As an undergraduate, she conducted summer research in immunology, microbiology, behavioral and cognitive psychology, scanning tunneling microscopy and genetics; she also published research in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, and co-authored a chapter on scanning tunneling microscopy. She is currently completing a Master’s degree in Instructional Design and Technology at University of Cincinnati and a Certificate in Apologetics with the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University. Emily has had the joy of teaching high school chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, anatomy & physiology, and pre-engineering classes over the last thirteen years. As a former Darwinian evolutionist, Emily enjoys stating the case for intellectual agency, considering the arguments posited by the intelligent design movement as much more credible than those proffered by Darwinists.

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