Science benefits from diversity
Improving the participation of under-represented groups is not just fairer — it could produce better
Could something similar be true in science? As we discuss in a News
Feature this week (page 19), some studies suggest that a team with a
good mix of perspectives is associated with increased productivity.
Concerted action to effect change on
recruitment and retention can and does
make a difference (see T. Hodapp and
E. Brown Nature 557, 629–632; 2018). More
effort across the board is overdue. The lack
of diversity in science is everyone’s problem.
Everyone has a responsibility to look around
them, to see the problem for what it is, and to act — not just to assume
it is someone else’s job to fix it.
ab groups, departments, universities and national funders
should encourage participation in science from as many sectors
of the population as possible. It’s the right thing to do — both
morally and to help build a sustainable future for research that truly
A more representative workforce is more likely to pursue questions
and problems that go beyond the narrow slice of humanity that much
of science (biomedical science in particular) is currently set up to serve.
Widening the focus is essential if publicly funded research is to protect
and preserve its mandate to work to improve society. For example, a high
proportion of the research that comes out of the Western world uses
tissue and blood from white individuals to screen drugs and therapies
for a diverse population. Yet it is well known that people from different
ethnic groups can have different susceptibility to some diseases.
Many people are working to improve diversity in science and the
scientific workforce. Some have been trying hard for decades, but not
all are succeeding. This week, Nature highlights examples of success
from across the world. They are inspiring, and show what can — and
must — be done.
To boost recruitment and participation in science among some
under-represented groups is difficult. Statistics from the US National
Science Foundation show that the representation of minority ethnic
groups in the sciences would need to more than double to match the
groups’ overall share of the US population.
As we highlight in a Careers piece this week (page 149), there are
steps that groups, departments and institutions can take to try to draw
from a broader pool of talent. Some of these demand effort to reach
out to under-represented communities, to encourage teenagers who
might otherwise not consider science as an option. Even the wording
of job advertisements can put people off — candidates from some
backgrounds might be less likely to consider themselves ‘outstanding’
or ‘excellent’, and so might not even apply. Yet diversity efforts should
not stop when people are through the door. To retain is as impor-
tant as to recruit — mentoring and support is essential for all young
scientists, and especially so for those who have been marginalized by
Projects to boost participation are often the passion and work of a
few dedicated individuals. More institutions and funders should seek,
highlight and support both the actions and the individuals.
There are moral and ethical reasons for institutions to act. And there
are other potential benefits, too. Firms are recognizing that diversity
— and associated attitudes and behaviours — is a business issue. A
report from consultancy firm McKinsey earlier this year was just the
latest to set out the healthy relationship between a company’s approach
to inclusion and diversity and its bottom line. The report, Delivering
through Diversity, reaffirms the positive link between a firm’s finan-
cial performance and its diversity — which it defines in terms of the
proportion of women and the ethnic and cultural composition of the
leadership of large companies.
AGRICULTURE Europe’s advisers
offer sensible measures on
crop protection p.6
WORLD VIEW Chew on
better ways to measure
food production p.7
FOSSILS Poo shows
ancient dogs had
bone-crunching diets p.9
Cancer treatments tailored to individual
tumours must not be oversold.
ancer specialist Leonard Saltz received a letter earlier this year
from someone who had watched a television programme about
the promise of ‘precision oncology’. A patient had taken a few
pills and seen his tumour disappear, the letter said. Could the same be
done for his sick father?
Saltz, who works at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in
New York City, was distressed. “That’s what people think precision
oncology is,” he says. “And, gosh, I wish that were so.”
It’s not unusual for the promise and perception of new cancer treat-
ments to run ahead of the reality. And it’s true that precision oncology
is promising. The practice — which relies on finding weak spots in a
particular tumour’s genetic make-up that can be targeted by drugs — is
growing, and new results feature strongly this week at the annual meet-
ing of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago, Illinois
— cancer medicine’s biggest annual meeting. But talk of potential
benefits must be tempered by clinical reality.
Over the past decade, advances in genomic sequencing and analysis
have yielded a steady stream of information about the genetic mutations
that can drive cancer. The studies have revealed that even cancers of the
same type, such as breast tumours, can be very different genetically.
From that has grown the hope that drugs can be tailored to a tumour’s
genetic anomalies, resulting in a treatment with, ideally, fewer side
effects and greater efficacy than conventional therapies. A handful of
such drugs are already on the market. One, Herceptin (trastuzumab),
has already increased survival rates for women with particular types of
This model of precision oncology is now at a turning point, as some
in science is
7 JUNE 2018 | VOL 558 | NATURE | 5