Not Everything Is Due To Bias, Including All-Male Physics Departments
    By News Staff | July 19th 2013 01:04 AM | 30 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments

    If a physics department has no women, does that mean there is hiring discrimination?

    Only if your job in sociology is to find discrimination. Simple statistics shows that is not true or there would be claims of discrimination in psychology, where lots of departments have no men. Yet when it comes to gender equality advocates, physics is always mentioned and psychology never is.

    A new analysis by the American Institute of Physics (AIP) Statistical Research Center debunks the claim that the existence of all-male departments is evidence of hiring bias. Labor statistics have backed that up; not only are women hired equally for faculty and tenure jobs in science academia, they are over-hired based on their representation. 

    Statistical models insead find that the actual distribution of women in physics means there are more departments than expected with at least one female faculty member, and concludes that the real reason for the lack of women in many departments is the small number of women in physics overall -- currently only 13 percent of all physics faculty nationwide, though obviously much higher in graduate school and undergraduate levels.

    What it means is that there once was bias, and a lot of men were not immediately fired and replaced with women. Bias would be if women were not hired to replace men who died or retired. The statistics show just the opposite.

    "We do not mean to imply that there is no discrimination against women, that hostile environments do not exist, or that issues of gender representation do not need to be continually addressed in American universities," said Dr. Catherine O'Riordan, ocean scientist and AIP vice president of Physics Resources. "But we should no longer point to the absence of a woman in a physics department as evidence of bias."

    Discrimination happens, even in liberal academia. The lack of conservatives is evidence of that. But if faculty must match the population, every field in science is discriminating against Hispanics, black people and the handicapped, along with Republicans. Discrimination is instead more often invoked  by people to mask other shortcomings.

    Why some departments have no female faculty

    "We wanted to evaluate whether the absence of female faculty members in physics departments is an appropriate measure of women's progress in physics," said Susan White, research manager in the Statistical Research Center (SRC) at AIP, who conducted the study with Rachel Ivie, associate director of the SRC.

    If a hiring bias did exist, White said, one would find women in fewer physics departments than would be expected if all women in the field were distributed randomly across the academic landscape. White and Ivie found, however, that more departments than expected have at least one woman. It follows that many female faculty members will be the only woman in their department.

    While it is true that over one-third of physics departments have no women among their faculty, White points out that this is the result of the low number of women among physics faculty and the fact that many departments have fewer than five faculty members. Even if half of all faculty members were women, she notes, we would still expect to find over 100 departments with either all-male or all-female faculty.

    "We believe the issue of gender equity in physics is complex and nuanced," said Ivie, "It is unwise to try to simplify it by examining whether or not a department has a woman among its faculty."


    Was a physics grad student long ago. There actually were a few females. But everyone knew that most women preferred to be in other fields. Physics was and is very difficult and the pay is mediocre at best unless you wind up in charge of an institution. It is OK . Men and women are different.

    I agree, we spend a lot of time worrying about how to convince smart women who want to be doctors that they instead should want to be engineers or physicists and no time at all on convincing men to be teachers, even though the disparity is the same.
    We spend to much time trying to do the impossible - equivalizing (I know, but it will creep into the argot) men and women - instead of accepting reality.

    If you go to retirement communities you see many, many more women than men. Women generally outlive men by 5-7 small difference. Is there a Federal Commission attempting to rectify this injustice ? Could it be there are biological and behavioral differences or is it a feminine conspiracy to keep men down (as in 6 feet under) ??? Nobody ever points out this huge biological advantage women have or considers that, maybe in a few different areas, men might have a similar advantage ??

    I think it is because of the Y chromosome making men more representative at both ends of any statistical average.

    Science is hard. Real science like physics is even harder. /* and Teaching is not the same as doing STEM. Compare the pay scales */

    Men are severely over-represented in the sciences. They are also severely over-represented in maximum security prisons.

    Outliers. I first noticed it when my daughter was doing science in high school. There always seemed to be more boys than girls in the upper-level math and science classes and everyone viewed that as a problem. Self selection of perspective. Boys also out-numbered girls more than 2:1 in the remedial math and science classes too, yet for some reason that wasn't, and still isn't, viewed as a problem of gender bias.

