Two paths merging

Last month, the career resource center AGU Pathfinder pulled an ad for a tenure-track position in geological sciences at Brigham Young University (BYU). BYU is a private university in Utah run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Following the tenets of its sponsoring religion, BYU has a strict honor code that forbids sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage. Additionally, the university gives hiring preference to members of its religion, though nonmembers can be hired if they abide by the honor code.

In mid-September, a concerned member of the geoscience community complained that the ad effectively excluded potential LGBTQ+ candidates. Initially, AGU said the ad could remain on the site on the grounds that it didn’t include discriminatory language and that challenging the honor code of an accredited university was outside their purview. In late September, the email exchange was posted on Twitter, where it drew substantial attention. Days later, AGU reversed course, tweeting that it had decided to remove the BYU job posting as being inconsistent with AGU’s Scientific Ethics and Integrity Policy.

As members of AGU with diverse social views, our goal here is to expand the discussion of inclusivity in this incredible science community that has nurtured and supported us since before we started grad school.

The removal of the ad was applauded unanimously on Twitter as a step toward diversity and inclusion. In fact, comments indicated it was so obvious the ad didn’t belong that the only critiques were about why it took so long to pull or why AGU posted the ad in the first place. The message seemed unified and definitive: Institutions with socially conservative policies do not have a place in our community.

Writing this, we can almost hear what many of you are thinking. Here comes a white, heterosexual, cisgender, religious complaint about discrimination. Indeed, several of the comments on Twitter voiced this criticism in advance, mentioning how conservatives are (borrowing a pejorative term from the right) snowflakes who bristle at the slightest challenge. Given the intense and long-standing discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community, we understand the outrage at the ad and the celebration of its pulling. Our point is not to defend BYU’s honor code or hiring policies. There is an active debate surrounding that subject already, in which BYU is frequently censured and celebrated for its interpretations of diversity [Dimock, 2019; Nelson, 2011].

As members of AGU with diverse social views, our goal here is to expand the discussion of inclusivity in this incredible science community that has nurtured and supported us since before we started grad school. In this time of increasing political division, we believe it is important to talk about what we mean by diversity and how to work toward it as a science community.

Why Care About Diversity in the First Place?

The stated mission of AGU is “to promote discovery in Earth and space science for the benefit of humanity.” AGU’s Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan makes a succinct and powerful case for why we need diversity to accomplish that goal:

AGU defines “diversity” as the full spectrum of personal attributes, cultural affiliations, and professional or socioeconomic statuses that characterize individuals within society. Collectively, these identities inform and shape one’s scientific ways of thinking. AGU values diversity because it catalyzes productivity in the Earth and space science enterprise, fosters the professional success of AGU’s members, increases the vitality of the AGU organization, and enhances the societal relevance and impact of AGU science.

Diversity supports our moral values and practical goals. It gives us a glimpse into ways of living and thinking that were invisible or inaccessible to us. It humanizes our ideological and practical competitors and encourages compassion and concern. It ratchets down identity divisions that otherwise short-circuit exchange of ideas and values. It improves the accuracy and innovation of formal and informal research on political, social, and scientific issues [Duarte et al., 2015; Shi et al., 2019]. Liberals and conservatives alike have been shown to dismiss scientific evidence based on political allegiance, meaning that our public credibility depends on good science from diverse scientists [Ditto et al., 2019]. Perhaps most important from a community perspective, diversity favors equal representation and creates crucial opportunities for disadvantaged and discriminated-against individuals.

However, diversity is more than just looking different or even being different. Tolerance at arm’s length will not bring about the many benefits of diversity. Active relationships among deeply different individuals are needed to unlock the power of diversity to improve our science and our society [Holvino et al., 2004; Stevens et al., 2008]. Diversity is difference and disagreement in a context of community and collaboration.

Not That Kind of Diversity

Related to the more familiar concepts of diversity of race, sexual orientation, and religion, ideological diversity is the collaboration of individuals and groups who differ in their moral values, policy positions, or worldviews. Because ideology is defined by beliefs rather than physical differences, achieving ideological diversity means spending time and working with people who disagree with us. Sounds painful, right?

Ideological diversity requires a willingness to be challenged and the intellectual humility to admit that the other side may have something to offer.

