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    Gender Gap Claims In Science Will Go The Way Of The Autism-Vaccine Link
    By Hank Campbell | June 14th 2010 08:18 PM | 7 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    Advocates of good science breathed a sigh of relief when Andrew Wakefield was finally lambasted for questionable methods and shoddy science, basically eliminating the validity of the fundamental text of the 'anti-vaccination' movement outside science circles.

    What about another fundamental text inside science circles?  Namely Nepotism and sexism in peer-review, by Christine Wennerås&Agnes Wold (Nature 387, 341-343, 22 May 1997,  doi:10.1038/387341a0 ), who claimed they did not receive Swedish postdoctoral fellowships because of male chauvinism.

    Sounds silly, right?   Sweden is not exactly regarded as a hotbed of sexism, since they mandate by law that 50% of corporate CEO positions be held by females (and the UN calls them the leading country in the world with respect to equal opportunities for men and women thanks to enforcing equality by political fiat), but the two researchers made the case that a woman had to be 2.5X as qualified as a man to get the same respect.

    Their data: the publication records of the 114 applicants distilled to declarations about bias because of the genders of the 20 postdoctoral fellowship awards.  In 1994.    Sounds like junk?   If you're in the agenda-based science movement, and some people must be because this thing has been cited and referenced more than any other paper, it has an air of truthiness.  So self-loathing male scientists and females who felt like they were not getting a fair chance jumped on the bandwagon, much like mercury in vaccines and its air of truthiness to parents of kids with autism caused them to, lacking any other explanation, look for a common denominator and declare vaccines the culprit.

    It has gathered legislative steam since and now the otherwise do-nothing US House of Representatives, lacking anything important to worry about like a lousy economy, jobs creation or knocking out an oil spill, has passed a law requiring academic departments already mired in bureaucracy to engage in “activities that increase the awareness of the existence of gender bias.”  Whatever that means.

    But what if there is no bias?   If you don't know that biology and medicine have nearly complete parity regarding gender, well, now you do.    And as I have argued before, so what if they don't?  (Women In Science: So What?  and Do Male And Female Scientists Perceive Setbacks Differently?)(1) 

    Studies since then have debunked this junk science gender inequality claim.    John Tierney, writing in the NY Times, notes that a follow-up study found female applicants were actually rated more favorably than comparable male applicants - no kidding.   You can bet the Swedish Medical Research Council has been under fire every single day because a study about them and gender inequality is the most cited in existence, meaning that it has ironically caused gender inequality; but in men so no one cares.   And the results were the same in Australia and the US.

    It's no surprise the government is implementing legislation based on flawed data.   Al Gore and environmentalists insisted Ethanol was the fuel source of the future and maintained that position until a Republican Congress implemented mandates and quotas.  Only then did environmentalists realize there must be something really, really wrong with Ethanol and we have that boondoggle blocking real investment in alternative fuels.

    But gender balance may be taking an even stranger turn, says Tierney, because there remains inequality in math and science and some researchers now argue that could be ... biological (2).

    At the extreme ends of the distribution curve on math tests,  males have an advantage in spatial ability but that is not enough to account for the differences in gender.   Psychologists (75% of doctorates received in psychology are women now, if you must know) Stephen J. Ceci and Wendy M. Williams argue that the real issue is a social one but not a discrimination one; balancing family and career is tough and only women can have children, so biologists could blame evolution, but that would be even more irony.
     
    So lacking any real justification for this, why do it?  A similar reason to why this gender junk science has been perpetuated; people want it to be true.   As long as there is gender bias, even a myth, there is money and employment to be had in talking about gender bias.    The National Science Foundation has spent more than $135 million doing these workshops over the past 10 years.  

    Let's continue to encourage excellence and not enforce artificial fairness where none is needed.  The ridiculous hypotheses used to keep gender inequity in science afloat (stereotype threat) despite evidence has to go.   It isn't the 1990s any more and no one wants to stay late because they had to play Gender Bias Bingo - seriously, it's a real game the NSF funded to combat bias based on results no more credible than the Autism-vaccine link.

    NOTES:

    (1) And Women And Minorities Prejudiced Against Themselves, Says Study, because 70% of high school teachers are women, so if there is gender bias being instituted, it is being done by women against women.  Obviously we can also argue that gender equity programs be instituted for education and the social sciences, both of which are overwhelmingly women.

