Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Science-Wrecking Diversity-Mongers

In the midst of an otherwise bland Chronicle of Higher Education essay by Peter Wood (8 August issue) about why there are more foreign-born graduate students in science and engineering than there are US students, were these amazing statements:

The science "problems" we now ask students to think about aren't really science problems at all. Instead we have the National Science Foundation vexed about the need for more women and minorities in the sciences. President Lawrence H. Summers was pushed out of Harvard University for speculating (in league with a great deal of neurological evidence) that innate difference might have something to do with the disparity in numbers of men and women at the highest levels of those fields.


A society that worries itself about which chromosomes scientists have isn't a society that takes science education seriously.

.. a statement that is backed up with this example of awesome logic:

In 1900 the mathematician David Hilbert famously drew up a list of 23 unsolved problems in mathematics .. Notably, Hilbert didn't write down problem No. 24: "Make sure half the preceding 23 problems are solved by female mathematicians."

Presumably these views are why P. Woods is the executive director of the National Association of Scholars, whose website proclaims that the association strives to

.. uphold the principle of individual merit and oppose racial, gender, and other group preferences.

where "group" = any group comprised of people other than neurologically superior white men.

A society that systematically discriminates against people owing to their chromosomes or other irrelevant characteristics, genetic or otherwise, is corrupt.

If the National Science Foundation and other agencies, institutions, and people with power to change things are "vexed" about the lack of some "groups" in science, engineering, and math fields, maybe smart people who don't happen to be male and white will enter these fields in increasing numbers and, in league with a great deal of neurological evidence, make the significant contributions of which we are more than capable if given a fair chance.

And then, if the day comes when the chromosomes of scientists truly don't matter, maybe sad little essays by men clinging to questionable studies showing their neurological superiority will only be published on their own webpages and not in mainstream academic publications.


Anonymous said...

Preach it, sister! I had the same reaction to that article. How dare we Distract our Great Men of Science with these Trivialities?

There is a nice book review in American Scientist this month in which Londa Schiebinger asks, "What is the most reliable and current knowledge about men's participation in domestic labor and child care? Should more men be doing that sort of work? Is it because they have less aptitude than women for managing the home and family that they take less responsibility in the domestic sphere, or are men simply less interested in such activities? Might innate differences in ability explain the unsettling statistics, or is culture to blame? Put another way, is society holding boys and men back? Or are they perhaps ill equipped intellectually?" It's worth a read.

Anonymous said...

I am a European caucasian male grad student in an American Institute of Technology.

I consider myself all for equal opportunities, and reducing discrimination.

However, it seems to me that the way this is implemented in the US, with affirmative action, just generates unfair inverse discrimination.

Suppose that three students apply for graduate school: White Male, White Female, and Black Male. All else being equal in their ability, the school will prefer either White Female or Black Male, for so many reasons: availability of special funding, a bump in the diversity statistics, etc. So in the end White Kid is discriminated against.

For me the goal should be:

"everybody has equal opportunity based on merit"

and not

"this institute has a certain distribution of such-and-such
chromosome and a pleasant gradation of melatonin"

Anonymous said...

Shame on Chronicle. They really should know better.

Anonymous, the huge, huge problem with this argument is wrapped up in your second sentence - "all else being equal in their ability." CVs and background knowledge and experience are not measures of ability - they are measures of experience, which is impacted by both ability and opportunities made available to you. If you're sampling two populations with equal distributions of some innate quality, say intelligence, but one population is filtered more selectively, the more selectively filtered group arguably would have a higher average of whatever innate characteristic is desirable for that job or educational program or what-have-you. It takes a lot more drive, natural ability, and luck (not to mention a convenient lack of intersectional issues) to overcome the obstacles and make the cut when you're up against systematic social discrimination.

So yup, generally, women and POC have less experience than privileged white men. Experience *does* matter on the job, so that can't and shouldn't be ignored. Affirmative action does, arguably, discriminate because it forces employers to weigh experience alone a little less heavily - and when a white man has worked really hard to get that experience, that looks unfair. But from the perspective of being a white man, it's a little hard to understand just how much more difficult it is for the average woman or POC to GET the same amount of experience.

You say, "I consider myself all for equal opportunities, and reducing discrimination," but I don't think you have even considered what this really means, particularly outside your very white and male experience. You can't reduce workplace discrimination without recognizing and somehow trying to compensate for the broad, social, systematic, and lifelong discrimination experienced by women (and others, but the post is about women in particular).

Anonymous said...

Ah, I should have reread. Apologies, the post is about women AND POC. This argument applies to POC as well, not because the systematic discrimination they face is in any way the same as that faced by women as a group, but because both are discrimination, and systematic.

Anonymous said...

I have some questions:

so how far should these arguments extend and when should the affirmative action end in a given STEM field - only when this field is 50% female and 50% male?

