Is there still gender discrimination in science? We hear about it even today but is it a real problem or is it primarily a problem in that 'if there is even one instance it is too many' way that zealots insist on zero tolerance, even when applied to individuals who sometimes make decisions based on silly reasons.
Dr. Alex Berezow is editor of RealClearScience and discusses the topic in an article today. His Ph.D. was in microbiology so he has some experience in the life sciences and, because he is not in academia, he can address the topic of gender discrimination in science more plainly than people who have to show up to work at a university.
As he notes, and we noted last year, women get more Ph.D.s than men in America, though that covers all disciplines, but even if women are underrepresented in some areas like math and engineering, are they being discouraged? If so, it is women doing the discouraging, since over 70% of teachers are women.
Agenda-driven sociologists have an explanation for that; women who don't actually face discrimination still worry so much about it because of gender fatigue, a maddening concept where we can never actually have equality even if things are equal. Not all sociologists agree, of course, and a study showed there is no wage gap even at ground zero for gender activists and mathematical employment - engineering - and if there is no wage gap, there is no discrimination.
That won't keep people from claiming it exists. Some years back, when I was younger and at an engineering software company, Jesse Jackson visited Silicon Valley to say that the entire area was racist because there were fewer black engineers than in the general population. This was a silly concept - there was negative unemployment in the field at the time, meaning more open jobs than candidates and, given federal race requirements for employment, a black engineer had people competing to hire him. A black woman engineer? Forget it, the sky is the limit for a double minority in engineering. But I am a practical guy so even I had to ponder the issue realistically and ask why, when there is more money to be made, women or black people didn't go into it. I had no answer for that other than that a free market means irrational choices will be made. People make choices.
But sociologists don't seem to believe in choice and instead contend that stereotype bias is keeping women out of math-heavy fields. It means that women are so worried about having a reputation for not being good at math they subconsciously do not go into math fields. Even though the difference between genders in math ability disappeared under the No Child Left Behind program teachers say does not work. A study by psychologists at Stanford University and the University of Waterloo stated that even if others were not prejudiced against women or blacks, legacy prejudice made them perform worse - stereotype threat - so if a black student and a white student got the same score on an SAT test, the black student may be better at math but be so worried about the perception that blacks do worse on tests that it makes him do worse on tests.
I could go on, but you get the point. Insert obese people, people with a Southern accent, etc. instead and virtually anyone can explain away poor results with stereotype threat.
We've gotten to a point in social sciences where choice seems to no longer be a valid explanation for the human condition - causation is everything - so if there are fewer women in math, men must be doing it, or women must be doing it to themselves because men did it generations ago or something that can be corrected. Well, not everything can be corrected by social engineering, though the path to progress historically has said we would converge on some kind of social Utopia and that is a pillar of progress even today.
There is no greater social engineering country regarding gender than Sweden - by law, 50% of corporations must be run by women, but a study by researchers there claimed that a woman had to be 2.5X as qualified as a man in Sweden to get the same job. The study was based on such silly criteria over such a short range of time that it was meaningless but because it had a ring of truthiness people took the results and ran with it.
Sweden can continue to dig deeper to find discrimination in order to keep sociologists studying discrimination busy, but America is running out of discrimination to worry about. The U.S. leads the world in fair hiring practices, even in countries where U.S. companies have no laws to mandate fair hiring. "American companies are very much emulated these days by companies all over the world," said John Lawler, a professor in the U. of I. Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations.
This won't stop people from finding new issues. We're never going to get a moratorium on sociology regarding STEM participation as long as women are only 48.2 percent of math students. That's right, unless the percentage is 50-51% America is flawed and, after that, it must be professorships, though STEM hiring has shown no actual difference in gender hiring at even the highest levels.
Prof. Meg Urry was first woman Chair of the Department of Physics at Yale and we interviewed her one time on the issue of women in physics. She dismissed the 'family' issue, since plenty of female doctors exist, and mentor discrimination, since professors in physics tell young women and men they are not cut out for a career in physics equally, but “women need to better understand the mechanisms of hiring, funding, and promotions; that is, how to play the game.”
Women in other fields obviously understand this, just like they understand they are smart enough to do any job they are determined to beat someone else out to get. Given the results of the November elections, Title IX-type hiring quotas for women is likely off the table in science, so it's time to get back to business.
Meanwhile, I am off to play Gender Bias Bingo - that's a real game the National Science Foundation funded to combat bias. Maybe it can show me how we are still prejudiced but you should know in advance there is no way to win.