Scientists, Your Gender Bias Is Showing

By Sean Carroll | September 19, 2012 3:44 pm

Nobody who is familiar with the literature on this will be surprised, but it’s good to accumulate new evidence and also to keep the issue in the public eye: academic scientists are, on average, biased against women. I know it’s fun to change the subject and talk about bell curves and intrinsic ability, but hopefully we can all agree that people with the same ability should be treated equally. And they are not.

That’s the conclusion of a new study in PNAS by Corinne Moss-Racusin and collaborators at Yale. (Hat tip Dan Vergano.) To test scientist’s reactions to men and women with precisely equal qualifications, the researchers did a randomized double-blind study in which academic scientists were given application materials from a student applying for a lab manager position. The substance of the applications were all identical, but sometimes a male name was attached, and sometimes a female name.

Results: female applicants were rated lower than men on the measured scales of competence, hireability, and mentoring (whether the scientist would be willing to mentor this student). Both male and female scientists rated the female applicants lower.

This lurking bias has clear real-world implications. When asked what kind of starting salaries they might be willing to offer the applicants, the ones offered to women were lower.

I have no reason to think that scientists are more sexist than people in other professions in the US, but this is my profession, and I’d like to see it do better. Admitting that the problem exists is a good start.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Top Posts, Women in Science
  • OMF

    I suspect quite a lot of academics would shrivel up and die inside if they were ever faced with a competent, articulate, and capable young woman in their offices. Egos are very important to some.

  • Jacquelyn Gill

    Wow, thanks for sharing this. It’s alarming that men and women both rated female students lower, and those salary numbers are really depressing. Sometimes it seems like we’re making progress, but then I see things like this and wonder what it takes to overcome seemingly pervasive implicit biases?

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  • Joey

    Sadly, gender bias still lurks amongst conference organizers:

  • ccpetersen

    Joey, very true. And, among conference organizers in science media as well.

  • Kris

    Instead of outsourcing to another country, have any businesses cut their labour costs by firing all of their male employees in order to replace them with women?

  • Zen Faulkes

    Jacquelyn: ” I see things like this and wonder what it takes to overcome seemingly pervasive implicit biases?”

    Simple in theory: double blind hiring. All identifying information on applications is removed, so applications are only judged by the content of their material.

    Orchestras did it:

  • Chemjobber

    I don’t doubt the results of the survey, sad as they may be. We have a lot of work to do.

    I find the second figure’s y-axis misleading. It makes a 15% lower salary difference (still bad!) look like a 200% difference.

  • onlyforlulz

    Re: Fig 2. Your y-axis makes my math itch.

  • Michael McCarthy

    Similar biases exist across professions and also for race. Some of this research is summarized in this brochure:

    That brochure also mentions ways to help reduce the effects of these biases. One thing that helps is making people aware that these biases exist, so posts like this help.

    My group also encourages discussions among our students and lab members ( These discussions can be very personal, so they need to be done in the right sort of environment.

  • Adam

    I like how there isn’t any mention regarding whether those reviewing the applications were looking for specific qualifications. You can’t just report that they turn down the women if they’re also turning down men, and then later- after the review process is done and they’ve chosen someone- focus only on the percentage of men. This poll seems partially flawed. What if (in the spirit of speeding up the hiring process) those reviewers just went with the first qualified resumé? Sometimes it’s men, sometimes it isn’t.

  • Jdrok

    It would be interesting to see a comparable experiment about hiring into a non-leadership research position, as opposed to lab manager. My guess is that the bias would be somewhat less, but I am not confident in this prediction.

  • Julia

    @ Adam:
    Read the last sentence of the second paragraph

  • May

    Why are your y-axes not labelled?

  • Chris

    #11: “I like how there isn’t any mention regarding whether those reviewing the applications were looking for specific qualifications.”

    Did you miss this part?

    “The substance of the applications were all identical…”

  • Anon

    @Adam: “Results: female applicants were rated lower than men on the measured scales of competence, hireability, and mentoring (whether the scientist would be willing to mentor this student). Both male and female scientists rated the female applicants lower.”

    What part of that quote was not clear to you? They didn’t just go with the “1st one”; everyone was rated. Or did you not read the post all the way through?!

    @May: y-axes are explained in the figure captions.

    Seriously people, read much?

  • Jodi

    This study would suggest a similar bias also exists against female authors. Double blind peer review would even the playing field

  • G

    Since I know similar same resume/differently gendered names studies have been done in business hiring and other contexts. I’d like to have seen the researchers at least attempt to compare gender bias within academic science to gender bias outside academia. I have suspicions that, while the bias exists everywhere, it might be greater in magnitude outside of academia than it is within — but that’s just a suspicion, and I’d like evidence one way or t’other.

  • Fergal

    What’s most interesting is that female faculty were more biased than male faculty were (at least in terms of salary offered; Table 1 of the paper). It’s not a statistically significant difference, but it’s consistent with my anecdotal experience.

  • Sunil D’Monte

    Also on the same topic –
    It’s a series of tutorials examining the gender gap in STEM. She descibes two key concepts: gender schemas and the accumulation of advantage. The brief summary is that gender schemas (hypotheses about what it means to be male or female, which assign different psychological traits to males and females) cause us to underrate women and overrate men in professional settings. Many small effects of these schemas add up, with the result that men accumulate more advantage than women do.

  • ac

    I’m honestly super surprised by this, though maybe that’s because I’m in a bio lab? All our lab managers are women, basically, and my (admittedly sexist!) bias is that women tend to be more conscientious and organized. I would have thought that for an equally skilled man or woman, I would prefer the woman…?

  • R Long

    BS. Females have gotten Every Affirmative action in the last 30 years. This is PC BS propaganda!

  • wendy

    Adam-I like how you missed that the applicants were IDENTICAL, other than some having male names attached, and some female. So……now what?

  • wendy

    R long–Affirmative action? Do you even know what that is? Only government jobs are actually REQUIRED to abide by it. Private sector jobs, the vast majority of jobs available, are not required to follow any kind of affirmative action laws at all. In other words, affirmative action has nothing to do with this, or even the real world. So I guess every study that contradicts your deep-seated biases is just “propaganda?” Convenient.

  • Moz

    Kris: no, but I have preferentially hired recent immigrants to the same effect. It’s funny when a skilled civil engineer is thrilled to get a job as a building manager (custodian in the US?), and I’m thrilled to have him (or her) because they’re good, dedicated and will work for lower wages than similarly competent locals. Of course, they do leave after a year or two but they all have a list of replacements organised well before then. Two years working locally plus a good reference from a native speaker makes a huge difference to employability.

