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November 28, 2006

I get so tired of the good news/bad news thing

In this case the good news is very good indeed. In response to a recent report, Vision 2020, that found Johns Hopkins University continues to lag behind comparable research institutions in recruiting and hiring female faculty and executive leaders; the university has committed to achieve 50 percent representation of women in senior faculty and leadership positions by 2020.

The bad news is in the response the decision is generating within academic communities. Check out the comments in response to an article on the report on Inside Higher Ed.

From CUNY Professor:
"Fifty percent is a nice round figure, but it will be difficult to meet that quota across the board at a high end institution such as Johns Hopkins without paying a quality penalty. Forty percent would be more reasonable goal given the greater male variability in the distribution of most of the relevant talents. Note that even the National Academy of Sciences report on “Bias and Barriers,” despite all their cant, couldn’t totally dismiss the male variability hypothesis."

From Chuck
"The CUNY Prof is absolutely correct about the obvious decline in quality that will attend the mad pursuit of gender proportionality in administration at Hopkins. But I doubt that the Hopkins leaders will care that much. I wonder if they will use the same illogic when selecting players for their vaunted lacrosse team? Make certain, say, to have a racial or ethnic percentage of players on the Blue Jays lacrosse team to match the racial or ethnic makeup of the undergraduate schools. Who’s ready to bet that such absurd proportionality is crudely ignored?"

Yes folks those comments were academics responding to Inside Higher Ed.
Big sigh, guess I am going to have to write about that whole issue of female/male variability again

PS Dear CUNY professor:
The report you cite was named "Beyond Bias and Barriers", BEYOND CUNY Professor was the point! I am hoping you aren't that sloppy in the rest of your work.

November 25, 2006

Not Your Mother's Baseball Cards.

Do you know after whom Sue the Tyrannosaurus Rex is named?

Do you know that the Royal Academy once invited a cat to be a member?*

I do. No I am not showing off (ok maybe I am a little). I know these things because recently I got to hear the most amazing stories about women explorers and the scientific discoveries they made from Wings WorldQuest's executive director and co-founder Milbry Polk. Their website says it best:

"The story of women explorers is as old as time, as old as myth and as real as memory. Throughout human history, and from many lands, women have set forth on journeys of exploration. Scientists, writers, adventures, and artists, these women, like their male counterparts, challenged existing physical and social limitations of their times. Women explorers have greatly contributed to the ever-expanding body of knowledge but all too often their stories and achievements have been obscured."

I am now the proud possessor of a set of Women Explorers Trading cards which tells the stories of many of these women. These cards are so cool that I held off posting until I could tell you how to get them. Yesterday I heard from Milbry that they don't sell them, but they will give them away. So to learn more about these amazing women—go on the website and read about them and perhaps ask for a copy of the trading cards. And you can always get a copy of their book Women of Discovery; A Celebration of Intrepid Women Who Explored the World.

*The cat had gone on a number of important explorations, a criteria for membership. At the last minute the invitation had to be withdrawn because it was learned that the cat was female, and at that time, they didn't allow female members.

November 18, 2006

Men, Childcare and Change

I found the following, from FairerScience friend David Mortman, interesting and thought provoking and thought you might as well.

In a private forum today, the question came up: "Why, at a social level, are men not asked to make the choice between being bread winners or caretakers and balance the two?"

Because despite the success of feminism at introducing concepts such as work-life balance, men are still expected to be the primary source of income in a family. Then there is the larger problem where child care is till considered to be women's work to the point where if a man wants to take off time from work to be home with a new baby, any more time off than a week gets him strange looks. In fact, when my son was born, I started working from home one day a week to take care of him while Kathryn worked on her PhD, I was the first man out of 8000 employees (and over 12000 in the corporate history) to do so. Despite the level of privilege that (especially white) men enjoy, there is still tremendous pressure to comply with societal norms. For instance, every time I took time off work to be home when S was sick, I heard comments, especially from older coworkers about how when their kids were my age, they never missed work when the kids were sick.

Feminists have already given us the tools to make changes happen. However, it takes men demanding things like their rights under the Family Leave Act to time off to encourage others to do the same. Within a year of me doing so, just about everyone who had new kids was working from home at least one day a week and caring for their children.

Unfortunately, this change is not yet happening on a large scale. In large part, I think because when you hold the power, change is particularly scary so it is more actively avoided then by those who have nothing to lose. So it's up to folks who have less to risk or for whom the balance of power is otherwise in their favor to agitate for those changes. Certainly in my case, I was considered good enough that they were willing to put up with my weirdness and were pleasantly surprised that taking care of a child did not in fact turn a man's mind to jelly and were then willing to let other men do so as well.

