Who's the Audience for Tierney's Shtick?

Over at Boing Boing, Maggie Koerth-Baker says "I wanted to know what actual female scientists thought" about the boring blah blah John Tierney barfed up this week in the NYT. And then gives links to four different responses, included the fabulous Isis's awesome take on why she is bored to tears with this topic.

Personally I would rather be forced to watch the second Transformers movie on constant repeat for the next 10 years than continue to have this discussion, but since the New York Time's John Tierney seems to have his head shoved so far up his own ass that his can lick his own tonsils, I suppose we must. But, just know that I am doing it for the people. Not at all for my own amusement.


Isis makes the case in her inimitable and infinitely hilarious manner, but it is, as she states, tedious and boring beyond belief to have to go over this ground again and again. The only point in doing so is for the people - to equip any readers in need with useful talking points, jabby little things they can poke at clueless douchebags who are likely to come up to them and say "But I read in the NYT that 'Physics needs genius men or western civilization will CRUMBLE! 7th grade SAT scores CLEARLY show gender differences! Innate! Biology!' "

Because what Tierney's saying isn't new. He isn't making any new arguments, covering any new ground, he certainly isn't being "daring", he hasn't put forth anything that wasn't mocked, rebutted, deconstructed, and debunked a hundred different ways to death before this.

So why is he saying it? Is he really just that stupid that he is completely unaware of all the arguments against his points that have gone before him? Is he really that incapable of interpreting data, or of using google, or of researching a topic thoroughly to find out ZOMFG! There really ARE valid arguments against this stupid steaming pile of horseshit I've just typed!

No, of course he's not stupid, and he's not incapable of doing the research. He's not talking to us, either. He doesn't give a rat's ass what Zuska or Isis or any of the readers of our blogs or any other women scientists think about his steaming pile of misogynist horsecrap.

He is talking to those people who aren't sure. Who maybe never thought too much about this topic before. Who can be stirred to unease with visions of peoples' free speech being stifled with turns of phrase like this:

I'm all in favor of women fulfilling their potential in science, but I feel compelled, at the risk of being shipped off to one of these workshops, to ask a couple of questions:

See, I like the little ladies, I do! Let 'em go into science, if any of them actually want to, and "fulfill" themselves, till they get distracted with a pilates class, or a baby. But Jesus God, they are going to ship real manly men off to the gulags, and no one is going to dare to say what they really think anymore! WHAT IS HAPPENING TO OUR FREEDOMZ, PEOPLE???!!!?!??!

Dr. Summers was pilloried for even suggesting the idea...

They came for Larry, and I did not speak up. Now they are coming for all of the manly man scientists. Will you speak up? Because when they come for you, there will be no one left to speak up. They will all be zombies in state-run feminist workshops.

Would it be safe during the "interactive discussions" for someone to mention the new evidence...How could these workshops reconcile the "existence of gender bias" with careful studies...

Manly man scientists will be FORCED to do touchy-feely shit about gender that has NOTHING to do with evidence or careful studies!!!!!!! Science will be killed!!!!!!

Some have claimed he was proved wrong by recent reports of girls closing the gender gap on math scores in the United States and other countries. But even if those reports (which have been disputed) are accurate, they involve closing the gap only for average math scores -- not for the extreme scores that Dr. Summers was discussing.

"Some" = those angry activist women who are trying to take away your freedom of speech. Can you trust them? Would you give as much weight to the "claims" and "reports" of "some" as you would to a manly man like Dr. Summers and his X-treme scores? I think not.

But before we accept Congress's proclamation of bias, before we start re-educating scientists at workshops, it's worth taking a hard look at the evidence of bias against female scientists.

I've just given you a lot of blah blah with numbers and percents and right tale of the distribution, and I know you, John Q. Public, are mostly math illiterate and don't like to be made to think too hard. What you do understand, however, is Congress taking away your freedomz!!!! And the freedomz of other manly men! Are you going to let Congress send manly men scientists off to the gulag to be re-educated Soviet style? Let's take a hard manly look at this so-called evidence for the so-called bias against female scientists. Puh-leeze.

Tierney's column isn't written to be accurate, or survey the literature, or communicate with women scientists. It's written to get across a subtextual message to an audience of the general public, who doesn't want Congress taking away their freedomz, and conservative male scientists, who by god do not want to be forced to sit in one more goddamn workshop just because some stupid women still have their panties in a twist over Larry Summers, let it GO already, ladies, will ya? I'm tryna get some science done over here!