  • TW

    I am not convinced about your interpretation.

    I would argue that experienced researchers use all information available, and sex is additional information in two ways:

    1) The woman on average worked harder to get the same qualification, leaving a man with a greater potential for growth.

    As mentioned before, women are more conscientiousness. Across my student years, many just got better marks, because they did homework well and studied more regularly. Even though some got better marks than myself for example, I always felt they were closer to their limits.

    I recently had a class reunion where I discussed with a female school friend who was the No 1 math student why she never did math at university and “just” became a middle school teacher. I told her: Why did you never do it? You were better than me! She said: No I was not better than you, but I worked so much harder and regularly. I felt my limits. But you were just totally lazy, disorganized and de-focused and still passed!

    2) Women get pregnant. This is a real disadvantage and risk for any project leader. I witnessed myself that a project leader hired a woman with all good intentions, but she got pregnant just after, promised to keep working, but then left. His project was delayed significantly and he said “never again”.

    So given the same qualifications, I would rationally go for the man.

    Having said all this, people are not hired by CV but in direct interviews. Either they connect or not.

  • NG

    “[L]eaving a man with a greater potential for growth” seems like a pretty bold assertion to me. Is there a some secret cap to one’s potential for professional growth that might be fully used by the time one is applying to become a lab manager?

  • Saurs

    NG, according to TW that secret cap would be called a uterus, apparently.

  • Statistical Discrimination

    “I know it’s fun to change the subject and talk about bell curves and intrinsic ability, but hopefully we can all agree that people with the same ability should be treated equally.”

    I’m not sure that the issues can be so completely separated.

    Suppose that you applied the same test, taking a CV and switching out a feature, but instead of sex you used PhD program, e.g. Harvard vs University of Florida. In each case you see the same publications, but you might give more benefit of the doubt to the Harvard PhD, since the Harvard PhDs have higher performance on average and there is noise in the data. You might also favor the Florida PhD for achieving more with less resources. Using your prior information about the distribution of ability for Harvard and Florida PhDs gives more accurate estimates than ignoring it, but penalizes folk from one school or the other.

    If it is really the case that aggregate performance for female applicants (or male applicants, as seems to be the case for undergraduate students at the median) lags, then an accurate estimate of a female applicant’s quality will have to take that prior information into account, in addition to the other evidence in the CV.

    There are then two questions to address regarding hiring bias. First, are the stereotypes accurate regarding real applicants in the world (there is a large literature on stereotype accuracy indicating that stereotypes usually are pretty accurate: If not, then the bias needs to be countered by means such as blinding hiring committees to the sex of applicants, and hire quality can be increased at the same time as sex disparities are reduced.

    If the stereotypes are accurate then we need to consider distributional consequences. Using the stereotype will improve the overall quality of hires, but a given woman will suffer relative to the sex-blind policy absent a countervailing hiring preference for women, and it will make sex and gender salient. So we may want to take a hit in average hire quality to promote equality of outcome between the sexes by sex-blinding hiring (although sex-blinding interferes with affirmative pro-female preferences). But we shouldn’t pretend that treating people with equal non-sex indicators of ability equally is necessarily the same as treating people of equal actual ability equally if there are group ability differences, since our measures of ability are noisy.

  • female

    @TW: Seriously!?! I hope you never make a hiring committee! It’s because of people with an attitude like yours that the problem exists in the first place…

  • AL

    TW, I see absolutely no flaws in your argument. Be sure to prominently note on your CV that you regularly worked below your potential. I’ve heard employers love that.

  • chris

    for all those who suggest double-blind hiring/reviewing etc. is the solution: it is not. the scientific community of a given subfield is typically so narrow that you know whom you have to review. everything is “networked” which makes it a lot easier for all sorts of biases to creep in.

  • AsianAstronomer

    Really? Only females are discriminated against? What a simple world that would be!

    What about the dozens of submissions from Asia to American and European journals that get nowhere, owing only to the biases of the referees and editors? Why are they able to get away with reasoning that is flawed at best, when rejecting papers? Why not talk about that?

  • TW

    @Al: It is not that I did not do stuff but I did not do the stuff that people, my parents or the university told me to do such as programming, trying to hack computer games, philosophy, long discussion on useless stuff like consciousness or political stuff, or try to optimise PI computation. I did what I was interested in. So I did learn a lot but not what I was supposed to learn. As a result my grades were not exactly brilliant but sufficient to pass through the system. Judging only by degrees (or system obedience) is a bad proxy for success as all these things are NOT on my CV.

    @female: I am interested in the bottom line and not in political or ideological obedience. Any market would price the risk of pregnancy to a project. I know one project that got severely delayed with consequences to other people including females. Our society sacrifices common good for individual rights.

    @NG: I did not say that men in general have a higher growth per se but for equal grades and qualification!

  • DrMobs

    We don’t seem to have this problem.

    The last jobs we advertised (research assistants) we had 90 applications, 34 of whom were eligible on qualifications.
    Ranking on experience only, we gave interviews to the top ten. Nine were female; the one male didn’t show up.

  • bad Jim

    TW: one of my most talented employees did leave abruptly after her second pregnancy. I’ve also had to fire two male employees personally for gross incompetence (and I hope you never have to do anything like that, because it’s a miserable gut-wrenching experience). I’m old enough that most of the women I’ve worked with either already had kids or had opted out (not always successfully, oddly enough) and they were condescendingly more dependable than my male colleagues.

    A boy’s club is no longer a viable model for any sort of enterprise, whether it be a company, a university, or an advocacy group. Sausage fests should be restricted to wiener roasts.

  • APEER survey

    It would be good to see a similar study on how women and men are chosen as peer reviewers. Are selection criteria applied fairly? ( Becoming a peer reviewer confers some of the advantages – recognition and a chance to shape science – that Sunil D’Monte mentioned above.

  • AI

    A rational agent should factor risk of pregnancy into it’s decision.

  • cory

    @AI & TW

    Please, let me introduce you to federal laws. Following them will avoid the next woman you don’t hire suing you for it.
    There’s this one:

    Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin;

    Title VII prohibits not only intentional discrimination, but also practices that have the effect of discriminating against individuals because of their race, color, national origin, religion, or sex.

    Title VII’s broad prohibitions against sex discrimination specifically cover:

    Pregnancy Based Discrimination – Pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions must be treated in the same way as other temporary illnesses or conditions.


