September 26, 2006

Tierney on the “Beyond Bias and Barriers" report.

John Tierney is shocked -- TimesSelect link -- by how "cynical" it was for the National Academy of Sciences to publish its "political tract" about discrimination against female scientists and engineers. There was, he notes, only one man on the 18-person committee, and "he was already on record agreeing with the report’s pre-ordained conclusion: academia must stop favoring male scientists and engineers."

He mocks Donna Shalala (the committee chair) for beginning the report with the story of how she was denied tenure three decades ago and then burying the news that women in science and engineering today are just as likely to get tenure as men.
You can get a sense of its spirit of inquiry from “findings” like this one: “The academic success of girls now equals or exceeds that of boys at the high school and college levels, rendering moot all discussions of the biological and social factors that once produced sex differences in achievement at these levels.”

It may seem moot to the Shalala committee, composed mainly of university administrators and scientists who don’t study sex differences (or are hostile to the idea that they exist). But it’s not moot to the scientists who’ve documented persistent differences.

I consulted half a dozen of these experts about the report, and they all dismissed it as a triumph of politics over science. It’s classic rent-seeking by a special-interest group that stands to get more money and jobs if the recommendations are adopted.

“I am embarrassed,” said Linda Gottfredson of the University of Delaware, “that this female-dominated panel of scientists would ignore decades of scientific evidence to justify an already disproved conclusion, namely, that the sexes do not differ in career-relevant interests and abilities.”
There's a really obvious joke -- just asking to be made -- attributing the lack of scientific rigor to the fact that the panel had so many women on it. But that's just a bad joke. The serious point is that it never was a scientific project. That they let that show is also a joke, but a good one. It saves us the trouble of taking the report seriously, which really isn't a joke at all. There may very well be a real problem in the way women are treated in science and engineering, and they've just encouraged us to shrug it off.

33 comments:

Gerry said...

You would have expected better from something led by Donna Shalala?

Why?

Ann Althouse said...

Hey, my university was led by Donna Shalala!

altoids1306 said...

In my experience, the most successful women in the hard sciences are those who pay the least attention to these issues.

While this may be an un-PC observation, the women in the lab "pay attention to the details", whether it be a turbopump that's making a slightly different noise than yesterday, or remembering a birthday and baking a cake.

We boys don't look down or think less of them for that, we just appreciate the small things that make life run a little more smoothly and productively.

Does all this attention to detail hinder their degree progress? Maybe, but I don't think so. They all do pretty well for themselves. A certain percentage get married and never put their degrees to full use, but they seem happy to do it.

If there's a problem, it's getting women into grad programs in the first place.

yetanotherjohn said...

Given the lack of serious consideration to the possibility that it is other than evil men suppressing women or at least ignorantly keeping them down, think about the long term implications for the country. A great deal of our current economic success (and you could argue for our past economic success) revolves around innovation. When I was in school over 20 years ago, I had a professor talking about research he was doing to be able to write a CD using a laser. Science fiction back then, cheap reality today.

Now imagine if that professor didn't get his job because they were promoting woman for the "greater good". How much future innovation do we potentially stand to lose because of their rent seeking? Is there even a passing thought in their minds that there might be some unintended consequences to their actions?

Pogo said...

Once again, we get a ringside seat into the endless battle between ideological purity and stubborn human reality.

Shalala should simply dissolve those disagreeable people and elect another.

(Sung to the tune of Hava Nagila:)

Donna Shalala, Donna Shalala
Donna Shalala, Gloria Matri

Jim said...

One of the most disappointing things about being a (male) scientist, engineer or mathematician is living your entire life without ever having the opportunity to meet a woman with whom you can share your deepest insights and concerns.

But I have come to realize that it's not only the science types who suffer. Men who are chess masters, craftsmen of all kinds (like woodworkers), pilots, world-class chefs and fashion designers, concert musicians, magicians, inventors, travel writers, alpinists, kayakers, photographers, economists (never a female Nobelist), stockbrokers, financial advisors, painters and architects must suffer the much the same disappointment, since these fields, at least at the highest levels of accomplishment, are overwhelmingly populated by males.

This is true of all sports as well, from bicycling to Texas Hold-em, except for those where men are barred and those that provide for mixed teams, like bridge, tennis and volleyball.

But though women can participate with men in all sports by being a spectator, at least, that doesn't quite work for things like Quantum Mechanics. And if men had breasts and the public accepted men playing the roles of women as was done in Shakespeare's time, we might not even have actresses today.

