below is a joint blog entry with lee jussim. the title, pictures, and post-script are mine, the rest is posted on both of our blogs.
recently, two friends and scholars who are working together on scientific integrity stuff had a very sane and civil email discussion about gender representation in the scientific integrity debate and in STEM more generally. at the end of the discussion, neither had convinced the other but they decided it was still an interesting and informative discussion, and they decided to post it on their blogs for the world to see. you're welcome, world.
you can find simine’s blog here:
Lee Jussim and Simine Vazire
3. 1. 15 Lee:
I recently went to a social psychology symposium that I thought was quite good with one partial exception. The first 3-4min of the talk was on how women have been underrepresented in the scientific integrity/best practices in science discussions so far. The speaker had good data that was pretty convincing to me that this is true (gender of authors, gender of presenters, etc.). Almost whenever I hear this sort of thing, without any substantive followup as to how this bears on the substance of the actual arguments, it grates on me. It comes across (to me) as implying, without explicitly stating or providing a shred of scientific/intellectual justification, that there is something wrong with the arguments to date because the demographic distribution of the people making those arguments does not meet some ideal distribution (the ideal could be "in society" or in "the profession" or "attending SPSP" or whatever).
As I have written before, I strongly support taking active steps to increase diversity in all sorts of contexts. Also, I thought her actual, scientific perspective brings something important to the table. Still, the only thing the evidence about gender representation did for me was to elevate the superficial importance of the CYA efforts on diversity -- to increase the appearance of diversity to undercut such (in my view, underhanded and non-substantive) comments. It is hard for me not to see this as political posturing rather than substantive -- at least, she presented nothing substantive about this as if "everyone knows" that an unequal distribution was itself evidence of a problem (if unrepresentative distributions constitute such a case, I have four papers on the lopsided political distribution of social psychologists that she would find appalling assuming she applies the same standard that "underrepresentation is inherent evidence of a problem.") Most social psychologists will wiggle around this by saying the standard only applies to underrepresentation of groups they care about, not groups they do not care about or do not like. Which kinda makes social psychologists, IDK, like everyone else in the world. And which, to me, is classic double standards evidence of how severe the political problems are in the field, but I am now digressing.
That's interesting that you think the presenter/people are implying that a lack of diversity undermines the arguments/evidence. I would never have thought of that, and I suspect that wasn't the intention at all. I think it is important to point out these imbalances because they are so difficult to fix and can lead to a lot of disadvantage, and I think scientific integrity is a topic with especially extreme gender imbalance, which is really really troubling because I think (hope) the discussion about scientific integrity is the discussion about the future of our field, and if some groups are systematically underrepresented in that discussion, there is a risk they will be systematically disadvantaged in the new system that the discussion produces. If anyone says that the lack of representation undermines the quality of the arguments (without presenting any evidence), then I think that is completely wrong. But I think it is a very good thing that the presenter talked about this.
If it is not relevant to the scientific argument, then the main alternative would seem to be that it is raising the spectre of hostility/discrimination/disadvantage, in this case, without a hint of evidence (other than the distribution inequality itself). The idea that distributions alone represent discrimination is odd, as can be seen by the gender representation of SPSP. Put differently, the if "unequal distributions means discrimination/disadvantage" then one would be compelled to conclude that early career men are being subjected to nasty discrimination in social psych. People who really believe that should be going wild advocating for a massive program to increase the representation of men in the field*. It is not all that lopsided yet, but the trajectory is headed for massive lopsidedness. If the trajectory was in the other direction, people would be loudly objecting. How do I know? That SPSP talk would be a good place to start as anecdotal evidence...
I really do not like disputing anything with you, Simine, because I hold your views in such high regard. At the same time, I also do not like these sorts of implicit importation of agendas without evidence, and the double standards (in context of the distribution of SPSP) they imply. Is there really a shred of evidence that women are being rejected at higher rates for these events? Dismissed as irrelevant at any higher rate than anyone else? Maybe there is, but it was not presented. Absent evidence of either scientific relevance or disadvantage/discrimination, I am still left feeling like it was a section of the talk filled with insinuations without evidence, and wondering, what was the point?
* Demographic distribution of SPSP.
First, I want to say that I really really appreciate that we can have an open conversation about this, Lee, and I too very much respect your point of view and have no doubt that we share the same underlying values. And also, I enjoy disagreeing with you because it's rare to find someone I can disagree with and know that they will hear me out and even if we don't end up agreeing, I will be glad we had the conversation.