    A rational employment system would ensure that the compensation for work performed was enough so that the financial gain from returning to work was actually that, a gain. Many women with intentions to return to work find a net loss when factoring in the cost of day care to (see above) already lower-than-male budgets. Perhaps if women were paid equally the $12,000 yearly cost in child care wouldn’t matter (as much) in their calculations. As I look at it, if a woman starts $5,000 behind, and then has $12,000 a year in child care costs, she has a compensation gap that will only get larger as she starts being shunted aside due to “low productivity”, usually because supervisors see more personal breaks being taken for nursing, pediatrician appointments, etc, all of which are most evident and necessary in the first year of a baby’s life than any other, exactly when employers are judging the woman’s competence and trying to decide whether “she’s still focused on her work”.

    A rational employment system would provide on site day care so that female employees could return to work sooner without risking their child’s health by having to pump breastmilk in bathrooms for infants at sub-par care facilities.

    A rational science field would allow for work-life balance because healthy, well-adjusted employees and scientists are freed to focus on the task at hand. We don’t have a rational system by any means. The laws attempt to correct for that.

  • TW

    I do not advocate discriminating any one per se. And I feel concerned as unlike women I have a real physical handicap. I strongly feel that we should look at the individual and see whether it’s the best choice for YOU. But if my handicap makes me likely to perform less well, i just have to accept that the equally qualified not handicapped should get the job.

    The point is just that hiring a woman with equal qualification is likely a worse choice due to what I explained above. Not because of the mere fact that they are females, but because of REAL disadvantages such as pregnancy risk and lower growth potential.

    Laws are not rational but the product of political forces driven by ideology. The law current tries to make equal what is not equal.

  • TW

    @Cory: Have you considered in your calculation that men die earlier by three years or so, and therefore have reduced the pension contribution for male scientists?

  • JMW

    TW: You cite as evidence one woman who got higher marks than you and admitted to not being as good as you, and generalize that to the entire gender? Frankly, I wish I was not as committed to civil discourse as I am.

    Let’s spell this out. The study presented individuals with one CV and asked that individual to rate the candidate. For some individuals, the CV had a male name attached; for other individuals it had a female name attached. On the aggregate, the individuals rated the female singificantly lower despite all the other information on the CV being identical.

    Adam: although this has been answered, there was no screening for specific qualifications. There was one (1) CV that each person in the study was asked to rate, and the CVs were all identical except for the female/male name at the top. Stop trying to apologize for sexism.

  • Peter Erwin

    Jodi @ 17:
    This study would suggest a similar bias also exists against female authors. Double blind peer review would even the playing field

    As chris (@32) pointed out, double-blind peer review is, in practice, very difficult to achieve, since it’s often rather easy to figure out who the authors are. This Inside Higher Ed article mentions several economics journals giving up on double-blind peer reviewing for a number of reasons, including the infeasibility of double-blind review; the editor of one of the journals mentioned that “[his] journal did an experiment typing in the titles of 20 recently submitted papers and was able to correctly link almost all of them to authors, who post working papers, talks given at meetings or information about their research on various websites.”

    In addition, I think the available current evidence is that there isn’t any significant bias against female authors in peer reviewing at scientific journals (at least within biology); see the meta-analysis in this PNAS study from 2011. (Of course, this leaves open the possibility that bias can still exist in some fields or sub-fields; most of the studies discussed in the meta-analysis were in biology.)

  • TW

    @JMW: I just gave you one example. I spent more than 10 years in this environment. I saw it over and over again. Grades and ability to do good science do not 100% correlate. Women just get better grades by studying more and more regularly but that doesn’t mean the men didn’t learn other stuff in the mean time.

    The CVs were not the same. Sex is an additional piece of information. And we are humans and are all biased as we take a lot of unconscious decisions based on our experience. So many might have unconsciously discounted for pregnancy risk and potential.

    I would be interested in whether just men had this bias or also female reviewers.

    And the study is somewat unrealistic, because NO-ONE is hired by CV but by interview.

  • cory

    @ TW

    The same laws that apply to discrimination against women apply to discrimination against handicaps, as you describe your condition.

    As per your statement, you are saying that you would just accept not being hired if you knew for a certainty that the only difference in the decision was your physical handicap? Even knowing that that was an illegal practice? As long as women don’t get any “favors” either?

    I am inclined to believe that you are not that lacking in self-interest.

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  • TW


    1) no two candidates are exactly the same. People always have a preference for someone. And if it’s just that s/he looks like your favourite niece. It makes you as a boss feel better so why not take him/her.

    2) if s/he doesn’t want me just due to my handicap, then I don’t want him as a boss anyway.

    3) if s/he is concerned that my handicap has real disadvantages (as pregnancy has!), the law would forbid him to discuss it openly with me and say “I would but I don’t because you have this disadvantage”. I would not have the chance to give him counter arguments.

    4) If I had the choice, I would rather take my clone without my handicap.

  • AI

    Cory I am only talking about logic – pregnancy is a factor for females and so a rational decision process should take it into account. The things you cite in your post only support this.

    Now if a society decides, for whatever reason, that equally qualified females should have equal opportunity for hiring this effect has to be countered somehow, for example by enacting laws penalizing discrimination similar to ones you cite or rewarding hiring of females.

  • Drake Sullivan

    “Please, let me introduce you to federal laws. Following them will avoid the next woman you don’t hire suing you for it….”

    Exactly. Legal threats. So when I see identical resumes from, say, Bob and Fiona, I know that Fiona has achieved all her prior positions with the implied threat of legal action if she doesn’t get the job. Bob has achieved his without this benefit. So, if all their achievements are equal, Bob’s likely to be that little bit better.

  • Lily Yang

    I sometimes feel less comfortable and able to voice my concerns around female colleagues than male ones. Sometimes it seems to me that my female mentors and colleagues, more so than the male ones, have expectations for how I should make career and family choices and view me more critically for not choosing according to their idea of correctness. This is particularly difficult because they are perceived “on my side.”

    I have drastically fewer data points for female mentors and colleagues than male ones, though, so I suppose that impression is not reliable.

  • Drake Sullivan

    “my (admittedly sexist!) bias is that women tend to be more conscientious and organized…”

    Yes, that’s been my general observation too! In fact, in a bio-lab setting I’d probably prefer to hire women for precisely this reason. I’ve also observed that men generally tend to have stronger skills in the areas of algebraic manipulation and computer-programming. So for those types of jobs I’d probably prefer men. Assuming the resumes are otherwise identical, of course 😉

  • Scientist

    @Statistical Discrimination: By far the most interesting comment.

