Discrimination Against Men In Science
    By Sascha Vongehr | January 14th 2011 03:49 AM | 25 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Sascha

    Dr. Sascha Vongehr [风洒沙] studied phil/math/chem/phys in Germany, obtained a BSc in theoretical physics (electro-mag) & MSc (stringtheory)...

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    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.

    Dylan Evans

    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!


    We need to be able to have a rational discourse
    Yes, definitely.
    Especially at the cutting edge of fundamental sciences [...] Extremely few female scientists are man enough to do that.
    Bwah ha ha!  I love your subtle satire, pretending to look at the issue squarely and yet stating an inherent bias openly!  Oh, wait, I don't think you were being satirical.

    Is there a bias against women in the hard sciences?  Your article is an enjoyable rant, but here is reality.  1) underqualified people of both genders who can 'play the game' will get promoted over others-- in any field. 2) cherry-picking cases  does not qualify as a good analysis of a complex issue.  3) as long as folks in the field think, like you, that physics is a man's game, there's going to be a bias.

    stating an inherent bias openly!  Oh, wait, I don't think you were being satirical.
    Not inherent bias and indeed more wordplay rather than being satirical. In fact, you are free to interpret "man enough" as meaning to be enough of a testosterone driven individual rapist hunter aggressor whatever to attack certain problems in the sciences that do in fact somewhat need such qualities in the approach in order to yield. I do not even fathom why women would want to be more like that (or claim to be already equally like that) - testosterone is no substitute for serotonin!
    enjoyable rant ... cherry-picking cases
    I explicitly wrote that I merely would like to submit a few relevant things that I recently came across and I invite the readers to come to their own conclusions.
    as long as folks in the field think, like you, that physics is a man's game, there's going to be a bias
    I do not think it is "a man's game" and there are many women doing a good job in physics, but the Ed Wittens etc are not female. Why not? Well we won't find out if you insist on that even if there should be evidence that certain aspects are indeed "a man's game", thinking so must mean bias. To proceed via the scientific method does not mean bias (as long as it is not a biased method and so forth, which must be discussed via rational discourse).
    Gerhard Adam
    I think we have to be careful about being too casual about the terminology.  Bias will always exist because these are the ideas that individuals have, and there's little that is going to change that.  It could be a gender bias, racial bias, or just a personal bias.

    Discrimination is when someone acts on that bias and it becomes important when such an action is supported by an institution or company.  So typically we're talking about institutional discrimination for which, I don't believe there's much evidence to suggest that it still occurs.  In many ways, the reverse occurs in attempts to be "correct".

    Another obvious issue is the kind of data that actually identifies such situations.  Are there people with degrees and qualifications that cannot find work?  Does there seem to be a systemic attempt to exclude such people?  In the absence of any real data here, it becomes difficult to prove discrimination in any particular direction.

    This becomes even more difficult when one views the economic climate where many people are being systematically excluded from work because companies are finding it cheaper to import labor or move operations overseas.  This is a type of discrimination (i.e. economic) that also exists.

    In addition, there's always the problem of how people view themselves which is often significantly higher than is warranted.  Far too many people think they're more talented or skilled than they actually are and anyone addressing that point is often viewed as being biased.

    One point I think that is often excluded, is that any environment may be difficult to gain acceptance in and it may be intimidating.  However, if one chooses NOT to participate, one can't legitimately claim that they were discriminated against, regardless of perceptions.  This has come up regarding everything from women being discouraged to the point about women not posting very frequently on this site.  A choice to not participate is not discriminatory, regardless of how intimidated one might feel.  While it might be good manners and good behavior, no one is under any obligation to make others feel comfortable.

    It is ironic that one of the past posters on this site that was the most vocal about being attacked for being a woman turned out to be a man simply posing.