The legislation Tierney's disingenuously writing about still has to pass the Senate. He's writing to rally the troops. He only sounds stupid when you aren't in his target audience.

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That's a hell of a choice, isn't it? See the stupid for what it is, or be counted among those who are really worth talking to.

"He only sounds stupid when you aren't in his target audience."

Pot, meet kettle and so on and so forth...

By Anonymous (not verified) on 11 Jun 2010 #permalink

I love this part:

Would it be safe during the "interactive discussions" for someone to mention the new evidence...

Oh dear! Is Mr. Tierney worried that he might not feel safe speaking his mind? We should all make sure to provide HIM a safe environment to say that women are naturally inferior, because as we know, men don't have any safe space to say things like that (which we all know deep in our hearts despite any evidence against it) in and are naturally repressed by the culture. When women start arguing against him, he feels insecure, and no man should ever have to feel insecure.

Furthermore, views in line with Mr. Tierney's are stigmatized in the mainstream media. They won't print them! They silence anyone who dares to express them! It's political correctness gone amok!


By eigenperson (not verified) on 11 Jun 2010 #permalink

He is talking to those people who aren't sure.

IMHO you're giving him too much credit: his people are people who are sure, and need to keep hearing The Truth to keep the night terrors at bay. Same as the creationists, nativists, etc.

Formost among those people who need comforting, needless to say, is himself.

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 11 Jun 2010 #permalink

Right on, Anonymous! You are a daring truth teller just like Tierney!

I am 50% through Manufacturing Consent, and I have arrived at the conclusion that the new york times seems to print whatever reflects the opinion of the ultra rich. Sexism must be useful to em somehow. Dividng the general population with things like racism and sexism makes it less likely that people will band together based on the common experience of being completely screwed over by big business for the past 30 years or so. Wages have stagnated, minimum wage is unlivable, factory jobs were replaced with lower paying service positions, etc. That is my theory on why this sort of thing still gets a prominent place in the NYT.

Skeptifem is right. Tierney may not know he is a puppet of the exploitative Capitalist Patriarchy, but that is all he is. Or maybe he does know, every time his bosses tell him what they want, but he does not care about the scary future because he has zero sense of responsibility towards it.

It reminds me of the heart wrenching stories in the NYT discussing the trauma that men experienced when they were forced to endure workshops on sexual harassment in the workplace.

By thebewilderness (not verified) on 11 Jun 2010 #permalink

Praising assbackwards knuckledraggers like Summers for being "daring" is such a weak rhetorical device. You know who else is considered "daring" and "brave for standing up to the PC thugs" by their ideological brethren? White supremacists for example..

By i just lurk here (not verified) on 11 Jun 2010 #permalink

Someone characterized Rush Limbaugh's programs as "Not information, but affirmation." Mr. Tierney seems to be of the same cloth.

By Sweetwater Tom (not verified) on 12 Jun 2010 #permalink

Affirmation is the key word here. The reason Tierney's words are affirmation and not information is that the logic behind the entire argument against gender bias in the industry is flawed. The evidence cannot be conclusive either way because it is impossible to get an unbiased sample with which to make a study. An unbiased sample requires a level playing field to begin with. We don't have that. Tierney only emphasizes that point with cheesebag statements such as, "I'm all in favor of women fulfilling their potential in science..."
Read: Boys DO the science and change the world. Girls "fullfill their potential."
It's tedious, but we must continue to talk about it. Since by any sound logic there cannot be conclusive evidence, we (women in the hard sciences) have to BE the evidence.

The people who sing in Tierney's chorus usually concede that girls & women score higher than their male counterparts in tests of verbal skills.

Yet I've never seen any of them follow up by reporting figures of the gender ratios in university faculty dealing with, say, literature, linguistics, and law.

I guess some things are just too scary for even Daring Politically-Incorrect© Mavericksâ¢.

By Pierce R. Butler (not verified) on 12 Jun 2010 #permalink

I want, before I get too bored of this whole mess, to make one point: That it's possible this statistical "3:1 at the right-tail" bullshit (basic statistics grade: C+ for trying) is a real effect.

My personal observations in middle and high school was that high-achieving girls had more of a tendency to be all-rounders, and high-achieving boys had more of a tendency to excel in one or two things.

