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Reader Feedback: Whither Kanake in (white) Astronomy?

Watching the way that the debate about the TMT has come into our field has angered and saddened me so much. Outward blatant racism and then deflecting and defending. I don't want to post this because I am a chicken and fairly vulnerable given my status as a postdoc (Editor's note: How sad is it that our young astronomers feel afraid to speak out on this issue? This should make clear the power dynamics at play in this debate)

But I thought the number crunching I did might be useful for those on the fence. I wanted to see how badly astronomy itself is failing Native Hawaiians. I'm not trying to get into all of the racist infrastructure that has created an underclass on Hawaii, but if we are going to argue about "well it wasn't astronomers who did it," we should be able to back that assertion with numbers. Having tried to do so, well I think the argument has no standing. At all. 

Based on my research, it looks like there are about 1400 jobs in Hawaii related to astronomy and the telescopes, meaning that 0.1% of Hawaii residents are astronomers (we could say only 50% of these astronomy-related individuals do research if we wanted to, but I'll start with the 1400 number).

In contrast, in the US, there are about 6000 astronomer jobs (0.002% of the population, or 50x smaller representation than in Hawaii). Okay, if you take the representation of Native Hawaiians amongst the US population and figure out how many astronomers you should have of Native descent, you should have about 3 nation-wide. But note that this is probably not the right determination. If you live in Hawai'i, you are already 50x more likely to be employed in an astronomy-related field. And of course, Hawai'i is where the highest concentration of Native Hawaiians live. Thus, I argue that we should focus specifically on the state of Hawai'i. 

Roughly 10% of Hawaiian residents identified on the census as Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. This means that about 140 of those astronomy jobs (10% of 1400) in Hawai'i should be filled by Native Hawaiians. Are we even close to that? Can anyone name more than two native Hawiian PhD astronomers?

Not sure if this helps the debate at all, but at least to me, this was the way I could sit down and say "we as astronomers are failing Native Hawaiians. Terribly." These are the hard numbers. Because Hawaii has such an overpopulation of astronomers, one should expect that if the demographics were that being any resident of Hawaii led to the same exposure and same chances to pursue astronomy, we are off of the ideal situation by...2 orders of magnitude?!

Can you imagine how this TMT debate would be proceeding if 140 of our Hawaiian astronomers were native Hawaiians? 



Markus Pössel said…
An interesting calculation, but as far as I can see, you operate with the wrong number of jobs. From the description given in the UHERO report, p. 11 ff., the "1394 jobs statewide" are the ones created by astronomy-related spending - and those are in all but a few cases not jobs in astronomy, but in various industries on which astronomy is spending money: Agriculture, manufacturing etc. etc. - see the breakdown in table 1 on p. 10. Table 3 on p.12 shows more explicitly how those jobs are shared between the different industries.

In other words, the 1400 are not "astronomer jobs" - they are mostly jobs in agriculture, manufacturing, real estate, entertainment etc. paid for with the money astronomy (both astronomers/students as private individuals and astronomy-funded projects) spends on Hawaii. The only (staff-level) astronomer jobs I found explicitly mentioned in the UHERO report are the 81 PhD level jobs at the Institute for Astronomy.

It's still a valid question why there is apparently only 1 Native Hawaiian astronomer on faculty at IfA (according to this article - plus apparently only 3 PhDs who graduated in Hawaii) when there should be 8 (as 10% of 81). But roughly one order of magnitude of your discrepancy between 10% of 1400 and the order of 1 Native Hawaiian astronomy PhDs apparently stems from an incorrect interpretation of the 1400 astronomy-created jobs.
John Johnson said…
Thanks Markus. As you note, there are ~100 staff scientist positions at IfA Manoa alone. However, I'm confused about your numbers which seem to focus only on PhD-level astronomy researchers. Including engineering staff, IT support, and postdocs would bring the number of professional-level, astro-related positions to well over 100 at Manoa alone. Then there's the facility at Haleakalā, the IfA Hilo campus, and all of the various telescope support facilities on the Big Island. For example, the SMA has a huge staff and I can't recall seeing many Native Hawaiians working anywhere near that project. I can see how 1400 may be an overestimate, but ~100 must be way low.

Plus, as you note, having only 1 Native Hawaiian PhD is a total embarrassment now matter how you adjust the denominator in the fractional accounting.
Markus Pössel said…
Sure - correcting the numbers doesn't make the situation significantly less embarrassing, and action is clearly called for. The reason I looked only at the PhD-level jobs (which I take to be short for "astronomer jobs that require the holder to have a PhD" - just restating this to avoid any possibly misunderstandings that might arise from my non-native speaker status) was since that was the point of comparison chosen in the original article ("Can anyone name more than two native Hawiian PhD astronomers?"), and also a number conveniently given in the UHERO report. It should include postdocs, since those hold PhDs by definition.

I'd love to see an additional calculation that included engineering, IT and other support staff, but don't have the numbers. A rough estimate: I count about 230 employees in the IfA directory, of which 10 have surnames that, to my foreign ears, seem consistent with Native Hawaiian surnames - plus Paul Coleman makes 11. If that (highly problematic, as I'm aware) measure were accurate, we'd be at 5%. But even if that were the case, we'd have to ask why Native Hawaiians are primarily relegated to support roles, and not proportionally represented among the researchers.

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