Category Archives: feminism

Eternal sunshine of the progressive mind

Leszek Kolakowski, 2007. Photo: Mariusz Kubik

Leszek Kolakowski, 2007. Photo: Mariusz Kubik

Every now and then, I’m instructed to have more faith in the progressive tendencies of humanity. Racism and sexism, I’m told, are relics of the past, and especially so in science and tech. Progressive, open minded people are against discrimination. Scientists and tech geeks are open minded almost by definition, therefore progressive, therefore against racism and sexism, which therefore are no longer a problem. I should just look around and see how many Chinese and Indian immigrants work in tech and science; clearly, this means that the field is not racist. And if there aren’t so many women around, that’s obviously because they’re not interested – or, as the progressive feminist Steven Pinker explains, maybe it’s just the innate differences. Progress! We’re all in this together! Let’s forget our differences, join our hands and work together for a better future.

Except I’ve seen it before: the unquestioning conflation of all possible good causes, the expectation that good intentions alone guarantee progress and enlightenment. Take, for example, the Western New Left in the 1950s and 60s. Leszek Kolakowski in “My correct views on everything: A rejoinder to Edward Thompson’s ‘Open letter’” from 1974:

[S]ocialist writing [...] amounts to saying that the world should be good, and not bad, and I am entirely on your side on this issue. I share without restrictions your (and Marx’s, and Shakespeare’s, and many others’) analysis to the effect that it is very deplorable that people’s minds are occupied with the endless pursuit of money, that needs have a magic power of infinite growth, and that the profit motive, instead of use-value, is ruling production. Your superiority consists in that you know exactly how to get rid of all this and I do not.

Eastern Europe, meanwhile, was being subjected to a practical implementation of that wondrous dream of progress and unity. If the Party represents everything that’s good and progressive, why would anyone ever want to oppose it? Who would need other political parties? Why, indeed, should any organizations be independent of the Party and government – surely, progressive and well-meaning people would want to associate themselves with the historic forces of good? Who could possibly be against world peace? The logical consequences are obvious. Kolakowski again:

… we got rid of this fraudulent bourgeois device of the division of powers and we achieved the socialist dream of unity, which means that the same apparatus has all legislative, executive and judicial power in addition to its power of controlling all means of production; the same people make law, interpret it and enforce it; king, Parliament, army chief, judge, prosecutor, policeman and (new socialist invention) owner of all national wealth and the only employer at one and the same desk-what better social unity can you imagine?

Clearly, if some Eastern Europeans were unhappy with this arrangement, this was just because they didn’t understand. They had “false consciousness,” in the language of the Marxist-Leninist theory, and therefore needed to be told what was really good for them, and beaten into submission if necessary. Not to say that the system was perfect, of course:

… you, not unlike most of both orthodox and critical communists, believe that everything is all right in the Communist system as long as the leaders of the party are not murdered. This is, in fact, the standard way of how communists become “critical”: when they realize that the new alternative socialist logic does not spare the communists themselves and in particular party leaders. Did you notice that the only victims Khrushchev mentioned by name in his speech of 1956 (whose importance I am far from underestimating) were the Stalinists pur sang like himself, most of them (like Postychev) hangmen of merit with uncountable crimes committed before they became victims themselves? Did you notice, in memoirs or critical analyses written by many ex-communists (I will not quote names, excuse me) that their horror only suddenly emerged when they saw communists being slaughtered?

I’m thinking of the progressive folks who believe that the main focus, always and in all matters, should be on them. I’m thinking of the men testifying on feminist blogs that they, too, have to prove their merit all the time, and there was even this committee meeting three years ago when someone interrupted them twice. I’m thinking of the journalism genre that “treats race as an intellectual exercise – a low-stakes cocktail party argument between white liberals and white conservatives over their respective racial innocence.” I’m also thinking of how the same people, when asked to stop and listen for a moment, respond with “I’m listening” followed by yet another barrage of words on how their arguments are really superior. Which of course they must be, seeing how eagerly they are accepted and applauded by the important target audience of other like-minded progressives. If someone like me continues to dissent, that’s my false consciousness speaking. Or maybe I’m simply too emotional and pessimistic. I should just continue to do my good work and we’ll all benefit, as I’ve been told many times. Kolakowski again:

