Black Lives Matter in ecology and evolution

A draft of our upcoming editorial for commenting

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This editorial is a draft, with a final version to appear after feedback from the community. It is the result of our thinking over the last few troubling weeks but specifically the result of having spent Wednesday 10th June reading and reflecting as part of #ShutDownSTEM. We do not expect our colleagues in the wider research community, particularly our Black colleagues, to do the work of telling us what to say. It is important that we as privileged white editors shout our support for #BlackLivesMatter, and it is even more important that we follow our words with actions. However, as editors of this journal we have a privileged platform from which to speak, and we want to reflect the concerns and priorities of the diverse members of the community. In particular, we want to listen with humility. That is why we are taking the unusual step of publishing this editorial as a draft for others to comment on if they so wish. We will not be able to accommodate all comments, especially if they contradict each other, and the final version will remain the word of the editors, but all comments entered below will be visible to the community.

We are a team of six editors (one on maternity leave who was not involved in writing this), all of whom are white. We are the only editors to have worked on this journal in its relatively short life. We believe that the whole scientific and publishing worlds need to acknowledge and take drastic actions to correct the systemic racism that discriminates against Black researchers.

It is tragic that we are saying these things now, after the horrific deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others both in the US and the rest of the world (for example Stephen Lawrence in the UK and Joao Pedro Matos Pinto in Brazil). We should have been loudly challenging racism in all aspects of our lives, with words and deeds, for decades. It is not as if we were not well aware of the suffering of our Black fellow citizens, and our failure up to this point is shaming.  It should also be clearly recognised that this is not just an American problem. Almost all countries, and particularly those European countries with a long history of colonial exploitation, are riddled with structural racism. The recent and belated removal of a few racist statues in the UK and Belgium is just one headline-grabbing indication of this.

These huge failings in society are mirrored in science, and in some aspects are even more acute. We, the ecology and evolution community, now need to act, as individual citizens, as researchers and teachers; and Nature Ecology & Evolution needs to act as a journal.

As citizens, those of us who do not experience racism directly need to be active allies. We should offer practical and financial help, but we should not expect or hog the limelight. We should be loud when it helps to champion those with lived experience, but defer to their voices. There is useful guidance in places such as here (US-focused) and here (UK-focused). We should be constantly asking questions about diversity and inclusion in every project, event or day-to-day interaction we are involved with, and should not leave doing so as another burden for our Black friends and colleagues (see here for an example of this burden in academia). We should be actively questioning our own motives and biases in all our decision-making. We should write to political representatives, institutions and corporations to challenge them to be actively anti-racist.

As scientists, we have choices about who we hire, who we collaborate with, who we cite and what we teach. Admitting students and recruiting junior researchers and faculty is perhaps where the biggest failing of academic institutions occurs. It is not acceptable to fall back on the assertion that race does not exist genetically, that we are not biased, or that are we ‘colour-blind’. Race exists as a very real social construct. We need to reach out beyond those who naturally apply for positions as the end result of systemically racist social and educational structures that consistently disadvantage minorities. When we collaborate, when we cite and when we allocate funding, we should actively look for researchers outside the prestigious white-dominated institutions that are so often our first port of call. When we teach ecology and evolution, we do not teach in a historical vacuum. We constantly reference the individuals who developed particular concepts and we should make sure we highlight the contributions of Black scientists (for example, to evolution (here and here) or animal behaviour). We also need to confront the racist history of most fields of science and undertake a programme of decolonisation (examples from anthropology, genetics, ecology and conservation). And we need to pay specific attention to the mentoring needs of students and early career researchers from underrepresented groups, and take steps to counter any financial burdens they may be experiencing.

As a journal, we pledge to take action. This is not the place for special pleadings on what we have already done, so we note it only to illustrate our failings. We have taken action to increase the diversity of our authors and reviewers, but this has focused predominantly on gender, and secondarily on geography. We have not taken specific action on race, mistakenly thinking this would come about as an intersectional byproduct.

We need to take increased steps to ensure submissions from non-white authors are treated fairly. We do not currently have the set-up to document race or ethnicity of authors formally in our submission system, and this is something we will advocate for within the wider structure of Nature Research. In the meantime, as an imperfect solution, we now ask authors, if they wish, to self-identify in their cover letters. We undertake to add an extra layer of editorial insight to such submissions and will endeavour to provide additional feedback to those that are rejected without peer review. We will increase our effort to represent Black voices in our commissioned content and publish more content that discusses diversity. We will use our Q&A section exclusively to showcase underrepresented groups at all career stages, and would welcome interested researchers contacting us to take part. We will set up a channel on our community site to discuss diversity and inclusion, and particularly encourage lab groups to discuss topics related to race and report their findings on that channel. We will direct our outreach activities towards institutes that are not white-dominated, and actively look for opportunities to talk to minority groups and individuals about publishing in Nature journals and editorial careers. We will not take part in all-white (or all-male) panel discussions. We will add further checks to our editorial processes for appropriate language relating to race in our published content. We will use our influence to push for changes within Springer Nature and the wider publishing industry, such as formal anti-racist policies to empower those who speak out, more positive hiring efforts to diversify the workforce, and the prioritisation of underrepresented groups when allocating funding and sponsorship.

Finally, we undertake to continue to fight racism and discriminatory structures as an ongoing process, and we will report on our progress in future editorials.