    Mundus vult decipi
    Whilst its quite possible that there are injustices highlighted in the above writing, are two or three anecdotes considered evidence that the documented systematic institutional, cultural and personal discrimination against women of a female persuasion has been reversed and that we now have a malevolent matriarchy actively seeking to exclude men from key positions?

    What evidence that will stand up to peer review do you have that this is discrimination against men which is of the same order that women (and other minorities) face?

    And, by the way, seeking to dismiss someone's claims because they are a "fanatical feminist" might be considered to be somewhat sexist, which might in fact go a fair way to justifying the complaint made about the person who said it.

    To answer: 1) No and never claimed anything like that, 2) there is similarly no evidence for there still being discrimination (of the order you insinuate) against women in academia (graduation/position numbers don't count, they are correlation, not causation), and 3) who ever wrote much about fanatical feminists or dismissed any claims on such grounds, and even if, that is miles better than your "women of a female persuasion" (WTF - sure about which one of us is potentially sexist?). BTW, if you believe in peer review, you are either a self-rationalizing scientist that sucked his way successfully up in the deeply flawed publish-or-perish culture, or you are naive about actual scientific practices and need to read more of my blog posts. But you need to read my posts after switching off your neural filters that make you read predominantly between the lines, letting you construct what you expect there surely must be present if somebody dares to question your doctrines. I tend to write on the lines. Stop barking up the wrong tree.
    (Oh, in case there are people who feel that I am unfair towards my poor readers: Whoever does not see the confrontational, passive aggressiveness in David's comment needs to read up on psychology. I refuse to discuss like that and I am very fast at deleting comments - so please: constructive criticisms!)
    Let me begin by saying that I am a female with a BS in Physics working towards my PhD. Also, let me state that I am not a fan of being less harsh on females because of their "fragile" nature. Personally, I wish to work just as hard for what I receive as anyone else. I find it frustrating to even have to wonder if I have received an award based on merit or gender. However, I find it particularly frustrating when a person holds preconceived notions about an entire body of people. The percentage of men who study physics is small, and even smaller is the percentage of those who have contributed significantly to the advancement of the study (e.g. Einstein, Pauli, and Feynman). Women have been allowed to play the game of physics for a much shorter time and in much smaller percentages. Even if we assume that there are no biases against women today in physics, it is impossible to eliminate the possibility of bias against women in the past--though merely stating that women do not posses the creativity needed for scientific breakthrough suggests that some negative bias exists. Given this, I do not find it statically unfavorable that we have not yet run into at least one of what you would call a brilliant female mind in physics. I am not claiming to be this woman, but I will state that as a 23-year old I am not ashamed of my lack of accomplishment or drive. In other note, I hope the women you work with in the lab lack creativity because they merely lack creativity and not because you have failed to allow them to communicate their creativity.

    Even if we assume that there are no biases against women today in physics, it is impossible to eliminate the possibility of bias against women in the past
    Sure - there is no doubt about that.
    that we have not yet run into at least one of what you would call a brilliant female mind in physics
    I have run into a few (see comment below).
    I hope the women you work with in the lab lack creativity because they merely lack creativity and not because you have failed to allow them to communicate their creativity.
    They do not lack creativity, but, and upbringing in a male dominated culture is of course a huge part of this - no doubt about it, they for example do not have the aggressive attitude necessary to challenge what 'is well known'. A good scientist needs to realize at some point that much of what is known is indeed more constructed 'knowledge' than truth.
    Gerhard Adam
    Why do even women ignore Marie Curie?
    Mundus vult decipi
    I've used her as an example before, but I'm usually met with something along the lines of "yeah, but her husband helped her, so that doesn't count."

    Gerhard Adam
    ...but her husband helped her, so that doesn't count."
    Now that would be a sexist statement.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Exactly. You can't reason with sexists.

