Marie Curie, go home: Science faculty study shows bias

Sep 21, 2012 by Nancy Owano report
Competence, hireability, and mentoring by student gender condition (collapsed across faculty gender). All student gender differences are significant (P < 0.001). Scales range from 1 to 7, with higher numbers reflecting a greater extent of each variable. Credit: (c) PNAS, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1211286109

(—A study published in PNAS shows that science faculty members, both men and women, need to bring up their poor grades in gender bias. The study. "Science Faculty's Subtle Gender Biases Favor Male Students," reveals people with hiring power in academic corridors of the sciences may have notions about men versus women that have negative repercussions on academia's stated goals of recruiting more women in the sciences. Corinne A. Moss-Racusina, John F. Dovidio, Victoria L. Brescoll, Mark J. Grahama, and Jo Handelsman, study authors, represent cross disciplines from departments of cellular and development biology, psychology, management, and psychiatry, at Yale University.

The Yale team set out to experimentally investigate if science show a bias against students who are female. They designed a randomized double blind study of 127 subjects. They constructed a job-hiring scenario. Science faculty from research-intensive universities rated application materials of students, randomly assigned either male or female names, for a lab manager job.

Applications were all identical except for the male names and female names. Even though the male and female name applications were identical in competencies, the female student was less likely to be hired, being viewed as less competent and desirable as a new-hire.

Results further showed the faculty members chose higher starting salaries and more career mentoring for applicants with male names.

Salary conferral by student gender condition (collapsed across faculty gender). The student gender difference is significant (P < 0.01). The scale ranges from $15,000 to $50,000. Credit: (c) PNAS, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1211286109

Interestingly, it made no difference on hiring decisions as to whether the faculty member was male or female. Bias was just as likely to occur at the hands of a female as well as male faculty member.

The study's results suggest gender bias is alive and detrimental to a field where talents and skills are so needed.

Dr. Susan Hockfield, a neuroscientist who previously served as the first woman to head MIT, once noted that squandered talent "is one of the key issues of and engineering." At the time when she took office, there was a gender debate being sparked by then Harvard's president, Lawrence Summers, in 2005, that one reason for the relative shortage of women at the upper ranks of science might be because of an innate lesser ability.

According to reports of the event, where Summers was speaking at a conference, an MIT biologist, female, walked out of his talk, saying that if she had not walked out she would have either blacked out or thrown up. The recent PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, published by the National Academy of Sciences) study suggests "intervention" addressing faculty , as the intervention may advance the goal of increasing women's participation in science.

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More information: Science faculty's subtle gender biases favor male students, PNAS, Published online before print September 17, 2012, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1211286109

Despite efforts to recruit and retain more women, a stark gender disparity persists within academic science. Abundant research has demonstrated gender bias in many demographic groups, but has yet to experimentally investigate whether science faculty exhibit a bias against female students that could contribute to the gender disparity in academic science. In a randomized double-blind study (n = 127), science faculty from research-intensive universities rated the application materials of a student—who was randomly assigned either a male or female name—for a laboratory manager position. Faculty participants rated the male applicant as significantly more competent and hireable than the (identical) female applicant. These participants also selected a higher starting salary and offered more career mentoring to the male applicant. The gender of the faculty participants did not affect responses, such that female and male faculty were equally likely to exhibit bias against the female student. Mediation analyses indicated that the female student was less likely to be hired because she was viewed as less competent. We also assessed faculty participants' preexisting subtle bias against women using a standard instrument and found that preexisting subtle bias against women played a moderating role, such that subtle bias against women was associated with less support for the female student, but was unrelated to reactions to the male student. These results suggest that interventions addressing faculty gender bias might advance the goal of increasing the participation of women in science.

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2.2 / 5 (11) Sep 21, 2012
Bias within the university system is not just a gender issue. Ideological biases are also extremely widespread. The Academy of Sciences would be wise to study what happens when a PhD student attempts to do their dissertation on an unpopular notion in the physics or biology disciplines.

For biology, they might present students who are interested in investigating Gilbert Ling's hypothesis that the sodium pump theory is faulty (research which is also carried out by Gerald Pollack at the University of Washington). For physics, it would be extremely easy to demonstrate that students who want to investigate Halton Arp's claims, which dispute the existence of dark energy, and hence the Big Bang itself, would experience great difficulties.

Since the ideological biases exhibit an incredibly stifling effect upon the public's ability to formulate meaningful opinions of dissenting views in science, they should be investigated with similar rigor to the gender biases.
4.6 / 5 (9) Sep 21, 2012
The Academy of Sciences would be wise to study what happens when a PhD student attempts to do their dissertation on an unpopular notion in the physics or biology disciplines.


