Sunday, June 28, 2009

Men and Women in Science

A recent report published by the National Academies of Science calls into question the convential (PC) wisdom that women are more poorly represented than men in science because they are victims of prejudice (h/t to Chistina Hoff Sommers). The executive summary says,

Our survey findings do indicate that, at many critical transition points in their academic careers (e.g., hiring for tenure-track and tenure positions and promotions) women appear to have fared as well as or better than men... These findings are in contrast to the COSEPUP [Shalala] committee’s general conclusions, that “women who are interested in science and engineering careers are lost at every educational transition” and the “evaluation criterion contain arbitrary and subjective components that disadvantage women.”

The 2006 Shalala report set Capitol Hill aglow1 with the reports of uncorrected "gender bias" even though the report itself was discounted as politically biased by credible researchers. Surprise: a report issued by Donna Shalala, Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Clinton, is politically biased.

As Christina Hoff Sommers writes about the findings of the new report,

To give one typical finding, in the years studied, 2004 and 2005, women accounted for approximately 20 percent of applicants for positions in mathematics, but were 28 percent of those interviewed and 32 percent of those who received job offers. Furthermore, once women attained jobs in math or science programs, their teaching loads and research resources were comparable to men’s. Female full professors were paid, on average, 8 percent less than males. But the committee attributed this to the fact that the senior male professors had more years of experience. There were no differences in salaries for male and female assistant and associate professors. “I don’t think we would have anticipated that in so many areas that there would have been such a balance in opportunities for men and women,” said Dr. Sally Shaywitz, Yale University research scientist and co-chair of the committee that wrote the report.

The new study does not claim that women have achieved parity with men. It found, for example, that women with Ph.D.s in math and science are far less likely than men to pursue a career at a research-intensive university. Why should that be? The report does not say, but suggests it would be an important question to pursue. In fact, there is now a lively and growing literature on gender and vocation. While some scholars contend that “unconscious bias” and persistent stereotypes are primary reasons for the paucity of women in the high echelons of math and science, others, perhaps a majority, suggest that men and women, on average, have different career interests and propensities. (AEI Press will soon be publishing The Science on Women and Science, a collection of articles by scholars who argue different sides of this issue.)

The big question: how does one define "parity"? On what basis is 50-50 representation considered equitable?

Might it be that women (whether consciously or not) are more interested in sustaining human life directly (via family), than indirectly (in science)? Might it be that women (whether by conscious decision or not) have their priorities straight?

What seems clear is that fewer women than men desire to advance in science. This means the effort to achieve 50-50 representation is misguided. The preferences afforded to women in its pursuance disproportionately fall to the smaller number of women more devoted to science than to traditional family roles. In other words, a small, vocal minority of women is using "equality" as a pretext for preferential treatment.

George Orwell's been quoted very often, but can't be quoted excessively these days: "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."


Some quotations from summary in the prepublication edition available online. All of the results were not in the same direction, but these show some ways women are given a disproportionate advantage in hiring and tenure evaluations (and men consequently given a disadvantage).

For the most part, men and women faculty in science, engineering, and mathematics have enjoyed comparable opportunities within the university, and gender does not appear to have been a factor in a number important career transitions and outcomes. (4)

The proportion of women who were interviewed for tenure-track or tenured positions was higher than the percentage of women who apply.... The proportion of women who received the first job offer was higher than the percentrage who were invited to interview. (6)

Women were more likely than men to receive tenure when they came up for tenure review. (9)


1. Including Republican Congressman Vernon Ehlers. He's a physicist: it just goes to show how difficult it is to get a truly conservative scientist. There's too much implicit indoctrination in science education. The undercurrent running through all of it, especially physics, is that there are no inherent natures in the world and that the order of the world is arbitrary and should be recreated to man's arbitrary standards.

Christina Hoff Sommers, "Baseless Bias and the New Second Sex," The American (June 10, 2009).

Committee on Gender Differences in the Careers of Science, Engineering, and Mathematics Faculty; Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine; National Research Council, Gender Difference at Critical Transitions in the Careers of Science, Engineering and Mathematics Faculty (Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2009).

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Matter and Becoming

On a friend's recommendation, I ordered a copy of a book on book I of Aristotle's Physics. It's an old book (not quite as old as the Physics!)—Matter and Becoming by Richard J. Connell, who studied at Laval.

I haven't started reading it yet, but even the title is highly suggestive. Matter in Aristotle's thought is what becomes something else; it's the principle of substantial becoming, the potentiality for one thing to become another. In contrast, matter in modern thought doesn't become anything, but is merely rearranged; in fact, strictly speaking there is nothing: there is only matter. Everything else is merely various arrangements of the "real substance" underlying everything.

It's amazing how Aristotle simply takes our experience at face value: there are things in the world and some things become other things. Meanwhile, modern thought starts with a bald postulate, an unproven hypothesis, a dogma not based on experience: there is only matter.

Which view is more empirical? Which is more reasonable?

Richard J. Connell, Matter and Becoming (Chicago: The Priory Press, 1966).