Readers may be interested in this radio interview with psychologist Carol Dweck, who discusses the work by Sarah-Jane Leslie and colleagues on underrepresentation and the genius stereotype. Dweck (who was not a part of the study) discusses how the idea that innate genius or smartness is required to do well in certain fields might affect learning, motivation, and the gender gap. (Readers might also be interested to note that there is a call from a woman about seven minutes in who majored in philosophy, achieving straight A’s. She was nevertheless told by her advisor that she didn’t “have what it takes” to apply to grad school.)
More on the genius-stereotype and underrepresentation January 19, 2015
Geniuses, stereotypes and underrepresentation January 16, 2015
Sarah-Jane Leslie and her co-authors have done some really great work showing that fields which are thought to require genius show the lowest representations of both women and black people. We discussed this a while back, but now it’s get a ton of well-deserved attention after being published in Science.
One thing that’s interesting is the extent to which many of have sensed this as a problem for a field for quite a long time. See, for example, this post from 2010 on Seeming Smart.
Seeming smart is probably to a large extent about activating people’s associations with intelligence. This is probably especially true when one is overhearing a comment about a complex subject that isn’t exactly in one’s expertise, so that the quality of the comment is hard to evaluate. And what do people associate with intelligence? Some things that are good: Poise, confidence (but not defensiveness), giving a moderate amount of detail but not too much, providing some frame and jargon, etc. But also, unfortunately, I suspect: whiteness, maleness, a certain physical bearing, a certain dialect (one American type, one British type), certain patterns of prosody — all of which favor, I suspect, upper- to upper-middle class white men.
I think it’s also notable who insensitive the smartness/genius judgments are to evidence. It makes perfect sense to say “he’s really smart, it just doesn’t come through in his papers”; or ” She’s not that smart, she just works really hard”.
It’s fantastic to have people talking about this! Maybe now we can all finally stop talking about who’s smart. (And don’t get me started on genius projects.)
“Is it Child abuse to make a trans child ‘Change’?” January 9, 2015
This is the topic for a NY Times “room for debate.” It is in response to the very sad suicide of Leelah Alcorn, a trans child whose parents loved almost everything about her, her mother said. Just not her being trans; they took her to conversion therapy to try to change her back to a boy named “Joshua” (her name at birth).
There’s a special feature to this NY Times debate. Everyone thinks it is an exceptionally bad idea to try to make a trans child change. This is the first “room for debate” I’ve seen when the other side has had no representation.
What can philosophy learn from the climate in economics? January 7, 2015
The journal Quartz recently published the article, “How big is the sexism problem in economics? This article’s co-author is anonymous because of it”.
The article starts off noting:
The Economist’s recent list of the 25 most influential economists did not include a single woman. Many male former central bankers and regional Federal Reserve Bank governors were included on the list, but the Economist gave itself a special rule to exclude active central bankers, which meant that Janet Yellen—arguably the world’s most influential economist—didn’t make the list.
Much of what the article catalogues will be very familiar to women philosophers, and to some other philosophers from underrepresented groups: Seeming constant microagressions and macro ones too. Lower pay, power imbalances, the impermissibility of assertive (=bitchy) behavior for women, having a family, a harder time getting outside offers, and so on.
The article raises another issue which is starting to receive a lot of attention in philosophy: the diversity of methods and content:
One final step that would make economics less forbidding for women is for each economist to become open to a wider range of scientific approaches and topics. Statistically, men and women are not drawn to the same fields within economics. And even within a field, women are drawn to a different balance between immediate real-world relevance and theoretical elegance. It is natural for each economist (and for each academic in general) to construct a narrative for why his or her approach to economics is the best. But since men in senior ranks in economics are more numerous than women, the narratives that men construct for why their individual approaches to economics are better usually win out in hiring and promotion decisions over the narratives that women construct for why their individual approaches are better.
Gosh, sounds like what a lot of us call home.
h/t justin weinberg
The authors on the paper from which the quote below comes include Ceci and Williams, with Ceci the corresponding author. Readers may be aware of complaints on this blog about their research, which tends to claim, for example, that there is no discrimination against women in STEM fields. Conservative columnists love them. Their following assessment, which in effect summarizes theses we’ve arrived at over the last 7 and a half years after considerable attention to the literature and help from readers, is happily surprising:
The results of our myriad analyses reveal that early sex differences in spatial and mathematical reasoning need not stem from biological bases, that the gap between average female and male math ability is narrowing (suggesting strong environmental influences), and that sex differences in math ability at the right tail show variation over time and across nationalities, ethnicities, and other factors, indicating that the ratio of males to females at the right tail can and does change. We find that gender differences in attitudes toward and expectations about math careers and ability (controlling for actual ability) are evident by kindergarten and increase thereafter, leading to lower female propensities to major in math-intensive subjects in college but higher female propensities to major in non-math-intensive sciences…
Examples of implicit racial bias at work January 4, 2015
An article in the NY Times contains important information on research into implicit bias. It also has a number of useful, though upsetting, examples. Here are some of them:
■ When doctors were shown patient histories and asked to make judgments about heart disease, they were much less likely to recommend cardiac catheterization (a helpful procedure) to black patients — even when their medical files were statistically identical to those of white patients.
■ When whites and blacks were sent to bargain for a used car, blacks were offered initial prices roughly $700 higher, and they received far smaller concessions.
■ Several studies found that sending emails with stereotypically black names in response to apartment-rental ads on Craigslist elicited fewer responses than sending ones with white names. A regularly repeated study by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development sent African-Americans and whites to look at apartments and found that African-Americans were shown fewer apartments to rent and houses for sale.