What if the intrinsic interest in pursuing this field, or percentage of qualified/gifted individuals willing to pursue career in this field is lower for females than males? Or are you unwilling to accept this premise and anything other than 50:50 ratio is a clear result of gender discrimination?
If not - what should is the allowable range of the gender ratio and how should it be determined?

You like to talk about "white males" that are apparently doing all the discrimination in STEM fields, but in reality STEM is dominated by jewish and asians.

Jewish americans make up about 2% of population, chinese americans about 1%. If the fact that many STEM fields are dominated by males is a sign of gender discrimination, then by extension of the same argument, non-jewish and non-asian people must be discriminated (or at least strongly discouraged) from pursuing STEM fields as well.

Would you also support efforts to perhaps limit the number of jewish or asian scientists, to make sure that the scientific workforce resembles the US population?

If not - why not?

Is it wrong to argue that it is cultural and perhaps even genetic differences that are responsible for interest in pursuing scientific careers among these groups, rather than some discriminatory practices?

Eve said...

Hear hear! I am consistently amazed that these beliefs are still maintained by some delusional people. Hopefully in another 50 years these conversations will be looked upon with as much disdain as the arguments for racial segregation.

Anonymous said...

"Is it wrong to argue that it is cultural and perhaps even genetic differences that are responsible for interest in pursuing scientific careers among these groups, rather than some discriminatory practices?"

The point is that such discriminatory practices are cultural norms. As an anthropologist/evolutionary biologist, I'll put a couple of facts out here. 1) There is no genetic basis to race. You can't group people into groups based on genome. 2) While the sexes are different, when you look at some of these so called sex differences (like mathematical ability, spatial reasoning) what you often find is that variation within a sex is greater than variation between the sexes. The mean may differ, but the overlap is high.

saying women don't want to go into maths/science, or aren't interested isn't saying anything of use. WHY don't they want to go into these fields? Perhaps because they have been exposed to disciminatory attitudes since childhood?

That being said, I do find affirmative action (at least in the US where I'm from) a bit disturbing. From my experience, it doesn't take the form of preventing discrimination, rather it lowers standards. In other words, candidates of lower ability will be chosen on the basiss of skin color...irregardless of opportunity. That's not right either...there's a fine line between affirmative action and discrimination.

I'm a woman, and I don't want to be hired because of that. Nor do I want to not be hired because of my gender. It's completely irrelevant. I just wish that was the reality.

sab said...

I have to agree with that second statement:

"A society that worries itself about which chromosomes scientists have isn't a society that takes science education seriously."

Sad, however, that it has never been the case.

I have to admit that although I have benefited from incentives for women in science, I'm generally not a fan. I don't want to be considered special professionally because I'm female, I want to be special because I'm good at what I do. I think that is the danger with taking special effort in balancing out the numbers; a backlash against those who benefit from them. Despite the fact that there are relatively few exceptions made for women (students, I'm not sure about higher up) in science here in Canada, aside from a few scholarships and awards marked for that purpose, there is a prevailing attitude in my field and institution that those of us who got into good schools and got the big general scholarships (which have an optional page for statistics only to provide information about gender or minority status) have done so only because they are women. It is infuriating and frustrating to be tagged in such a way, and only made worse by the fact that it isn't even true. (I would like to add, that the fact that most of us who made it here are doing exceedingly well just fuels the rumour mill even more.)

The challenge for affirmative action type policies: How is a woman or another minority in science supposed to overcome this stigma? Does it not damage their own confidence that they have achieved the same as their white, male counterparts? Is it removing one hurdle only to introduce another?

Anonymous said...

I am baffled by the posters who seem to think that affirmative action is occurring in the science disciplines, when in fact, active and blatant discrimination is what is occurring. In my particular science discipline, females outnumber males at the undergraduate and graduate levels. However, at the transition to the faculty level (that is, at the transition to positions of power), women suddenly disappear. These overlooked women have amazing credentials – many have much stronger vitas than their male counterparts – yet when they interview for faculty positions, they don’t “fit in” or they don’t “seem professorial”.

The refusal to hire women is NOT affirmative action. It is DISCRIMINATION. Plain and simple.

- a young woman with a kick-ass cv who finally got a job

Anonymous said...

I've observed the same thing that grad student & physics*chick have - a program designed to help people with less opportunity can actually be introducing new problems for them.

In the hoity-toity PhD program where I used to work, there was a black female student admitted to an incoming biology grad program. Her parents were well-heeled, and had fully funded her educational opportunities. She had attended a very prestigious private high school, and an equally prestigious undergraduate program. Her grades were good (but not stellar) at either location, and she had no laboratory experience. She was admitted to the program, and has since struggled heavily. She has contributed at a few grad student forums, and has expressed her insecurities about the manner in which she was admitted to the program, and whether she was truly qualified to be there.

How is this "affirmative action" beneficial for anyone? It doesn't seem to have truly helped this specific student, and at the same time, I'm sure someone else could have been admitted to the same program who had better qualifications but perhaps an undesirably pale shade of skin.

