Women in Physics, I

By cjohnson | January 14, 2006 7:08 pm

conference shotBlogging to you (semi-)live from the on-going women in physics conference being held here at USC this weekend. It was concieved and organized by two of our department’s graduate students Amy Cassidy and Katie Mussak, and the conference webpage is here.

Here is a quote from their motivations:

The low representation of women in physics is an issue of international concern. This disparity points to an untapped resource of talented women who could contribute to future developments in science. The percentage of degrees awarded to women in physics in the USA is much lower than in some other countries. In the AIP report, Women in Physics and Astronomy, 2005 the US ranked 12 out of 19 countries for percentage of PhDs awarded to women and 11th out of 20 countries for percentage of Bachelors awarded to women.

….and further:

To help undergraduate students from USC and other schools in Southern California to successfully make the transition from undergraduate to graduate studies in physics.

To foster a culture in Southern California and at USC in which women are encouraged and supported to pursue and succeed in higher education in physics.

To strengthen the network of women in physics in Southern California.

Notable events (for me) so far:

caolionn o'connell **Excellent talk by Caolionn O’Connell (Caltech), on accelerator technology in experimental high energy physics. She focused on Plasma Wake Field accelerator technology, which she has described on her blog. Finally I actually got to meet her, having only communicated with her electronically in the past. I let her know that her blog is missed by many (the quantum diaries project has ended). (Note to self: Maybe I can convince her to start blogging again in a new project… we could form a joint blog where we can combine efforts in blogging about life and physics in the greater LA area….. Hmmmm.)

nai-chang Yeh **Excellent talk by Nai-Chang Yeh, on experimental condensed matter physics, focusing on a variety of superconductors, magnetic materials, and superconductor/ferromagnet heterostructures. Find out more about her lab’s work here.

**Answering so many excellent questions from so many excellent students (Undergraduates from all over the map) about graduate school, physics in general, high energy physics research, string theory.

**We also had a very good lunch, attended by all the students and organisers, together with a number of the faculty, our department chairman, two of our Deans, and several other faculty who administer the Women in Science and Engineering program here at USC (a very valuable source of support for women in these fields, both colleagial, financial and otherwise). I remind you that it is a Saturday, but these folks turned out in strength, which was good to see.

There’s more to come. I’d better go back for the next talk, by Sheila Tobias.

-cvj

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science, Women in Science
  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ Lubos Motl

    How did you convince them that you were a woman, Clifford? ;-)

    These conferences involving subgroups of the scientific community may be fun as social events, but scientifically, such a fragmentation of the community is undesirable and against the spirit of objective research. For those of us familiar with the history of science in Central Europe, it is hard not to think about Aryan physics. Science is universal and if someone is doing it, it should not be because of a hidden agenda to support a certain group of people against another group – or because of a preconception what the “right” influence of one group should be or should not be.

    If someone, regardless of her or his gender or ethnicity, enters the field to try to prove the existence of “an untapped resource of talented women [or any other group; plug in anything you want] who could contribute to future developments in science”, I think it is a bad motivation, indeed.

    It was not right that I did not promote Caolionn’s blog because it was often interesting. I also like that she’s the only scientist in her family etc. – although, of course, I mostly disagree with her opinions about the Summers controversy.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Actually, Lubos, the conference is open to all genders. I saw no locks or other filters on the doors.

    Of course science is universal…this is not a conference entitled “Female physics”, but “women in physics”…. two different things. You’re an almost off-scale smart guy (in some things, I know for sure), so I’d hope that you could see the difference?

    I’ll also mention that it is very easy, as a white male such as yourself, to sit there and talk about “the spirit of objective research”. Keep doing that. It is a nice thing. Meanwhile, there are others (such as Katie and Amy) who have decided to take matters into their own hands and do their bit to bring together some of those who are from a group that has been denied (either explicitly or implicitly) the opportunity to take part in this “objective research” activity.

    They are going to help change the future while you sit there wallowing in complacency, my friend. Just watch.

    Cheers!

    -cvj

  • Dissident

    Admit it Lubos, you are just jealous that it’s not you wooing an auditorium packed with “undergraduate women in physics”. Heck, even I am jealous! ;)

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    I should say, Lubos, that I’m very very pleased that you posted one of your trademark comments so soon on this topic. This is because several of the students attending (who have just attended an excellent talk by Sheila Tobias, and are now discussing the history of discrimination against women in the field, and its modern incarnations) will read this comment stream, and they’ll be able to see an example of the attitudes that they will face in ther careers while the issues and discussions they’ve had together are still fresh in their minds. To what attitude do I refer? Denial that a discimination problem exists….etc, etc….

    Thanks again, Lubos! Talk with you soon?

    -cvj

  • http://www.gentoo.org FA

    oh, this is going to be a very entertaining thread :)

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    FA:- Ooooooh yes! But let’s hope we all learn useful things too, eh?… :-)

    -cvj

  • Brad DeLong

    So can anyone tell me the argument against the proposition that the low numbers of women in physics (and other disciplines) means that nearly half of the talent that really ought to be at the top of the field isn’t there?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Brad DeLong: Uh, you know….. I don’t think that there is such an argument. But it’s worse…. women are not the only groups that have low numbers… so the volume of talent we’re ignoring as a society is just staggering.

    -cvj

  • http://www.gentoo.org FA

    Let us bring everyone to speed on the latest on the subject. For an “explanation” see:

    this

    PS: Sorry,Clifford.

  • agm

    Dr. DeLong, do you have an argument to share? Historically many in the halls of academia have looked at those of my ethnicity as a constant supply of cheap labor and little else. And it is indeed troubling to know that one is being given a break for nothing else than where one’s ancestor’s came from, but it is in a sense leveling the playing field. Dr. Motl comment paints the ideal that many aspire to now, but by no means can one accurately say that there are no people in positions of academic power who subtly (or all to often openly) discriminate against potential students based on their gender or ethnicity. That’s what these sorts of conferences and organizations exist for.

    There is no good argument to be made that since group X makes up Y percent of the population, group X should also make up Y percent of the people in a major, or in grad school, or in this or that profession. However, that’s essentially irrelevant to the background and topic matter of meetings/organizations like this. What we’re talking about is not underrepresentation but underrepresentation built up by integrating over centuries of not supporting or actively thwarting people who are just as capable of doing the work. The situation, as it exists now in the US, is that our forebears built up an expectation in society that only certain types, which generally happen to be the same as those types that become rich white males, get to pursue advanced physics degrees. We’ve never gotten to see how many people could play ball because, for the most part, only affluent white males got to try their hand at the best opportunities.

  • Julianne

    A hypothetical conversation:

    Me: Lubos, I’m cold.

    Lubos: You cannot possibly be cold. I am not cold. By any respectable measure, a 68 degree room temperature is more than adequate to maintain an individual’s comfort.

    Me: I think I’ll put on a sweater.

    Sean and Clifford: Here, have a sweater.

    Lubos: Why would you even consider putting on a sweater, when it is impossible for you to be cold? Sean and Clifford, you’ve been lead astray by political correctness to even think of loaning her one. I’ve seen the horror in eastern bloc countries when the state requires sweater wearing.

    Sean and Clifford: Instead, we could consider just turning up the heat a bit. Then we could all hang out comfortably.

    Lubos: Why would you change the room temperature for someone who is obviously insufficiently warm-blooded to be in the room in the first place? She should just leave the room rather than demand special consideration. We have always had the room at 68 degrees, and it’s never caused me or anyone else with my exact same body chemistry any concern.

    Sean and Clifford: What’s the big deal about just turning up the heat?

    Me: Thanks for the support Sean and Cliffod, but overall, I’m not exactly feeling welcome around here.

    Lubos: Well it’s certainly not due to _me_. You probably just don’t have what it takes to ever feel comfortably warm in this environment. On the single variable which measures comfort, you would have to be 7-sigma above the mean, whereas I and others who are similarly equipped with penises only need to be 4-sigma above the mean to be sufficiently warm. Integrating under the gaussian, I can therefore prove that the reason there are few women in the room is because they are statistically unlikely every to function effectively in the temperature to which this room is set, which was determined by years of habit.

    Me: Bite me. I’m getting a sweater.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    Even if Summers/Motl/etc. are entirely correct in their diagnoses; and even if there is absolutely no discrimination against women in physics, the simple fact that women are a minority in physics would make it more difficult for the women who qualify to venture into physics. It is always easier to do something when others like yourself have done it. Even for a male (i.e., none of the above criteria) doing something like switching fields – from an electrical engineering bachelor’s to a high energy physics graduate school can be a lonely thing, but made much easier if someone else with similar experience is there (there is a huge culture gap even between two such disciplines).

    So such a conference would be justified on those grounds alone – charting out the territory and making it a little less unfamiliar and unfriendly.

  • citrine

    In my own experiences and in conversations with many women who are/have been in a Physics program – whether as undergrads, grad students or faculty – the theme of “unwelcome atmosphere” routinely crops up. I know this is anecdotal evidence and cannot be proved or measured. However, it is pervasive and seems to be a significant deterrent to females interested in this subject. Battling the issue in its various guises is tricky. I perceive sessions like this, as bringing together people interested in a commmon cause – they want to see competent women NOT being driven off from Physics depts and are trying to identify and counteract the insidious driving forces.

  • http://jenniferhead.cfa.harvard.edu Jennifer

    Julianne, love the fake conversation, especially the portrayal of Sean and Clifford as sweater-offering types, it really made me laugh. I also think it is good for women in science to know what attitudes, good and bad, they can expect to run into. When I was a part of the “physics circus” touring group at University of CA, Santa Barbara, we videotaped ourselves at one point, and it was interesting to see how even the women (including me) tended to choose more boys to answer questions and in general pay more attention (e.g. select as volunteers) to boys rather than girls, even though our audiences were ~50/50.

    In fact sometimes when I am discussing astronomy at the Center for Astrophysics I find that I’ll put more weight on the comment of an older male scientist than a younger female one (two -isms for you right there). I think it was Cornel West who said he found racism in himself so he’s pretty sure it exists in most other people, all colors.

    Anyway. Most of the participants of the physics circus were grateful for this bit of self-reflection and determined to try to be more evenhanded in the future. However there was one guy who was extremely angry that we would consider making an effort to reach out to girls more. It was discrimation and unfair he said. I mentioned that we were going to try to even things up, just make sure we paid equal attention to boys and girls. He had an extremely strong sense that our natural reactions of picking more boys than girls should not be tainted by this conscious effort, because of his belief in justice and equality. It took me a few minutes of discussion before I got that this was an emotional thing for him, and let it go.

    The important thing for me to realize is that you just avoid people who don’t believe there is an issue, or believe that it will resolve itself all by itself over time (indeed, that’s how we got the vote). And when you meet sweater-offering darlings you hang out and do science with them instead. Although according to the beginning of Lisa Randall’s book, she has no problem discussing science with both sets of people.

    Anyway, my philosophy isn’t for everyone but it works for me. I have noticed that some of the top scientists in the whole world are of the sweater-offering type, so it shouldn’t put me at a disadvantage (besides our bloggers here, there’s Leon Lederman, Joe Polchinski, and buckets more). Cheers…

  • http://impropaganda.blogspot.com Suz

    Referring to this remark:
    “This disparity points to an untapped resource of talented women who could contribute to future developments in science.”

    I don’t actually like the argument that we should care about women in science because it means there’s an untapped pool of talent. Yes, there’s an untapped pool of talent, but that’s not the reason we should care. The reason we should care about the abysmal #s of women in science is that it’s a glaring symptom of problems that exist in science/academia/lots of other places that make life hell for women and other underrepresented groups and make them want to leave.

  • Julianne

    The reason we should care about the abysmal #s of women in science is that it’s a glaring symptom of problems that exist in science/academia/lots of other places that make life hell for women and other underrepresented groups and make them want to leave.

    While I agree in part, I think it’s a mistake to always frame “climate issues” as “women’s issues” or “minorities’ issues”. People of any gender or race are negatively affected by some of the worst features of an academic career. And it’s not just “negatively affected” in an emotional way — it directly translates into scientific productivity. The less bullshit I deal with in my work life, the more (and better) science I get done. I don’t see how this reaction is gender specific, and thus if you improve the climate for those whiney gripey women and minorities, you’re improving it for everyone.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Julianne:- Brilliant, just brilliant!

    Everyone:- this is a great discussion so far….let’s keep it going. And thanks for your thoughtful remarks.

    -cvj

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    Of course “Bite me” is the most appropriate and satisfying response to the myopic defenders of one of the last bastions of effective gender discrimination, and I heartily cheer on Julianne’s conclusion. But ultimately it should not be women’s (and young girls’) job to say “bite me” and blithely ignore the surrounding misogyny. When some of them do, it’s fantastic; when others choose to say “screw that” and switch to a friendlier field, one can’t really blame them. People shouldn’t have to put up with such nonsense just to pursue the field they enjoy, and those of us on the inside need to continue to make an explicit effort to convince them that they are indeed welcome.

