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March 30, 2009 9:18 AM   Subscribe

Sheril Kirshenbaum's brilliant ranting about sexism in science. Contains many links within that continue the discussion. Thankfully, sexism has gone down significantly in recent years. At the same time, it still exists in some amount - even a small handful of Nobel Laureates have acted sexist (or other -ist - Watson?). (For my part, I'm glad that I haven't encountered any sexism myself in neuroscience.)
posted by kldickson (128 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Nothing Watson said could, by any reasonably intelligent person, be interpreted as racist.
posted by jock@law at 9:22 AM on March 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's the Western complement to the burka: women aren't hidden away overtly, but instead every one is seen as if they're wearing a beauty queen/cheerleader costume.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:27 AM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nothing Watson said could, by any reasonably intelligent person, be interpreted as racist.
In the newspaper interview, he said there was no reason to think that races which had grown up in separate geographical locations should have evolved identically. He went on to say that although he hoped everyone was equal, "people who have to deal with black employees find this not true".
Keep fightin' the good fight, Governor Wallace.
posted by nasreddin at 9:28 AM on March 30, 2009 [13 favorites]


My brain is up here

Conveniently hidden by your face, I see. The very one you claim we should stop drooling over because it is so so hot? Oh, you are a sly one, Sheril Kirshenbaum!

I kid, I kid
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 9:32 AM on March 30, 2009


Thankfully, sexism has gone down significantly in recent years.

Really?
posted by Dia Nomou Nomo Apethanon at 9:32 AM on March 30, 2009


If the inventor of the transistor thinks people with low IQs should be sterilized, that's good enough for me.
posted by GuyZero at 9:33 AM on March 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Thankfully, sexism has gone down significantly in recent years.

That is an utterly unverifiable statement and an unfortunate way to frame this post, especially since the link seems to be entirely about one person's anecdotal observations.
posted by mudpuppie at 9:35 AM on March 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


Nothing Watson said could, by any reasonably intelligent person, be interpreted as racist.
posted by jock@law at 9:22 AM on March 30


The 79-year-old geneticist said he was “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours - whereas all the testing says not really.". He said he hoped that everyone was equal, but countered that “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true”.

If you continue to maintain that that's not racist, then I must conclude that it is you whose analytical skills are lacking and that you are apparently not a reasonably intelligent person. I'm sorry I had to be the one to tell you.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:38 AM on March 30, 2009 [28 favorites]


If by "recent years" we mean "since 1950" I think that's pretty undeniable. Which isn't to say it isn't rampant or a huge problem. Just that it's not quite as accepted and even enforced and encoded-in-literal-policy as before.
posted by DU at 9:39 AM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


hey woman, hand me that test tube will ya? but could you "hand" it to me with your... well i just didn't want your fingerprints on it.
posted by ChickenringNYC at 9:44 AM on March 30, 2009


Also, no sexism in neuroscience? How about a whole book on sexism in neuroscience?
posted by GuyZero at 9:45 AM on March 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm shocked that anyone could claim not to have experienced sexism in any branch of science.

I am female. I've certainly seen a great deal of it over the years. Both in how women are treated in male majority/dominated situations and in how men are treated in female majority/dominated situations.

I want to state clearly that this sort of discrimination is not unidirectional.

And, as god is my witness, if anyone brings up Ms. Franklin, I'm going to throw the book at them. And by the book I mean Horace Freeland Judson's Eighth Day of Creation.
posted by sciencegeek at 9:46 AM on March 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


Nothing Watson said could, by any reasonably intelligent person, be interpreted as racist.

....And monkeys might fly out my butt.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:49 AM on March 30, 2009


The anecdotes are chilling but the discussion was abstract and added nothing. This sort of account needs to be collected so that someone can put it all together, but it's not that interesting by itself.
posted by grobstein at 9:55 AM on March 30, 2009


You people all have very mistaken, contorted ideas of what racism is. Recognizing differences in race is not racism.
posted by jock@law at 9:57 AM on March 30, 2009


jock, this:
...people who have to deal with black employees find this not true...
Seems pretty racist to me.
posted by Mister_A at 10:01 AM on March 30, 2009


[Watson] was “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours - whereas all the testing says not really." He said he hoped that everyone was equal, but countered that “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true."

rac⋅ism
   /ˈreɪsɪzəm/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [rey-siz-uhm]
–noun
1. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule others.
posted by zoomorphic at 10:04 AM on March 30, 2009 [7 favorites]


You people all have very mistaken, contorted ideas of what racism is. Recognizing differences in race is not racism.

Attributing scores on an intelligence test to skin color is, however. It's nearly impossible to eliminate all possible other factors that could have contributed to someone's score (i.e., educational background, cultural background, etc.), so it is impossible to attribute the way someone scores on an intelligence test expressly to skin color.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:05 AM on March 30, 2009 [5 favorites]


You people all have very mistaken, contorted ideas of what racism is. Recognizing differences in race is not racism.

DOWN WITH FORCED BUSING AMIRITE! YEAH STATES RIGHTS!
posted by nasreddin at 10:05 AM on March 30, 2009


Nothing David Duke said could, by any reasonably intelligent person, be interpreted as racist.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:10 AM on March 30, 2009


You people all have very mistaken, contorted ideas of what racism is. Recognizing differences in race is not racism.
posted by jock@law at 5:57 PM on March 30 [+] [!]


Oh. Oh! Let me guess. You're not a racist, you're a racialist.
posted by atrazine at 10:15 AM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


You people all have very mistaken, contorted ideas of what racism is. Recognizing differences in race is not racism.

It's a pretty stupid thing to determine a difference in intelligence on the basis of having to "deal with black employees". Racist or not, it's an amazingly ignorant, wrongheaded and sad comment from an otherwise intelligent and accomplished person.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:15 AM on March 30, 2009


You people all have very mistaken, contorted ideas of what racism is. Recognizing differences in race is not racism.

What do you mean, "you people?"
posted by brundlefly at 10:16 AM on March 30, 2009 [45 favorites]


You people all have very mistaken, contorted ideas of what racism is. Recognizing differences in race is not racism.
I was going to give you the benefit of the doubt here, and assume that you didn't realize you were using the coded language common to the white-power movement.

But I've thought better of that. The language you're using makes you sound like a white-pride advocate. Are you sure this is what you want to do here? Because, I have to warn you, if you do want to do that here, you are going to get your ass handed to you by much smarter people than me.
posted by scrump at 10:23 AM on March 30, 2009 [5 favorites]


Oh can we not make this sexism in science thread about everyone's favorite geneticist who won a Nobel Prize with research that was really kinda sorta stolen from a woman and to this day continues to make classic old person racist statements that try to appeal to common sense like we all know we shouldn't bus kids to different schools, but black guys I mean come on have you worked with them har har har?
posted by geoff. at 10:26 AM on March 30, 2009 [11 favorites]


Nothing Watson said could, by any reasonably intelligent person, be interpreted as racist.
By extension, then, the entire body of the Federation of American Scientists is not reasonably intelligent.

I find this premise, shall we say, unlikely.
posted by scrump at 10:28 AM on March 30, 2009 [5 favorites]


I've worked in lab settings for twenty years or so, and I have seen a few cases of work-place (and university) harassment. It can range from out-right sexism ("What's a girl like you doing with a Physics degree anyway? It's not like you'll ever need it.": a university prof to one of his students) to simple old-boy exclusionism (Male coworkers socializing about while (unintentionally) excluding women collegues). It's real and pervasive enough that I encounter it every few years, though thankfully, less and less as time goes on. I see less of it now, anecdotally, than I did during the late 80's. Far more women are involved in science now too, which helps.