Anonymous said...

Dear FSP,

While I agree your furious comments about the issue of women in STEM in this particular assay. I would be more glad to see your discussion on other aspects of the assay related to American Education System. That would be more enriching.

Anonymous said...

I just read the article. ugh. It's 2008, right?

For the graduate students commenting on here: you have no idea what life is like beyond grad school (where women now make up more than 50% of the earned degrees). The science world changes totally with PhD in hand. It's not about science, it's about politics and fitting in the prescribed "white male scientist" box. Once I started going on faculty and industry interviews, it hit me like a ton of bricks. THEY (white dudes) resented me for a strong publication record because I was better than their preferred slacker white dudes (uh, and themselves). Several job interviews taught me that these gate-keeping aholes have no problems hiring an Asian man as a prof (who can barely speak english and has no grant writing exper) to keep up with the diversity front/LAW... but when it comes to women, they come up with all kinds of off-the-record reasons against her (because she's too good, it must be a fluke or her advisor's name getting those papers accepted... she's gonna get preggo and not be able to teach her classes... she's not in our club and won't get funding). I promise you.. white dudes aren't discriminated against (hence why AA doesn't and shouldn't apply to them, unless they have a disability, etc). and for every white dude that's 'highly qualified' for a job, there's at least 10 women who are also 'highly qualified' and who will be discriminated against. I do agree that AA causes problems in forcing white dudes to hire non-white dudes... but AA revolves around the foxes watching the hen house. No win for non-white dudes. And yes, the standards get lower... to let other white dudes in. The damn bar is in the sand at this point. Women have to (and many do) work twice as hard to get half as far, and I keep seeing "depts committed to diversity" hiring the slacker white dude because THE woman who interviewed would overshadow the tenured-boys-club's piddly "accomplishments" and quite honestly, I think the slacker white dudes are unable to raise their game and/or would be afraid of having a successful female on the floor. Vicious cycle.

Yes, physics chick, once you get a prof job, you will be given another hurdle and another and another. You'll have to fight for lab space, decent office space, TENURE!!!, getting student support and grants funded, fighting off unsurmountable service tasks, etc. It. never. ends. And don't you dare feel guilty for benefitting from AA! You run with it. The gates are open... GO. You will need fantastic advisors (men and women) to help you along the way.. do not be afraid to ask for advice. And avoid the aholes like the plague they are or smack them down. Whatever you do, don't be quiet - wallflowers get crushed.
Good luck ladies!

Unknown said...

It sounds like your pride is a bit wounded.

I'm curious enough to want to draw my own conclusions - what is the "evidence" he's talking about? I've never heard anything scholarly suggesting that men are smarter than women (or vice versa, for that matter). I do think men and women are different, though - right to the very deepest levels of our minds.

Ms.PhD said...


I guess I'm too depressed and jaded to be outraged. But I'm glad you have enough energy to be angry.

As far as I can tell, most places have outlawed affirmative action, even though almost all have the 'equal opportunity' logo in their job ads. It's meaningless because it's not tracked or enforced in any way, unless someone decides to fall on their sword and bring a lawsuit.

I also think it's funny, and sad, that people posting to a science professor's blog would mix up melatonin and melanin, make comments about how race is not genetic, or that a society that worries about which chromosomes scientists have is doing something wrong.

On the one hand, he wants to argue that there are inherent GENETIC differences among the sexes, but on the other he wants to say that genetics shouldn't matter??

It's not logical.

I for one would like to set up a minimal screen for the average neanderthal DNA content among the academic elite.

That's all I have to say about science education, in the US and otherwise. Pretty pathetic.

Unknown said...

"I promise you.. white dudes aren't discriminated against (hence why AA doesn't and shouldn't apply to them, unless they have a disability, etc)."

Anonymous, where the fuck do you get off making a claim like this, as if your experience is universal?

It may not occur at the post Phd level, but it certainly fucking occurs below that level, and it can be damaging, in particular when there's discrimination by universities (due to need to fill a quota) and the sort of minimum wage jobs people need to get to work their way through college before they make it to grad school and get a stipend (due to racism). I can say from my experience as a white male that I have been royally fucked several times when it comes to attempting to get a job that I need to make my way through my undergrad years (or for that matter, needed in high school so I could save up some money while I lived with my parents) due to being white, if not a white guy. The reality is that this 'widespread bias and racism' everyone bitches about is a multi-way street. I happen to live in a part of the US where white people are a minority, and I've been through hell trying to get a job interview (three years and counting without a single job interview in my hometown, two years and counting here) and had to see other people with my skin color go through the exact same shit. Hell, I've been offered a job interview and then denied it by a well known chain business after they found out my name was 'Thomas' and not 'Tomas'. White guys may not be discriminated against at your career level, nor in your area - this does NOT make it universal.

