Thus Spake Zuska

From the Chronicle daily update:

The White House announced on Tuesday the winners of the 2005 National Medals of Science, the nation’s highest scientific honor. The prizes recognize achievement in the physical, biological, mathematical, social, behavioral, and engineering sciences.

I’m shocked, shocked! to discover no women’s names on the list of honorees.

And now…let the comment whiners commence whining

Comments

  1. #1 Dennis
    May 31, 2007

    Perhaps you could provide a list of names of the women who should have been honored?

  2. #2 Zuska
    May 31, 2007

    And…..we have a winner! Or whiner! Whatever! Dennis is first in the Whine-Off. Dennis chose to go with the very popular, if somewhat dated, old reliable, “give us the names of deserving women” Whine. It’s been a classic opening Whine for a reason, you know; appears to make the Whiner a Rational Inquirer In Search Of The Truth, rather than someone who is saying You Aren’t Allowed To Point Out Unpleasant Realities Unless You Can Also Simultaneously Solve The Problem Raised.

    Were I to fashion myself an expert in all the “physical, biological, mathematical, social, behavioral, and engineering sciences” and dub myself a Committee of One Responsible For Choosing Presidential Medal Winners, I’d be happy to supply you with as many names as you’d like. I don’t, however, think that’s my job description. There was, however a committee that was charged with locating suitable nominees. We might better spend our time asking them why they were unable to find even a single woman in the entire nation in any of the physical, biological, mathematical, social, behavioral, and engineering sciences who was worthy of a medal.

  3. #3 Kapitano
    May 31, 2007

    Ooh Ooh! I’ve got an idea! I know how we can remove sexism from science!

    Let’s have a seperate set of awards…just for women!

    That’ll stop them moaning about discrimination.

    [Beaming Smile]

    What?

  4. #4 Peggy
    May 31, 2007

    Disappointing and surprising they couldn’t find a single woman to name. Only 6% of the recipients have been female (30 out of 495) which is an even lower percentage than the National Academy of Science female membership.

    (And is there some reason why the 2005 awards are only being announced now? Sounds like government bureaucracy at its finest.)

  5. #5 Science Avenger
    May 31, 2007

    OK Zuska, let me see if I can give you a response you haven’t heard before. I argue with creationists a lot, so I know how boring that can get.

    I want to be with you. Really, I do. As an overly small, socially inept kid who moved to different schools every year or two, and was therefore always the outsider who didn’t know the rules (you’d be amazed at how different they are across the country), I have vast life experience being shorted on recognition of accomplishment that had to do with something unconnected to merit. It gets to piss you off after a while when it happens over and over again. And the best part is getting to hear how great someone else is that you outperformed on any objective measure, but he was taller, more popular, grew up next door to the pincipal, and didn’t have an “attitude problem”. AND of course if you say anything about it, you’re just jealous, which of course is what gave you the attitude problem. The merits of your argument are never really considered.

    So it’s not like I can’t relate. But I also don’t think men and women have identical interests and talents, and so I don’t necessarily expect them to perform equally as a group on everthing, and certainly not in the tail of the distribution that gets awards (eg black men dominating the 100 meter dash). And I’ve never been persuaded on the issue of discrimination of women in science. Maybe I just lack exposure to the data that makes the case. Maybe I’m just a closet scientific chauvanist, biased by the fact that many of my heroes growing up were scientists and they were all men. Maybe it’s because I was married to a veterinarian, am close friends with a geologist, and am close to my aunt who was a math teacher, and none of those woman has ever said much about the issue. They’ve talked about being intellectually dismissed per their gender growing up, but never professionally.

    And really, if ever there was a place where women would get a fair shake, wouldn’t it be science, where data and sound reasoning is held in higher esteem than anywhere else? I mean where do muscles and machismo mean less? Hell, much of the time when I’m reading a science article, I don’t even know if the author is a woman or not, nor do I care. Maybe I’m just not the norm.

    But yeah, zero women out of eight certainly caused me to raise an eyebrow nonetheless. Tell me this. What exact form does the discrimation take? Less access to grants and labs? Exclusion from informal clubs? Outright double intellectual standards? Similar hiring and promotion biases in universities that exist in corporations? Something else?

  6. #6 Zuska
    May 31, 2007

    Maybe I just lack exposure to the data that makes the case.

    Yep

    Maybe I’m just a closet scientific chauvanist, biased by the fact that many of my heroes growing up were scientists and they were all men.

    Don’t know if you are a chauvinist, but I’m sure you, like all of us, are affected by gender schemas.

