Measured Against Reality

Monday, March 03, 2008

Bias in Science

This month The American has a great article about gender bias in science. It's pretty much exactly what I thought: there might be some bias, but if there is it's small. The lack of women in science, math, and engineering isn't due to biased behavior but the same kind of things that result in a lack of men in social sciences and education (etc). For some reason people have a hard time accepting that men and women prefer different things (according to distributions, of course), and that would seem to be the utterly logical and predictable cause of this oft-decried disparity. The article also discusses attempts to "title-nine" the sciences, which would be disastrous. I know for a fact that title nine results in odd (and arguably discriminatory) situations like women's teams in obscure sports (like crew) getting much more money than men's teams to offset things like football programs, at least at Stanford (unless my friend who used to be on Stanford women's crew was lying/wrong).

The article is quite long and goes into great depth. Here's the punchline in case you're pressed for time:

The power and glory of science and engineer­ing is that they are, adamantly, evidence-based. But the evidence of gender bias in math and science is flimsy at best, and the evidence that women are relatively disinclined to pursue these fields at the highest levels is serious. When the bastions of science pay obsequious attention to the flimsy and turn a blind eye to the serious, it is hard to maintain the view that the science enterprise is somehow immune to the enthu­siasms that have corrupted other, supposedly “softer” academic fields.

Few academic scientists know anything about the equity crusade. Most have no idea of its power, its scope, and the threats that they may soon be facing. The business commu­nity and citizens at large are completely in the dark. This is a quiet revolution. Its weapons are government reports that are rarely seen; amendments to federal bills that almost no one reads; small, unnoticed, but dramatically con­sequential changes in the regulations regarding government grants; and congressional hearings attended mostly by true believers.

American scientific excellence is a precious national resource. It is the foundation of our economy and of the nation’s health and safety. Norman Augustine, retired CEO of Lockheed Martin, and Burton Richter, Nobel laureate in physics, once pointed out that MIT alone—its faculty, alumni, and staff—started more than 5,000 companies in the past 50 years. Will an academic science that is quota-driven, gender-balanced, cooperative rather than competitive, and less time-consuming produce anything like these results? So far, no one in Congress has even thought to ask.

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  • The American? Seriously? You're going to align yourself with them?

    "But the evidence of gender bias in math and science is flimsy at best, and the evidence that women are relatively disinclined to pursue these fields at the highest levels is serious."

    Funny that they don't consider the possibility that the latter may be a result of the former. I am one of those women who was, ahem, "disinclined" to pursue a higher degree in physics. And it's due much more to gender bias than to a lack of interest on my part. It's all about the academic environment. When you're an undergrad, everyone is very supportive. But as you advance up the academic latter, the reception gets colder. Your colleagues begin to resent you as you become more of a threat to them. Because buried somewhere in the subconscious is the idea that women just don't belong. And articles like this one are certainly not helping to dispel that feeling. When you feel that you are unwelcome in your environment, it becomes very difficult to convince yourself that spending the rest of your life fighting a muted but all-too-real hostility will result in a satisfying career. Kudos to the women who can put up with that, but I just can't. You shouldn't have to spend half your time convincing yourself that you belong in your own field. You want to increase America's standing in science? Get the religious fuckwads off school boards. The suggestion that bringing more women into science will somehow decrease the quality of science done in the US is, quite frankly, one of the most insulting ideas I have ever heard.

    By Anonymous Iris, at 9:57 AM, March 05, 2008  

  • Iris, is there something wrong with that magazine/whatever it is? I've never heard of it before...

    And did you read the article? It's all about examining the evidence for gender bias.

    And I can't argue with your personal experience, because I don't know what it is, but is it at all possible that the hostile climate was geared toward everyone? You make it sounds that the more dangerous you become to faculty, the more they resent you, no matter your gender. I'm not even sure why that would be, since the senior faculty have tenure, it's not like you can take their job. Is it competition for resources, or something?

    And they didn't say that bringing in more qualified women would be bad, but that forcing people to bring in people who they wouldn't have otherwise because they need to meet quotas would be. I'm not really sure how that's insulting.

    By Blogger Stupac2, at 11:39 AM, March 05, 2008  

  • Check out "Evolution's Rainbow" by Joan Roughgarden if you want to read on gender, sexuality and our preconceived ideas versus what is really in nature.

    charlotte, nc

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:22 PM, April 21, 2008  

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