Paradigm Shifts in the Sciences: Black History Month 2024

Springer Nature Group
By: Eseohe Arhebamen-Yamasaki , Wed Feb 14 2024

Earlier this month, a Springer Nature journal released a paper revealing something many know intuitively – “white actors are featured more frequently and more prominently on posters for American-produced films than non-white actors”; moreover, when the cast is diverse, the white actor is usually positioned closer to the center and their faces are presented an average of 25% larger despite increased diversity in film (Springer Nature Limited, 2024). Such phenomena regarding the centering of whiteness are not exclusive to film and permeate the world as we portray it in the U.S., impacting science, its communication, and its subjects. Take for example, the bias built into pulse oximeters which measure oxygen in the bloodstream and which evidence reveals have provided incorrect readings for people with darker skin for years. In this context, the phrase, “I can’t breathe” – strongly associated with the Black lives matter movement after the killing of Eric Garner and a reminder of the prevalence with which Black people experience asthma, takes on a critical meaning. The diminishing of Black people in the sciences is an emergency. 

When we mostly center and magnify white people in the sciences (even if solely in films and on film posters), we are communicating that there is less of a value to people of other racial groups – with special emphasis on Black people who have long been perceived as an oppositional binary to whiteness. Add to this, the positioning of English as the language of science, and we have a problematic colonial lexicon within which Black people are historically presented as tools, background characters and mere means to white invention. Black History Month gives us a corrective lens with which to challenge such narratives and helps realign our perceptions with reality. 

It is fitting as I write this from my function as a communicator for a scientific and academic publisher, that one of the most prominent figures in the conception of Black History Month – Carter G. Woodson – was a notable communicator, academic, historian and publisher. In “Dreaming of a Place Called Home,” published by Springer Nature, a scholar notes that Woodson upended norms and reframed historiography and humanities to center Black people (Wiggan, 2016, p. 14). Woodsoon’s paradigm-shifting resulted in the establishment of Black History Month in the United States and in 1975, President Gerald Ford exhorted Americans, “to celebrate the many achievements of African Americans in every field from science and the arts to politics and religion” (Library of Congress, n.d.).

Black History Month is a celebratory time during which we recall the stunning achievements and undeniable genius of people who persisted against all odds. At Springer Nature, we are delighted to acknowledge advancements afforded us by people of African descent with special attention to the social sciences in keeping with 2024’s theme of African Americans and the Arts. I have just come from a conversation with colleagues during which we discussed the Black women who were responsible for getting America to the moon and a forthcoming Scientific American article about which I am especially excited – “Mysteries of Star Formation”, written by a Black woman astrophysicist, artist, and activist. As I shared with my coworkers, had I not had a professor who dissuaded me, telling me that Black people lacked the ability to do well in the field, I might have become an astronomer. It is possible that he, like me, had not learned about Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Vaughan. The ways in which we depict Black people and the scale to which we allow magnification of Black people, matter. Black lives matter

It is thus a most joyous pleasure to inform you of the Fellowship for Advancing Science Journalism in Africa and the Middle East and Nature’s partnership with The Breast Cancer Research Foundation which makes Nature Masterclasses available to historically Black colleges and universities. And beginning this March, Nature will launch a series of cafes and a culminating September conference exploring health equity titled, “Breaking Barriers for gender and health equity through research” with a special focus on gender, race and ethnicity. We are also offering a short course on unconscious bias for external partners.

We celebrate Black achievement during Black History Month but we are working towards equity year-round. These efforts make more likely, science centered upon the shared human origins of scientific inquiry, discovery and advancement; and, research that enables all of us to thrive.

Happy Black History Month!

References and further information

Further reading                                                                                                                                                                                      

Please click on each item/ the item of interest and it will take you directly to the accessible source          

  1. These Three Overlooked Black Inventors Shaped Our Lives
  2. Black Inventor Garrett Morgan Saved Countless Lives with Gas Mask and Improved Traffic Lights
  3. The First Lady of Engineering: Lost Women of Science Podcast, Season 3, Episode 1
  4. This Black Female Engineer Broke through the Double Bind of Racism and Sexism and Directly Nurtured a Legion of STEM Leaders
  5. Hidden Black Scientists Proved the Polio Vaccine Worked
  6. Mathematics, Live: A Conversation with Evelyn Boyd Granville
  7. The Story of NASA’s Real “Hidden Figures”

Works Cited:

  1. Library of Congress. (n.d.). Research guides: Black history month: A Commemorative 
  2. Observances Legal Research Guide: History and overview. History and Overview - Black History Month: A Commemorative Observances Legal Research Guide - Research Guides at Library of Congress. 
  3. Springer Nature Limited. (2024, February 8). Social science: White actors featured more than 
  4. non-white actors on American film posters. 
  5. Wiggan, G. (2016). Dreaming of a place called home: Local and international perspectives on 
  6. Teacher Education and school diversity. Springer Science and Business Media: SensePublishers. 
Eseohe US Head of Comms

Author: Eseohe Arhebamen-Yamasaki

Head of Communications, US

Eseohe Arhebamen-Yamasaki is Head of Communications, US for Springer Nature Group and a member of the Research DEI Steering Group, the U.S. Research Advisory Council Taskforce, the Global Black Researcher Taskforce and various Sustainable Development Goal working groups. She has over 20 years of experience in strategic communications, branding, integrated marketing communications, music publishing and media relations. Eseohe joined Springer Nature from her consultancy where clients included the United Nations Global Compact and the National Black Programming Consortium. Eseohe studied creative writing and literature at the University of Michigan, studio art and English at City University of New York, performance studies at New York University; and, is currently studying business administration, her second Master’s degree. 

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