I don't have any solutions, other than the ordinary ones. I'm pained to see these stories, but they're totally necessary to get rid of this garbage. I, and most of my collegues, genuinely want more diversity, of genders and ethnicities, in science. There are many, many other challenges to encouraging female participation at the research coal face, but this is an obvious one we all have to stop on as soon as we see it.
posted by bonehead at 10:29 AM on March 30, 2009


I remember getting upset at some ridiculous statement jock@law made in a thread a couple of months ago. Since then, I've noticed that every time he drops a comment, it's predictably dumb and inflammatory. Still, people keep falling for it. I think most people just assume it's not worth the $5 to troll Mefi, but, you know, takes all kinds. Just leave him be and move on - ultimately he seems more interested in derailing threads than contributing to them.
posted by billysumday at 10:32 AM on March 30, 2009


People calm down. There's a difference between being a racist and and being a troll.
posted by DU at 10:40 AM on March 30, 2009


What? everyone knows there's no sexism in science! Larry "the Chin" Summers says there isn't and as we all know that guys is always right.

Anway wow, great discussion on sexism in the sciences people. Glad we could stay on topic here.

(Also, I was going to pile on Lock@jaw and mention the "everyone who works with black employees knows" quote, which is so obviously racist it beggars belief that someone would discount it. But let's not forget this fun comment
After showing images of women in bikinis and veiled muslim women, Watson suggested that there is a link between exposure to sunlight and libido. Then Watson said, “That’s why you have Latin lovers. You’ve never heard of an English lover. Only an English patient.”
Oh and he won't hire fat people either
"Whenever you interview fat people, you feel bad, because you know you're not going to hire them," he added. Fat people may also be more sexual, he suggested, because their bloodstreams contain higher levels of leptin.
Anyway, total racist and kind of a douchebag too.)

posted by delmoi at 10:47 AM on March 30, 2009 [7 favorites]


Oh ye gods, Jock. Intervention by a spectral Cochran + Darrow dream team couldn't get your man Watson off the hook.

The language you're using makes you sound like a white-pride advocate.

That's kind of a red herring. "White pride" is hardly more or less valid than pride invested in most other racial or cultural constructs.

posted by kid ichorous at 10:51 AM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


The black population, on average, has lower x than the white population, where x is whatever is measured by intelligence tests. The white population as a whole, in turn, has a lower x than some specific subsets of the white population (Ashkenazi Jews). The white population also has a lower x than the Asian population. The recognition of these things is not racist, regardless of what the dictates of political correctness are. So go ahead and throw fallacious comparisons of me to White Pride movements and segregationist politicians. Call me a troll or any other name you like to call people who don't share your opinions. Doesn't change the fact that human evolution is ongoing and that intelligence -- or whatever we like to call intelligence (I'd rather not derail into that particular tangential debate) -- has a genetic component.

As a side note, anyone who thinks I'm racist hasn't paid very much attention to my other posts.
posted by jock@law at 10:55 AM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Female scientists, engineers, and technologists exist in large numbers (contrary to popular belief) but are abandoning their chosen professions in droves...Our research findings show that on the lower rungs of corporate career ladders, fully 41% of highly qualified scientists, engineers, and technologists are women. But the dropout rates are huge: Over time 52% of these talented women quit their jobs. -Stopping the Exodus of Women in Science.

The article goes on to point to several reasons behind the exodus. It's pretty short, and one of the best pieces I've read on the topic.
posted by lunit at 10:55 AM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hold on a second. The Discover blog linked here includes the passage:
And of course I’ve noticed the science blogosphere is buzzing over some neanderthal comments from Monday about my photo. "my photo" links to this blog, which posts an article about "Discover, Mysogyny, and the Ghettoization of Science." The article supposedly rails against the sexism that Sheril has encountered becasue her photo is posted along with her blog, but it includes this sentence:

Sheril is one of a group of badass female science chicks that I absolutely adore.

Here's my problem. Of course sexism is wrong in any context, including science. But the current trend of calling women in science "badass chicks" when they basically do precisely the same job that men do is irritating. And isn't "female science chicks" redundant? Are men ever referred to as chicks?

Is Stephen Hawing a "badass science dude"? Or Carl Sagan? Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy looks like the kind of guy people would call a bad ass science dude, but has anyone serious actually called him that? Calling her a "badass chick" is still sexism.

Furthermore, the comments she objects to have nothing to do with characterizations of women, or her, in the context of science, and cannot be taken as evidence of sexism against women in science. The comments made privately to her by peers in her field are different and they are obviously sexist.

The blog comments are characterizations of her as internet personality. What is really going on here is an attempt to legitimize the trading on one's appearance in context where it is irrelevant while simultaneous trying to make it seem as if you aren't doing that. She posts her photo next to her blog, but no one is supposed to comment about her appearance? Then why is it there? Why do I care what she looks like if she's writing about science, something which is ostensibly objective fact?

And before anyone says that lots of professions include photos, including college faculty pages, law firms, etc., I submit to you that none of the photo on the discover blog, the photo on the interview linked in the bio of that discover blog, or the photo on her website are the kind of photos are typically taken of scientists. They aren't the sober, portrait shots that are typical of professors' web pages. They are photos intended to show off how cute or attractive the subject is in the hope that it will draw your interest to the content

And there isn't anything wrong with that. By all means, if you are attractive, use it to your advantage. She's using her appearance to get more people to read her blog. Duh. But don't be surprised when people comment about that appearance. There are lots of great blogs I read that give you no indication of what people look like. The only reason to provide pictures of the author alongside their blog is because it is commercially advantageous to do so (and this is especially true of a larger commercial operation like Discover magazine).

By the way, this is not at all similar to the situation months ago where photos of a video game designer were circulated by the publisher, resulting in horrifically aggressive sexual comments by people in the gaming community.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:59 AM on March 30, 2009 [17 favorites]


jock@law, you could have avoided all of this by advancing your argument from the start, instead of your original, condescending comment. maybe not trolling, maybe not racist, but surely bad mefi.



*gently chiding* careful, delmoi: think about the nature of this thread and the origin of the pejorative 'douchebag.'
posted by barrett caulk at 11:01 AM on March 30, 2009


lunit, decent article, but it seems the author himself makes a lot of stereotypes. "[T]here is a strong disconnect between women’s preferred work rhythms and the risky ... behavior that is recognized and rewarded in these male-dominated fields." That seems like an overbroad statement. I know lots of risk-taking women.
posted by jock@law at 11:01 AM on March 30, 2009


Female scientists, engineers, and technologists exist in large numbers (contrary to popular belief) but are abandoning their chosen professions in droves...Our research findings show that on the lower rungs of corporate career ladders, fully 41% of highly qualified scientists, engineers, and technologists are women. But the dropout rates are huge: Over time 52% of these talented women quit their jobs. -Stopping the Exodus of Women in Science.

Sorely lacking from that abstract: comparative numbers. We need to know how much more likely women in corporate science / tech are to quit, compared to 1) women in other (hierarchical?) corporate jobs, and 2) male workers in similar jobs. 52% sounds like high attrition but in many fields even male workers have higher rates of attrition.
posted by grobstein at 11:02 AM on March 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


The black population, on average, has lower x than the white population, where x is whatever is measured by intelligence tests. The white population as a whole, in turn, has a lower x than some specific subsets of the white population (Ashkenazi Jews). The white population also has a lower x than the Asian population. The recognition of these things is not racist, regardless of what the dictates of political correctness are. So go ahead and throw fallacious comparisons of me to White Pride movements and segregationist politicians. Call me a troll or any other name you like to call people who don't share your opinions. Doesn't change the fact that human evolution is ongoing and that intelligence -- or whatever we like to call intelligence (I'd rather not derail into that particular tangential debate) -- has a genetic component.

Whatever the merits of this particular digest of The Bell Curve, note that this is a very different claim from "nothing Watson said could, by any reasonably intelligent person, be interpreted as racist." I doubt you're a good lawyer if you can't tell the difference.
posted by nasreddin at 11:02 AM on March 30, 2009


words
posted by jock@law at 10:55 AM on March 30


Holy fuck, you really are that dumb. Even if you throw out the obvious cultural biases of IQ tests (cup:saucer::credenza:??), you ignore the fact that two randomly selected members of any race will have wider differences in performance than the "average" member of one race and an "average" member of another. It's a useless metric with no real-world application other than finding out how many black folks know what the fuck a credenza is, or why white people who write tests think knowing what a credenza is somehow measures intelligence.

Stop posting. You are making white people look stupid and fucking up our standard deviations.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:03 AM on March 30, 2009 [6 favorites]


Doesn't change the fact that human evolution is ongoing and that intelligence -- or whatever we like to call intelligence (I'd rather not derail into that particular tangential debate) -- has a genetic component.

