How can you change if you don’t have a problem?

Alphafeminist remarks in a comment:

I have been working on educating my department on the implicit bias work. As one might imagine, they immediately scrutinized the methodologies of the studies and proved to their satisfaction that the results did not apply to us in philosophy. One thing that we need is accurate demographic data regarding our graduate students and faculty.

That’s exactly what I’d expect, though certainly not hope for.  I take the last sentence about demographic data to suggest seeing the actual figures might show philosophers something is wrong.  But, equally, it might lead them to conclude that women just cannot do philosophy.  I’ve had a conversation to that effect with too many people already.

So what else can one do?  Any ideas?  Experiences?  Getting some senior people to buy in can help.  A lot of my optimism about the Society for Philosophy and Psychology’s effort is that the leadership sees there’s a significant problem.  I think one thing some NSF advance sites did was to have people evaluate themselves before and after  watching some material on how sexism operates.  E.g., it isn’t that hard to  recognize some of the sexist tropes in one’s thought.

Any other ideas?  Suggestions?

11 thoughts on “How can you change if you don’t have a problem?

  1. I’m interested to know how they decided, based on reading the studies, that they are not subject to implicit bias. Have they done the implicit association test (IAT)?
    What are the markers of those who are immune to racism and sexism? I’d like to know their thinking so that I can figure out the best reply.

    Those who know me will attest that I’m not 100% sure that the IAT does what it says it does, but it might be worth having people who think they are immune try it.

  2. Sally, I think trying it is an excellent idea.

    It would be interesting if we could get the topic of implicit biases into mainstream philosophical thinking. Edouard Machery at Pitt’s phil of science program has brought it into the discussion of virtue ethics. He thinks we do not have virtues, and that’s one thing that tells against our having them.

  3. Hi,
    I have a suggestion. It seems to me that the easiest, surest way to show empirically that gender bias operates heavily in philosophy is by running an experiment of this sort: have the same argument be assessed (quantitatively and qualitatively) by subjects of two different groups, one saying that the (fake) argument was authored by a (fake) female, the other by a (fake) male. That being, of course, the only difference in the arguments.Obviously you’d vary the sample so no two people saw the same argument. I think it’s pretty clear that people will rank the second argument as better, and probably by a significant margin. People would take this seriously if philosophers were among the people tested. This also gets to the core of the problem that women face in philosophy. Has anyone ever thought of or ran such an experiment?

  4. Along the lines of what isak5 said, I was thinking recently* about running some version of the (in)famous CV experiment — the one where you send in fake job applications with identical CVs but different names — in philosophy. Does anyone happen to have a citation for the original version of that experiment?

    * It’s amazing how studying for one’s candidacy exam alters one’s perceptions of time. By `recently’ I mean `sometime within the last six months’.

  5. noumena,

    There is a study by Fidel, in 1975 (I don’t have the full reference handy) and another by Steinpreis, Rhea E., Katie A. Anders, and Dawn Ritzke. 1999. “The Impact of Gender on the
    Review of the Curricula Vitae of Job Applicants and Tenure Candidates: A National Empirical Study.” Sex Roles 41: 509-28. Both used psychologists as their guinea pigs. The Steinpris study was interesting because when they used really excellent cv’s the effect vanished, but on the returned cv’s there were 4 times as many cautionary comments written in the margins on the women’s cv’s than on the men’s.

    You might also check out a study on bias in letters of recommendation published by Trix, F. & Psenka, C. in 2003 in Discourse and Society Vol 14(2): 191–220.

    Sorry not to have the full citations–they are at the office

  6. […] Philosophers often insist, like the HR managers in this study, that women and minorities have an advantage. Until someone comes up with a good evidence that we’re special in some way that frees us from implicit bias, I think the presumption should be the opposite. And that we need to be very aware of this. (For some more of our recent blogging on this topic, see here.) […]

  7. I’m thinking (but I don’t know) that it is easier to admit confirmation bias than sexism. At least I find the former easier to admit than the latter.

    I think though that the former leads to results that have a differential impact on applicants depending on gender in the following way. Given that philosophers think seem to agree with HR managers about who has an advantage, and given that philosophers should admit that we all have confirmation bias. it would seem reasonable to conclude that philosophers (with that common belief) will take the accomplishments of those in the groups that they think have and advantage as less weighty than they would otherwise. For they’ll attribute them at least somewhat to this advantage.

    So maybe, getting one’s colleagues to admit to the well documented general tendency towards confirmation bias might be a step to getting them to worry about their having biases that effect how they read files, etc, given their own beliefs about who has an advantage in hiring.

Comments are closed.