Thus Spake Zuska

Rebutting Rachel

Over at Dr. Free-Ride’s pad, Ken C. is most distressed that no one has attempted to debate our dear friend Rachel’s serious critique of the NSF report, Beyond Bias and Barriers.

Knowing how ably Rachel dissected the work of that horribly biased panel that put together that shoddy piece of work, I nevertheless shouldered the burden of taking on a point by point rebuttal of her main claims. You can find this rebuttal over at Dr. Free-Ride’s, just below Ken C.’s whining. Here’s a taste (quoting myself):

Well, Rachel is a freshman, and so perhaps she has not yet had a lot of experience with complicated graphics. Her analysis of Figure 3.6 on page 105 of the report is mistaken. Nowhere on the figure is there a three-year differential between men and women in age at assistant professor in any category. Data are for all faculty, married, single or parents. I could find nothing in the discussion of Figure 3.6 that attributes the difference in age at assistant professor to childbirth. In all STEM fields, average age at assistant professor is 34 for women, 32 for men. This might more likely reflect a longer time in the postdoc pool for women – but whatever, let’s ignore the age difference. How long till from assistant to associate? Average time is 5.5 years for women compared to 4.7 years for men. Then, time to full professor: 5.6 years for women, 5 years for men. Time to full professor step 6: 8.9 years for women, 8 years for men. From the time they become assistant professors, it takes women on average 2.3 extra years to traverse the entire tenure pathway. This has nothing to do with them starting the tenure pathway two years older on average than men. Rachel has taken 2.3 years, subtracted “1-3 years”, and gotten “.1 years”. I hope she did okay on her engineering math tests. Rachel also does not mention that Figure 3.6 is comprised of data from one institution, UC Berkeley, though the report notes that similar patterns were shown at other universities including Duke and MIT.


  1. #1 Renee
    November 21, 2006

    With regards to Rachel’s alleged inability to subtract, I believe you are wrong. If you take the white bars in the category “all science” which represent the period of time to get from “full professor” to “full professor step 6,” you’ll notice that 8.5-8.4 = .1, which is exactly what she said. I’m guessing she did just fine on her math prelims.

    Does the context of the awards matter? Isn’t it simply an issue of women getting more than their fair share? Maybe she wanted to find out more about the awards than the little 5 sentence blurb that came before the chart?

    For an interesting table, check out Table 3-4 on page 82, “reasons for switching to non-SEM major.” It says a lot right there, especially with the high proportion of women listing “rejection of SEM careers and associated lifestyles.” Also notice that 26% of men listed “morale undermined by competition” when only 4% of women listed it as a reason for leaving the field.

  2. #2 Daniel
    November 21, 2006

    You do realize that “reasons for switching to non-SEM majors” has little or nothing to do with gender bias in the workplace, don’t you?

    But just in case you don’t, here’s an alternative explanation to the data on table 3-4 that you refer to: maybe women are just already prepared to work harder, accepting that they will face more obstacles in their careers than men already, whereas men are predisposed to being able to find easier routes to success. I know that as a man, I have had it good, and that in undergrad I probably had just that mentality. And I saw it in my female fellow students in high school and college too – they honestly worked harder than I did, and although I did fine, I had the aptitude to do far better than I did (I’m ashamed to admit).

    So, wouldn’t that make the women that have faced real discrimination that much more courageous? Wouldn’t the suggestion that women still take longer to reach tenure, despite working extremely hard, constitute even stronger evidence of bias?

  3. #3 Lisa
    November 21, 2006

    Although it’s pointless to nitpick about this, I wouldn’t want Renee’s question to go unanswered simply because nobody else was in the mood to nitpick. (As we all know, some people assume that they have won when nobody answers their argument, when really everyone is just too tired to repeat the obvious over and over again).
    A quote from the article: “The actual time difference between males and females reaching ‘full professor step 6’ status across fields in ‘all sciences’ is .1 years, or 36 days.” If she meant the time between going from full professor to full professor step 6, she should’ve said that! Including more context just makes it worse for Renee’s case. She just says the time difference, so as readers we would assume she means she means the total, not the small-part-of-the-total-time-difference-that’s-least-important-overall-but-most-convenient-for-her time difference.
    I know it’s depressing if you’re going into academics, but those numbers on the graph are NOT cumulative–the 8.4 is not the total of all the time it took men to get from assistant professor to full prof. step 6, but just the last step in the process. This is rather obvious if you look at the years numbered at the bottom of the graph, or if you realize that men couldn’t possibly get to assistant professor in 4.4 years and then get to full professor with a cumulative time of 4.3 years.

  4. #4 Daniel
    December 13, 2006

    Related to this topic, I just saw an interesting book that a pair of Cornell professors of Human Development are putting out:
    Why more women aren’t in science, and I thought it might be of interest to you.

    Is the reason why more women don’t go into science or engineering because teachers, parents or others hold them back? Is it because they are not as interested in scientific fields as they are other disciplines or because they aren’t up to the math and science challenges? Or is it because such institutional barriers as biased promotion practices prevent them from pursuing tenure and launching a family at the same time?

    These are the issues explored in the new book, “Why Aren’t More Women in Science? Top Gender Researchers Debate the Evidence,” edited by Cornell professors of human development Stephen J. Ceci and Wendy M. Williams.

    “Specifically, we examine the question of how much of the variance in successful scientific performance is attributable to cognitive differences between men and women,” write the editors in their introduction. “Readers will also find discussions of many noncognitive factors, such as willingness to work excessively long hours at one’s science job, the demands outside of the job that impinge on women’s science participation and why there continues to be debate about the meaning of the constructs of ability, achievement and intelligence.”

  5. #5 Daniel
    December 13, 2006

    Oops, I meant to keep the second and third paragraphs in the blockquotes as well.

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