■ White state legislators were found to be less likely to respond to constituents with African-American names. This was true of legislators in both political parties.
■ Emails sent to faculty members at universities, asking to talk about research opportunities, were more likely to get a reply if a stereotypically white name was used.
■ Even eBay auctions were not immune. When iPods were auctioned on eBay, researchers randomly varied the skin color on the hand holding the iPod. A white hand holding the iPod received 21 percent more offers than a black hand.
■ The criminal justice system — the focus of current debates — is harder to examine this way. One study, though, found a clever method. The pools of people from which jurors are chosen are effectively random. Analyzing this natural experiment revealed that an all-white jury was 16 percentage points more likely to convict a black defendant than a white one, but when a jury had one black member, it convicted both at the same rate.
A number of these can also be used as examples of white privilege.
Fantastic new directory of philosophers from underrepresented groups! December 18, 2014
Ruth Chang writes:
It is fully searchable and really neat. If you’re a conference organizer looking for philosophers in your city who work on X, you can search the directory and come up with a list of such philosophers from underrepresented groups that fit the bill. If you’re on a hiring committee, and the usual suspects keep coming to mind but you’d like to do a more thorough search, you can pull up the directory and find all philosophers in the directory who work in a general AOS or even on a specific research topic. If you’re an editor looking for a list of possible candidates to invite to contribute to a volume or to referee a paper, the UPDirectory can help you.
This sounds like a really wonderful tool. Go check it out!
How to talk about bias (and how not to) December 13, 2014
Some important stuff summarised here! (Caveat: I have not had a chance to look up the original studies.)
In several experiments, Prof. Michelle Duguid of Washington University in St. Louis and Prof. Melissa Thomas-Hunt of the University of Virginia studied whether making people aware of bias would lessen it. They informed some people that stereotypes were rare and told others that stereotypes were common, then asked for their perceptions of women. Those who read that stereotypes were common rated women as significantly less career-oriented and more family-oriented. Even when instructed to “try to avoid thinking about others in such a manner,” people still viewed women more traditionally after reading that a vast majority held stereotypes….
Why would knowledge about stereotype prevalence lead to greater stereotyping? We can find clues in research led by Prof. Robert Cialdini at Arizona State University. In a national park, Professor Cialdini’s team tried to stop people from stealing petrified wood by posting: “Many past visitors have removed the petrified wood from the park, changing the state of the Petrified Forest.” Even with this warning, theft rates stood at 5 percent. So they made the sign more severe: “Your heritage is being vandalized every day by theft losses of petrified wood of 14 tons a year, mostly a small piece at a time.” This warning influenced theft, but not in the direction you’d expect: stealing jumped from 5 percent to almost 8 percent.
The message people received was not “Don’t steal petrified wood,” but “Stealing petrified wood is a common and socially acceptable behavior.” We have the same reaction when we learn about the ubiquity of stereotypes. If everyone else is biased, we don’t need to worry as much about censoring ourselves.
If awareness makes it worse, how do we make it better? The solution isn’t to stop pointing out stereotypes. Instead, we need to communicate that these biases are undesirable and unacceptable.
Professor Cialdini’s team slashed the theft rate to 1.67 percent by adding a simple sentence to the sign:
“Please don’t remove the petrified wood from the park.”
Professors Duguid and Thomas-Hunt used a similar approach to prevent bias awareness from backfiring.
Rather than merely informing managers that stereotypes persisted, they added that a “vast majority of people try to overcome their stereotypic preconceptions.” With this adjustment, discrimination vanished in their studies.
RIP: “best books of YYYY” lists based on the idea that women’s books appealed only to women. December 5, 2014
This blog has run for about 7 and a half years; I joined 3 or 4 months after it started. During those years I have counted the number of women in all sorts of lists. Seven years ago it was pretty depressing. This went for conferences, book authors’ list, lists of directors of plays and movies, and so on and so forth for a seemingly endless number of items. I remember vividly an at least very feminist friendly commentator suggesting that maybe women did not have the big ideas for world-class fiction. And though it would seem very wrong to say all those lists were drawn up to inculcate the sense of women as outsiders in cultural production, that certainly was their impact on many.
That, thank goodness, is changing. I’ve been informally counting the number of women in the “best of 2014″ lists that are coming out. Women easily come out at well beyond the earlier 0% to 20%. One of the most enjoyable signs of this is to be found in the following remarks in the NY Times:
In nonfiction, it was a year for young women writers to expand the possibilities of nonfiction: Leslie Jamison’s searching personal essays in “The Empathy Exams”; Olivia Laing’s group portrait of alcoholic writers mixed with memoir in “The Trip to Echo Spring”; Eula Biss’s “On Immunity,” a literary investigation into the anxieties surrounding vaccination; Kerry Howley’s “Thrown,” a tale of mixed martial arts fighters that is mostly true, probably.
The fiction list has its share of veterans — Lorrie Moore, David Mitchell, Haruki Murakami, Marilynne Robinson — but it also has a remarkable number of debut books: 10. Smith Henderson’s “Fourth of July Creek,” about a social worker’s quest to help a boy in off-the-grid Montana, and Yelena Akhtiorskaya’s “Panic in a Suitcase,” the comic tale of a Ukrainian family in Brooklyn, are joined by work from first-timers Boris Fishman, Kathleen Founds, Bret Anthony Johnston, Phil Klay, Eimear McBride, Celeste Ng, Matthew Thomas and Nell Zink.
Complaints Against Queen’s University Philosophy Department November 28, 2014
Adèle Mercier, a professor in the philosophy department, has accused Queen’s of using intimidation tactics to silence her and two other professors after she filed a complaint of gender discrimination against the department.