That is not, perhaps, best measured by standardized tests created by (mostly white, mostly western) academics.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:04 AM on March 30, 2009


The black population, on average, has lower x than the white population, where x is whatever is measured by intelligence tests. The white population as a whole, in turn, has a lower x than some specific subsets of the white population (Ashkenazi Jews). The white population also has a lower x than the Asian population. The recognition of these things is not racist, regardless of what the dictates of political correctness are.

Again, taking the raw-data scores of an intelligence test and using them as proof of genetic influence on intelligence is a fallacy -- because we know fuck-all about how the brain even works as it is. There are far, far too many other factors that could influence the data to attribute it solely to genetics.

It's like -- okay, there was a scene in the film BATTLEFIELD EARTH* where the aliens keep some humans imprisoned and don't feed them for a while, then they let them loose outside for a while -- their thinking is, "the humans are going to run straight for their favorite food and try to eat it, that way we'll find out what their favorite food is." So then the first thing the humans eat is a bunch of rats, and the aliens think, "ah, human's favorite food is rat." But the aliens are overlooking the fact that the humans are starving enough to want to eat anything.

Saying that "these IQ tests are lower on average becuase of genetics" while completely overlooking other factors like education, cultural background, or the like is like "they ate rats because it's their favorite food" while completely overlooking the fact that "they were so hungry they'd eat anything". Pointing that out to you isn't being "politically correct," it is telling you that you are basing your assertions on shoddy science. And the only reason one would actually accept shoddy science is...well, it does lead one to wonder whether you may indeed be racist.

* Yes, I actually saw BATTLEFIELD EARTH. Shut up.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:05 AM on March 30, 2009 [5 favorites]


MeTa.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 11:05 AM on March 30, 2009


This:

Finally, many women we surveyed bemoaned the “mystery” around career advancement. Isolated and lacking sponsors, they cannot discern the pathway that will allow them to make steady progress upward. The result is that women tend to find themselves shunted into roles as executors or helpers—without ever understanding why—while men occupy the more illustrious creator and producer roles.

is true of women's career experiences in more than just the sciences.
posted by LN at 11:05 AM on March 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


"You are making white people look stupid and fucking up our standard deviations."

You're assuming I'm white. Also, most IQ tests don't fucking test "credenza." Nobody with any experience in the field has ever suggested that the SAT -- a self-described content-based test -- is equivalent to an intelligence test.
posted by jock@law at 11:06 AM on March 30, 2009


but it seems the author himself makes a lot of stereotypes...

It's written by three women, first of all, and second, it's based on a much larger study - “The Athena Factor: Reversing the Brain Drain in Science, Engineering, and Technology” - available here.
posted by lunit at 11:06 AM on March 30, 2009


"That is not, perhaps, best measured by standardized tests created by (mostly white, mostly western) academics."

Perhaps not. But you have to ask yourself, if intelligence tests created by western white folks are so culturally biased in favor of western white folks, then why do people from completely different cultures utterly destroy western white folks on those tests?
posted by jock@law at 11:08 AM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


The article supposedly rails against the sexism that Sheril has encountered becasue her photo is posted along with her blog,

I think the real problem is that when you try to include her into your boyzone activities she brings along her handsome, incredibly smart boyfriend who is a "marketing consultant" and he spends the next 2 hours emasculating you by being incredibly cool and then offering to let you ride around on his sweet motorcycle and you realize what a nerd you are because you just spent the entire day explaining to her your theories on what the Lost monster really is, not realizing her Marlboro boyfriend didn't spend last night on Metafilter but spent last night planning their spring wine trip to Northern California (everything is so cheap now!). So that's the real reason there's sexism in science, it is to keep you from hurting us.
posted by geoff. at 11:09 AM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


The black population, on average, has lower x than the white population, where x is whatever is measured by intelligence tests. The white population as a whole, in turn, has a lower x than some specific subsets of the white population (Ashkenazi Jews).

But no one could really assert, with a straight face, that growing up in the general Black or White population delivers the same sort of cultural pressures as growing up an Ashkenazi Jew. Certain cultures teach a child to kiss books, while others stomp his ass at the bus stop for bringing them home.
posted by kid ichorous at 11:11 AM on March 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


Perhaps not. But you have to ask yourself, if intelligence tests created by western white folks are so culturally biased in favor of western white folks, then why do people from completely different cultures utterly destroy western white folks on those tests?

Can you point to the exact chemical influences that cause "intelligence"? Can you categorically define exactly and unequivocably what "intelligence" is? Can you define the precise genomes that trigger the precise brain process that go into making up "intelligence"? Can you point the exact genetic differences between one race and another that would influence these precise genomes and their affects on brain activity, and the exact cortex in which these genomes are active?

....No?

Hmm. Interesting.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:13 AM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Perhaps not. But you have to ask yourself, if intelligence tests created by western white folks are so culturally biased in favor of western white folks, then why do people from completely different cultures utterly destroy western white folks on those tests?

link for evidence of claim please? because this too could be seen as relying on cultural/racial stereotypes.
posted by barrett caulk at 11:14 AM on March 30, 2009


Perhaps not. But you have to ask yourself, if intelligence tests created by western white folks are so culturally biased in favor of western white folks, then why do people from completely different cultures utterly destroy western white folks on those tests?

Why don't you go away and let people talk about the actual subject of the FPP, which is sexism in the sciences. You can't say James Watson isn't a racist and post half-baked summaries of The Bell Curve and not expect to get some pushback. But no one is interested in your self-defense. This thread isn't about you, but if you really feel the need there is an available metatalk thread
posted by delmoi at 11:16 AM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


But no one could really assert, with a straight face, that growing up in the general Black or White population delivers the same sort of cultural pressures as growing up an Ashkenazi Jew. Certain cultures teach a child to kiss books, while others stomp his ass at the bus stop for bringing them home.

Lets also keep in mind the influence of childhood nutrition on brain development and education.
posted by delmoi at 11:19 AM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I excelled in science at a young age. It was my favorite subject. My high school earth science teacher used to laud my achievements to the class. Sounds good, right? Problem is, he would say it like this: "Why don't you guys know this? misskaz got it right and she's a girl!" or "That's surprisingly good work -- for a girl."

Sometimes I lament the lack of professionalism shown by that instructor and wish that I had a teacher that was more supportive of my skills and interest. Every once and a while I wonder if I would have a job in the sciences today. It's not so much that he discouraged my interest - although as a shy, introverted 15 year old I'm sure I internalized what he said to an extent - it's that he didn't encourage it. Instead of seeing my innate interest and ability in the subject and encouraging me to reach new heights, he belittled it. I'm not sure what his intent was (at the time a part of me wrote it off as misguided teasing/trying to foster competitiveness) but it still pisses me off to this day.
posted by misskaz at 11:21 AM on March 30, 2009 [8 favorites]


You're assuming I'm white. Also, most IQ tests don't fucking test "credenza." Nobody with any experience in the field has ever suggested that the SAT -- a self-described content-based test -- is equivalent to an intelligence test.
posted by jock@law at 11:06 AM on March 30


I took general intelligence tests, administered by a psychologist, at the ages of five and eleven (and, note, did better than you would have). I can confirm that the verbal aptitude sections included sections similar to the A:B::X:Y sections you're thinking of. There is no "standard' intelligence test administered worldwide; most of the research done in The Bell Curve - on which you are basing all of your conclusions regarding intelligence - is sloppy meta-analysis.

Also, yes, I'm assuming you're white, because your posts reek of unexamined privilege.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:24 AM on March 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


I would really like Sheril to stop canting her head in pictures.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:29 AM on March 30, 2009 [5 favorites]


After previewing the article, I'd have to say that the first anecdote strikes me as kind of a funny way of bringing up the topic of sexism in the sciences. She got a sexist remark from a pipe smoking fishing boat captain. Once again with emphasis, A FISHING BOAT CAPTAIN. I haven't checked the fishing boat captain accreditation process lately, but I'm pretty sure it doesn't include any kind of scientific background.
posted by jefeweiss at 11:31 AM on March 30, 2009 [5 favorites]


Perhaps not. But you have to ask yourself, if intelligence tests created by western white folks are so culturally biased in favor of western white folks, then why do people from completely different cultures utterly destroy western white folks on those tests?

