Is diversity good for science? Would involving more women, ethnic minorities, and people of different nationalities and backgrounds boost innovation? We often hear about the economic and social impact of multiculturalism (whether positive or negative), but what impact does diversity have on academia and research? Having a mix of different expertise and perspectives can often bring novel solutions to problems, so does it follow that more diverse and multicultural societies are also more innovative and creative?
Scientific knowledge seeks to transcend borders and divisions, both between societies and within them. For example, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) is a European research organization that operates the largest particle physics laboratory in the world. Working together, CERN members have pioneered globally significant discoveries and innovations, from the World Wide Web to the Large Hadron Collider. Can scientists achieve more when they collaborate across borders?
Want to know more about diversity and collaboration across borders in science? We’ve put together some of the facts and figures into an infographic below (click for a bigger version).
We had a comment from Irena who argues that diversity is good for innovation because ethnically diverse schools perform better than more homogeneous ones.
To get a response, we spoke to Richard Walden, a teacher at Hugh Christie Technology College in the UK. Would he agree with Irena? In his own experience as a teacher, does diversity in the classroom have any impact on creativity and innovation?
Does it then follow that migration is good for innovation? When we interviewed William Lacy Swing, Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), he argued that immigration was a positive driver of scientific innovation, saying: “[M]igrants bring a catalytic element to societies, encourage innovation, and they sometimes have a better work ethic than the native population”.
How would Richard Walden respond to that argument? Did he agree?
To get another response, we also spoke to Sir Christopher Llewellyn Smith, former Secretary General of CERN from 1994 to 1998. He agreed that immigration can lead to higher innovation, but argued that it wasn’t simply a case of including different perspectives. Rather, he believed it was because developed countries were attracting the best talent from around the world, and cautioned that ‘brain drain’ could lead to less innovation in developing economies:
That’s a difficult question, because in the UK and in the US, immigration has had a very positive effect in the sense of pulling in some of the brightest minds from around the world. But it’s had a very detrimental effect in those areas. So, if the best scientists move from developing countries to where the laboratories and pay are better, it’s good for the countries that they go to but it’s bad for the countries that they’ve left.
But that’s only one aspect of diversity. We also had a comment sent in from Inés, arguing that more should be done to encourage greater gender diversity in science.
Would encouraging more women to follow science careers boost innovation? To get a response we spoke to Pilvi Kolk, a member of the management board at the AHHAA Science Centre in Estonia, which hosts exhibitions and other science events to encourage members of the public to learn more about science.
[Estonia is consistently ranked as one of the strongest countries] in science and innovation in the world. And it’s due to the fact that we have more women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths (STEM) careers than any country in the world. So, I totally agree that more women should be involved in STEM careers, because women have a different point of view sometimes. I believe that our brains are different, actually. We have different functionality in our brains, and if we gather this information together then we might have more innovation…
[The way to encourage more women to take STEM careers] is giving good feedback to women and to girls, especially. If you tell them that this is a boy’s thing to play with, and this is a girl’s thing to play with, and boys should use tools in the classroom and women should just chit-chat, then of course nothing happens.
Are diverse societies also more innovative? Would involving more women, ethnic minorities, and people of different nationalities and backgrounds boost innovation? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!