Dear Glenn,

Thanks for having Jim Gates on your show. Anybody who crossed paths with him back in the day easily recognized his love for math. I had to smile when I noticed that he's still wearing his MIT class ring (aka Brass Rat).

As much as I respect Jim Gates and his accomplishments, his take on diversity rang hollow with me. One can't innovate at a high level until they’ve mastered the basics of their craft. Charlie Parker was run off the bandstand early in his career. Legend has it that drummer Jo Jones threw a cymbal in his direction after he got lost in the middle of a tune:


Parker had plenty of imagination, but he hadn't mastered his craft to the extent that he could hold his own with experienced jazz musicians.

Pick any creative field you want and you'll find that most of the greats had mastered the fundamentals of their fields before their creativity kicked into high gear. People who understand chemistry, for example, are often better bakers and cooks than most. People who began their musical careers studying classical music are often better innovators than most. Chick Corea, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Ramsay Lewis, and Ron Carter immediately come to mind. Interviews with studio musicians who play pop music paint a similar picture. The musicians who are most in demand and who play on the best recordings almost all know how to sight-read music at a high level. They play high quality instruments. They understand songwriting, chord structures, key changes, etc. They understand the recording process. They can easily adapt to the needs of an artist and/or record producer on the fly.

Diversity doesn't carry much weight unless it's paired with "chops." This is especially true when it comes to STEM fields. I can't speak for physicists, but engineers can quickly sense if a colleague isn't good at what they do. They'll give the benefit of the doubt to somebody who's green, but has potential and a good attitude. They'll ignore anybody who can't do the work or who seems determined to do things their way even when it's obvious that they're not accomplished practitioners who've earned the right to be stubborn. .

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The number of degrees in physics awarded to Black graduates is steadily increasing. In the past, HBCUs played a major role. Today, the majority of physics degree come from PWIs.

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You have a point. Too often, I’m speed-typing stream of consciousness into my phone.

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I had the good fortune to join a future Fortune 500 firm just past it's "Will we make it? phase" and into "We must grow 25%/year mode". I came with an EE degree, a few years of industry experience and an MBA. I investigated a product opportunity promising enough to warrant a corporate level project team for development and commercialization. We had three diverse team leaders, myself a White "output" of CA's public education system and UC, a Black PhD polymer chemist from the east coast, and a White Polymer molding engineer from Austria. Top management was clever enough to rotate the responsibility for presenting the quarterly project updates among us three. We had to mentor each other on our particular area of the effort to prep the presenter. Each of us came away knowing far more about the business and I'm sure were far more successful for having spent 18 months or so immersed in the diverse problems any technical project faces.

The "Diversity" for our success wasn't the color of our faces, but what was going on behind them! This took place in the '70's and yes we had other POC working in all phases of the business, with NO DEI department! I hired folks that didn't look like me if I thought they had the "right stuff" to help grow the business. We didn't tout "breaking barriers" if candidates were good. they were in and we did very well working together over the years and celebrated our excellent results instead.

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His argument has a superficial appeal, but it doesn’t seem to rest on any actual evidence. It’s telling that he went to music rather than science for examples. How exactly can a scientific theory be influenced by a particular ethnic culture? If Newton hadn’t discovered F = ma, someone else would have. Maybe we’d use different symbols to represent the quantities, but the law itself would be mathematically equivalent. There’s nothing “English” about it. There’s also nothing Jewish about general relativity, and there’s nothing German or Danish about quantum mechanics.

Am I missing something, or is his argument really just a bunch of feel-good wishful thinking?

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Science isn't music. I'm appalled that a scientist would think so. Since we're on the subject, how on earth did Ashkenazi Jews come to dominate 20th century physics? Does that make it "Jewish science"? Isn't that exactly what the Nazis said?

I'm sickened. I won't come back here anymore. Not that I matter, but you've lost me.

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Mar 14·edited Mar 14

Jim Gates doesn't believe that there is a White or European way of thinking.

However, he believes that, "When the imaginative capacities of one culture come into contact with another, it can lead to advances that would otherwise be unthinkable."

There seems to be a contradiction there. If you do not believe that there are similarities in the way a group of people of the same race think, then why would you deem significant "the imaginative capacities" of people from a particular culture? Implying that imaginative capacities are determined by culture, but not by race, as well as discounting individual merit, seems to destroy the logic he espouses.

Or is that first sentence simply restricted to Whites, and there is indeed such a thing as "Black thought" or "Asian thought"?

