Royal Society, Gender Equity and Science in Aotearoa New Zealand

Why do academic institutions continue to replicate inequity? The Royal Society Te Apārangi in New Zealand has named their keynote speakers for their 150th Anniversary. All of them are White men. This seems additionally shocking because the organisation has recently rebranded and changed their name and misison to be focused explictly on diversity. This is a great thing! But clearly there’s a disconnect between their mandate and their event planning. Their response has been that the speakers were independently chosen by 10 autonomous branches who each nominated a candidate. They say acknowledge they have some work to do but don’t really give much detail to what this might entail. Perhaps it really is as they say- an unfortunate coincide that all ten panels chose White men? No, actually. What’s happened is not new.

Continue reading Royal Society, Gender Equity and Science in Aotearoa New Zealand

Interview: Sociologist at Work

This is the second of a two-part interview with me on Mendeley on 17 May 2017. The following is an excerpt on the positives of working as a research consultant on equity and diversity workplace issues, and the benefits of research to other industries.

We began by asking her: What were the steps involved in transitioning from academic research to being a business owner?

I approached setting up my own business as I would any other activity: I researched it. I read a lot of literature provided by government groups and the business sector. Having done so, I felt I could be a successful consultant.

However, I recognised the gaps in my knowledge about the business side of things, for example, financial obligations and how to market myself to the business sector. To address these issues, I took a training course. I recommend this to anyone who wants to set up a consultancy: get expert support in setting up your business.

In terms of transitioning the research: it took a lot of investment of time, resources and reskilling myself. I learned market research skills, and how to use social media effectively. This was a big leap: researchers are used to simply putting out product, like a journal article, as a deliverable. But when you’re working with business, it’s your advice that’s the end product, and there are many manifestations of that advice. Continue reading Interview: Sociologist at Work

Overcoming Gender Inequality in the Classroom

Stanford law Professors Daniel Ho and Mark Kelman have conducted research showing that larger classes in law schools increase gender inequality. The study has relevance to STEM as the findings support other research about teaching in physics.

The study, published in the Journal of Legal Studies, included almost 16,000 grades given to around 1,900 students. The researchers find that pedagogy (teaching philosophy and teacher-student practice) matters to gender outcomes. The authors conclude that smaller classes where teachers provide more feedback reduce gender differences in grade scores. The researchers found that women outperformed men in small, interactive classes focused on practical exercises. The researchers note that similar results have been found in interactive physics courses.

Professor Kelman argues that the finds go against the “common sense” presumption that gender performance are “fixed”:

“Some naïve reactions are that if women get poorer grades at law school, women must be less capable… I think it’s surprising to many – and perhaps a confirmation of a more optimistic view that I have – that much of the inequality we observe in the world is mutable, and that the structures that we sometimes take for granted may work to the advantage of some and the disadvantage of others.”

Sources: The study and quote. Image: Other Sociologist.

[Image: chalk and blackboard with the quote as above from “It’s surprising to many…that much of the inequality…”]

Interview: Sociology at Work

I was interviewed by Mendeley about my work in equity and diversity in research environments. The original article was published on 16 May 2017.  

We began by asking her: your speciality is the “Sociology of Work” – what are your sociological observations of the research workplace?

My focus is on gender equity and diversity. I have worked with many different organisations as a consultant and project manager; I’ve instructed them on how to review, enhance, and evaluate effectiveness of different policies. I’ve also provided consultancy on how to provide training at different levels so organisations can better understand their obligations and responsibilities.

My work includes enhancing workplace culture, particularly, the everyday cultural dynamics that impact on working life. For example, by offering more flexibility for workers, and looking at where there may be gaps or opportunities to enhance existing procedures. I also study how everyday interactions can enhance productivity. In other words, I don’t just look at how organisations can meet their legislative requirements, which are merely the minimum standard. I also work with teams to see how they interact and how organisations can create policies to suit their unique workplace needs.

In the course of my career, I have worked with a number of research organisations, mainly here in Australia, such as the Academy of Science. I helped them implement their gender and diversity programme. I have also worked with several other national and state research programmes, looking at how they can meet the challenges of intersectionality issues; that is, how they can better understand how gender equity and racism intersect along with other diversity needs, including those associated with class, sexuality, and disability. Continue reading Interview: Sociology at Work

Publication: Ring a Bell? Charles Murray and the Resurgence of Scientific Racism

This article was first published on The Humanist on 15 May 2017. Below is an excerpt.

In his latest podcast episode titled “Forbidden Knowledge,” atheist author Sam Harris guides political scientist Charles Murray through an extensive defence of Murray’s widely debunked body of work, focusing mostly on The Bell Curve. Co-authored with psychologist Richard Herrnstein (who died around the time it was published in 1994), the book was universally critiqued as an example of modern-day scientific racism. Continue reading Publication: Ring a Bell? Charles Murray and the Resurgence of Scientific Racism

Ellen Ochoa First Latin Woman to be Inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame

Dr Ellen Ochoa, a Mexican-American scientist with a PhD in electrical engineering, was the first Latina in space. Twenty-four years later, on May 19 2017, having already been awarded NASA’s highest award, the Distinguished Service Medal, she’ll be inducted into the USA Astronaut Hall of Fame. Continue reading Ellen Ochoa First Latin Woman to be Inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame

Interview: March for Science Sparks Broader Discourse About Science Activism

I was interviewed by Dr Heather Goldstone for Living Lab Radio, along with my colleague Dr Caleph Wilson:

Two dozen researchers from Woods Hole, MA, traveled to the flagship march in Washington, D.C.
Source: Heather Goldstone/ WCAI

“They [March for Science Los Angeles] Tweeted in February that they’d been hearing from scientists that there might be problems with violence in connection with their focus on diversity,” said Zuleyka Zevallos (@OtherSociologist), a sociologist at Swinburne University. “That’s a dangerous historical connection that they are making from having minorities attend a science event to having it lead to violence. There’s actually no correlation between the two.”

