Posts tagged with "diversity"

On the Virtue of Real Action in Place of `Virtue Signaling’

Credit: TIME

When jogging through my neighborhood at sunrise, I often see backyard signs pledging allegiance to a sacred political principle which my neighbors hold dear. The backyard signs communicate what the neighbors want others to think that they care about. However, these signs do little to promote in practice the cause they highlight. The signs are posted because they represent a popular opinion within the community. They would not be posted in a community with a different set of values, to avoid the risk of controversy. Ironically, it is the other community that needs convincing, and where the sign would serve the purpose of engaging in a dialogue to improve the world.

A 2020 Morning Consult poll found that a quarter of adults without children say climate change is part of the reason they didn’t have children. Given the rest of our industrial activities, their choice has little impact on suppressing climate change, akin to the impact of becoming vegan on saving endangered species. But these decisions make people feel and look better within their like-minded communities.

Later in my day, I see many of my colleagues on the academic campus using popular slogans to express their loyalty to trendy principles. The spectacle reminds me of the uniform we used to wear at elementary school to hide our actual socioeconomic backgrounds. This is all good, except that when it comes to the hard work necessary for fulfilling these same principles by actually helping real people, the same colleagues are nowhere to be found.

What is the virtue inherent in `virtue signaling’? Clearly, it is the pleasure of communicating the beauty of ideas that aim to repair a broken world. But without turning them into action, the beautiful ideas resemble an engine that lacks transmission. A car’s transmission is essential for turning the engine’s power into motion on the road. The engine by itself only makes noise.

Why is it then that action is rare? Obviously, because it requires hard work as well as coming up with an effective implementation strategy on how to make a difference.

Over the past decade I had the privilege of serving simultaneously as director of the Institute for Theory and Computation, chair of the Astronomy department and founding director of the Black Hole Initiative at Harvard University. The reason I agreed to serve on all three leadership roles as once, was to improve my environment. They demanded sacrifice of my precious research time. Those who know me would testify that there is nothing more enjoyable for me than being fully immersed in creative scientific work, of which administrative distractions are the foe. But at some phase in my career, I realized that I cannot rely on others to do what needs to be done, and so I welcomed this opportunity to promote excellence and diversity. Most of my leadership efforts were invested in supporting students, postdocs and junior faculty of all backgrounds. The reason was simple: my own upbringing was unprivileged and I knew how difficult it is to make it up the academic ladder. I felt committed to helping fledgling scientists achieve success irrespective of where they started. Helping real people required hard work, unlike `virtue signaling’.

To protect their privacy, I cannot mention the dozens of individuals I was fortunate to help during my leadership roles over the years, but my home office is filled with “Thank-You” notes from all of them. The backyard signs of my neighbors serve a different purpose. These offer a shortcut to feeling better.

Unfortunately, `virtue signaling’ also appears in scientific research because of peer pressure. For example, astrobiologists will lobby for the search of bio-signatures on the surface of Mars, but will shy away from promoting an unapologetic disruptive approach in looking for them. None of the past NASA missions to Mars employed a microscope or added a drop of water in-situ to Martian soil in order to check for any signs of dormant life that might be awaken. The adopted approaches provided a safer path for avoiding controversy, such as the claim by former NASA engineer Gilbert V. Levine who served as the principal investigator Labeled Release experiment on NASA Viking missions to Mars, and explicitly argued in a Scientific American essay in 2019 that he is convinced we already found life on Mars in the 1970s.

Similarly, astrobiologists plan to invest billions of dollars in the search for primitive life in exoplanet atmosphere over the coming decades, but do not allocate even a percent of these funds to the search for intelligent life. To avoid controversy, they regard techno-signatures as risky relative to bio-signatures even though the one biosphere we know, here on Earth, has both.

The pattern repeats farther down. SETI scientists who searched for radio signals unsuccessfully for seven decades mention peripherally the search for technological objects near Earth as an alternative. However, when it comes to analyzing actual data on the anomalous geometry and non-gravitational acceleration of the first reported interstellar object `Oumuamua or the high material strength of the first two interstellar meteors, they join forces with the conservative mainstream of astrobiology and dismiss upfront a possible technological origin without engaging in any further research. The Galileo Project aims to repair this attitude by following the scientific method and seeking new data on anomalous objects near Earth.

In another context, fundamental physics aims to explain reality, yet the mainstream of theoretical physics was engaged for four decades in developing abstract concepts of string theory and the multiverse with no experimental sanity checks. In this community, `virtue signaling’ is to argue that engaging with real experimental data is an option for a physicist, akin to the proposal that the job description of a plumber could include the option of fixing plumbing issues in the Metaverse for the community of subscribers who put Metaverse goggles on their head.