So I'm not a white folk, and neither is my dad. I was born in Boston, my dad was born elsewhere. We both took an intelligence test once, for kicks. I "utterly destroyed" him.

He earned his PHD from MIT in engineering in less than 2 years of work, while working a night job. I went to a state school. I'm pretty sure my dad is smarter than me.

Also, IQ tests have some 'splainin to do.
posted by shen1138 at 11:33 AM on March 30, 2009 [7 favorites]


And on a similar note, delmoi, there is a high incidence of childhood lead poisoning among African-American children, which is likely to exert additional downward pressure on aggregate IQ scores.

Here's an interesting paper in which the authors explore the idea that low IQ scores at age 7 may be the result of high peak plasma concentrations at age 2. Their data support the hypothesis that ongoing exposure to lead continues to impair cognitive development in children beyond the age of 2 or 3–that is, it's not a case where "the damage has been done" and school-age children are strictly suffering the sequelae from higher concentrations encountered earlier in life. Thus, parents / caregivers should strive to remove lead from their homes regardless of the age of the children living therein.
posted by Mister_A at 11:33 AM on March 30, 2009


Also, IQ tests have some 'splainin to do.

Yeah, specifically, Marilyn vos Savant. I'm sure she's a nice person and all but her column is horrible and she's no more accomplished than a lot of people with "regular" IQs. She is accomplished, sure, but I'm sure that anyone who lives in a bajillion-dollar apartment in her Manhattan 'hood has an equally great resume.
posted by GuyZero at 11:43 AM on March 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


Yeah, specifically, Marilyn vos Savant.

It does take a sort of genius to become world famous for answering 7th grade math problems.
posted by kid ichorous at 11:52 AM on March 30, 2009 [9 favorites]


If nothing else, this thread has thoroughly disproven the statement that "Nothing Watson said could, by any reasonably intelligent person, be interpreted as racist." One must admit that several reasonably intelligent people do, indeed, rightly or wrongly, interpret Watson's statements as racist.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:55 AM on March 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Hey is this where I go to talk about sexism in science?

[tumbleweed]

Hello?

[approaching jawa noises]

No, I guess not. Hmm. Well, bye!

[backs out of thread slowly with blaster clutched in both hands]
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:04 PM on March 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


The black population, on average, has lower x than the white population ... The recognition of these things is not racist

Nope. What's racist is attributing the entirety of the observed differences to DNA sequences that are constant within "race" but vary between "races," which is required for the differences to be actually racial.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:13 PM on March 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


Thankfully, sexism has gone down significantly in recent years.

Work the shaft, cup the balls.
posted by fire&wings at 12:20 PM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is Stephen Hawing a "badass science dude"?

Sure. Why not?
posted by mbatch at 12:27 PM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


This are weird thread.
posted by everichon at 12:29 PM on March 30, 2009


But no one could really assert, with a straight face, that growing up in the general Black or White population delivers the same sort of cultural pressures as growing up an Ashkenazi Jew. Certain cultures teach a child to kiss books, while others stomp his ass at the bus stop for bringing them home.
posted by kid ichorous at 2:11 PM on March 30


The problem with IQ tests is that they are tests, and every test can be beat. A kid who does puzzles and tangrams at age 5, who grows up hearing more than one language, who must develope the flexibility to read and write different languages in different directions, who is encouraged to read and talk about what he reads and participate in adult conversations is going to score better on an IQ test than the same kid if he didn't do those things. And because IQ tests do not control for intellecual exposure at home, there is no way to measure this.

But the offhand swipe at black culture ("others [cultures] stomp his ass at the bus stop") is unwarranted. Black culture is Booker T. Washington, Frederic Douglas, Duke Ellington, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, etc. The notion that black culture is anti-intellectual is a media invention for consumption by whites. The real cultural problem in part is that the dominant culture here refuses to integrate the contributions of blacks into "American culture," preferring instead to relegate them to "black culture." The material is presented in a context that compartmentalizes these contributions and prevents their integration in to the dominant culture.

Contrast this to the way, over the centuries, France has embraced American artists and intellectuals who were black, and gave them a second home.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:30 PM on March 30, 2009 [15 favorites]


Regarding Watson, after reading his famous book I have to say I came away scratching my head a bit. I suppose the Nobel was for co-discovering DNA, but frankly he didn't actually come across as head and shoulders more intelligent than any given grad student or professor. He just seemed to be in the right place at the right time, which arguably many prize winners where/have been, but I fail to see why Watson has been put on such a high pedestal by many people, he just doesn't seem all that talented when all is said and done.
posted by edgeways at 12:35 PM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


The blog comments are characterizations of her as internet personality. What is really going on here is an attempt to legitimize the trading on one's appearance in context where it is irrelevant while simultaneous trying to make it seem as if you aren't doing that. She posts her photo next to her blog, but no one is supposed to comment about her appearance? Then why is it there? Why do I care what she looks like if she's writing about science, something which is ostensibly objective fact?

Most of the bloggers on scienceblogs post their pictures. No one comments about the bearded middle age dudes and claims they're "trading on their appearance". It's kind of an obnoxious choice that women are expected between being invisible or having comments about how hot your are all the time.

On the other hand, I do think beautiful women have a lot of advantages (or in the terminology of the thread so far "unexamined privileges") On the balance, being a beautiful women is probably a much better deal then being an ugly shlub of a dude.
posted by delmoi at 12:35 PM on March 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Let me be sparkling clear, since I don't want my remark misconstrued as a backboard off which to score cheap points. I am making a swipe at the anti-intellectualism of mainstream American culture, which encompasses both Black and White culture, among other things. Six years in Boston public schools left no ambiguities about this, whatever else it lacked - that the bus ride home, and everything after, was as important as the classroom.
posted by kid ichorous at 12:44 PM on March 30, 2009


Lise Meitner wuz robbed.
posted by juv3nal at 12:44 PM on March 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


The notion that black culture is anti-intellectual is a media invention for consumption by whites.

It's also meant for consumption by blacks... to assign them their place, and keep them there. Shackles made of lies.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:49 PM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


The problem with IQ tests is that they are tests, and every test can be beat. A kid who does puzzles and tangrams at age 5, who grows up hearing more than one language, who must develope the flexibility to read and write different languages in different directions, who is encouraged to read and talk about what he reads and participate in adult conversations is going to score better on an IQ test than the same kid if he didn't do those things. And because IQ tests do not control for intellecual exposure at home, there is no way to measure this.

This may very well be true. But it's hard for me to see it as a failure of IQ tests. If the kid who does puzzles and tangrams at age 5 winds up with a higher IQ score, it seems at least plausible that it's because he's smarter. That's what IQ is supposed to measure, isn't it?

The whole "innate and immutable" thing is mostly strawman. Nature and nurture probably both play a role in intelligence. The debate is confused because the prospect that nature plays a role is intensely embarrassing to us.
posted by grobstein at 12:50 PM on March 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


The whole "innate and immutable" thing is mostly strawman. Nature and nurture probably both play a role in intelligence. The debate is confused because the prospect that nature plays a role is intensely embarrassing to us.

No, no one is suggesting that there is no genetic basis for intelligence, the problem is when you generalize that to historical "racial" groups, which is what Watson was doing.
posted by delmoi at 1:04 PM on March 30, 2009


I am making a swipe at the anti-intellectualism of mainstream American culture, which encompasses both Black and White culture, among other things.

Clever boys dumb down to avoid bullying in school; I guess this is where I accuse you of parochialism or American Exceptionalism or something. Or where I prove you even more right than you already are.
posted by GuyZero at 1:05 PM on March 30, 2009


No, no one is suggesting that there is no genetic basis for intelligence, the problem is when you generalize that to historical "racial" groups, which is what Watson was doing.

