Web Site Review: The Faces of Science

The Faces of Science: African Americans in Science is an Internet resource that showcases the achievements and state of African Americans in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology. This free Web site is the project of Princeton University's mathematics and physics librarian, Mitchell Brown. Its purpose is to introduce the user to the many African Americans who have made significant and all-too-often-ignored contributions in the sciences.

Unfortunately, most of the site is haphazardly displayed on one scrolling page, which means that user navigation suffers. Although the site is loosely divided into three sections, entitled "The Past," "The Present," and "The Future," the differences among these sections aren't readily apparent. Separating and organizing the sections into more concrete segments would make it easier for users to find their way around the site.

The brief profiles of African American scientists in the Past section are divided by professional fields including biochemistry, chemistry, biology, computer science, and veterinary medicine. This is the site's strongest resource. These profiles summarize the scientists' personal lives, academic history, and professional accomplishments. Some of the profiles contain additional information such as patents and inventions, memberships to various organizations, home pages, dissertations, honors, and photographs. The scientists' profiles are regularly updated, but the rest of the site is not. There are also areas of the site recognizing the first African American and women scientists to earn doctoral degrees in their respective fields.

The Present section contains information about the current professional state of African American scientists. Interesting data tables and graphs show the distribution of doctorates received by African Americans in the distant and recent past. One graph shows science doctorates earned by African Americans from 1870 to 1999. The primary source of this information is the 1977 publication Negroes in Science: Natural Science Doctorates, 1876-1969, * by James M. Jay. Data from the National Science Foundation (NSF) are the source for the graph focusing on African American chemistry Ph.D.s from 1983 to 2000. The data are helpful in framing the crisis among black scientists. This section also includes information on conferences, but it is all outdated, as well as links to external sources for those who wish to do their own research.

The Future section attempts to put the crisis in perspective with an excerpt from the report Graduate Educational Opportunities for African Americans in Chemistry. Published in 1995, it blames academia for the lack of African Americans with doctorates and states that "with proper undergraduate preparation, and in the right graduate environment, African Americans can and will become tomorrow's leading chemists in industry, education, and research." It's a well-meaning but awkward attempt to tie the site together.

Despite the flaws of the site, the Faces of Science brings humanity to the scientific achievements of African Americans. The statistics provided on the site clearly indicate the challenges that African Americans in science continue to face, whereas the profiles of the black scientists illustrate that those challenges can be overcome. It is an excellent resource for both children and enthusiasts of science and African American history to begin their research. Mitchell Brown should be commended for single-handedly making such a diverse array of information available for the masses.

* James M. Jay, Negroes in Science: Natural Science Doctorates, 1876-1969 (Balamp Publishing, Detroit, 1971).

Clinton Parks writes for MiSciNet from Virginia. For more information, please send e-mail to CRParks3@aol.com.

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