Biden picks diversity maven to oversee largest funder of the physical sciences in the US
Heather Mac Donald warns us that the quality of scientific research in the United States is in peril, in a must-read essay titled "Diversity Over Discovery," with the subtitle "Biden's war on merit puts America's scientific edge at risk." The immediate subject of concern is President Biden's appointment
... to head the Department of Energy's Office of Science, the largest funder of the physical sciences in the U.S., is a soil geologist at the University of California, Merced. She has no background in physics, the science of energy, or the energy sector. She has never held a position as a scientific administrator. The typical head of DOE's Office of Science in the past has had managerial authority in the nation's major physics labs and has been a physicist himself, Science reports. The new nominee's only managerial experience consists of serving since 2020 as an interim associate dean of UC Merced's graduate division.
Asmeret Asefaw Berhe is, however, a black female who has won "accolades for her work to promote diversity in science," as Science puts it. Berhe would be the first black woman to head the $7 billion office, and that is reason enough, according to the diversity mantra, why she should oversee X-ray synchrotrons, the development of nuclear weapons, and ongoing research on nuclear fusion. Her nomination requires Senate confirmation; if Berhe will not commit to hiring and grantmaking on the basis of scientific expertise alone, irrespective of race and sex, senators should vote her appointment down.
Alas, I doubt that Dr. Berhe's confirmation vote will cause her any heartburn at all, if for no other reason than voting against a Black female gets one branded as a racist misogynist — even though the area of scientific research she will oversee is directly related to our national security and ought to be one of the areas in which merit is the sole legitimate criterion for allocating funding.
More and more, the present-day United States is starting to resemble China during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, the decade or so between 1966 and 1976. China's universities closed down as Red Guards — radical youths acting as mobs like BLM and Antifa — persecuted intellectuals, those with "bad class origins" (the Chinese equivalent of white supremacists as an object of resentment and vilification). Anyone who stood in the way of them implementing Mao's vision of a new order for China, one totally divorced from the corrupt past, with its "feudal" reliance on Confucianism, had to be swept away.
The results were disastrous, with famine, economic collapse, and the loss of a priceless heritage with libraries ransacked, temples burned. At the time, the debate was cast as "Red versus Expert," meaning that those who were fully "red" and devoted to implementing Mao's thought were to be favored over those who merely mastered the jobs in which they were supposed to be toiling. It is a perfect analogue to prioritizing diversity over merit, especially so when the "bad" class background of one's parents and family, something over which no one has any say, became a determinant of one's redness.
Mac Donald notes that this DOE appointment is but the latest chapter in Biden's war on merit:
The Biden administration's war on merit is being waged at an unprecedented rate. The White House is not submitting its judicial nominees to the American Bar Association for evaluation because the ABA may not be sufficiently attuned to the benefits of judicial "diversity," the administration has explained. The ABA has been on the diversity bandwagon for years, however, and has become a thoroughly woke institution. If the Biden team thinks that its "diverse" judicial nominees could not even pass ABA muster, then it must anticipate bending traditional notions of legal competence beyond all recognition. (Republican presidents since George W. Bush have refrained from seeking ABA evaluations in light of the group's regularly demonstrated bias against originalist judges.)
The anti-meritocratic diversity push on the federal bench will undercut the caliber of our jurisprudence and, with it, the rule of law. But the subjection of scientific research to the requirement of race and sex parity threatens future human progress. Such parity can be achieved only by sacrificing intellectual standards. An electrical engineer at a prestigious California university compares Berhe's nomination to "putting a newspaper delivery boy in charge of Google." Theoretical physicist Alessandro Strumia warns that by choosing scientific leadership according to a political agenda, "science itself risks becoming another form of covert political activism."
China learned its lesson well, and these days is as ruthless a meritocracy as can be found on the planet. The Communist Party these days goes out of its way to recruit the talented and brilliant. Ideological fealty to anything Mao did or said is a non-factor.
China was able to recover from the madness of the Cultural Revolution and the other insanities of Marxism with the support of the capitalist countries, including the United States. Once Deng Xiaoping gained power after Mao's death and implemented reforms aimed at loosening the hold of ideology, Western powers eagerly helped China along, even welcoming it into GATT and tolerating wholesale theft of intellectual property on the mistaken bet that prosperity would lead to political reform and ultimately something resembling Western democracies.
As the United States descends into some version of the Cultural Revolution, China's aims are not nearly as benign. It is aggressively expanding its military power and territorial claims. For powerful historical reasons, China sees itself as the natural hegemon of the world — as it was for millennia before Westerners discovered that gunpowder could be put to work powering weapons that could defeat more traditional militaries. Westerners brought mass opium addiction and political disintegration upon China, starting with the Opium Wars in the early 17th century, and China was humiliated in ways that most of us can barely comprehend.
It is going to take everything we've got to compete with 1.4 billion Chinese people eager to restore China to global pre-eminence at our expense. Handicapping our scientific capabilities by elevating diversity over expertise portends defeat.
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