Stereotype propagation in the NY Times

John Tierney had a piece in Tuesday's New York Times on "A new frontier for Title IX: Science." Anyone who's read anything by Tierney before knows to expect anti-woman idiocy, but the Times dignified his piece by putting it not in the opinion section, but in the science section. And that poor editorial decision makes the piece worth responding too.

If you haven't yet read the article, here's how Tierney starts out:

The members of Congress and women's groups who have pushed for science to be "Title Nined" say there is evidence that women face discrimination in certain sciences, but the quality of that evidence is disputed. Critics say there is far better research showing that on average, women's interest in some fields isn't the same as men's.

Tierney's phrase "critics say..." translates to "I'm going to ignore decades of research on bias and barriers and focus on the few studies that favor my personal opinion."

I don't have the stomach to deconstruct the whole piece, but fortunately two excellent bloggers (and probably others as well) have already taken on the task.

Physioprof (guest-blogging at Feministe) smacks down Tierney step-by-step (with his usual colorful language). Among his steps:

Step 5: Women "just happen" to like "dealing with people" instead of "manipulating objects and machines", which is for MANLY MEN!!!1!! It's just like in caveman times: the MANLY MAN cavemen manipulated objects and hunted down vicious wild animals while women chatted with one another by the campfire.

Pat at Fairer Science does a fantastic job
rephrasing Tierney, showing us his (il)logic, and writing a letter to the NY times. Here's a sampling:

Yup the reason girls don't go into the physical sciences and engineering must be genetic (unlike those pesky social and life sciences). And if that is your conclusion before you write the article, it is really helpful if you limit your interviewees to those who have already decided "gee girls just don't like science and math"

If you blogged about the Tierney piece, or saw other posts around the Internets, please add links in the comments. Feel free to share your thoughts on the "article" as well...

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John Tierney's tenure as a political pundit was painful, until I learned to ignore him. Fortunately that's a lesson that has carried over to his new position. What I haven't gotten used to is thinking of the editors of the NY TImes as the kind of clueless drooling idiots who would decide that a failed political commenter could be recycled into a science columnist.

While this piece is painful reading the commentary on it over at (hotbed of geekdom) was even more unpleasant. In the introduction to the segment biology was equated to law and education, separate and unequal to engineering and the "hard" sciences.

The commentary exemplified the ignorance surrounding this issue and would surely have made Zuska puke on their collective shoes.

By JustaTech (not verified) on 17 Jul 2008 #permalink

So does anyone have a substantive rebuke of Tierney or is a link to PhysioProf's inanities considered a refutation?

By R. Totale (not verified) on 17 Jul 2008 #permalink

If one wants to prove one's opinion, however biased or inane, one can certainly find at least one or two studies out there, especially if one is willing to misinterpret the findings. This is Tierney's methodology. Women do not populate professorships in the "hard" sciences in large numbers, ergo they must do badly in them. If we look at test scores in high schools, there even seems to be some evidence to back this up (especially if we restrict our data to the U.S., or at least to the West, generally). But, if we back up to pre-adolescence, the whole notion falls apart, as girls tend to do better than boys, not worse, in science and math. And, if we look at test scores in countries like Japan, Korea, and China, girls and young women once again have stellar performance. So, clearly, the "problem" is not genetic -- or, at least, not based purely on sex. But, people like Tierney wouldn't look at ALL that data because it wouldn't fit their views, would it?

Rebecca and Argus - thanks for adding your links. (Argus, I *love* the idea of "title-nining" parents' shopping carts!)

R. Totale - If you are honestly looking for something more substantive than physioprof (and don't confuse color with fluff), you could start with Rebecca's post linked in the comment directly above yours. You could also read many of the posts on Pat's Fairer Science blog. Or you could go straight to the source and look at the NAS Beyond Bias and Barriers report. But my guess is that you won't bother but will simply complain again the next time these issues come up.

No, ScienceWoman, I really have no opinion on the matter as I haven't looked much into it. That's why I read. To find things out. If you are telling me to go somewhere else for information, then fine, I will.
And don't confuse color with substance.

By R. Totale (not verified) on 18 Jul 2008 #permalink

Tierney is unfazed by actual data because what he is doing is an act of propaganda. Reality is not relevant here; he's trying to achieve a goal, which is to convince otherwise uninformed minds that applying the law of the land, Title IX, to educational settings where it is actually applicable, will RUIN SCIENCE!!!!!!11!!!!!11!! He is a foot soldier in Christina Hoff Sommers war, which is sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute. I really need to do a blog post on all of this but I have been away taking care of mom and am going into the hospital tomorrow for a minor surgical procedure. Hope to get to this later this week.

The question for us is, how do you counteract propaganda? We are not ever going to "convince" the Tierney's of the world with ever more elegant and elaborate and comprehensive data sets that discrimination and bias exist. They may or may not believe that such bias exists; doesn't matter; their goal is to shore up the patriarchy. Talking back to people like Tierney point by point takes so much time, and lazy minds don't want to listen; so much simpler to hear and believe "those radical wimminz is ruinin teh scienz!" This is the uphill battle we have to fight.