By Kindness In Science 19/07/2019 6


The Co-founders of the Kindness in Science Collective

Whakarongo ake au ki te tangi a te manu: tui, tui, tuia 

In December of 2017, a diverse group of people in science from across Aotearoa met at the Fale Pasifika at the University of Auckland to discuss a new way to improve science outcomes. The goal was simple: to talk about kindness in science.

December 2017 workshop

What is kindness? At its heart, kindness is the quality of being friendly, generous and considerate – think ‘being kind’. But it is also a kind action or conscious practice – think ‘doing kindness’. Defined either way, kindness is a key ingredient to motivate positive change in science culture. Recent essays describe the toll that heavy-handed criticism, poor work-life balance, inequity, sexism, and racism have on members of the science community.

Why kindness? In science, groups that are already underrepresented, such as women, are leaving science in droves. The science workforce lacks diversity, and despite many initiatives, science fails to be inclusive of or accessible for many. To produce the best possible science, a new approach that includes deliberate and sustained actions to change the science system from the bottom up and the top down is necessary.

We began as individual members of the science community working across different institutions and disciplines, each converging on ‘kindness in science’ as the way forward. We then found one another and decided to move forward as a collective.

Ehara tāku toa i te toa takitahi, ēngari he toa takitini

My strength does not come from me alone but from the collective.

With this in mind, we launched the inaugural Kindness in Science workshop. From the start, we challenged ourselves to reflect the change we want to see in the science community. Prior to the workshop, we discussed principles inherent in Te Tiriti o Waitangi, including reciprocity, mutual benefit, equity, partnership and redress, to ensure those often not well represented in science, such as Māori researchers, had a strong voice. We invited people from across the science community (e.g., university scientists, government scientists, historians, librarians, and science communicators), and across career stages (i.e., early-, mid- and late-career – for us, early-career researchers include postgraduate students, postdoctoral fellows as well as new hires).

We gathered to define and discuss Kindness in Science. The result? A living definition that can change in response to the needs of people:

Kindness in Science is an inclusive approach that fosters diversity, respect, wellbeing, and openness, leading to better science outcomes.

We anticipate this definition will change over time, but the overall message from the larger collective is clear: to enable an intersectional science community, a science culture embedded with equity, access, diversity, and inclusion is needed. Despite receiving accolades both here in Aotearoa and overseas, this message has not come without speculation and debate: Some have been quick to diminish Kindness in Science, citing the initiative as simply “good collaboration” or “being nice”. But in fact, it is much broader than that. The Collective argues that the best science cannot be delivered in a power structure that favours cut-throat empire builders. Rather, it will come from an inclusive system that rewards diverse science collectives.

In the time since the collective first gathered, we have reflected on Kindness in Science and tested individual and structural changes in our own science communities. We have found a growing appetite for tools, words, and approaches at multiple levels to engage in this conversation.

In this series, we will publish blogs that reveal challenges raised by members of the collective: on diversity and inclusivity, intergenerationality, mental health, individual and structural kindness, and more. We will also be a leverage point, showcasing new and varied examples of Kindness in Science and its collective impacts, such as structural changes in the science system in Aotearoa (e.g., New Zealand’s BioHeritage National Science Challenge and Te Pūnaha Matatini) and globally (e.g., Canada’s Dimensions program is now the fourth country to implement the UK Athena Swan model).

Cultural change is notoriously difficult to tackle, and the science community is no exception to this. But with a growing call for Kindness in Science here and abroad, we will use this blog series as a vehicle for exploring what embedding kindness in science can bring for Aotearoa and the global science community.

Join us in the conversation.


6 Responses to “What is Kindness in Science?”

  • This is all very well, but it completely fails to acknowledge the bigger problems within science in NZ and probably elsewhere. Corporate science (in a broad sense which includes academia) is motivated primarily by making money and is quite prepared to misrepresent the merits of projects, overload projects with expenses (as a way to strategically ditch external funding after the “overheads” have been claimed), and exploit/disadvantage students to these ends. A couple of years ago, I made a complaint about just such an incident, but nobody cared that the university involved had obtained funding from a charitable trust (whose chairman was a professor at the same university), without independent review of the merits of the project, which was being offered to students as a masters thesis project, was heavily overloaded with travel and acommodation expenses (including helicopter rides) and made no scientific sense whatsoever! When I initially raised the issue to a then associate professor (subsequently promoted to full professor), suggesting that it was a waste of money and disadvantages the student, she replied [quote]money gets wasted all the time, so why are you making such a big deal of this case?[unquote] and [quote]we don’t expect Masters students to do very well anyway[unquote]! My attempts to push a complaint through the system simply resulted in my eviction from the premises by security guard! None of the watchdog agencies I talked to could be bothered doing anything. They didn’t disagree with my assessment of the situation, they just didn’t think it was worth doing anything about it! So, let’s all make sure we are nice and kind to each other as we exploit students and burn funding on fake science projects in order to make money!

  • Classic use of the straw man fallacy there (and conversation hijacking). This group is not claiming to be able to solve every problem with the science system.
    Well done to the Kindness in Science Collective for raising a really important issue and taking positive action to solve it!

  • Hi Stephen

    I’m trying to see the direct relevance of your grammar-challenged stream of unconciousness to the subject at hand.

    Nope, can’t see any.

  • The relevance is simply that it seems pointless to me to increase “kindness” in an area which is for other reasons a “shark tank” of greed and funding grabbing. It would be somewhat analogous to lobbying for kindness within drug cartels, or something like that! It simply ignores the overriding problems.

  • Two thoughts: one is that life happens in the details and may be transformed by attention to the details. So if the kindness advocated here starts to get a grip, then perhaps situations like the one Stephen describes will be less likely. Second, as Stephen says, it is important not to overlook the big things. But can we bring these into the embrace of kindness? I wonder if there is a need to both ‘love the one you’re with’ – i.e. be kind to those around you, and always hold the big picture in mind. So, for example, it isn’t ‘kind’ to give a masters student a scholarship for a project that misuses common resources.

  • The problem (or, key problem) with Stephen’s post is that it assumes a dichotomy that doesn’t exist. Niki touches on this, but really it should be said more bluntly.

    Perhaps with kindness.

    I’m not sure personally that kindness as it is generally understood belongs in science. I would support the definition shown in the op – a mix of respect, awareness of others, and ethical behaviour, but kindness pre-supposes some moral objectivism that as a society we do not yet agree on. Euthanasia is a case in point where an action seen as fundamentally “kind” by some, is fundamentally abhorent to others.