Ideological diversity requires a willingness to be challenged and the intellectual humility to admit that the other side may have something to offer. These factors make it one of the hardest types of diversity to achieve and sustain. Indeed, some academic fields have lost most of their ideological diversity over the past 50 years because of a combination of self-selection, hostile atmosphere, and discrimination [Duarte et al., 2015]. One of the justifications for ideological discrimination is that many consider ideology to be completely volitional (i.e., a choice), distinguishing it from race, gender, and sexual orientation. From that perspective, excluding people and groups with different viewpoints may seem justifiable because it is more socially acceptable to judge behaviors or attributes that are considered choices [Hoyt et al., 2019]. Contrary to this volitional view, social science has found that ideology, similar to religious worldviews, is influenced by culture, family, genetics, and life experience—not factors that can be readily reversed [Carney et al., 2008; Hibbing et al., 2013].

However, discrimination based on ideology appears to be widespread. One study gave identical scholarship applications with varying political cues to a review panel. Four out of five panelists selected applicants from their own political party, a larger discrimination than observed for race [Iyengar and Westwood, 2015]. The fact that liberals and conservatives are equally willing to discriminate against each other in a variety of circumstances threatens equal opportunity and the diversity of thought that are central to scientific and social progress [Brandt et al., 2014]. Though it is difficult to find unbiased data, there is strong evidence that conservatives are substantially underrepresented in the geosciences and academia generally compared with the overall population [Gross and Simmons, 2014; Jacobsen and Jacobsen, 2008].

A lack of ideological diversity not only hurts those who are excluded; it decreases opportunity to improve arguments and examine blind spots in the majority.

A lack of ideological diversity not only hurts those who are excluded; it decreases opportunity to improve arguments and examine blind spots in the majority. The American Council on Education asserts, “For many students, higher education represents the first and best chance to learn from diverse peers. In an increasingly interdependent global economy and society, America will suffer if its citizens are not prepared to live and work in multicultural settings.” If our largely liberal community decides not to rub shoulders with conservatives, we will be poorly prepared to translate our science to the public, lobby legislators to increase research funding, and effectively inform the creation and application of policy.

Even if we do not care about ideological diversity per se, it will be difficult or impossible to achieve goals for demographic diversity without it. Independent of party affiliation, ideology correlates with socioeconomic status and racial and ethnic identity. Working-class, rural, black, Hispanic, and Muslim populations are more religious or socially conservative on average than whites in the United States [Bramlett, 2012]. Intentional or unintentional exclusion of conservatives will disproportionately disadvantage those groups. Not surprisingly, all dimensions of diversity are connected.

Where Does It Stop?

It is nice to laud the virtues of ideological diversity, but what about when accommodating certain viewpoints seems to conflict with other community goals? The person who contacted AGU about BYU’s ad asked the question this way: “If the honor code included the phrase ‘blacks need not apply’, would the ad stay up? What about ‘Jews are not allowed on the BYU campus’? is that Acceptable? … The answer should, of course, be that any exclusionary language is unacceptable.”

This issue is directly addressed in the Civil Rights Act. Title VII allows religious institutions to preferentially hire their own but requires equal expectations of all employees (i.e., no double standards once hired). It also disqualifies racial discrimination as an eligible belief. This is a normative threshold that could be changed by future legislation—two cases about Title VII are now being heard by the Supreme Court—but it creates a clear stopping rule for discrimination based on religious ideology.

One might also ask the question of who to exclude in the other direction. If we require progressive policies of all participating institutions, we would exclude many religious schools that have restrictive honor codes, including Baylor and most Jewish and Islamic universities. The requirements vary, but these organizations use exclusionary language, often based on traditional religious beliefs. Should we disallow them from recruiting through AGU Pathfinder for fear that it would strengthen or validate their political or moral positions? Does it follow that we also should prevent them from presenting their research at AGU meetings or publishing in AGU journals—activities that clearly benefit their reputation and research?

Beyond the religious sphere, what about researchers from countries with serious human rights issues? In many of our members’ countries, minorities are not only prevented from applying for a particular job, but their lives and families may be in danger because of their political, sexual, or religious identities. Should institutions sponsored by China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Iran not be allowed to participate in our community because of objectionable beliefs and policies? In the private sector, what about research funded by the fossil fuel industry—at the heart of massive environmental damage and social injustice—or other corporations with morally questionable practices?

We do not mean these questions to be hypothetical, nor are we implying that we should compromise our community’s values out of expediency. If we believe something is wrong, we should address it. Our question is, How can we as a science community most effectively develop and share our values of diversity and serving humankind?