Look: As a PhD student you choose your topic together with your PhD advisor (who will be one of the reviewers, if not the head of the reviewing comittee). So it's completely foolish to state that students are blocked from working on a certain subjects by their department heads because: It is those department heads that give you input on what to research.

It's illusory to expect from a student with a fresh university diploma to even have a clue what is the forefront of science, what needs to be researched and what topic is doable in the timeframe allotted to a PhD student.
3 / 5 (2) Sep 21, 2012
Oh my god, a name has that much impact on one's career?? Does that mean I have a smaller chance to get hired having a foreign name? o.O
3.7 / 5 (3) Sep 21, 2012
An office manager of a client hired and trained a woman to replace a critical employee. After 5 months she went on maternity leave. There was no time to train a new employee and a contract was lost and the department downsized seven employees. But the woman got to keep her job because HR was scared it would look like she lost her job because of maternity leave. So she had nothing to do for three months because there was no work for her, then she was promoted to a new position above the team in question, which she then eliminated for poor performance. Presumably she was promoted out of the group which was slated to be closed to again avoid letting go an employee that recently was on maternity leave. That was the rumor.

Not saying good or bad, but a lot of people were bitter about the whole hiring that woman. One manager wanted to start having women sign a contract that said they wouldn't take maternity leave until after 2 years. HR but a big VETO on that!
3 / 5 (6) Sep 21, 2012
Okay, so now they need to try to determine the reason for the bias.

Is there a similar bias in other university departments?

The study's results suggest gender bias is alive and detrimental to a field where talents and skills are so needed

Isn't that premature? I don't see anything in the study that looked at whether it is detrimental or not. Things that are unfair or unpleasant are not always detrimental. You can't just say something like that in a study without at least citing some reference. For example, does the bias force women to work harder than the men, leading to an outcome such as getting more work done for less money? Does it lead women to leave the field prematurely, or not? If they do leave the field prematurely, does it lead to an unsatisfactory outcome, or are they doing something else that might be important in stead?

It could be an example of the broken window paradox in economics, or not.
4 / 5 (4) Sep 21, 2012
I've seen women work on their PhD and having a baby during that time. It's difficult but doable. Still - I can see where not every woman would be able to do both at the same time.

For the department it would be a complete loss because someone cannot just step in and take over someone else's research project. Everyone has their own ideas when doing research - so the approach of one person is seldom compatible to the approach utilized by the next.ö

So what's the solution? There needs to be better support for time off for maternity (ability to work from home, on-site child care, etc. ) - so that employers don't need to fear that a woman will drop out completely.

2.3 / 5 (3) Sep 21, 2012
What I find interesting about this study is that most of the scientists I work with all agree that we desperately need more girls in math and science. In addition, most of the scientists I know are the least likely to make any professional distinctions based on gender. We care about the science, the data and the results. We don't usually care where one wears their genitalia.
2.6 / 5 (5) Sep 21, 2012
How many women are spending time to dispute various technical issues here? My feeling is, I'm surrounded with all guys here. This points to the source of the bias. Personally, I don't know about any women, who enjoys the programming of simulations of for example construction of electronics for pure entertainment.
3.7 / 5 (3) Sep 21, 2012
Many women are whining, they're not handled equally in various academic positions, but which women actually run the web sites with Java simulations, electronics or chemical experiments? It would be quite easy to organize a review of blogs and technical sites - but nobody does it, because the result is evident already. These purely voluntary activities demonstrate, that the gender role of women in technical sciences is actually highly overestimated: the women aren't interested about these stuffs "in their hearts" so to say and they've no patience to deal with it - which I presume is connected with their biological role. There is no deeper social background for deeper involvement of women in technical sciences.
1 / 5 (1) Sep 21, 2012
We don't usually care where one wears their genitalia.

Come on. Don't tell me you don't find a woman doing science sexy as hell.

But yes: that mirrors my experience. We had about 30% women doing their PhD while I was there and an extra program to get more women from the the universities interested in going on.
2.6 / 5 (5) Sep 22, 2012
Programs should be based on merit, not gender or any other non-intellectual qualifier.
1 / 5 (1) Sep 22, 2012
Model for a real world policy: Number the applicants. Pick the the hire by the number identifier. Hand that to personel and have them contact the name that goes with the number. Interviews can be handled by email or masked voice phonecalls. No appearances, ugly, good-looking, race or gender in the equation. Background checks would be handled by personel as well. Will never happen but it would be an interesting to see if there would be a positive bump in competency. Administrative nightmare perhaps...
5 / 5 (2) Sep 22, 2012
While it would factor out the bias somewhat, I'm still pretty sure that personality/chemistry is important if you're hiring someone.

