Global gag rule lifted!

Obama has lifted the ban prohibiting U.S. money from funding international family planning groups that promote abortion or provide information, counseling or referrals about abortion services.  Notice that the ban affected far more than abortion; it kept funds from groupgs that just provided information about aboriton  services. 

The group Population Action International praised Obama’s move, saying in a statement that it will “save women’s lives around the world.”

“Family planning should not be a political issue; it’s about basic health care and well-being for women and children,” it said. “Women’s health has been severely impacted by the cutoff of assistance. President Obama’s actions will help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies, abortions and women dying from high-risk pregnancies because they don’t have access to family planning.”

Reagan put the first ban in place; Clinton lifted it and W reinstated it.  Not only has women’s health been impacted, but there has got to have been a considerable cost in the infrastructure built up to provide health services to women. 

The suffering caused by past governments does not quickly go away.

A question about university administrators & governing boards

This question arose for me at the end of the question period after Gladwell’s talk.  Gladwell, who has three best sellers and is a writer for the New Yorker, is an extremely high quality journalist with a great eye for both trends and details.  What shows up in Outliers is pretty clearly very important for social  policy, as he is beginning to say.

His talk was before the typical ‘intelligent, reading audience’ in a large US city that isn’t New York City.  At the end one man asked him if he had been contacted by President  Obama.  Gladwell laughed and explained that he didn’t do the research that he was reporting; Obama might contact him about writing a book, but the research was really from others (as he is very clear in the book).  If you didn’t know much about research, it would be easy to miss this, I would bet, given Gladwell’s erudition and wit.

The difference between those who do the research and others who may make money off of it in various ways is, many think, very important when one thinks about research excellence and being a very good university (‘Tier One,’ as some jargon has  it.)  But how does one tell the difference and who can tell the difference?

For those of you in colleges and universities:  do you think the people running the place can tell the difference?  Remember, you do not have to give your real name!

“Why are Kenyans so good at long distance running?”

Malcolm Gladwell’s recent book, Outliers, emphasizes that high achievement depends much, much more on environmental factors and hard work than on something like innate talent.  A dramatic example comes with the dominance of Kenyans in men’s long distance running competitions.  They are remarkable.  Is it the genes?  Something in the water?  How about this:  in Kenyan 2,000,000 boys run 12 miles a day.  In the US, which doesn’t in general do well?  Gladwell said in a talk on Wednesday that he’d be surprised if  it were more than 5,000.

So what does that have to do with women in philosophy?  Well, it was part of his discussion about how ways in which the environment is structured can determine who can achieve.

In his talk, Gladwell  used an interesting example for unwitting discrimination.  In both Canada and the Czech Republic the cut-off age for being considered for a hockey league is Jan 1 (of some one year, such as one’s 9th).   So a child born on Jan 3, 2000 will be judged along with a child born on Dec. 3, 2000.  But the first child will be 11 months more developed.  The consequence?  Members of hockey leagues tend to be born in Jan-Mar; if you are born after the summer, you basically do not have a chance at playing at a league level.  And a similar thing happens in school.  The youngest children in a class are likely to do less well than the much more developed oldest children.   They are, then, less likely to be selected for high achieving programs, and so on.

He was asked about gender, and responded to that question by commenting on math ability; it is silly to think in terms of innate ability, though it is hard to stop people from doing it.  But he said,  the society’s attitude toward math skills in girls (not generally positive) was enough to guarantee that girls, once they internalize it, will do much less well.  He’s looked a lot at factors in maths achievement and maintains firmly that there is no evidence that there’s some basic talent such that if you don’t have it, you can’t do maths.

So how about women in philosophy?  What social factors or rules discriminate against women?And which of them are matters of changeable rules?  Can the rules of tenure governing the granting of tenure be changed?    And is the tolerance of lechery more  a matter of rules or not?  (It might seem at first that it isn’t a matter of rules or changeable structure, but how about providing women with safer alternatives?)

A question from Philosophical Quarterly’s editor

Katherine Hawley has written to us with a good question.

I edit the Philosophical Quarterly, and we keep statistics on numbers of papers submitted, rejected and accepted each year, our turn-around time, etc.

It has crossed my mind more than once that it would be interesting to have statistics on the gender of submitting authors, and relative success rates. But then we’d have to ask authors to declare their gender to the editorial assistant. This wouldn’t affect the anonymous refereeing process, but I wonder whether it would unsettle authors. How would you feel about being asked your gender when you submitted a paper to a journal?

It’s a great question, and I’m really pleased to have the editor of such a prominent journal asking it. I’d also add that it would be good to have such data on race, and similar questions would arise.

So… what do you think?