You are not explicitly suggesting that there is no such thing as race; let's hope you don't go there.
posted by grobstein at 1:11 PM on March 30, 2009


A relative of mine was applying to colleges in the mid-1990s. She was looking at engineering programs (she got all the math genes in the family), and visited Georgia Tech. There she encountered a delightful professor who said he didn't know why it was okay for women to take valuable places in his engineering program since they weren't as smart as men. And even if they were, they'd just go off and have babies, so their education would be "wasted."

She chose to not waste her education at Georgia Tech.
posted by rtha at 1:13 PM on March 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


Nature and nurture probably both play a role in intelligence. The debate is confused because the prospect that nature plays a role is intensely embarrassing to us.

No, the debate is confused precisely because of the fact that nature and nurture probably both play a rule in intelligence. Because we have not yet been able to ascertain exactly which role each factor plays, we cannot extract either one from the debate -- and because we cannot extract either one from the debate, we can't say for sure whether one or the other alone is a factor.

Until we can expressly and uncategorically define precisely what role nature plays in intelligence, and precisely what role nurture plays, we cannot take any measure of intelligence as being exclusive proof of something that pertains solely to nature or nurture.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:19 PM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, and that same argument applies to gender as well (she said, trying to drag the conversation back to within shouting distance of the original topic).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:20 PM on March 30, 2009


Seriously, has no one here ever seen Trading Places?
posted by Mister_A at 1:29 PM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


and the origin of the pejorative 'douchebag.'

Yes; its origin was as a woman-shaming dangerous quasi-medical practice. And it was disgusting and harmful and sexist.

So calling someone a douchebag is totally feminist and acceptable, to this feminist anyway. Don't know any feminists who defend douching. Like tight-lacing until you injured yourself and foot-binding, it's a regrettable practice thankfully becoming obsolete.

/derail?
posted by emjaybee at 1:33 PM on March 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


My social goal for my remaining years as a mechanical engineering student and my career as a mechanical engineer is to be one of the guys who sometimes wears skirts and doesn't care much about motorcycles, but can diagram a diesel engine cycle like anybody.

I'm not sure how likely that is, given my last test score in Thermo and incidents like in this article, but I can hope.
posted by rubah at 1:39 PM on March 30, 2009


Maybe I'm a dunderhead, but I don't understand the photo with the blurred out faces at the bottom of the linked article. Anyone know what the point of that is?
posted by Zed at 1:46 PM on March 30, 2009


So yeah, sexism...

One comment I've heard from female academics is that some of them feel they need to insist that undergrads call them Dr. so'n'so. Without doing that distancing from day one, there'll always be some punk in the back row who wants to challenge her authority. Then the trouble is that their teaching evaluations will suffer because they're seen as unfriendly.

Can a sufficiently goo prof bust out of this no-win? Maybe, but my manly manliness gets me basic respect from my students for free.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:48 PM on March 30, 2009


/derail?

At this point I'm going to hazard a "No."
posted by joe lisboa at 1:54 PM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


"goo prof" -- sigh.

Anyhow, check out this side by side picture of her with her co-blogger. It's basically the same headshot from each of them -- same smile, same tilt of the head -- except that his picture is a standard headshot for an academic blog and her picture is "using her appearance to get more people to read her blog." For some reason.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:59 PM on March 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


"Douche" is totally a great, non-misogynist epithet, because it's a yucky, scummy, embarrassing item NO WOMAN NEEDED IN THE FIRST PLACE.

(I say this once a year, according to my comment history!)
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:00 PM on March 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


One comment I've heard from female academics is that some of them feel they need to insist that undergrads call them Dr. so'n'so. Without doing that distancing from day one, there'll always be some punk in the back row who wants to challenge her authority.

The other danger, and one I've seen in classes (as a student, not a professor): young students view female academics as motherly figures or caregivers, not instructors and potential mentors. Using a title really does change this perception.

One professor I know gets around this by sending around a sheet on which she specifies her proper address (Dr. Redacted or Prof. Redacted) and asks each student to jot down their preferred address and honorific, if any. Every semester, it sees, a new student decides to address her by first name, and she maintains perfect, infallible equanimity in the face of this: she appears absolutely not to hear it the first few times her first name is called out, and tactfully reminds of her preferred address.
posted by Elsa at 2:21 PM on March 30, 2009


Yeah. Unless that wide-smile she's got is intended to be come-hither, and I see no indication it is, her headshot is just her smiling at the camera. Any guessing at her intent in posting it is just that -- guessing. She's not in lingerie, and she's not crooking a welcoming finger to the camera.

Is she trying to be sexy for the camera, or are we just reading that into her photograph because that's the way we have been trained to see photos of women? I'm going to guess the latter.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:25 PM on March 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Well, AZ, just to make sure devil's advocate is adequately played, here, and I come from a position in media studies academia, so I think a lot about the way a woman (or anyone, but traditionally, especially a woman) presents herself in visual media, professionally, as something meaningful and hopefully deliberate, her web presence in images (a public myspace, etc.) is not portraying her as a particularly gender-neutral personality. Just by virtue of toothy smiles, canted head and somewhat revealing attire in some pictures, she is clearly deferring to certain feminine norms. None of that justifies sexist treatment, but if she's interested in not being treated like nothing more than a pretty face and a possible mate, the pictures of her, in content as well as availability and profligacy, do not work in her favor.

Am I saying that being in pictures is inherently feminizing? Kind of, yeah.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:35 PM on March 30, 2009


Ambrosia: I probably learned the proper response from you, then.

By the way, kldickson, thanks for the post. Worthy topic, needs more exposure, even if we end up with random trolling on a completely different topic.
posted by emjaybee at 2:35 PM on March 30, 2009


I should add that it's apparent that she's aware of the issues I am talking about there, and there's no good path through that minefield.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:44 PM on March 30, 2009


He just seemed to be in the right place at the right time, which arguably many prize winners where/have been, but I fail to see why Watson has been put on such a high pedestal by many people, he just doesn't seem all that talented when all is said and done.

Is that your opinion of Francis Crick too, edgeways?
(As the co-discoverer of DNA's structure with Watson, obviously).
posted by Jody Tresidder at 2:45 PM on March 30, 2009


Levels of sexism vary from department to department in the physical sciences, where I work. Overt sexism is certainly less of a problem now than it was even twenty years ago, although most female graduate students have a shocking personal anecdote or two to relate. But the levels of "boyzoning," so to speak, remain very high in many places, perhaps in the majority of departments in the physical sciences. The effects range from unspoken agreement that no woman's research work can ever really be as clever or as groundbreaking as a good man's; to comments on the attractiveness (or lack thereof) of female colleagues; to semi-unintentional exclusionary practices like holding lab get-togethers in shady bars at late hours or ignoring women who speak up during group discussions; to implicit assumptions that all women are inevitably not as devoted to spending very long hours in the office, or that women tend to have other interests outside of science, and are thus not as "serious."

Academic science has very little tolerance for people it deems insufficiently "serious," and most types of career gap or signs of wavering from a single path deal a black mark to your record. Even graduate students who come in from other career paths, or who want to alter the subfield they work in, and thus need to transfer elsewhere to work with the right people, tend to be ranked below fresh applicants whose academic credentials are sometimes otherwise not as good.

Unfortunately, the conservative nature of academia as an institution means that the career structure — graduate school, postdoctoral work, applications for tenure-track faculty position or permanent senior researcher position — remains rigidly inflexible for women in their child-bearing years.

Even in departments considered female-friendly, the prevailing wisdom for women is to remain childless (or at least until gaining tenure, which generally doesn't happen until after age 35-40, if it happens at all) or to leave science.

I posted a few months ago in AskMeFi about the relevance of the time gap problem to young people developing mental illnesses. Because there is always a glut of good applicants, the system can afford to ruthlessly prune any defective workers with signs of a productive weakness, no matter how small.

Machismo continues to be an issue (as humorous as that may sound re: nerds). For example, there are fields of neuroscience, psychology, most of biology and bioengineering, even regular chemical engineering, that have seen faster influx of women. Most male scientists are happy to see good researchers of any kind bringing fresh blood into a field, but it is not uncommon to overhear at times that such-and-such field is "girl science," the implication being that any field where women make up more than 30% of the researchers is inherently less worthy of being termed a science — less demanding, less intellectual, again less "serious."