    (2) Larry Summers had no problem at all getting a job in the Obama administration, despite being run of out Harvard for saying that same thing.  Luckily for all of us,  weirdo militants stay in academia.

    Comments

    Stellare
    Hank, you don't need science to know that women have to be x times better than men in order to succeed. It is something everybody knows. Like, 'we have to eat to survive' kind of knowledge.

    Sexism is real, let me assure you. The closer to you get to the powers
    in society, the more you feel the heat...

    It is just the way it is, and most women develop strategies to cope with it. Like we have to cope with all sorts of challenges in this 'rat race'. It is a gender specific strategy added to all the other strategies both sexes have to develop to get ahead in the race.

    I have male friends who tell me that when they meet women in a senior position, they are immediately alert knowing what it takes (extra) for women to reach that position. They are smart enough to realize  that  they are dealing with a stronger than average opponent/partner.

    I'm sorry, but I cannot take those who deny the disadvantages that women have seriously. Social science can basically show whatever you want it to show, but reality bites! Try being a woman, and then lets talk. :-)
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    Hank
    Try being a woman, and then lets talk. :-)
    Well, we are at an impasse here.   I have limits to how much surgery I will undergo in the interests of science.  

    In science, data counts and the data says this is a manufactured problem rather than a real one.  In that one year it happened to be that women who got selected for post-doc positions had a lot more publications; this does not mean there is gender bias throughout academia and, if it does, why do scientists insist academia is so much better than the corporate sector?

    The private sector I can speak about.    We don't care what gender you are, or what skin color you have ... smart people are darn hard to find.

    Biology has more women PhDs than women.   Medicine is even.   Psychology is 75% women.    So where is the bias against women?    Instead, as I said above, the Swedes reacted so poorly to the negative attention that results are now biased against men.

    There is a subset of women in science who are always going to find a problem.  If 75% of PhDs are women then 75% of deans must be women, then 75% of NSF people and so on.     Anyone claiming that in liberal academia the men are somehow uber-conservative good old boys blocking out qualified women, there has to be some proof.   And there just isn't any.

    Your personal experience may be different, of course, but anecdotal evidence countered by anecdotal evidence really won't get us anywhere.
    Stellare
    In science, data counts and the data says

    The data collecting is not objective, especially in these matters.

    In hard science the situation is better, but the problem of altering what you observe by merely observing it (collecting data) is well known and taken into account in hard science.

    I am not talking about my personal experience, Hank, but a general knowledge. I can throw numbers right back at you, but I have been through this exercise before and I realize that it is not going to change anybodies points of view. I just wanted to voice another view than you present in your article in case there are young impressionable women reading this and think that them hitting the glass ceiling is their fault entirely. :-)

    As for your views on the private sector, I disagree. Either way you look at corporate and science gender statistics and say that if you are good enough you'll be used, is simply saying that women are less talented than men. I prefer those who have the guts to say that directly (and disagree with them) over any other excuse. :-)

    I do respect and understand you choice, of keeping your original gender intact. :-)
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    Hank
    I just wanted to voice another view than you present in your article in case there are young impressionable women reading this and think that them hitting the glass ceiling is their fault entirely. :-)
    I want there to be no glass ceiling and I just don't think there is.   Like the 95% of Harvard students who think they will be in the top 10% of their class I think a lot of people want to believe there must be some reason other than ability why they didn't get a job they want.

    If there are 122 post-doc positions and only 20 people get them, it must be sexism that prevented 2 women from getting one - but who defended the 60 men who also did not get them?  What excuse did they get to use?   In Sweden those men can now say women are getting positions that, in a meritocracy, would be theirs.    So it isn't empowering women, it is devaluing them because in that situation all women will be under a cloud of entitlement.   No one will be respected if there is a chance you got a job because of gender.

    The data does matter.  People are looking for reasons to show bias and, when none is found, they have invented increasingly silly hypotheses like stereotype threat.    I think throwing more money at a problem that does not exist and that creates a chasm between scientists based on gender is bad.

