The Myth About Women in Science? Bias in the Study of Gender Inequality in STEM

The Myth About Women in Science? Bias in the Study of Gender Inequality in STEMA new article on CNN by psychology professors, Wendy Williams and Stephen Ceci, boldly proclaims that gender bias in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) is a myth. Their research has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Unfortunately, their work has a flawed methodological premise and their conclusions do not match their study design. This is not the first time these researchers have whipped up false controversy by decrying the end of sexism in science.

Williams and Ceci write on CNN:

Many female graduate students worry that hiring bias is inevitable. A walk through the science departments of any college or university could convince us that the scarcity of female faculty (20% or less) in fields like engineering, computer science, physics, economics and mathematics must reflect sexism in hiring.

But the facts tell a different story…

Our results, coupled with actuarial data on real-world academic hiring showing a female advantage, suggest this is a propitious time for women beginning careers in academic science. The low numbers of women in math-based fields of science do not result from sexist hiring, but rather from women’s lower rates of choosing to enter math-based fields in the first place, due to sex differences in preferred careers and perhaps to lack of female role models and mentors.

While women may encounter sexism before and during graduate training and after becoming professors, the only sexism they face in the hiring process is bias in their favour.

Williams and Ceci’s data show that, amongst their sample, women and male faculty say they would not discriminate against a woman candidate for a tenure-track position at a university. Sounds great, right? The problem is the discrepancy between their study design, that elicits hypothetical responses to hypothetical candidates in a manner that is nothing like real-world hiring conditions, and the researchers’ conclusions, which is that this hypothetical setting dispels the “myth” that women are disadvantaged in academic hiring. The background to this problem of inequality is that this is not a myth at all: a plethora of robust empirical research already shows that, not only are there less women in STEM fields, but that women are less likely to be hired for STEM jobs, as well as promoted, remunerated and professionally recognised in every respect of academic life.

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Rethinking the Narrative of Mars Colonisation

Rethinking the Narrative of Mars ColonisationBiologist Dr D. N. Lee has been doing an amazing job educating on how enthusiastic narratives of “colonising” Mars are problematic. On her Twitter, Lee notes that the dominant ways of talking about colonisation add to the marginalisation of under-represented minorities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). If we want to make science more inclusive, we need to better understand how the stories we tell about STEM may exclude and damage under-represented groups we are trying to support.

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#SOSBlakAustralia: Colonialism of Indigenous Australians in 2015

Genetics research shows Aboriginal Australians are descendants of the first people to leave Africa. They represent the oldest continuous culture. #SosBlakAustralia

#SosBlakAustralia

The Australian Government is actively sustaining cultural violence against Indigenous Australians. The Abbott Government is trying to force 150 Aboriginal Australian communities off their lands in Western Australia. This would displace up to 12,000 Aboriginal Australians, effectively making them refugees in their own ancestral lands. This comes after months of ongoing campaigns to address:

  • The removal of 15,000 Indigenous children: The Grandmothers Against Removals group have been fighting for the return of Aboriginal children who live in so-called “out of home care,” away from their families. This practice goes back to early colonialism, where Indigenous children were removed from their communities and forced to give up their culture.
  • The denial of basic services to remote Indigenous communities: as shown in the Utopia Homelands in the Northern Territory, an Indigenous community that lived without clean water for two months in late 2014.

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Migrants in Australia

Migrants in Australia

Migrants in Australia

Australia is home to the oldest continuous culture in the world, that of Indigenous Australians, and our society also houses one of the highest migrant populations in the world. Australia encompasses over 300 migrant ancestries, with migrants and their children making up half of our population. I’ve just launched a new video series called Vibrant Lives, which explores some of these diverse cultures and the various meanings of multiculturalism in Australia. I’ll focus on different minority groups, as well as covering community events, religious festivals, art exhibitions and community organisations around Melbourne. This post provides some sociological context for my first video on migrant-Australians.

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Dehumanisation, Superhumanisation and Racism

Dehumanisation, Superhumanisation and Racism

Dehumanisation, Superhumanisation and Racism

Dehumanisation and “super-humanisation” are two sides of the same coin serving a racist agenda. Dehumanisation is the process by which conscious and unconscious bias leads people to see a racial minority as less human – less worthy of respect, dignity, love, peace and protection. Psychology research finds that White police officers and young White students are more likely to see Black children as young as 10 years of age as being less worthy of protection and inviting violence in comparison to White children. Super-humanisation is on the other end of the dehumanisation continuum. It is when majority groups harbour latent ideas that minorities have special qualities or powers that make them less deserving of bodily consideration and pain relief. Research finds that White people have a tendency to see Black people as being stronger and therefore more able to withstand pain. These two twin processes, that place Black people outside of humanity, are steeped in colonial practices and they contribute to excessive policing and violence aimed at Black bodies. There are implications of dehumanisation and super-humanisation on the ongoing events in Ferguson. This social science research speaks to the issues raised by the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Continue reading

How Informed Science Can Counter the “Nasty Effect”

How Informed Science Can Counter the Nasty EffectIn September 2013, Popular Science announced that they were closing down their comments section. This has lead to many public debates, including discussions on Science on Google+, a large community that I help manage. I wrote the following post in response to our community discussions at the time. I discuss the role of public science moderation in context of one scientific study that Popular Science used to support its decision to close their comments section. The research shows that people who think they know about science are easily swayed by negative internet discussions, but these people more likely to be poorly informed about science in the first place. For this reason, popular science publications and scientists need to step up their public engagement, not shy away from it due to the so-called “nasty effect” of negative comments made through social media. I also reflect on my own moderation experiences with the hopes of encouraging sociologists and other scientists to contribute to public science education and engagement.

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Sociology of Gender Bias in Science

A new study by Dr Corinne Moss-Racusin and colleagues has analysed the public’s comments in response to a prominent study on gender bias in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). The researchers find that men are more likely to post negative comments in response to scientific findings about sexism in STEM careers. To provide a flipside illustration, I share some examples of what it is like to be a woman moderator of a large, international science community on Google+. This case study will illustrate the recurring arguments used to invalidate the science on inequality in STEM. These arguments are focused on biological (mis)understandings of gender; stereotypes of what motivates men and women; and a desire to police the boundaries of science. Denying that sexism exists is a common tactic to invalidating the science on gender bias in science, and attacking the social sciences is concurrently used to discredit findings on inequality, as well as support the idea that inequality does not exist in STEM.

Sociology of Gender Bias in Science

Sociology of Gender Bias in Science. Photos: Texas A&M University-Commerce, CC 2.0

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