The machismo aspect is far more significant among young scientists, especially those who have not yet completed a Ph. D., which will surprise no one. Few young people are emotionally wise. And young men are more prone to exalting hierarchies of ambition; discussions can become less about real science, and more about who has become the "guy to beat." Unfortunately, without intervention that climate of machismo tends to reinforce itself. A lot of women cite these early years when they first decided that they could never be taken as seriously as their male colleagues. Although they enjoyed the science, they could not tolerate the hierarchical politics that got in the way. There is sometimes a darker side as well; e.g., rumors may be passed around that a female researcher pulls rank because she slept with a faculty member.

There are controversial areas. On the time-limited multiple-choice physics GRE subject test, female applicants to top-20 graduate schools as a group score about 100 points (out of 990 possible) lower than males do. It seems natural to assume that they will thus make poorer graduate students. There are many who question this, because beyond a very small subset of stellar outlier students, and beyond some threshold that signals a basic level of competence (60th-65th percentile?), it's not clear that the score correlates terribly well with who will do good science. In a few places there is an informal wisdom that ceteris paribus, a female applicant and a male applicant with a score 100-200 points higher are likely to have graduate careers of similar quality. I know more than a few female students with abysmally low physics GRE scores who have done important research and won significant prize fellowships. Nevertheless, most top programs use a fairly high score cutoff.

(Much the same issue applies to American vs. foreign students; foreign applicants usually have notably higher average physics GRE scores, but this is not always taken as a signal that they will make better scientists.)

As well, initiatives aimed at encouraging potential minority scientists of many types (sex, race, socioeconomic background) have harmed some fraction of them almost as much as they have helped, because many colleagues quietly assume that a minority candidate was admitted to a program or hired for being who they are, not for showing what they can do.

TL;DR — Boyzoning and career path inflexibility remain real triggers for women to leave science.
posted by jeeves at 2:48 PM on March 30, 2009 [16 favorites]


Shit, that was really long. Sorry. But...

On the unintentional side of things, a strong academic bias in favor of niche-based focus can also undermine the careers of women. It's a natural consequence of scientists' viewing our own sub-sub-subfield as the one true science, and also a natural consequence of evaluating students and job candidates by how much significant work they have produced in one particular niche. If you are a newly minted Ph. D. job candidate who has written ten excellent papers, but five are in pure solid-state physics and five on, say, applications of that work to acoustics, the solid-state guy on the hiring committee is effectively going to see only his five papers and the acoustics gal will effectively see only her five. As a result, you have no one who is particularly enthusiastic to work with you.

This hits women harder because it seems far more common for the women to really want to do cross-discipline work that connects hard science to applications (I have no empirical data to support this claim). But "multidisciplinary" is not infrequently a backhanded insult, as it can be code for "soft-minded," "unfocused," and again, "not serious." Singlemindedness is sometimes seen as a virtue. Regrettably, though many scientists agree that this bias is damaging good science and harming the careers of men and women who are interested in using natural cross-discipline connections to broaden the benefits of research, the preference for high specialization is pretty deeply ingrained.
posted by jeeves at 2:50 PM on March 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


but if she's interested in not being treated like nothing more than a pretty face and a possible mate, the pictures of her, in content as well as availability and profligacy, do not work in her favor.

That's weirdly close to "look at the way she's dressed; she asked for it."
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:56 PM on March 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


Good for her. When the Intersection moved to Discover I assumed it would fit right in, but this crap has been irritating and distracting. Hopefully it will stop and she and Mooney can get back to business.
posted by homunculus at 3:01 PM on March 30, 2009


No discussion of Philip Greenspun's theory?
"Summers was deservedly castigated, but not for the right reasons. He claimed to be giving a comprehensive list of reasons why there weren't more women reaching the top jobs in the sciences. Yet Summers, an economist, left one out: Adjusted for IQ, quantitative skills, and working hours, jobs in science are the lowest paid in the United States.

This article explores this fourth possible explanation for the dearth of women in science: They found better jobs."
I'm pretty certain Greenspun's hypothesis isn't comprehensive, and Kirshenbaum's experiences probably aren't isolated. But I think his argument is somewhat compelling, and it fits with the oft-discussed general trends regarding the difficulty of recruiting the general American population to science -- men included. It generally doesn't have high economic rewards, it tends to be highly competetive and doesn't confer social status. If you believe that women are generally more sensitive to social status and work-life balance issues, then it makes sense that they'll tend to avoid it, particularly very bright women.

I think Greenspun's argument also makes sense from another perspective: if you buy the fact that men who have poorer social skills tend to end up in the sciences, then it's not hard to account for higher incidences of insensitive and harassing behavior.

In any case, there's still certainly work to do in getting people to treat their colleagues with respect. But I tend to agree with Greenspun that the social issues regarding science are larger than harassment.
posted by weston at 3:10 PM on March 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


I submit to you that none of the photo on the discover blog, the photo on the interview linked in the bio of that discover blog, or the photo on her website are the kind of photos are typically taken of scientists. They aren't the sober, portrait shots that are typical of professors' web pages. They are photos intended to show off how cute or attractive the subject is in the hope that it will draw your interest to the content

And there isn't anything wrong with that. By all means, if you are attractive, use it to your advantage. She's using her appearance to get more people to read her blog. Duh.


Because she's smiling? Professors dont' smile in their headshots?

It isn't that she is posting attractive pictures; it's that you find her attractive. You are pulling the classic "you're making me find you hot" shtick here. And this is something women constantly face in academic settings. What is she supposed to do? Wear a burka? Purposefully try to look ugly? That is just a picture of her freaking face. It is not airbrushed and she isn't showing heavy cleavage or open-mouth / doe-eyed or wearing a bikini. It's an ordinary photo of a cute looking woman who is also a scientist. But the part people notice is that she's cute, and either this means she's using that to get ahead, or it subconsciously means she's probably not that good a scientist.

That is just what she looks like. She isn't looking like that to turn you on or get something from you. That is simply her normal physical appearance.
posted by mdn at 3:13 PM on March 30, 2009 [10 favorites]


AZ, it sure is. Fact of life: women's appearances are up for discussion and assessment. On the ogling level and on the academic level. This one does things in pictures coded as youthful, feminine, happy, approachable. She has been treated as such. It's not a travesty, it's a culture, an idiom - do you speak it?

What's the solution to this pesky and upsetting disproportionate attention paid to women's appearances in these progressive meritocratic times? Treating that mobilization of visual information behavior as disrespectful? Meh, that sounds like a drag. I say ogling men is the solution. To take the inappropriately gendered phrase from Mamet I like - that's a thing a man could do. Gotta fight that good fight.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 3:16 PM on March 30, 2009


I say ogling men is the solution.

I like where you're going with this.
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:18 PM on March 30, 2009


It's basically the same headshot from each of them -- same smile, same tilt of the head -- except that his picture is a standard headshot for an academic blog and her picture is "using her appearance to get more people to read her blog." For some reason.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:59 PM on March 30


First, none of the academic blogs I read include photos. Some of the blogs I read are written by professionals, who have their photo on their professional site, but not on their blog.

But I think I know what's going on here. People are still thinking of blogs as personal sites where people share their opinions.

This is not that. This is blogger as a media construction - like any other celebrity (except not nearly as famous). The purpose of this blog is to generate revenue. Period. That's why Discover bought it.

Everything about that blog is part of an image. She's a scientist, but we aren't reading scientific papers, we are reading her opinions about political issues that have a scientific dimension.

People get to comment about Hillary Clinton's appearance. We get to comment on Katie Couric's appearance, and Barbara Walters and Bill O'reilly's and everyone elses. We are permitted to do this because the appearance is a constructed image designed to reinforce the message the person is trying to deliver.

Now this image of the blogger here is obviously not as constructed as others, but it is there because - prepare to be shocked - the blog would have fewer readers if it wasn't. I know that, you know that, she knows that, everyone does.

And, again, it's fine, expected, and by me encouraged. If you have something to sell, get out there and sell it with everything you can bring to bear. Some science bloggers have a very sharp wit. They should use it because it is one of the irrational factors that sadly people use to assign credibility to sources on topics about which they have no expertise. My only problem is the problem everyone seems to have with this.

