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Having the same tired discussions about gender bias, over and over.
June 24, 2014 9:48 AM   Subscribe

The first Women in Science Writing: Solutions Summit took place at MIT on June 13-15. Here's a brief roundup, with plenty of links and stats that look at gender bias and harassment in science journalism.
posted by Brandon Blatcher (27 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
Loved this part:
"In a recent study, researchers sent identical letters professors at top universities asking for a meeting to discuss research opportunities. Professors were more likely to respond when the email came from “Brad Anderson” than when it came from a name that suggested the student was female or a minority. “Everyone wants to mentor Brad Fucking Anderson,” Helmuth said."
posted by cashman at 10:03 AM on June 24 [10 favorites]


I think the wording of the headline gives the wrong impression--it makes the summit sound like it is just another pointless discussion, when actually it was created so they could move beyond having that discussion, per the second link.

(but this is interesting, thanks for posting Brandon)

I particularly liked this bit:

In a recent study, researchers sent identical letters professors at top universities asking for a meeting to discuss research opportunities. Professors were more likely to respond when the email came from “Brad Anderson” than when it came from a name that suggested the student was female or a minority. “Everyone wants to mentor Brad Fucking Anderson,” Helmuth said.

I would also like to know more about "science communications specialist" Perrin Ireland, who apparently did the very cool visual/cartoon summations of the discussions pictured in the second post.
posted by emjaybee at 10:05 AM on June 24 [2 favorites]


Thanks for this.

It's not just science journalism that has problems; gender bias also has problems in scientific paper publication (which is well known). Only some publications have double blind reviewing (wherein both the author(s) and peer reviewers are unknown to each other, instead of single blind, where just the reviewers are unknown to the author(s)). These single-review publications have been shown in studies to have problems with not just gender and country of origin biases but also nepotism. I'm eager to read this and see if the journalists come up with a solution similar to double-blinding.

A few female friends and I did an experiment a few years ago where we gave our last names and initials instead of our names on some papers and conference talk/poster submissions; all of us found we had much better luck with our initials - to the point where some of us still just use those. Purely anecdotal, of course, but it was a little shocking to have it happen to us so clearly.
posted by barchan at 10:05 AM on June 24 [15 favorites]


A few female friends and I did an experiment a few years ago where we gave our last names and initials instead of our names on some papers and conference talk/poster submissions; all of us found we had much better luck with our initials - to the point where some of us still just use those. Purely anecdotal, of course, but it was a little shocking to have it happen to us so clearly.

I wonder if that will become common enough to become it's own signal of femaleness (or non-whiteness), rather than a camouflage? The Brad Andersons will never need to do that, and so will always stand out.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:14 AM on June 24 [4 favorites]


I wonder if that will become common enough to become it's own signal of femaleness (or non-whiteness), rather than a camouflage?

Hmmm, that's a great and disconcerting point. I'm aware of a number of male authors who use initials, though, for different reasons - another author in their field with the same name, they just don't like their first names (and gee, the reasons why include those names might not be "masculine" enough) or some other reason. I know of a few publications that publish only by initial, which I admit I like and would combat that. Unfortunately, using initials isn't going to work for those who suffer bias due to where they're from if it's obvious from their last name, which is another big problem.
posted by barchan at 10:24 AM on June 24 [4 favorites]


I think the wording of the headline gives the wrong impression--it makes the summit sound like it is just another pointless discussion, when actually it was created so they could move beyond having that discussion, per the second link.

Touche, in retrospect a different headline would be best.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:48 AM on June 24


Previously: "Are you a scientist or a whore?"

Here's to some progress.
posted by Dashy at 10:56 AM on June 24


we gave our last names and initials instead of our names on some papers and conference talk/poster submissions . . .

I wonder if that will become common enough to become it's own signal of femaleness (or non-whiteness), rather than a camouflage?


Only since, like, the 1970s.
 
posted by Herodios at 10:57 AM on June 24 [1 favorite]


That second link is full of helpful information, especially when you can look at the data they collected.

I have been working in the electronics industry for coming up on 20 years, and I have finally taken some steps to do something about what I see with regards to gender inequity in my field. This work has become a significant part of my job function and will be established in my goals moving forward. Seeing what other fields have done to help move the needle is inspiring, and will help me to keep moving against the tide.