    Emmy Noether is my favorite  - no husband helping there. When it comes to living persons, people like Amanda Peet come to mind. However, she is a total tom boy. So, if anything, she is an example not for females being able to do physics but for testosterone being helpful to do so. (Sure, maybe behaving like a guy also helped her to get ahead in the biased environment of academia - but I doubt that this is the reason. I did meet her and enjoyed several of her awesome lectures, had some discussions. It is basically like talking to a guy with female facial features.)
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Sascha, I admire your honesty and integrity in writing this article. As I have mentioned elsewhere I personally have always been opposed to positive sexual discrimination in the workplace for these very reasons. The idea that a less able woman is positively discriminated into a position of power above more able male or female scientists or even non-scientists has got to be a recipe for disaster, surely anyone can see that? I find it heartbreaking that someone as obviously brilliant as Lubos cites feminism and the resulting biases against men like him as the reason that he left academia and that you also feel that your academic career has suffered for similar reasons in the past. Everyone should be innocent until proved guilty and ideally we should all have equal opportunities and a prejudice free environment wherever possible.
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at
    The overarching progressive efforts in academia (in the US, anyway) are so well known it is baffling that anyone can claim it is not enough.  Because of wrongs in the past there are still more men at the highest levels so the current efforts are to penalize men of this generation until it balances out.    It's shifting unfairness to young people who have done nothing wrong.

    What was really baffling to me was in my article comments - that people felt like the obvious favoritism that exists now (as I noted, there are zero dollars spent on awareness and outreach efforts at getting men into social sciences and education, which are dominated by women) was unsatisfactory - they are like Berkeley people who were born in the wrong decade and just feel they have to protest something.
    I agree with your statements that positive discrimination is wrong. It is even harder to be taken seriously when there is a possibility you are in a position because you have been favored above others based on gender and not merit. I want to be a good physicist, not a good female physicist.

    Using statements like

    "...women are a minority in the very top of physics and fields like the philosophy of mind for the simple reason that they are more interested in other stuff and are not very good at it."

    is not helpful to anyone.

    You are right that maybe I should have once more stressed the phrase "on average" in the statement and maybe I should even once more mention that this is about the current facts rather than about me crystal gazing the future (both I thought implied, but hey, I will improve it once I have editing capability again.)
    Don't let facts get in the way of your prejudice - Dylan Evans was found guilty of sexual harassment in a court of law, according to an impartial judge who was (most people would assume) not affected by the promotional opportunities within an inconsequential provincial university.

    The woman who complained, as it happens, moved to another job and it seems likely that promotion was not the motivation for saying that Dylan Evans sexually harassed her.

    See Dylan_Evans_guilty_of_sexual_harassment for a newspaper (the Times Higher Education) report of the High Court verdict.

    What the hell is your problem Jackalope? The article you refer to is the exact same as the one I already linked to above in my post. It says
    guilty of sexual harassment under the university’s “dignity of respect” and “right to dignity” policies ... the sanction imposed on Dr Evans – although consistent with the university’s policies – was disproportionate. The sanctions, which included a two-year period of monitoring and counselling, were quashed by the court.
    Let me translate for you in case you are inexperienced with such talk: It means that there was no actual sexual harassment that would hold up in a court except for that the university has certain policies that are way out of line and additionally that now, after the easily exploited policies have been exploited and led to the shitty situation the involved parties are in, a solution had to be found where everybody, especially the university, can keep their face while still making sure that also Evans and supporters shut up and let the issue rest, i.e. give Evans face.
    Dude - if a court would actually find anything close to sexual harassment, the initially imposed sanctions would not come close to the trouble he could additionally face. BTW - provincial university? Ireland is not that large. It is a big deal for them in Cork. And she changed her job because in this case it turned out that Evans got media support and she was widely acknowledged to be the callous devil she is. But that happens seldom. 
    I would just like to say that my knee jerk reaction to your title was, "eff you daddy-o". But then I decided to give you the benefit of the doubt, which I am thankful for because I thought the TED video you posted was interesting and thought-provoking, however you failed to use it usefully to make any sort of logical case of your own. Additionally, I would like to agree with you that sometimes there is too much of these women who seem to be "blinded by self-serving rationalizations that they actually feel discriminated against plainly because they happen to be women". There is a lot of exaggeration out there, and I think it IS abused, to the point where I find it boring now to read or talk about the hardships of women in science.

