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Physicist, Startup Founder, Blogger, Dad

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Male and female science professors equally gender biased

This study (PNAS) surveyed 127 professors of biology, chemistry and physics, asking them to evaluate resumes of potential lab managers. Half the pool received a particular resume with a male name and the other half with a female name -- the applications were otherwise identical. There was a significant preference for male applicants over female applicants, and, strikingly, this preference was independent of the gender of the evaluator (professor).

Click for larger figure.


I've always felt that gender plays a big role in academic careers. Men in my field are much more likely to bluff, win arguments by intimidation, oversell results, etc. Usually if a woman says she understands a result or calculation, she really does.

See also Women in the Classroom.

6 comments:

watcher said...

"Men in my field are much more likely to bluff, win arguments by
intimidation, oversell results, etc. Usually if a woman says she
understands a result or calculation, she really does."

!!! just like E. Asians, women under-promise and over-deliver. But they don't get the rewards -- the loudmouths do !!!

Bobdisqus said...

Before we get too carried away about the noble female professor, perhaps we might remember the name Amy Bishop.

Jirka Lahvicka said...

"this preference was independent of the gender of the evaluator (professor)."


The difference not being statistically significant is not the same as saying there is no difference (especially problematic for small samples). The authors also assume that women would prefer women, while the opposite might easily be true and is definitely not ruled out by their data.

Christopher Chang said...

Well, there are different types of understanding. Off the top of my head,
a. you can have basic operational knowledge of a result/calculation, enough to have confidence that it's correct, properly use it, and derive similar results using the same method.
b. you can have deep understanding of a surrounding range of derivation techniques. Most useful with open-source software where you can actually go and improve the "derivation", but this is also very valuable for deriving new things. Which gets us to #3...
c. you have deep understanding of the pattern of work in the surrounding field, enough to have developed good taste in choosing projects. People with either of the previous types of understanding can do original work, but it's less likely to be meaningful than that done by someone who really understands the context they're working in.
(Note that (b) and (c) are, strictly speaking, branches of a tree rather than a linear progression.)

Personality plays a role in this. There are stereotypes concerning the conditional probability of someone developing type (b) and/or (c) understanding given that they have type (a), which have varying accuracy. These conditional probabilities can also be highly sensitive to environment.

John Tollison said...

My dad used to say, "I don't really understand (x)." Then he would say something else that showed he really understood it better than most, but knew his understanding was moderate given the bigger picture.

Albert Magnus said...

This test I think is somewhat limited because a lab tech is not the same as hiring faculty or a post-doc or the decision to have a grad student join a research group. In those cases you know the person better and aren't just looking at a resume. Secondly, there is a large variation in competence in being a grad student/post-doc/faculty where in a lab tech it may be hard to judge the person very well in whether they are good at the task they are needed for.

More interesting to me is the fact that the physics results and the biology results are more or less the same. This seems to make one believe that having more women in the faculty won't make the faculty more friendly to new women. This is completely the opposite of the dogma that has been pushed in physics (and other male dominated fields) for a long time. Of course, I don't expect this study to be spun that way.

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