I have two reactions to your last email. The first is that you're right, I do think that underrepresentation of a group that has traditionally/historically been disadvantaged is an indirect sign of discrimination. (So it's not imbalance alone, but imbalance that tracks demographics or other lines that are associated with discrimination at the societal level.) I admit this is making some assumptions, but I think they are not crazy assumptions. And this is also why I don't get worked up about imbalances in the other direction - fewer men than women doesn't bother me too much because there have not been many barriers to entry that disproportionally affect men. (Also, the imbalance at the junior level is unlikely to trickle up very fast because of the leaky pipeline for women). So I admit that I do see imbalance/underrepresentation as a sign that there is some (probably unintentional) disadvantage or hardship that disproportionally affects women. I'm not sure I think it's necessarily discrimination, I don't think it has to be, it could be a lot of other small things that are not anyone's fault but still cause women to be at a disadvantage. I could tell you at least a dozen stories from my own experiences, all of which do not involve a 'bad guy', but constitute a disadvantage/obstacle nonetheless, and were, I believe, related to my gender. And I think you know me well enough to know I'm not the kind of person who sees sexism everywhere. (And, just to be clear, I also recognize that I have been extremely lucky in general and have had a lot of opportunities, and that some of those were because of my gender (i.e., affirmative action)).
My other reaction is that even if I give up on that point, and I agree, for the sake of argument, that imbalance does not provide any evidence of discrimination (or hardship or whatever you want to call it), I still think the imbalance itself is something we should try to fix. This is also related to the fact that women have historically (and still today) been at a disadvantage, so I think it is important to try to help make sure women are included in the most important 'clubs', whether that be informal conversations or formal organizations. If women are not at the table, even if it's for totally benign reasons, this is likely to lead to more disparity in outcomes, and I believe there is likely to be an interactive effect with sexism/discrimination such that a disadvantage, even one that had nothing to do with discrimination, will get compounded if the group being disadvantaged is also a group that suffers from discrimination at the societal level. Again, I am making a lot of assumptions, but I think they are reasonable (based on some empirical evidence, mostly descriptive stats from big surveys, and also from personal experience, which, while it might not be the best source of evidence, is really hard to ignore :)). Also, I think this second point is really important because many times when people are pointing out a dearth of women, they are doing so for this second reason (even if they also agree with the first), and I hope people won't assume that when we talk about gender we do so only because of concerns about overt discrimination. I'm not sure that the insinuations you are seeing are there, and I hope we could separate my first point from my second such that even people who disagree with me about the first would consider the second as a potentially good reason to care about gender (especially when the imbalance is in the women < men direction).
I bet you won't agree with me on many of these points, but I am curious if they at least make sense to you. And hopefully they will help explain why we see things differently. I would love to talk to you about this more sometime, it's really interesting for me to hear your thoughts!
Hey, Simine, while I do not find the inequality of distributions that tracks historical discrimination argument as suggesting ongoing discrimination at all persuasive (absent other independent evidence of ongoing discrimination)*, I actually do agree with and find your second set of points persuasive. First, when direct evidence is hard to come by, I have no problem admitting anecdotal evidence**.
Second, disproportions risk creating the appearance of hostility or not being welcome -- and that can become self-fulfilling. Thus, taking proactive steps to make sure people -- especially people who might be wondering whether people "like them" are welcome*** -- is usually something I do support.
* I recently reviewed a paper for Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It was essentially an audit-style experiment of faculty hiring in STEM fields. As an experiment, it was able to hold stuff constant and manipulate stuff. Women emerged with a 2:1 advantage in hiring. I'd give the reference, but I cannot do it till it is published, which, as of right now, I cannot be sure that it is. This stands in stark contrast to the Moss-Racusin/Dovidio study, which was about 1/5 the sample size, and did find modest favoritism for male applicants for a (relatively low grade, at least compared to faculty) lab manager position.
** On anecdotal information. Here are two true anecdotes. About 3 years ago, a student of mine submitted a proposal for a small grant from an internal Rutgers source to study how people's politics can lead to biased views of science. It was rejected on the entirely scientific grounds that the theory and importance was unclear, and there were problems with the method. When I reviewed the proposal, I saw no such problems, but I did see this:
“The field of psychology is dominated by liberals (Redding, 2001), and this political homogeneity can be problematic… In fact, content analysis of all the articles published in American Psychologist during the 1990s revealed that 97% had liberal themes (Redding, 2001). Furthermore, recent research suggests many social psychologists would blatantly discriminate based on politics (Inbar & Lammers, 2012)…”
"Oh, crap," I thought, "of course they rejected it -- it is telling them that this proposed project is on them, and that it proposes to catch them in the act of distorting science with their politics." Of course, I might have been wrong, those substantive comments might have been completely sincere and bona fide. How to distinguish the two? Run an anecdotal experiment -- anecdotal, because it is one shot (no random assignment of lots of people to conditions), but still an experiment (change one thing and see what happens!).
I instructed the student to delete the "offending" paragraph, and replace it with this:
“… Science has a long and checkered history of periodically being used and exploited as a tool to advance nefarious rightwing political agendas (e.g., social Darwinism; Nazi eliminationist practices; Herrnstein & Murray's (1994) claims about genetic bases of race differences in intelligence).”
We changed nothing else. The proposal was funded. Slamming Nazis, and Herrnstein & Murray, apparently, made the theory clear and cogent, and the methods valid and sound.
