Feminist Philosophers

News feminist philosophers can use

On “smartness”, “genius”, etc. July 9, 2014

Filed under: bias,improving the climate,science — Jender @ 10:58 am

Philosophers are very prone to discussions of “who’s smart”, and also of “who’s stupid”. I vividly remember discussions in the lounge when I was a grad student of who was stupid (discussions amongst both staff and students) and my terror of making it onto the stupid list. In recent years, lots of good worries have been raised about such discussions.

Recent research supporting the hypothesis below:

In some disciplines success may be seen as depending on sustained effort and dedication, whereas in others it may be seen as requiring a “gift” or brilliance that cannot be taught. Because women are stereotyped as being less likely than men to possess innate intellectual talent, they may find the academic fields that emphasize brilliance as the key to success to be unwelcoming.

Eric Schwitzgebel on seeming smart:

I have been collecting anecdotal data on seeming smart. One thing I’ve noticed is what sort of person tends spontaneously to be described, in my presence, as “seeming smart”. A very striking pattern emerges: In every case I have noted the smart-seeming person has been a young white male. Now my sample size is small and philosophy is about 75% white male anyway, so I want to be cautious in this inference. Women and minorities must sometimes “seem smart”. And older people maybe have already proven or failed to prove their brilliance so that remarks about their apparent intelligence aren’t as natural. (Maybe also it is less our place to evaluate them.) But still I would guess that there is something real behind that pattern, to wit:

Seeming smart is probably to a large extent about activating people’s associations with intelligence. This is probably especially true when one is overhearing a comment about a complex subject that isn’t exactly in one’s expertise, so that the quality of the comment is hard to evaluate.

And now Carolyn Dicey Jennings on the negative side of things– criticising people as not intelligent, rather than simply criticising their arguments.

Eric Schliesser, in a related vein, on boy wonders:

I define a ‘boy-wonder’ as follows: a male — aged 20-28 — who is quick on his feet, precocious, often with gifts in formal areas of philosophic, and annointed as ‘the next big thing’ by Some Important Philosopher(s) (SIPS) at a top department.* Words like ‘genius’ and ‘brilliant’ are often used in this context. (Often SIPS and their boy-wonders are dismissive of other people’s contributions.) Philosophy is by no means the only discipline that has ‘anointed’ boy-wonders (economics does, too), but we like them a lot. By this I mean that boy-wonders do not only show up in the inflationary context of letters of recommendation, but they also impact the sexist mores in philosophy.

I offer seven considerations to rid ourselves from the whole set of practices that involve boy-wonders.
First, it’s very hard to judge future philosophical performance. While it may be true that some future fantastic philosophers are recognized at an early age (fill in your favorite example), there are also lots of false positives.

Second, once somebody is annointed as a boy-wonder in some privileged circle, they often benefit from this for a long time in their career. Their work is systematically over-rated (fill in your favorite example), over-cited, and it happily carries them into exalted status (where they can annoint, etc.) They benefit from a positive feedback loop with material and psychological support that will help some of the boy wonders produce enough to retroactively justify the anointing within the (magic) circle of sympathy (see this analysis by Eric Schwitzgebel).

Third, undoubtedly, some boy-wonders crack under pressure, and suffer from not being able to live up to to expectation. I suspect that all anointed boy-wonders are harmed in some such way, but they may not care when they really make it in the profession.

Fourth, boy-wonders can get away with a lot. And, sadly, that means a lot of sexist stuff, too. Boy-wonders get a lot of second-chances. (I am *not* claiming that boy-wonders are more likely to be harassers.)

Fifth, the proxies that are often used to ‘track’ boy-wonder potential are, frankly, themselves sexist; they tend to rely on tacit bias, heuristics, and social norms many of which are known to favor men.

Sixth, because the intellectual gifts and virtues that tend to be associated with boy-wonder-hood tend to be associated with only a limited sub-set of philosophical areas/interests, they also skew everybody’s sense of what matters in philosophy.