  • Elliot

    I think everyone has overreacted to Lubos’ statement. It basically is pretty stupid and misses the point. If you parse it, he is essentially suggesting that women might become physicists to specifically address their underrepresentation, not simply because they WANT TO BE PHYSICISTS. It puts becoming a physicist on the same level as becoming a member at Augusta National. I would humbly suggest “apples and oranges”.

    Elliot

  • fh

    I don’t know the numbers in the US, but speaking for Germany I don’t think physics is an unfriendly field for women, and I think many arguments and activities trying to promote physics for women miss the point.

    The simple observation is that the ratio of women in physics in my home university is more or less constant from entry level to professor level. About 10-15%. In fact of the research groups I want to apply for for my PhD 25% are led by women.
    (I’m not saying it’s perfectly fair, I would naturally expect women percentage to rise over the hierarchy, since you would get less women who just do it because it conforms to a certain role even though they aren’t particularly talented)

    I think Julianne is right, there might be a climate issue (and it probably manifests itself differently for men and women), but within physics it doesn’t seem to affect gender distribution to much.

    On the other hand let’s say psychology (since a friend of mine studies that) has a real discrimination problem (probably one of the worst in the field). They start with 90% female undergrads and end up with 10% female professors as well (the percentage gradually changing as you move up the academic hierarchy).

    Yet this is perceived as a markedly female field. Today in Germany there are more female undergrads then male. Thus physics trying to get more female undergrads, should really coincide with say psychology trying to get more male undergrads. The latter would only make sense if there wasn’t such strong inherent discrimination in psychology though.

    What remains, particularly for physics, is the perception of the field in general society. And that is that it’s a male field.
    I think that it’s this perception that needs to be battled, but we can’t expect success in numbers there until the other fields, those societally perceived as female, actually tackle their discrimination problem in earnest. Again, because, while there is discrimination, the discrimination is balanced, half the fields are perceived as female and half as male.

  • Dissident

    Elliot, you’re on to something. I’ve suggested it before, I’ll suggest it again (donning asbestos suit… there, done): I suspect the difference in numbers can largely be explained by a difference in DESIRE to be a physicist.

    Let’s face it, having an academic career (not just in physics) is an impractical proposition at best. The risks are higher and the material rewards nowhere near what an equivalent amount of talent and effort will get you in other contexts, so there must be something else in your psychological makeup to push you in that impractical direction nevertheless.

    Take the two sentences above and replace the academic career with driving around in a Ferrari: also highly impractical, more risky and nowhere near as cost efficient as driving around in a Subaru. Surprise surprise, being seen at the wheel of such an impractical, flashy car is a typically male priority. Statistically speaking, women are more sensible than that. They’ll pick the Subaru (and maybe invest the difference in diamonds instead).

    We know that there are significant psychological differences between the sexes, and an honest assessment of our animal nature tells us where they are coming from. Think peacocks.

    All right you say, but what about those women who did at some point want to become physicists and then changed their mind because they felt unwelcome. What about them?

    Well, what about all the men who also left because they felt unwelcome? Oddly (no, not really) I see no conferences being organized for them. We’ve had a rather lively discussion of grad school recently, so with numbers fresh in mind we should have no problem recognizing the fact that most people who are interested enough to enter the pipeline end up “leaking out” of it without a degree, regardless of gender. Grad school is very much a motivational filter. You have to be really, really motivated (or really, really desperate) to stick with it. All it takes to explain the observed outcome is that the average prospective female physicist’s “I don’t need this crap”-threshold is lower than the average prospective male’s.

    Would it that we all were so sensible.

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ Lubos Motl

    Of course that I am jealous. ;-) But don’t get me wrong. Clifford deserves it. The conference is called “Women physics” but it could have been “Clifford and all the women in physics”. :-)

    More seriously: Yes, I realize that it is fortunately not yet “female physics” – just “females (and Clifford) in physics”. It will become female science once the “dreams” you have described will become true and the women who were not accepted to the grad school start to develop their physical theories and demand these theories to be treated as equal. I am afraid that those who will keep their objectivity will call it “a new kind of crackpot science”.

    We once had a party in San Francisco, and a postmodern male friend of my friend Zuzana had a mug and T-shirt saying “Scientists know it all, science sucks” or something along these lines. The T-shirt was meant to attack science as arrogant.

    This guy promoted the idea of female science, too. He argued that the physical laws that we wrote down are just the white male laws, and women would have completely different laws. And these female laws are discriminated against politically.

    I was trying to explain him that there was nothing such as female physics, and offered him to send him 10 articles without the authors – whether he could determine the gender of the authors.

    Of course, my plan was that he would fail in 80% cases because he would obtain papers by Lenny Susskind, Eva Silverstein, Mirjam Cvetic, and others. Try to imagine what gender he would guess if I gave him the actual papers from the people in our field. We kind of forgot it afterwards.

    Julianne: your story about feeling cold because of me is very entertaining and one must think twice whether the sweater you received was really the only solution. :-) Moreover, be sure that once the room has 80 degrees, there will be many people who will escape because of it. Indeed, you are not the only one who should dictate the temperature, and if the temperature is a metaphor for judging various ideas, then the temperature is determined by physics’ being physics, not by your feelings.

    Dear Prof. DeLong, if there were many unappreciated women who are equally good as (or better than) the professors currently in exact sciences, a university who would decide to hire them would get an enormous advantage. Interestingly, Prof. Summers who co-authored many influential papers with you understands these elementary points about economy and game theory. Incidentally, I hope it is OK for me to talk about economy and game theory if you found it appropriate to teach me science and its history. (What you wrote was really painful.)

    Note that fh’s description of the situation in Germany was not written by me. As you can see, the situation is very much the same as in the U.S. Nevertheless, no one has even had the idea to blame it on all males. This is not how women in Europe are thinking.

    By the way, when you read this thread, you still don’t get the point who is ACTUALLY discriminated against in the Academia?

    Hope to see you sometime – for example, aren’t you in Seattle tomorrow, Clifford?

  • http://www.amara.com Amara

    More numbers:

    In the Max-Planck institutes I worked in and visited (1998-2002), the numbers of women researchers (non German nationalities there being more common among females) was about 1 in 10, so then perhaps a little less than the Germany universities that fh reported. Outside of my group, as female, I didn’t always feel comfortable with such low representation, especially since my previous experiences at NASA research centers was closer to 25-30% women researchers. However my old German group was the most supportive and friendliest research environment I ever experienced in my 20 years working in astronomy, so I didn’t personally mind the lack of other women to talk to.

    Italy has much higher female representation in my field (astronomy and planetary physics): about 50%. My planetary working group is even higher, about 70% women. My boss, a female, is the only female head of an Italian astronomy institute, though, and I know that she fights many personal battles to keep planetary sciences in Italy running.

    My observation from the last few year here and gut instinct about why such a large number of females in science is that the Italian society is undergoing large upheavals in traditional roles (men and woman). I see a lot of friction between those that want to jump ahead to “this” century, and those that want to keep status quo. The choice of science for women is, I think, perceived as a good ‘escape’ from traditional roles. How the women researchers manage to balance the family life and work life especially with salaries that are half of normal European research salaries is something magical to me. I know the women are under great stress, but they somehow make it work too.

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ Lubos Motl

    Interest in physics is often manifested when the people are kids – 15 years old and sometimes even 10 as our friend string theorist from Oregon:

    http://motls.blogspot.com/2006/01/young-string-theorist-in-oregon.html

    See also some comments about the pressures that the Harvard president faced after his speech on 1/14/2005:

    http://motls.blogspot.com/2006/01/one-year-later.html

    A story about the Czech emancipation in the context of seemingly culturally superior Germans has also an important point to teach us:

    http://motls.blogspot.com/2006/01/leaders-of-mature-nations.html

    Dear Jennifer, certainly women could want to know what to expect. But what they can expect is not just people rejecting the idea that discrimination against women today is an important factor. Of course it is not an important factor these days, and if there is significant social pressure that changes the balance of the genders today, it is directed against the boys. Every member of admission committees (and other committees etc.) can tell you details. This year, we have 485 folders to read. Horrible.

    The future grad students in computer science can expect advanced geeky questions from their male classmates that most women simply don’t understand. If they’re simultaneously being told that they should understand it because women are surely equally good with programming as men, it will be very difficult for them because they will think that it is their personal problem. Some ideas and numbers about women in computer science:

    http://motls.blogspot.com/2005/12/internet-gender-gap.html

    Of course it won’t be their personal problem. Boys are much more likely to be geeks and master complicated mechanisms and details in computer science. If you impose the same cutoff for abilities for the girls and boys, it is clear that the girls will be more selective and further from the average of all females. That’s simply because their number will be smaller or, alternatively, the female standard deviation is smaller. Recall that the map between the percentage of women and the parameters of the normal distribution is calculated here:

    http://www.lagriffedulion.f2s.com/math.htm

    Neurobiological evidence for cognitive differences was e.g. here:

    http://schwinger.harvard.edu/~motl/cahill.pdf

  • http://www.irrationalpoint.blogspot.com Quibbler

    “All it takes to explain the observed outcome is that the average prospective female physicist’s “I don’t need this crap”-threshold is lower than the average prospective male’s.”

    Nonsense.

    Women have a lot more crap to deal with than men. I think there are very few men who would stay in physics if they had to deal with the same amount of crap. They don’t have to deal with it, so it’s easier to stay. Women do have to deal with it, so it’s not really that surprising that so many of them say “screw it, i’m going to get a jobe where i’m treated decently” and leave.

    I would also humbly suggest that people who think that women are inherently less dedicated, or inherently have a lower “i don’t need this crap”- threshold are part of the problem.

    –Q

  • FP

    Perhaps Prof. DeLong could comment on Lubos’ link to La Griffe du Lion, which seems to be at the core of his argument. Thank you in advance!

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    Hi Lubos. I don’t quite understand how the discussion of the climate women face in physics became one including the concept of “women’s physics” and the idea that this will then introduce relativism into how the merits of physical theories are evaluated. To my knowledge, these latter issues are just not present in any serious or widespread conversation about women’s representation in our field.

    The climate problem, which most people here are focused on, and which Julianne so wittily framed in her dialogue, is nothing to do with relativism regarding physics, nor is it a symptom of some perceived creep of postmodernism into our discipline.

    Let me try to isolate the climate issue with an illustrative example.

    When in graduate school, I attended all the high-energy physics seminars in my group. I saw hundreds of these, and the speaker was almost always male (as you’d expect, given the numbers in our field). Most faculty, postdocs and students were generally respectful while being probing, questioning and tough. One faculty member in particular was basically silent during all these talks.

    One day, an extremely good female physicist came to give a seminar. She gave a very nice talk and, since it was in an area in which I am now much more expert than the faculty member involved, I can tell you that it was on extremely good, technically correct and interesting work. The generally quiet faculty member became quite animated during this seminar, by which I mean that he badgered and bothered the speaker with rather ill formed questions, sarcastic comments about the motivation for the work and open sneers. He completely ruined the seminar, not just for the speaker, but for the rest of us as well.

    This is a particularly egregious example of what people are talking about when they bring up the climate women face in physics. It is not that most of us are banding together to keep them out of our club, but rather that there are enough discouraging, abusive and downright silly people to needlessly make the environment less welcoming than it is for men.

    The extension of such a discussion to a comparison between the way we treat women in physics to the way in which Eastern European societies were run is a complete distraction, a red-herring. I don’t deny that there exist occasional people who, like your friend in San Francisco, think there should be female science, and that scientific ideas should be treated in a postmodern sense. But these people are plain wrong, are to be ignored, and are absolutely nothing to do with the issues being discussed here and at Clifford’s conference.

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ Lubos Motl

    Dear FP, yes, I would also be interested in Brad DeLong’s response to La Griffe du Lion – it is essentially his field – but I remain skeptical that we have a chance to hear equations that make sense.

    Quibbler, it is not easy to figure out what the problem is. The women are equally talented to do physics, they can deal with more crap than men. They can probably also stand lower temperatures (except Julianne). :-) Still, the airplanes don’t seem to land.

    Julianne, you described the situation quite well, and I essentially endorse Luboš from your story. The Eastern bloc did not impose exactly sweaters :-) but the essence was similar:

    http://www.mujweb.cz/zabava/sssr/Skutpi.jpg

    (Czechoslovak pioneers.) These suits were nice but we have had enough of them. This metaphor that Luboš in your story represents is very deep. We have indeed tried various kinds of social engineering that was designed to change the percentage of various groups at various schools etc. and you should indeed listen to our experience because it is crucial for this question. In the communist system, the policies were not about genders but rather classes but the essence is isomorphic.