Zevallos walked away from the March, as did Caleph Wilson (@HeyDrWilson), a biomedical researcher and digital media manager for the National Science and Technology News Service. They took to Twitter, instead, helping build hashtags – #marginsci and #AltSciMarch – that have developed into a vibrant public discourse about diversity and equity in science.

“One of the things that the hashtags were able to do is allow people to have those conversations in a way that can be visible,” said Wilson. “We could see each other having these conversations, as well as we could point the March for Science to these conversations.” […]

Zevallos says there is a silver lining, though.

“I do think that there’s a positive momentum in that these conversations have been happening for a very long time,” Zevallos said. “Underrepresented minorities have been doing activism for decades. But I guess the hashtags, in particular, allowed these conversations to converge, and for different networks from different parts of the world to join their voices together.”

As March for Science organizers work to foster a more lasting science activism movement, Zevallos and Wilson hope that the conversations started by the March can be leveraged into more awareness and meaningful changes in the science community’s prevailing attitude toward diversity and inclusion.

Read more and listen to the interview on Living Lab Radio.

Luke Briscoe on Indigenous Science

Luke Briscoe, Co-Founder of Indigilab, sings about how one day the land will be returned to the traditional custodians of Australia, Aboriginal sand Torres Strait Islanders. His message was the hope that Indigenous culture and science will be recognised for its unique and important contribution to Australian society.

He also spoke about constitutional recognition of Indigenous people and he presented the Indigenous Science Declaration to the March for Science organisers.

I attended the March for Science as part of my participant observation research, and specifically to hear Briscoe speak and in solidarity of underrepresented scientists.

 

SciComm Cycle of the March for Science

Woman of colour reads her phone in front of a laptop

Over the next couple of days, in the lead up to the March for Science, happening globally on 22 April 2017, I’ll be republishing a few of my articles and analyses of the March here on my blog.

On 13 April 2017, an article in Science Magazine featured the academic research planned about the March for Science, and interviews with one of the march co-chairs. The journalist reported that George Mason University was seeking email addresses of supporters for a planned study.

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George Mason University requests email addresses of march followers: Source screengrab via Science Magazine

Scientists around the world who have been holding the march organisers accountable criticised the ethics of such a proposed study. This eventually led to the organisers requesting a correction from the journalist.

How did this major error happen?

Two days later, on 16 April, the March for Science was forced to issue a public apology after appropriating African American Vernacular English (AAVE) in a now-deleted tweet (below). This was heavily critiqued, especially by Black researchers, who pointed out the hypocrisy of using AAVE when Black scientists had been marginalised by the march, and received abuse for speaking out on inequalities within the march. Black scientists were also ignored when they encouraged the organisers to work with established social justice groups, including Black Lives Matter. Cultural appropriation of AAVE is doubly offensive in given these patterns of exclusion.

These are just two recent examples in a long line of problems. The organisers have established a damaging cycle of communication failures and weak apologies since the March for Science was first promoted.

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Continue reading SciComm Cycle of the March for Science

Analyzing the March for Science Diversity Discourse

Analyzing the March for Science Diversity Discourse

This article was first published on DiverseScholar, on 27 March 2017.

Given the high profile of the Women’s March against the Trump Administration on January 21, 2017, the March for Science (MfS) seeks to rally against the science policy changes, funding cuts, gag orders, and the administrative overhaul of science organisations by the Trump Government.

The March for Science is scheduled to occur globally on April 22 in over 400 cities. The aims and functions of the march have been drastically altered in the first two months of its existence, especially as the organisers began to receive critique from the scientific community regarding diversity issues. By setting up the march as being “not political” and by reproducing various problems of gender inequality, racism and other forms of exclusion, the march organisers have inadvertently created an anti-diversity discourse, which has been subsequently adopted by a vocal majority of the MfS supporter base.

In sociology, the concept of discourse describes how language comes to convey and justify dominant ways of thinking, talking, and behaving. Discourses are built around the social identities, values, interests, and power of dominant groups. This means that the stories we tell about “why things are the way they are,” reinforce the status quo, and thus justify the reasoning, policies, and practices of groups that already have institutional control.

The idea that White men are the taken-for-granted norm of what it means to be a scientist is learned early in school, and then reinforced throughout education, career progression, prestigious prizes, and the publication and funding systems. Institutional mechanisms in science serve to reinforce a discourse that naturalises White men’s dominance in science.

My article on DiverseScholar shows how the MfS organisers have come to reproduce the existing discourse of science, by normalising the interests of scientists who are White and from majority backgrounds. I present an analysis on public reactions to the third (of four) MfS diversity statements that reflect this position.

I analysed 354 comments and over 3,300 reactions to the MfS diversity statement. There were two broad response types to the March for Science diversity statement on the public Facebook page: comments were either discouraging or encouraging of the MfS diversity statement.

The discouraging comments fell into four sub-groups: people who felt that diversity was either politicising or dividing the practice of science; and those who felt that diversity was depreciating or distracting from the goals of the march more specifically.

The encouraging comments included individuals who felt uniquely positioned to be informing others about why diversity is important to the march, and supporters who thought that diversity is enhancing science more generally.

Discourses reflect the history, culture, identity, and politics of those in power. To make the MfS truly inclusive, the organisers need to think more strategically about how to manage misconceptions about science. They will also need to be more proactive in promoting a new discourse about the march.

Read more on DiverseScholar.

Analyzing the March for Science Diversity Discourse