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    Why Are Women So Uncooperative?
    By Curt Rice | March 6th 2014 11:18 AM | 3 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    Professor at the University of Tromsø, where I've spent the last decade serving first as the head of a Center of Excellence (2002-2008) and then...

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    Female professors are less cooperative than men, which is exactly what we would expect from watching the behavior of men and women in groups. That is the claim recently published in a letter to Current Biology.

    Or, at least that’s the tabloid version of the letter. For example, here on Science 2.0, the article reads as follows.

    In society, there is a belief that women will be more cooperative than men. In academia, that is not the case, according to a paper in Current Biology. Instead, women in academia are less likely to cooperate than men.

    A closer look at the letter, however, shows that it isn’t quite so straightforward. Joyce F. Benenson, Henry Markovits, and Richard Wrangham studied 50 departments of psychology in the United States to see if there were different publishing patterns for men and women.

    Suffragist Matilda J. GageThere was no difference between men and women full professors in terms of their likelihood to co-author papers with other full professors. There was also no difference between men’s and women’s track records for publishing with junior colleagues of the opposite sex.

    No gender differences were obtained when comparing publications with other senior professors or when comparing senior professors with other-gender junior professors.

    The difference that was found, however, involved publishing with junior colleagues of the same sex. Men had more same-sex co-authorship across ranks than women did.

    Male full professors were more likely than female full professors to co-author publications with a same-gender assistant professor. This is consistent with a tendency for men to cooperate more than women with same-sex individuals of differing rank.

    Maybe there’s something to be uncovered here, but I’m concerned that we are seeing a hasty generalization.

    Is co-authorship about cooperation?
    The research uses co-authorship to measure cooperation.

    Using numbers of co-authored, peer-reviewed publications as an objective measure of cooperation and professorial status as a measure of rank, the researchers calculated the likelihood of co-authorship with respect to the number of available professors in the same department.

    In some technical sense, co-authorship of course does reflect cooperation, at least when cooperation is taken to mean simply working together.

    But the claims and discussion around this article are confounding this technical meaning of cooperation with the goodwill that is part of the meaning of the word cooperative — and, indeed, that is often part of the idiomatic use of the word cooperate. A belief that women will be more cooperative is a belief that women go into situations with more willingness than men to show goodwill or be helpful. The claim that men cooperate more inevitably assigns to them beneficence.

    Do the co-authorship patterns revealed by this research really show women to have less goodwill than men; does it show that they are less cooperative? Of course not. But there is a risk that this article will be used to claim that—lo and behold—women aren’t nearly as cooperative as you once thought.

    Indeed, Professor Benenson encourages this, according to a quote in Science 2.0. “In ordinary life we often think of women as being more cooperative and friendly with each other than men are, but this is not true when hierarchy enters the picture.” That’s a difficult claim to understand when she and her colleagues write in their letter that they would not expect any differences between male and female professors when it comes to collaborating with students. How is that not part of a hierarchy?

    It is a mistake to think that co-authorship reveals goodwill, or an attitude of helpfulness or a desire to work together towards a common goal. The nature of science is such that none of these things can be reliably inferred from co-authorship.

    Why not? It’s because authorship on papers sometimes shows who actually did the work. But only sometimes.

    Authorship can also be determined by self-promotion and negotiation—two skills which men perform more successfully than women. By way of anecdotal elaboration, consider Declining Courtesy Authorships, in which a woman academic tells of asking to have her name removed from papers to which she did not contribute, to the horror of her male colleagues.

    The Matilda Effect

    In fact, it is so well known that women are routinely slighted in lists of authors that the phenomenon has a name, the Matilda effect, named after suffragist Matilda J. Gage (pictured above - image credit Wikipedia). The Matilda effect is the opposite of the Matthew effect. In the latter, those who have much, get more. In the former, those who have little, get less.


    For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance; but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. (Matthew 13:12)

    Matthew would have hit the nail on the head if he had only used her and she in the second phrase. Women, already in weak positions in science, routinely are under-credited or under-attributed for their contributions and discoveries.

    A recent study on the role of gender in scholarly authorship shows that women are disproportionately absent from the prominent final position on scientific articles — a criterion often used when awarding grants or promotions.

    Because of the Matilda effect and all that’s behind it, the absence of co-authorship cannot be taken to imply that two people have not worked together, nor does it demonstrate that they have not cooperated and it certainly does not demonstrate a lack of friendliness. For all we know, the women professors are so friendly and cooperative that they promote their junior women colleagues by letting them take single authorship on the papers.

    Is Cooperation Increasing?

    Co-authorship is increasing in science. The average number of authors per paper has increased from 3.8 to 4.5 over the past several years. There surely are many legitimate reasons for this, such as the increasing size of externally funded projects. It is entirely plausible that growth in the number of authors reflects an upswing in genuine cooperation.

    However, the increase in the average number of authors probably also follows in part from the publish or perish culture of modern university life. The pressure on academics to publish more and more and more is enormous, and it’s deeply entrenched, as I noted in A funding scheme that turns professors into typing monkeys.

    Physicists, by the way, must be extremely cooperative folks. The CERN particle accelerator gave rise to 110 articles in 2011 that had over 1,000 authors each. And there probably aren’t many women among them—presumably showing how uncooperative women physicists must be.

    I don’t want to underplay the importance of identifying differences in publishing activity. Co-authorship patterns are important to bring out. But in this case, the conclusions overreach.

    Of course there are differences in the collaboration patterns of men and women. But there are many other differences in the daily lives of men and women in research environments—differences that are relevant for publication and authorship patterns.