This also flies in the face of latest research that suggests that the most powerful contributions to humankind thus far, have been achieved when humans worked alone. The brain works to about 70% of its capacity when working alone, and to about 40% when working with others. Individual strengths and merits are the most significant contributor by far to success and achievement, and since resources are limited, it would be far better if we directed our energies towards improving the capabilities of disadvantaged individuals rather than members of a race or culture.

The only area where race-based group merit works, is in that of sport, and that is due more to genetic factors lending a predisposition towards success due to certain physical traits.

The other point, that he altogether misses, is that, for imagination to count, especially at the level of (post)graduate scientific advances, one must have a thorough grounding in scientific principles. So far, we are not seeing Blacks in enough numbers in under-graduate STEM classes, so it might be better to aim for the stars before planning a lunar trip.

DEI is, plain and simple, anti-science, anti-research and anti-fact. It is no more than a feel-good narrative that we could still humor and be ok with, if it didn't directly harm Blacks by directing focus, energy, attention and funds towards the wrong initiatives.

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Glenn, Your thoughts on science, discovery and imagination make total sense to me. How do you even know the right questions to ask without imagination? Diversity does add to collective problem solving but it is diversity of culture and experience that creates this dynamic, not levels of melanin in peoples skin.

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"When the imaginative capacities of one culture come into contact with another, it can lead to advances that would otherwise be unthinkable. " Yes, it CAN. But has it? To see in one's own personal story a connection with jazz, and thus different musics, different cultures, different perspectives is a charming anecdote, but none of us are that representative of a culture. Our personal narratives are almost entirely individual. I am sorry to say that I completely reject his explanation as biased and idiosyncratic, not because he is any worse than the rest of us, but because he is no better.

I turn 70 next month. I have been in contact with a couple of dozen people because of reunions (W&M '75, SPS-ASP '70, MHSC '71 if there are any of you out there), and lots of them have great memories and good accomplishments. They all have explanations of "how I came to do what I did in my career." I think all of those are mostly false. I also think that because of my career as a social worker at the same agency, taking family histories, and sometimes having the written record from 1947 or 1967 or 1987 or 2007 in front of me when people are spinning their explanations of who they are and why. We lie to ourselves amazingly, and I am not exempt.

While it is theoretically true that getting a female perspective, or a Serbian perspective, or a Dinka perspective, or a my-mother-was-a-homeopath-in-the-1950s on physics or archaeology or Chaucerian interpretation, it almost never materialises. The old Sapir-Whorf hypothesis suggested that the Hopi would have a significant advantage understanding particle physics because of their verb structures. They don't. Nice people, interesting people, people you would like to have several beers with have theories about themselves. They are far too close to the situation and are just kidding themselves. Blackness does not necessarily improve physics or anything else just because. It has demonstrably improved some things. Keyword: demonstrably.

Glenn, you have to get to retirement soon. I am not far up here in NH and you have to come walk the rail trails with me and "talk of many things. Of shoes and ships and sealing wax and cabbages and kings, and why the sea is boiling hot, and whether pigs have wings." I have so many questions to ask you, and can even give something back.

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The problem with diversity is not the concept, it's the application. It has devolved into mindless head-counting where simply hiring the "correct" group of activists is treated as an end unto itself. If the goal is multi-hued group think, then then end has been achieved. But if the concept is genuine diversity, which is far more than skin deep, then the current methodology is so far off the mark that it beclowns itself.

The greatest value of diversity is in harnessing the different experiences and perspectives of a broad range of people toward a common goal. Without a unity of purpose, the exercise is less than meaningless. At this point, "diversity" itself has become a more polite way of saying anti-white, anti-male, and anti-straight, and the white women will be next. It's not clear when ability or merit went out of style, or when it became fashionable to imply that one should expect neither from minorities.

The latter is particularly egregious in that the DIE industrial complex has framed itself as no more than affirmative action by other means. The truly sad part is how this White House loves to go on and on about its diversity, yet the performance of the players is riddled with ineptitude. If you are bent on hiring racial minorities or women or gays, at least bother to find ones who are qualified because they do exist. But you may have to settle for individuals who just want to do a job, not check an identity block and/or be used as pawns in the social wars.

Before worrying about diversity, science first needs an interest in and second, an aptitude in the subject among people who would be impacted. No one frets about the NBA's lack of diversity, yet I'm supposed to believe that the flying public is poorly-served because of too few non-white, non-male pilots. First, people have to be interested in flying or whatever the subject is. Then they have to become learned and proficient in it.

