It's That Time Of Year Again

The National Academy of Sciences has announced its latest crop of members, and there are 16 - count 'em! 16! - women out of the 72 elected. The Chronicle of Higher Education spins this positively with the headline "16 Women Elected to National Academy of Science" and the following opening:

The National Academy of Sciences announced today the election of 72 new members, including 16 women. That's a significant reversal from just one year ago, when only nine women were inducted, the fewest since 2001.

The record year remains 2005, when 19 women were elected.

The academy, most of whose members are white and male, says it has been trying to do better to identify qualified candidates who are women and members of minority groups underrepresented in science.

I'm more inclined to agree with L, who commented:

Why does this piece make 16/72 sound like a triumph? It is an embarrassment that the NAS continues to over-emphasize the contributions of male scientists. Are women scientists supposed to feel grateful that they did not make the same mistake as last year, even though the rates are still pathetic?

Trolls, you may now begin your whining. Feel free to choose from any of the following standardized, tiresome, sexist responses, as with last year's post on this topic (plus a few additions to the list):

  • But we can't have the NAS lowering its standards just to admit women/minorities!
  • What, are you proposing quotas? That wouldn't be right! We have to have a system based on merit! Just like we have now, where all the deserving white men and the very, very, very few deserving white women and the very, very, very, very, very occasionally deserving minority man or woman gets elected in a totally unbiased process based solely on merit.
  • You are totally overreacting.
  • Are you saying the NAS should not elect men who deserve membership just so they can elect more women?
  • You are too shrill/whining/too angry. If you would be less/shrill/whiny/angry, people would be more likely to listen to you and take your argument more seriously.
  • You are too shrill/whiny/angry. I am going to stop reading you if you do not quit being so shrill/whiny/angry.
  • I am against sexism and bias and discrimination and my mother is a woman and I love her but I do not think that anything untoward is going on here.
  • Some powerful white guys are Teh Awesome and I think we can trust them to take care of things properly.
  • I would agree with you, but this data is not meaningful/reliable/relevant to the issue.
  • There aren't any qualified women. If there were, they would be elected.
  • There will be more qualified women in the future, we just have to wait for them to filter up through the ranks.
  • There will be more qualified women in the future, we just have to wait for the old sexists to die off.

Feel free to improvise along the lines of any of those remarks. Bonus points if you come up with a new type of carping.

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Not to troll, but what how does 16/72 compare to the ratio of women scientists eligible for selection to the National Academy?
I honestly don't have even an educated guess at the answer to that one, and I'm not saying that there isn't a potential bias, but I'd like to have a sense of just how serious this is. If 25% of the eligible candidates are women, it might not look so bad for the academy. If 50% are women, then there is obviously a real problem.

On the up side, one of the 16 is my former postdoc adviser.


By BiophysicsMonkey (not verified) on 30 Apr 2008 #permalink

I think you need to number the list so critical posts can just be: You're wrong because of 3, 4, and 19. It would greatly increase efficiency. Keeping such a list on the sidebar of your website would save a lot of time.

Here's some more carp:
These elections are based purely on publication record/quality and the nominating committees have little control over who actually is selected.
Women just don't self promote as well.
Most women study less relevant topics.
More men are at the intelligence extremes
Women innately aren't interested careers that lead them to NAS membership
More women were selected to join NAS, but they were too stingy to pay their annual dues.
More women were selected to join NAS, but they were too flaky to remember the secret handshake.

Well, I'm a white male and did not get selected, so I'm doing my part. I can think of several female colleagues who have a better shot at it than I ever would.

By Jim Thomerson (not verified) on 30 Apr 2008 #permalink

BSCI, those are excellent additions to the list! I probably should number them and put up a link to them. It would be a helpful service to my dedicated trolls.

"More men are at the intelligence extremes"

I love that one! Even though the averages are similar, we really have to look at the intelligence distribution SIX SIGMA AWAY. My field is so important that EVERYONE tries as hard as they can to get in, and they are let in based on intelligence alone!!! This is why, out of 6.6 billion people, I define 13 as the really cool scientists in my field. Even though I haven't looked in detail at the intelligence distribution near the tails, I KNOW it is a perfect normal distribution! I read about them in math class! I heard someone measured a difference between the averages and standard deviations of intelligence of men and women, and I can totally calculate normal distributions in Excel! So all differences between men and women are obvious if you just understand STATISTICS, like me! I CAN MAKE COOL GRAPHS!

I must say that I agree with PA's sentiments. Can we have some stats that give an estimate of just how much of a problem this is?

By Thomas M. (not verified) on 30 Apr 2008 #permalink

This post is TEH AWESOME. I am bookmarking it. In fact, we should make like a reference list or something.

Another one I've been hearing lately is that women are more "right brained". Whatever that means.

What's interesting is how, on a deeper level, discrimination is really just the generic tool that a majority group uses to leverage against a minority group. You could change 'women' to 'black' in the above example and it wouldn't lose anything. Discrimination is based on not only keeping a group of people down, but convincing them that they are paranoid to notice that anything might be going on and that, in fact, they are bringing it on themselves.

Just to respond to Thomas and PA. Let's assume that the NAS will only accept tenured faculty. The # of tenured faculty varies significantly by location. In the 10 campus University of California system, 25% of the tenured faculty are female (10,000f 30,000m). Thus, a 50-50% male-female split in NAS entry is unlikely at this time, but assuming everything else is fair, one would expect the # of women to sometimes be slightly above 25% and sometimes slightly below. The peak year was 26% and many years were much lower. If you add in the well documented evidence that, especially 10-20 years ago (and still true), a women had to produce more to achieve tenure, women should be over-represented. This is not the case, but it's another example to add to the list.

bsci: Thank you for addressing my question. I'm sure other things play into the equation too(number of publications, importance of those publications within their given field, etc.). However, if women (on average) have to work harder to achieve tenure than men it does follow that those women would probably have done as much or more than the men in the relevant fields required to get into the NAS. Thus, the percentage of women should certainly be higher than it currently is.

I wish to clarify my position, lest it be taken for trolling by other commenters: I'm not denying that sexism plays a part in the selection process; I'm sure it does to at *least* a small extent. I just don't like the idea of claiming (or implying) that a large number of women are being denied positions in the NAS for that reason without some sources to back it up, or at least an attempt to analyze the situation, rather than just making such a claim.

By Thomas M. (not verified) on 30 Apr 2008 #permalink

Yeah, I noticed the numbers. Did not read the article in the Chronicle, but don't need to. I can count. In fact I think I gave them more credit just trying to guess from the names- about 6 of them were ambiguous, so I guessed a max of 22.

But looking at your review from the last couple of years, 22 would have been a real triumph.

Oh well.

Anyway Zuska, thanks for keeping up the anger and rightful indignation. Sometimes I don't know how you do it. This kind of stuff just makes me depressed.

Ms PhD: thanks for the support! Actually, sometimes I don't know how I do it, either. This sort of work is very draining. Gardening and the kitties help keep me sane.