    However, I can see how you and the authors of the study (or others) would end up talking past each other, as they might be working under a different assumption. You admit the possibility that there could be an overall statistical difference in the performance of men and women, whereas they might assume that cannot be the case. If they are correct, then the results of their study can be due only to (unwarranted) bias. (And yes, you do admit that possibility, and suggest that blinded applications would then be appropriate.)

  • cory


    So what you are saying is, to make up for unethical actions that may or may not have occurred in the past (the woman in question possibly getting her job based on legal threats rather than skill), you are willing to purposely choose to behave in ways that necessitate those legal protections (ie: hiring the man instead because he must have “earned” his way)?

    Yep, makes sense to me.

  • Curious Wavefunction

    We clearly have some way to go, although I would also be very interested in seeing whether and how these attitudes change after actual interviews with the candidates. That could indicate an even more sexist bias.

  • VV

    I am a female scientist who does not ever plan on having children. I use multiple forms of contraception (birth control pills and condoms). In the incredibly unlikely event that both forms of birth control failed and I became pregnant, I would have an abortion.

    Would you require me to list the intimate details of my personal life on my CV to consider hiring me?

    I hope you can see the issues with your attitude. You claim to be being pragmatic by devaluing female candidates due to the chance that they may get pregnant and become less productive or leave the position as a result, but by doing so you are essentially reducing every female scientist, regardless of her ability, to a walking uterus.

  • HRS

    @TW are you serious?!?! If two people perform the same it doesn’t make any difference in the job they’re doing. If one is working below their capability and one at the top of their capability, what does it matter if they get the same results? I see more problems with the candidate who is lazy as he/she is clearly not interested in personal growth no matter what their potential. I think laziness is a far greater handicap than a uterus. I knew plenty of lazy boys at university that were ‘naturally smart’ but utterly lazy. Not a one of them graduated and I would never hire them as they lack the drive to work. Just for clarity, I have known my fair share of females like this too, and wouldn’t hire them either.

    Unfortunately I do see your point with pregnancy, but most women I have worked with in this community have taken minimal time off work and shared maternity leave with their partners, so the men take almost as much time off as they do. Me and my boyfriend are both finishing off PhDs in physics and have agreed to share maternity leave (when the day comes) as much as possible as we have similar aspirations. I would expect both of us to be considered equal for any job.

  • Michael McCarthy

    @cory and others, you’re doing a great job with your comments. All power to you.

    @TW The law (in Australia, and I suspect in a lot of other places) does not forbid open discussion. Why do you say it does? In fact, the law requires that an employer makes reasonable adjustments to avoid discrimination on the basis of gender, race, disability, etc. Making such reasonable adjustments would usually require discussion with the affected people.

    @Drake You’re comment about legal threats is illogical, and defies the evidence in the cited paper. This paper would suggest (if you were going to assume anything) that Bob got his previous positions because he was male, while Fiona got her previous positions against the odds. Therefore, Fiona will have “earned” her way, as you put it, to a greater degree than Bob. For your comment to have any weight, we would need evidence that “legal threats” give women an unfair advantage. But I doubt such evidence exists.

  • Drake Sullivan

    My life is actually much more pleasant if I hire and retain the best people possible, so I’m always selfishly going to strive to hire the best, based on the info available to me. If I have the luxury of being able to conduct detailed 1 on 1 interviews with every plausible candidate, then that’s wonderful. If, as is more likely, I have a pile of 200 plausible applications, all boasting their rather homogeneous achievements to the max, then I have to whittle that pile down with quick, efficient choices. So yes, a nerdy white guy, with no affirmative action protection and no obvious powerful friends greasing his way, is more likely to make that first cut than someone with ostensibly identical qualifications but who I suspect has had other “factors” helping them in previous applications, whether social connections or legal statutes.
    Even more importantly, if I’m wrong and he turns out to be a disastrous hire, I’ll be able to fire him without having to worry about being hit by some fake discrimination lawsuit. Have you ever tried firing a lazy, dishonest, incompetent? It’s a real pain. How about one that also happens to be pregnant? Now, that’s basically impossible.

    • Sean Carroll

      Think of it this way. At least the trolls have moved on from “there is no discrimination” to “discrimination is rationally justified.” Progress!

  • Surya

    This is what is so grossly wrong with all academic research. Somewhere down the line the bias to prove my hypothesis makes me do all kinds of manipulations. This is more like political lobbying or my marketing exec trying to get his idea to work rather than anything else. Four irresponsible made bar graphs can lead to the conclusion? I am inclined to think the conclusion is correct, however the graphs do nothing, absolutely nothing to prove it.

  • Michael McCarthy


    The result reported here agrees with lots of similar results previously. Change only the name of the person on a resume, and you can change the assessment of that person. Some of the research is summarized in this brochure…

  • Siobhan

    “So yes, a nerdy white guy, with no affirmative action protection and no obvious powerful friends greasing his way, is more likely to make that first cut than someone with ostensibly identical qualifications but who I suspect has had other “factors” helping them in previous applications.”

    Drake Sullivan, you are the *reason* for affirmative action – because you are making the (erroneous) judgement that the white guy must neccessarily be better. In other words, you are making decisions based on racist and sexist logic (I’m sure that you, personally, do not consider yourself racist or sexist, and have friends of many different races and at least one other gender who you treat equally etc etc). If you are consciously admitting to yourself and others that you assume that, all things equal, the white man is necessarily better than other candidates (the reverse is likely to be true, in fact, owing to people with your mindset being in positions of power), then you are making racist and sexist decisions.

  • Drake Sullivan

    “…we would need evidence that “legal threats” give women an unfair advantage…”

    Well, every successful sex discrimination lawsuit clearly comes from one of two things: either (A) a real example of sex discrimination that was justly reversed, or (B) a fake claim of sex discrimination that unjustly prevailed. Unless you believe in the omniscience of (say) the US legal system, you presumably acknowledge that (B) at least sometimes occurs. Since there are basically zero sex-discrimination lawsuits brought by males, I believe this is an existence proof. QED.
    As one measure of this, I know examples of women being denied tenure who sued based on sex-discrimination and had the decision reversed. I personally can not think of any examples of men having an unfavorable tenure decision reversed for any reason whatsoever. (Can you?) Were all these reversals justified? It certainly didn’t look that way from where I sat.
    But the influence of legal threats is far greater than can be measured by the number of lawsuits that are actually filed. Almost no sane person wants to go through the cost and uncertainty of litigation. Often they settle out of court after a nasty letter from a lawyer, and they strive to avoid anything that might even expose them to it in the first place. These effects are unreported.

