Tuesday, September 27, 2005

No discrimination against women in science?

You might have thought that the Summers fiasco about "innate differences" between men and women in scientific talent was long dead and buried, but Andrew Sullivan returns to it with a statement of breathtaking obtuseness:
But Armando's view [Sullivan has been criticizing Armando at Daily Kos for criticizing Summers] that women are somehow being discriminated generally in higher education makes no sense at all. As anyone on any major campus will tell you, and as Glenn Reynolds points out today, women are now outnumbering men on most campuses.
For starters, the issue at stake here is not gender representation in undergraduate colleges in general, but rather gender representation in science, especially at the highest levels (i.e., tenured research professor). Women have approached parity in science bachelor's degrees but are still underrepresented at the doctoral level. The leaky pipeline continues as newly minted PhDs move onto postdoctoral fellowships (where the moment of highest career pressure coincides with the time when many women want to have children), assistant professorship (again, career v. family), and tenure selection. At each of these levels, bias, even unconscious or systemic bias, has a significant effect in weeding out more women than men.

I have no problem with researching whether there are innate differences between men and women in scientific ability, whether in the mean or the standard deviation, but it's just dishonest to pretend that women are not discriminated against in science; or, if one has the shame to avoid that plainly obvious lie, dishonest to distract attention from it with an irrelevant aside about the number of women in higher education in general when the issue at hand is women in science.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey don't forget that the number of students 'on campus' has no relation at all to who has the power (for all fields, not just science). After all, on a plantation there were a lot more slaves than whites, but that doesn't mean the slaves had it good.

9/30/2005 08:00:00 PM  
Blogger Abiola said...

Where Andrew Sullivan gets this idea that he's some sort of super social-scientist is beyond me, given his repeated display of an inability to think carefully about statistical data; if it isn't women, it's blacks and the Bell Curve, how AIDS is "over" or some other such nonsense, with the one common denominator being the uninsightful enthusiasm of the armchair zealot.

10/01/2005 10:39:00 AM  
Blogger Andrew said...


Yea, that's a good point! I mean, the slave plantation analogy is rather extreme (clearly, female college students are not the chattel property of male college studnets), but it's definitely true that unequal power and discrimination operate even under conditions of equal representation.

That's related to a point I've made before - though unequal representation is, indeed, a good clue that discrimination is at work, the focus on it is misplaced. It allows people to use "innate differences" to argue that there's no discrimination, because too much of the argument that sexism still exists has rested on the premise that unequal representation necessarily implies discrimination, when it should instead rest on the obvious fact that discrimination really exists.

(I put this comment up yesterday but Blogger randomly deleted it...weird.)


I've been disturbed by Sullivan's writing that AIDS is "over" too...

10/02/2005 02:56:00 PM  
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