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.
(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.
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