Other than some ridiculous reasoning like 'they don't need it because they aren't discriminated against' that shows....a very wide-ranging idealism about racial issues that doesn't correspond with reality can you give a reason why poor white guys shouldn't benefit from affirmative action? Or for that matter, why Asians have been left out?

NOTE: Statements like the above really piss me the fuck off given my past and the racist behavior I've dealt with my whole life both on a personal level and in the job market, so there may be some fuzzy thinking/over-generalizations in the above post caused by frustration. I'll probably come back and clarify a few things or comment on the original article later.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Stanley Fish, who observed that Affirmative Action would be great if we ever tried it.

Yes, yes, we've all had bad experiences with AA (I'm a black woman), but I ask: who's been administering it?

And for those concerned about lowered standards (ugggggghhhh, this makes me so tired).... Do you know how it feels to have everyone ASSUME you're inferior? Does it ever occur to anyone that AA is not the problem?

Let's all go read that law again...

Anonymous said...

*wild cheering*

it's the same all over. i have an MFA and it's the same damned thing; i have the wrong chromosome to be taken seriously.

Anonymous said...

As a grad student and now a postdoc, I've been hearing a lot about the (lack of) women in science issue for about 8 years. I keep hearing about it, and hearing about it...but nothing changes. It seems like many of the programs designed to attract women to apply for faculty positions are for show ("We tried, but no one applied.") The problem starts at the earliest levels in a woman's upbringing an education and is compounded from there. Maybe we need scientist Barbie?

I chose to ignore all of my sexist science and math teachers who mainly taught to the boys and never gave the girls any encouragement. I am constantly seeing young women scientists doing more and better work than their male counterparts, but the guys tend to get the praise and glory (and are never asked to mak copies for a PI).

Academia is not a friendly place for women for a variety of reasons. It is very disheartening to run into the boys club syndrome at every level. It seems like things won't change until the old geezers are out and people with more progressive ideas enter into positions of authority.

Unknown said...

Now that I've calmed down, to an extent, after that post caused a burst of anger, primarily by causing me to reflect unwillingly on the past and current bullshit I have to deal with due to race, I am going to give a more thorough exposition on my views of this issue in general and what I feel my place is in it (as someone who plans on a science-based academic in the future). I assure you, I'm actually quite reasonable when I'm not in a rage.

To start off, I think he gets one thing right - in a very, very narrow sense. We ARE focusing too much on the sex or race of a given scientist when we set up a program that arbitrarily assumes that a person of a given sex or race has been discriminated against, and thus, needs extra help. That said, I also read the article with some frustration, as I think he is not being honest. His tone indicates to me that he's masquerading behind a valid point in an attempt to push a view that women and minorities are not in science because they are inherently inferior. This is bullshit (more on that later). I am not going to deny that people DO experience discrimation. However, I am not going to accept that it is so ubiquitous that a system which arbitrarily assumes that if you are of a certain gender or race that you have experienced it and need help -- in particular when the nature of the system allows it to be used to discriminatory ends (intentionally or unintentionally)* -- is necessary without copious amounts of evidence to back it up. By the same token, I am not going to insist that we should have an affirmative action that gives white people special privileges at the entry level job/under-grad level even though I experienced daily, aggressive racism for most of my life growing up until I left my home town and saw other people of my race experiencing the same shit in that town and other nearby ones and talked to people in other parts of the country that have experienced the same treatment. I also won't demand that it apply to me, even though I'm now in a large, cosmopolitan city where such things theoretically shouldn't occur, but I can still be reasonably certain that I've been denied at least one job interview here on the grounds of race. That said, I do think I am owed the same benefit of the doubt that is given to minorities and women when they tell their stories of discrimination in the job market.

Since I'm going to be asked for an example of how AA can become discriminatory, I would like to point to the Grutter v. Bollinger case (http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/02-241.ZO.html). A case was filed against Michigan Law by a white, female student after she felt she didn't get in due to policies that favored non-whites to an unfair extent. The supreme court eventually ruled in favor of the school, however, it came out that 35% of the minority students who applied to the school were let in, and that if race was NOT considered only 10% of them would have been let in (If anyone is wondering, this is discussed in Section 1, B, paragraph 11, though the entire ruling is worth a read). Unless we're too assume that every white person who applied for the school was let in, it follows that a number of white people were kicked out of their opportunity to get in because they had a non-preferential skin color. If this isn't discrimination, I don't know what is. If this happens at one of the top law schools in the country, it's certainly going to happen elsewhere.

Due to problems like this, I think it would be more appropriate to change AA to a class oriented system rather than a race and sex oriented system if we insist on keeping the archaic structure alive. Ideally (though I don't see this happening any time soon) I'd rather see it replaced by a less invasive system that allows for a fight against discrimination to occur on a case-by-case basis, rather than painting everyone with a broad brush based on race or sex.

