Black Lives Count: Toward Accountability in Efforts to Diversify Computing

Damian Rouson, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

In April, the United States presidential administration announced a whole-of-government effort focused largely on gathering and increasing access to disaggregated data on the experiences of historically underserved groups. The importance of disaggregating the data on specific subpopulations can easily be overlooked in efforts that target diversity broadly. Drawing inspiration from astrophysics, this talk will focus on data and analyses related to the hiring of a specific population that is underrepresented in scientific research: African-American doctoral degree holders. Using the Drake equation to frame the discussion, the talk will address the extent to which the search for African-American terrestrial intelligence (SATI) can be understood through the analytical lens of the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence (SETI). With this framing, we will tackle an oft-cited cause for underrepresentation, the pipeline, in light of statistical arguments suggesting the implausibility that pipeline problems fully explain the observed underrepresentation in some elite settings. The talk will briefly touch some unexpected benefits of involving a more diverse population in science, arguing that diverse groups both do scientific research differently and do different scientific research. The talk will conclude with a call for accountability through disaggregating data in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives.