cover of book

Misconceiving Merit: Paradoxes of Excellence and Devotion in Academic Science and Engineering
by Mary Blair-Loy and Erin A. Cech
University of Chicago Press, 2022
Cloth: 978-0-226-82011-8 | eISBN: 978-0-226-82014-9 | Paper: 978-0-226-82015-6
Library of Congress Classification Q175.5.B55 2022
Dewey Decimal Classification 306.45

An incisive study showing how cultural ideas of merit in academic science produce unfair and unequal outcomes.
In Misconceiving Merit, sociologists Mary Blair-Loy and Erin A. Cech uncover the cultural foundations of a paradox. On one hand, academic science, engineering, and math revere meritocracy, a system that recognizes and rewards those with the greatest talent and dedication. At the same time, women and some racial and sexual minorities remain underrepresented and often feel unwelcome and devalued in STEM. How can academic science, which so highly values meritocracy and objectivity, produce these unequal outcomes?
Blair-Loy and Cech studied more than five hundred STEM professors at a top research university to reveal how unequal and unfair outcomes can emerge alongside commitments to objectivity and excellence. The authors find that academic STEM harbors dominant cultural beliefs that not only perpetuate the mistreatment of scientists from underrepresented groups but hinder innovation. Underrepresented groups are often seen as less fully embodying merit compared to equally productive white and Asian heterosexual men, and the negative consequences of this misjudgment persist regardless of professors’ actual academic productivity. Misconceiving Merit is filled with insights for higher education administrators working toward greater equity as well as for scientists and engineers striving to change entrenched patterns of inequality in STEM.
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