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Systemic racism in higher education

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The nexus of Black Lives Matter protests and a pandemic that disproportionately kills Black and Latinx people (1) highlights the need to end systemic racism, including in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), where diversity has not meaningfully changed for decades (2). If we decry structural racism but return to the behaviors and processes that led us to this moment, this inexcusable stagnation will continue. We urge the Academy to combat systemic racism in STEM and catalyze transformational change.

Everyone in academia must acknowledge the role that universities—faculty, staff, and students—play in perpetuating structural racism by subjecting students of color to unwelcoming academic cultures (3). Universities are not level playing fields where all students have an equal opportunity to participate and succeed. The misuse of standardized tests such as the GRE excludes students who could have otherwise succeeded (4). Once admitted, Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) face challenges when transitioning to college life (5) and are more likely to be nontraditional students. Innovative pedagogies (6) and programs (7) can overcome these challenges but are not widely applied in higher education. Evidence-based, institution-wide approaches focused on equity in student learning are foundational to eliminating structural racism in higher education. Once we abandon the view of “fixed” student ability, more BIPOC students will succeed (8).

Academic culture also fails BIPOC faculty, who receive fewer federal grants due to systemic bias (9) and topic area (10). BIPOC faculty are most likely to invest substantial time in activities that promote diversity, which are devalued in the tenure and promotion process (11). BIPOC faculty are further disadvantaged in tenure decisions through cultural taxation of unequal service and mentoring demands. Given these burdens, BIPOC faculty cannot be expected to be the primary agents of institutional change. Instead, those most empowered to make change—non-BIPOC faculty—must join BIPOC faculty in their efforts to prioritize recruiting, supporting, and championing diversity.

Finally, the false dichotomy of “excellence or diversity” must end. Diversity results in better, more impactful, and more innovative science (12), and it is essential to building novel solutions to challenges faced by marginalized and nonmarginalized communities. Catalyzing these culture shifts in the Academy, however, will require making tenure dependent on excellence in research, teaching, and service that centers on equity and inclusion.

Making STEM equitable and inclusive requires actively combating racism and bias. All faculty, staff, and students should commit to learning about racism, engaging in courageous conversations with non-BIPOC colleagues, and calling out unfair practices to prevent the normalization of discriminatory behavior. Faculty should examine courses for ethnicity and gender performance disparities, ask whether departmental and lab demographics reflect society at large, and actively remedy any disparities.

Breaking down the barriers of systemic racism in STEM and achieving the promise of diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEM require unwavering dedication and real work. It is time to make the commitment to be an agent of change.

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Science

Too bright to breed

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Night light from coastal cities overpowers natural signals for coral spawning from neighboring reefs.

PHOTO: NOKURO/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

Most coral species reproduce through broadcast spawning. For such a strategy to be successful, coordination has had to evolve such that gametes across clones are released simultaneously. Over millennia, lunar cycles have facilitated this coordination, but the recent development of bright artificial light has led to an overpowering of these natural signals. Ayalon et al. tested for the direct impact of different kinds of artificial light on different species of corals. The authors found that multiple lighting types, including cold and warm light-emitting diode (LED) lamps, led to loss of synchrony and spawning failure. Further, coastal maps of artificial lighting globally suggest that it threatens to interfere with coral reproduction worldwide and that the deployment of LED lights, the blue light of which penetrates deeper into the water column, is likely to make the situation even worse.

Curr. Biol. 10.1016/j.cub.2020.10.039 (2020).

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SpaceX launches Starlink app and provides pricing and service info to early beta testers

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SpaceX has debuted an official app for its Starlink satellite broadband internet service, for both iOS and Android devices. The Starlink app allows users to manage their connection – but to take part you’ll have to be part of the official beta program, and the initial public rollout of that is only just about to begin, according to emails SpaceX sent to potential beta testers this week.

The Starlink app provides guidance on how to install the Starlink receiver dish, as well as connection status (including signal quality), a device overview for seeing what’s connected to your network, and a speed test tool. It’s similar to other mobile apps for managing home wifi connections and routers. Meanwhile, the emails to potential testers that CNBC obtained detail what users can expect in terms of pricing, speeds and latency.

The initial Starlink public beta test is called the “Better than Nothing Beta Program,” SpaceX confirms in their app description, and will be rolled out across the U.S. and Canada before the end of the year – which matches up with earlier stated timelines. As per the name, SpaceX is hoping to set expectations for early customers, with speeds users can expect ranging from between 50Mb/s to 150Mb/s, and latency of 20ms to 40ms according to the customer emails, with some periods including no connectivity at all. Even with expectations set low, if those values prove accurate, it should be a big improvement for users in some hard-to-reach areas where service is currently costly, unreliable and operating at roughly dial-up equivalent speeds.

Image Credits: SpaceX

In terms of pricing, SpaceX says in the emails that the cost for participants in this beta program will be $99 per moth, plus a one-time cost of $499 initially to pay for the hardware, which includes the mounting kit and receiver dish, as well as a router with wifi networking capabilities.

The goal eventually is offer reliably, low-latency broadband that provides consistent connection by handing off connectivity between a large constellation of small satellites circling the globe in low Earth orbit. Already, SpaceX has nearly 1,000 of those launched, but it hopes to launch many thousands more before it reaches global coverage and offers general availability of its services.

SpaceX has already announced some initial commercial partnerships and pilot programs for Starlink, too, including a team-up with Microsoft to connect that company’s mobile Azure data centers, and a project with an East Texas school board to connect the local community.

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Erratum for the Report “Meta-analysis reveals declines in terrestrial but increases in freshwater insect abundances” by R. Van Klink, D. E. Bowler, K. B. Gongalsky, A. B. Swengel, A. Gentile, J. M. Chase

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S. Rennie, J. Adamson, R. Anderson, C. Andrews, J. Bater, N. Bayfield, K. Beaton, D. Beaumont, S. Benham, V. Bowmaker, C. Britt, R. Brooker, D. Brooks, J. Brunt, G. Common, R. Cooper, S. Corbett, N. Critchley, P. Dennis, J. Dick, B. Dodd, N. Dodd, N. Donovan, J. Easter, M. Flexen, A. Gardiner, D. Hamilton, P. Hargreaves, M. Hatton-Ellis, M. Howe, J. Kahl, M. Lane, S. Langan, D. Lloyd, B. McCarney, Y. McElarney, C. McKenna, S. McMillan, F. Milne, L. Milne, M. Morecroft, M. Murphy, A. Nelson, H. Nicholson, D. Pallett, D. Parry, I. Pearce, G. Pozsgai, A. Riley, R. Rose, S. Schafer, T. Scott, L. Sherrin, C. Shortall, R. Smith, P. Smith, R. Tait, C. Taylor, M. Taylor, M. Thurlow, A. Turner, K. Tyson, H. Watson, M. Whittaker, I. Woiwod, C. Wood, UK Environmental Change Network (ECN) Moth Data: 1992-2015, NERC Environmental Information Data Centre (2018); .

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