published Monday, August 29th, 2011

For equal opportunity, not quotes

Noted economists such as Thomas Sowell have pointed out that rarely are the races represented in any given endeavor in exact proportion to their percentages of the population.

But that certainly doesn't prove racism is the cause of the disparity.

For instance, probably no one would argue that racism is the reason why a high number of professional basketball players in the United States are black. Rather, players are chosen for their demonstrated abilities.

So it was odd to read an Associated Press article noting that federal authorities are determined to "increase [racial] diversity in science, to better reflect the U.S. population."

The article was based on a study showing that black scientists are less likely than white scientists to get research funds from the National Institutes of Health. The head of the NIH hinted that racism is to blame and said the agency will try to determine whether "an insidious form of bias" is behind the disparity.

But it would certainly be hard to demonstrate that racism is the cause, since, as the AP noted, "Race and ethnicity information is stripped from applications" for the federal science funds.

There are complicated reasons why different races may or may not be heavily represented in a particular profession. But the focus should be on providing equal opportunity -- not racial set-asides or quotas -- and then letting everyone compete for jobs or anything else on the basis of merit.

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