The Washington Post is concerned about how many 'white men' are mentioned in science textbooks

  • A recent Washington Post article lamented that biology textbooks contain a disproportionate number of references to “white men.”
  • The article stated that textbooks are “written from a very white perspective," citing a study on the matter.

A recent Washington Post article lamented the fact that biology textbooks contain a disproportionate number of mentions of “white men.”

The article’s author, Bethany Brookshire, begins by referencing three of the most recognized contributors to modern biology, Charles Darwin, Carolus Linnaeus, and Gregor Mendel. 

“Textbooks are also written from a very white perspective."   

“They’re all men. They’re all white,” Brookshire observes. The article then attempts to frame the three scientists’ race and gender as an issue, considering a recent study that found, as Brookshire points out, that “their names appear in every biology book” and “mentions of white men still dominate biology textbooks.”

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The study does, according to The Post, concede that “the number of women mentioned was proportional to the number of tenured women in the academic biology workforce over time,” but Brookshire later seemingly dismisses this fact as irrelevant, given that the study finds references in textbooks do not “reflect the gender and racial diversity of who’s in the classroom.”

The Post cites an argument made by Spelman College biochemist Mark Lee, noting that “Textbooks are also written from a very white perspective,” as evidenced by the fact that “textbooks define a perm as making straight hair curly. The same process can make naturally curly hair straight.”

The latter part of the article appears to advocate a revisioning of scientific history or perhaps a paring down of the teaching of scientific history. The post paraphrases an article by co-author of the aforementioned study, Auburn University education researcher Cissy Ballen, and noting that  “most biology textbooks are presented as a history of science, and adding that "No women from the 1600s through 1900 were mentioned." Brookshire quotes Ballen’s concern that there are “300 years of just white men in textbooks.”

[RELATED: Universities across America want students to read this book. We did it for you.]

The article concedes that “some history is necessary” in textbooks, “because science is based on historical findings,” but argues that textbooks should “be written with more emphasis on illustrating concepts with contemporary examples, instead of historical ones.” 

The article then concludes with a statement from Lee, who claims that diversity within an industry has nothing to do with the actual ethnicities of the individuals in the industry, but is instead an “attitude.” 

“Diversity isn’t ethnicity and numbers of people; it’s about your attitude...We can’t wait until the industry is diverse. I’m asking [professors] to take on the burden of being diverse by supporting a diverse population.”

National Association of Scholars spokesperson Chance Layton, told Campus Reform that The Post’s characterization of the study is an attempt to make something out of nothing. 

[RELATED: Rutgers English Department seeks to ‘push against biases’ in grammar]

“The article creates a non-problem. Bethany Brookshire notes that the study found that research published from 1900 to 1999 had proportional numbers of women who were tenured. If exact representation is the goal, isn't this good? Clearly not,” said Layton.

“She and the researchers had to make up a problem, namely that those citations 'were not representative of the much more diverse student body [of today].’ Of course, past citations aren't representative of current student bodies!” Layton continued, “This is the problem with focusing on quotas and exact representation, individuals choose what they want to do with their lives. We, in this country, do not choose careers for our youth.”

Layton concluded, “The article is right, minority representation in biology 100 years ago was dismal. Textbooks will naturally catch up as more minorities choose this line of work and publish papers. To worry about their current representation seems to be, again, creating a non-problem. The authors of this study and essay should be celebrating the diversity of our up and coming biologists, not decrying their textbooks.”

Turning Point USA founder and President Charlie Kirk told Campus Reform that The Post’s highlighting of such an argument is part of a larger, concerning trend.

"This is part of an ongoing, pathological pursuit of ‘diversity’ for diversity’s sake. All at the expense of history, the truth and the simple fact that for centuries this was a field dominated by white, western men. And guess what? There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s not racist. It’s not part of America’s systemic oppression,” said Kirk.

“As more diverse students graduate and make discoveries, their names will naturally, and happily be included in textbooks. Shame on the Washington Post for once again shouting ‘racism’ where none exists,” added Kirk. 

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Kyle Reynolds
Kyle Reynolds | Indiana Campus Correspondent

Kyle Reynolds is an Indiana Campus Correspondent with Campus Reform. He is a Sophomore at Indiana University, Bloomington where he studies Public Policy, Economics, and Political Science. Kyle is a Student Congressman in the IU Student Government and is a member of College Republicans at IU.

8 Articles by Kyle Reynolds