    Maybe it’s because I was married to a veterinarian, am close friends with a geologist, and am close to my aunt who was a math teacher, and none of those woman has ever said much about the issue.

    This is the old “I know a woman, and she doesn’t think discrimination exists, so it must not” defense. See: false consciousness, denial as a defense/survival mechanism, queen bee syndrome, not having the words to describe/classify experience.

    They’ve talked about being intellectually dismissed per their gender growing up, but never professionally.

    So….they’ve been intellectually dismissed, but this has had nooooo effect on them? They have to spend time, mental and emotional energy dealing with some asshat who wants to put them down; that’s time, mental and emotional energy that could go to something else. That’s mentoring and encouragement that didn’t happen. That’s discrimination. Now add that up over a lifetime and see what happens.

    And really, if ever there was a place where women would get a fair shake, wouldn’t it be science, where data and sound reasoning is held in higher esteem than anywhere else?

    You would think. And yet…quid pro quo sexual harassment still occurs, Sciencewoman recently detailed on her blog how she was blatantly discriminated against in a job search because of being pregnant, there’s the Swedish paper showing in detail how women postdocs have to be 2.5 times more productive than men to be considered equally for fellowships, we know that papers sent out under men’s names or with just an initial rather than first name get evaluated higher than papers sent out under a woman’s name, same for c.v.’s….ah, I gotta stop, I’m getting depressed.

    I mean where do muscles and machismo mean less?

    You would think. And yet, in engineering, women are discriminated against precisely in these ways; “She can’t work on the shop floor/construction site; it’s too rough for a woman, she’s too delicate”.

    Hell, much of the time when I’m reading a science article, I don’t even know if the author is a woman or not, nor do I care. Maybe I’m just not the norm.

    No, but I bet you pay attention to which university/lab group it came from…and access to prestigious universities/lab groups depends on good mentoring and being helped along the way and evaluated as promising and so on…and we know women aren’t getting a fair shake in all that. Women may be doing great work, but in locations that aren’t perceived to be sources of great work, and their work may be undervalued just because of where they are.

    But yeah, zero women out of eight certainly caused me to raise an eyebrow nonetheless. Tell me this. What exact form does the discrimation take? Less access to grants and labs? Exclusion from informal clubs? Outright double intellectual standards? Similar hiring and promotion biases in universities that exist in corporations? Something else?

    Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes something else, but writing this has made me weary enough.

  7. #7 Peggy`
    May 31, 2007

    And really, if ever there was a place where women would get a fair shake, wouldn’t it be science, where data and sound reasoning is held in higher esteem than anywhere else?

    When I was a young science student I assumed that science would be an almost pure meritocracy. The pursuit of knowledge would trump everything (stop laughing, I was young). The reality is that scientists are human beings, and have prejudices and personal issues just like the rest of the population. Growing up in a culture that assumes that men are inherently better at math and science than women colors everyone’s perception of the abilities of female scientists. The thing is much of the sexism is not overt, and I personally never heard anyone actually say that women were bad at science, so it took me a long time to shake my idealistic assumptions.

  8. #8 Agnostic
    May 31, 2007

    Damn, we rock!

  9. #9 T. Bruce McNeely
    June 1, 2007

    I really haven’t got first-hand knowledge of this issue, even though I have had a life-long interest in science and have an undergraduate degree in chemistry. I ended up getting an MD and specializing in Pathology, so at best, I’m an applied scientist. My interest is renewed since my younger daughter is very bright and is interested in earth sciences despite being only 6 years old. What do I do? Encourage her to consider a career in research, something I have only done as a sideline? Encourage her to consider a lucrative field like oil geology or mining engineering. Or medicine or environmental law? Or teach public school?
    I guess all I can do is know her well enough that I can trust whatever decision she makes, and support her (including letting her know the good AND bad of whatever choice she makes). I have to admit, I have a cynical view of research as a career, not just for the male chauvinism involved, but the politics in general, which I couldn’t master. I don’t want to kill the desire to do research in my daughters if that’s what they want to do, however, I can’t help but feel that it is a poor career choice for anyone but the superstars.

  10. #10 etbnc
    June 1, 2007

    The reality is that scientists are human beings, and have prejudices and personal issues just like the rest of the population.

    I find that a very interesting observation.

    It seems to me that the culture of science espouses very high value of impersonal information. Social feedback within the culture of science amplifies its effect, I suspect. It appears to me the espoused value of impersonal information has become the main reason the reality of human participation seems so difficult to see.