This isn't like the photo of that high school track and field girl athlete that people drooled over. No one dug up a private photo of the blogger here. She is showing everyone the photo saying "Look at me!" in the hopes that people keep coming back to the blog to read what she says (because they will remember her better for having seen her and having thought she was attractive).

She is basically a commentator working for a magazine. She put her picture next to her blog. She is selling herself as a public figure. Men do this too. But is she suprised then that people comment on her appearance? Has no one commented ever on Robert Novak's appearance, or Richard Perle's, or Tucker Carlson's stupid bow-tie, or Jim Cramer's rolled up sleeves?

Yes, her co-author's photo is there, and no one is really talking about it. You think that's because people are sexist and they are only critiquing the girl's appearance. You are correct, and I agree. Where we differ is that I think that Discover knows that this is how people will respond to her photo (because they better than anyone know that their readership in general is probably largely male), and deliberately included her photo on the blog to exploit her appearance. They obviously can't put only her photo and not his, so they include his. But they know full well that everyone will basically ignore his.

Think of it another way. If having the photo there did not make any difference at all, or was negative, they would not include it.
posted by Pastabagel at 3:21 PM on March 30, 2009


Singlemindedness is sometimes seen as a virtue. Regrettably, though many scientists agree that this bias is damaging good science and harming the careers of men and women who are interested in using natural cross-discipline connections to broaden the benefits of research, the preference for high specialization is pretty deeply ingrained.

This isn't just in the sciences, either. Having the burden of being the gestating gender means that, by definition, a woman who chooses to pass on her genes is going to have a more fluid career path, not always because she wants to change fields, but because she has to change situations, to allow her to have and raise kids that she occasionally gets to see during the day. Or because she's forced out if she does try to combine the essentials of her life with challenging or prestigious work. Men nowadays who want to, say, stay home with a sick kid or newborn are getting an introduction to this sort of pressure too. It's permitted, but people start to wonder about you...are you really devoted to your job? Have you gone soft?

This fetishization of surrending all for the goal is hostile to anyone, male or females who wants a healthy non-work life. The justification has been so far, that only those who sacrifice everything--family, relationships--make significant contributions. Of course, men have often had it both ways, to some extent, by drafting women into "taking care" of their non-work life for them, though I wouldn't call that healthy either.

I would be interested to see, actually, what a survey of significant scientists would show; did they all live in the lab, or did some of them manage to have more healthy personal lives without sacrificing their potential?
posted by emjaybee at 3:35 PM on March 30, 2009


They are photos intended to show off how cute or attractive the subject is in the hope that it will draw your interest to the content

I guess we now know what turns on pastabagel.

I had to go back and double check to make sure I hadn't missed the photos of her in heavy make up and pushed up cleavage.

*checks again*

Nope. These are totally normal photos. Dude- it's just you.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:37 PM on March 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


Pastabagel's phrasing of this issue made my perspective on the misfortune of her upset a little clearer. I'll do my best to re-obfuscate it.

I think, hey, maybe there are women out there, sciencey geekbrained women who don't "speak the idiom," as I said earlier. Maybe they are taken aback by being paid attention for their looks, positively or negatively, just because they don't expect any particualr social interaction, because some people are just somewhat socially inept, illiterate, etc. I don't think Sheril is such a woman, but I'm thinking of an extreme case here. Some shut-in calculus hobbyist in a sack who doesn't shampoo. Okay, so her. I shall name her Tansy. Tansy is this way naturally, it's her unrefined persona. She's not performing a damned thing, she doesn't even have some weird urgy feeling in her groin that makes her want to arch her back or giggle or act cute when she sees hot movie star guys. She doesn't get "cute." She's not a product of desire, she doesn't market herself, she isn't selling anything. On the flipside, some woman who is selling pure allure, let's call her Camwhore, Cammy for short, Cammy doesn't give a shit if people are 100% wrong in their assesment of her, as long as they click, the money rolls in and it's a job well done. Somewhere between Tansy and Cammy live the rest of us, uneasy as the day we were born with means and ends and our places in the world and pressured by the tensions of participating in a commodity-oriented system of independent snowflakes. Perpetual shock over where on this continuum you find yourself is kind of annoying to me. It's akin to mere identity twittering. It's phenomenologically worthless. But it's human, so whaddya gonna do?

This isn't like the photo of that high school track and field girl athlete that people drooled over. No one dug up a private photo of the blogger here.

Well, I did expand my opinion of her based on her having a public myspace in googlereach, and by going and looking at its contents, which I assume many of her commenters have also done. I argue that can't be construed as creepy or as an inappropriate way to develop a crush on her, because it is there and if not designed for that purpose, damned effective at it.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 3:40 PM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


First, none of the academic blogs I read include photos.

It'd be pretty unusual in my field NOT to have a picture on your blog. Would you please provide some links of typical scientific blogs written by individuals that have no photos?
posted by small_ruminant at 3:41 PM on March 30, 2009


Because she's smiling? Professors dont' smile in their headshots?

Purely anecdotal, and obviously a laughably small sample size, but I noticed a couple of years ago that my female professors don't put put headshots in which they're beaming broadly on their university pages; the male professors' photos very often do feature big toothy grins.

I noticed this the same way I noticed that my female professors are far less likely to refer to their personal lives either on their university pages or in class discussion, while the male professors often mention their wives or partners, their kids, or their pets, both in class and on their uni pages.

I've also noticed that most of my female professors are more likely to preserve the distinctions of rank, preferring to be addressed by title, seeing students from behind a desk rather than over a coffee, avoiding familiarity while extending every professional courtesy and kindness.

It suggests to me that, at least in my programs, female professors avoid casting themselves as yielding or conciliatory, as caregivers, or as domestic, and that they find these social cues useful as subtle reminders to students of the power dynamics inherent in the student-teacher relationship.

Is Stephen Haw[ki]ng a "badass science dude"?

Your greater point still comes across, but --- dude, bad example! --- because Stephen Hawking is totally a badass science dude.
posted by Elsa at 3:55 PM on March 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Hawking: I call it a "Hawking Hole".

Fry: No fair! I saw it first!

Hawking: Who is The Journal of Quantum Physics going to believe?
posted by grobstein at 4:02 PM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


edgeways > Regarding Watson . . . I suppose the Nobel was for co-discovering DNA, but frankly he didn't actually come across as head and shoulders more intelligent than any given grad student or professor. He just seemed to be in the right place at the right time, which arguably many prize winners where/have been, but I fail to see why Watson has been put on such a high pedestal by many people, he just doesn't seem all that talented when all is said and done.

Here is part of the problem. We believe that those who seem inherently brighter deserve more exaltation. We nurture a cult of an archetypical singular genius who moves mountains. This is bullshit.

Science matters because it has the capacity to improve human existence, through both concrete applications and abstract knowledge. It matters because it is a remarkable tool, a means to a better end.

That institutional science has also been an end in itself as a pissing contest for those who care mainly about who ranks as the smartest is an embarrassment and a dangerous distraction.

I won't deny that this peacockery has been a driver of valuable work in every arena of human interest, but it has also done Brobdingnagian harm. It fuels pathological attachment to ownership of one's ideas, right or wrong; it promotes focus on the personalities instead of the accomplishments ("who" instead of "do"); it funnels resources to work that sounds sexy, regardless of the size of its realizable impact on humanity; it encourages backstabbing, collusive repression, and even sabotage.

Genius as made evident by intellectual accomplishments is usually in large part a product of being in the right place at the right time. Likewise, that a solid accomplishment may be the product of effort and chance more than of intellectual genius and chance diminishes its impact not a whit. It should not matter a flying fuck whether a co-discoverer of DNA is actually more intelligent than his colleagues or not.

In our ideals, we should reward people not because they were born with high smarts but because they got cool shit done.
posted by jeeves at 4:05 PM on March 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


I would be interested to see, actually, what a survey of significant scientists would show; did they all live in the lab, or did some of them manage to have more healthy personal lives without sacrificing their potential?