    Again, at least in the US, if girls are being turned away from science careers, it is women telling them they can't do science, not men.
    Stellare
    Your line of arguments reminds me of the same arguments that my Texan family use. They say that if you get sick or are hit by accidents or are born in a family of drug addicts, it is entirely your fault (and their tax money should not used for other peoples foolishness). Needless to say, my Texan family is successful and in good health.
    And I think this might be the case here to. I think you underestimate factors that influence the outcome in a meritocracy.

    The ratio of men versus women in leading positions in this society, science included, speak for itself. Either you acknowledge there is a bias against women - or you think men are superior to women.

    When you say "No one will be respected if there is a chance you got a job because of gender." you must realize that most men get top jobs because of their gender. (otherwise we would have had closer to a 50-50 distribution of men and women). Doesn't seem to devaluing them.

    We will never agree, Hank. :-)
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    Hank
    Your line of arguments reminds me of the same arguments that my Texan family use. They say that if you get sick or are hit by accidents or are born in a family of drug addicts, it is entirely your fault (and their tax money should not used for other peoples foolishness). Needless to say, my Texan family is successful and in good health. 
    And I think this might be the case here to. I think you underestimate factors that influence the outcome in a meritocracy.
    That's anecdotal evidence and we both agree their supposition is silly - it's part of what makes Texas fun (or Bavaria).    If the Texas health system were run by people who had been sick, would they be so heartless?  I think not, and education is primarily done by women.

    Regarding 'leading' positions, I certainly agree there are fewer women than men in some science and it is undoubtedly the case that in some segments of every society there are people biased against women, just like there are people biased again other races and some who believed the world is ending in 2012(1).

    But we are talking about science, and to talk about science we have to talk about academia and we have to use evidence.   Believing that biology and medicine, where the ratio of men and women is equal, is still prejudiced against women unless each and every layer exactly matches population statistics is unrealistic.   We don't see many black hockey players but even militant people looking for racism don't try to claim hockey is racist(2).   The evidence without exception (actual evidence - not snapshot hysteria extrapolated out to long term results and a worldwide epidemic) shows that women are not discriminated against, at least in science.    

    There is a cultural issue that is not prejudice - women are the only ones who can have children and some are going to choose to raise them or work less in relation to peers to spend time with them.   That is not a bad thing, it's a positive contribution to society.  Demanding that science give them a special exemption or an easier workload with the same career results would be bias.

    ---

    (1) I made fun of a pseudo-musician named Lady Gaga on Twitter and a militant women who likely frames everything through a sexual-political filter told me I was "trans-phobic" - if you look for prejudice everywhere, you are going to find it.

    (2) How many science writers are in the NBA?  Why not have a quota for that??  :)
    Gerhard Adam
    In discussing a topic like this there are too many problems because of our own bias.  In the first place, it would be surprising to conclude that humans don't have a bias, so it equally shouldn't be surprising that that bias displays itself when seeking positions of employment.  Whether that bias is uniformly distributed by gender, or personality, or beliefs, etc. is undetermined, but it should be clear that bias is going to exist.

    In addition, it matters where such bias originates.  I also have no doubts that it will occur as female-female, male-female, and male-male. 

    If we accept the idea that people will behave in a biased fashion, then it is reasonable to ask whether a label like "sexism" tends to trivialize this phenomenon by simply grouping a range of behaviors into a singular category.  In that case, it should be equally clear that there will be a mix of outcomes from actual bias to simply being unqualified.

    In addition, like global climate change, it is one thing to acknowledge the existence of such a phenomenon, but quite another to imagine that it is solvable, or what that solution should be.  We accept the idea that there is will be an intrinsic bias based on what school someone attended, or what degree was obtained, etc.  These are all acceptable external indicators that form our bias.  It is certainly no clear indicator of an individual's merit, since that is essentially unknowable when being evaluated for a position. 

    In the end, it invariably comes down to the point that if there are too many individuals to choose from, then bias will tend to dominate the outcome, whereas when there is a very narrow range of individuals, then merit will tend to dominate.  The only reason why this should occur is that when the pool of individuals is relatively large, even random choices would produce individuals of merit, so our individual bias' can help us rationalize our choices.

    The proverbial "glass ceiling" is biased to all those considered outside the circle of potential candidates, and it is quite reasonable to assume that gender could certainly be one of the factors that is involved.
    Mundus vult decipi