    You know, thousands of the “right” people from the working class were invited to the communist party in order for the party to maintain its working class status and in order for them to become bosses and leaders and they were also given education. What it means is that they had, for example, infinitely many attempts to pass the exams. Be sure that the patience of all the professors was finite, so finally all these people – usually dumb simpletons – got their degrees. It was a completely corrupt, discriminatory, inefficient, and just plain stupid system – and an integral part of the totalitarian thinking – and what some of the people here seem to propose here is very similar. Only the working class is replaced by women.

    Sorry to say but you will either have to live with the 68 degree temperature or not. The temperature can’t be twisted.

    If you want to discuss these issues rationally, you will have to explain what is meant by your “temperature” in the real life. Why is exactly unwelcoming? Only when you define the “problem”, one can try to solve it. I don’t think that any of you have shown any problem so far. What we have seen is fog, whining, and ill-defined accusations, not a topic for a serious discussion.

  • Dissident
  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ Lubos Motl

    Mark, your example of a single seminar is completely ludicrous because there are hundreds of male seminar speakers who are being attacked every week. Moreover, statistically, the effect is exactly in the opposite way than you suggest.

    It is almost always the case that the audience is “nicer” to the speaker if she is female than if he is male, and I simply don’t believe that anyone believes that the converse is true because the converse seems so obviously untrue.

    Also, let me mention that if you were sitting at the seminar and you thought that the talk was correct and your colleague was wrong, then you should have defended the speaker – regardless of his or her sex – as every Gentleman who is not a coward would undoubtedly do in that situation.

    In fact, I think that this “lower exposure to criticism” is a bad thing for the women because confrontation in particular and feedback in general is an important tool to learn about the actual arguments and possible problems, and one of the methods to improve both science as well as its presentation. As you can see, I not only disagree with you but I disagree with every individual point of your argumentation.

    In the Soviet bloc, we did not have any special conferences of the working class scientists or communist scientists and no one would have the courage to argue that this was the way to go. In this sense, what is happening in the context of feminism is worse than what I have seen during communism.

    You promote science without feedback and confronations, and explanations of a particular criticism in terms of the gender of the speakers. I promote science with feedback and confrontation and blindness of scientifical debates with respect to superficial and irrelevant things such as the gender. (I would not even have the idea to explain one particular criticism as a “war between the sexes” because I find such an interpretation downright stupid.)

    Moreover, you think it is OK if unjustified criticism goes on, while I think that unjustified criticism should be criticized and potentially stopped. As you can see, we just can hardly agree about anything, despite having officially the same gender. ;-)

  • fh

    I just want to note, first, that I am male. Furthermore I thoroughly disagree with Summers and Motl’s analysis. The very same reasoning has been used throughout all times to justify inequalities, and determine why the status quo is the best possible way and those who want affect change are either dreamers, hopeless, fascist liberals or whatever the insult of the moment was.

    Lubos Motl of course has a history of dedicating his enormous intellect to support absurd statements conforming to his ideology, rather then what is suggested by the evidence inderect and contextual as it may be. Much like the “postmodern science haters” he likes to hate.

    I merely wanted to suggest that the numbers simultaneously suggest that there is a problem but also that it(‘s most significant contributing factor) is not within academia but outside, or rather at the interface.

    Of course the more women we get into exposed high positions in physics the more this perception of the field is bound to change. Affirmative action as a temporary meassure to break metastable states of discrimination is an absolutely valid policy tool.

    I’m very glad to hear that Italian society seems to be taking this route Amara! In fact I remember that in my year it was celebrated that we were double digit female again. So 1 in 10 seems to be a pervasive level in physics in Germany.
    That this has nothing to do with reasoning capabilities is easily seen in the 30% ratio mathematics reaches.

    Of course the one dead give away that we are seeing a cultural effect instead of a natural (to whatever degree that actually makes sense when persuites of the mind are concerned) is that it’s not universal, but the rate of women in the hard sciences varies significantly between societies.

  • Brad DeLong

    Lubos Motl writes: “Dear Prof. DeLong, if there were many unappreciated women who are equally good as (or better than) the professors currently in exact sciences, a university who would decide to hire them would get an enormous advantage”

    Bullshit.

    My *guess* as to the major factor… which is also Larry’s, by the way: a year ago he said that his “best guess… of what’s behind all of this is that the largest phenomenon, by far, is the general clash between people’s legitimate family desires and employers’ current desire for high power and high intensity [especially from 22-35].”

    A number of women I know who I think would have done very well in physical science academic careers decided in their early 20s not to because such a career would require that they work like dogs from 22-35 to get tenure–the years that would otherwise be their peak childbearing and infant-rearing years, and that was not a sacrifice they were willing to make. For the men I know this wasn’t a factor–postponing children until their late 30s or simply not being a presence in their children’s lives for a while seemed perfectly fine.

    The process of climbing to the top of the professoriate is structured as a tournament, in which the big prizes go to those willing to work the hardest and the smartest from their mid-twenties to their late thirties. Given our society (and our biology), a man can enter this tournament this without foreclosing many life possibilities: they can marry someone who will bear the burden of being for a decade a “happily married single parent,” or they can decompress in their late thirties, look around, marry someone five years younger, have their family, and then live the leisured life of the theory class–or not. But given our society (and our biology), a woman cannot enter this particular academic tournament without running substantial risks of foreclosing many life possibilities if she decides to postpone her family, and a woman cannot enter this particular academic tournament without feeling–and being–at a severe work intensity-related handicap if she does not postpone her family.

    In order to make progress, you have to either alter society (and perhaps biology) substantially, or back away from the work-intensity tournament model of choosing people for the high-prestige prize academic slots. But everyone in the debate wants to hold onto the tournament model–either because it justifies their current high-prestige position or because they fear that calling for change will get them a reputation as not being intellectually serious. Few want to call for root-and-branch reorganizations of society for fear of being dismissed as utopian dreamers. And so there are few voices saying that the problem of the disparate impact of the tournament system is a dire and severe one. It’s better not to talk about it. What good could come from rocking the boat, and making the senior faculty face the possibility that fixing things might actually disturb their lives somewhat? Instead, pretend that things can be fixed with a little more affirmative action at the assistant professor level, and perhaps some extra committee meetings.

    And there are a host of other factors at work as well…. One such factor… The pool from which potential physical scientists are drawn…. I remember Math 55 my freshman year: 48 men, 2 women. Why only two women? A bunch of reasons. One such reason I know is still in operation: I was talking to a twelve-year-old girl last month who is on track to take Calculus BC as a high-school sophomore, who would rather keep exactly how advanced in math she is a secret from her friends. That’s not something that me or my peers would have imagined–our excellence in math was something to boast about, not something to disguise.

    Two more such factors… To quote Larry from his talk of a year ago again: “To what extent is there overt discrimination? Surely there is some. Much more tellingly, to what extent are there pervasive patterns of passive discrimination and stereotyping in which people like to choose people like themselves, and the people in the previous group are disproportionately white male, and so they choose people who are like themselves, who are disproportionately white male? No one who’s been in a university department or who has been involved in personnel processes can deny that this kind of taste does go on, and it is something that happens, and it is something that absolutely, vigorously needs to be combated…”

    As to why the “academic market” doesn’t fix it…. Well, consider the keyboard layout, designed a century and more ago to minimize jamming problems. Is there any reason to think that our current keyboard ergonomically optimized? I think the consensus is that there is no reason to think that it is–that nobody has done enough work (although Dvorak did some) to really know what our keyboards should look like. I know the argument that nothing can be wrong because the market would have fixed it already very well. I use it on occasion. But it proves too much when handled by those without a license to do so.

  • Dissident

    fh, if the effect is caused by an innate difference in motivation, it’s enough for the cost/reward ratios to vary between cultures for the outcome to vary between them, too. In other words, if there’s less crap to take relative to the benefit of taking it in country A than in country B, more women will stick with it in country A than in country B, even if their “I don’t need this crap”-thresholds are identical.

  • citrine

    There seems to be some confusion about the question of representation of women in Physics tied up with this whole “unwelcome climate” issue. Even assuming a gender imbalance (due to whatever reason/s) beyond some critical level of competence, there is the attrition problem to deal with.

    Yes, there are the general problems (funding/ time crunch) faced by people in Physics that may cause some women (or men) to give up. Over and above those, here are a few specific instances where the “unwelcome climate” issue rears its head:

    a) Insider info about work-related opportunities brought up by SOME male profs only to the male students they bond with over beer and/ or sports. Somehow no one relays the info to those not present.

    b) Ignoring or being derisive of contributions by female students.

    c) Treating female students in general as social diversions and those who dare to be assertive as “uppity
    b*tches” who need to be put in their place.

    Let me make this very clear – there are plenty of male students are faculty who do NOT act this way. Sadly, there are also many who do, and years of battling them while getting one’s Physics done takes a tremendous toll on one’s energies.

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ Lubos Motl

    Dear fh,

    yes, I think that the beginning of your description of my attitude is fair. I indeed believe in the naturally evolved status quo and the continuing evolution of the status quo by actual material work and insights that “work”. The precise “optimal” evolution in the future is not yet known and no one has the right to impose her or his belief about this issue on the whole society.

    On the other hand, I don’t believe in social engineering – various miraculous projects trying to make the world “better” by artificially adjusting the concentration of various groups in various other groups according to “predetermined ideals” and by controlling and regulating the society in hundreds of other ways that have no justification beyond naive ideologies and preconceptions.

    Yes, I am dismissive of naive believers, fascists, racists, communists, feminists, socialists, creationists, postmodernists, proponents of selective support of loop quantum gravity, and all this crap – groups that believe that the pattern of influence and roles of different groups in the society should be tilted by organized pressure from above – and I am honestly baffled by the apparent fact that so many people disagree with me.

    There is no evidence that discrimination against women or other major groups is an important factor in the contemporary Western societies, and I think that this thread itself contains enough information and links to eliminate doubts about this statement. Whether or not you say that the “problem” is during Mark’s seminar or “on the interface” (?) does not change the basic point – namely that neither of you is able to describe what your hypothetical “problem” is, not even approximately.

    The reason is that no such gender-dependent problem exists.

    One more point for fh: the different percentage of women in science in different societies is indeed mostly a social issue – it is about the amount of positive discrimination in the particular countries. If this were eliminated, the percentage of women in science would be almost identical in all nations, especially the nations within the same ethnic groups and/or races, and quite possibly lower than in any society we see today. But there would still be effects because the parameters of the statistical distributions also depend on the nations and/or races – and even the ratios between men and women depend on the nations and/or races, although in a less pronounced way.

    Best wishes
    Lubos

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    The answer to du Griffin is the passage to time. In the last decade women are being elected the National Academy of Sciences in the Mathematics and Applied Mathematics sections at a much higher rate than Griffin predicts (women should be elected at the 5% level, but are being elected at the 10% level – 6 out of 62 from 1995-2005; 62 is somewhat more than a third of the total membership in these two sections). Meanwhile the population base against which the NAS members are being drawn is increasing; du Griffin’s prediction is that the percentage of women should then decrease.

  • invcit

    “I was talking to a twelve-year-old girl last month who is on track to take Calculus BC as a high-school sophomore, who would rather keep exactly how advanced in math she is a secret from her friends.”

    Yes, it is more common for gifted girls to “dumb down” to fit in than it is for boys. I understand this can take quite a bit of effort to break free from.

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ Lubos Motl

    Dear Prof. DeLong,

    I am not sure whether it is possible for two of us to discuss rationally. In response to your wild speculation that one half of talented physicists are lost and all of them are women, I wrote that if there were many underappreciated women who are better than the current professors, any university would get a huge advantage by hiring them. Surely there is no conspiracy between all universities in the U.S. and in the world, and because we don’t see this extensive hiring, it more or less falsifies your conjecture that one half of the talented people are “unused”.

    Every person with a rudimentary ability to think about economics and reality knows that. (Ask Prof. Summers or anyone else.) You don’t. For whatever reason, you don’t like this argument, so you write your counter-argument. Your counter-argument is, as far as I see, nothing else than the word “bullshit”. Of course that this is not a counter-argument, just evidence that you have no idea what you are talking about. Then you continue with maternal duties. Maternal duties don’t contradict my statement at all. Maternal duties are just one of the microscopic biological explanations behind the differences between men and women in science.

    One could imagine that the fact of becoming a mother will only affect a woman after she becomes pregnant, but of course it is not true. Nature works in such a way that a woman is getting ready for these things much earlier, and “getting ready” also influences various cognitive issues. (Many of them were already decided before the person started to breath.) A part of these developments can be traced purely biologically; another part is about their own reasoning what they want to do. These are difficult processes. What’s important is that they can’t be separated or deconstructed. The primary reasons are biological which is why all of these effects must be counted as “nature”, not “nurture”.

    Unless a part of your plan is to cancel the fact that women often become mothers – and I prefer not to hear your alternatives how the humankind will be protected from disappearing – we must live with these facts, they are laws of Nature, and must be respected as initial conditions for any considerations we make as long as these considerations are rational.

    My understanding is that you agree that it is completely impossible for you to write anything that would resemble a quantitative reply to La Griffe du Lion.

