Gopnik on Tierney

Awesome article.

[John Tierney, in the NY Times, cited] a new paper by Stephen Ceci and Wendy Williams in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that, he claimed, contradicts the “assumption that female scientists [face] discrimination and various forms of unconscious bias.” But, in fact, the paper’s authors make a narrower argument, and some of the evidence they present suggests that female scientists almost certainly do face discrimination and various forms of unconscious bias…

Here’s what Ceci and Williams show: That women with the same resources as men are just as likely to get their papers, grants, and job applications accepted. While this might appear to mean that women scientists don’t face discrimination, in fact, it’s quite compatible with the strong experimental evidence that there is bias against women….

They found that when you factor in women’s circumstances—for example, what kinds of teaching loads they have, whether they are at research universities, whether they have young children, and so on—then the correlation between sex and success goes away. Overall, female scientists have fewer resources than male scientists, just as poor people have less access to health care. But if you compare male and female scientists with identical resources you find that the women are just as likely to be successful. Ceci and Williams put it this way in their discussion of the number of journal articles women published: “The primary factor affecting women’s productivity was structural position. When type of institution, teaching load, funding, and research assistance were factored in, the productivity gap completely disappeared (which is not to say discrimination has not influenced these factors in the real world).”…

Science reporters are supposed to understand these complexities and explain them to their readers—not claim, in spite of the evidence, that sex discrimination is a figment of the biased liberal imagination.

4 thoughts on “Gopnik on Tierney

  1. If anything, doesn’t the article actually contribute to a powerful argument for making sure resources go to women?

  2. I really liked the way Gopnik took apart their argument. The argument that the differences in rewards for men and women can’t be due to bias because when women have the same resources they get the same rewards has a huge gap. The gap comes with the possibility that bias is creating the difference in resources. Duh! I think this is an important critique, and I wish I had focused on it in my earlier post on Ceci and Williams.

    Elsewhere I wrote an article about earlier research of theirs that claimed that tenure does not protect faculty who speak out. Having been involved in an episode at my university that brought down an administration, the claim seemed to me implausible. It’s quite possible that at least some of us would have been fired, as indeed the Board of Regents openly wished were possible. Their examples of speech that faculty got in trouble for cpnsisted in sexist and racist speech. That article and the current one suggest to me that they are not among the radical liberal faculty so many complain about.

  3. I wrote out a long comment to the Ceci and Williams post the other day, making more-or-less the same point as Gropnik. Only to discover that the comments there were closed. I’m glad you all found this piece — it’s really an excellent explanation of just what exactly C&W did and didn’t show.

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