How do we know bias is keeping women out of philosophy?

I agree with Beta and others in earlier discussions that this week’s NY Times Stone series has been a joy.   And no one would want to have the authors to respond to all the comments before the series is finished. Unfortunately, that has meant some quite questionable views appear with out any challenge, and so look stronger and more plausible than they are.

One such view often appears just as the rhetorical question in this post’s title.   I think, though, we can put it more fully into something that looks like a proof; in fact, some people did this.The proof (or argument) goes something like this:

i. : Women are prevented from going into philosophy by some discriminatory OR they do not want to go into philosophy (because of caring more about their families, lucrative and secure jobs, a peaceful workplace, and so on).

2.  All the information we have about the dearth of women in philosophy is compatible each of these very different explanations.

3.  Everything else is mere anecdote.

Therefore, we do not know that bias is a major factor.

However, not all the evidence is equal.  Very recently work has been done to study the science faculty generally.  So the charge made against feminists should be changed.   If we have good reason to think  that philosophers are much like STEM researchers, then we have good reason to think they are biased too.  Therefore, the burden of proof has shifted.   Those raising the first question should now consider whether they know that philosophers are immune to the biases pervasive in STEM fields.

The following article is open source, so you can get a copy of it @

Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Oct 9;109(41):16474-9. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1211286109. Epub 2012 Sep 17.

Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students.
Moss-Racusin CA, Dovidio JF, Brescoll VL, Graham MJ, Handelsman J.
Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520, USA.
Despite efforts to recruit and retain more women, a stark gender disparity persists within academic science. Abundant research has demonstrated gender bias in many demographic groups, but has yet to experimentally investigate whether science faculty exhibit a bias against female students that could contribute to the gender disparity in academic science. In a randomized double-blind study (n = 127), science faculty from research-intensive universities rated the application materials of a student-who was randomly assigned either a male or female name-for a laboratory manager position. Faculty participants rated the male applicant as significantly more competent and hireable than the (identical) female applicant. These participants also selected a higher starting salary and offered more career mentoring to the male applicant. The gender of the faculty participants did not affect responses, such that female and male faculty were equally likely to exhibit bias against the female student. Mediation analyses indicated that the female student was less likely to be hired because she was viewed as less competent. We also assessed faculty participants’ preexisting subtle bias against women using a standard instrument and found that preexisting subtle bias against women played a moderating role, such that subtle bias against women was associated with less support for the female student, but was unrelated to reactions to the male student. These results suggest that interventions addressing faculty gender bias might advance the goal of increasing the participation of women in science.

Toys R US agrees to move away from gender-coding!

For more, go here.

Toys R Us agreed to work on plans for a fresh marketing scheme that falls in line with Let Toys Be Toys’s principles. The goal of the partnership is to eventually phase out gender-specific marketing and to promote the idea of boys and girls being able to fully enjoy the same toys, no questions asked and no suggestions made. The upcoming Christmas catalog will be the company’s first true test of these new techniques.


Sadly the photo used to illustrate is not from the new Toys R Us catalog…



Thanks, R!

Louise Antony in the New York Times

Don’t miss this one!

Referring to the university’s threatened disciplinary action against McGinn in response to complaints from a female student, Pinker wrote that “such an action would put a chill on communication between faculty and graduate students and on the openness and informality on which scholarship depends.”

What I want to say about this is: Really? For a university to treat lewd conversation as a serious offense threatens scholarship as we know it? Aren’t we being just a tad apocalyptic?