That said, I'm going to be rather blunt - after all the bullshit I've had to endure (everything from your average 'scum of the earth' racist comments on a daily basis, to death threats, to having to deal with the frustration that comes with every business in town refusing to give you an interview since their token slots are already filled) I'm not going to feel any guilt having an easier time finding a job post-Ph.D. if this 'white privilege' I frequently hear about does end up applying to me - after all, fair is fair, right? Other people enjoy the benefits of AA without guilt due to the shit they've been through, I get an easier time finding a job once I'm out of the system and into the job market. However, I think my sometimes over-bearing cynicism is getting the best of me again and I should take a different track. While I may enjoy the benefits that come with trying to get an academic job in a small field (I'll either be heading into paleontology or geology) I won't try to hoard those benefits for myself and make it hell on anyone that's different like some would. Having experienced discrimination myself, I am sympathetic to those who do experience discrimination - I just feel that AA is inappropriate since the only way to properly apply it without it causing discriminatory problems like what I mentioned above would be if the problem was ubiquitous - neither my personal experience nor any evidence I've seen match this view. I will, however, do the best I can to help out people I feel have been discriminated against on a case-by-case basis by giving promising students a chance that others wouldn't be willing to, and going to bat for females and minorities on hiring boards, if I ever end up on one, if I think they're qualified. By that qualification, I only mean that if they have a lacking CV I'm not going to give the benefit of the doubt, automatically assume it's because of discrimination and say to hire them over a person that shows higher qualifications. However, I will fight particularly hard for people that I think are well-qualified, given that either of my two field choices are particularly devoid of women and I think this is a shame.

This is already way too long, but I also have one more issue I'd like to explore on the women in science issue. I've noticed that at this blog (and others, to varying extents) the unquestioned assumption* seems to be that the lack of women in science, in addition to being caused by WMP is caused by enculturation by birth from males of the idea that science is a Boy's Game and girls are not smart enough for it, which is somewhat frustrating since I hear this from generally reasonable people. Why does no one look at the possibility that older female role models and peers are part of this, too? Perhaps this is unique to my experience since I grew up in the south (but I have my doubts), but where I grew up any girls that were interested in playing with bugs, helping their dad fix his car (or using tools for any reason), picking up rocks, or doing anything that could possibly lead to a development in interest in science & engineering, they were held back by a mother or elder sister who insisted that they weren't supposed to do that because that was 'for boys' or 'geeky' or 'not lady-like'. Later on, from middle school up, if I ever met a female with interest in science it was quickly quelled by their group of female friends who insisted that the girl shouldn't be into that stuff because it made them a 'geek' and that it was only 'for geeky loser boys'. The attitude presented here was one that was condescending toward males, not '*sigh* we're inferior'. For that matter, based on the way I've seen a lot of 'geeky males' that would later become science or engineering majors tormented in JH and HS (secondary school) by females, I am not surprised that some of them turn out to be misogynists with an axe to grind against women; they seem to have an inferiority complex rather than the superiority complex that Male Scientists are stereotyped as having, though. To clarify, I am not saying it's right or that this should happen - I'm just pointing out that this isn't a one-sided issue of The Evil Arrogant White Males bringing down everyone else since they feel superior despite it often coming across this way (whether that is what's intended or not).

Well, I'm somewhat exhausted at this point and this post is far too long, so I'm going to stop here. Just keep in mind that this is a rough draft of my thoughts on the issue, and feel free to ask me to clarify something - or shred me, if necessary. :)

*Sadly, the only people I see questioning this assumption are the 'WOMEN ARE GENETICALLY INFERIOR AT MATH' sort which tends to make my questions about this issue on blogs get washed out along with theirs as one brought up by a misogynistic pig.

Anonymous said...

I don't really have a comment to make -- just that I have appreciated the discussion very much. All in all it's been quite civil as well as honest, very educational, and thanks y'all...

I wonder if there are places and people we could look to who "do it right," and see what they are doing. My MS advisor is fully recognized as a top female in her field, is a wonderful warm person, encourages women *and* men with all her might, and is a few other superlatives. She's done it right. Partly she's done it right by never giving up, partly by never retaliating with evil for evil, and partly by doing stellar work and insisting upon stellar work from all her students (well, she messed up with me...).

Are there institutions or places who have done well by people of all types and what might we learn from them?


Mad Chemist Chick said...

Wow, that was in the Chronicle? How disappointing.

You like to talk about "white males" that are apparently doing all the discrimination in STEM fields, but in reality STEM is dominated by jewish and asians.

Not in my area.

Asians and Indians are significant minorities and are rising in prominance but every person of authority (advisors, bosses, managers) in my experience has been white males.

And 100% of the discrimination I have experienced has been from the white males not the foreign born males. Again, just my experience but when I get together with women in my field, I am not alone in this perspective.

Anonymous said...

(I submitted somewhat similar comments earlier today, but they were not posted. I apologize to the moderator if I violated any standards of this blog.)