Seventh, the phenomenon reinforces some of the worst features of the system of commodification of philosophy (and other disciplines)–the sociology around boy-wonders, facilitates Deans and Chairs to ‘sell’ their latest hire as a potential ‘superstar.’

I suspect that questioning the intelligence of any philosopher in a public forum could trigger stereotype threat for marginalized groups and such questioning adds nothing of value to public discourse.

I think we should all try to just stop talking this way. It’s not easy, and we’ll surely slip up. But we should try.


LGBT information on CV leads to discrimination July 6, 2014

Filed under: bias,science,sexual orientation — Jender @ 6:50 am

Clear evidence:

In the study, fake résumés were submitted for 100 different jobs at eight companies that are federal contractors. One showed that the applicant worked with LGBT groups, the other didn’t.

The applicant whose résumé showed LGBT ties got fewer responses than the other, even though the first applicant was better-qualified, according to the report, the results of which were released this week. Overall, “LGBT applicants were 23 percent less likely to get an interview than their less-qualified heterosexual counterparts,” Take Part reports.


Effects of interacting with sexist men July 4, 2014

Filed under: bias,science — Jender @ 6:30 pm

Carrie Ichikawa Jenkins calls our attention to some fascinating research.


Feminist Philosophy of Science at Ghent. June 25, 2014

Filed under: CFP,feminist philosophy,science — axiothea @ 8:50 am

Ghent 24-25 November, 2014

The Department of Philosophy & Moral Sciences of Ghent University welcomes abstracts for an international workshop on Feminist Philosophy of Science.

Invited keynote speaker is Stéphanie Ruphy (Université Pierre Mendès Greboble, France).

We welcome paper proposals on a variety of topics related to the conference theme, including (but not limited to) contributions to:

  • feminist philosophy of science
  • feminist science(s)
  • the role of science(s) in feminism(s)
  • the status of feminist philosophy of science in philosophy (of science)
  • the history of feminist philosophy of science
  • etc

Please send abstracts (max. 500 words) prepared for anonymous review to Eric Schliesser  by July 1, 2014.  Please include identifying information in separate page or accompanying email.

See here for more details.


Lego to launch new female scientist line June 4, 2014

Filed under: empowering women,science — Lady Day @ 1:13 pm

Yay! Lego will soon be launching a new line of female scientists — and blocky bits of equipment for those scientists. Here’s a link.


Thanks, Jender-Mom!



Richardson on the stubborn influence of the sex difference paradigm May 7, 2014

Filed under: gender stereotypes,science,sex,Uncategorized — Lady Day @ 10:30 am

Philosopher Sarah Richardson has a great piece in Slate this week detailing how a Nature article about the discovery of twelve genes on the Y chromosome that fill the same function as similar genes on the X chromosome quickly morphed into reports in major media outlets about “a major new finding of sex difference.”

The New York Times reported that scientists had discovered 12 genes on the Y chromosome that play “high-level roles in controlling the state of the genome and the activation of other genes.” They “may represent a fundamental difference in how the cells in men’s and women’s bodies read off the information in their genomes.” TheHuffington Post quoted one of the studies’ authors as saying that these “special” genes “may play a large role in differences between males and females.”

Yet what the Nature articles actually show is the exact opposite. The 12 genes residing on the Y chromosome exist to ensure sexual similarity. The genes are “dosage-sensitive,” meaning that two copies are needed for them to function properly. We’ve long known that those 12 genes exist on X chromosomes. Females have the 12 genes active on both of their X chromosomes. If males, who have just one X, didn’t have them on the Y, they would not have a sufficient dosage of those genes. Now we know they do. Just like women.

How did a story about sex similarity become a story about sex difference? Richardson engages in “a little literary forensics” and concludes that science journalists focused on the brief, speculative bit at the end of the Nature article, rather than the article’s actual evidence and conclusions.