    The idea that independent evidence of a lack of cooperation between women of different ranks is affirmed by looking at publication patterns in one field, in a few departments, based on papers with exactly two authors who are both in the same academic department, without considering any other aspects of the academic lives of women researchers seems like a methodology that, frankly, is too clever by half.

    Originally published on Curt-Rice.com


    Just to clarify, rathere than on Wikipedia, the picture of Matilda J. Gage is located at File:MatildaJoslynGage.jpeg on Wikimedia Commons, which is the "media file repository... for the various projects of the Wikimedia Foundation. While Wikipedia does store some media itself, more often than not it is pulling images from Wikimedia Commons.

    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    I will roughly repeat what I said in the comments section of the other Science20 article that you link to above on the same topic as it is also relevant here :-

    I took a closer look at the the authors, the study and the data that are supporting these to me, quite outrageous claims about senior academic women professors being less 'friendly' or likely to cooperate with lower ranking female assistant professors than their senior male professor counterparts. Dr Joyce Benenson is a female Professor of Psychology from Harvard who is now teaching and researching at Emmanuel College where she describes her research focus as :-
    ...understanding the biological and ecological factors that influence cooperation and competition between human beings. I examine the influence of age, sex, kinship, social structure, dominance status, and familiarity on degree of cooperation and competition that occurs between individuals ranging in age from newborns through middle adulthood. Much of the theory behind my research stems from findings from research on humans' closest genetic relatives, Pan troglodytes (chimpanzees) and Pan paniscus (bonobos). 
    She has co-authored a book with a male psychology professor Dr Henry Markovits that is quite brilliantly called 'Warriors and Worriers' which is probably an interesting read :-
    Warriors and Worriers - The Survival of the Sexes
    Joyce F. Benenson and With Henry Markovits
    • Presents a new evolutionary theory of sex differences
    • Argues against familiar wisdom that women are more sociable than men and that men are more competitive than women
    • Incorporates research with children and primates towards a primal understanding of human nature
    • Explores friendships and relationships from an evolutionary perspective
    So Dr Joyce Benenson appears therefore to have a personal agenda and is looking for research data to support their new evolutionary sex differences theory or hypothesis about male and female relationships, aggression and social exclusion.

    If you look at Dr Benenson's own Pubmed history she has been publishing peer reviewed papers since 1986 and there are some obvious gaps between years of publications, 7 years then 4 years and then a 2 year gap which implies to me that she probably took time off on several occasions to have children, especially as around that time she also became very interested in and published papers about neonates 'cuddliness' and then sex differences in child development and their dyadic and group interactions, subjects that interest many new mothers.

    What I find interesting about the data for this study is the way in which it was selected and more importantly what was therefore excluded from the study and why? First of all, all studies with more than one coauthor were excludedWe tallied 'the total number of publications (N = 369) between two same-gender full professor co-authors within the same department for females (N = 58), and for males (N = 311). As our model applies only to dyadic cooperation, we did not include publications with more than two co-authors from the same department in any of our analyses'. If the same had been applied to Dr Benenson's own quite prolific number of publications over the years then less than half of her research papers would have been included in her own study.

    The difference between the final sample sizes of 58 and 311 is huge and could easily cause skews in the statistical data, especially as they then claim that 'the number of publications varied widely between departments (between 1 and 496), we first calculated mean numbers of female and of male pairs across departments, weighted by the total number of publications per department. This gave weighted mean numbers of senior female dyads (F = 11.93) and senior male dyads (M = 56.07)'. 

    My hypothetical example in the other comments section of "Imagine the scenario of 2 male full professors, two female full professors, two male assistant professors and two female assistant professors all coauthoring papers together" on the other Science20 article turned out to be almost exactly the experimental scenario that the supplemental data for the paper revealed :-
    Inclusion criteria for each university consisted of having a psychology department  which included in 2012 at least two female and two male full professors and two female and two male assistant professors. Universities in 42 states and eight provinces (N=50) were identified that satisfied these criteria. We then used the PsycINFO© database to generate a list of all  refereed journal articles published between 2008 and 2011 for each full professor, while eliminating duplication
    So to cut a long story short. The study and the data does not reveal how many research publications the female assistant professors overall were even producing and this could have also seriously skewed the data. If they were anything like Dr Joyce Benenson when she was younger then many of them could have been taking occasional time out to have children and not publishing much with anyone, either male or female, in those earlier years. In which case the results from this study could simply be showing that female assistant professors tend to be younger than female full professors and therefore are more likely to be taking breaks to have children and/or possibly have a tendency to coauthor with more than one other person because they were maybe working part-time and/or didn't want as much overall research responsibility during that period of their academic working lives, so they were excluded from the study even though like Dr Benenson when she was younger they were still working and producing papers and cooperating with female full professors. 

    The female assistant professors that still qualified to be in the study may therefore not have been at all typical of the majority of female assistant professors. They might be on average younger single female assistant professors without children who may consequently have a very different worldview and working practice to the older female professors who are more likely to have partners and older children. The sample of female assistant professors that qualified to be part of the study may not yet have had any need to take time off to have children or work part-time and might even prefer working alone or full time with older more senior male professors and the reverse may also be true! This small sample in the study is not therefore necessarily reflecting how assistant and full women professors cooperate overall and is possibly giving a very false impression of how willing female full professors are to cooperate with same sex assistant professors.

    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    There is an interesting exchange of comments between Dr Joyce Benenson and Dr Curt Rice about her research article and his critique of it see http://curt-rice.com/2014/03/06/why-are-women-so-uncooperative/
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine