Posted on June 10, 2020 · 3 mins read

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There is a community petition circulating that cites a number of concrete steps Carnegie Mellon University can take to confront racist policies and policing. It seems like a good list of actions that I hope CMU officials will consider; some of the actions apply to other universities too.

More broadly, today is the #ShutDownStem and #ShutDownAcademia day where academics and university researchers are encouraged to spend the day considering how their work intersects with racism. A lot of cutting-edge computer science research on artificial intelligence and machine learning, for example, has ended up in the hands of local police departments and federal forces like ICE where it is used for racial profiling, mass surveillance, and other civil rights concerns. Physics brought understanding of atoms and materials but also the destruction of nuclear weapons. Chemistry and biochemistry helped us understand how the human body works but also was used to develop chemical weapons. Biology and evolutionary theory help us understand how humanity and other species fit into the greater ecology, but fascists used some ideas to promote “eugenics” and racist ideas of the “superiority” of some groups over others. Geology helps us create green renewable geothermal energy, but is also used to find and extract fossil fuels that pollute our air and water and are contributing to climate change. There is amazing promise for good in science, but the other side of the coin is always there too.

As scientists, we must carefully consider what our research is being used for and actively promote research and applications toward the greater good. We cannot remain silent as our work is taken for malicious purposes; I believe we have a responsibility to speak out against any unethical use of science and technology.

I myself am a scientist – a mathematician and physicist by degree and computer scientist by career. I join many others in thinking about how we can be use science for good, to fight racism, and protect civil rights, democracy, and our planet, and what sort of science policies are needed. One thought: too much scientific research money is tied up in policing & military applications. Officials need to promote peaceful applications instead, and as state representative, I would introduce legislation to defund research into use for policing purposes and put those research dollars elsewhere. I welcome your thoughts on what else can be done legislatively to promote science for the general good of society and stand oppose to racism and unethical science.

More resources are available for researchers and academics at: https://www.shutdownstem.com/resources.

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