… the spontaneous and almost universal mistrust people from Eastern Europe nourish towards the Western New Left. By a strange coincidence the majority of these ungrateful people, once they come to or settle in Western Europe or in the US, pass for reactionaries. These narrow empiricists and egoists extrapolate a poor few decades of their petty personal experience (logically inadmissible, as you rightly notice) and find in it pretexts to cast doubts on the radiant socialist future elaborated on the best Marxist-Leninist grounds by ideologists of the New Left for the Western countries.

Czeslaw Milosz:

I lived through two phases in Paris. In 1950, I was an attaché of the Polish embassy and attended parties with Paul Éluard and Pablo Neruda. The following year, after breaking with the Polish Communist regime, I came to live there as a refugee. At that time, French intellectuals were completely in love with Communism and Stalin. Anyone who was dissatisfied and who came from the East like myself was considered a madman or an agent of America. The French felt that their so-called ideés générales were valid for the whole planet—beautiful ideas, but hardly realistic. At that time the political climate of Europe was dismal; millions of people were in gulags; their suffering contaminated the aura, the air of Europe. I knew what was going on. The West had to wait for Solzhenitsyn to write The Gulag Archipelago to learn about it.

I’ve never been a fan of sloppy comparisons to communism, and I want to be very specific here. My beef is with those who say, “I’m a nice, progressive person, therefore I can’t be doing anything wrong and your complaints are not valid.” It’s with those who believe in the theory and refuse to see the evidence. It’s with those progressives who feel that every “good” cause, by virtue of their self-identification with it, is about them; and that their opinions trump everyone else’s experience because they, sensitive and enlightened as they are, would obviously notice any signs of injustice or discrimination; and that, when such experience is presented to them, the proper answer is to point to the bright future that is sure to descend on us soon like a state of grace.

Progressive minds such as those like to be unburdened by history and evidence. For all the talk of “inevitable historical forces” in Marxist theory, socialist writing rarely respects history as history. Instead, it invokes history as the future, the promise and the fairytale. “Historical determinism” was then, as “progress” is now, the magic wand that would forge a perfect world out of the fairy dust of good intentions. Forgive me if I’m a little bit skeptical.

Comments Off

Filed under feminism, history, women in math

Leaning back and smelling the roses

Now that the list of next year’s ICM invited speakers has been posted, I’m pleased to be able to say here that I will be speaking in Section 8: Analysis.

It gives me far less pleasure to say that the UBC mathematics department did not approve any graduate courses in harmonic analysis for this year. My proposal for a 600-level (topics) course was rejected. This is not an isolated incident: I have been at UBC since 2000 and I still have not taught a single 600-level course.

For comparison, the department had one ICM speaker in 2006, two in 2010, and there are two others (in addition to me) in 2014. One of those was only hired last year. Of the remaining 4, each taught at least one 600-level course in 2009 or later. They all boast large research groups, each with several full professors and at least 2-3 graduate courses each year in their research areas. Meanwhile, I’m still the only full professor in my group. As it happens, I’m also the only woman among the UBC ICM speakers. Make of that what you will.

In the past, I might have given lectures anyway on the same topics, or offered a working seminar instead that students could take for credit as a reading course, in addition to my assigned course load. I have in fact done that, back when my teaching load was reduced thanks to the UFA award. Not any more. If the university does not want my topics course, it will not have it.

When I see women being admonished to “lean in” to advance their careers, I think back on the time when I actually tried to do that. “Internalize the revolution.” Be ambitious. Take risks. Seek out opportunities. Don’t hold yourself back. Above all, accept the relentless and accelerating career demands, because that’s good for you, because of course it is. Except when it’s not.