Part of this, no doubt, is the result of pressure on journalists (evident well beyond the realm of science journalism) to run with the most provocative story. However, over and above this common journalistic foible, is the pernicious influence of what Richardson terms the “sex difference paradigm.” In short, writes Richardson, “when it comes to sex, scientific reviewers, journals, funders, and reporters simply find similarities less interesting than differences.”

I posted last week on a different way in which our gender biases skew our understanding of biological sex. So, what is an appropriately critical scholar (or lay reader) to do? Richardson ends by plugging Stanford’s Gendered Innovations initiative, which works to show how critical thinking about  sex and gender can lead to scientific innovation.


Bias at early stage April 23, 2014

Filed under: academia,bias,science — Jender @ 12:25 pm

A fascinating new study examined rates of response to emailed requests for a meeting by prospective PhD students. Here’s what they found:

[T]he researchers found that there was virtually no difference in the rate of response when prospective students asked for an immediate meeting. But when they tried to schedule one in a week, white males were 26% more likely to successfully schedule a meeting and 16% more likely to receive a response. While white males were more likely to get a response if they asked to meet in a week rather than the same day, female and minority students had a better response rate when they asked to meet immediately. The response rate for women and minorities was 14 percentage points higher at public institutions than at private schools. Further, a $13,000 increase in a faculty member’s salary was associated with a four percentage point drop in the email response rate to women and minorities, but faculty salary had no such effect on white males.

Really fascinating, and important for philosophers to bear in mind as we try to make our field less white and male. (Thanks, S!)


Daily Mail Really Unable to Cope April 5, 2014

Filed under: bias,race,science — Jender @ 5:25 am

with scientists who are women of colour. (I know: you’re shocked.)

UPDATE: There’s now a petition, created by the UCL branch of the UCU.

A piece in the Mail’s Ephraim Hardcastle column on Wednesday used their appearance on BBC’s Newsnight on Monday to comment on the possibility of a new era in understanding the origins of the universe to have a dig at the programme’s “Guardian-trained editor, Ian Katz”, who, it said, “is keen on diversity”.

The item added: “So, two women were invited to comment on the report about (white, male) American scientists who’ve detected the origins of the universe – giggling Sky at Night presenter Maggie Aderin-Pocock and Sri Lanka-born astronomer Hiranya Peiris.”

For more, go here.


Is the oculus rift sexist? March 29, 2014

Filed under: science,technology — hippocampa @ 9:32 am

3D IMAXYet another biological difference between men and women in the brain?

danah boyd wrote an interesting piece in Quartz about her observations that men and women prioritise different depth cues. She has personal experience in a CAVE Automatic Virtual Environment that made her puke and she can’t see IMAX movies.

In short: artificial 3D environments, depth cues have to be programmed in. There are a lot of depth cues, and we don’t need all, but motion parallax is pretty easy to render in 3D, so that gets in. Motion parallax, according to boyd, is the one men’s brains pick out as the most important cue, but women prioritise on shape-from-shading, which is a lot more complicated. Therefore, for men in general, 3D environments work well, but for women, the poor rendering of shape-from-shading causes disorientation and nausea. This phenomenon may also be related to why some transsexuals experience strange visual side effects from their treatment.

If this is the case, there is indeed a problem with 3D technology. dana points out that a lot more research is needed.

I have been in the CAVE of the Centrum for Wiskunde & Informatica in Amsterdam which  was totally awesome, and a very rare experience. No nausea experienced. However, IMAX theatres have been around for quite a while and are common. Some people do indeed experience motion sickness with them, but shouldn’t it have come to light by now if this was something particularly affecting women?

HT to Hank Greely for bringing this to my attention.


Athene Donald on Women in Science March 21, 2014

Filed under: bias,science — Jender @ 3:25 pm

with an excellent modest proposal:

So let me offer a new recommendation to add to that made by the MPs. I propose that every MBA course in the country should have an unconscious bias element included, and taking some relevant training should be an expectation of anyone involved in recruitment of any kind. I would also like to see it included as a topic in the school curriculum, a place to start a dialogue among children so that they can identify their own propensities to gender-stereotyping.



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