It's exhausting, but I'm pretty stubborn.
posted by blurker at 10:58 AM on June 24 [5 favorites]


country of origin biases

Do you have a link for this?
posted by dhruva at 11:26 AM on June 24


Here's to names like Chris, Tracy, and Pat. Also Starbuck.
posted by jfwlucy at 11:30 AM on June 24 [1 favorite]


I really want to print this graphic and start waving it around like a flag whenever a dude is moved to helpfully inform me that I or another woman must have imagined being on the receiving end of whatever sexist bullshit came up that day because he doesn't think it was sexist at all. That last column is a killer, and the middle one ('Not taken seriously') stings like hell.

From a brief recap of the conference by Ed Bertschinger, I learned about The Finkbeiner Test, a rundown of common tropes in the "A lady who…" genre (h/t Christie Aschwanden), meant to be applied to stories written about women in STEM and other fields:
To pass the Finkbeiner test, the story cannot mention
Shamelessly cribbed from the above link, these stories are noted as having passed the test, and I found them extremely refreshing to read: And here's what Finkbeiner had to say about the inspiration for her profile of Dr. Ghez:
...I'm going to write the profile of an impressive astronomer and not once mention that she's a woman. I'm not going to mention her husband's job or her child care arrangements or how she nurtures her students or how she was taken aback by the competitiveness in her field. I'm not going to interview her women students and elicit raves about her as a role model. I'm going to be blindly, aggressively, egregiously ignorant of her gender.

I'm going to pretend she's just an astronomer.
More of this, please!
posted by divined by radio at 11:48 AM on June 24 [35 favorites]


I would also like to know more about "science communications specialist" Perrin Ireland, who apparently did the very cool visual/cartoon summations of the discussions pictured in the second post.

Whoa, weird, I know her (vaguely, from summer camp as kids). While googling around to confirm that they're the same person, I came across a lot of cool stuff.
posted by naoko at 11:56 AM on June 24 [1 favorite]


I'd really like people to stop trying to read signals about background, education, and ethnicity that're found in people's names, but only because that would reduce the bizarre signals that people try to deliberately put into their kids names, resulting in a kajillion unique spellings of the most common names, as well as a kajillion contortions of common names in an attempt to make a unique name. Also people could stop naming their kids after luxury brands.

Until then, though, parents put a lot of thoughts towards legacies, history, cultural associations, and of course aspirations for their kids into those names; the least we can do is judge their kids and make them live with it.
posted by Sunburnt at 12:11 PM on June 24


Dhruva:
What's in a Surname; Van Prang & Van Prang, 2008 - (although a paper on alphabetical bias, talks about surname problems; this paper discusses different sources of bias, including this nationality: Blackburn & Hakel, 2006; & a study on 3rd world countries vs 1st countries medical papers.

The most "recognized" one I know of is by Link, 1998 (warning, directly downloads a PDF): US & Non-US submissions: an analysis of reviewer bias.

A.E. Budden has a number of articles relating to publication bias in the field of ecology (including an interesting one that gender doesn't affect citation rate).

(I've seen a number of talks about this in my field (geoscience) -which I'm struggling to remember the titles/researchers & will memail you once I get them; and have witnessed some pretty bad discrimination against & the frustrations of Chinese authors in particular, although that's not evidence in the form of a study.)

The link that Cashman gave above also demonstrates nationality/surname bias to a similar effect.There's a challenge in doing those kinds of studies to separate out a genuine bias versus poor writing due to language familiarity; as a result, and it also being commented on often by European scientists, most studies on the subject tend to be European.
posted by barchan at 12:13 PM on June 24 [3 favorites]


(To cherry pick here)

What does it say that the discipline with the highest female / male ratio has the second highest discriminatory gap, and that the fine arts has a gap that is as bad as Business (the worst gap), except in the opposite direction.

Poor artistic Brad Anderson.
posted by dstryrk at 12:41 PM on June 24


Very interesting read - and I am appalled (although not surprised) at a lot of the findings.

But I am not a fan of the cartoon summations personally. If the 57% women surveyed reported not being taken seriously, as indicated in one of the charts, then you would think a more professional (less cartoonish, overly cluttered) display board would be more appropriate. IMHO

But that's just me.

data point - I am female and work in software testing.
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 12:57 PM on June 24


barchan: Thanks!
posted by dhruva at 2:42 PM on June 24


The pay gap graph is interesting - it looks like the pay gap has only narrowed because mens' wages have decreased, not because womens' wages have risen. I probably shouldn't be surprised.

If the 57% women surveyed reported not being taken seriously, as indicated in one of the charts, then you would think a more professional (less cartoonish, overly cluttered) display board would be more appropriate.

I see your point, but this is bordering on victim-blaming and actually goes to the very heart of the problem here. Dudes get to use goofy cartoony/meme-y shit for serious stuff all the time without worrying about not being taken seriously, but god forbid some women try to meme-ify their conclusions a little bit.