I gave reading courses. I supervised 4-5 graduate students as early as 2005-06, back when I was still the only active harmonic analyst in the department. When the local PIMS institute offered no support, I organized a program at the Fields Institute instead. I accepted a good deal of administrative work at and beyond UBC. I served 3 years on the Putnam problem-setting committee.

Tenure-track and tenured positions tend to have no clear job description. Only the course teaching load is fixed, more or less. In popular imagination, this means just a few hours of work per week. In reality, tenure, promotion and pay increases depend on meeting the institution’s “standards,” which in turn are established via a rat race between faculty members. Two parallel rat races, actually: one to achieve more in science, one to ascend to a position of enough influence in departmental politics to push one’s own interpretations of the outcomes of the first race. Clearly, I’ve done better in one of those than in the other, as was my preference all along.

Of course achieving is easier when one’s work is supported by one’s institution, in a variety of ways that are never written into any contract but nonetheless make a world of difference. Some groups here (probability, number theory) have 6-8 faculty; of course it’s easier for them to attract graduate students and postdocs, or to offer several graduate courses each year with the department’s blessing. Of course it’s impossible to function in a similar manner when you’re isolated, as I was for many years. You try anyway, “leaning in” and hoping that it will get noticed, seeking external leverage when it doesn’t, as wise colleagues keep lecturing you on how everyone else’s needs are greater and priorities more important than your own.

But now? I have nothing left to prove here. I’m a known quantity and have been for some time. My research is going better than ever. There can be no doubt as to whether I’m capable of building a group or advising graduate students.

My employers are more than welcome to lean in and take advantage of that. Even just with the current faculty, we could have an excellent graduate training program in harmonic analysis here, one of the best in the world. Just give us one or two guaranteed graduate courses each year. Stop insisting on the false alternative where we either have to teach the same syllabus every 1-2 years in our graduate courses or give them up altogether, because smaller groups really need more flexibility than that. Cut back on those degree requirements that serve no purpose I can think of, or that prop up the largest groups but are not relevant to the thesis work of everyone else’s students. And please please cut down on the bureaucracy, both within the department and at the university level, because I’m tired already of having to deal with that.

But if not, then, well, not. Or nought, if that’s your fancy. Life is too short to be spent on a hamster wheel, even as colleagues throw wrenches in it and the only reward is more time on the same hamster wheel back again. That stretch of my career is over and done with.

I’ll lean back in when you do. Make of that what you will.

Comments Off

Filed under academic politics, feminism, women in math

Gender Bias 102 For Mathematicians: Merit

A long time ago, I promised a follow-up to my Gender Bias 101 post. One thing I’ve found out the hard way is that I can’t promise to post anything here on a regular schedule, or according to deadlines. Paid work takes precedence, as does vacation time and my other interests – that’s one problem. The other one is that I don’t really have much to say about gender that’s not complicated. That’s why, instead of one follow-up, you’ll get several “Gender Bias 102″ posts on different topics. This is the first one. The rest will follow… oh, whenever I get around to it. I did mention a paid job that takes precedence.

I’ve said already that this is complicated. That’s my main point here. There’s no such thing as a complete explanation of sexism that will fit in a single post. You shouldn’t assume that you can learn everything you need to know from me, either. There’s a lot of women out there, with different experiences, and none of us have all the facts or answers. What I’m aiming for is this. When the subject of gender bias comes up, well-meaning colleagues like to offer one-sentence explanations and simple solutions, for instance (today’s example) that we should “just” evaluate everyone based on merit and not gender. I’ll try to give you reasons to stop and think about it twice. Once you do that, it’s not hard to find further reading, should you be so inclined.

Deal? OK, let’s get started.

MYTH: We should just evaluate everyone based on objective merit, regardless of gender, race, or other similar considerations.

FACT: Wouldn’t it be nice if we could actually do that. Unfortunately, it’s much easier said than done.

