Skype instead of APA?

There’s a really interesting and potentially important discussion over on Leiter of the idea of replacing APA interviews with Sykpe. Lots of good stuff there, but readers of this blog may be especially interesting in Rebecca Kukla’s comment:

Here’s one that hasn’t been mentioned; there’s a gender issue here. Some time earlier this term there was an interesting and lively thread on this blog about interviewing in hotel rooms and its differential impact on women, and there was much talk about how neither hotel rooms nor tables in noisy ballrooms were ideal, how suites were too expensive, etc. Skype interviews completely eliminate that whole hornet’s nest. (I’m assuming no department is going to turn the webcam on the faculty lounging about semi-clad in someone’s bedroom.) This seems to me to be a pretty big advantage.

And here’s another, perhaps more contentious gender consideration: There are lots of good reasons to think that women have it harder during interviews when it comes to appearance and self-presentation. We know that women get judged by their body type more than men do. At the same time, many people have suggested that women have no really good interview clothing options – we don’t have a stock professional uniform like men do. It’s really easy for women to come off as too femme, too dressy, too butch, too casual, too sexy, too dowdy, etc. during an interview.

In a skype interview, you only see someone’s head and maybe their upper torso, typically. You have way less sense of their general body shape, and you don’t really have much of a sense of their style. It’s really not too hard to look neutrally professional from the shoulders up! Of course, at the on-campus stage, women will show up with their whole, clothed bodies on display. But then there is much more information to go on. These initial interviews are all about quick first impressions, which is just where we would expect there to be problems of the sort I am pointing towards.

The more I think about it, the more I find the idea of women might be interviewed without anyone really having a sense of their style or body shape totally exciting and liberating. And no more stupid uncomfortable, expensive interview shoes in the middle of winter! Woo-hoo! I know this sounds frivolous, but I suspect it may make a real difference to the fairness with which female candidates are assessed.

And look, these things may not be as big of an issue for men, but surely it is all to the good if there is less potential for one’s judgments about ANY candidate to be biased by impressions of their style, height, fitness level, etc. And surely men don’t especially love having to sit on someone’s bed or in a noisy ballroom for their interviews either.

UK legal aid cuts likely to affect women more than men

The Guardian recently reported that proposals to cut legal aid in the UK are likely to have a greater impact on women, according to the Ministry of Justice’s own equality impact assessments.

Take family cases, like disputes about contact and residence of children; injunctions against ex-partners; the division of financial assets; applications for maintenance; and divorce.  The proposals mean that legal aid will be restricted to cases where forced marriage, international child abduction or domestic violence is proven. According to the Guardian, ‘domestic violence’ for these purposes will only include physical violence, not psychological abuse. They report that the Ministry of Justice believed it had to ‘…restrict the definition of domestic violence to one that could be demonstrated through “clear, objective evidence”.’

Another of the most worrying proposals is complete removal of legal aid from education cases, including those where – say – a disabled child has been incorrectly assessed for support, or has been refused admission to a school.  The factors they list in support of this removal are that the importance of the issues is relatively low – “some financial claims; some issues arise from personal choices, e.g. conduct at school” and that people can represent themselves because the tribunals are “accessible to lay people”.

And note that – from what I can tell – withdrawal of legal aid doesn’t just mean no representation, it means no right to legal aid in getting advice, either.

Sharing information about the APA

Brian Leiter has put up a series of posts that separates out interviews, travel and sessions.  It’s a good place to check for information and/or to post it, queries, etc.

Everyone remains very welcome to post here.  Thanks to all who have so far.

Rats! Someone I was looking forward to seeing just wrote to say he won’t make it to Boston. Apparently the flights from Atlanta to Boston are cancelled until Tues.

I just checked my local airport. Though the airport says that flights are subject to a 15 minute delay, it omits telling one about the flights that are not taking off at all. I did find out that all the continental flights to Boston after the 1:17 pm one are cancelled.

The Boston Globe talks about hundreds of flight cancellations. has information about flights; you need just to know the carrier and where it is leaving from. The APA site has the same announcement about the office being closed for the meeting.

If you have any information about what people are doing about interviews, sessions missing speakers and so on, do let us know. You are also most welcome to moan about missed meetings, hours in airports, panics about interviews and so on.

Under-Appreciated Heroes

David Slutsky posted a link to an excellent story calling attention to the people who should have captured the media attention in 2010, but who didn’t. (I’m pulling it out from comments to make sure it doesn’t get missed.) Two of them are particularly relevant to this blog, but really all of them are:

Under-Appreciated Person Two: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. The only African leader who appears with any regularity on our TV screens is the snarling psychopath Robert Mugabe, spreading his message of dysfunction and despair. We rarely hear about his polar opposite.

In 2005, the women of Liberia strapped their babies to their backs and moved en masse to elect Africa’s first ever elected female President. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was a 62-year-old grandmother who had been thrown in prison by the country’s dictators simply for demanding democracy. She emerged blinking into a country trashed by 14 years of civil war and pillaged by dictators – but she said she would, at last, ensure that the Liberian state obeyed the will of its people.