I postulate that this was because, in general, boys felt it was more acceptable to only pursue the things they liked, and dismiss anything they didn't like or weren't immediately good at as not worth the effort. Girls, in general, seemed to feel it was unacceptable not to perform their best in any class, no matter how they felt about the class.

Consequently, I feel this lack of depth to their educational achievements would, in general (funny how I have to put that caveat in every time so no one jumps down my throat) put boys at a "natural" disadvantage in the real workplace, whether in science or elsewhere.

I would also postulate, as a girl raised to believe her parents had no different expectations for her or her brother; who furthermore excelled in subjects she liked and dismissed subjects she didn't; and whose GRE scores would lead me to express the view that John Tierney can suck my metaphorical dick; that these differences are mostly, if not entirely, socially-driven.

By theshortearedowl (not verified) on 12 Jun 2010 #permalink

I also think it's hilarious how every time Tierney talks about the gender gap narrowing it's due to "sociocultural factors" and every time he talks about the gender gap maintaining it's due to innate differences.

Ugh. Must stop wasting my time on this pathetic man and his pathetic drivel.

By theshortearedowl (not verified) on 12 Jun 2010 #permalink

Tierney used to be a right-wing political columnist, if you remember. Apparently that's what qualifies him to be a science columnist. It's part of the New York Times effort to find some audience for it's rather second rate science section. When it comes to science, the Times seems to think cracker barrel opinion sells better. The interesting thing to me is that, unlike the op-ed page which tries to balance political sides, there's only Tierney's right-wing science opinion -- no liberal view of science in the "liberal" NYT. Is there sexism in scientific academia? Um, old news -- not a topic the Times is about to put any resources into. Are there social pressures that steer women away from science? More old news. Women are less able in science? Well, you can't call it old news because it's not news at all, but it does get people riled up, and as Fox et al show, getting people riled up is how you get an audience these days. So expect more claptrap from Tierney if you keep taking the Times.

By Albion Tourgee (not verified) on 13 Jun 2010 #permalink

Steven Pinker just posted this on twitter: Larry Summers has the last laugh: http://nyti.ms/9CXg9k

Apparently his sister Susan has a book:

"The Sexual Paradox: Men, Women and the Real Gender Gap takes a hard look at how fundamental sex differences play out in the workplace. By comparing fragile boys who later succeed, with high achieving women who opt out, Susan Pinker turns several assumptions upside down: that the sexes are biologically equivalent, that smarts are all it takes to succeed and that men and women have identical interests and goals. After decades of women's educational coups and rising through the ranks, men still outnumber women in business, physical science, law, engineering and politics. In explaining this ratio, Pinkerâs controversial stance is that discrimination plays just a bit part. If the majority of children with school and behavioral problems are boys, then why do so many overcome early obstacles, while rafts of high achieving women choose jobs that pay less or opt out at pivotal moments in their careers?

A provocative examination of how and why learning and behavioral gaps in the nursery are reversed in the boardroom, The Sexual Paradox: Men, Women and the Real Gender Gap reveals how sex differences influence ambition and success. Through real menâs and womenâs stories, combined with research evidence and examples from popular culture, Susan Pinker examines how weaknesses can become strengths, and why early achievements do not automatically translate into standard career triumphs."

Yeah, I could give her a few stories.

How the fuck is that "the last laugh"? Imagine you are his sister for a minute, and then think about how you could capitalize off of that. Writing a book that supports a sexist status quo and revives the same controversy (but with her as the center of attention) is a no brainer. WTF was he thinking? "Take that, feminists! A woman wrote a book supporting sexism!" uh, ok.

Jesus christ, I am supposed to take the stories of "real men and women" as proof of what? A nature vs nurture problem is NOT solved that way. Not that people into shit like EP know that.

I really, really wish that Stephen Jay Gould was still alive. I would love to read his response. Also, it would be pretty cool for him (that he was still alive, I mean).

@skeptifem: it really is interesting to see so-called scientists (you have to actually practice the method to be a scientist) using anecdotal evidence to prove their hypotheses. Do these people (Tierny, Summers, Pinker) ever describe how they are controlling for nature versus nurture? Do they ever say how their theories explain findings that contradict them? I feel like I have the same basic methodology questions every time I read one of their rants studies.

@SKM: That would be the coolest.

Yeah, interesting choice of words, "last laugh." Like it's some kind of childish competition, not about getting to the truth of the matter. Sam Harris also reposted Pinker's blurb. I unsubscribed from the Reason Project. Glad to know these blokes are gloating over women being smacked back into their place.