One explanation for this lack of female representation at advanced levels of almost everything is that women have always naturally turned their interests and attention toward family and child-bearing, which interfere with their early careers. But now I read that 25% of Italian women, among others, are determined to stay childfree and another 25% have only one child. I would like to know if this liberation of the young Italian woman from the curse of breeding has liberated her to pursue any career besides those of blogger, columnist, physician, lawyer, schoolteacher and nurse.

Fitz said...

The orthodoxy of feminism concerning gender differences is the strongest and most widespread attack on empiricism of our age. One is reminded of the only “public service” add campaign I have ever seen the Girl Scouts of America engage in. This was the Add with the little girl informing her Father about why the sky is blue. The campaign basically
encourages parents to help their Daughters interest in science and math.


With all the problems in the world How is this even on the list?

Ann wrote:
“There may very well be a real problem in the way women are treated in science and engineering, and they've just encouraged us to shrug it off.’

We should do more than shrug it off, as serious people we should renounce this spurious and ideological attack on basic human differences. Ask probing questions about why gender balance is desirable or important in any field, and press the opposition to address real problems & serious inequities.

Madison Guy said...

John Tierney said:

“Wherever you go, you will find females far less likely than males to see what is so fascinating about ohms, carburetors or quarks,” Hausman said. “Reinventing the curriculum will not make me more interested in learning how my dishwasher works.”

According to the actual report, " For 30 years, the report says, women have earned at least 30 percent of the nation’s doctorates in social and behavioral sciences, and at least 20 percent of the doctorates in life sciences. Yet they appear among full professors in those fields at less than half those levels."

Think of the enormous effort that goes into acquiring a doctorate in the hard sciences. How likely is it that more than half of these women are really not interested, or just lose interest before getting a faculty job after all that study?

Tierney's column, like Larry Summers at Harvard before him, simply employs prejudice, distortion and a biased selection of anecdotal evidence (see above) to obscure the reality of ongoing discrimination against women in hiring science faculty, especially at elite institutions.

And, yes -- it really does make a difference. Unless we're resigned to seeing more and more cutting edge science migrate overseas, we need the talent.

flounder said...

Think of the enormous effort that goes into acquiring a doctorate in the hard sciences. How likely is it that more than half of these women are really not interested, or just lose interest before getting a faculty job after all that study?

Both I and my wife have doctorates in the hard sciences. I can tell you that as much effort as it takes to acquire a doctorate, it comes nowhere near the effort required to get a faculty job. The allnighters you pull when you're a single grad student are a lot more fun than the ones you pull as a postdoc when your family is waiting at home and hasn't seen you in 5 days.

The competition for a faculty job is insanely more difficult as well. Anyone with enough perseverance can get a PhD. We all have tales of people who had no business getting an advanced degree, but managed to graduate simply because people were tired of seeing them around the department. (No joke. After 16(!) years the attitude is "Just graduate him and be done with it.") Getting a faculty job in a major research institution, however, is more like going to Hollywood and making it as a movie star.

Faced with this, my wife and I quit research. We just didn't want to make the personal sacrifices necessary to make it as a top scientific researcher. I know dozens of my colleagues who have made the same decision. I wouldn't be surprised if women were disproportionately represented in that group. I think men are more likely to be willing to neglect their families to spend 12-16 hours a day (no exaggeration) in a lab to get ahead.

Brent said...

How ironic that this would be presented as a hot topic at the same time that Louann Brizendine's book, The Female Brain is on the bestseller lists. Brizandine's "feminist" credentials are unimpeachable, yet she can deal with basic differences honestly, obviously unlike Ms. Shalala and friends.

Brent said...

With all the claims that the Bush Administration has "politicized" science,does anyone honestly believe that this is the first time "scientists" have themselves politicized science?

Icepick said...

MadisonMan wrote:
According to the actual report, " For 30 years, the report says, women have earned at least 30 percent of the nation’s doctorates in social and behavioral sciences, and at least 20 percent of the doctorates in life sciences. Yet they appear among full professors in those fields at less than half those levels."

Think of the enormous effort that goes into acquiring a doctorate in the hard sciences. How likely is it that more than half of these women are really not interested, or just lose interest before getting a faculty job after all that study?


First the part of the report you quote is NOT talking about the "hard sciences". (Perhaps the life sciences section does, but I would want to know more about the specifics. Clearly a geneticist would fall into the hard science group, but someone doing field work may not.)

Second, even if it does, your assertion that this clearly shows bias is unfounded, unless you can tell me where the women PHDs go after pilling it higher and deeper. How many TRY to go into academics and fail? Why is it that they fail in that endeavour? Do they instead go into the business world? How do the answers to these questions for THIS group compare to the answers to these questions for !THIS group?