My child's orthodontist is a black man, or more accurately, he's a well-regarded orthodontist who happens to be black. Maybe some program benefitted him along the way; he's of an age where it may have. But no program made him interested in the subject and no program alone could substitute for his own hard work in mastering the subject and building a business.

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Mar 14·edited Mar 14

I found this conversation to be very interesting and entertaining. As a music-lover, I liked the references to both classical music and jazz, and also that intriguing comment that the Nobel Prize winner made about 'something like jazz arising'.

I'm sure it would be very enriching to be a student in Prof. Gates' classes-- too bad I'm too old, and deficient in math these days.

Thank you, Glenn (and staff), for all that you are doing, the ways that you are contributing toward society's benefit!

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As per some requests, a link to Berliner’s policy paper on Out of School Factors as they pertain to learning, and as OSFs help describe achievement gaps among and across demographic groups, and how they may or may not be mitigated by teachers’ best efforts:


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Prof. Gates led with his bio of going through HS in an all black school with all black teachers and then said that unequally funded schools is a significant cause of unequal test scores (my paraphrase). His own story would indicate that funding is not the differentiator. Something else must be; two parent or otherwise stable homes (he didn't indicate his experience), a cultural motivation to pursue excellence on the part of teacher and pupil, or what?

Diversity of thought and experience can be valuable in any setting, as Prof. Gates asserted. As noted in the Jefferson's reference earlier, this diversity has little or nothing to do with skin color. Obsession with skin color is dehumanizing to everyone, most of all to the supposed beneficiary of the new privilege. Let's rather work on promoting and achieving competence and excellence.

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Seems like the answer is obviously YES...as long as it’s also merit-based 👌

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I’m open to the argument, and am in tentative agreement that a constructive diversity of thought, perhaps including the strengths of different cultural approaches, and the imaginative insights of “outsiders”, beyond the tendency big, institutional science seems to have so often throughout history for groupthink, inertia, and politicized, self-interested decisionmaking, could in combination with traditional rigor and the necessary foundations of knowledge, contribute something additional to the discipline. The problem is, where the rubber meets the road, we’re right back to the essentialization of skin color and the conflation of a claimed racial or ethnic identity with a automatic possession, grasp, and facility with some inherent, irreducible, unique contribution of culture. Some will take that further and impute not just an experiential but an inherently greater and better standpoint epistemology to some groups - again, just on the basis of something like a marginally dark enough skin color, or an ethnic-sounding name, or the mere self-serving claim of an identity. Chopin was not all Polish people, obviously, and not all Polish people were Chopin. According to the conversation, Dvorák (my phone’s not cooperating in adding the correct accents) brought something unique not because of his bare ethnicity, but because he was both fundamentally grounded and technically brilliant, and, he was deeply steeped in Moravian and Bohemian folk music (as well as exposed to some interesting forms of black American music). None of that is reducible to mere or especially superficial nationality or ethnic identity. We can imagine how this is actually going to work in admissions into certain academic programs and hiring for challenging and coveted professional positions, because we’re seeing it already. So and so is ______ and is thus a perfect avatar of _______-ness, therefore ______ must be admitted/hired. Or, ______ as a _______ automatically has a greater and more encompassing epistemic perspective and wisdom, so ______ must on that basis have greater insight or even standing. Until the obsession with essentializing and valorizing racial identity, in and of itself, is out of fashion in academia and major institutions of all kinds, we’re going to be stuck with the same gross, clumsily use of things like an (already heavily incentivized, self-interested) claim to superficial identity serving as a proxy for real diversity.

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I'm Native American, a Spokane Indian, two Native parents, reservation-raised. I'm a poet and fiction writer, not a scientist. In the book world, there are other Native American writers who get called "authentic" when they write about reservation life even if they've never lived on a reservation. Some of these Native writers have a white parent so have been equally acculturated by "whiteness." Some of these Native writers only have one Native grandparent so nearly all of their acculturation is white. In fact, Native authors like me—rez-raised, two Native parents—are a distinct minority inside the minority of Native writers. So when it comes to diversity, there are Native writers who aren't necessarily representing a worldview and acculturation that is distinctly Native. Is this the case in science, too? I think of Navajo physicians who grew up on their reservations and inside their cultures. They definitely blend their tribal and Western modes of being inside of their practices. There are a few who practice medicine on their reservation. But does a Native who grew up in a city with one Native grandparent, a grandparent they might have barely known, offer the same diversity as one of those Navajo doctors? In the most simple terms, DEI will bring in people who are diverse by biography but might not be all that diverse by acculturation.

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