In the past few years, the core values of equity, diversity, and inclusion have come to play an increasingly important role in the Open Science movement. It has also begun to recognize and account for the legacy of colonization: the historical, ingrained differences in power that exist between the Global North and Global South, among countries, and within countries between dominant groups and those that have been marginalized.
Sometimes, solutions involve using multiple ways of knowing to make and carry out science policy.
Dr. Jeannette Armstrong was born and raised in the South Okanagan, on the Penticton Indian reserve. Dr. Armstrong is well known as an author, poet, educator, and Indigenous rights activist.
At UBC Okanagan, she holds a Canada Research Chair in Okanagan Indigenous Knowledge and Philosophy. She is also one of several people on a subcommittee of The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), which advises the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada on designation of species at risk.
The COSEWIC website states:
Incorporating Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge into COSEWIC's assessment of species at risk improves the process, and therefore the quality of designations made by COSEWIC, by bringing information and perspectives on wildlife species that are not available in published scientific literature.
However, more work is needed to really shift the systemic imbalance that has resulted from the legacies of our society holding the white, heterosexual, male, middle-class or higher, able-bodied adult up as the "norm" - the norm around which our society constructs its practices and institutions, including its universities, employment law, and research design, to name a few.
When this favouritism is enshrined in legislation, administrative processes, career advancements, our education systems, etc., we call it systemic bias.
If we differ in terms of any of the characteristics listed above - whether in our ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, social class, or ability - we lack that the level of privilege their possession confers. Equitable practices try to shift this imbalance.
Systemic bias, and the norms these biases engender, infiltrate many aspects of how research is undertaken. Sometimes this manifests in the conduct of science itself, where as recently as the end of the Second World War, some scientists helped to promote "scientific racism", encoding these norms through taxonomies and classification systems that grouped humankind into different races. Another discipline that we would now call "pseudoscience" - phrenology - attempted to correlate intelligence and personality to observable features of the human skull.
This discriminatory system, as we’ve discussed, can even prevent people from engaging in the practice of scientific research from the outset.
In 2016, 6% of Kelowna’s population identified as Aboriginal (a term including a number of more specific Indigenous identities, such as Metis, Inuk, and First Nations). If there were no bias in the school and post-secondary educational systems, and assuming that Indigenous people are just as capable as non-Indigenous people at doing science, we would expect to see a comparable percentage of Indigenous people studying and teaching science in colleges and universities. But we don't.
Consider the following questions.
- What implications might this have for how research is conducted at UBC?
- How can we change this?