  • Anonymous

    This kind of ideologically-driven research must be DISMANTLED and DISCREDITED. As scientists you should study issues like this scientifically, and not allow yourselves to be bullied by ideologues who seek to impose “diversity” by force. You of all people need to FIGHT the leftist takeover of American academia, FIGHT for freedom from intellectual Stalinism, not become its stooges! Universities today are becoming little more than leftist indoctrination centers; the hard sciences are the one place they haven’t penetrated, but you’re next on their agenda!

    Wake up! This is not about constructive research or scholarship, it’s about POWER! Stalinism has come to America through our once-liberal academic institutions. Scientists, don’t allow Stalinists to control the narrative and control your minds!

  • Drake Sullivan

    I’m genuinely confused. What exactly is the definition of a troll please?

  • Rationalist

    @Statistical discrimination:

    Definitely the most interesting comment.

    It’s a shame the rest of the discussion has completely ignored it.

    As many people have said, if women are both (a) as good on average as men and (b) consistently underrated, then someone should just start a lab with an all-female policy and produce more citations/research excellence per unit funding. Why has this not happened?

  • Kevin

    Regarding figure 2, although that conversation seems to have been left behind:

    The assertion by #8 and #9 is that the y-axis is misleading. I agree that the y-axis beginning at 0 would constitute a great improvement. However, the figure could be made equally clear and honest, albeit with a different emphasis, by plotting with points instead of bars and preventing the axes from physically meeting (which implies an origin, at which y=0), while leaving the scale intact.

    There are a variety of ways to show data correctly, even though there are vastly more ways to do so incorrectly.

  • Drake Sullivan

    “you are making the (erroneous) judgement that the white guy must neccessarily be better…”

    No, no, no, not at all. I’m simply saying that in my experience, with identical resumes, he’s *probably* better. Perhaps about 70 percent of the time. It’s just statistics. But when you’ve got a huge pile of applications and insufficient time and resources, you need to use statistics. That’s what it’s for. I make many statistical cuts, based on schools, GPA’s, outside projects, etc. etc., and this wouldn’t even be a particularly important one. But it would be there.

  • Amos Zeeberg (Discover Web Editor)

    @Statistical Discrimination @TW etc:

    The giant factor you’re missing is that the discrimination you advocate has long-lasting, far-reaching, self-perpetuating effects. If you don’t give jobs to qualified women, people’s biases about about female scientists will be strengthened; there will be fewer female role models for young, qualified women; etc. This is very much a two-way street, where reality and perception reinforce each other.

    There are tons of examples of gender [and race, religion, etc.] stereotypes that seemed to accurately describe biological differences but were then showed to be purely effects of widespread bias. Women were thought to be too emotional to vote reasonably; if you keep telling them they’re too emotional, and keep them from getting informed, it kinda becomes true.

    By discouraging promising young female scientists, we not only hurt the women themselves but impede science as a whole: they could be doing a lot of good research if we encourage them to participate. It would be a shame to continue to waste all that human capital by leaving lots of subtle obstacles in their way.

  • Ophelia Benson

    Sean – The problem discussed in this post is exactly why you were (I think) mistaken to say in the recent discussion of atheism on The Point, when the scarcity of visible women was the subject, that the goal is equality of opportunity not equality of outcome.

    That sounds good, but the reality is that equality of opportunity breaks down if hidden biases are at work.

  • BG

    I would be relieved if the only thing that causes this change in evaluation were “she might get pregnant,” because at least that can be addressed with proper maternity/paternity leave, etc. (one would hope). My fear is that this is more pervasive, that people actually believe women are less capable.

    Honestly, as a women with a newly-minted PhD, I’m already exhausted. I don’t want to deal with this. Funding is so tight, and knowing that these same attitudes will be looming over my grant proposals… Ugh.

  • Vitality

    By TW’s logic, it’s not rational to hire men. Men get prostate cancer, women don’t, and when someone gets prostate cancer they can’t do the job as well as someone who doesn’t have prostate cancer.

    Sorry, guys. It’s just biology. Sucks to be you, but it’s not my problem. Life’s unfair.

  • Lydia

    As a woman and a scientist, I’m very disappointed to hear so many of my male colleagues imply that only women should be punished, career-wise, for procreating (or even just having the presumed biological capacity to do so!)

  • Dan

    Kris, there’s a very famous example in the sciences of women being hired partly because the pay differential allowed for a larger workforce at the same price:

  • Brett

    I would like to both make a joke and a serious comment.

    Veronica Corningstone: Mr. Burgundy, I am a professional and I would like to be able to do my job.
    Ron Burgundy: Crack a wank!
    Veronica Corningstone: Mr. Burgundy, you are acting like a baby.
    Ron Burgundy: I’m not a baby, I’m a man! I am an anchorman!
    Veronica Corningstone: You are not a man. You are a big fat joke!
    Ron Burgundy: I’m a man who discovered the wheel, and built the Eiffel Tower out of metal and brawn! That’s what kind of man I am. You’re just a woman with a small brain. With a brain a third the size of ours. It’s science.

    2.) seriously though. This is the result of thousands of years of cultural conditioning across the globe. It’s getting better for women, but it’s going to take a slight bit longer for it to be 100% equal between the sexes. It starts with “girls are princesses and boys like to play in the mud” and ends with inequality. Until all the old school Ron Burgundys out there die off or are fired for it, then everyone has to unfortunately deal with it or put up a fight to get rid of them. And the fact that we are getting most of our STEM majors from H1b visas (India & Asia specifically where women are not nearly considered anywhere near as equal to a man) means it’s not going to be easy ladies.

  • Perivale

    I think it’s a byproduct of the sheer number of men in science overall. I don’t know the actual data but judging by the physics department at Durham (UK) men clearly outnumber women by a large number (I’d estimate ~70% of the department are male). It has been seen in the past that people have a tendency to hire those “similar” to themselves, which, of course, means there is going to be discrimination against women. Hopefully this gender bias will pass as more women enter the field and legislation is brought in to try and prevent discrimination.

  • Brett

    But on the inverse side of things; any time a man needs a damn break he doesn’t get it. You see a woman crying and everyone rushes to see what’s wrong. You see a man crying and everyone thinks “man up dude, jesus, get yourself together.”

  • Mr Epidemiology

    That is a rather surprising and disturbing finding. What really strikes me is that Male and Female faculty both displayed this bias, and I wonder why this is the case.

  • Hachi

    Calling this dishonest would be a huge understatement. The figure two graph just puts the nail in the coffin. Not starting the Y at 0, and only going from 25 – 31 is blatantly and facially manipulative.