Anecdote 2. A collaborator of mine has been on a roll undoing the field's view of conservatives as incompetent and immoral. One avenue has been to show that, in areas where others have found cons more biased than libs, if you tweak the methods just a little bit, you get similar levels of bias, and conditions under which libs are more biased than cons. We had collaborated on a paper that demonstrated the latter (lib bias > con bias). It said so. We could not get it published.
He then had a brilliant stroke of insight. He reframed the paper, and, though the info is there in the tables and figures, took out all mention of lib bias > con bias from the text.
That version got published.
These are anecdotes. In the anthropology and qualitative social science literatures, they are called "lived experience."
*** See the references for my paper on a group very unwelcome in the social sciences, and for which there is massive inequality in distribution.
That paper I reviewed and referred to as being embargoed was just accepted. Although no one piece of research is ever definitive on these issues, or, probably, on any issue, I would say it is a must-read for anyone arguing that sexism is a major problem in STEM. It is also listed in the references.
To paraphrase and partially quote from the paper:
The 2:1 bias found in favor of hiring women for faculty positions means that it is a propitious time for a woman to be entering STEM fields.
A final note on "disadvantage." As you know, I am now in Australia for a conference. There is a pretty famous White guy who could not come because he has two small kids at home. A former student and ongoing collaborator of mine had a sabbatical. He wanted to spend it in Europe, with one of his his other collaborators. He couldn't because he has two small kids at home. For most of my career, I felt unable to do things like I am doing now (spending a year on sabbatical at Stanford, attending conferences and giving talks all over the world) because of the exact same thing. My sabbaticals were staybatticals. I turned down an invitation to Stanford’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS) early on because of that. I was not willing to uproot my family to search for jobs all over the country, probably depressing my income compared to those capable of doing such searches. I always thought of these decisions as "choices" not "disadvantages." However, if I wanted to use the rhetoric of disadvantage -- applied in this case to social psychologists with and without small children, and with or without strong geographically based family ties -- it would not be difficult. Years ago Bella DePaulo had a couple of articles about prejudice against single people. I am on a dissertation committee about prejudice against married people who choose not to have children.
When you carve out all the potential ways we are all "disadvantaged" there are very very few people left over as advantaged. I am not claiming an equivalence between all forms of "disadvantage" -- but I am claiming we have lost our way. Life's challenges and "disadvantage" are not the same thing, and, of course, those challenges are different for different people.
None of this is a case against proactively seeking diversity, whether for our conference or anything else. None of this argues against taking people's unique life circumstances into account in trying to accommodate and include them in things valuable and important. Nor am I denying the existence of bona fide, ongoing discrimination against certain groups. I do, however, reject the notion that unequal distributions are, by themselves, even suggestive of discrimination. Of course discrimination can produce unequal distributions, but it can also produce equal distributions (discrimination against a group that is in fact more highly qualified can produce an equal distribution*) and unequal distributions can result from many processes other than ongoing discrimination in the present.
P.S. Simine -- perhaps we should consider publishing an edited version of this back n forth? It is one of the few sane & civil discussions** of these issues I have ever seen, and the idea that we can disagree on some of these issues respectfully is probably something that is worth somehow making public...?
* Admissions of Asian students to college has long been below what would be predicted on the basis of their SAT scores. So, even though Asian students get degrees at much higher levels than any other group, including Whites, this discrepancy between achievement and admission rates sure smells like bias to me.
** Plus, like you taught Funder, you have taught me to love footnotes.
Recommended Readings For Anyone Interested in Any of These Issues
DePaulo, B. M., & Morris, W. L. (2006). The unrecognized prejudice and discrimination against singles. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 15, 251-254.
Duarte, J. L., Crawford, J. T., Stern, C., Haidt, J., Jussim, L., & Tetlock, P. (In press). Political diversity will improve social and personality psychological science. Behavioral and Brain Sciences.
Jussim, L. (2012). Liberal privilege in academic psychology and the social sciences: Commentary on Inbar & Lammers (2012). Perspectives on Psychological Science, 7, 504-507.
Moss-Racusin, C. et al (2012). Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109, 16474-16479.
Williams, W. M., & Ceci, S. J. (In press). National hiring experiments reveal 2-to-1 faculty preference for women on STEM tenure track. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
END EMAIL CONVERSATION
postscript by simine (on simine's blog only):you don't have to be a supergeniusto do the animal thingyou don't have to be a supermodelor, in the words of the inimitable ani difranco:i've been wanting to blog about the underrepresentation of women in the scientific integrity discussion for a while. i hesitated because i couldn't figure out exactly what i wanted to say. at the same time that lee and i were having this discussion, i heard someone on npr quote roxane gay: "i'd rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all". that helped me decide to post this - i don't have any answers, but i think it's an important enough topic to try to fumble through the discussion anyway.i hope more people will join in the scientific integrity discussion. don't wait for someone to anoint you an expert on scientific integrity. none of us are. all of us say some stupid shit sometimes.* join us.to open your face up and sing
*have you read facebook?