On declaring a sudden meritocracy

I started following Derek Lowe's pharma-industry blog In The Pipeline a few months before the pandemic kicked in. I don't remember how I first found it; someone on MetaFilter or similar must've linked to it. I don't know anything about chemistry but I liked his writing. (This is the same reason I follow "Money Stuff" @ Bloomberg. A mostly bewildering subject, made bleakly humorous by Matt Levine.)

He's had a lot of interesting opinion about the current virus and insight into various tests and trials -- this is his field of expertise, after all -- but I didn't expect a concise 3-sentence statement neatly explaining the civilization-sized issue of racism/sexism and the problem with just declaring "that's over, we're a meritocracy starting... NOW."

Out here in [the real] world, minorities of many kinds and women in general have had a raw deal – not only in chemistry or in the other physical sciences, although most definitely there – and it’s impossible to act as if this can suddenly vanish with no one hereafter paying attention to such categories. I actually think meritocracy is an excellent thing, but if you just declare “meritocracy in place” as of this moment, you preserve an existing order that has treated a lot of people like second-class citizens and second-class scientists. Worse, it’s an order that has, over the many years, forced many of them unwillingly into those second ranks because the first ranks were closed off to them.


  • meritocracy
  • bias
  • race & gender