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  • Michel

    The test should be made into something you can take online to self-assess your own bias. I am pretty sure most scientists aren’t even aware of their own biases. This could be an important eye-opener. Being the director of a physics department, I would require all staff to submit to the test. That’s how you could actively change things.

  • yeti

    The whining about Figure 2 is fascinating, as is the resultant blanket dismissal of the entire study. Apparently the author erroneously assumed that readers would actually look at the words and numbers on the page. Usually, one can assume that a reader knows how to read. I’m curious to hear these brilliant voices of dissent produce actual critiques of the study itself, beyond complaining about how they were ‘facially [sic] manipulated.’

  • Doug

    I’m literally laughing at loud at all these folks throwing out accusations that this research is fraudulent because it doesn’t fit their right-wing black-and-white world view. Yes, one of the graphs is misleading. No, that does not make the data behind the graph invalid. Please go back to school, conservatives.

  • Doug


    Yes, that is also a problem of sexism. It hurts both genders.

  • JustSayin

    @ Sean: “At least the trolls have moved on from ‘there is no discrimination’ to ‘discrimination is rationally justified.'”

    The whole hiring process IS a process of discrimination or did you forget what the word means? Are you proposing indiscriminate hiring? Get a hat and some pieces of paper with names on it?

    This is an excellent post and the discussion has been enlightening but the idea that hiring isn’t an activity of discrimination obscures the complexity of the problem we should all be trying to address. That legitimate problem is that sometimes qualified candidates are unfairly discriminated against based on physical attributes they cannot change.

    This includes sexuality, gender, age, physical disability and the color of their skin.

    Just look at this wonderful discussion that has been provoked. TW brings up excellent and fair point about stereotypes and how they are often justified — so this begs the question:

    How do you effectively combat unfair discrimination?

    Well, first you have to prove to us that it *is* unfair. TW points out that his physical disability my adversely effect his ability to do a job when compared to a make-believe completely equal person. If he were applying to a position that requires he regularly climb into volcanoes to take samples and he can’t do that then is it truly unfair to discriminate against him? Or is it common sense?

    If a team needs scientists who are going to be available for the next 12 months no matter what and you have two EXACTLY identical candidates, one male, one female… who would you chose? If your grant, your project, your science, your tenure depended on the reliability of your team?

    It *is* a problem but to gloss over the very real differences between individuals is equally as foolish.

    So I appreciate the excellent post, I think your hypothesis that _all_ discrimination is bad is sorely lacking and I would request you refine it.

  • Sandra

    @Brett: You do it to yourself. You go through all this trouble to hide your emotions, so when you do finally let a tear loose, you shouldn’t be surprised that other people want you to stop. It makes them uncomfortable. They’re not used to seeing it and they don’t know what to do about it, whereas everyone knows how to comfort a crying woman. If you really feel you need a break or some emotional support, it helps to admit that you need it and to actually ask for it. If men all did that more, it wouldn’t be so weird.

    But back to the article: the gender bias in science isn’t just a stereotype problem. It’s compounded with working conditions in the U.S. Both men and women who bend over backward to accommodate their employers make it hard for all of us to lead reasonably balanced lives inside and outside the workplace, and if we as a society don’t draw a line somewhere, we’ll all continue to be abused by work. No U.S. employer, especially in this job market, has any regulations or obvious economic incentive to make them support work-life balance at all. If you have a salaried job with benefits, it’s in your employer’s interest to make you work as many hours as possible. If you have an hourly job with no benefits, the employer will have you work as hours as possible to minimize the wages that need to be paid out.

    If we simply leave employer incentives the way they are and have men ask for parental leave, flex time and consistent hours as much as women do, employers will probably start selecting against parents of both sexes. Part of the answer is changing our expectations of each other and of ourselves, and another part of the solution has to be workplace regulation.

  • JF

    @ TW and Drake Sullivan:
    1. Studying hard is a big part of being a good scientist. You talk about studying hard and getting good grades as if these traits are negatively correlated with being a “good scientist”. Why can’t females be both smart and hardworking? Do you think we never explore our interests outside of getting good grades? I know many female scientists, including myself, who get good grades, work hard, and still manage to have non-academic hobbies.
    2. We shouldn’t be arguing about which sex makes better scientists. There are plenty of bad or mediocre male scientists. The problem is that more mediocre male scientists get hired than mediocre female scientists, and when they do get hired, males earn more than females. In traditional “female” roles like cooking, men still historically dominate. Look at the restaurant industry at top chefs, look at artists throughout the ages. Sexism pervades through many professions, not just science. Given the same ability, there should be equal hiring when there still is not. So ability is not even in question here, that is a whole different discussion.
    3. From a biological point of view, female and male brains are of course different in many ways. But being a “good scientist” requires MANY characteristics. You need to be intelligent, but do we know what will distinguish one person from the next? Drive, curiosity, hardwork, perseverance, resilience, and even luck, can all factor into being a “good scientist”. I think these characteristics have more inter-individual than inter-sex variation. There are many recent studies on corporate teamwork that point to diversity of thinking increases productivity and better outcomes. So, given these findings, I would think that science should also benefit people with diverse backgrounds, strengths, and ways of thinking. Females and males being “different” is a good thing, we need to harness the brain power of both sexes.

  • Corinne Moss-Racusin

    Hi all,

    Thanks for the enlightening discussion of our paper. Just wanted to make 2 quick points.

    1. I do hear your points on the scale of Figure 2. However, if at all possible, I’d like to suggest focusing on the results of the underlying statistical tests, rather than how they were formatted for presentation in this journal. We formatted it this way with ease of interpretation in mind–it was certainly not necessary to “manipulate” or “distort” results that were so clearly significant, and with such a large effect size. The bottom line is that (male and female) faculty elected to pay a female applicant significantly less than an identical male applicant. That difference will always be significant, no matter how the y-axis is scaled.

    2. @ Michel: this is taps something slightly different, but I’d recommend taking a look at Project Implicit (, where people can take very well-validated tests measuring their implicit gender bias (among other things). This could serve as a good educational tool about subtle, pervasive biases.

    • Sean Carroll

      Corinne, thanks for chiming in!

  • JF

    @ TW, Drake Sullivan and everyone else
    I just want to emphasize the enormous pressure for female scientists to feel like they must be the cream of the crop in order to identify themselves as a “competent scientist”. I think our culture right now is more tolerant of mediocre male scientists over female scientists, and lets face it, most scientists aren’t operating at the level of winning Nobel Prizes or discovering the cure to a disease. We are talking about the middle of the road scientists. If you are a mediocre female scientist, it must be because you are female. If you are a mediocre male scientist, well, there are many explanations.

