Michael Brownstein on Williams and Ceci

A guest-post:

Wendy Williams and Stephen Ceci have just published an article in PNAS titled “National hiring experiments reveal 2:1 faculty preference for women on STEM tenure track” (here). The article is striking, and seems to show a great deal of progress in gender equity in hiring (notwithstanding worries that some have expressed that this study demonstrates “reverse discrimination”). There has been interesting discussion of the article on Facebook (FB), the Daily Nous, and New APPS, and most of what I say here is a reworking of points that others have already made. First I’ll make a couple positive points about the article; then raise a worry about the authors’ interpretation of their data; and then raise a few questions about the data.

On the positive side, W&C’s data tells us more than we knew before about how gender attitudes and gender discrimination work. As Edouard Machery said on FB, we need to know the facts in order to create effective interventions. This seems right. The question, I think, is what exactly the study shows, and whether it shows what the authors think it shows.

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Sex in the country of the aged

Does sexual activity always require the capacity to consent?  I’ve started to wonder.

Suppose you and your beloved spouse, both middle-aged and abled-body, arrived home from a party and realize one of you has had too much to drink.  More than either of you had realized.  But, curling up in bed, both of you feel that hugs and kisses wherever they may lead are very appealing.  Should the sober one refrain on the grounds that the other can’t really meaningfully consent?

There are many possible complicating factors with sexual encounters, which is why I added in marriage, age and ability.  A similar scenario could quite easily become a legal nightmare.  And what about a specific disability, dementia?  Right now this issue may be addressed in a court:

Henry Rayhons, 78, has been charged with third-degree felony sexual abuse, accused of having sex with his wife in a nursing home on May 23, 2014, eight days after staff members there told him they believed she was mentally unable to agree to sex.

It is rare, possibly unprecedented, for such circumstances to prompt criminal charges. Mr. Rayhons, a nine-term Republican state legislator, decided not to seek another term after his arrest.

There is no allegation that Mrs. Rayhons resisted or showed signs of abuse. And it is widely agreed that the Rayhonses had a loving, affectionate relationship, having married in 2007 after each had been widowed. They met while singing in a church choir.