    Right, the issue would be that if it is gender bias - teachers telling girls at a young age they can't do math and science - it is female teachers doing it.  So the solution is not to call physics itself biased, that is like blaming spoons for making people fat, but rather to have more teachers that aren't social engineering some people away from hard fields.

    It isn't that way in everything, obviously. Medical school is as hard as any program on the planet and women are not under-represented in medicine. But female doctors say they like working with people and physics is not about working with people. So it could be a truly gender thing without it being bias.
    Great article!

    I agree, a hiring-bias is unlikely, or if there was one, it fizzled out long ago. 
    However, I do think the problem of women being under-represented in this field is still very real, and possibly starts when girls are put-off the subject whilst at school.
    I was one of only two girls in my A-level physics class, and neither of us went on to study it at degree level. Perhaps this is because physics does not appeal to girls, and girls are not heavily encouraged to take an interest. In Britain, an attempt to get more girls interested involved introducing a medical physics option to the A-level, as women are more interested in the life sciences. Still, it didn't work, so the problem seems a complex one!
    Not one word on outreach, making physics a viable option for non-male young people. Nothing about breaking down the gender stereotypes & ghettos, the propaganda machines..... so, white boys wash their hands of any responsibility to join with people who've been marginalized from the academy: "It's not that we don't WANT women; it's that they don't apply!" Meanwhile, facebook science pages sprinkled with hideously prejudiced, hateful, misogynistic "jokes," and scarce biographies of mostly-white women (usually Madam Curie, and not much beyond). It's not THEIR fault their own default setting is to not even think of creating a space that's welcoming to people of Color, non-men, LGBT folk, ppl with's ours.

    I'm a white Jewish non-female who got my Ph.D. in physics in 1989. I was blacklisted for being too smart in 1994. Now I'm after 20 years in the wilderness, I finally gave up on the United States, and moved to China where I will be teaching AP physics in September at a top 15 Chinese High School. After living expenses and taxes, my savings will be well over $3000 a month. I plan to start an underground railroad for physicists seeking to escape the coming collapse of the United States. I was in Moscow in 1992 and seen first hand what happens when the money becomes toilet paper. The Chinese want scientific talent and have trillions of dollars to unload before the collapse, so anyone interested send me your info and we can get this underground railroad going. It is and was a communist plot to trump up charges of sexism and racism to distract America to distruction, and it has worked like Obama's masters have intended since he was bred to be the Manchurian candidate that he is. Too bad I'm not a trans-sexual black lesbian, or I would have had it made getting a physics professorship a long time ago.

    i'm sure your failures were everyone else's fault. that sense of entitlement must be, i think, part of the problem. if you could compete, you would have succeeded. how good was your published research?

    my impression is that women physicists congregate more in cosmology than in quantum physics. don't know why. cosmology is much more sexy, perhaps. there aren't many science channel programs on the atom unfortunately.

    Your "impression" is based completely on confirmation bias. You have no scientific data, samplings of non-males, people of Color, people with disabilities, LGBT people to back up your "assertion." In other words: you're prejudiced and close minded, which is exactly the passive aggressive hostility that makes it so difficult. And the "diagnosis" is hysterical.

    Nobody who struggles at insurmountable odds, discrimination, hatred, prejudice and the conditions they spawn is a "failure." They system fails when it intentionally sets up obstacles for achievement. In fact, the entire human race fails & suffers because people can't participate equally and contribute their unique offerings to the planet.

    The problem is systemic. It is not individualistic. That you think otherwise just proves how toxic the system is.

    And it's BECAUSE the system is set up to be competitive, rather than cooperative, that it's so sick, dysfunctional, exclusive and incapacitated.

    Well, that is part of the issue. No one wants to think maybe they are not very good at a job they want to do.  Dr. Lippmann has also contended that global warming studies are a eugenics scam, modern medicine is a hoax and he runs for local office on the platform that he can create magical transportation systems.  He has a law degree too, and got disbarred.   So, one thing, maybe there is a case for a mistake or a justice miscarriage. But when this stuff happens over and over, you expect fire under all that smoke. China is suddenly super-progressive in their science in his eyes - because they will pay him.
    So, you are part of the problem. You understand the good ol' boiz network of exclusion and privilege and, instead of doing anything proactive to change the system, you sneer @ others, trying to get in. Self pity is self destruction. Congrats. you're playing right into the hands of the power structure. They WANT us to hate ourselves and each other. That way, WE do the policing via horizontal hostility & they don't have to expend the resources themselves. Good job. And congrats for being so insecure that you're terrified of Blacks, women and lgbt people. you're boring

