On Oct. 9, the Prize in Economic Sciences, the final Nobel Prize of the year, was awarded to Richard H. Thaler, yet another white male in the string of Nobel winners for 2017. This year’s awardees truly demonstrated the lack of diversity in higher academia, with all of the laureates being male, and all but one being white. A roster like this perpetuates the idea that white males are to be at the forefront of science and technology, which discourages the academic pursuits of those who do not fit these demographics.
Of the prize winners, we see 10 white men and one Japanese man. While their accomplishments are truly ingenious, our academic trailblazers of the year are nearly indistinguishable. This aligns properly with the history of the prestigious award, seeing that, since the start of the 21st century, there have only been 19 female laureates. Of those 19 women, only six were awarded a prize in physics, chemistry and physiology or medicine, also known as the hard sciences. Even more frustrating is the lack of black recognition, seeing that there have only been only six black laureates since 2001 and 16 prize winners in total. Of these 16 black laureates, none have been awarded a prize in a hard science. If you combine these two demographics, you can see that there have only been three black women awarded the Nobel Prize.
The lack of diversity does not end there. Since 2001, there have been 13 Japanese laureates, seven Muslim laureates, six Chinese laureates, three Indian laureates and two Latino and Hispanic laureates. Going even further, we have never seen laureates who do not identify as heterosexual, cisgender or fully able.
When I look at the list of 2017 laureates, I do not feel inspired. I, a woman, am less likely to be recognized for my efforts in academics than a man. If I were to pursue a scientific field, I would have to struggle more than most to gain a foothold. I will not have the same opportunities to reach the top, and once I get there, I will not have the same opportunities to be recognized for my efforts. So why even bother trying? We are told to aim higher, to work harder, but are discouraged from trying when we see what limited benefits our efforts yield. This cycle is the reality of minorities around the world, and with different layers of minority come more restrictions.
Prestigious institutions that award academic prizes need to understand the direct impact their selections have on our society. Our future cannot rely upon the research and innovation of white men because our world and its viewpoints are not uniform. If we wish to reach our full potential in research and discovery, then we must encourage people of all backgrounds to participate.
Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them. Email Tyler Crews at [email protected]
A version of this appeared in the Monday, Oct. 16 print edition.