First, we do not evaluate people or their work objectively, even when we think we are doing just that. Gender is a known risk factor. I cited this Yale study last time, and an older one with similar conclusions can be found here (PDF):


In the present study, both male and female academicians were significantly more likely to hire a potential male colleague than an equally qualified potential female colleague. Furthermore, both male and female participants were more likely to positively evaluate the research, teaching, and service contributions of a male job applicant than a female job applicant with an identical record. These results are consistent with previous research that has shown that department heads were significantly more likely to indicate that they would hire female candidates at the assistant professor level and male candidates with identical records at the associate professor level (Fidell, 1970).

Incidentally, if you believe you have no gender bias, then statistically you are in fact more likely to be biased. That’s not self-help mumbo-jumbo, that’s Nate Silver.

Continue reading

Comments Off

Filed under academia, feminism, women in math

Gender Bias 101 For Mathematicians

The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie—deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Belief in myths allows the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.

- JFK

MYTH 1: Sexism is perpetrated by a small number of men, typically close to retirement age, who are “against women.” Most academics, especially mathematicians, are open-minded people who are against discrimination.

FACT: Please read this study on gender bias in science hiring:


In a randomized double-blind study (n = 127), science faculty from research-intensive universities rated the application materials of a student—who was randomly assigned either a male or female name—for a laboratory manager position. Faculty participants rated the male applicant as significantly more competent and hireable than the (identical) female applicant. These participants also selected a higher starting salary and offered more career mentoring to the male applicant. The gender of the faculty participants did not affect responses, such that female and male faculty were equally likely to exhibit bias against the female student. Mediation analyses indicated that the female student was less likely to be hired because she was viewed as less competent.

See also summaries and discussion here and here, and my own posts here and here. This is not an isolated study, either. See, for example, this study on gender and blind auditions in music. I’ve seen the same exact thing in my own experience and heard about it from colleagues. Statistical evidence from my own university confirms it.

The bottom line is, we are all biased. We all tend to think of women’s work as somewhat smaller, derivative, inferior. We do so unconsciously and involuntarily. We are not aware of it, nor do we notice it in others. That’s what all these studies are saying. It’s as if everyone is wearing glasses with the same tint. You’re wearing them even if you’re “open-minded” or “against discrimination”, even if you start your sentences with “I’m not against women, but…”

It is not, and never has been, only about a few individuals who forgot to catch up with the times. It’s not about trolls who say horrible things about women on unmoderated blogs. It’s about you, and me, and everyone we know. It’s about the nice, polite, progressive people who just wish that their female colleague down the hall didn’t try to be more ambitious than is good for her. (She’s clearly good, but does she really think she’s equal to X and Y? And she doesn’t have the same leadership quality, either.) It’s about that paper by two female authors that’s just not quite as groundbreaking as this other paper written by two men. In other words, you need to start by examining your own bias.

Continue reading

3 Comments

Filed under academia, feminism, women in math

The perils of changing the subject

(My previous post on the topic is here.)

The responses to last week’s PNAS study on gender bias in science have been satisfying, for the most part. I’ve gotten used to avalanches of knee-jerk reactions every time a study on science and gender comes out. This time, there is a good deal (relatively speaking) of subdued and contemplative silence, at least among the actual scientists; the denials seem diminished in quantity. The effect might not be obvious to a bystander, but is quite noticeable to someone who has been following the debates for a while. I hope that this is a good silence, that some of us are taking the time to sit down and actually think about it.

This of course doesn’t mean that the subject has suddenly become totally uncontroversial. As Sean Carroll says in comments:


At least the trolls have moved on from “there is no discrimination” to “discrimination is rationally justified.” Progress!

I’ll be more specific. The wonderful, wonderful thing about the Yale study is that it allows us to have this discussion without being called “paranoid,” “hypersensitive,” or “emotionally unbalanced.” It feels refreshing and different to read long, argumentative comment threads on the subject and never see those words.

The discrimination apologists argue that, given the same “official” credentials, the rational employer will give preference to a man over a woman, because babies, pregnancies, dolls, biological differences, innate abilities, bell curves, life priorities, and other similar perennials.

Then there are press responses. The New York Times ran an article on the Yale study, then followed up with a discussion page. Here’s what one of the participants contributed:


There is little to suggest that colleges and universities are systematically discriminating against women or discouraging them from pursuing STEM disciplines. [...]