    Furthermore, there is the tendency for females to have “impostor syndrome”, where they don’t feel like they belong in their fields of expertise.
    “Men are more likely to attribute their success to internal factors (their ability and effort) and their failure to external factors (task difficulty and luck), whereas women are more likely to attribute their success to external factors and their failure to internal factors.” Even though no one really knows why this is, maybe it’s due to self-incorporation of cultural biases, which doesn’t just work against women but against minorities as well. I can only hope that as our society progress to become more equal and tolerant, these biases will disappear.

  • btm

    Not that it makes the finding any less sad, but I noticed in the application from the online supplementary material an excerpt from the letter of recommendation:

    “… although (Jennifer/John) admittedly took a bit longer than some students to get serious about (his/her) studies early in college, she has impressed me by improving over the last two years of her science coursework and has made every effort to make up for lost ground… (she/he) has been a strong research assistant in my lab, and I know (he/she) is capable of serving as a dedicated lab manager”

    Although this may show my own stereotypes , to me this seems to fit with a typically male narrative. Smart male (1430 GRE), who after slacking off for a year or two got his act together. The rest of the application is quite generic (e.g. “I am a motivated student”), and this is the last part of the application and therefore might really play a large role in how the professors judge the application. It would be interesting to know how the inclusion of this may have impacted the results.

  • Megan

    1) I don’t really get the pregnancy argument, in the short term, maternity leave can affect productivity but some of these posters (TW I’m looking at you) act like women just walk around and pop babies out nonstop. The average amount of kids per house hold is ~2, I am 22 years old right now, probably won’t have my first child for at least another 5 years. Why should I be denied a job because I *might* have a child in another 5 years…when I might not even be at the company anymore OR have children at all. This logic is just infuriating.

    2) Anecdotal stories are NOT evidence, but just for fun here is my own anecdote: I am a recent college grad (University of Maryland College Park) with a double in astronomy and physics. I slacked off as much as possible, focused on my social life and outside interests, and was still able to maintain a 3.6/4.0 GPA. Seems like in this case I would have a “higher growth potential” than TW here because he couldn’t even do well in college…NASA was happy to have me post-grad.

  • Odexios

    I can understand the “pregnancy objection”, though I’m not sure if it has any actual consequence in the real world; even if it were a real issue, anyway, the proposed cure is completely absurd. The right thing to do would be to somehow “force” a balance between man and woman in maternity/paternity leaves; not hiring an otherwise competent woman just because you’re scared she might decide to have a baby is counterproductive and simply unjust.

    That said, it’s really offensive the message that has been passed around that basically women might be hard worker, but on the other side they have definitely less potential than men; I’m really surprised that things like these have been said by so-called scientists after an evaluation based on *anectodal* evidence. Even by not considering the fact that it’s simply absurd to be able to think something like that, I think it’s a serious flaw in reasoning to argue, even on the internet, on anectodes. For a scientist in particular it’s something that can’t be forgiven.

  • TeaHag

    I would love to know if Moss-Racusin and colleagues considered the possibility that there are two separate explanations for the findings presented in figure 2. While discrimination may account for the difference in proposed salary limits between male and female candidates, it is also possible that the female faculty may have unconsciously selected lower salary levels for female applicants based on their own prior salaries, and would have offered a similar lower level if they had received that CV with a male name. As I understand this, each faculty member only saw one CV and so there was no control evaluation to predict if they are “tightwads” or generally “generous” with job offers.

    My husband and I have been academic researchers at the same institutions for many years. All through our post-doc years, he was employed at a slightly higher salary than I was, even though our performance and CVs were highly comparable. Only when I was promoted into a faculty position did I see a significant increase in my salary relative to his…. only to subsequently learn the amount that I received was substantially lower than male faculty were paid!! If you’ve only ever earned on the lower end of the scale, why would it cross your mind to offer a higher salary?

  • Michael Eisen

    It’s a testament to how powerful peoples’ preconceived biases are. In my experience, female scientists and scientists in training, as a group, outperform their male colleagues. While it is somewhat of a competitive advantage for me that my colleagues don’t see it this way, it is an unmitigated disaster for the field that this kind of bias, and other challenges, drive so many women away.

  • JF

    I don’t see why you can’t enforce equal parental leave between the 2 parents, or make it easier for fathers to contribute to child rearing. I think women can still be productive while pregnant/nursing, especially in fields like computational biology where you can easily work from home. Even if your research normally requires you to do bench work, everyone can make use of time away from the bench to read literature, write up results, write a review paper or a grant, etc. A system that does not help 1/2 of the population succeed while retaining their ability to raise a family is a rigged and failed system. Women shouldn’t have to give up having children in fear of loss of opportunities.

  • TW

    @Megan: Why should I be denied a job because I *might* have a child in another 5 years…

    I don’t get your argument. That’s like saying, why should I pay for insurance just because I might have a car accident?

    I never said that women should be denied employment per se. I am just saying that deciding on the best candidate: the risk of pregnancy is a real disadvantage. But so are many other things like your prospective boss doesn’t like your face, you remind her of her ex-husband’s new wife, you are 5 years to old for your boss to apply for a special grant, or whatever…

  • cory

    @BG I understand your exhaustion, I’m in my first year of my masters, after taking 10 years between undergrad and grad so that I could work part time and raise my children. Even with school age children, balancing both is exhausting.

    @VV&Lydia, thank you. It’s frustrating enough to be reduced to a uterus by the republicans, I hate seeing it here, too.

    @ JF, I have a long drive home from my 3 hour long seminar class each week. Each week the professor talks us under the table until late at night, and I spend the entire drive home convincing myself I really do belong in that room. And he’s a male, feminist scientist. Imposter syndrome is real and isn’t helped by some of the attitudes expressed here.
    And I agree about the broken system, emphatically!

    This reinforces that I have a long journey ahead of me, in order to prepare my daughter for the biases she will have to address. It is my hope that I can guide her so that she doesn’t internalize so many of these negative messages.

  • Odexios

    @TW Do you have any actual evidence to substantiate your claims that pregnancy is a real disadvantage and actually has a substantial impact on productivity, or is it just something else only based on anectodes? And even if this was actually the situation, do you think that the right thing to do would just be to accept it and discriminate women?

  • JF

    I don’t think TW has evidence to support his claim, especially when he admits to not being fully committed to “what he’s supposed to be doing”. At work, you are supposed to do what you are supposed to do (oops, here we all are commenting on this post). The great thing about science is that it’s not just a 9-5 job. Most of us putting way more hours at work and at home and the work-life boundary is blurred. This also means that a nursing mother can still put in intellectual contribution to her work, especially in fields where you don’t even need to be in lab to do research. I know computational neuroscientists who spend a lot of time working at coffee shops.

