The federal government allocated $2.14 million to “root” out alleged oppression in… plant sciences.

The National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Biological Sciences recently awarded $2.14 million to the American Society of Plant Biologists for the development of a multi-organization research coordination network called ROOT and SHOOT,” The College Fix reported. “ROOT stands for Rooting Out Oppression Together. And SHOOT? SHaring Our Outcomes Transparently.”

An abstract for the award stated that the “demographic distribution of scientists, especially those in positions of authority, does not reflect that of the US population.”

“Some of the causes of this disparity are known, such as a lack of role models and the tendency for people to look within their own circles when they recruit, appoint, and promote. This award will provide resources, trainings, opportunities, and structures that will allow participating plant science and affiliated organizations to change that construct,” the abstract added, according to the Fix.

The award came after the National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Biological Sciences (NSF BIO) released a Dear Colleague letter last year encouraging “professional societies to submit proposals to develop collaborative networks for facilitating cultural changes in the biological sciences to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

The letter also stated that the NSF BIO “recognizes culture change in the biological sciences as an urgent priority and is committed to supporting efforts that use evidence-based practices to remove barriers for individuals historically excluded from science.”

The letter called for organizations to submit proposals that “build networks to generate the changes needed to broaden participation within academic and professional spheres of the biological sciences.”

As the Fix noted, the letter did not provide any details examples about how biological sciences create or maintain barriers for minorities, nor did it provide details about how focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion – rather than, say, merit – benefits science.

The Fix also reported that Mary Williams, principle investigator for the ROOT program, announced the grant award in a blog post, calling the program “bold,” “radical,” and “innovative.

“[T]ogether we will get to the root of the systematic oppressions that lie within our organizations, so that they can regrow as truly inclusive spaces,” she wrote.

She added:

Our objectives are to 1) make a Bold Start by establishing an inclusive operational path for the RCN [research coordination network], and immediately addressing known climate and cultural deficiencies together; 2) to Dig Deeper by developing and implementing tools for self-assessments of community cultures and structures, and 3) to Reach for the Sky by identifying areas for equity action, and designing, implementing, and assessing interventions.

A more detailed abstract for the ROOT and SHOOT program on the NSF website says that the program will create and provide “web pages, guides, workshops, webinars, and action plans”  to increase diversity at scientific organizations.

The millions spent are unlikely to increase diversity, as past attempts at spending money in the area have failed. Google, for example, spent $265 million between 2014 and 2017 yet still had hiring discrepancies.

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