Why should we focus on achieving balance in STEM fields, while ignoring the overall imbalance in higher education as men fall farther behind? Factors other than sexism are likely the cause as to why fewer women pursue STEM fields. When students choose majors, they take into account myriad factors, such as their interests, aptitudes and career aspirations. Some research suggests, for example, that women with high-levels of quantitative skills are also likely to have high aptitudes in other areas, while men with high STEM-aptitudes tend to be less talented in other areas.

That, right there, is why I usually stay away from this type of debates. Let’s recap what the study actually said: that given identical paperwork from two hypothetical job candidates, one male and one female, the woman was judged as less competent and offered a lower salary. This is not about whether girls, statistically speaking, are less interested in science. It’s about a specific candidate who had already met the prerequisites, got a degree, demonstrated interest and skill in research, stated his or her career priorities clearly and explicitly, and was received much better when his name was John instead of Jennifer.

Continue reading

3 Comments

Filed under academia, feminism, women in math

Biased

This new study in PNAS on gender bias in science hiring is already making rounds everywhere, but in case haven’t seen it yet, here’s part of the abstract:


In a randomized double-blind study (n = 127), science faculty from research-intensive universities rated the application materials of a student—who was randomly assigned either a male or female name—for a laboratory manager position. Faculty participants rated the male applicant as significantly more competent and hireable than the (identical) female applicant. These participants also selected a higher starting salary and offered more career mentoring to the male applicant. The gender of the faculty participants did not affect responses, such that female and male faculty were equally likely to exhibit bias against the female student. Mediation analyses indicated that the female student was less likely to be hired because she was viewed as less competent.

The article is open-access, so you should be able to read it from home; if not, then the summaries here and here have the numbers.

The applicant’s resume was the same in all cases, except for the name (Jennifer or John, two names that were judged by the researchers to be equally “likeable”) and gendered pronouns. (It is available on the PNAS site as part of the “supporting information”.) It is fairly generic, calibrated to show a candidate who looks potentially promising, but not stellar. The candidate mentions research experience with two faculty mentors and a co-authored journal paper, and has plans to apply to graduate school in the future. A few details were added that, depending on the evaluator, might or might not matter: dropped out of a course, slacked off a bit early in college but then got serious and made up for it. (If you asked me, none of these would raise concerns.) Faculty responses were broken down by the respondents’ gender.

On a competence scale from 1 to 7, John received mean scores of 4.01 and 4.1 from male and female faculty respectively. Jennifer’s scores were 3.33 and 3.32, about 0.7 less than John’s. Similar differences were observed in the “hireability” and “mentoring” categories (the latter refers to the faculty member’s willingness to mentor Jennifer or John). The difference in mean salaries recommended for the candidate was also significant: 30,520 and 29,333 for John vs. 27,111 and 25,000 for Jennifer.

There are several important points here. One is that the subjects were actual scientists, doing what we normally do in the course of our work. The resume did not look fake or contrived – it would fit right in with the paperwork I receive all the time as a potential supervisor or member of selection committees. The authors do not study gender bias by proxy, trying to draw a straight line from girls and boys playing with dolls and trucks to faculty composition in top science departments. They test us on behaviours that have direct and immediate impact on women in science, and find us biased.

The “mediation” part is crucial. The scientists were not actively seeking to discriminate against women. They offered similar salaries to candidates that they perceived as equally competent, suggesting that, in their minds, they were evaluating the candidate purely on merit. The problem is that the female candidate was judged to be less competent, evidently for no reason other than gender, given that the resumes were exactly identical except for the name. The unconscious bias was “mediated” into different perceptions of the candidate’s competence.

I’m sure that most of the participants, believing themselves unbiased, would be shocked to see the results. In fact, I’d like to see a web test based on this experiment that deans, department heads, hiring committee members, journal editors, conference organizers and other decision makers would be required to take before assuming their responsibilities. I suspect it could be an eye-opener for many of us.