I don't know if they meet your definition of "significant," but many, probably most, of the professors I have known, in a science department at a major research university, worked 40-hour weeks. Almost all of my postdoc friends -- supposedly at one of the most stressful times in their careers -- were able to devote a great deal of time to hobbies like salsa dancing, marathon running, music and homebrewing. The idea that one has to be married to the job to be a successful scientist is certainly romantic, and serves a very useful purpose for (a dwindling group of) male scientists who don't want female competition, but the reality is often very different.
posted by transona5 at 4:30 PM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Pastabagel: "Is Stephen Hawing a 'badass science dude'? Or Carl Sagan?"

Pastabagel, you wouldn't know a badass science dude if he played bongo drums while cracking your safe.
posted by mullingitover at 5:04 PM on March 30, 2009 [6 favorites]



Pastabagel, you wouldn't know a badass science dude if he played bongo drums while cracking your safe.


It's only the truly baddest of badass science dudes that can do that stuff from beyond the grave.
posted by juv3nal at 5:17 PM on March 30, 2009


As an infinitely wise person once said, "That all men are equal is a proposition to which, at ordinary times, no sane human being has ever given his assent. "

That same wise person said something that all the militant egalitarians should consider, "A fanatic is a man who consciously over compensates a secret doubt."
posted by McGuillicuddy at 6:05 PM on March 30, 2009


So, what's the secret doubt which leads McGillicuddy to the fanatical belief that some man was infinitely wise?
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 6:13 PM on March 30, 2009


Genius as made evident by intellectual accomplishments is usually in large part a product of being in the right place at the right time.

Sort of and sort of not entirely, jeeves.

It only becomes obvious you were in the right place and the right time IF you were thinking the right stuff too. And with the Crick and Watson pairing, their complementary thinking was crucial.

(I liked your comment a lot, by the way.)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 6:59 PM on March 30, 2009


Pastabagel, you wouldn't know a badass science dude if he played bongo drums while cracking your safe.

But, purportedly, the ladies knew.

It's only the truly baddest of badass science dudes that can do that stuff from beyond the grave.

Spooky action at a distance.
posted by weston at 7:56 PM on March 30, 2009


Not sure Jody Tresidder, I have not read a self-serving book written by Crick. In contrast many people hype "The Double Helix" and Watson's writings and brilliance. I am not saying Watson was not intelligent, just that I found his account and his future assertions to undermine any claims that he was some genius.
posted by edgeways at 9:40 PM on March 30, 2009


You are not explicitly suggesting that there is no such thing as race; let's hope you don't go there.

Oh no, not a wikipedia article about some random paper! You could genetically distinguish redheads from blonds and brunettes, or any other phenotype. That doesn't mean that hair color is a valid distinction among humans. You could do the same thing with blood type and lots of other features. What people call 'race' is just a couple of random phenotypes that have a big impact on appearance (skin color, hair color and type and some facial features). Obviously if you go back you can find genes that correlate with these phenotypes.

I mean, basically claiming that you can determine a person's race by looking at DNA isn't any more of an argument for the concept of race then claiming you can determine a person's race by how they look.

But that doesn't mean that if you were going to try to divide humans up, it would make any sense to do it based on traditional 'racial' characteristics.

There are far more genes that are not correlated with "race" then those that are.

First, none of the academic blogs I read include photos. Some of the blogs I read are written by professionals, who have their photo on their professional site, but not on their blog.

Like I said before most of the science blogs I've seen on network sites like scienceblogs or discover do include headshots. I clicked a bunch of random blogs listed on the front page of scienceblogs and found 10 with pictures of the blogger and 4 with other pictures in the profile. That's 71%, with a pretty big margin of error. But it's pretty common.
posted by delmoi at 11:01 PM on March 30, 2009


The science blogs I read that do not include headshots are by women blogging pseudonymously who are trying to avoid exactly what's happened to Sheril. People like FSP and Sciencewoman (her co-blogger has chosen to reveal her identity, but we know Sciencewoman only from her mud-covered boots). Male science bloggers seem to almost always have pictures, at least in the life sciences.

As a sidenote, Sheril and I work on the same campus. I've met her several times and what's most striking about her is not her appearance but how quick she is at both speaking and thinking, as well as her diversity of interests and the passion with which she pursues them.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:41 AM on March 31, 2009


There are far more genes that are not correlated with "race" then those that are.

Ok children. (not you delmoi - you're cool.)


This is now officially required viewing:

part 1 part 2 part 3

Let my old pal Billy break it down for ya!

If you're short on time skip to part 3. That's where the juicy bits are.

heres some highlights:
1. We all come from africa
2. cows aren't racist.
3.in 1997 the American anthropological association recommended the us government abandon the term "race" on official forms because it holds ..."no scientific justification in human biology"
4.There is *absolutely* not any such thing as race in a biological sense.
5. the thing (in all mammals, including cows) that determines fur and skin color is the melanocortin receptor. Its virtually meaningless from a genetic standpoint.
6. That gene and all others that determine external appearance are less than .01% of your genes. That's what we mean by "meaningless"


Watson might as well been trying to define differences in ghosts and satyrs as say, whites and blacks. Its a waste of time and effort from even a non cultural and staunchly scientific perspective. You think someone that knows so much about DNA would have gotten the memo. Smart as he is, he was barking up the wrong intellectual tree indeed with that one. Its a shame he has wastes his scientific mind and so many years on something so fucking dumb.
posted by 5imian at 6:09 AM on March 31, 2009


You are not explicitly suggesting that there is no such thing as race; let's hope you don't go there.

I just did. From a strictly biological perspective.. there isn't.

But don't listen to me. Listen to Bill Nye... I'm just a well informed parrot.
posted by 5imian at 6:12 AM on March 31, 2009


5imian

I do so wish the Nye film had avoided using the white trash guy in the wife-beater (at around 4.12 in part 3) to make a jokey point about the stupidity of such people when they judge others by superficial appearances! That was clumsy.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 8:08 AM on March 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


That was clumsy.

Good point, i hope that didn't ruin the episode for you, which otherwise had its head in the right place, in my opinion.
posted by 5imian at 9:45 AM on March 31, 2009


i hope that didn't ruin the episode for you, which otherwise had its head in the right place, in my opinion.

5imian,
No, I'm glad to say it didn't.


On the other hand, I am a member of the choir to whom Nye is preaching (while also someone who knows and respects Watson - while deploring those effing stupid comments he made). If I wasn't, I might not to be so forgiving!

And I always find myself hoping - against hope - that the American anthropology experts today have the grace to blush slightly when they stoutly demand - as they should - an end to using "race" as a meaningful biological classification. Anthropology has endorsed an awful lot of murky misconceptions in its time!
posted by Jody Tresidder at 10:19 AM on March 31, 2009


There is no sexism in computer science.

Mainly because there are no girls there.
posted by ymgve at 8:21 PM on March 31, 2009


So not true: Ada Lovelace Day was just last week!

ok, it is true, but at least we try
posted by GuyZero at 8:56 PM on March 31, 2009


to semi-unintentional exclusionary practices like holding lab get-togethers in shady bars at late hours

This made me giggle, mostly because, while I recognise it's an atypical situation, a friend of mine is a chem postgrad, with an overwhelmingly female cadre. It was the one guy in a lab full of a dozen women who probably felt a little on the outer in their case.

But, as I say, that's pretty atypical.

Men nowadays who want to, say, stay home with a sick kid or newborn are getting an introduction to this sort of pressure too.

Men have always known about this pressure. The choices between being a good family man or a good company man are well known. It's kind of arrogant to suggest these didn't exist before women discovered them.

.There is *absolutely* not any such thing as race in a biological sense.

Witness the New Zealand Maori rugby team and their pasty redheads to understand the truth of this.

Mainly because there are no girls there.

That's Admiral Grace Hopper to you.
posted by rodgerd at 12:40 AM on April 1, 2009


Witness the New Zealand Maori rugby team and their pasty redheads to understand the truth of this.

Touch of Scottish there, maybe rodgerd?
(I know there is a strong Scottish immigrant strain in NZ - I think the Frenchified genteel word for a large plate - "ashette" is Scottish/NZ coinage).
posted by Jody Tresidder at 6:34 AM on April 1, 2009


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