Since we're already primed not to take women as seriously, all it takes is a tiny excuse like this and we're off to the races. I'm not saying you're doing that, but that's exactly how we get to a place where nearly 60% of women report having issues with not being taken seriously.

Besides, the cartoons were probably intended to spread on reddit, twitter, tumblr - places where young women scientists and science writers might encounter them and get interested. There are trade-offs between being accessible and being "professional", and I don't think women should always be forced to choose Professional/Serious every single time just so jerks won't dismiss their ideas out of hand.
posted by dialetheia at 3:44 PM on June 24 [13 favorites]


A woman friend of mine is a hacker. She has been quoted many times in the press, but she won't talk to them anymore, won't every say another word to them.

Why? Because *every* article highlights her being a woman and *every* journalist wants to ask her 'what it's like to be a woman' in her field, and then proceeds to write about it. Despite the fact that she explicately says she doesn't want articles to be about her gender, but rather her (impressive research). So the result is a slew of articles that say things like "when asked about gender issues she lets out a spew of expletives." Yeah, that's because she knows the hack writer only wants to write about her gender (and experiences being a woman in a scene that is known for being very imbalanced).

I guess I'm saying that indeed, yeah the media is really part of the problem.

Ironically if more women get fed up talking to the media for similar reasons, then there will be even less representation in the media.
posted by el io at 4:16 PM on June 24 [5 favorites]


To pass the Finkbeiner test, the story cannot mention

The fact that she's a woman


That one criterion is all you need for the actual test.

Her husband's job
Her child care arrangements
How she nurtures her underlings
How she was taken aback by the competitiveness in her field
How she's such a role model for other women
How she's the "first woman to..."


But these really need to be there in the description to get the point across about why.
posted by straight at 4:20 PM on June 24


I kind of don't get the Finkbeiner test, because these are real practical concerns that women who want to go into these fields face. Instead, maybe there should be an inverse Finkbeiner test for profiles of male scientists. Mentioning the full-time stay-at-home wife who handles all of the housework and child care and the professional network of people who look just like him might provide some perspective.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 6:21 PM on June 24 [2 favorites]


Those are all real practical concerns that all humans face, going into a tough career.

But only women scientists are judged on whether they are simultaneously fulfilling what society expects of its women.
posted by Dashy at 7:18 PM on June 24 [4 favorites]


The Finkbeiner test works for profiles and articles focussing on the scientist's work. If it's an article about women in science or parents in science, life/work balance in science, etc, then those concerns should be included. For a regular profile though, it's a tiny paragraph tucked in somewhere for male scientists (Brad Anderson spends his weekends climbing mountains and taking his three children to the playground) at most.
posted by viggorlijah at 8:05 PM on June 24


Would J.K. Rowling have sold a billion books as Joanne Rowling? Probably not. I hate our society.

Certainly explains the character of Tom Haverford, though.

" I don't think women should always be forced to choose Professional/Serious every single time just so jerks won't dismiss their ideas out of hand."


True, but women are dismissed out of hand just for anyone knowing they're women at all. This sort of thing is only an excuse.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:00 PM on June 24


Though published papers generally carry just the first initials of the name, the submission process generally involves the full identity of the corresponding author, and of course, in small subfields, everyone knows everyone else, so it is still difficult to overcome this bias.
I felt terrible about myself at a meeting where a fellow female colleague and I met someone we "knew" only from publications, D. Afterwards we were both surprised, as we'd always assumed D. was a man, having published prolifically since the '70s. I didn't like realizing that I was part of the problem, as I imagine the other women scientists who were sent emails in the bias study who responded with as much or more bias than male colleagues.
posted by ...tm... at 2:50 AM on June 25


Dudes get to use goofy cartoony/meme-y shit for serious stuff all the time without worrying about not being taken seriously, but god forbid some women try to meme-ify their conclusions a little bit

True - but I find it unprofessional and lacking sympathy to the gravity of the serious stuff they are discussing when men do it as well.

I guess I take the "placating" role with this mentality than I do "challenge the patriarchy." If your base assumption about me as a professional is that I am not to be taken seriously, I will be damned if I give you any "excuse" (however bullshitty it is) to not take me seriously. I can see how this borders on victim blaming, and that is not my intention.

I personally don't respond to cartoony graphics with too much information on them. Perhaps that would have been a better comment than going down the "to be taken seriously, be serious" victim blaming train of thought.
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 8:36 AM on June 25


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