That the bias is unconscious and involuntary is confirmed by another finding: the female candidate was rated higher on a “likeability” scale. In other words, faculty respondents reported “liking” the female applicant better than the male one, even as they judged her to be less competent, were less willing to hire or mentor her, and recommended a lower salary. It confirms something I’ve believed for years now: it’s a blind alley for women to worry too much about being “liked”.

There’s much more to unpack here, from the responses all over the internet, to the better practices we could adopt in hiring (and elsewhere), to the myriad ways in which we interpret resumes and supplement them with other information, to possible explanations of why female scientists recommended lower salaries overall. It’s good that I’m on sabbatical, because that’s enough material for several posts. They should be forthcoming soon.

7 Comments

Filed under academia, feminism, women in math

The other law of large numbers.

If anyone here knows which planet Justice Antonin Scalia lives on, please do tell. I’d like to move there.

[...] left to their own devices most managers in any corporation – and surely most managers in a corporation that forbids sex discrimination – would select sex-neutral, performance-based criteria for hiring and promotion that produce no actionable disparity at all.

This is from this week’s SCOTUS ruling on Wal-Mart v. Dukes. (Full text here.) Justice Ginsburg’s dissent summarizes the basic issue well enough (see the full text for more details):


Women fill 70 percent of the hourly jobs in the retailer’s stores but make up only “33 percent of management employees.” 222 F. R. D., at 146. “[T]he higher one looks in the organization the lower the percentage of women.” Id., at 155. The plaintiffs’ “largely uncontested descriptive statistics” also show that women working in the company’s stores “are paid less than men in every region” and “that the salary gap widens over time even for men and women hired into the same jobs at the same time.”

The plaintiffs sought class action status on behalf of about 1.5 million women currently or formerly employed at Wal-Mart. The District Court and the 9th Circuit Court granted the class certification, after some haggling over who exactly is included in the class and what’s the relative importance of the monetary claims (backpay) to the rest of the suit (injunctive and declaratory relief). The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 split decision, reversed that ruling, on the grounds that… discriminatory practices are so many and varied that they can’t all be covered by one class suit. Scalia again:

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under feminism

Truth, images and consequences

If you haven’t checked out the link in my last post, I will have to spoil the surprise for you. The link goes to a Weierstrass Institute webpage promoting its successful bid to host the permanent office of the International Mathematical Union; the item of interest is the photo gallery of 12 distinguished mathematicians who supported the bid. All 12 are male, white, probably in their 50s or 60s.

My point was that such imagery could have alienated part of the constituency that the institute was addressing. The IMU Executive Committee for 2007-2010 includes two women (Cheryl Praeger and Ragni Piene), Ingrid Daubechies has just been elected President for the 2011-2014 term, and Christine Rousseau has been elected one of the two Vice-Presidents. As for race, it must be said that Germany is an overwhelmingly white country and Berlin an overwhelmingly white city, but then it might be added that the IMU mandate specifically includes reaching out to developing countries and its office will have to be able to support that mandate. I wonder if anyone at IMU flagged that photo gallery. Maybe they did, but other considerations prevailed in the end.

I would have left it at that. It was a PR misstep, easy fodder for a quick blog post but ultimately not that consequential. But then the commenters came up with reasons why, perhaps, the pictures should have been all male. They argued for “truth in PR”: if the reality were all male, it would have been wrong to falsify the image by including women who clearly didn’t belong. This, I believe, deserves a longer response. It’s not merely a question of “lying is bad”. You have to think a bit harder, consider the context, look past the easy templates to find alternatives.
Continue reading

Comments Off

Filed under feminism, politics, women in math

ToneCheck for Women

Apparently this new software will check your email for emotional tone and issue a warning if you’re about to fire off a missive you might regret later. You can get it here if you’re interested. So far, it only works with Microsoft Outlook.

Great idea… but wait! What about a women’s edition? Every woman who’s spent any time in a male-dominated professional environment knows the value of keeping her tone in check. Here’s how ToneCheck for Women might work:

ORIGINAL TEXT: I disagree with you.