Further, are the groups comparable? If males are over-represented in the top schools as graduate students, but females are more represented in the medium and lower tier schools, then the disparity in the professorial ranks will follow naturally and have nothing to do with sexual discrimination. (Unless of course there is discrimination in graduate student selection, which I doubt.)

There are many hurdles that have to be cleared before discrimination can be claimed, and a lot of those hurdles will require difficult statistical analysis, not a rhetorical question.

tjl said...

Madison Guy asserts,
"Tierney's column, like Larry Summers at Harvard before him, simply employs prejudice, distortion and a biased selection of anecdotal evidence (see above) to obscure the reality of ongoing discrimination."

As applied to Summers this is a gross misrepresentation. Summers' offense was simply to remark, at an academic conference, that there are a range of factors that might account for gender disparity among tenured science faculty, and that one of these might be a difference in quantitative aptitude. This comment generated a category -5 firestorm because
1) Summers' relationship with the faculty had already been strained by such non-PC moves as his reining-in of Cornell West and his comment that extreme anti-Zionism was hard to distinguish from anti-Semitism; and
2) the non-existence of innate gender differences is a core PC dogma that must never be questioned.

Summers'downfall is deeply troubling because it proves that in academia there are now certain topics that cannot even be mentioned, much less studied or investigated. We can forget about that obsolete model of the university as a free marketplace of ideas. Instead, the university will firmly enforce whatever PC dictates.

Since Summers' resignation the Harvard alumni magazine has run a series of anodyne articles paying lip service to Summers' talents but hopefully suggesting that university governance would be improved by ensuring that "hitherto unheard voices on the faculty will now be listened to." This is a chilling prospect.

Icepick said...

Further, how many women are trying to get in these fields? I remember in the early 1990s going with a friend to Gainesville for his orientation session for the University of Florida College of Engineering. He was transferring from a junior college, so he was headed straight into his heavy EE course work.

At the orientation session, there were approximately 150 males awaiting the start of the session. Then three women walked into the room and all of the men sat up straighter in their chairs. Then the dean of the college came in and started talking. At this point, the three young women realized they were in the wrong room and left. The remaining all-male student body visibly deflated. I thought it was funny, but then I was planning on becoming an engineer.

But if women are not going through the under-graduate pipe-line, they're not going to ever get to grad school, much less become a tenured member of the faculty.

I also would imagine that a smaller overall number of under-graduate women would cut down on the absolute number of truly exceptional candidates who are likely to go to the top graduate programs and then move into the tenure track positions. Couple that to males being somewhat over-represented on the far right end of the bell-curve and it's easy to see how the cards are stacked against having a representative number of women (in terms of their proportion of the overall population) in the top of the professorial ranks without there being any discrimination, overt or otherwise.

And I wonder if anyone will note something that is being left completely unsaid in this discussion.

mikeyes said...

Jim Said: "This is true of all sports as well, from bicycling to Texas Hold-em, except for those where men are barred and those that provide for mixed teams, like bridge, tennis and volleyball."

Not true, of course, and a peet peeve of mine. In the Olympics men and women compete in the equestrian events and yachting and until a woman almost won a gold medal in Free Rifle in the Olympics they competed equally in shooting. That woman was Margaret Murdock who had previously won a world championship in the same event while pregnant. The (mostly European and Asian) powers that be decided that women were too delicate to participate against the men once it was clear that women would win just as often.

AJ Lynch said...

For Madision man who is so eager and willing to believe discrimination is still the reason....

Just an observation and not hard evidence but I have heard there are far more young women in medicien than young men. If that is true, it suggests the career outcome is more due to choice than discrimination.

Steven said...

You know, I'm not going to comment, beyond noting that my mother and my sister have engineering degrees, and my father and brother have business degrees.

No, it's not all that relevant. It's just a comment.

Jim said...

Steve,

Whose mom and sister hold engineering degrees, do they practice engineering and have they achieved any recognition? Any Amerikan can get any degree if he has enough money and a high threshold for boredom.

Michael Dell and Bill Gates did not, for example, not to mention Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone and the Wright Brothers, etc.

We'd all be better off and save a lot of money if every Amerikan were awarded an MD, JD and PhD and tenure at birth. Then the universities would be cleared of those there just to gain credentials and find husbands.

Hey said...

Some commenters don't know what "hard" science is. A quick rule of thumb (ooh i'm an evil misogynist pig because I said that) is that the hardness of the science is directly related to the amount of math involved in describing or conducting research.