Thoughts from a pale, male assistant professor of physics at a primarily undergraduate institution designated as Hispanic-serving:
1) The extent to which affirmative action is actually practiced in science is disproportionate to the resentment expressed by white and Asian males.

2) To some extent, this may be a result of the fact that pro-diversity sentiments are expressed far more often than corresponding affirmative action is practiced. If everybody is talking about it, it is natural to assume that it is being done, and those who feel like they're getting the raw end of it will react accordingly.

3) Moreover, to the extent that open affirmative action is practiced, it tends to be in programs for students. College-age students (of all colors, genders, and majors) are easily offended (age has not yet mellowed them) so it is no surprise to me that white male college students will react with outrage to this perceived unfairness. And, you know, maybe it is unfair, maybe it isn't, but they see it and they react. Of course, outrage from college students is often disproportionate (anybody who has ever observed a pre-med get an A- knows exactly what I'm talking about) so I'm not surprised that white male college students would react with disproportionate outrage.

4) Every white male in science has probably observed (at some point) a woman or minority get a position despite being (in the eyes of that observer, who did not actually review the applications and letters) less qualified than competitors. Leaving aside the fact that they didn't actually review the applications, has it ever occurred to them that perhaps these less qualified candidates got a position because of good old-fashioned networking? I can think of a less qualified woman (I didn't review her application, but I know her quite well) who got a position because of who she knew, not because she lacked a Y chromosome.

In an ideal world, the first sign of progress would be talented people of all backgrounds rising to the top. In the real world, the first sign of progress (such as it is) will inevitably be that people of all backgrounds start exploiting the same tricks. We can lament that all we want, but it is rather single-minded to focus outrage only on the women and minorities who find ways to exploit the same old politics as everyone else.

5) I obviously cannot speak from direct experience on the issue of whether programs targeted at women and minorities actually meet the needs of women and minorities. I can, however, point to my own experience as a member of a group that some of the scientific community professes an interest in helping: Faculty at undergraduate institutions. I'm applying right now to programs targeted at faculty like me, and I can tell you that they don't actually match my real needs. For instance, they tend to offer funds for summer salary but not school year assigned time. Frankly, I don't need summer salary to succeed in research. Yes, I want summer salary, but I don't need it. I don't need somebody to pay me to do research in the only time that I have for research. Rather, I need more time for research.

This mismatch between my actual needs and what an outsider perceives as my needs. It would not surprise me at all if some of the programs targeted by female and minority students are clumsy efforts designed by people who don't actually understand the circumstances.

That's all for now.

Anonymous said...

One more thought:

In many discussions of diversity in science, I hear science faculty talk about the difficulties of being a science professor when you're a (insert background here). These difficulties are real, and I don't want to sound like I don't care about these difficulties, but I work with undergraduates, not Ph.D. students already set on academic careers. If I tell an 18 year-old that he or she should study science and that we're working on the difficulties that face assistant professors (i.e. people over the age of 30 who have already spent a decade in school and a few years or more in various temporary positions) that student will not be impressed.

I'm not trying to persuade students to pursue an academic science career, or even a Ph.D. followed by an industrial career. I'm just trying to get an 18 year-old to spend a few years studying my subject, and I'll let that person decide for himself or herself on whether to go to graduate school or do something else with that training. There are so many things that can be done with a science degree, and if we focus too much on the obstacles in the particular paths that we chose, and ignore the wide range of paths that our undergraduate students will choose from, all we're doing is producing a more diverse group of clones. Yes, their skin color will be different, but all we've really done is send this diverse group on to do what we did, and we've ignored all of the other paths that a young person with science training could have pursued. In the process, we'll probably get fewer people (of all backgrounds) than we could have gotten if we had focused on the issues that matter to 18 year-olds rather than assistant professors.

Anonymous said...

Thomas at 4:37pm mentions Grutter v. Bollinger. As a proud Michigan alum, I'll respond.

I agree with anonymous at 10:39am who wrote, "....in the science disciplines... active and blatant discrimination is what is occurring." I'll elaborate only briefly: I'm tenured despite the sexism in my department of employment in the 1990s. Paula Caplan's book, Lifting a ton of feathers, described something like my experience.

About affirmative action: The state -- our union, our government -- has a compelling interest to foster diverse universities and workplaces. Quotas are not at issue (I forget who raised "quotas" in the current discussion but in my experience quotas don't happen). Instead, it's this: every cultural group, gender group, ability group, religious group, you name it, has its blind spots and we live in a broadly competitive environment; therefore we can't afford to miss out on the perspectives of people from a range of backgrounds. We need settings in which people from very different life experiences, including some who have the experiences of living in relatively low status in our society, participate on an equal status basis with others. (May I point out that at Michigan this means including the perspective of the prototypic White son of an Appalachian coal miner.) That critical range of perspectives forces each of us to examine our own assumptions, to articulate our views, to understand others' views, and to build new solutions with others who are not like ourselves.

