Mad Scientess Jane Expat (nanila) wrote,
Mad Scientess Jane Expat
nanila

Gender and Science, follow-up.

I criticized the Harvard university president's inflammatory speech a few weeks ago. Anyone interested in reading the full text can find a transcript here. I warn you now, it is long, verbose, confusing and clouded with nonsensical jabbering. There are, however, a few points where his meaning is crystal clear.

The second empirical problem is that girls are persisting longer and longer. When there were no girls majoring in chemistry, when there were no girls majoring in biology, it was much easier to blame parental socialization. Then, as we are increasingly finding today, the problem is what's happening when people are twenty, or when people are twenty-five, in terms of their patterns, with which they drop out. Again, to the extent it can be addressed, it's a terrific thing to address.


A lack of parental socialization problems (which is still a debatable point in American society today) doesn't imply that there are no socialization problems. Is he suggesting that now that women are being allowed to study science, we can't say that there are any socialization problems involved at higher levels of education? To quote Monty Python, "'All wood burns,' states Sir Bedevere, therefore he concludes, all that burns is wood. This is, of course, pure bullshit." I believe that we can acknowledge that many more parents are willing to be supportive of their female children should they be inclined to study science. I also believe that that doesn't preclude criticizing large portions of the academic community for their patrician attitudes. It doesn't preclude assigning at least some of the responsibility for the gender imbalance in the upper ranks of the academic hierarchy to the socialization that occurs within the academic community. The fact that women drop out of academic science after grad school cannot be attributed, therefore, solely to the genetic inferiority of their scientific capabilities to men's. His attempt to lead to that conclusion by glib elimination of a single social factor is disgusting, illogical and, I dare say, contradictory to the scientific method.

If it was really the case that everybody was discriminating, there would be very substantial opportunities for a limited number of people who were not prepared to discriminate to assemble remarkable departments of high quality people at relatively limited cost simply by the act of their not discriminating, because of what it would mean for the pool that was available. And there are certainly examples of institutions that have focused on increasing their diversity to their substantial benefit, but if there was really a pervasive pattern of discrimination that was leaving an extraordinary number of high-quality potential candidates behind, one suspects that in the highly competitive academic marketplace, there would be more examples of institutions that succeeded substantially by working to fill the gap. And I think one sees relatively little evidence of that. So my best guess, to provoke you, of what's behind all of this is that the largest phenomenon, by far, is the general clash between people's legitimate family desires and employers' current desire for high power and high intensity, that in the special case of science and engineering, there are issues of intrinsic aptitude, and particularly of the variability of aptitude, and that those considerations are reinforced by what are in fact lesser factors involving socialization and continuing discrimination. I would like nothing better than to be proved wrong, because I would like nothing better than for these problems to be addressable simply by everybody understanding what they are, and working very hard to address them.
[Bolding added by me.]

I get the feeling this is the point at which a number of the women in attendance walked out of the room. I just love the way he puts the burden of proof on the audience, as if his statements constituted the gospel truth. In case you weren't able to get through that paragraph, what he's implying is that socialization issues and discrimination are less important than intrinsic aptitude in determining the percentage of minorities and women in faculty positions in academic science research. Or, to put it more simply, there are fewer minorities and women in academia in the US because they're not as smart as the white men.

Perhaps, then, he can explain why so many universities have had to put caps on the number of graduate students from India and China that they accept, and why a lot of those students are female. And why these minorities, male and female, return to their home countries to take faculty positions there and sometimes, where visa requirements and language abilities permit, compete with a high degree of success for positions in the US. I could spin you those numbers and turn them into an argument in favor of the genetic superiority of Asian women over white men in the field of scientific research, but I won't. Because I suspect that parental socialization, the pressure of mothers and fathers on their sons and daughters to do well academically from a very young age, in those countries plays a far more important role in the development of their scientific abilities.

Additionally, he implies that, were there a large pool of qualified candidates being passed over because of discrimination, surely someone would have stepped in to take advantage of it. Someone has: the community and liberal arts colleges. But leaving that aside for a moment, why do you suppose that none of the search committees at large research institutions are willing to consider that their hiring practices are discriminatory? Do you suppose it could be a problem of socialization within those small, rather isolated communities? Or wait, no. I've got it. These committees are genetically predisposed against hiring women and minorities!

I think I've wasted enough time on this guy. I read his speech once, and anyone with a grain of sense can tell that it's a well-spun web of deceit, poor logic, and selective consideration of factors. He's making excuses, for himself and the myopic community that he clearly considers unimpeachable in character and behavior. I'm sure he'll do a great job perpetuating the current system.
Tags: gender, science
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