Protest Versus Persuasion

This brings us to the heart of our discussion. When we perceive that an issue is causing real harm to others, how should we respond? The impulse to punish or intervene with force often prevails in urgent and heated conflicts, sometimes to great effect. For example, protests and boycotts have shifted behavior and public discourse about race, sexual identity, and economic status. However, hard-line solutions can also push prejudice underground rather than uprooting it, as seen in disparities between public and private expressions of discriminatory beliefs and resistance to new information [Drakulich, 2015; Chae et al., 2015; Hoyt et al., 2019].

It is clearly our responsibility to set ground rules in our events and forums, but if we let in only the “ideologically pure” who already fulfill a strict set of worthiness standards, we will exclude the people we hope to learn from and influence.

An alternative response is to engage in discussions and develop relationships with those we perceive as adversaries. In our religious tradition, this diplomatic approach to enforcing norms and influencing others is required by a 19th century scripture: “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of [authority or majority], only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile.” Though our faith community falls short of this ideal often, it suggests that the way to persuade people of the validity of our worldview is not to silence theirs.

Research supports this view, showing that having a relationship with a real person is one of the most effective antidotes for prejudice against that person’s identity or worldview [Bramlett, 2012; Johnson et al., 2019]. An approach of reconciliation rather than repudiation can allow individuals with apparently incompatible worldviews and grievances to tolerate and even collaborate [Barnes and Brownell, 2017; Lindsay et al., 2019]. The cure of relationship can bridge cultural barriers, but it must be administered in person through conversation and association.

We fundamentally believe that our science community’s goals of racial, sexual, gender, economic, and ideological diversity are not at odds. If we want to understand diverse perspectives and stand a chance to influence the thoughts and actions of those with whom we disagree, we should go out of our way to invite and include them in our community. Once they are here, we have a chance to win the argument for diversity through our example of vitality and vision. It is clearly our responsibility to set ground rules in our events and forums, but if we let in only the “ideologically pure” who already fulfill a strict set of worthiness standards, we will exclude the people we hope to learn from and influence. A plurality of backgrounds and beliefs will benefit both the minority and majority by challenging assumptions and creating compassion that can lead to listening and change.

Fear Is Not Power

When the stakes are high, as for questions of LGBTQ+ treatment and the scope of inclusion in our community, that is when we need to be most purposeful and deliberate in our actions. How much should we temper our impulse to command and control with our long-term goal of including and influencing? This is a defining discussion for our community. Twitter was a useful tool for starting the conversation, but it should not be the only venue for interpreting and applying our values.

We hesitated before submitting this piece to Eos. In this brief and public format, we worried that our words could feel hostile or glib to those who are experiencing real pain stemming from the division and inequality in our society. Despite lingering fears, we finally submitted these thoughts because we believe that the best way to advance diversity within our community and expand our influence without is to counsel together. We hope our community will be forgiving of our failings and blind spots, and we look forward to questions and criticisms in an extended dialogue. Fear can temporarily modify behavior, but it is unlikely to heal the wounds of separation that hobble our country and threaten our international research community. Only love can do that.


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Author Information

Benjamin W. Abbott (, Jani Radebaugh, and Jamie L. Jensen, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah

Editor’s Note: Below is a statement from AGU.

AGU has always encouraged and fostered a diverse geoscience community throughout its history because we believe—and repeatedly see—that diversity and inclusion are essential to advancing science. We appreciate the Opinion from Brigham Young University professors, two of whom are AGU members, that outlines their thoughts on this important issue.

Even though they are correct that there are laws against discrimination, that does not always stop it from happening. That’s why as an organization and, more importantly, a member of this community, we strive for consistency in our programs and services with our approved policies.

When someone joins as a member, staff, or partner, AGU requires that person to adhere to our Scientific Ethics and Integrity Policy. Since the job posting from BYU referenced its honor code as a requirement of employment, which conflicts with our policy, we removed the job posting from our website.

Yet we recognize that individuals are separate from their institutions, which is why all members of our science community faculty and staff are always welcome to fully participate with AGU in any manner they choose, such as presenters, authors, or volunteers.

To ensure clarity, we are reviewing our processes and will update them accordingly to ensure they are acknowledged and understood by any member, staff, or partner.

—Billy Williams, Vice President, Ethics, Diversity and Inclusion, AGU


Abbott, B. W.,Radebaugh, J., and Jensen, J. L. (2019), Does our vision of diversity include social conservatives?, Eos, 100, Published on 23 October 2019.

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