It isn't just "nice." It isn't just "payback," and frankly, it isn't a question of "standards" either. As a White person, I propose to other White people that we quit telling ourselves the standards have been lowered if and when we get passed over for someone else. Here's the deal: Diverse workplaces are a needed resource for ideas and solutions that benefit our larger communities.

And so The University of Michigan went to the mat for affirmative action.Go Blue!

Anonymous said...

thomas, I think you're missing a really important point. *All* social policies treat people as a broad group, and there are always outliers. White men who experience severe discrimination growing up exist, of course they do, and I imagine that's *really* hard (I haven't experienced the exact things you did, so I won't presume to know just how tough it was). I think you raise an excellent point that class is not really touched directly by a lot of these hiring policies, too. I wonder if there is a better way to tackle that issue.

BUT. But but but. There are POC who are extremely poor. There are women of color. Just like there are white men who are poor, and who live in areas where they experience discrimination - there is a broad spectrum of experiences out there. Maybe you had it harder than, say, me, as a middle-class white woman from a town with fabulous schools. But you probably had it easier than SOME people out there. They might not even have had a chance to go to college, despite their merits. That's not really fair, either.

There's a reason that in my first comment I said women and POC require a disproportionate amount of drive, natural ability, and LUCK to succeed. Everyone needs some of those things to make it in academia (or any field). But broadly speaking, people who belong to historically disadvantaged groups need more of those things to make the cut. This is essentially WHY there are still fewer women, POC, disabled people, fat people, and poor people (to name a few groups that commonly experience discrimination) than white, able-bodied, middle-to-upper-class men in most fields, especially science. That doesn't mean that white men DON'T sometimes have it tough - luck of the draw still plays a huge role. But compare apples and apples: when you go up against a black woman who grew up with the same exact sort of discriminatory experiences you had, you will be looked upon more favorably than her in interviews, in reviews, in performance assessments, in funding applications, in peer review, etc.

Incidentally, I can understand where the woman commenter is coming from when she says that she doesn't want her success devalued because coworkers will assume she didn't get there on her own merits. But that isn't really a result of Affirmative Action policies. Women who succeed have *never* been given credit for getting there on their own merits, unless they were such amazingly extraordinary scientists that they blew all the men out of the water. Just being as good as the men isn't good enough. So excuses have always been made to write it off. AA-blaming is just the latest manifestation of that same old mysogyny.

And since when are Jews not considered white? I mean, seriously? You're complaining about Jews in the workplace? Wow.

Anonymous said...

Confirmation bias is all over the place. You might get outraged if you think you see a less qualified woman get a postion(of course most people have a systematic bias which leads them to consider women less qualified than an equally qualified man). You regard this as part of a systemic problem, but you cojmpletely ignore the fact that lots of less qualified men get positions ahead of more qualified women and men.
This is like when people who think psychics are real focus on the right guesses psychic make without focusing on all the wrong guesses, thus focusing on data that already confirms their beliefs in psychics. This is no way to conduct an experiment.

And no one can deny that the history of science and everythingelse is the history where qualified women were almost always passed over in favor of men. Noether had to work for free. Meitner had to work a shed. Give me a fucking break.

Eve said...

Just wanted to add a comment about skin colour and DNA, because someone challenged the notion that DNA has nothing to do with it: I think the original poster meant that in general, you can't tell how similar the DNA is between two people just from their skin colour. For example, there are some white and black people that have a closer DNA match than a pair of black people. At least, that's what the Ontario Science Center tells me, so I have no idea whether that can be extended to a pair of white people (although I assume it can) and a man and a woman. My brother and I are a lot more likely to have similar intelligence than my brother and a male friend of his. So genetics (at least in terms of intelligence) can't be chalked up to gender or race.

Ann said...

Two facts that some commenters dont seem aware of

1. There is little to no affirmative action in most university admissions and hiring. Diversity considerations play a very minor role relative to the overriding concerns about ability and quality. There is a small amount of set aside recruitment fellowships, and some efforts at improving mentoring of underrepresented groups. But the white men need not worry that their "equal opportunities" are threatened. I have served on many admission committees and the anonymous european male sounds a bit paranoid about his scenario, which does not reflect reality.

2. The percentages of women and minorities are slowly but steadily rising in this country, and vary a lot from country to country. This shows that the current fractions in this country are not constants of nature.

Anonymous said...

I read the article mentioned some time back and he misses the point on why there are more foreign-born science/math grad students and why there are fewer women in science. The culture in many other countries is very pro-science. Anti-intellectualism is a big problem in the US and quite mystifying to the foreign-born. As are the education battles. Some of the most sexist people with a fierce insistence on low standards I've met are female elementary school teachers. I am so grateful when I meet the sane ones.

The bit about "uphold the principle of individual merit and oppose racial, gender, and other group preferences" is classic reversal of what was intended to be a good thing. Double-speak at its finest.