Biology is dominated at the undergrad level by women. Med school and law school see more than 50% women. Physics, math and engineering... erm not so much.

Now as to whether there are differences as to how women will conduct themselves in their careers: look at the hours worked by female GPs rather than male GPs. Older male GPs tend to work the most hours, followed by younger male GPs, followed by female GPs. There is no hierarchy in determining who gets the choice cases. There is essentially an unlimited demand for GPs, and they can work as many hours as they wish to.

So what causes this? Some of this is because of cultural expectations. But it's not just an example of evil Western expectations, as all cultures expect women to take care of the home and hearth. Also, women are, on average, more inclined to focus on these details, while men are more likely to be workaholics and focus on a subject to near autistic intensity.

Averages, of course, don't mean anything about anyone individual. I have worked with many women at senior levels of Accounting, Finance, and Consulting who work harder and are more focused than any man around them. They are given responsibility, money, advancement, etc. I also know vast numbers of young women in those industries that do not wish to slog it out and make the sacrifices for that success.

The NYT article about the female MBA grads many years on highlights an immutable truth: women have options for success, interests, and material success outside of the corporate world. There are essentially no options for men for material and reproductive success outside of their career (athletic, academic, corporate, political, or artistic). That's life, with such creatures as people are.

Would it be nicer if things were different? Absolutely! There would be a much higher chance of meeting a woman in a university math class or at a hedge fund. Changing these things is a much, much harder task than Shalala et al would have us believe, and they are absolutely targeting the wrong areas, as always. Their project will be destructive and counterproducitve, just like everything Shalala has ever worked for. C'est la vie.

The Drill SGT said...

TJL,

You should add that Larry was also very supportive of the Harvard students that were forced to attend ROTC off campus because Harvard had thrown ROTC off campus long ago (before Sullivan).

As I recall, he went to their commissioning ceremony (for example, no University Dean or Chancellor, or Even professor attended my University of California ROTC commissioning), and tried to encourage the reintegration of ROTC back into Harvard life.

President Lawrence H. Summers took the stage for the fifth year in a row, the only Harvard president in recent memory to speak at the ROTC Commissioning Ceremony. After thanking the cadets for "their service these past four years and their service to our country going forward," he recalled his own swearing-in as secretary of treasury under President Clinton as one of "most moving moments of my professional life."


David Clayman '38, chairman of Advocates for Harvard ROTC, receives a congratulatory handshake from President Lawrence H. Summers for his lifelong work.

"I thought there wasn't anything more important that someone could do than to serve their country ... so I admire your courage, your devotion as citizens in joining our armed forces at this crucial moment," he added. Speaking of the University's sometimes uneasy relationship with ROTC, he said that more could be done "because whatever you think about policy issues ... I believe our country is most important, and I believe our country is best served when great universities like this one stand with those who defend the freedom that makes it possible for us to do all the wonderful things that we are able to do here." Summers also expressed a wish: "I look forward to the day when it is common and doesn't draw remark when an Ivy League president attends an ROTC commissioning ceremony."

Speaking directly to the newly commissioned officers, Summers said, "America is strong because it is free; America is free because it is strong. And it is strong because of the service of wonderful individuals like those we commission today."

The president was presented with several honors for his longtime support of the ROTC, including one from the Department of Defense. He called the awards "quite unwarranted" because "truly, the honor has been mine."

Bruce Hayden said...

MM,

Also note that the tenure pipeline has been clogged, esp. in the social sciences, for a long time with early baby boomers and older. Until they retire, the clog is not going to clear. And many of these faculty came from a time when women were less likely than today to get the requisite credentials.

I also think that the point that the "harder" the science or engineering, the fewer the females, even today. And "Life Science" would, I suspect, not be considered "hard" as defined above. Rather, I suspect it includes Biology, Ecology, and maybe some Chemistry (though, parts of chemistry are "hard"). But nothing like physics or most engineering.

Even 15 years ago, when I was taking engineering courses so I could sit for the patent bar, females were almost non-existant in my EE classes. More in ME and CS. And working for a large semiconductor company, I dealt with almost no female inventors. Out of maybe 100 patents I wrote there, I remember two female CS PhDs, and none in EE.

Interestingly though, we had plenty of female patent attorneys who had EE degrees. I think that maybe 40% of our attorneys were women. Only one though had earned her spurs as an engineer first, whereas probably half the guys had.

tjl said...

Drill Sgt:

You accurately described Summers' honorable support for Harvard ROTC students. Unfortunately, this was deemed another PC violation and became one more of the grievances raised against him during the faculty's no-confidence vote.

JorgXMcKie said...