    Best
    Lubos

  • http://www.irrationalpoint.blogspot.com Quibbler

    Lubos,

    I don’t think it is the case that women face less criticism, in general. My experience of being in math classes is that contributions for girls/women are ignored, talked over, or talked down. The same contribution from a boy/man will be addressed seriously.

    “There is no evidence that discrimination against women or other major groups is an important factor in the contemporary Western societies, and I think that this thread itself contains enough information and links to eliminate doubts about this statement.”

    Bull.

    I’ve dealt with sexist comments and treatment all my life. It is routinely the case that if I say something, it is ignored by male classmates. When a guy says exactly the same thing, people shut up and listen. Over time i’ve gotten a lot more assertive to make people shut up and listen when i start talking. Consequently, i’m a bitch who needs to be put in her place. If demanding a little common courtesy and basic decency makes me a bitch, I can deal with that. but i shouldn’t have to.

    “it is not easy to figure out what the problem is”

    uhhhh, really? I think it’s pretty damn obvious, and it’s this:

    Women in traditionally male-dominated fields are constantly being treated in a manner which is condescending if not downright hostile by many male colleagues and classmates. On the low end of the scale, that’s the male math prof who congratulates a woman undergrad with “It’s not often we get pretty girls doing so well in this course” when he would never refer to a male undergrad’s physical looks. On the higher end, it’s women getting denied jobs because they have kids and *obviously* women with kids aren’t dedicated to their work.

    –IP

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ Lubos Motl

    Arun, all your words and numbers are completely incorrect, and I have already explained you why.

    As the total number of the NAS members climbs, NAS is becoming less selective, which means that the predicted percentage of women in NAS is going to grow. It is important to count the total number of the members – not the newly accepted ones – because the newly accepted ones are not the “top” math people from the whole nation (the top people have already been members before).

    You also misunderstand the name of La Griffe du Lion. It means “lion’s claw”. Du Griffin is pretty far from the actual pseudonym. ;-)

    Invcit, I personally think that the girl should not be slowed down. She should get all the opportunities to do what other girls do – and what makes them happy – but if she enjoys math, she should have the chance to learn string theory or anything else at the basic school. ;-)

  • invcit

    “One could imagine that the fact of becoming a mother will only affect a woman after she becomes pregnant, but of course it is not true. Nature works in such a way that a woman is getting ready for these things much earlier, and “getting ready” also influences various cognitive issues. (Many of them were already decided before the person started to breath.) A part of these developments can be traced purely biologically; another part is about their own reasoning what they want to do. These are difficult processes. What’s important is that they can’t be separated or deconstructed. The primary reasons are biological which is why all of these effects must be counted as “nature”, not “nurture”.”

    Lubos, I think you are avoiding the issue here. Sure it’s nature, not nurture, but the relevant question is whether it is possible to create a system in which women can be productive in science, even though they have children. As it is now, this biological fact works against them, but is this necessary? Personally, I think it would be very difficult to create such a system, while still selecting for the smartest and most productive persons. DeLong seemed to have some vague ideas about “root-and-branch reorganizations of society” but I don’t really know what he was talking about. It would be interesting to know if he had any concrete ideas here.

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ Lubos Motl

    Dear Quibbler,

    you may have different experience but I’ve been affiliated with 8 different universities or so, and none of them had the pattern of discrimination you describe.

    The male and female students in my class have about the same scores etc. – and for whatever reason, it is sometimes infinitesimally easier to work with the girls (the attendance rate is higher, among other things). (Another wrong assumption that many of you assume is that people prefer to spend their time with the same sex which I believe is in 96% of cases an incorrect assumption.) :-)

    About one quarter of the students are female, and they are doing well. It does not take too much thought to realize that if the percentage of girls were significantly higher, the overall average would drop.

    Having kids is a great gift from Mother Nature of God or anyone else, and it is a natural role for many women and not necessarily all women. I think that it is very plausible statistically that women with kids are less committed to their work in average – and many of us have known quite many women to observe these natural changes of priorities.

    Do the bosses have the right to take this statistics into account? I think that they do. But even if some of them do, there are still many of bosses who just don’t care about these issues. If they think that the woman is very good, they just hire her despite the kids. I just find it obvious that if there is some “problem” here to solve, the problem is not primarily on the side of the bosses.

    Best
    Lubos

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ Lubos Motl

    Invcit, I don’t know whether it’s possible (and desirable) to create a system in which women are simultaneously great mothers and great workers. My guess is No.

    If you’ve seen how such a mother really works ;-), it is often a hard time. For children below 4, it’s essentially a full-time job, especially in the case of several children. These days, many women work nevertheless. I think that the “natural” amount of work done by women could already be overshot today. Certainly, this feeling was often raised in the late socialism.

    In the 1970s, when I was a kid, mothers would partially ignore the children. Artificial products would replace milking most of the time, and so forth. In some sense, I feel it was wrong. If this is the goal you dream about, let me assure you that there is nothing to dream about.

    The day still only has 24 hours. It is hard to be a full-time great mother and a full-time great researcher. There should be mechanisms that allow women to return to their jobs when the children grow up, and perhaps some mechanisms that allow the women to reduce their job to 1/2 or less without losing the contact. But I find it very unreasonable to assume that women can spend 24 hours with science plus 24 hours with kids every day.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    Motl,
    As usual you show all the dedication to evidence and reasoning that is worthy of a string theorist.

    Selectivity in the Griffin sense means “number of candidates per slot”. It is the only variable that determines the male/female ratio. The selectivity is increasing for NAS slots.

    “The good mathematicians are already members of the NAS” is a ridiculous argument – why admit anyone to graduate school, there aren’t going to be any more mathematicians as good or better as the ones we already have? Thus e.g, when Andrew Wiles was elected in 1996 (which is in the interval I mentioned) it was no doubt part of the general downhill trend of the NAS – else Wiles would already have been a member of the NAS.

    What’s in a name? It is just as wrong as if it is LGDL or Griffin.

  • Brad DeLong

    Lubos Motl writes: “Dear Prof. DeLong, I am not sure whether it is possible for two of us to discuss rationally. In response to your wild speculation that one half of talented physicists are lost and all of them are women, I wrote that if there were many underappreciated women who are better than the current professors, any university would get a huge advantage by hiring them. Surely there is no conspiracy between all universities in the U.S. and in the world, and because we don’t see this extensive hiring, it more or less falsifies your conjecture that one half of the talented people are “unused”. Every person with a rudimentary ability to think about economics and reality knows that…”

    You have a *serious* reading comprehension problem. You should get it checked out–as soon as possible.

    And it’s not that half are lost–a good deal more than half are lost.

    Let me repeat myself:

    (1) A bunch of potential excellent physicists were told as children that it’s not cool for girls to be to good at math, and so didn’t work as hard as they might have. That’s a waste of potential talent. No university could rise in rank by trying to take advantage of it.

    (2) A bunch more took a look at the world as it is when they reached their early 20s, and decided not to try to win the academic tournament because there was no way they could have the family life they wanted and avoid getting heavily penalized in the tournament–not, mind you, because becoming a mother makes you a bad scientist, but because of the peculiar way academia is organized. That’s a waste of potential talent. No university could rise in rank by trying to take advantage of it.

    (3) As Larry Summers says: “To what extent is there overt discrimination? Surely there is some.” That’s a waste of potential talent. Universities could rise in rank by trying to take advantage of it, and they are doing so.

    (4) As Larry Summers says: “To what extent are there pervasive patterns of passive discrimination and stereotyping in which people like to choose people like themselves, and the people in the previous group are disproportionately white male, and so they choose people who are like themselves, who are disproportionately white male? No one who’s been in a university department or who has been involved in personnel processes can deny that this kind of taste does go on…” That’s a waste of potential talent. It’s not clear that any university could rise in rank by trying to take advantage of it–the disruption to the existing faculty’s sense of self and web of relationships might well outweigh any gains.

    (5) The person born in 1960 whose genes were such as to make them potentially the best theoretical physicist in the world doesn’t hold a chair at MIT. That person is probably pushing a plough in Bangladesh–too little protein in the womb for their optimal brain development, and no social channels thereafter to carry them into the educational system at the right level. That’s a huge waste of potential talent. No university could rise in rank by trying to take advantage of it.

    You don’t seem to know that the argument is not that there are many women out there teaching physics at community colleges who would be better than the current research professors. The argument is, instead, that there are powerful factors that have a disparate impact and keep women (and most men as well) from fully developing their potential talents.

    If the problem were of the first type, we could rely on academic incentives for glory to fix a good deal of it. But it isn’t, and we can’t.

  • citrine

    Lubos,

    The crux of this “climate” issue (as I see it) lies in your statement

    *****************************************************
    Another wrong assumption that many of you assume is that people prefer to spend their time with the same sex which I believe is in 96% of cases an incorrect assumption.)
    ***************************************************

    Professionally, people in general appear to be most comfortable dealing with their own kind. This attitude has many negative ramifications for women in Physics. It appears that you are mistaking social (romantic?) affinity for professional bonding.

  • fh

    Dear Lubos –

    “There is no evidence that discrimination against women or other major groups is an important factor in the contemporary Western societies.”

    The mind baffles.

    The problem is obvious on the phenomenological level, 10% womens quote in physics. The tilt in quote in psychology for example. The overwhelming dominance of men in the political process.

    As Prof De long kindly pointed out even Larry Summers talk included all these possibilities.

    “I indeed believe in the naturally evolved status quo and the continuing evolution of the status quo by actual material work and insights that “work”.”

    In what way was the introduction of women sufferage evolutionary while affirmative action isn’t?
    If anything the former was the far more radical step.
    The change and development of society has always been affected by groups pushing for change.

    Also I think most people who post here understand the trivial/simplistic game theoretic/market optimizations arguments very well. They just aren’t applicable in the majority of situations. We are not dealing with a perfect game, or perfect decision makers there are significant, even dominant, traces of the history of the evolutionary process, metastable states, market failures, technological and societal lock ins.

    “Yes, I am dismissive of naive believers, fascists, racists, communists, feminists, socialists, creationists, postmodernists…”

    Yet your positions are no more fact based then theirs. In some cases less so. Nevermind that to put this list of people into one pool alone betrays a severe lack of knowledge of the society you diagnose so aptly to have no problem anyway.

    I will spare myself the work to go through your post bit by bit. I recommend Feynman’s article “This Unscientific Age”. I’m particularly thinking of the passage about telepathy. If the effect shrinks with the errorbars of your experiment it’s probably not there.

    And now remember that throughout history it has at all times been argued that women could not do this or that due to innate ability, and everytime society progressed, took a closer look, it turned out to be wrong.
    Can girls go to school? College? University? Become Professors? Vote? Be elected? Be Musicians? Be Scientists? During the past two centuries the answers have at one time been no, then switched to yes.
    The closest parallel to the current case is perhaps afforded by blind auditions in orchestras. Also a highly competitive field, also a tournament model (though perhaps slightly less so). And it was thought that women simply did not have the same inate abilities as men to compete there. Until blind auditions were introduced, where the judges did not know if they were hearing a male or a female candidate. And immidiately things changed radically, with more women now being hired then men.

    The effect of inate abilities has been found to shrink under scrutiny over centuries. This strongly indicates that it is not there, or rather it’s effect is negligble.

    Also people like you who intelligently spout out nonsense are holding up those who want to intelligently improve our understanding of the problems and unequalities that are there.
    You also seem to be under the illusion that some invisible hand will shape society if nobody disagreed with the way things are anymore. Tell me what is society but the interactions and (dis)agreements of people? And how should it change if not through people arguing that something is not the way it should be and acting, individually, or organised (i.e. through the democratic process) to change it?
    This is precisely what drives the dynamics of society at all times.

    -frank

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ Lubos Motl

    Arun: your sign error is so trivial that one should not add new comments. Once again, the more members NAS has, the less selective it is, the less people there are per slot, and the higher percentage of women one expects.

    Brad DeLong: available data simply falsify your conjectures. The percentage does not increase since the 1960s, for example. There have been 9 physics/chemistry female Nobel prize winners before 1964 and none afterwards. What you say is nothing else than unjustifiable ideology and flawed wishful thinking.

    Citrine, the ability to work with someone is a different thing from a different kind of “work” with her, indeed, but the level “how well do we feel” is strongly correlated. Moreover, if a male physicist feels uncomfortable with a different physicist because of professional reasons, the reasons are a priori independent of the sex although there can be certain correlations. I personally feel well, more relaxed etc. with female colleagues especially if they are smart.

    But even in situations where it’s not the case, people just have the right to have different reactions to certain perceptions. There may be some lines of reasoning that look “female”, but a physicist still has the right to reject them (and female physicists are doing it, too). Unless you advocate female physics after all, you can’t demand higher tollerance to a certain kind of flawed thinking just because the thinking is “female”.