    I can assure you the "system" IS changing, so don't worry, just wait.
    When my partner started teaching mathematics to 16-18 yr olds, about 40 % of her colleagues in her school were male. That was almost 30 yrs ago. Now a male teacher is a rarity. She has noticed a cultural shift: more and more her colleagues are rewarding students who work hard, never disturb the classroom and can prove they know how to dot the i's and cross the t's. In other words: they reward students who never throw their pencil on the ground and say: "Wait a minute! How can an infinite number of terms add up to a finite sum? I can see al the symbols you're writing on the blackboard - but I want to know what's going on!"
    My partners consistently gives higher marks to students who show real mathematical insight by refusing to "follow the book" and solving problems with clever shortcuts and intuitions. 30 yrs ago that was common practice. Now she's the only one.
    For a strange and unexplained reason girls are doing fine in this new culture. Boys less so.
    Your problem will solve itself.

    "She has noticed a cultural shift: more and more her colleagues are rewarding students who work hard, never disturb the classroom and can prove they know how to dot the i's and cross the t's. "

    yeah, females hate curious students who ask questions! We all knew that, right?

    Of course your partner is different, not like all the other females who hate students who don't sit there silently crossing their t's and dotting their i's.

    I bet feminists are to blame somehow.

    I kindly invite you to come to her school and observe the situation yourself.
    I bet you'll find a way to blame the males.

    Even female educational psychologists over here are starting to point out that the overwhelmingly female teacher corps is causing a cultural shift that has negative effects on male students. And all the feminists I know are just as unhappy with this evolution as my partner is.

    Ha ha funny how people project their insecurities. When did I express any interest in blaming anyone? That's your thing, and it makes you seem weak and whiny just the oposite of what you crave (or is it?). "all the feminists I know agree with me" LOL never heard that before. well, all the macho men I know agree with me!

    Lots of b.s. in this thread.

    Wow. "Lot's of b.s. on this thread." A large part of it provided by you, I'm afraid. "People project their insecurities" - implying that I (or my partner) project insecurities. I crave to be the opposite of "weak and whiny".

    How would you know?

    I'm not surprised to hear that all macho men you know agree with you. I guess macho men love to call others weak and whiny.

    Just a small question. If the overrepresentation of males in physics departments is a problem, then why is the overrepresentation of females in teaching no problem at all? I'm curious to know.

    I am curious - where is this place where 30 years ago 60% of the physics (high school?) teachers were female? And where nearly 100% of the high school teachers are now female? That sounds a little surprising to me. Certainly it is unusual? Can you provide some statistics?

    Second, no wonder you are a failed ex-scientist, as you cannot use basic logic. The two situations you present are not equivalent, so it is nonsensical to compare them. You are asking: if it is a problem that women are underrepresented in x high-status position, why isn't it just as much of a problem that men are under-represented at x low-status position? It's a stupid question.

    It's not unlike saying "how can you justify feminism when women live longer than men on average?" It's childish. And yes, whiny.

    All these comparisons always turn out to be ignorant at best, or like the OP disingenuous at worst. It is very tedious.

    btw what b.s. have I provided?

    "Discrimination happens, even in liberal academia. The lack of conservatives is evidence of that." Is it? Is the lack of Ptolemeians in astronomy faculties evidence of bias? American conservatives are a rather strange little ideological sect who are capable of reading Ayn Rand without laughing out loud. The conservative mind-set is absolutist, narrow, and unshaded. In a general way, American conservatism just isn't compatible with a broad, deep, and flexible understanding of the world. In any field where just understanding a body of specialized information or techniques is required, conservatives can compete, but in areas where 'conservatism' as such would show academically it's not just two competing and equally unsubstantiated outlooks with liberals blindly refusing to take seriously the idea that life on earth is a narrative based on the bible. Conservatives are under-represented in "liberal academia" because the terms are falsely chosen. Creationists are not under-represented in "naturalistic biology" for example - there is simply biology, and there are outsiders who re-interpret areas of biology that don't fit well with a certain body of superstitious belief. Growing-earthers are not under-represented in conventional physics as if correct understanding was a matter of opinion only. There are a lot of conservatives in America, but that doesn't make their ideology academically respectable and due some kind of fair share.