Scientific `virtue signaling’ admits loyalty to the mainstream while whispering — but not pursuing — disruptive innovation, in order to avoid controversy. It offers an easy path of least resistance for scientists to remain popular within the groupthink. It avoids the hard work required to improve on what we know. Herd mentality sometimes masquerades as `open-mindedness’ when it lacks action to change the world.

Artificial intelligence (AI) systems like GPT-4 are trained to imitate humans. As such, they mirror society and are already showing biases and discrimination against various groups of people. By reflecting our image, AI provides a reality check as to the limited effectiveness of `virtue signaling’. Here’s hoping that AI mirrors will bring awareness to the discrepancy between our wishful thinking and the reality surrounding us, so as to trigger action.

The unfortunate nature of `virtue signaling’ is that it does not represent a sincere attempt to repair the world. On occasion, it can lead to the opposite outcome by pushing back against individuals who are actually engaged in an honest effort to promote a change, because they upset the status-quo and create controversy. These individuals are not as popular as `virtue signaling’ advocates. But they carry the actual virtues that others are signaling.


Avi Loeb is the head of the Galileo Project, founding director of Harvard University’s — Black Hole Initiative, director of the Institute for Theory and Computation at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and the former chair of the astronomy department at Harvard University (2011–2020). He chairs the advisory board for the Breakthrough Starshot project, and is a former member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and a former chair of the Board on Physics and Astronomy of the National Academies. He is the bestselling author of “Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth” and a co-author of the textbook “Life in the Cosmos”, both published in 2021. His new book, titled “Interstellar”, is scheduled for publication in August 2023.

ePa Sponsors April DEI Virtual Event

As part of the mission of ePluribus: America to help advance diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility and belonging in every aspect of American culture, we are proud to announce this partnership to teach the core concepts of diversity. This DEI event is structured to help CEO’s, HR officials, Diversity Officers, thought leaders, policy makers and everyone with a stake in DEI initiatives recognize and overcome the barriers of organizational inclusion and belonging. In many cases, we have to unlearn in order to learn better ways of expressing our collective humanity for the sake of a better world for all. And ultimately, that is the purpose and focus of ePa’s DEI initiative and collaboration. And as a thank you, subscribers will get a $20 discount that reduces the ticket to $39.00. The discount code for ePa subscribers is EPLUR.  

Yours Truly,

Jeanette Lenoir

April DEI Virtual Event!

Join these business professionals virtually as they learn and discuss strategies for shaping the work culture with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021
10:00 am – 12:00 pm EST

Registration and the full itinerary for the event can be found here:

“When we open communication up, down, and across our organization, we enhance our ability to recognize and value our differences and similarities. Communicating effectively requires observation and empathetic listening to ensure understanding. As we identify our own listening skills and cognitive biases, we will become better equipped to mindfully acknowledge our barriers and intentionally work to put them aside, cultivating a safe, diverse, and inclusive workplace. Lynda and Kashonna collaborate to provide engaging and informative sessions in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion with a focus on improving communication. After forty-five minutes of content and engagement with breakout activities, we will entertain questions and share ideas for the remainder of the hour.”

My interview with Larry Wilner, Organizer:

The 117th Congress Reflects Our Changing America


“The 117th Congress will be the most diverse group of lawmakers ever to chart the nation’s course when it meets in January after women and nonwhite candidates made gains in the November elections,” states a recent report in The Hill.

This shift in our nation’s armor is a testament to the strong will and perseverance of a people that refuse to live on their knees so rich white men can continue to reap the lion share of our nation’s wealth and supremacy. Black folks, after building the most powerful nation in the world via brutal slave labor, fighting its wars without adequate thanks, inventing products that forever changed how people live, all while subjected to living on the dark side of the moon for what feels like eternity, are changing the face of Congress and other governing institutions across the country. And this fierce determination of grace is not only the pilot light of humanity, but the embodiment of E Pluribus Unum. We’re finally seeing the face of America and it’s a tapestry full of colors, cultures and religion.

