I came across a blog today, written by a female scientist (apparently - it's an anonymous blog and that's okay, if Obama's teleprompter can have a blog I suppose anyone sentient can also, but anonymity speaks of a certain paranoia) and she wondered if men perceived science setbacks differently than women.   So I began to wonder too.

She notes that when she talks to other women scientists, their setbacks are usually framed through personal issues but with men, that side rarely comes up.   Obviously that's not a scientific sample; if she happens to hang out with women who complain a lot, or who blame politics or their gender for their setbacks, that skews the data.  Likewise, people who did easy research and got jobs stand out more than people who did more challenging stuff, because that is more the norm and perhaps she notices that more when it happens to men.

So I thought about the male scientists I know, and the males in business, and wondered if  the kind of 'sexist skepticism' she says exists really exists.   Now, we probably have to disqualify the private sector (in this area.)   I know, I know, there are going to be women in the high end physics private sector who say they were treated differently but I have just never seen it.    In the private sector, I do not care what gender you are, what color you are, or anything else except whether or not you know your stuff - a surprising number of people do not, but like to think they do.  I even have the white male old boys club card so if there were going to be gender or racial bias I would have seen it by now.  In high end analysis, there is no room for bias because there are too few people really great.   

That leaves the academic sector as the source of bias.   I am hard pressed to believe that universities, being overwhelmingly 'liberal' according to both the right wing and the left, are still secret strongholds of sexism but I have never worked in academia so it's possible.  It's also possible perception is the culprit.   Chris Webber, former NBA rookie of the year and player on the Sacramento Kings, once said he wanted to leave Sacramento for someplace more 'diverse.'  This was puzzling to a lot of people locally.   In a country with 70% white people he was living in a city, Sacramento, that was only 45% white people - so pretty darn diverse.   But he was from Detroit and an area that was 85% black.   Anything less than that was not 'diverse' though clearly he just noticed when there were fewer than he expected (1).

So if the anonymous blogger really sees sexism, it may be in some sense self-created, probably because of a numbers perception but it's still worth thinking about.   If she is in physics, for example, there are fewer women than men by far.   But in the life sciences it is about 50/50 and in social sciences there is a whopping disparity in the number of women.   Almost as disparate as women in physics.  Maybe she's in physics.   It can be a lonely place for women there.

I have news for both genders,  in science and outside.   In every area of every occupation that involves interpersonal involvement, there will be politics and there will be bosses who are exploitative and there will be failures and people will make excuses for them.    If 90% of Harvard students think they will be in the top 50% 0f their class, clearly people do not see themselves objectively.

Very few people regard setbacks as something under their control; it's easier to externalize the fault.   

The great thing about an allegation like sexist skepticism ('allegation' is probably the wrong term since it has too much colloquial connotation, but 'intimation' is not strong enough - her tone was speculative , not combative) (2) is that disagreement can be easily dismissed.    Mine can be dismissed because I am not a woman, for example.   

So what do  you women in science think?    Do you see a perception issue, does your science have to be better because of your gender?


(1)  A friend of mine, a black guy who lived in Oakland (so, around a lot of other black people) once expressed alarm that in Folsom there weren't many black people.   I protested that of course there were and he said, "Yeah, in the prison!"    Then he ate sushi in my jacuzzi in the winter, proving that Folsom isn't such a bad place to be.

(2)  She also mentioned a Technorati group tagging effort called Scientiae Carnival, which is interesting because it clearly isn't the same old attention-whoring people linking to each other and one or two outsiders to look like a community effort.   I have never understood Technorati - it's easily gamed and links are a fake metric for readership - but this is a good idea because I saw a lot of names I had never seen before.