    Thank you for confirming to everyone that you are a narrow-minded bigot. There are just as many conservatives as liberals who are free-thinking and open-minded. It appears that you have lived a cloistered existence [i.e. modern liberal-dominated academia]. You need to get out more and speak to people who disagree with your world view.

    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    'You need to get out more and speak to people who disagree with your world view.'
    Isn't that what Arnastu is doing here, by talking to you?
    My latest forum article 'Australian Researchers Discover Potential Blue Green Algae Cause & Treatment of Motor Neuron Disease (MND)&(ALS)' Parkinsons's and Alzheimer's can be found at
    Humans (both male and female) are, by nature, much more sensitive to the needs and wants of women than they are to those of men.

    One way to prove this to yourself is to describe an injustice against a woman (e.g. the possibility of her suffering sexist discrimination) to an average group of men and women and listen to their response. Most of the people in this group will have little or no trouble seeing this woman as a victim. The bulk of the discussion will be about the different ways in which this woman could be helped and how society has failed her because she is a woman. Many of these people will also implicitly assume that she is not responsible for circumstances.

    Now try the same experiment with a similar group of men and women, except in this case describe an injustice against a man (e.g. the possibility of him suffering the exact same sexist discrimination). Most of the people in this group will make fun of the man's suffering or injustice and virtually no one will even consider the possibility of helping this man. His injustice will be discussed as though it is a one-off event that effects him individually and few people in the group will acknowledge that he suffered the injustice because he is a man. It will implicitly be assumed that he must take full responsibility for all of his actions.

    I worked as a technician in several different university depts through the '80s and '90s and observed a few things.

    The old boys in hard science and engineering didn't have any particular bias toward one type of human or another, because they were just barely aware of humans in general. Successful female grad students, like successful male grad students, had the same unworldly attitude, which happens to be much less common among females. (I suppose you could call it autistic, but I don't think those medicalized definitions are meaningful.)

    In contrast, there was SERIOUS bias in the humanities areas (rhetoric, social "sciences", etc) because the old boys in those areas are extroverts who are adept in judging and strategizing human social structures. Older literature profs would talk contemptuously about the "dumb broads" who were trying to get into the department.

    Now women have the majority in the humanities and social sciences and those departments still primarily produce the same stupid crap that men once produced exclusively - so it goes to show that men had no reason to be worried about the impact of a vaginal incursion on their scholarship.
    If the NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB have no women is that discrimination?

    If the Obama administration has no person with an IQ over 50 is that discrimination?

    I can't speak at all for the professional world or statistics or any of that crap, but as a girl who just graduated high school and wants to major in physics or engineering I can tell you the problem isn't at all in gender anything. You should be happy to find ANYONE is interested in science anymore with the way things are at most American high schools. My high school did not have an AP physics course, and we just barely made a regular physics course again last year. I was one of two girls in my Calculus BC class, yet we were only two people out of 9. And we had a wide variety of races as well, An african, punjabi, japanese, mexican, two white kids, two filipinos, and a russian. I never once felt like I was inferior in any way because I was a girl, it took us half the year to even realize there were only two girls, and never once thought to even use it as an excuse, as some girls are compelled to do. Maybe they just aren't good at math. Maybe they are just are lazy, or told it was hard and don't feel compelled to try.

    Anyways, Our class was pretty diverse, especially because we are from central California. The other science classes were just as diverse, yet just as small in numbers. We had only one small AP Bio class, weren't able to pull enough numbers for an AP Chemistry class, and while we have plenty of AP Psychology classes, the curriculum is an absolute joke and most people only take it to augment their GPA and not because they are interested in the science.

    From asking kids I know through other programs in other cities, high schools in California I know that this isn't out of the norm these days.

    And as a girl growing up I have never felt discriminated against because of my gender. Or if I did, I took it upon myself to prove them wrong and that was that. I'm not lesbian, I'm not a "tom-boy," I like to socialize, I play sports, and I play music, and I can be just as "girly" as I please or just as "boyish." I don't know if that helps anything, I just wanted to include that. Times have definitely changed in my opinion.