    However, the rest of your post just made me angry. Discrimination of WOMEN is actually out there. I don't think there is much I can say fact-wise that will lead you to believe that you are wrong and that you should denounce whatever part of you insists on being one of the many perpetuators of a dangerous and hurtful stereotype.

    In other words (and this needs to be said, because I know I'm not the only one who had this response to your post), "Ug, Ug, Ug, you make me so angry. Why did the internet bring me here?" Those last two 'ug's were for your responses to comments. Really, this is just a waste of my time, I need to go to do something productive now to cleanse myself.

    Well, thank you for giving me a chance in spite of knee jerk instinct - that is honorable.
    Discrimination of WOMEN is actually out there.
    There is no question about that and I wrote so clearly. The question is: how much is left especially in academia/science compared with the positive discrimination and the fact that men are in fact now discriminated against, too.
    Those last two 'ug's were for your responses to comments.
    OK - I am all ears about why "ug".
    The "He" vs "She" will forever color any decision of note. Not only does science promote the least qualified if its a female, almost all industries do including the military. The Peter Principal at it's finest in both regards. Move them up and on down the line to be someone else's headache. Reality says any minority will play the game to get ahead regardless of merit. Merit and morality have gone they way of horse and buggy. Neither is PC so it is not allowed in the new society. You can sit in your corner office or your gentleman's club and scoff at the ridiculousness of my comment or you can take your head out of your ego and see what is going on. We may not look or smell the same but we sure do eat and defecate the same. A pig wearing lipstick is still a pig.

    This needs to be said more often. What is happening is that a great disservice is being done to those women who are not only qualified, but of the caliber to be in the positions they are in. They watch the women being promoted and given accolades and no criticism (for fear of being labeled a "sexist") and seethe with anger right along side the men who are silently furious.
    It not only affects the men in those fields, it does damage to science as a whole, and that is a sad state of affairs. I find it infuriating.

    Franc Hoggle
    Your dissertation forgets those that suffer in silence the most in all of this mess - the women who persisted and made it through the system, despite often insurmountable obstacles, on their own and unassisted. There are many. I speak mainly from a past life in chemical and mineral / metallurgical engineering - one of the biggest of the boys' club fortresses. Yes I worked with many highly competent women that matched their male peers in all respects. They too have witnessed these "affirmative action" style biases to redress what we were told was disproportionate representation. The policies saw a distinct bias towards female new graduates - and some were quite frankly just dangerous and if they were male, probably would not have even made it to the first interview stage. But this in itself is not the issue. What the women that made it through on their own experienced, was what they described in their own words, as a "devaluation" of their own achievements. All of their efforts to succeed have now been watered down - they can no longer say with the same confidence that they made it only because of their own efforts.

    I don't know what else to say - there are no answers. Everything is made of egg shells, it is impossible to even discuss these things without feeling everything is an unexploded bomb. It is certainly not something a mere male can ever broach for discussion in any kind of "professional" environment. That is what is called a "career limiting move". I don't expect this hypersensitised craziness to be resolved in our lifetimes. There is too much ideology, not enough tea / beer and straight talk. [Edit: dammit, this was forwarded to me and I didn't look at the article date until I had written all of this. Oh well.]
    dammit, this was forwarded to me and I didn't look at the article date until I had written all of this.
    Articles on Science2.0 are looked at even if they are years old; certainly most traffic in my column comes from old articles. It is the side effect of writing original content that aims for future relevance.
    Just a link to Hank's more recent article on similar issues with further interesting links in there (more like a bookmark for me in case I want to rewrite this article some day.)