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Artillery Row

Did Newton microaggress?

The government should stop supporting the EDI industry

Why is the government funding its fiercest critics? This question has been asked countless times since the Conservatives took power over 12 years ago, but few have come close to providing an answer.

Despite regularly promising voters a “bonfire of the quangos”, the Blob — a union of activists, journalists, academics and civil servants who use the trappings of the state to advance progressivism — is still alive and well.

So established is the Blob’s grasp on the British state that any new governmental venture or policy is swiftly ensnared by some of its many tentacles. As the flavour of the month for the activist-charity class is equality, diversity and inclusion initiatives, it should come as no surprise that Boris Johnson’s plans to turn Britain into a “science and technology superpower” have been infiltrated by the healthily remunerated executives of the EDI industry.

In line with the prime minister’s ambitions for science superpower status, the government’s body for science funding UK Research and Innovation enjoyed a 14 per cent increase in its budget between 2021-22 and 2024-25, rising from £7.785 billion to £8.874 billion. Funding rises were issued to all of the research councils under the UKRI umbrella, including the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council, which will enjoy an extra £9 million and £8 million respectively.

But amid this thrilling flurry of cash, the Blob swiftly pounced to ensure it could syphon off as much as possible to advance some of its many pet projects.

This 80/20 funding split is a dream for blobby outfits

Fresh off the back of launching an EDI strategy consultation in January, UKRI has now advertised a funding opportunity for an equality, diversity and inclusion caucus. With £4.562 million up for grabs, the advert is offering it to a group that can “lead on providing high quality research evidence on equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) that informs policy and practice in the research and innovation system”. The one-time grant, which is also being supported by the British Academy, covers a three-year period, with the recipient making up 20 per cent of the funding.

This 80/20 funding split is a dream for blobby outfits such as the major grant-making institutions or universities because it effectively limits the available contributors to the already wealthy providers in the EDI space.

This policy and practice is unlikely to be conducive to ensuring the best possible outcomes for British science, research and innovation. Rather than promoting a mentality of hiring and promoting the best actors in these sectors, the policy will instead run the risk of being tainted by the tyranny of EDI quotas, where workplaces are not judged by their efforts and achievements but by their identitarian credentials.

The day before UKRI opened its EDI strategy consultation, it published a glossary of relevant terms, including “decolonisation” and “microaggression”, mainstays of the progressive Left that signal a far more dramatic level of ideological thinking than should be permitted in the British government.

The list includes “equality”, which is then followed by “equity”, a term that should never be deployed in spheres of research competing for public funding, where the only criteria for access to taxpayers’ cash should be excellence and necessity, not woolly ideas about ensuring everyone receives equal access.

If you think that’s an excessively negative reading of the situation, the glossary also demands an adherence to “positive action”, described as “the practice of increasing opportunities to under-represented parts of society. Positive action involves taking targeted steps to address underrepresentation or disadvantage experienced by people with characteristics protected by the Equality Act 2010”.

“Positive action” is a masterclass PR term for “social engineering”. It means taking steps to ensure that the “best” option for funding or hiring isn’t necessarily the best-prepared or brightest option, but the least white, the least male, the least Christian.

Signing up to the full-throated EDI universe is never enough

This thinking does not reflect the background of the British R&D sector. One concerned government advisor told me that while plenty of the country’s top scientific minds are phenomenal in their fields, they lack the cultural nous to navigate the ever-changing rules and PC regulations that surround diversity dogma. Fearing that they might slip up and tarnish their careers — and lose their precious projects — they often appear publicly supportive, or at a minimum vague and non-committal, so as to not attract the rage of professional diversity activists who exist to claim scalps and cash cheques.

If you think these fears are exaggerated, cast your mind back to the sad case of Nobel laureate Sir Tim Hunt, who was viciously shamed and condemned for his comments at a luncheon for women scientists in Seoul in 2015.

He said: “Three things happen when they are in the lab: you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them they cry”, which soon sparked furious indignation, forcing Hunt to give an interview to the BBC where he explained his actions. “I’m very sorry if people took offence,” he said, “I certainly did not mean to demean women, but rather be honest about my own shortcomings.” But this wasn’t enough. He was moved to resign from his position at UCL and spent two years out of the public eye.

Since 2015, the censorious and punitive grip of EDI thinking and its practitioners has tightened over almost all aspects of professional life. With these developments and Sir Tim’s struggles at the forefront of their minds, it’s unlikely that any scientists will take the risk of criticising the millions being spent on ensuring EDI policy and practice is kept in British scientific research. They’ll be even more hesitant once the EDI practitioners start teaching and delivering seminars in their institutions.

Signing up to the full-throated EDI universe will never be enough for some. Enjoying a living as a diversity consultant comes with certain incentives — such as finding new grievances to attack or describing the current diversity strategy as insufficient (even if you are heavily involved in its application) and demanding further action. 

A piece in Times Higher Education titled “There are so many reasons why EDI is not the answer”, is not, for example, similar to this piece in its criticism. Rather, the author complains that using terms such as “equality”, “equity” and “diversity” is “not only incorrect”, but also “dilutes efforts to question current structures while helping to disguise systemic injustices”. 

Scientists will never appease these grifters. Give them an inch, and they’ll take a mile, while probably expensively lecturing you as to why the term “mile” is an awful Eurocentric term that fails to take into account alternative measuring practices that various diasporas might prefer.

Does the government want this distracting, disunifying and censorious mentality to seep into our publicly funded scientific research? Based on constant muttering from ministers about the ills of the wokeness in universities, business and the media, you’d expect not. So why are they funding it?

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