Let’s Have A Moment of Science
The murder of George Floyd by four policemen, each of whom chose a career to protect and serve – one with a knee on the neck and the other three with their bodies on the victim – is not only graphically appalling and horrifying, it is unconscionable and inexcusable. If it were a one-off, I would not cry racism. But as a scientist, who consistently turns toward data, the research abounds and the conclusions are clear – racism exists. And Black men in America die at the hands of it.
While I will not go over the history of how we got here, as most of us know it anyhow, what is noteworthy, however, is that 150 years later, the promise of forty-acres remains unfulfilled, and there still is no mule! Instead, there is the lifeless body, the corpse of George Floyd, just another data point in the ever-growing racism data base. It is my hope that this time, during this momentous moment in history, that Mr. Floyd’s murder will not be archived as “just another data point”, but instead, catalyze a necessary change. It is my hope that Mr. George Floyd’s narrative precipitate out a meaningful dialogue, a capacity for all to be honest and vulnerable, and ready us to do the hard work towards real reconciliation.
As the contemporary reality tightens its grip on America, science, together with its offspring engineering, and its parents education, have never been more critical. Science has democratically and ubiquitously been heightened to its rightful pinnacle state. Indeed, science unlocks many of the painful and scary conundrums we find ourselves in, and provides a uniquely fair and real solution – if only we give it the respectful, forwardfacing chance that it so glaringly deserves.
As a civic-minded, African American scientist, I feel compelled to link this pernicious period we all find ourselves in to the importance of science and scientific discovery. It is science that will help us understand the spread, morbidity and mortality of the coronavirus. It is science that will afford us the development of therapeutics to assist and facilitate the recovery of our loved ones. It is science that will ultimately offer up a vaccine to globally control the pandemic. It is science, and education around it, that will assist with the STEM workforce development pipeline issue, help men and women get great paying jobs, and help elevate many individuals and families out of poverty.
And now, with the latest social cultural upheaval, it is again science, that lights our way forward, with its clear delineation that the concept of “race” is a fallacious, man-made invention to differentiate and divide people. And, as evidenced during America’s chattel slavery period and its ensuing Jim Crow era, this invention of “race” works!
But science and education will right that wrong. In 2012, the Center of Science and Industry (COSI) hosted an exhibition called “RACE – Are We So Different?” This all ages exhibit created by the National Science Foundation and the Science Museum of Minnesota, (ironically in the city where George Floyd was murdered), exposed in an elegant, engaging and data driven way, that the notion of “races” is a social construct – not founded whatsoever in biology or science, but rather steeped in hatred, hierarchical and “white supremacy” beliefs. In an easily digestible manner, the RACE exhibit educated and illuminated the reality and scientific truth that “WE, the people,” are all essentially biologically the same, regardless of skin color, religion, and political allegiance. Furthermore, it is down to our unique DNA, which, with the microenvironments we find ourselves in, is solely responsible for who we are. Yes, the concept of “race” has no scientific merit.
In 2020, the Center of Science and Industry (COSI), was voted the number one science museum in nation by USA Today and stands as a beacon of light and science during these tumultuous times. We intimately understand that “science is everywhere, and science is for everyone!” We stand not just as a science museum, but as a cultural institutional benchmark to help all people – everyone – through science and education, to be better citizens and have a notable and real chance at a fulfilling life, fraught with practiced liberty and an attainable pursuit of happiness. Racism, and murder based on skin color, have no place in the pantheon of science and education, and certainly should have no place in our American society and our claimed liberty and pursuit of happiness. The time has come. Let us have an infinitely enduring moment of science.
Frederic Bertley, Ph.D.