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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

As society at large confronts how racism has shaped our world, astronomers and physicists say it's long past time for their field to experience its own reckoning.

What's happening: From strikes to reports to calls for action, astronomers and physicists are calling for an end to the systemic racism that has shaped their fields and the sciences at large.

The big picture: People of color accounted for about 9% of STEM faculty members as of 2017.

  • Only 66 black women earned doctorates in physics in the U.S. between 1973 and 2012, according to Quartz. In that same time period, more than 22,000 white men received the same degree.
  • Between the lines: "I hope people take seriously that this isn’t just about racism in academia," cosmologist Chanda Prescod-Weinstein of the University of New Hampshire told Axios via email. "This is about racism in the world. On the streets. Black scientists aren’t safe until Black people, in general, are safe."

Thousands of scientists participated in a strike last week to call attention to the barriers that keep black people out of the sciences. Space-focused organizations, like arXiv.org and the American Astronomical Society, and individual astronomers took part in the strike.

  • "I feel so hopeful because now there's this collective accountability," astrophysicist Brittany Kamai told Axios.

A report released earlier this year from the American Institute of Physics underscores the systemic barriers black students face, calling for a $50 million fund to help double the number of bachelor's degrees awarded to black students in the U.S. by 2030.

"The persistent underrepresentation of African Americans in physics and astronomy is due to the lack of a supportive environment for African American students in many departments, and to the enormous financial challenges facing these students in general."
— AIP report

Where it stands: Some organizations and departments are aiming to bring more people of color into astronomy and physics.

  • The Fisk-Vanderbilt University Masters-to-Ph.D. bridge program, for example, has trained 35 students — 32 from underrepresented groups — since 2004, with 32 of them transitioning into a Ph.D. program either at Vanderbilt or elsewhere.
  • The Harvard astronomy department currently has nine black Ph.D. students among its 50 after hiring John Asher Johnson, the department's first black tenured professor in 2013 and dropping the general GRE as an admissions requirement.

Yes, but: There is still a long way to go before black astronomers, physicists and students have the same access to opportunities as their white peers.

  • "I don’t think departments are making big strides. Some are taking some baby steps," Prescod-Weinstein said. "The way to overcome racism is to admit you have a problem with it and that you might be benefiting from it. A lot of people aren’t ready to be honest because they benefit from the lie that academia is currently meritocratic."

Go deeper: Coronavirus pandemic could impact diversity in astronomy

Go deeper

The rental housing market's "Black tax"

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Underwood Archives/Getty Images

Renters of color, especially Black Americans, often pay a "Black tax" — a premium for renting similar housing in the same neighborhoods as whites.

Why it matters: A recent study found that Black tenants paid as much as 2% more in rent — a gap that widened if the area had a bigger population of white people. Higher rent is just one hurdle to accessibility and affordability in the rental market that people of color uniquely deal with despite federal fair housing laws enacted more than 50 years ago.

Scoop: Gina Haspel threatened to resign over plan to install Kash Patel as CIA deputy

CIA Director Gina Haspel. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

CIA Director Gina Haspel threatened to resign in early December after President Trump cooked up a hasty plan to install loyalist Kash Patel, a former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), as her deputy, according to three senior administration officials with direct knowledge of the matter.

Why it matters: The revelation stunned national security officials and almost blew up the leadership of the world's most powerful spy agency. Only a series of coincidences — and last minute interventions from Vice President Mike Pence and White House counsel Pat Cipollone — stopped it.

Updated 8 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus deaths reach 4,000 per day as hospitals remain in crisis mode — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Biden says, "We will manage the hell out of" vaccine distribution — Biden taps ex-FDA chief to lead Operation Warp Speed amid rollout of COVID plan — Widow of GOP congressman-elect who died of COVID-19 will run to fill his seat.
  3. Vaccine: Battling Black mistrust of the vaccines"Pharmacy deserts" could become vaccine deserts — Instacart to give $25 to shoppers who get vaccine.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode againFed chair: No interest rate hike coming any time soon —  Inflation rose more than expected in December.
  5. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.