    Have fun here, the flight is waiting. And in the expected consensus that I am an evil sexist stupid misguided imperialist, I hope that at least some of you will think twice. ;-)

  • invcit

    “A bunch more took a look at the world as it is when they reached their early 20s, and decided not to try to win the academic tournament because there was no way they could have the family life they wanted and avoid getting heavily penalized in the tournament—not, mind you, because becoming a mother makes you a bad scientist, but because of the peculiar way academia is organized.”

    Brad DeLong: I wish you would expound on this. What do you think is a better organization of academia?

  • fh

    “Have fun here, the flight is waiting. And in the expected consensus that I am an evil sexist stupid misguided imperialist, I hope that at least some of you will think twice.”

    Lubos Motl, I think people here are able to seperate between your miguided and naive social believes and your personal actions, which we have no reason to believe to be anything but perfect.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    What a shame that we can’t applaud a nice conference without rehearsing the same tired old arguments from guys who are afraid to recognize the discrimination that is all around them. It will take some time, but eventually they will go the way of those who argued that women shouldn’t have the right to vote.

    Anyway, congratulations to Amy Cassidy and Katie Mussak for organizing what seems to have been a successful event — it’s great that they took the initiative to do this. Keep up the good work, and try to ignore the threatened bleating in the background — the best way to shut the old dinosaurs up is to prove them wrong.

  • invcit

    “The day still only has 24 hours. It is hard to be a full-time great mother and a full-time great researcher.”

    There is always a conflict between career and kids for women (and to some extent for men). Unfortunately, it is probably more pronounced in a field like physics that 1. is very competitive, 2. most people probably do their best research around the same ages as when they would have children, 3. it takes very long to reach financial “security.”

    “There should be mechanisms that allow women to return to their jobs when the children grow up, and perhaps some mechanisms that allow the women to reduce their job to 1/2 or less without losing the contact. But I find it very unreasonable to assume that women can spend 24 hours with science plus 24 hours with kids every day.”

    This would solve a lot for other fields, but for the above reasons, it would do less for physics.
    I suppose it is unfair that women generally take more responsibility than men for raising kids. Dividing the labour might help. Obviously not by forcing people to do that, but to enable them to make that choice. So men should also be able to go down to 1/2 and have the security of getting their full-time job back, and so on. But the question remains, can such a person be competetive against people who put all of their time into physics? Probably not. There seems to be little to be done about this.

  • Dissident

    #51: Sean, if discrimination is the primary cause, then how do you explain that southern European macho countries have proportionally more female hard scientists (see e.g. Amara’s figures from Italy) than northern European feminist-saturated ones?

    As for tired old arguments, I would really like to see somebody countering Kanazawa, rather than just ignoring him.

  • citrine

    Lubos,

    It is good to know that you personally feel more at ease working with a smart female Physicist (than with her male peer). However, this is not my observation with many male Physicists. They show a palpable discomfort (evident in their more fidgety, dismissive body language) in the presence of females – colleagues, students, staff or otherwise. This discomfort seems to translate into a reluctance to see female colleagues as peers and acknowledging female students as bona fide members of the Physics program.

  • Dissident

    #54: Could fear of interactions with members of the opposite sex being construed as sexual harassment have anything to do with the discomfort?

  • Aaron Bergman

    53 — Because maybe, just maybe, discrimination isn’t quite as simlpe as measuring a level of “machismo”.

  • citrine

    Dissident,

    (Re. post # 55) Well, I’m not referring to lack of friendly banter, back-slapping or invitations to have a beer or meet at the gym after work. It is the general reluctance of many male Physicists to share strictly work-related concerns with their female colleagues and students (at least to the extent that these men seem to share those issues with their male colleagues/ students).

  • Dissident

    #56: Aaron, you need to watch some prime time Italian state TV. In Scandinavia, the producers would be sitting behind bars…

  • fh

    Maybe it’s also that the old concept of discrimination is no longer suited to understand what we are facing today.

    If women and men are discriminated against to a similar amount within different contexts, then discrimination with the implicit hierarchy involved no longer is an appropriate tool to improve the situation since the very circularity of situation precludes an anaysis in terms of simple hierarchies.

    I just remembered some sage advice read on another blog:

    # John Baez Says:
    November 8th, 2005 at 11:42 pm

    Sometimes it takes work to ignore Motl, but it always pays off. If anyone has anything interesting to say […], I’ll be glad to discuss it here.

  • http://impropaganda.blogspot.com Suz

    Thanks for your comments Jennifer and etc. I’m not trying to frame climate issues as always women’s or underrepresented minority group issues, but there ARE a lot of climate issues in science that women/groupX/ etc have to deal with more than others or are specific to these groups.

    Are men told they should be home taking care of their wives rather than selfishly pursuing careers in science, which is kind of a waste because of men’s inferior intellects? Has a man ever been told “do you know what they do to men like you in Jordan?” because he suggested a control experiment for a colleague to do, which the colleague didn’t want to do? Has a man been told his advisor only put up with him because he’s cute?

    (I’m paraphrasing, but jerks in my lab actually said the inverse to female collleagues.) I’m not surprised if somewhere in the world, a guy was told that, but the point is it happens much more commonly to women.

    A lot of the very nice guys I know in science are completely oblivious to this sort of treatment that their female colleagues face every day, and *their* climate isn’t similarly poisoned. They think science is just a wonderful environment for everyone and they think that most of the factors that cause women to leave science are family-related.

    Single women with no children leave science too.

  • http://www.irrationalpoint.blogspot.com Quibbler

    ditto Sean!

    –IP

  • http://impropaganda.blogspot.com Suz

    Btw, big kudos for the Cosmic Variance bloggers for paying attention to this topic.

  • http://www.amara.com Amara

    I think a valuable dataset for the scientists who are studying this issue are questions to the changelings: those people who changed their gender from male to female or vice-versa. It would be especially interesting to gather data from those men or women whose outward physical characteristics don’t reveal that their gender used to be different, and of those, and who have a work environment where their colleagues knew them as only one gender, to query them about the differences in their work ‘environment’, i.e. how they were treated when they were male versus how they were treated when they were female. (I’ve asked a few and I find their answers very interesting.)

    I think that a detailed survey would give fascinating insight into the underlying strata of the male/female interaction in our cultures, and could possibly give some hints for what to change to solve some of the problems raised here.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    Lubos. The tone of your answers in not conducive to a sensible, mature, adult debate. If you’d ever like to discuss any matter, this one included, with me, feel free to visit the blog – I’m here and will happily enter into such a discussion. But your insistence on immediately missing the point of my comment, and then hyperbolically assigning all kinds of global attitudes to me, clearly makes it pointless pursuing the point.

  • fh

    “A lot of the very nice guys I know in science are completely oblivious to this sort of treatment that their female colleagues face every day…”

    Guilty as charged. I’m regularly shocked by what my female friends (science or not) tell me is normal or frequent. This is mostly because I wouldn’t ever dream of behaving that way (and thus tend to filter other people behaving that way out of our perception, or ascribe it to more innocent reasons).

  • Dissident

    #65: It worries me that I may be guilty of that too.
    #63: At last, an original idea! This is something I’d like to see being done.
    #53: [answering myself] Come on, is there really noone who wants to contradict Kanazawa?

  • http://www.radioactive-banana.com/blog Kristin

    Interesting that this thread coincides with the publication of an article in the New York Times magazine (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/15/magazine/15gays.html ) about how discrimination is no longer blatant because we have civil rights laws that cover groups, but it still exists in more subtle ways. There is still pressure for people who don’t conform to the mainstream in any given venue to “cover”–to hide characteristics that might allow them to be easily pigeonholed in a negative way. For example, equivalent resumes with names that are considered ethnically black receive significantly fewer callbacks than those with regular “white” names.

    I never felt any blatant sexism as a female physics graduate student outside of a couple of comments that I readily discounted as representing antedeluvian notions. The guys I did problem sets with my first year were great, sociable and socialized—we’d all go drinking together. All of them have left physics, too, by the way—they had either lost interest or didn’t like the culture or the career prospects any more than I did by the time we each finished our Ph.D.s. (It wasn’t because of wanting to have kids, although I do know of at least one woman who did drop out and got a programming job so her family could all be living in one place.)

    But during the period when I still aspired to a physics career, I did feel like I had to “cover,” to be extra careful of what problems I approached my advisor or other students for help with because I was paranoid of being labeled a damsel in distress. I did have the experience of my advisor stepping in to do something for me when I had just wanted to have a question answered and it really, really hurt. (This was questions having to do with constructing electronics–I was still learning the proper terms for some of the tools during my first year. I hadn’t been a tinkerer from childhood like the star student in my lab group.) I think it was easier for the star student in the lab to express confusion about something because he didn’t have to worry about it taking away from others’ perception of him.

    And when I abandoned a project that was really pretty overambitious for a couple of beginning graduate students with no postdoc help (I left a couple of months after the other student, who was male, had already jumped ship), I did wonder whether maybe I really just was a quitter–even though people change directions all the time. It was like, if one woman quits, that means all women might be quitters, but a guy only quits for himself.

    You could say that that was all in my head, but it didn’t help that my own mother had been stabbing me with the double-edged sword of both encouraging me while also telling me I’d won my fellowships for affirmative action reasons (and also that quitting just fulfilled people’s expectations that women couldn’t hack it in that field).

    I think that women in physics have to “cover” a lot, and maybe many make the reasonable conclusion that it’s not worth having to “apologize” for who they are, or that they didn’t tinker enough in a childhood in which they likely were not socialized the same way as boys. It’s great to see people like Clifford seeing that it’s not a “women’s” problem, it’s a “physics culture” problem. (I bet there’s a lot of guys in physics who feel like they have to cover, too!)

  • M

    Dissident (#53):

    … if discrimination is the primary cause, then how do you explain that southern European macho countries have proportionally more female hard scientists (see e.g. Amara’s figures from Italy) than northern European feminist-saturated ones?

    Maybe because physics isn’t considered to be macho in southern European macho countries?

    I don’t know what it was like for you, but in my high school, physics and math (as well as many other cerebral activities, like chess for example) weren’t considered “cool” among the macho types. Attitudes that are built or reinforced in high school can definitely affect later choices and options.

  • fh

    One thing I would like to hear from those with negative experiences is wether you found this to be less of a problem with the younger crowd? Is this kind of attitude going away as Sean makes us hope?

  • macho

    Good to see more contructive action on this issue. Discussion is important but it’s time to move beyond that (it would also be nice to see such events and programs more often initiated by other men in the field, not just the women).

    Clifford, how many undergraduates attended?

  • fh

    Regarding Kanazawa, I see no reason why this correlation in age should in some way reflect on gender. Especially since we see a rise in female percentage in crime as well.

    “Females constituted 13 percent of all juvenile arrests in 1967. That rate increased to 25 percent in 1996.”

    I see no reason anywhere that suggests that the mechanism that produces genius in young men shouldn’t do so in young women.

    Also a historical look suggests that the genius age (at least in science) has changed (increased) socially at least somewhat. Which is natural due to the cumulative nature of science.

    I furthermore find the supposed genius curve highly questionable, simply because it certainly doesn’t fit in to many fields and examples outside science. Beckett, the greatest playwright of the twentieth century started writing only after 30. His greates works, Endgame and Waiting for Godot were written when he was almost fifty.

  • http://www.amara.com Amara

    #60 Suz:
    “A lot of the very nice guys I know in science are completely oblivious to this sort of treatment that their female colleagues face every day…”

    Perhaps some very nice girls in science are oblivious too. At least I was (15 years ago). It took an older, wiser female post-doc to remind me of specific statements made to me and others by a boss who sincerely didn’t believe that women were capable of doing science. At the time he made his comments, I had apparently filtered his statements out of my mind. Her metaphoric “bonk” on my head worried me enough (I thought that “maybe some of that junk could have seeped into my subconscious during those years?”) that I immediately quit my job. Fortunately that was the only time in my life that I faced such strong views of men versus women’s scientific abilities, and he’s long retired from research now.

  • M

    Amara (#63):

    I think a valuable dataset for the scientists who are studying this issue are questions to the changelings: those people who changed their gender from male to female or vice-versa.

    It might be useful, provided that these people were otherwise representative of the population as a whole. But that seems like quite a stretch — a person who decides to take such a difficult and far-reaching (not to mention highly unconventional) step is likely to have significant differences in biology and/or attitude from other people.

    However, in a related vein, it would be very interesting to study the relationship between levels of gender-specific hormones, and analytic (e.g., math and physics) activities vs. activities with an important social component, both in:

    1. Excellence, as measured by some “standardized” criteria; and
    2. Choice of career, or major in college (which I would guess is only partially correlated with excellence).

    Of course, for such a study to establish meaningful correlations these measurements would need to be taken over different regions in the world, different socio-economic groups, different educational backgrounds of parents, and so on. A nice complement to such a study would be a “longitudinal” study that made these measurements at different points in the lives of the same participants as they grew up to see whether changes in excellence or chosen direction correlated with changes in hormone levels.