TONECHECK FOR WOMEN: I’m so very sorry about this, and I’ve been trying really hard, but I still don’t see why I’m wrong and you’re right. Perhaps I just don’t understand it well enough yet. If it doesn’t inconvenience you too much, could you please try to explain it to me again?

ORIGINAL: This paper by X and Y isn’t really that great. It may have been submitted to the Important Journal, but I don’t expect that it will be accepted, seeing as it only rehashes some old tropes. It’s unfortunate that there is no other evidence in support of X’s tenure case.

TONECHECK: X and Y are such wonderful colleagues. Of course this paper is a very interesting contribution to this exciting area of research, and I hope that X gets early tenure based on it. It’s only fair that our female colleague W, who has published several papers in the Important Journal already, should wait a few more years for her periodic review – not that anyone was asking me anyway.

ORIGINAL: Z is not a suitable candidate for this or any other significant administrative position. His stint as the graduate adviser was an unmitigated disaster.

TONECHECK: Z is such a wonderful colleague and I’m so happy that he has been nominated for this position. This is a major commitment of his valuable time, and he already has so many responsibilities, so is there any way that I could help him to do some of that work? Of course I would never be so selfish as to ask for service credit or any other compensation.

ORIGINAL: You’re the best graduate adviser we’ve had in many years.

TONECHECK: You’re doing such a wonderful job as the graduate adviser. Of course, so did Z, and Y, and all those respected and distinguished colleagues over the years. It’s such an honour to have had an opportunity to work with each of you.

ORIGINAL: I agree with you.

TONECHECK: Of course you have excellent arguments, but our wonderful colleagues X, Y and Z disagree with you, and I have already promised to help Z in his new job. Is it really possible for them to be wrong? I don’t know what to make out of it. I’m very sorry about it, but perhaps I just don’t understand it well enough yet, so could you please try to explain it to me again?

Heh. And now you’ll need to invent ToneReverse software if you want to know whether we’re still even trying to say anything.

6 Comments

Filed under feminism

An entirely positive approach. Or something.

The other prefatory comment that I would make is that I am going to, until most of the way through, attempt to adopt an entirely positive, rather than normative approach, and just try to think about and offer some hypotheses as to why we observe what we observe without seeing this through the kind of judgmental tendency that inevitably is connected with all our common goals of equality.

- Larry Summers

Now, I know I had somethin’ to say
But the problem is, to say somethin’
Uh, you’ve got to say it.

- Stan Ridgway

John Tierney follows up as promised on his exquisitely daring column from last week:

  1. Claims of discrimination against women in science cite the same single Swedish study from 1997 over and over again.
  2. Many other studies conducted all over the world did not show similar bias.*
  3. Legislation doesn’t work, and anyway, women are just not that much into science.

I don’t even like to engage in this type of discussions. To me, they always have the taste (so to speak) of having a restaurant owner tell me that there can’t possibly be a cockroach in my soup because the restaurant has passed very strict inspections, can’t I see the certificate posted on the wall? Also, statistics show that the frequency of cockroach infestation is decreasing throughout the city, and in any case the pests don’t come out during the day – and all the while, said cockroach is swimming merrily across my plate right in front of me.

Forget the Swedish study from the 1990s. Let’s look at the results of this year’s Canada Research Excellence Chairs competition. 19 world-class scientists were hired into lucrative positions at Canadian universities, with the kind of research support that most of us can only dream of – and all of them are men. Not only that, but there were no women among the 36 shortlisted candidates, either. That did attract attention. Of the several explanations offered, some just don’t hold any water, for example that the female candidates might have somehow been intimidated by the tough competition and short deadlines. (Remember, we’re talking about star scientists here, not shrinking pansies.) This, however, cuts to the heart of the matter:

The academic “old boys club,” also was a factor. With limited time to find and court top researchers, universities resorted to “informal processes” to find candidates, the study finds. “These informal outreach processes may have involved senior researchers identifying potential nominees from among their international peers,” it says.

Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under feminism, science, women in math