Colorblind Science?: Perceptions of the Importance of Racial Diversity in Science Research

Kellie Owens


A large body of scientific careers literature explores the experiences of underrepresented minorities in STEM fields and why they exit the academic pipeline at various stages. These studies commonly address how to improve racial diversity in science but provide little discussion of why that diversity is important for science research. Feminist science studies scholars, on the other hand, have theorized about the importance of diversity in knowledge production for decades but provide little empirical work on how to address current disparities. My research bridges these literatures by examining how diversity programs in the sciences justify their continued funding, and how these justifications map onto contemporary theories of knowledge production. Do diversity program directors seek to increase diversity in science because of political motives, like equality and justice for racial minorities, or because they believe that racially diverse workforces will produce better science? Based on interviews with federally-funded diversity program directors at universities and archival data from these programs, I find that program directors’ responses can be classified into three categories: diversity is important politically, diversity is important pragmatically, and diversity is important epistemically. About half of the respondents found diversity to be important for the content of scientific knowledge. I argue that studying diversity in scientific knowledge production is different than studying the impacts of diversity in other fields due to current conceptions of scientific objectivity. Scholarship on scientific knowledge production can help diversity program directors and science careers scholars better articulate the need for diversity programming in STEM fields.

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