In the face of a chorus of cynics, she did it. She restored electricity for the first time since 1992. She got the number of children in school up by 40 per cent. She introduced prison terms for rapists for the first time. Now she is running for re-election in a fully open and contested ballot. I look at her and I think of all the women I have seen by the roadsides of Africa, carrying impossibly heavy loads on hunched backs – and I know what they will achieve when they are finally allowed to…

Under-Appreciated People Four: The Saudi Arabian women who are fighting back. Women like Wajehaal-Huwaider are struggling against a tyranny that bans them from driving, showing their face in public, or even getting medical treatment without permission from their male “guardian”. The streets are policed by black-clad men who enforce sharia law and whip women who express any free will.

Saudi women are being treated just as horrifically as Iranian women – but because their oppressors are our governments’ allies, rather than our governments’ enemies, you hear almost nothing about them. Huwaider points out that her sisters are fighting back and being beaten and whipped for it, and asks: “Why isn’t the cry of these millions of women heard, and why isn’t it answered by anyone, anywhere in the world?”

In case you missed it…

this week has been a big one in online feminist activism against rape apologists. I’m not a twitterer, and I’ve been very busy, so I haven’t followed all of it. The short version is that Michael Moore and Keith Olbermann made extremely dismissive and false claims about the rape allegations against Julian Assange. Blogger Sady started a twitter feed devoted to the topic. All hell broke loose. Finally Rachel Maddow had Moore on her show and he changed his tune. For a much better overview, see here. For Sady’s own perspective, see here.

It’s those chimps again! Updated

They are on CNN and the NY Times, along with a press release R sent to us.  And before you get upset, notice that “fallacy” is used as a category for this post.

The NY Times tells us that young  female chimps play out a motherly role:

Young female chimpanzees like to play with sticks as if they were dolls, according to a new study in the journal Current Biology.

Although both juvenile male and female chimpanzees were seen playing with sticks in Kibale National Park in Uganda, females were more likely to cradle the sticks and treat them like infants.

Some chimps will even build little nests for the sticks.

CNN says

It’s just days till Christmas, and many young girls around the world will be thrilled to find little dolls under the tree to play with.

But there’s new evidence that it’s not only human girls who enjoy playing with imaginary babies — young apes may be showing the same behavior.

A research paper published Tuesday has found what its authors say is the first-ever evidence that young female chimpanzees in the wild “play” with sticks as if they are dolls.

“We find that juveniles tend to carry sticks in a manner suggestive of rudimentary doll play,” they write in the current issue of Current Biology. “And, as in children and captive monkeys, this behavior is more common in females than in males.”

Get it?  Being a mother is natural for female primates and the chimps show that.  So give up already on dolls for boys, unless they are soldier dolls or police and fireman dolls and other manly dolls like that.  From the press release:

The two researchers say their work adds to a growing body of evidence that human children are probably born with their own ideas of how they want to behave, rather than simply mirroring other girls who play with dolls and boys who play with trucks. Doll play among humans could have its origins in object-carrying by earlier apes, they say, suggesting that toy selection is probably not due entirely to socialization.

Here is the problem, however.  first of all, one and only one colony of chimps has been observed manifesting this behavior, according to the press release.  Secondly:

“We have seen juveniles occasionally carrying sticks for many years, and because they sometimes treated them rather like dolls, we wanted to know if in general this behavior tended to represent something like playing with dolls,” says Wrangham, the Ruth Moore Professor of Biological Anthropology at Harvard. “If the doll hypothesis was right we thought that females should carry sticks more than males do, and that the chimpanzees should stop carrying sticks when they had their first offspring. We have now watched enough young chimpanzees to test both points.”

But one person’s inference to the best explanation (which is what this quote may illustrate) is another’s fallacy of affirming the consequent.  To get the first and better label, we’d need to have some reason for thinking that it employs the best explanation or at least a very good one.  But does it?

Well, many feminists have argued that research like this simply borrows models from human behavior and then finds them (surprise!) in untutored nature.  But maybe there are quite different explanations.  We know that animals can copy one another.  (Anyone who dealt with the blue tit coordinated assault on bottle tops in England had evidence that birds can copy one another, and this can easily occur in social animals.  Blue tits are not born with bottle top lust.)  On the face of it, the stick carrying behavior has caught on in a group of female chimps.

For the behavior to catch on, there almost certainly has to be some reward.  It could be an inherited tic of some sort, but let’s suppose it is the result of copying rewarding behavior.  What would the reward be?

NPR talked to a primatologist at Emory University who advances an alternative explanation for different choices in young chimps and human children; it may be just a difference in energy conservation, with males more willing to expend energy in play:

Another primate researcher, Kim Wallen at Emory University in Atlanta, would like to see more evidence. For instance, Wrangham’s study includes a picture showing a young female chimp carrying a stick. Is she really cradling it like a baby?

A 9-year-old female chimp carries a stick, seen just below her left arm.

A 9-year-old female chimp carries a stick, seen just below her left arm.


“This doesn’t happen to look like that to me,” Wallen says. “This looks like pausing to reconnoiter before shuffling off into the woods.”

As for whether that difference comes from biology or culture, Wallen prefers to say that biology produces a bias, which is channeled by experience.

“For example, the bias could be something as simple as increased energy expenditure in males and less energy expenditure in females,” he says.

But environment — and culture — could channel that difference in energy toward specific ways to play. And so we get trucks for boys and dolls for girls. Maybe, even, among chimpanzees.