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Friday, February 11, 2011

Cornell Researchers: Choices -- Not Discrimination -- Determine Women Scientists' Success

Two Cornell University researchers conducted a study to determine whether the significant underrepresentation of women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) was the result of sex discrimination.

The results of the research are summarized in the Cornell Chronicle:
"It's an incendiary topic in academia -- the pervasive belief that women are underrepresented in science, math and engineering fields because they face sex discrimination in the interviewing, hiring, and grant and manuscript review processes. In a study published Feb. 7 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Cornell social scientists say it's just not true.

It's not discrimination in these areas, but rather, differences in resources attributable to career and family-related choices that set women back in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, say Stephen J. Ceci, the H.L. Carr Professor of Developmental Psychology, and Wendy M. Williams, professor of human development and director of the Cornell Institute for Women in Science, both in Cornell's College of Human Ecology.

The "substantial resources" universities expend to sponsor gender-sensitivity training and interviewing workshops would be better spent on addressing the real causes of women's underrepresentation, Ceci and Williams say, through creative problem-solving and policy changes that respond to differing "biological and social realities" of the sexes."
The full paper is available online, and is worth the read.  Here is the abstract (emphasis mine):
"Explanations for women's underrepresentation in math-intensive fields of science often focus on sex discrimination in grant and manuscript reviewing, interviewing, and hiring. Claims that women scientists suffer discrimination in these arenas rest on a set of studies undergirding policies and programs aimed at remediation. More recent and robust empiricism, however, fails to support assertions of discrimination in these domains. To better understand women's underrepresentation in math-intensive fields and its causes, we reprise claims of discrimination and their evidentiary bases. Based on a review of the past 20 y of data, we suggest that some of these claims are no longer valid and, if uncritically accepted as current causes of women's lack of progress, can delay or prevent understanding of contemporary determinants of women's underrepresentation. We conclude that differential gendered outcomes in the real world result from differences in resources attributable to choices, whether free or constrained, and that such choices could be influenced and better informed through education if resources were so directed. Thus, the ongoing focus on sex discrimination in reviewing, interviewing, and hiring represents costly, misplaced effort: Society is engaged in the present in solving problems of the past, rather than in addressing meaningful limitations deterring women's participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers today. Addressing today's causes of underrepresentation requires focusing on education and policy changes that will make institutions responsive to differing biological realities of the sexes. Finally, we suggest potential avenues of intervention to increase gender fairness that accord with current, as opposed to historical, findings."
 Here is a video in which the researchers explain their findings:

Yow.  I applaud these professors for their intellectual honesty, but I hope they are prepared for the push-back. 

The professors have taken on an issue at the core of university political correctness, and going against the mainstream view -- based not on politics but on their own analysis -- likely will be met with ridicule and contempt.

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  1. Pretty amazing, huh?

    I don't mean the "research."

    I mean how hard liberal academics have to work to grasp the obvious.

  2. Our 19-year-old daughter is an engineering major. She'd be the first one to tell you that not only is this talk of discrimination a completely imaginary PC hurdle for women, but that universities bend over backwards to enroll female science majors.

    She was always in the 99th percentile in math testing scores growing up, but, as she says, "Boys are just better at visualizing in math."

    She's not very interested in politics at this time in her life, but I can tell she'll be a conservative Republican. Last summer during our summer vacation I tried to get her interested in politics by broaching various topics and issues. The one that really got her going was when I talked about Larry Summers being run out of Harvard for daring to utter some verboten things about possible inherent intellectual differences between the sexes. She has no time or patience for PC pieties.

  3. This is the very issue that got Larry Summers ousted as President of Harvard when he refused to defend his comments when challenged by Harvard's feminist faculty.

  4. @Pasadena Phil

    Larry Summers's first insight was provided by his young daughter. He'd bought her some toy trucks to help free her from the bonds of societal gender typecasting. Soon she had the small truck in the bed of the larger one and said, (best paraphrasing by memory here) "Look, Daddy, the Mommy truck is carrying the baby truck."

    As usual, the academic was the last to realize the obvious. Thank goodness he has kids, or he'd likely have been permanently divorced from reality on this issue.

    In regards to this and the other thread on IQ, I find liberal academics to be an especially stupid subset of smart people.

  5. You shouldn't cite Prof. Summers's experience in this connection. The assumptions made in the study are quite different.