Out of many, one nation of diverse people is finally emerging from behind the iron curtain staunchly guarded by a dying breed of shameless dividers and greedy power-hungry hoarders like Mitch McConnell. No doubt, history will reward him and his ilk accordingly, and rightfully so. Just like Confederate statues tumbling down, so will their legacy of white supremacy, greed and total disregard for the path of righteousness that stands right before them. McConnell represents the shame of American greed that refuses to budge, despite the harsh truth and evidence of his impact on his own state of Kentucky, and the entire nation struggling through a deadly pandemic. His impact on America, unique in its search for identity, will never be forgotten and should never be forgiven. As families lineup in food lines across the country, McConnell is fighting to maintain his grip on power rather than cooperate with fellow lawmakers to provide relief for desperate Americans. A crucial piece of legislation to provide Americans with much needed Covid-19 relief, as well as fund our military, H.R.6395 – National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 (NDAA) is facing a veto threat from Trump and pushback from McConnell. Why, you ask? Because they object to the level of protection for taxpayers during a pandemic and renaming U.S. military bases honoring Confederate commanders. President Trump and Senate Majority Leader McConnell believe the nation is overreacting to a pandemic and want to protect traitors who killed their own countrymen to preserve slavery. They say the forces that surround power are the real power. And that power belongs to McConnell. Folks, evil has a face, and he’s the epitome of Sheev Palpatine seething with gritted teeth, “everything that has transpired has done so according to my design.”

Although the road to self-determination has been long and bloody, the struggle is finally bearing some edible fruit. And the makeup of the 117th Congress tells us we’re on the right path to creating the world Dr. King spoke of during his speech at the 1963 March on Washington. We’re rising up to live out the true meaning of America’s creed. The fight to break the chains that have bonded Black people since the dawn of European conquest for the riches of Africa are slowly coming off. One revolution after another, bit by bit, struggle by struggle, heartache upon heartache, injustice after injustice, our spirit, protected and guided by the dreams of our ancestors, refuses to buckle, bend or retreat. From the many battles to maintain Africa for African people, slavery and the African Diaspora, the Abolitionist movement, the Civil War, Women’s Suffrage, Industrialization, the Jim Crow era to the Civil Rights movement, Black people have led the way for mankind’s ultimate freedom, even from self. And Black people in pursuit of salvation have galvanized other ethnic groups to do the same by rising up to face a common enemy: greed and imperialism birthed by Europeans and their designated murderer of humanity, Christopher Columbus who paved the way that ushered in slavery.

The whistling winds of change blowing from plantation to freedom in America is slowly being reflected in the hub of our collective power: Congress. Even so, there is no moment for rest, as there is no rest for the weary. The work to deliberately right the wrongs is just beginning. And not just to clean up Trump’s 4-year destruction of political, societal and international norms, but to rebuild an unjust system that oppresses Black and brown people.

And what does that look like? It looks like flipping the Senate by way of voting Democrat in Georgia. Despite a historic win to seat Joe Biden as the 46th U.S. President, staunch efforts are being made to muzzle we, the people who spoke loud and clear with our votes. Bishop Talbert Swan said it perfectly on Twitter, “17 white, Republican, attorney generals are supporting the Texas attorney general’s attempt to reverse the results of the 2020 election by suing PA, MI, GA, and WI because Black people in Philly, Detroit, Milwaukee and Atlanta voted against Trump is white supremacy on steroids.” This is the movement Trump dragged in like the dead rodent brought in the house by the cat. Bob Marley once said, evil never takes a day off and neither should good, making the work ahead crucial as this country heads into an unknown future as leader of the free world in the midst of a deadly pandemic.

The justice being ushered in also looks like, Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris, General Lloyd Austin selected to head the Department of Defense, Congresswoman Martha L. Fudge as U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and Linda Thomas-Greenfield, nominee for U.S. Ambassador to the United Nation. And it looks like the feisty Congresswoman Katie Porter who isn’t afraid to fight her elders in Congress for the sake of her countrymen. There can be no peace without justice. And it’s not a personal pursuit of pillory against white people, rather war against a system structured to oppress Black people in every sector of our society. This unifying movement in America, is a demand to right blatant wrongs and finally end the brutality inflicted upon Black people and other POC by Europeans and their descendants. This isn’t new. Many wars have been fought, from Africa to the shores of America and everywhere in between, to push back their land and wealth grab, and inhumanity.

Our work also looks like honesty about the history of the world, curriculum change that teaches the truth about man’s history, cultural theft and genocide, discoveries and conquests from ancient to modern times, deliberate upward mobility initiatives to finally allow Black people to hold their rightful prosperous place in America, police reform and equality; socially and economically. Similar to whites receiving reparations following the end of slavery, so too must African Americans benefit from an eternity of brutality, lynching’s and injustice in a country of their making. Imagine 500 years of being forced to live on your knees for the benefit of one group that continues to profit from these unjust circumstances. We’re not there yet but I’m grateful we’re on our way to the mountain top Dr. King envisioned for all Americans. The changing face and make-up of Congress isn’t about one group of people losing, but rather all of us winning.