November 14, 2006

More press doesn't mean more significance

What's more interesting to people: similarities or differences between the sexes?

If the results of two quick searches on Google are any indication, there's a lot more interest in sex differences ("about 1,030,000 for "sex differences" ") than in similarities ("about 10,700 for "sex similarities".")

As I think about it, this makes sense. It's more exciting to hear about how groups of people are different, as that seems more meaningful than finding out how groups are similar. It seems like more information is embedded in the statement, "Males produce more testosterone than females," for example, than in the statement, "Males and females breathe oxygen to survive."

Is it because the latter statement isn't ground-breaking? No, because at this point, it's fairly common knowledge that males produce more testosterone than females do (Though, of course, cultural shorthand leaves out the important "most" in that statement. It would be more accurate to say that most males produce more testosterone than most females.)

We look for differences to help us define how we think about who we are, as individuals and as members of a group. For this reason, studies, articles, and statements that highlight differences are appealing and interesting. When these resources reinforce things we already think about the world and about sex differences, it can be even more satisfying: "See? I knew men and women were different!"

Yes, we do know that men and women are different in many ways, but we also know that men and women are similar in many ways as well. It's easy to forget, amidst the exciting talk of difference, that just because it gets more play doesn't mean it's the only game in town.

November 10, 2006

Don't believe everything you think

When I was in college, I had the following conversation with a good friend of mine, who wanted to lose weight:

Her: I decided not to drink milk, because it's like 100 calories a glass.
Me: Milk is a really good way to get calcium, though. How are you getting that instead?
Her: Well, I'd eat yogurt, but the only way I like it is with jam mixed in, and that removes all the nutrients.
Me: ...
Me: I... what? *laughing* Are you serious?
Her: When I was little, my dance teacher told me that adding sugar or jam to yogurt takes out all the nutrients!
Me: But that's absurd! How can the nutrients that are already there be taken out by sugar? You're just adding calories, not taking away nutrients.
Her: ...
Her: I guess I never really thought about it!

Let's take a look at what's going on here. Most likely, what she was told as a child was that adding jam to yogurt makes it less clearly "good for you", but maybe her dance teacher even did go so far as to say that adding something sugary somehow negates the nutrients that are already present. At any rate, the message that my friend got was the latter, and as many of us do when we don't know much about a topic, she filed it away as a piece of information that influences the choices she makes in the world.

Now, this is an intelligent woman who's more than capable of critical thought. So what gives? We all have working assumptions that we don't examine on a regular basis. We may get lucky and share them with someone who can help us question them, or we may share them with someone who doesn't, and who will take your assumption and propagate it.

This happens a lot with understandings of gender similarities and differences. One of our primary goals here at FairerScience.org is to inspire ourselves and you all to think more critically about what we believe about gender.

What do you think?

November 08, 2006

Exposure to Scientific Theories Could Be Hazardous to Women's Math Skills

Women who read of genetic causes of sex differences performed worse on math tests than those who read of experiential causes.

So concluded researchers Ilan Dar-Nimrod and Steven J. Heine in Exposure to Scientific Theories Affects Women's Math Performance (link behind a paywall) in Science Magazine October 20, 2006.

Now, for those of us who have been following the research related to the idea of "stereotype threat" (when stereotyped groups perform worse as their group membership is highlighted), a concept originally identified by Claude Steele at Stanford, this won't particularly be news, but it remains interesting.

Dar-Nimrod and Heine, researchers at the University of British Columbia, testing 135 women on a challenging series of mathematics question found:

The women told prior experience determined their math ability got twice as many answers right on the exam as women told their genetics were to blame.

Given what we know about stereotype threat, and what we know about the degree to which even intelligent and well-read people in upper levels of demanding fields assume with regards to gendered abilities and expectations in mathematics (see our favorite president of Harvard, for example), I can't help wondering if any woman in a rigorous field of science or mathematics isn't constantly working under the shadow of stereotype threat.

You can also read about the study in the Globe and Mail:
Stereotypes add up on math tests.

November 05, 2006


I can't say that I don't care for whom you vote (note the classy use of both the double negative and the not ending with a preposition). I care, I care a lot; but I care even more that you vote. My grandmother used to say"If you don't vote; you can't complain." Think of it, two whole years without complaining about what politicians are doing. That is just too horrible to contemplate. So go vote and make us at FairerScience even more impressed with you.