Doctor Pion said...

As a white male, I have little doubt that the problem exists. After all, I have been in the bar when it was only "the guys" and remember a lab director saying he thought having women around the lab distracted men from the real work. Actually, he didn't mind if the women knew it.

But I am concerned with a different problem: attrition at an earlier stage as women get turned off subjects like physics or engineering because they think the guy talking so authoritatively is right and they don't have a clue - when it is he who doesn't have a clue. I got some good advice this summer in response to a request for suggestions on how to make the science classroom (and particularly the lab) more inviting in these crucial first encounters. The pipeline may still leak, but if it is bigger at the start the situation at the faculty level will improve eventually.

Anonymous said...

Dr Pion, I'm a pipeline leak (senior undergraduate in the humanities, formerly a math/computer science double major) and that is probably the biggest reason that I've... umm... dripped. My male colleagues would authoritatively lecture about god-knows-what and receive copious praise from teaching assistants, professors, other students, house plants, everyone. Thankfully I knew enough to turn in my own problem sets, since I generally had a greater understanding of the material in reality. I just couldn't convince myself of that. The humanities are much safer in this regard.

I guess my opinion is pretty worthless as an undergraduate, but that's why I leaked and it seems like it's a big factor in a lot of other smart women's choice to leave -- or never enter -- STEM fields.

Anonymous said...

Thanks FSP. Someone cited that article to me (about the American educational system, not the gratuitous "neurological evidence" and I couldn't respond to any of the rest for seeing red about that statement.

(nice article, susan b. )

Anonymous said...

While the American education system doesn't necessarily do a good job at this, I think it's almost a necessity that kids (both boys and girls!) need to talk authoritatively about a subject. I knew a couple of girls back in undergrad that ran with the best of them (best of them being the boys who showed it) and yet their timidness preventing them from strutting their stuff.

Girls! Talk! Please! And interrupt a guy if you have to!

With most guys, they don't mean to be sexist at all, it's just that if preconceived notions aren't challenged then there's nothing stopping them from keeping them. Is that fair? No. But does it need to be done for the sake of diversity in science? Yes.

Anonymous said...

"And since when are Jews not considered white? I mean, seriously? You're complaining about Jews in the workplace? Wow."

Well, they weren't considered white in Europe. More like aliens with a different culture. Which actually makes it a lot easier for me ever since I came to the USA. You have no idea how much I enjoy being thought of as white and no different than the majority of science professors. When is this privilege going to end anyways? I'm enjoying the hell out of it now since it was completely opposite back in the old country.

I suppose American Jews fell like they are just other white people now; they are pretty lucky. I'm one of them now... heh heh. White privilege is pretty awesome after being shut out for so long.

I still can't get over trying to be better than all the 'white' people around me because we're different and have a different culture. Maybe I won't tell my kids to get better grades than all the Slavs around me in school, or they'll fail as a Jew, like my parents and grandparents told me. Which was good advice at the time because they'd admit a Ukrainian over you into a department if you weren't the best.

Samia said...

When I hear stupid statements about how great it is to unfairly benefit from white privilege, I am overcome with an inexplicable urge to beat the nearest human with a shoe. What is wrong with people?

Anonymous said...

"When I hear stupid statements about how great it is to unfairly benefit from white privilege, I am overcome with an inexplicable urge to beat the nearest human with a shoe. What is wrong with people?"

Get back to me when you've been beaten over the head with your shoe for most of your life and it suddenly stops and everyone treats you normally. Looks like you could also use a lesson on reading between lines and figuring out the main points of posts. My post wasn't about that.

Samia said...

White privilege is inherently unfair to non-whites, so when I hear people talk about how great it is to have it, it kind of implies (to me) that they wouldn't mind it sticking around for a while. If I am incorrect in this assumption about your comment, then I must apologize for my harsh language. I hear this kind of thing a lot, see the attitude in members of my own group, and I hate it with a passion. In my opinion, two wrongs don't make a right.

Anonymous said...

You are incorrect. I was just commenting on the fact that Jews were viewed as nothing more than a religion. Coming from Eastern Europe, this comparison is amusing to me, but understandable when we're talking about American Jews who've been assimilated.

We on the other hand, have been treated like you Americans treated some of your more undesirable minorities in the last century. That makes me sympathetic to representatives of those minorities today, but I try not to give it away in day to day interactions. I'll never think myself the same as other 'white' people probably, but I guess my kids will get over it.

Samia said...

Ah, okay.

"You Americans." Hmmm... ;)

Anonymous said...

I understand what "Anonymous" is getting at... It's really odd to live in America as a "white" person when you immigrated to the place as an adult. I feel for minorities in America in a way that I don't think they can see on the outside, because on the outside, I am "white". I don't feel white in America. By that I guess I mean I don't inherit all the privileges that "white" Americans have nor am I sure I want to (and they do have a lot of privilege in this country!)