The American Scientist & Engineer

Kevin Nguyen and Perry K. Wong

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When we think of the American scientist, we think of a story on demographics and change. Speaking in looser terms, we define that change not only in the context of scientific progress but also to societal progress. With the United State’s projected to become a majority-minority country by 2060, we wanted to know how we fit into this story. We decided to analyze recent survey data to assess the diversity of America’s STEM professionals. We had one simple question: Are AAPIs under or overrepresented in the science professions. Additionally, we wanted to know how if the number of employed AAPIs reflected national trends and if there were signs of barriers for working in the STEM professions for AAPIs.

Understanding these relationships have far-reaching implications for educational funding; intuitively, we assume that state and local governments would prefer to allocate funding to the fields most likely to result in employment and improved outcomes for historically underrepresented groups — including racial minorities, women, transgendered, and the disabled.

To answer our question, we examined the National Science Foundation’s 2015 report “Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering” where we came across a data set breaking down our nation’s scientists and engineers along racial and gender lines. Initially, we found that AAPIs made up a higher portion of scientists and engineers than our numbers nationally. However, closer inspection of the data on AAPIs reveals underlying disparities masked by the initial overrepresentation of Asian Americans, and benefits in employment has not spread equally among all AAPI groups or genders.

The report made a distinction between AAPIs labeled Asian and Native American Pacific Islander (NHPI). When we disaggregated the two, NHPIs were underrepresented among scientists. We found the new numbers problematic, given the coupling of the two groups as AAPI, which could create generalizations and shape perceptions of our race as a whole for researchers and policymakers.

To remedy this issue, we advocate for further disaggregation of data on the groups that make up AAPI, which we know is possible. This will provide a more accurate picture of our group’s diversity, as we can trace our origins to 320 ethnicities and over 100 languages. There are real issues facing individuals communities considered AAPI and providing more options than Asian and Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander would provide these communities a stronger voice in the public policy conversation.