I am acutely aware of my advantages as a tall, white, semi-able-bodied Westerner with middle class background in a northern European culture. I had and still have it much easier than most people especially here in China. Believe me, I am 100% fully aware of how unfair life is, of how much I should not take for granted, and especially of how easy I could have had it, if I had played the usual game with the cards I was dealt. Without my unfair edge, I would not even have been able to dare play my own game.On the other hand, especially inside the sciences, which are ruled by publish-or-perish, flawed peer-review, and friend networks, I have little privileges anymore after insisting on scientific integrity and some whistle blowing. Regardless, some who have made their way sucking up in this culture, for example “Isis the scientist”, are so blinded by self-serving rationalizations that they actually feel discriminated against plainly because they happen to be women, while I am supposedly relatively privileged merely due to having a penis.
Sure, there is a lot of discrimination against women all over the world, but how much do we actually still have in the first world and especially inside the academic sciences? I like to throw in a few pieces of information that recently crossed my path and that made me rethink this issue:
1) The TED talk by H. Rosin
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It is self-explanatory and I am glad it is a woman that gave the talk, because considering the audience, a male would have had an extremely hard time arguing discrimination against men.
2) The experiences of men kicked out of academia via the convenient 'allege-sexual-harassment route'There is for example Dylan Evans, who showed a scientific journal article about fellatio among fruit bats to a female coworker. She previously indicated interest in such issues! Such communication is standard everyday science work, especially since they were both working on related research and discussed such issues before – certainly nothing that should lead to a ‘fruitbatgate’. However, she was a competitor for promotion in the department and conveniently alleged sexual harassment. It worked – she got her way, almost callously destroying, certainly slowing the career of a scientist along the way.
This is not a single case, more like the tip of an iceberg, and I had myself a similar experience actually. During my last year as a teaching assistant (TA) at USC, I got the hang of the whole undergrad mind and finally had the class literally going “hey – here comes our favorite TA”. Nevertheless, the only aspect that counted in my evaluation was an email from a young woman in the class sent to the female lab director. The student almost failed the class because the other students were far more competent and diligent (we had to grade 'on the curve'). But she was out for revenge for, I guess, my not grading according to cuteness instead. She only needed to hint at that she felt I may be a sexist, and that was it. Nothing else mattered anymore to the director, the by the way most idiotic boss I ever had – another one apparently there only due to overambitious quota fulfillment. She spend her days editing videos of sexy cowboy movies and similar important stuff.
No proof required if men are accused of harassment in academia; guilty until proven innocent.
3) The experiences of men kicked out of academia for simply trying to start a rational discourse about women issues are also noteworthy. I like to cite one of the comments to Hank's recent post that also deals with discrimination:
Only in late 2004, when I joined faculty at Harvard, I began to realize the monstrosity of these superstitions in the U.S. Texts similar to this one would be enough for me to be constantly harassed by politically correct KGB agents, including our department boss. An obnoxious female undergraduate student - a fanatical feminist - complained to the whole hierarchy above me by e-mail.
When I was invited to a party for the new faculty in Summers' residence, I began to apologize. Of course, Larry told me that there was nothing to apologize for and I was right in my analyses of the reasons. Two months later, he gave a similar speech about the very same issues - at a conference that should have studied these issues - and he went into trouble himself. A year later, he had to resign from a job he really loved.
It was my main reason to leave Academia.
4) On all Levels
Let me cite that commenter somewhat further:
Today, women clearly have lots of advantages, a hidden "encouragement" and quotas that work at all levels. Believe me, I've been repeatedly a member of the admission committees for undergraduate, graduate students as well as postdocs and the extra considerations were always there.
What I like most about this quote is the hidden "encouragement" and quotas that work at all levels. I have not personally been in any admission committee, but the elephant is present in all the rooms of the ivory tower. And they work at all levels. If I sit in a seminar and the speaker is terrible, can I criticize him? Yes, of course, I should. Can I criticize her? Not without risking being labeled a misogynist. One can feel this fear palpable whenever a woman gives a terrible talk or thesis defense for which any male would be eaten alive. It has become dangerous for men to give fair evaluations, do fair grading, merely get through routine admission procedures, ...
You cannot criticize the many female professors who only employ female postdocs even in fields where the pool of applicants has many more males than females. They can even openly admit such discrimination as a valid means to counteract the alleged discrimination against females. How perverse is that? Even if we still had discrimination against females as strong as we had in the past, such eye-for-an-eye kind of primitive philosophy does not belong into modern society!
5) All the way to the Top
The hidden "encouragement" of under-performing women goes so far as to propel bad science all the way to the very top. The recent scandal about the so called "arsenic based" life forms reeks of it. The name of the organism, GFAJ-1, gives it away: It stands for “Give Felisa A Job”!
Bad quota politics that push incompetent people into positions they are not qualified for harm scientific progress. The ‘arsenic DNA’ case shows this drastically. If Felisa had a good idea about the field she has been helped to succeed in, she would have never claimed what she claimed. Macro molecular bio chemistry (DNA copying, protein folding, …) depends crucially on the shape of the molecules, i.e. on the bonding angles with which the structures evolved in the first place. It was clear right away that arsenic substituting for phosphorus is impossible.
How could this ever go into Science? Science has become Hollywood, Lady Gagas abound. Somebody could have put a stop to it, but that somebody did not get the job that was given to Felisa in order to bring more ill-conceived balance to science. And after that, the wow-we-have-another-female-scientist PR machine went full speed ahead, editors and NASA alike jumping on in order not to miss the great opportunity of also gaining a little from the news of finally again a women that we can push down everybody’s throat: Look, women are just as great at science. Epic Backfire Fail! I would laugh if the whole wouldn’t be so sad.
------------------Let me wrap it up. If we are not allowed to look at all hypotheses without being called rapists, we are not allowed to do science. We need to be able to have a rational discourse about why, against all the pressure to get women into the exact sciences, the percentage of female professional physicists for example remains at 15%. Since it is obviously not due to discrimination but in spite of quota and discrimination against men, the reason must be acknowledged to be different.
Average male IQ being higher by a couple of points is irrelevant. Male IQ having an about 10% bigger variance of the distribution [Jonathan Wai et. al.: "Sex differences in the right tail of cognitive abilities: A 30 year examination"] may support that more men are found with extremely high IQs. IQ measurements define IQ rather than measuring a previously well defined quantity. As a physicist I know well that pure IQ does not make you a good physicist. Not only that you need certain sub-types of intelligent functions, like for example the testosterone enhanced ability to mentally rotate rather than mere pattern recognition.
Especially at the cutting edge of fundamental sciences, you need to be able to aggressively pursue crazy, even perverted working hypotheses that at times seem to go against what is established. You need to be able to face ridicule as being the only one in the world that is on this crazy path, defending twister theory or two-time physics, ready to go down with your ship. Extremely few female scientists are man enough to do that (pun intended).
I am aware of the good work women can do in the sciences. In our lab, I prefer to collaborate with female students as they work more diligently and play less video games (although FarmVille changes this). But when it comes to new, cutting edge creative ideas that challenge old ways, they come up empty. Is it genetic or upbringing? Is it that something has gone wrong in society somewhere? Maybe. Whatever it is, it does not change the fact that as it is right now and for the foreseeable future, women are a minority in the very top of physics and fields like the philosophy of mind for the simple reason that they are (ON AVERAGE) more interested in other stuff and are not very good at it. Enforcing quota must therefore hurt scientific progress!