    I think the problem is in the fact that science isn't introduced early on. I think one of the only reasons I became so passionate about it was the fact I was selected for G.A.T.E. programs that were heavy in science and history, things barely touched upon anywhere else in my elementary school education. In middle school and high school science fiction movies made me more interested in science and physics and I took it upon myself to use the internet to learn more.

    If anything, I guess you could say boys are discriminated against in the classroom. I don't know how, as all the teachers I've had were my honors/accelerated/AP teachers and were absolutely excellent in every way. I would assume it's more the pressures boys put on each other to be more "manly" and "don't be gay bro" and all the other stupid things they say to appear more masculine and tough so as to get women or something, I have no idea, I don't socialize with too many guys like that anyways.

    That's my disorganized two cents. I don't know anything about the professional world yet, but even if there is gender discrimination, the way things are going with teenagers right now I don't think there will be any kind of discrimination as we will be hurting for numbers of ANY type of people interested in doing science, and doing it well.

    The bad news for women is that men are smarter. The bad news for men is that men are also dumber. The gaussian distribution of intelligence for men is a bit flatter, producing more extremes at each end, most likely due to testestorone.

    Once, when I expressed a doubt that I was good in my subject (I am a PhD student), the chair my department told me that one is not usually bad in a subject that one loves. Well, it works the other way too: one does not usually excel in a subject that he is not interested in. The reason that I became a scientist (I am a female) is because my parents (who were engineers in the Soviet Union) exposed me from my earliest years to various subjects. They talked with me about everything from astronomy to politics, no matter what age I was. My uncle was showing me home-made physics experiments when I was still in the kindergarten, and took me star-watching in the evening. At 4 years old things like dinosaurs, alien galaxies, Neanderthals, microbes, etc. seemed incredibly cool to me. If you asked me when I was six, what I want to be, I answered (without specifying a field :) -- "A scientist!"

    Recently, I visited relatives who have two very little girls in the family (2 and 4 y.o.) and I got to observe how the adults interacted with them. It was shocking how much interaction with the girls focused on their looks and clothes. "Did you pick your shoes?" "they're so pretty", "who bought you this dress?", "did you paint your nails yourself?", etc. When the older girl tried to attract the attention of the adults, it was always to ask if she looked pretty in this or that clothes, etc. She was constantly told she looked beautiful, that she was like a princess. The whole thing left me incredibly depressed. Children are very impressionable at that age. Most of the skills that you will use in life, as well as your very perception of the world, develops in the first seven years of life or so. What chance does a girl have to develop diverse interests in a household where all her interactions with adults center around her looks? (I'm not even talking about the psychological damage of having attention that one gets to be so tied to one's appearance) It would take a miracle for this girl to grow up interested in physics all of a sudden! Will she be obsessed with fashion mags, dream of becoming a model, and maybe become a beautician? Much more likely.

    Boys are generally raised differently. If nothing else, their fathers may show them the mechanics of a car, for example, which could be enough to engender a basic interest in how things work. And of course, the focus is not as much on appearances for boys, which, in itself is a good thing.

    Being a girl myself (and not a tom-boy at all), I really think a lot of disparity in the presence of men and women in science is rooted in how the two genders are raised and the ideas that they are exposed to at the earliest stage of their lives. Just look at toys: boys' toys are much more interesting and diverse, often involving adventure, exploration or mechanics; girl's toys center on daily life, relationships, clothes. Is it a wonder that so many girls grow up having no other interests? By the time school science classes come it is generally too late: the personality with its likes and dislikes is set. We end up with so few great female physicists because the pool of girls that are brought up interested in science is just so much smaller. I think it is very unfortunate. Girls are just as capable of being curious and wide-eyed at the wonders of the Universe. I think parents often make their daughters a disservice by exposing them only to things that they think girls like "naturally", and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, when girls do grow up liking "girly" things. Mothers are probably especially at fault here, since they often project their own "feminine" interests onto the girls and assume that their daughters would discard anything that falls out of their own circle of interests. Thus the cycle continues.

    Sorry for typos and grammar mistakes.

    It may be over-correcting in America.  If, as statistics seems to show, men are over-represented at the high end and low ends of the curve, while women are on average better, then the modern focus on girls in both school and homes is going to hurt America in the near future when it comes to science and math.