Science

Is the Man keeping us down?

Reader Paul was kind enough to send me this intriguing article from the New York Times. It concerns a panel of experts who assert that their research shows institutions are to blame for a lack of women in upper eschelons of science academia, as opposed to any inherent differences between men and women.

I haven’t had time to read through the 200+ page report yet (you can find it here), but at a glance it appears that the panel makes a very good argument based on real-world numbers and situations. The panel members themselves at least give a good impression of balance, stating that though there may in fact be innate differences, they are too slight to make a significant difference compared to rather impactful social pressures.

The panel’s chairwoman is Donna Shalala, who I mentioned a few months ago as a potential candidate for president of Harvard University (she is currently president of University of Miami). Another panelist is Ruth Simmons, who is doing great work leading Brown University as the school intensifies its focus on hardcore scientific research.

I’d like to read the full report, only because I can tell I’m eager to accept the panel’s research based on the fact that I like the panelists and the conclusion jibes with my own opinion on the matter.

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Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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11 Comments

  1. Stupid The Man. Is there anybody he doesn't try to keep down?

    I'm really glad to see a solid study that took into account the possibility of a real innate difference between men and women… and then ruled it out as too small to explain the numbers discrepancy. I think that's the result most people (including myself) expected to see, but naturally I'm way more comfortable having evidence that this is so rather than just going on a reasonable assumption.

  2. Stupid The Man. Is there anybody he doesn’t try to keep down?

    White, Christian, Republican males. At least in this country.

    Hmm, if this is to be believed, than the theory that men and women have the same average intelligence but different standard deviations (used to explain why there are more men in the upper-echelon intellectual fields and also more completely idiotic men) might be outdated.

    It does leave a lot of questions unanswered, though. For instance, where does this start? Is it just a bias that starts in university admissions and/or job hiring, or does it start earlier in life? I've long suspected that an innate prejudice of teachers and parents at earlier ages might lead them to push girls away from mathematical and scientific pursuits, leading them to get less practice at them and have less interest.

  3. I don’t understand how the roles of women could be anything other than a social construct, because their roles have varied so much throughout history. If women were somehow fixed in their place then you’d expect their roles to have remained the same. It seems to me that the recurring theme is that people are prepared to use talented women when it suits them, and at other times through the church and others, make things difficult for them.

  4. We also shouldn’t underestimate the durability of social construct. It is very enduring and very complicated. Calls for social change that read “We should all just…” are rarely as simple in practice as in theory.

    I constantly marvel at how little we have changed as humans even as we have become more enlightened. We know we could and should be better, but we fail to live up to the ideals or even often sidestep them entirely. We know it doesn’t make sense to limit someone’s options based on their sex, but behaviors we don’t even think about do just that…and not just for women mind you. We want modern relationships, but we still pick mates roughly on the same criteria our pre-historic ancestors did, and then we lie like bastards about it to deny our baser natures. Is it any wonder our relationships are so screwed up?

    I don’t mean to be too cynical, but we humans are constant sources of disappointment to the great and profound ideas we have produced. In thought, we are amazing creatures indeed. In deed, we are all too often just animals who have gotten above themselves.

  5. Infophile said "I’ve long suspected that an innate prejudice of teachers and parents at earlier ages might lead them to push girls away from mathematical and scientific pursuits, leading them to get less practice at them and have less interest."

    That is definitely true. And it's true for teachers who don't even realize it. Even female teachers that think they are not biased can be. I've known a few elementary teachers who were videotaped for various reasons. And when they watched themselves they were shocked to see how they treated girls and boys differently. It's definitely something that is hard to overcome, especially when you don't even realize you're doing it.

  6. I'm definitely with girlcarew and TheCzech. I can't tell you how many women and men I've heard say "I want a mate like this…" only to see them constantly dating someone who fits, or at least mostly fits, the stereotypical role of their sex to a T. And then they have the gall to complain about it. Maybe it's not really gall. Maybe it's just like girlcarew said, they don't realize they're doing what they're doing.

    I am constantly amazed by people I know who have no qualms about stating their prejudices when they think the audience is safe. People who you'd think know better, but there they are.

  7. You mean like people complaining about immigrants when you’re waiting in line behind them and all the people in the shop are white? Yeah, I hate that, and the fact I usually stay quiet so as not to get an earfull of nonsense reasons why they are in fact right, and not racists at all, and so on and so forth …

  8. I can’t tell you how many women and men I’ve heard say “I want a mate like this…” only to see them constantly dating someone who fits, or at least mostly fits, the stereotypical role of their sex to a T. And then they have the gall to complain about it.

    I accept it as an axiom that lists of what people want in a mate are never the complete truth. What do people say they want? What they haven’t had in past relationships. Why haven’t they had those things in past relationships? Because they do not select for them.

  9. “do I now get to say “I told you so?”
    (in reference to earlier comments about Harvard, that is)”

    You can, bug, but only if I get to say, “I never said otherwise!” I still stand by my earlier comments 100%, and like I wrote in this entry, this paper jibes with my own suspicions, which I’ve always held. I’ve always believed that social aspects are much more to blame than inherent biological differences. My earlier comments merely defended the right of a person to state a hypothesis that these differences may exist and may have something to do with the problem.

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