    Here’s a prediction: if Lubos is right and political correctness trumps science, then there would be opposition to these kinds of studies because they would accept as a premise the possibility of a correlation between career choice and gender biology factors. If he is wrong, then such studies would be impeded primarily by methodology and cost concerns rather than political ones. Personally, I think the political correctness problem is a very significant impediment — many people would rather continue to continue to believe what is convenient to their world view than to have to risk upsetting it by scientific studies, and that holds true for both opposing viewpoints.

  • http://www.irrationalpoint.blogspot.com Quibbler

    Amara — i’m sure that would be an interesting study. Unfortunately, people who have had sex-change ops face a lot of discrimination and prejudice, so it might be hard to find transsexual people who have been well treated as either gender. I’m sure they have a much harder time than women, in general.

    **

    It’s hard for me to be positive about the treatment of women in science and the future of women in science with men insist that sexism is a figment of the female imagination.

    But I’m glad Amy Cassidy and Katie Mussak, and others like them, are organising conferences like this. Congrats to them. Here’s to progress!

    –Q

  • http://www.irrationalpoint.blogspot.com Quibbler

    Amara — i’m sure that would be an interesting study. Unfortunately, people who have had sex-change ops face a lot of discrimination and prejudice, so it might be hard to find transsexual people who have been well treated as either gender. I’m sure they have a much harder time than women, in general.

    **

    It’s hard for me to be positive about the treatment of women in science and the future of women in science with men insist that sexism is a figment of the female imagination.

    But I’m glad Amy Cassidy and Katie Mussak, and others like them, are organising conferences like this. Congrats to them. Here’s to progress!

    Q.

  • http://www.irrationalpoint.blogspot.com Quibbler

    oops. double post. sorry dudes.

  • http://www.radioactive-banana.com/blog Kristin

    Re #69:

    I thought that the people I did my problem sets with 15 years ago were fine. But I also gravitated to them because they all seemed comfortable with women–had strong girlfriends, grew up with bright sisters and mothers. But there were some of my peers who were just less comfortable with women who said the negative things about women not being as able.

    As for the older people, again, it was all over the map. One older professor had bright daughters my age and was treated me fine. My advisor was really cool after that one lapse of jumping in and doing something for me, which he ascribed to being stressed right then, but we did discuss it the next day. But I was also more careful about what to ask him from then on, too.

    But, because of the way things went, my dissertation research being peripheral to the main focus of the lab, I wasn’t someone he bounced ideas off of either. I had my issues with recovering from my abandoned first project, and that caused me to withdraw for a while to make up for lost time on my work rather than sticking my nose into other people’s experiments like the star student did. That might have given me more visibility/credibility as a player if I had, I think. (But the fact that I did not might also have been an early warning that my interests were beginning to turn away from physics, too.)

    Interestingly, by the way, my physics lab group was about 50% female. There wasn’t an aggressive style of discussing problems, which was nice, but there was a little bit of a feeling of deference to the (male) star student, whom I did really like. I didn’t like it when the other student on my first project was discussing my work with him instead of me, though!

    There’s always going to be a contingent that’s suboptimally socialized around the opposite sex, I think. But I think that women who are really into and on top of their research will find that most male colleagues are ready to do some physics volleying.

  • Dissident

    #71: fh, read the whole article. The proposed “microfoundation” producing both “genius” (broadly meaning high quality productivity in a creative endeavour) and criminality is specific to males. An immediate consequence is that we should see both far fewer criminals and exceptional talents among women. Not because of differences in talent, mind you, but of motivation.

  • Dissident

    #71: P.S. You can’t pit one data point against Kanazawa’s statistical analysis of hundreds, but as a side note, Beckett actually fits in quite well. He was unmarried until 1961, the same year he wrote his last novel!

  • Julianne

    I don’t know what it was like for you, but in my high school, physics and math (as well as many other cerebral activities, like chess for example) weren’t considered “cool” among the macho types. Attitudes that are built or reinforced in high school can definitely affect later choices and options.

    Completely agreed. I think this is where most of the numbers problem starts. High school is an extremely social time (for most), and for a lot of teenage girls, the idea of being classed with the geeky crowd is just not worth it. The bell-curve types can argue that this is because girls are inately less interested in physics. However, at that point the teenagers haven’t even really been exposed to enough physics to know if they’re interested, or to have built up enough interest to overcome some of the (largely negative) stereotypes that pervade the media. There’s a completely false assumption embedded in our culture that science is a lonely, great-man pursuit. In fact, science is actually quite social, and one does not have to be Einstein to make lasting contributions. Teenagers are highly aspirational, and they don’t have that many examples of scientists that they can conceive of wanting to be. Maybe a teenager who thinks they’re as bright as Einstein will be just fine, but the larger fraction will not see science as an appealling or viable career choice. It’s not necessarily conscious discrimination against women, but it is a set of perceptions that may preferentially lead many young women to self-select out.

    A few years back, I ran across another leak in the pipeline that I wouldn’t have anticipated. I was participating in a focus group for female assistant professors in science/engineering/technology. There were about 7 us, and every single one of us had a spouse who had made career sacrifices for our sakes. So, the women who didn’t happen to marry someone flexible and supportive may not have ever stood a chance of sitting around the table with us. Indeed, a few years later, a talented student of mine left the field after turning down a terrific postdoc because her husband flat-out refused to move. Facing the prospect of three years living apart from her husband and kid, she chose to stay put. It was the right choice for her family, but it didn’t have to end that way.

    And finally, I can’t just let this one lie there:

    The day still only has 24 hours. It is hard to be a full-time great mother and a full-time great researcher. There should be mechanisms that allow women to return to their jobs when the children grow up, and perhaps some mechanisms that allow the women to reduce their job to 1/2 or less without losing the contact. But I find it very unreasonable to assume that women can spend 24 hours with science plus 24 hours with kids every day.

    I absolutely agree that it is hard. But, it’s not impossible. I love my kids, but taking care of them is not rocket science. I get a tremendous amount of thinking done while I’m with them. The time that I’m not with them, I’m more efficient because I’ve thought through exactly what I’m going to do. I probably am putting in 80% of the hours that I did before having kids, but I think that my scientific output is actually greater, and better.

    The deeper issue, however, is why is this assumed to be only my problem, and not my husband’s? Past the initial time gestating and breastfeeding which necessarily fell much harder on my shoulders, there is absolutely nothing I do with my kids that my husband isn’t equally capable of doing. Luckily I married someone who does spend about equal time raising the kids, but this is not assumed to be the norm.

  • M

    A quick addendeum to my comment about studies that might help establish or refute correlations between levels of gender-specific hormones and “excellence” and “career choice,” especially in math and science:

    First, I think that such studies should be as “gender blind” as possible, in that any studies like these should look at the hormone levels themselves, disregarding whether they are being measured in a female or male. Second, it seems obvious (to me, at least) that any such correlations would be in addition to gender-related discrimination, and hence it would be very difficult to draw any conclusions on the basis of studies like these (unless there were a very strong correlation or lack of correlation) about the relative importance of discrimination vs. “genes.” But it would be nice to at least establish whether biological factors relating to gender in itself plays any significant role, and average hormone levels are one obvious biological difference between genders…

  • Lee Smolin

    Wow, are we really arguing about whether there is discrimination in science?
    Having served on not a few hiring and review committees at different levels, I have seen many instances of unconscious discrimination against both women and minorities. I have seen cases where a woman was the best candidate by a significant margin based on objective criteria (50% more papers, citations, single authored papers etc then the best male candidate) and the committee preferred a man less qualified on paper. Reasons given ranged from “someone told me that X (a male collaborator) really did the work” to “she gave a bad talk, seemed unassertive…” to “he may have many fewer papers but my gut instinct is that he is better because he reminds me of myself at that stage.”

    I have also found in talking with friends in business, law, banking, journalism etc that it is common that people with hiring power in those worlds are required to attend training sessions where they are taught to spot the signs of conscious and unconscious discrimination, in themselves and others. Why is it assumed that we scientists are not in need of such training?

    There is by now also a great deal of objective data that unconscious discrimination is real, such as the MIT report, http://web.mit.edu/fnl/women/women.html. In the light of this I am just shocked to read-in the 21st century-comments from people who actually appear to think that women may be less intelligent or mathematically inclined or talented. The issue is not the effect of hormones on mathematical ability, but on the thinking of people unable to separate their emotional reactions from objective evaluations. It is the same sad story of insecure people who need to feel superior to people whose differences from them make them feel uncomfortable. At this point there is only one thing to discuss which is how to implement sufficient standards and safeguards that will eliminate all forms of discrimination, conscious and unconscious. Here also there are well thought through remedies: see for example the European Commission recommendations on “mainstreaming gender equality”. http://www.cordis.lu/improving/women/documents.htm.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    Lee, yeah, there are a remarkable number of people who will claim with a straight face that there are no biases against women in science, the evidence staring them in the face notwithstanding. Depressing, but at least discussions like this serve as reminders of widespread the biases really are. People are more willing to openly flaunt their prejudices on the internet than they are in person.

  • FP

    Lee,

    I think the recommendations of the European Commission are indeed interesting.
    Commissions are always a good way to solve a problem.
    Would you agree that we should also have a commission to ensure that Nobel prizes are assigned more equally? There seems to be a lot of discrimination by the Nobel commitee, even after the numbers of women in science have increased a lot since the days of Marie Curie.

  • Dissident

    #82: Thank you for the links. The EU recommendations are a long read, so I’ll have to take it in small pieces while I do other things, but the MIT report was brief enough to immeditely give rise to one question:

    The report states that young female faculty start their careers feeling well supported and not discriminated against, with the problems building up only later on, after tenure. Now, this strikes me as being at odds with the problem description underlying much of this thread and the Women in Physics conference, which appears to have been addressing undergraduates about to enter grad school. If the women in the MIT report did not meet discrimination until they had tenure or thereabouts, does that not imply that the cause of leakage at lower levels must be sought elsewhere?

  • Amy Cassidy

    I just finished attending (well really, co-organizing) this amazing conference for women in physics, and was sitting down to read email. I was quite pleased to see Clifford’s blog and then started reading the comments . . . (I haven’t read all the comments, but I have read enough to be in a state of somewhat disbelief.)

    Science is universal and if someone is doing it, it should not be because of a hidden agenda to support a certain group of people against another group

    The main focus of the conference was not women in physics and certainly there was nothing about “women’s physics” or “female physics” in the program. It was about exposing women to current areas of research in phyiscs, about career options and physics, about applying to graduate school and what graduate school is like.

    (Motiviating factors include the low percentage of women in the graduate program at USC, compared with the undergraduate program – what happens to all the women – and my own inadequate preparation for graduate school, which was due to many factors, including my own expectations about my future that were shaped by my gender)

    This was a conference that could have benefited both men and women. Participation was open to men and there were other men there besides Clifford, although no male participants.

    The response from the participants was overwhelmingly positive. The participants felt that they had learned a tremendous amount about their future possiblities in physics. One participant wrote: “I never thought I would actually be able to go [to graduate school] but now, know resources, I am confident that I will be able to.” What’s so bad about that?

    btw. There were 28 undergraduates from 10 different universities in Southern California.

    Thank you for all those who are supporting women in science!

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    Great job Amy. Thanks for visiting the blog and filling us in. I may try to encourage something like this in the Central New York area.

  • M

    Lee wrote (#82):

    … The issue is not the effect of hormones on mathematical ability, but on the thinking of people unable to separate their emotional reactions from objective evaluations.

    I agree. But evidently it isn’t always clear to individuals how to do that separation. Lubos, for example, presents almost a caricature of how an intelligent person can be informed and yet interpret what he knows and sees through the filter of his own experiences and observations, in his case growing up in Eastern Europe; he seems absolutely convinced that he sees the “real” situation more clearly than those who disagree with him, and presumably he would argue that he is already being objective and those who disagree are doing so for emotional reasons.

    It seems ironic that in most comments above about the role of discrimination in discouraging women from entering science, occurring on a science-oriented blog, that there hasn’t been a lot of emphasis on using science to investigate that role. Most of the evidence above has been purely anecdotal (but some very compelling and upsetting anecdotes, to be sure), including Lee’s experiences on hiring committees. While I personally agree that discrimination is very real and occurs at a number of levels, I also question whether anecdotal evidence alone is enough to convince most people with well formed opinions to change their minds. For example, if person X wanted to claim that Lee’s examples of discrimination and hiring didn’t really indicate an overall problem, X could argue that “Yeah, but I saw a lot of other cases where women were given an edge in hiring because the Department wanted to hire more women,” and Lee couldn’t readily refute the counter-example because he wasn’t there with X at those times. So based on those anecdotes, the net effect of of discrimination in hiring would be less clear.

    After all, if all we need are personal opinions, personal observations, trust in authority and anecdotal evidence, who needs science?

