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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

Jan 28, 2021 - Health

Fauci: COVID vaccine rollout needs to prioritize people of color

Anthony Fauci. Photo: Alex Wong via Getty Images

Infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci highlighted the need to address racial disparities in the COVID-19 vaccination process, per an interview with The New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday.

What he’s saying: "I think that's the one thing we really got to be careful of. We don't want in the beginning ... most of the people who are getting it are otherwise, well, middle-class white people."

Kendall Baker, author of Sports
1 hour ago - Sports

European soccer is at war

Liverpool celebrating its 2019 Champions League victory. Photo: Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

Europe's biggest soccer clubs have established The Super League, a new midweek tournament that would compete with — and threaten the very existence of — the Champions League.

Why it matters: This new league, set to start in 2023, "would bring about the most significant restructuring of elite European soccer since the 1950s, and could herald the largest transfer of wealth to a small set of teams in modern sports history," writes NYT's Tariq Panja.

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
2 hours ago - Economy & Business

2021's expected earnings blowout begins

JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon. Photo: Mark Kauzlarich/Bloomberg via Getty Images

First-quarter earnings so far have been very strong, outpacing even the rosy expectations from Wall Street and that's a trend that's expected to continue for all of 2021. S&P 500 companies are on pace for one of the best quarters of positive earnings surprises on record, according to FactSet.

Why it matters: The results show that not only has the earnings recession ended for U.S. companies, but firms are performing better than expected and the economy may be justifying all the hype.