Women average 4.5 inches shorter than men in the US and very few women are over six feet tall. I blame the male establishment for 'holding them down.'

It certainly couldn't be biological differences, since height always carries and advantage and therefore women must desire being taller, so the only reason they don't get tall is that men are preventing them.

altoids1306 said...

Icepick: pilling it higher and deeper

HAHA, not that there was any doubt before, but those words are the true sign of a science/eng academic. Phdcomics. So funny, so true.

[Somebody said something about the social science tenure track being clogged with 60s-hippies]

Not sure if it's true, but I've had my share of Berkeley-trained-male-feminist teachers (no joke - he changed his last name to match hers!). But it would be deeply ironic if the academic fountain of liberalism was finally clogged by hippie professors clinging to their posts! A fitting end, I think, to the baby boomer generation. Having spent the inheritance of their parents, they will leave their children with crushing debt, squandering the wealth of three generations in one.

Female Science Professor said...

In my field of physical sciences, there have long been a high proportion of women graduate students and postdocs, but somehow the number of women tenure-track and tenured faculty remains low (< 5%). Where do these women fit in Tierney's scheme? They used to like science and then they don't? There aren't enough "people" and "social" things in science, but women are just really slow to figure that out? The NAS report describes many behaviors and actions that I see and experience on a daily basis, and having a committee dominated by women doesn't detract from the truth of that. And, by the way, despite my paying attention to "these issues", I am quite successful at research (says me).
http://science-professor.blogspot.com/

Revenant said...

Where do these women fit in Tierney's scheme? They used to like science and then they don't?

Why does everyone seem to be equating "doesn't hop on the tenure track" with "throws away her education"?

A career in academia is arguably one of the least-rewarding things you can do with a PhD.

Daryl Herbert said...

Let's take 50 men and 50 women, drawn from some relatively equal pool, and drop them into an undergrad science program, and see how they do.

I say, let's kidnap 100 law students and use them. Who is going to say that women law students are any less intelligent or tenacious than male law students?

Then we can see, once and for all, who is right. I know what outcome I'd bet on.

Ann Althouse said...

Female Science Professor: Does Tierney have a "scheme"? I see him as simply criticizing the panel for not doing a creditable job of looking at the question they were purporting to answer, not that he just has his own alternate answer. If he did, it would be incoherent, because he hasn't done a creditable, scientific study himself. He's critiquing the process, not substituting a "scheme."

Icepick said...

Altoids, your comment was the first I'd ever heard of PHD Comics.

Icepick said...

Okay, this one is exactly true.

My first week in grad school I had a conversation with one of the PHD students who worked very hard to convince me to drop out right then and there. I wish I had followed his advice, it would have saved me several years....

cAPSLOCK said...

Am I the only one who finds the argument that Shalala makes slightly strange from a logical point of view?

“The academic success of girls now equals or exceeds that of boys at the high school and college levels, rendering moot all discussions of the biological and social factors that once produced sex differences in achievement at these levels.”

How does one gender now 'exceeding' the other render moot the idea there is a biological or social difference?

Why are girls now outpacing boys if it is neither biological or social?

I wonder how well she did in her logic classes... :)

ellia08 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LikesPostingAnnonymously said...

lol! What I loved about Tierny's article is that he defends current rates of women successful in science with gender proportions seen in adolescents taking the SAT or tests of abstraction. As if these are not influenced by social mores!! It’s just a rehash of some of the old Lawrence Summers arguments. They were not very good the first time and frankly Tierney lacks the eloquence of Summers.

Re TJL: I read the transcript of what Summers said and it was significantly more than "there are differences". His data was inadequate, the analysis was uninspiring, and when he yammers on about his daughter and her trains and his trips to a kibbutz... please. That crap has no place guiding policy. A great economist he may be, but the speech was a disaster. Try to find the COMPLETE transcript and not the edited first paragraph. You’ll see what I mean. It starts off as a plausible (if short-sighted) argument and quickly devolves from there to the ridiculous. If you can get the audience questions too, that’s REALLY good for a laugh.

If you are a successful scientist (as I am), then you have seen a gender disparity. It exists. Speaking about it will get you nothing but trouble and label you as "that" woman. The only way you get past it is by keeping your mouth closed, your eyes open, and by being very, very good at what you do.

... and Jim, I am a woman. I am in a truly hard science. I am at a top tier University. I am recognized nationally. We do exist, lol! (oh... and I did not in a fiendishly clever manner pursue a career in science just to land a man. Its a very "Down With Love" suggestion that is patently ridiculous but worthy of a chuckle or two.)