    Lee, I like your idea of educating scientists via some kind of class. Every undergraduate, and maybe every graduate student as well, could take a kind of “ethics in science” course that would cover a variety of issues such as integrity in scientific method, discrimination, and a collection of other issues that are considered incidental to a scientists technical training. But empirical studies about the forms of discrimination and harms done by it would probably be more convincing to students than a collection of anecdotes together with an admonition of “Don’t do that.”

  • Richard

    Lubos Motl said:

    The future grad students in computer science can expect advanced geeky questions from their male classmates that most women simply don’t understand …

    Boys are much more likely to be geeks and master complicated mechanisms and details in computer science.

    I remember many geeky, and sometimes painfully shy, fellow math students, and I shudder to think that they remain in academia and keep mentoring younger geeks. Geeks are typically socially insecure, have few people skills, and little or shallow interest in things other than science, math, or computers. This narrowness of focus permits them to only relate to themselves.

    Thus, Lee Smolin said:

    It is the same sad story of insecure people who need to feel superior to people whose differences from them make them feel uncomfortable.

    One does not need to be a geek in order to do great work in math or physics. At the same time that we are nurturing talented kids in grade school, math or science camp, and all the way through grad school, we (teachers, advisors, etc) can’t ignore encouraging their social development and interest in other things (music, art, hiking, etc.). And an added bonus is that researchers with wide social experience and skills are more suited to collaboration with others, communicating ideas, and selling science and math to the public.

    I just checked the pictures of math grad students where I went to school, and I’m encouraged to see quite a few faces of women and minorities, especially relative to the dearth of the same back in the early 70’s. Females on the faculty are still a little sparse though.

  • Lee Smolin

    To M: I agree completely, which is why I mentioned the MIT and EU reports. The MIT study was done by senior scientists. They had access to confidential data covering a large number of hiring, promotion, tenure and other decisions, such as distribution of lab space, at a large university over a long time. They found persuasive evidence of discrimination.

    I agree abour the desirability of an ethics of science course but what I am suggesting is a short training such as is taken by executives in the business world, who know that discrimination in hiring and promotion hurts them econonically.

    To FP, assuming your tone is sarcastic, you missed my point. These studies were done carefully because policy was to be based on them, for a large university and for the EU. Now that they’ve been done there is no need to repeat them. The data is there, as are specific proposals for measures to solve the problem.

    Thanks, Lee

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/joanne/ JoAnne

    All: as usual, this is quite the enlightening dialogue. Everytime I start to think perhaps things are improving, the world is becoming a rosy place, the sun is shining – I only need to read a comment thread on CV to get back to reality.

    Here is recent observational data within HEP: The past couple days I attended a meeting of a working group of the ATLAS collaboration (one of the main experiments at the upcoming LHC). At any given time, there were about 75 people in the room. Probably 100 people attended total. Out of those 100, there were 4 women – one very senior experimenter, myself, and 2 very young most likely students. Of the 4 women, I was the only one to raise questions and make comments after people’s talks (and discussion was lively in general). I was also the only one who gave a talk. In addition, there were 2 men of color in the audience – both were younger, both were quiet during discussion, and one gave a talk. I sat in the back of the room and watched and thought that in all of my 20 years of physics, things have not changed.

    Julianne: #11 – absolutely brilliant! #80 – I have many theories about the social world in high school being the real cause of the female leaky pipeline. Perhaps I’ll blog on it someday.

    Quibbler: #25 – the amount of crap is really unbelievable.

    Mark: #27 – I’ve witnessed the same thing regarding the badgering of female speakers during a seminar. I’ve witnessed it on both sides – as a member of the audience and as a speaker. And, yes, the badgering is biased. But it is in no way the most egregious example of discrimination.

    fh: #69 – I have hopes of things getting better with the younger generation. My experience is that change is fearfully slow.

    Lee: #82 – thank you.

    Amy: #86 – thanks for organizing this conference – I am sure it was a success! Sorry I couldn’t come.

    Lubos: I am, as always, blissfully thankful for the scrollbar.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Amy and Katie,

    Thanks so much for organizing the conference. It wss already clear from wht I saw on the first day that it was a huge success. I was going to try to do a second post, reporting on today’s events, but as you know, I found myself stuck sick in bed for the last 16 hours! Sorry I could not give my talk… I’m so embarrassed! Maybe I’ll describe a bit about Sheila Tobias’s talk in the second post instead… I’ll see.

    Cheers,

    -cvj

  • agm

    Boys are much more likely to be geeks and master complicated mechanisms and details in computer science.

    So, Dr. Motl, are you advocating more girls watch Firefly ;) ?

  • http://www.irrationalpoint.blogspot.com Quibbler

    Great job Amy.

    ditto Julianne.

    JoAnne: yes, i know the amount of crap is unbelievable — my mother’s a physicist. I’m now venturing into the world of informatics, and it’s quite an experience. i’m also involved in tryign to get an outreach program going for teens in science and math…wish me luck. you should definitely blog on the pipeline!

    Clifford: i hope you feel better!

    –Q

  • clara

    hey!! I attended the conference, and I’m the girl wearing the “UCLA physics” t-shirt in the second picture. I was disappointed that I couldn’t hear Dr. Johnson speak – I hope you are feeling better by now! I thought the conference was amazing. I learned so much about the opportunities that I have with a physics degree after I graduate. The research talks were specific but also understandable, and the presenters were very enthusiastic. I had a wonderful time at the conference and thank you Amy and Katie for having us there.

  • Sami

    I’m joining this discussion late, but,

    There was a fairly interesting article in the New York Times last year, dated 15 April 2005, titled For Women in the Sciences, the Pace of Progress at Top Universities Is Slow (reading the whole article requires access to the archives). The following excerpt from that article has stayed in my head ever since:

    Mel Hochster, a mathematics professor at Michigan, belongs to a committee of senior science professors that gives workshops for heads of departments and search committees highlighting the findings of numerous studies on sex bias in hiring. For example, men are given longer letters of recommendation than women, and their letters are more focused on relevant credentials. Men and women are more likely to vote to hire a male job applicant than a woman with an identical record. Women applying for a postdoctoral fellowship had to be 2.5 times as productive to receive the same competence score as the average male applicant. When orchestras hold blind auditions, in which they cannot see the musician, 30 percent to 55 percent more women are hired.

    Professor Hochster said he was not inclined to join the committee until Abigail Stewart, a professor of psychology and women’s studies who is leading Michigan’s effort, made a presentation on sex bias to his department.

    ”I vastly underestimated the problem,” Professor Hochster said. ”People tend to think that if there’s a problem, it’s with a few old-fashioned people with old-fashioned ideas. That’s not true. Everybody has unconscious gender bias. It shows up in every study.”

    I live in southern California, work in physics at a very, very well-known research institution here, and I can say that ever since I have been here, I have received between two and ten comments each year to the effect that “women should just never have been let in this place,” or “I know that girl over there, the professor chose her presentation over mine…you know she’s been whoring it up,” or “aggression is a prerequisite for scientific ability, and a whole segment of the population who don’t confront in an aggressive manner shouldn’t be working in the scientific fields,” etc. together with the subtler forms of being ignored during group discussions, having ideas credited to other male colleagues in the room (this one happens all the time!).

    The most dismaying aspect of this is that in my experience the harshest, most discouraging attitudes are more comfortably expressed not by tenured faculty — at least not in public — but by younger male undergraduate and graduate students.

    The poster who made the comment that “single women leave science too” is dead-on. I don’t think that we need to achieve gender parity in the sciences for its own sake, but as the system stands, we are actively discouraging some very bright, very passionate people.

    Another excerpt:

    Some universities have also taken note of the disadvantage that women face in negotiating salaries, laboratory space and money for research, as well as the importance of building a reputation by publishing in high-profile academic journals and getting invitations to speak at prestigious conferences. Men have naturally picked up such crucial information, as well as speaking invitations, from male colleagues and mentors because of their greater numbers and influence. For example, Columbia University is now bringing in retired senior academics to coach women on its faculty in such areas.

    Professor Hopkins, who in January walked out of the academic conference where Mr. Summers made his controversial remarks about women in science, said she nearly lost out on a large grant years ago because she had been left out of the information loop by some of her male colleagues. After reading in a newspaper that a biotech company was awarding grants to M.I.T. scientists, she asked a colleague if he knew how to apply for the money, she said. He told her he knew nothing about the grant, she said, though she later learned that he was urging another man in their department to apply for the money.

    I will add one last thing that concerns me. Male discussion groups can at times tend to confrontation, aggression, and battle-axing. This is perfectly fine if it works best for all the men involved. But now women are slowly joining the field in greater numbers, and a great many of the female scientists I know are not comfortable with battle-axing, instead preferring a cooperative system. As a result, their ideas are not heard or are credited to someone who speaks louder and faster.

    The answer has traditionally been to tell such women to “act like men ought to act:” speak loud and fast, talk over others, behave aggressively, dominate the discussion if you can. (Never mind that women who do so receive more negative job evaluations and more negative treatment by peers.) In other words, if you can’t be a man, the only way you’ll get a fair shake is if you manage to turn into one!

    I don’t know what the solution is here, except to note that the most productive groups I’ve worked with have had reasonable balances of both men and women with varying cooperative, collaborative vs. aggressive styles.

    This is not about coddling or preferring one group over another, although we ought to make at least passing attempts to improve the quality of the job for everyone involved. This is about the fact that our deeply ingrained social and evolutionary biases are lowering our productivity and are removing much-needed talent from our reach. People are not wholly rational consumers in every situation, basic economic theory notwithstanding. Any black job applicant named Jamal could tell you that.

  • fh

    Ok, so I’ve not been around the academic circus a lot so far and all my experiences are limited to Europe.
    But this aggressive climate that people allude to, I just never really saw that over here! Even at the conferences it was understood that people who were just about to apply for the same postdoc would share ideas and be open and interessted in what others had to say.
    It was understood that we all went out drinking and laughing together at night, and so on.

    It is a competitive environment, true, and one needs to be assertive about ones ideas to a degree simply because there are so many ideas around (which is very different from talking fast and loud), but the tone and climate was overall extremely friendly and cooperative.

    Is this a European thing? Or am I just lucky with my specific field? Or does it only look that way if you’re new to the circus?

  • A condensed matter theorist

    My experience in academia is that Sami (comment #96) is 100% dead-on accurate.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    Arun: your sign error is so trivial that one should not add new comments. Once again, the more members NAS has, the less selective it is, the less people there are per slot, and the higher percentage of women one expects.

    All that matters for the LGDL paper is the candidates per slot – the number of candidates per slot; and the NAS membership has been growing slower than the growth of population (between 60-72 new members per year for the last two decades, and the mathematicians must compete for their 4-6 slots a year among all new members).

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2005/10/microstate-blackhole-production.html Plato

    While you had only been talking about the academic, it”s presence is in society as well. Enough, that if you were to take a political stance on it, you would have to look for this ideology to fight dicrimmination in what ever form. To make sure that such instances do not occur. Vote for that party, and see, that they live up to it.

    My own wife experienced it and it outraged me, and yes, I felt like battle axing. Is part of the evolution of men is to get beyond these aggressions. To get over this emotive troubles that each might have, that is imperfect to the desired roles, of good conducting human beings, as men or woman.

    Outside of this academic setting does one’s immediate culture change perspective and have standards that are innate to it? I can see where this might happen, and one did not have to look far in Afganistan under the Taliban.

    I do not like to think I am touched by such discrimmnations, but poor attitude and quick gut responses are less then educated, do have some way with being not watchful. That is my life lesson as well.

    Who can say they are better then this, and would not strive to do better regardless of who you are?

    Under Smolin’s example, how has the college setting fared? PI (periementer Institute) has done well has it? :)

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    Using the language of economics brought up before, physics is competing for talent with many other fields (including the financial world and the running of hedge funds) and this conference is an attempt for physics to gain in competitiveness. (The “hidden” hand of the market is hidden only because we lack information, not because there is something intrinsically unknowable; in this instance we see the hand of the market explicitly).

  • FP

    Arun,

    > physics is competing for talent with many other fields (including the financial world and the running of hedge funds) and this conference is an attempt for physics to gain in competitiveness.

    Hedge funds and the financial world in general are really dominated by women who could not get a job as a physicist.

    Lee,

    I am sure the Eurpoean Commission is a group of unbiased scientists and there is no reason to doubt their studies or try to repeat them in the future.

  • Elliot

    I’ve got to tell an old joke here. Not to make light of the issue which I take very seriously, but (hopefully) to make a point.

    ———————————————————

    3 passengers were on an airplane. A hippie, a priest and Henry Kissinger. The pilot comes back from the cabin and in a solemn voice says. I’ve got some very bad news. The plane is about to crash and unfortunately I’ve only got two parachutes. Since I’m the captain I will go down with the plane but I leave it to the three of you to decide who will get the chutes.