If you prefer not to comment publically on this post, please send feedback by email to p.goymer@nature.com. Please also feel free to comment on Twitter, although comments entered below his post will be easier for others to find in the long term.

Patrick Goymer

Chief Editor, Nature Ecology & Evolution

Patrick joined Nature Publishing Group in 2005 as an Assistant Editor at Nature Reviews Genetics and Nature Reviews Cancer. In 2008 he moved to Nature, where he served as Senior Editor covering ecology and evolution, before becoming Chief Editor of Nature Ecology & Evolution in 2016. He has handled primary manuscripts and review articles across the entire breadth of ecology and evolution, as well as advising and writing for other sections of Nature. Patrick has a degree in genetics from the University of Cambridge, did his DPhil in experimental evolution at the University of Oxford, and did postdoctoral work on evolutionary and ecological genetics at University College London in association with Imperial College London at Silwood Park.

3 Comments

Go to the profile of Don Gifford
Don Gifford 6 months ago

"We will direct our outreach activities towards institutes that are not white-dominated ... We will not take part in all-white (or all-male) panel discussions."

If the above actions are adhered to it will be a major step towards creating a more inclusive community.  It is a powerful philosophy that should be established as policy. Perhaps you can be a guiding light for others to follow.  I pray that the above statement is retained in your final editorial and becomes the centerpiece of your efforts to become more inclusive.

Go to the profile of Angie NMNH
Angie NMNH 5 months ago

This editorial ultimately misses the main point: we cannot achieve any sort of equality in ecology & evolution until we hold individuals and institutions accountable for their racism, complicity, and cowardice. This editorial has basically nothing to say accountability for white (and other privileged groups of) people. This editorial also says pretty much nothing about the policies of research institutions and funding agencies; if Springer Nature has perfect policies in place, but universities and funders continue to enable racists, then little progress can be made.

Accountability

The paragraph that begins with "As scientists, we have choices about who we hire, who we collaborate with, who we cite and what we teach" is all about choosing to collaborate with Black people and members of other underrepresented groups. Collaborating with Black colleagues is not enough; white scientists must also commit to *not* collaborate with their racist colleagues. (And to warn students about their racist colleagues, and to vote against racist professors in their departments receiving tenure.)

This paragraph perpetuates the myth that the lack of diversity in STEM is strictly a "pipeline problem" that can be solved by putting a more diverse group of graduate students into the "pipeline." But we know that this isn't true because countless Black academics have said so: Black academics say that they leave academia, including leaving tenured positions, because of the racism they experience. ("I made the difficult decision to leave my faculty position at an academic medical center after more than nine years there because of a toxic and oppressive work environment that instilled in me fear of retaliation for being vocal about racism and sexism within the institution." https://www.statnews.com/2020/01/16/black-doctors-leaving-faculty-positions-academic-medical-centers/ ) Black scientists are saying that the "pipeline" metaphor should be replaced by the phrase "vicious obstacle course," and I believe it behooves the NEE editorial board to talk about accountability efforts that will reduce this viciousness.

It is not only ineffective, but also downright cruel, to tell more Black students to enter a profession that will hold their blackness against them. The solution is to turn the study of ecology and evolution into a career that all Black people will feel safe pursuing.

Similarly, this editorial says nothing about how NEE will hold its editors accountable. Once NEE has more demographic data about authors, the journal can ask obvious questions that aren't mentioned here. Do NEE editors accept manuscripts written by Black authors at similar rates to manuscripts written by white authors? Do NEE editors give more second chances (e.g., reject-and resubmit instead of outright rejection, multiple rounds of major revision) to white authors than to Black and Indigenous authors of color?

Institutions

This editorial mentions structural racism, but the proposed solutions aren't particularly structural. The editorial says, "We will not take part in all-white (or all-male) panel discussions." That's nice. But if a diverse panel is held at a conference with an inadequate code of conduct (for example, one such as that of the National Association of Science Writers, which doesn't guarantee confidentiality and doesn't mention conflicts of interest), then NEE editors' participation in the panel will cause harm through the normalization of inadequate responses to bigotry.

The Smithsonian Institution houses the largest collections related to ecology & evolution in the United States. Its policy officially does not allow students or postdoctoral fellows to go through with the formal reporting process if they experience harassment or discrimination. ( https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1gavzne-uDCogWBN8MvC2K17-PzTHGsny ) The National Science Foundation (NSF), the main funding agency in the United States, has an extremely limited harassment and discrimination policy. ( https://medium.com/@AngieNmnh/nsfs-ongoing-failure-to-address-discrimination-harassment-in-science-f5fcc5310fe7 ) If a technician whose salary is funded entirely by an NSF grant is caught on camera using racial slurs against an NSF-funded student, NSF policy will only allow ramifications for this racism in the highly unlikely event that the technician is listed as a Principal Investigator or co-Principal Investigator.

The scientists who review grants for NSF are the most obvious candidates for holding NSF accountable, but that won't happen anytime soon - these grant reviewers also rely on NSF to fund their research. Therefore, journals such as NEE are in a unique position to hold NSF accountable with minimal blowback. If NEE editors are serious about their commitment to anti-racism, they should bring attention to this issue. I would be glad to provide more information as requested.

Go to the profile of Patrick Goymer
Patrick Goymer 5 months ago

There are some other comments on the twitter thread: https://twitter.com/NatureEcoEvo/status/1271007622423076865?s=20