You'll have to work with that someone for some years at least. Ability is not the only factor that makes someone a good coworker (or faculty member/lecturer - as probably everyone here can attest to from their school/college/university days)
1 / 5 (8) Sep 22, 2012
Come on. Don't tell me you don't find a woman doing science sexy as hell.
Its too bad we're tropical animals with no mating season. Imagine if, during most of the year, we werent attracted to the opposite sex? How can we be totally objective in our relationships with this distraction constantly in play?

Domestication is not enough. We can learn to pretend to ignore that dog biscuit on the end of our nose. But I think that our transition to a temperate species should be something proactive (surprise - it already is.)

-People in the future will opt to do away with these pesky, embarrassing organs and hormones altogether so they can concentrate on their work. http://www.youtub...8834iCgo

-Dont you concur AA?
not rated yet Sep 22, 2012
Nah. I just think a brain on a woman is very attractive.

I take the view that occasionally its nice to talk to your partner. Especially when thinking about long term relationships. Then it's nice if she has actually something to say that isn't fluff (or even shares your interest in growth - intelectually and as a human being - both of which are immesurably aided by having some intellectual capacities in the first place).

opt to do away with these pesky, embarrassing organs and hormones altogether so they can concentrate on their work.

I see no reason why we should get rid of some organs. Life's not all work, you know?
And as for pesky or embarassing: what's pesky or embarassing about them? Some religions may like to see it that way, but you know me: I don't particularly listen too what religions are telling me is 'moral' or not in their book.
1 / 5 (11) Sep 22, 2012
I was asking rhetorically. Sex is nice to have but it is like ice cream - if it didnt exist we would not miss it. We will be a lot healthier without it, both individually and as a species.

Religion was created basically to mediate our propensity to overpopulate, and to mitigate the effects of it. 'There is a Time to embrace and a Time to refrain.' Only a god can force women to bear children until it kills them, or to be content with the schlub they married for any length of time.

Do not worry - propagation and child rearing will one day be outsourced and handled by professionals. This most important aspect of the species is the only one still allowed to be done by rank amateurs. This will sooner or later end. Crime will disappear, among other benefits.

Public education is only the beginning of the process of separating humans from the incompetence of their parents. Some day the child will again be raised by the village, as it should be.
5 / 5 (1) Sep 22, 2012
I think that women are less hireable than a man. The woman may be EVERY bit as competent as a man. A man, however, doesnt go on maternity leave. A woman getting pregnant and having to leave has absolutely nothing to do with her intelligence, but it can still put a strain on the workplace.
5 / 5 (1) Sep 22, 2012

Public education is only the beginning of the process of separating humans from the incompetence of their parents. Some day the child will again be raised by the village, as it should be.

The incompetence of their parents? Part of the reason why my wife and I are considering home schooling our child is because we've seen the idiots that get through college with education degrees and teaching certificates. I'd say that about 20% of those students ACTUALLY want to be teachers. The other 80% are there because they flunked out of their first major.
2 / 5 (23) Sep 22, 2012
Otto - "Public education is only the beginning of the process of separating humans from the incompetence of their parents. Some day the child will again be raised by the village, as it should be."

Speak for yourself ashtray boy.
My wife and I homeschooled up to 9th grade and produced 3 high school valedictorians and college grads.

Propogation and child raising outsourced? You're a moron.

If you want to do away with your pesky organs you can. Donate them if you're not using them. Somewhere out there is a mouse that needs replacements.

1 / 5 (9) Sep 23, 2012
You do seem to be a paragon of something or other esai. According to you. You also seem to have a nasty vindictive streak. Too much bile? Poor potty training?

For every relative success there are many relative failures. Child rearing is far too important to be left up to rank amateurs who damage their kids in the womb and fill their heads with a lot of nonsense when they are too young to know the difference. You know like how it's ok to play sports and smoke like daddy?

Like I say, removing kids from households and putting them in classrooms is an early and very positive step.
4.2 / 5 (5) Sep 24, 2012
I know a family of 7 children, most of whom were homeschooled, they're all very intelligent, talented and do very well.
1 / 5 (4) Sep 24, 2012
If you want to do away with your pesky organs you can. Donate them if you're not using them. Somewhere out there is a mouse that needs replacements.
Well here you go esai:

"(CBS News) Men who are castrated may trade what they're losing for extra years of lifespan, new research suggests.

A genealogical study of eunuchs of the Korean Chosun dynasty published in the Sept 24 issue of Current Biology finds that men who were castrated lived almost 20 years longer than other men of the same time periods.

"Our study supports the idea that male sex hormones decrease the lifespan of men," wrote the researchers, led by Kyung-Jin Min of Inha University.

Animal studies show castration - removing the source of male sex hormones, the testes - can prolong lifespan in males, but the effect hasn't been seen in humans."

-You quit smoking, why not give up your gonads cold turkey and live longer still? They dont seem to be doing you much good anyways-
2 / 5 (21) Sep 24, 2012
You seem to have an unatural interest in my gonads...