    Henry Kissinger immediately grabs one and announces. I am the smartest man in the world so I clearly need to be saved and jumps. The priest turns to the hippie and says son, I am a man of God and I am not afraid to meet my maker. You take the other parachute and I will go down with the plane.

    The hippie says. Don’t worry father. The worlds smartest man just jumped out of the plane with my knapsack.

    ——————————————————

    Elliot

  • http://www.amara.com Amara

    #68 M

    “Maybe because physics isn’t considered to be macho in southern European macho countries?”
    “I don’t know what it was like for you, but in my high school, physics and math (as well as many other cerebral activities, like chess for example) weren’t considered “cool” among the macho types. Attitudes that are built or reinforced in high school can definitely affect later choices and options.”

    Since I didn’t grow up in this country (Italy), I needed to ask how physics was/is viewed in high school here, and it seems to be the same as what you described above (which is how it was viewed in my So. Calif. high school, as well). Like the characters in the movie “Nerd” they told me.

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ LuboÅ¡ Motl

    Someone wrote:

    “I just remembered some sage advice read on another blog:

    # John Baez Says:
    November 8th, 2005 at 11:42 pm

    Sometimes it takes work to ignore Motl, but it always pays off. If anyone has anything interesting to say […], I’ll be glad to discuss it here.”

    LM:

    You “forgot” to say that this reply of John Baez occured within a conversation about his bizarre paper in which he confused holonomy and gauge symmetry. ;-) Everyone agrees that this paper is complete rubbish. There is no controversy about that, and I don’t want to create such a controversy.

    Greetings from Seattle.

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ LuboÅ¡ Motl

    JoAnne:

    Lubos: I am, as always, blissfully thankful for the scrollbar.

    LM: Your extensive usage of the scrollbar is the reason why you have an extremely little chance to have realistic opinions about these matters, ever. Attempting to deny reality won’t erase this reality, JoAnne. Reading things that one finds inconvenient is an essential part of the cognitive process.

    I wish you (and your sisters and brothers in hypocricy) good luck with your head deeply in the scrollbar sand, Lubos

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ LuboÅ¡ Motl

    Lee, I am just baffled by your kind of argumentation. You tell us about a story in which someone shares some information/opinion that most of the work was done by the male collaborator; one colleague is better than other because he reminds someone of oneself when he was young.

    Your automatic conclusion is that discrimination is taking place, and of course you are ready to bring some bureaucrats from the EU or whoever else – who can obviously have absolutely no idea about the truth – and use his or her ideological conclusions to justify yours because they agree.

    Don’t you think that you should first ask the question whether the person’s testimony is correct? Do you find it implausible that the male collaborator actually did most of the work on the specific paper? Is it a heresy to suggest that this is even a possibility?

    This kind of “discrimination” is along the same lines as “discrimination” against cellular automata, loop quantum gravity, superluminal light, and similar topics in physics. It’s discrimination against flawed ideas, and this discrimination is a basic defining feature of science whether all of you like it or not.

  • FP

    Plato,

    if I count the long-term researchers at the Perimeter Institute, I find 1 woman and 10 men. It seems that Lee has yet to implement the guidelines of the European Commission at his own institute. I wish him good luck!

  • Lee Smolin

    FP, actually both the EU and MIT studies were done by established scientists with impressive credentials. Do you have a specific methodological criticism or are you just sure that anyone who disagrees with you, no matter how successful and credentialed as a scientist, is baised? These are people who have succeeded at the highest levels of their fields. Before insulting them you might want to read Prof. Nancy Hopkins account of the MIT study at web.mit.edu/gep/docs/NSAWS-2.pdf.

    Authors of the MIT study (all MIT):

    Sallie W. Chisholm – CEE and Biology
    Sylvia T. Ceyer – Chemistry
    Jerome I. Friedman – Physics (department Head)
    Nancy Hopkins – Biology (Committee Chair)
    Daniel Kleitman – Mathematics (former department Head)
    Jacqueline N. Hewitt – Physics
    June L. Matthews – Physics
    Kip V. Hodges – EAPS
    Mary C. Potter – BCS
    Paola M. Rizzoli – EAPS
    Mary C. Potter – BCS (Committee Chair)
    Leigh Royden – EAPS
    Robert J. Silbey – Chemistry (department Head)
    JoAnne Stubbe – Chemistry and Biology

    Authors of the EU report:

    Mary Osborn (Chair) Cell biologist, Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Göttingen and honorary Professor University of Göttingen, Germany

    Teresa Rees (Rapporteur) Professor of Social Sciences, University of Cardiff, UK & Equal Opportunities Commissioner for Wales

    Mineke Bosch Associate Professor, Centre for Gender and Diversity, University of
    Maastricht,The Netherlands

    Helga Ebeling Head of Division for Women in Education and Research, Federal Ministry of Education and Research, Bonn, Germany

    Claudine Hermann Professor of Physics, Ecole Polytechnique, Palaiseau, France

    Jytte Hilden former Minister for Research and Information Technology, Denmark

    Anne McLaren Principal Research Associate, Institute of Cancer and
    Developmental Biology, University of Cambridge, UK

    Rossella Palomba Department Head, National Institute for Population Research, Rome, Italy

    Leena Peltonen Chair of Human Genetics, UCLA School of Medicine and Professor of Medical Genetics, University of Helsinki, Finland

    Carmen Vela Managing Director of Ingenasa, Spain

    Dominique Weis FNRS Research Director, Earth scientist, University of Brussels, Belgium

    Agnes Wold Associate Professor, Clinical Immunology, Göteborg University, Sweden

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ LuboÅ¡ Motl

    They’re mostly from different fields but the only person in this list I know is Nancy Hopkins who is a biologist who starts to vomit whenever she hears a talk about biological issues.

    I think that these committees are dumb and dangerous. Such a committee could have never determined honestly whether someone was discriminated against in a discussion about a high-energy physics paper. And I think that they cannot determine it in other fields either.

    These are no scientific teams. It is a team of political activists whose opinion about these things has been settled long before they looked at any research, and these people will do everything to spread their visions. If we don’t stop them before it’s too late, it will be too late – and believe me, this sentence is a tautology.

  • Elliot

    Lubos you are missing the point totally. Discrimination about scientific ideas (LQG, CA) is completely different than discrimination against classes of people.

    Why are you so afraid of people trying to address what is a well documented history of discrimination against women in the sciences?

    Elliot

  • FP

    Lee,

    I did not insult anybody.
    But I notice that your list of authors shows a significant majority of women.
    Could this have some influence on the result or did they follow the guidelines of
    the European Commission to make sure that there is no bias?

  • Elliot

    Lubos,

    Lets see if it is only pure science or politics that affects your judgement.

    Do you believe that the current (Bush Regime) approach to Nuclear Missle Defense, with the United States spending billions of dollars to shoot down incoming missles in flight discriminating between the real target based on infrared signitures is a wise expenditure of U. S. taxpayer dollars?

  • Dissident

    #104: My own filmic reference would be more along the lines of Dexter’s Laboratory. If you’ve seen a few episodes, you have a surprisingly accurate picture of the Dissident’s formative years. (Sorry, I really can’t comment rumors that Mandork’s character was inspired by young Sean.) ;)

    #88, #106: I believe M has an important point here, that the evidence for discrimination seems to be mainly anecdotal. If we stand back and look at it like we would look at a physics paper, would we consider it fit for publication? The few attempts at serious statistical analysis and model building which have been referred to here (La Griffe du Lion, Kanazawa) suggest that the primary cause of the observed disparity in representation may have little to do with discrimination; and as noted in #85, the MIT study referred to by Smolin, while too small to qualify as conclusive either way, also lends indirect support to this view.

    None of this does in any way imply that discrimination does not occur, that it may not be the decisive factor in individual cases, that it is not vile or that it should not be stamped out where it turns up. Of course it should. But if the primary causes of low female participation in physics are other than discrimination, we run an obvious risk of barking up the wrong tree. Who’s served by that?

    Most people contributing to this discussion are supposed to be very serious-minded scientific types, so maybe we could try a little harder to apply the scientific method in diagnosing the problem?

  • FP

    Dissident,

    > so maybe we could try a little harder to apply the scientific method in diagnosing the problem?

    the point of LM (and to some extent I agree) is that every time the result is different from what people like to hear, it is ignored.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    I think this is the first time I’ve ever laughed at something Lubos has written — he recognizes Nancy Hopkins but not Jerome Friedman.

  • Elliot

    The problem with discrimination is it can be very subtle. Let me give you a scientific analogy. Suppose we hypothesize that some type of physical phenomenon was manifest at the 5 angstom level but our best instrument only resolved to 200 angstroms we could could not observe the phenomenon. Does that make it any less true?

    I am not a professional scientist by trade. However in the business world I can tell you the discrimination against women and minorities can be well below the radar. A casual comment by one white male to another in the mens room etc. Stuff like that happens all the time despite very strict HR policies. I can’t imagine that Academia is any more pure when it comes to this type of stuff.

    Elliot

  • Dissident

    Elliot, does that casual comment by one white male to another in the mens room cause women to leave?

  • Katie Mussack

    citrine:

    a) Insider info about work-related opportunities brought up by SOME male profs only to the male students they bond with over beer and/ or sports. Somehow no one relays the info to those not present.

    As one of the organizers of this conference, one of my greatest hopes is that the participants will share the information and encouragement that they received this weekend with their peers (both male and female). In fact, we ended the event with a breif discussion of where we can go from here. Many participants were eager to share with their classmates what they had learned about applying to grad school. (For those who are interested, we plan to have the power point slides from all the talks available on our website within a week: http://physics.usc.edu/~wiphys/conference.html)

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/joanne/ JoAnne

    Lubos #106: Ha – you answered exactly as I predicted! Thanks for the fun.

    Sami #96: As #98 already said – you are dead-on.

    For all you women scientists out there who have experienced raising a point in a discussion only to have it ignored, then brought up again by a man who then gains the credit – say something, don’t just sit there and take it. My standard comeback is to smile and say in a calm voice, `Why, John, that’s what I just said. Thanks for reintroducing my idea.’ Works everytime and is non-confrontational.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    FP,
    I’m sorry if you were confused. There was the statement that if an untapped pool of talent exists, someone would gain a competitive advantage by tapping into that pool. If there is a competition for talent between physics and hedge funds, then physics can try to gain an edge by tapping into the hitherto untapped (and perhaps according to you and Lubos, non-existent) pool of talent among women. The more the two fields are dominated by men, the more enticing the chance of finding additional talent among women.

    -Arun

  • Elliot

    Incredible Quote from Lubos Motl’s Reference Frame

    “Martin Luther King was alright. Still, I feel that the modern nations and ethnic groups in 2006 need slightly different leaders.”

    He goes onto tell a somewhat irrelevant story about Czechoslovakia suggesting that groups of people display maturity by passively accepting the superiority of others.

    It is reminiscent of the comment by the politician who suggested that women being raped just try to lie back and enjoy it.

    Elliot

  • FP

    Arun,

    you are exactly making the argument Lubos made already
    > The more the two fields are dominated by men, the more enticing the chance of finding additional talent among women.

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  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    The thread on which the John Baez comment was made is here:
    http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=291

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    FP,
    Motl made the claim that the market would have already made the correction, (and therefore the untapped talent pool of women is non-existent); I’m saying that the correction is in process, this conference is one visible manifestation of the so-called hidden-hand of the market.
    -Arun

  • fh

    Lubos, why do you hate freedom?

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  • http://TheLostGeniusFoundation Douglas

    It might be of interest to you what the perspective is of a male undergraduate being introduced the woeful statistics on women in physics.

    On retrospect, I realize that at USC, almost all of my friends are women. This is true in both music and physics departments that I call home. When I first heard about the low statistics of women in physics, I didn’t believe them. If I made a list of women physicists who have inspired me, I couldn’t stop. Perhaps on a more personal note, I find that the book (and movie) by Carl Sagan “Contact” was the first story to provide me a role model in physics, and it featured a female physicist. Last semester, Dr. Johnson brought over Dr. Hewett to give an illuminated talk, and I still look back at her as an example of the kind of physicist I would like to become. At least in my experience, women have had a significantly larger role than men in my perspectives of physicists.

    Now that I know that this is not the case for the majority of my colleagues, I’m somewhat appalled. Maybe it’s because I was raised after the civil rights movements, but I can’t believe I live in such a biased society. When Sheila Tobias listed off the dates when critical laws were made to equate women in our society I was shocked: it was only 30 years ago when the environment was so different! And I admit that I feel a lot shame that I have ventured into a field that is so unwelcoming to female colleagues.

    But luckily now that I see the problem I can change my environment. Sheila Tobias’ suggestion of providing a gender equality group to help people who are unfairly treated is duly noted. It is brilliantly clear to me that I must take responsibility in cultivating a welcoming environment to all people wherever I follow my studies.

    All I can say is that I am amazed by the work Katie and Amy did, and I am proud to be part of a department that bore the Women in Physics Conference 2006.

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