    The culture of science greatly values its own blind spot. I perceive that many participants in the culture of science behave as if they believe that blind spot is a great strength. Maintaining that blind spot seems to be part of the reinforcing feedback that defines the social culture of science.

    That feedback keeps the culture of science stable. Stable, but in a less than optimal state. It seems to me that if the culture of science is to become stable in a more realistic, humanly satisfying state, that it will require some other, new stabilizing feedback.

    For me the key question is this:

    Can participants in the culture of science find value in acknowledging human participation?

     

  11. #11 Dennis
    June 1, 2007

    Gee, nice of you to leap to conclusions and make blanket assumptions about me based on one questions. No, I wasn’t whining. Yes, I’m disturbed that nary a single woman was honored. If they’re not going to get a medal, I would at least like to see a few honored here.

    Instead, you jump to conclusions and attack me for all the world to see. Thanks much.

  12. #12 Zuska
    June 1, 2007

    My apologies, Dennis. The question you asked is one that has been posed before in other contexts on this blog, for exactly the reasons I ranted about in my…rant.

  13. #13 Science Avenger
    June 1, 2007

    This is the old “I know a woman, and she doesn’t think discrimination exists, so it must not” defense. See: false consciousness, denial as a defense/survival mechanism, queen bee syndrome, not having the words to describe/classify experience.

    It was more like the outspoken women I know never mention this subject, so perhaps that gives me a bias against the reasonableness of such a thesis. More data seems the answer.

    So….they’ve been intellectually dismissed, but this has had nooooo effect on them? They have to spend time, mental and emotional energy dealing with some asshat who wants to put them down; that’s time, mental and emotional energy that could go to something else. That’s mentoring and encouragement that didn’t happen. That’s discrimination. Now add that up over a lifetime and see what happens.

    I take your point. In fact, these women I know could be described without venom as having a bit of a chip on their shoulder re their intellect, resulting I think, from spending much of their early life around men that, as one of them put it, “acted like my brain didn’t work because I have ovaries”. They no doubt then get criticized for that trait, as if it came out of the blue. “Why are you shouting?” “Because you ignored me when I whispered”.

    …there’s the Swedish paper showing in detail how women postdocs have to be 2.5 times more productive than men to be considered equally for fellowships

    Link? I’d like to read that.

    we know that papers sent out under men’s names or with just an initial rather than first name get evaluated higher than papers sent out under a woman’s name, same for c.v.’s….ah, I gotta stop, I’m getting depressed.

    No, no, this is fabulous. Your efforts are not wasted. I wanted information and you are giving me a good dose of it. This study would be even better than the other one, because it’s got more objective measures, and could get a large data set rather easily and inexpensively.

    …in engineering, women are discriminated against precisely in these ways; “She can’t work on the shop floor/construction site; it’s too rough for a woman, she’s too delicate”.

    Now I know they aren’t hanging around the same women I am. That would never occur to me. I’ve climbed many 14k mountains, which can be quite physically demanding for us flatlanders, and while I’ve had several men turn back unable to continue, the women I’ve brought are batting 100%.

    Thanks for the education, I look forward to checking out those links.

  14. #14 Zuska
    June 2, 2007

    The Swedish study is by Wenneras and Wold and was originally published in Nature. I think this link is good.
    http://www.advancingwomen.org/files/7/127.pdf The original citation is Wenneras C, Wold A. Nepotism and sexism in peer-review. Nature. 1997;387:341-343.

    For some of the other information I would suggest reading Virginia Valian’s book “Why So Slow? The Advancement of Women” http://www.amazon.com/Why-So-Slow-Advancement-Women/dp/0262720310 You might also want to explore Virginia Valian’s website http://maxweber.hunter.cuny.edu/psych/faculty/valian/valian.htm and check out some of her tutorials on gender schemas and science careers.

    I hope you find these resources helpful.

  15. #15 david borja
    June 5, 2007

    your original post is a major whine– and a major bore. lots of cheapshots too, dismissing any criticsim as whining. Might as well just cut to the chase and admit you want gender quotas.

  16. #16 Heffalump
    June 19, 2007

    It’s not as if Zuska is complaining about a 40/60% split…we’re talking miserable numbers here, less that 10%, and as the Guerilla Girls once said, numbers that low have to be the result of discrimination, whether conscious or unconscious. I mean, women only make up 6% of Science Medal winners? I bet more that 6% of scientists are women. Anyone know how many were nominated? What about the gender makeup of the deciding committee?

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