    I’ve also heard many parents say they gain laser focus when they have children, that they become much better time-managers and multitaskers. I’m not claiming I have scientific evidence for this, but lets say it’s true, that the woman who just had a child is working 50% of the time but being 100% efficient and spending the rest at home with her child, and that TW spends 50% of the time doing what “he’s supposed to be doing” and the rest of the time being distracted by his other interests like commenting on this post, then they should be equally as productive. This is an extreme example, but I just don’t think we should pretend like we are performing at 100% efficiency all the time. There is no reason to assume women with children are much less productive, and if they can get equal help from their partners, they’ll be just as productive as everyone else.

  • Lynn

    So discouraging.

    As for as the pay gap, I’ve seen it quite a few times in my short experience. The latest is maybe the most egregious: My boyfriend and his classmate, who he is close with, were hired by the same firm after graduation. They graduated from the same program, same school, literally all the same extracurriculars. She was actually ranked slightly higher than him and had a few years experience working in the field whereas my boyfriend had never had a job outside waiting tables in high school. They got talking and found out he’d been offered $5,000 more starting salary than her. She took it up with management with much more grace than I think I would have been capable of in her situation. They claimed the difference was a “typo” on her paperwork. I haven’t been able to ask her yet in private her reaction to the whole thing, though my boyfriend apparently found it amusing. He kept teasing her about it. Again, such grace! I most surely would have punched him in his adorable face.

  • Greg

    @TW and other commenters, why is pregnancy the only gender factor you cite? What about the fact that men have twice as high a prevalence of alcoholism? How about social skills? Retention rates? Performance after hire? Incidence of chronic disease? Surely, you’ve examined all of these factors from a gender perspective to come to your purely rational perspective on hiring. Or is this just cherry-picking? I believe recent research shows that people often come to their opinions on topics first by gut feel, then find logical reasons why those positions must be right. Are you sure that doesn’t describe you?

  • cory

    @ Odexios

    Here is an excerpt from a study I found that shows an actual increase in worker productivity with the enactment of maternity/family leave policies. It’s a PDF but here’s the title & authors:

    The Impact of “Family-Friendly Policies” on Women’s Employment Outcomes and on the Costs and Benefits of Doing Business

    Janet C. Gornick Graduate Center, City University of New York (CUNY)
    Ariane Hegewisch Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR)

    On page 20, it reads:

    Research Finds Overwhelmingly Positive Effects of Leave on Employers in High Income Countries

    Research on the impact of leave on employers is more limited than on the impact on women, but finds little evidence of substantial costs or problems for employers in response to leave.

    A 19- country OECD study of trends in multi factor productivity (MFP) in response to maternity/ parental leave from 1979 – 2003, comparing female to male dominated sectors, found no negative effects on productivity, and concludes: “If countries with no unpaid maternity leave (such as the US) introduced this measure at the average OECD level (15 weeks), they could increase MFP by 1.1 percent in the long run.” (Bassanini and Venn, 2008:11).

  • Brett

    Doug #84 makes a good point, and Sandra #86 proves it; it is sexism that hurts both genders. Sandra #86 is of course the female side of sexism. When I need a break or need help, I take it and/or ask without any harm to my ego because I’m able to accurately analyze my performance or lack of it. I also have an ever so slightly receding hairline that I ask my barber to not cover up; because that’s just pathetic IMO. If you look at a profession dominated by women, then you’ll find the same thing taking place with men getting paid less.

  • PHDScienceOpinionator

    It has been an uphill battle, especially in the sciences for pay equality. It would be good to think about why the gender bias exists. Is this why so many young girls leave the sciences?
    I don’t agree with the idea that women should get less pay simply because they might become pregnant at some time. Think about what kind of society we would have if only uneducated, unemployable women had children.

  • Art

    Reading all the comments, the ones that want to deny these findings seem to proclaim “my mind is made up, don’t confuse me with facts”. Kudos to Greg for his response!

  • Brian

    I agree with the main premise and see it in my workplace all the time too (I’m in engineering grad school), but the second graph shows your bias. The fact that the y-axis begins at $26K rather than $0K gives a misleading picture about what the difference in salaries is: still significant, but much less so than the chart would have you believe.

  • KeithT

    Not ok to suppress the y-axis to make your point seem stronger. It makes a 15% effect look like a factor of 3.

  • Julie

    You’d be wrong, Brett #104. For example, female RNs make 86.5% of what male RNs do. For social workers, it’s 90%. There are a few occupations where women earn more than men, but the highest one the Bureau of Labor Statistics could find was food preparation workers, where women earn 112% of what men do. Compare that to multiple professions where women earn 70% or less of what men do:

  • Anita

    Re: “A rational agent should factor risk of pregnancy into it’s [sic] decision.”

    I’m a married female physicist in my early 30s. If you didn’t know me well–and members of a hiring committee are unlikely to—you might make the erroneous assumption that I might get pregnant.

    But you’d be wrong.

    I have a less than 1% chance of getting pregnant, and 0% chance of keeping any child possibly conceived.

    But thanks for discriminating against me anyway.

  • Dave Martin

    Not happy about these results, but they do seem to be pretty hard to deny. I am curious about the root of this bias, and what causes it.

    I think the next focus of study could be demographics on the individuals who evaluate women lower than men. For instance, how strongly correlated are these results which favor men over equally qualified women to individual evaluators? Is the trend very broad, or are a few rotten apples spoiling the whole thing? Is there an age association with this sexism? What about regional or cultural association? And how about gender association. It is noteworthy that both men and women discriminate against women in this regard. I’d like to see more specifics on these numbers.

    Also, I wonder what would happen if you matched a male applicant against a slightly more qualified female applicant? In other words, how much (if any) of the gender bias arises solely when the two applicants are otherwise equally qualified?

  • Nathan Papovich

    On a biological level, males are far more likely to have managerial traits like being assertive, being confident, being consistent, being an authoritative figure. This is why men are more likely to be seen as suitable for manager/admin -type role. Feminists – grow up, the workforce has historically been a man’s world for biological reasons – the same reasons why you don’t see men at home trying to nurse babies. Men are biologically made for work, especially in leadership roles and in positions of manual labor. Its strictly biological differences. I dont see men whining that they cant be stay at home dads and raise kids – because this is clearly still to this day a woman’s role – women are just made for it biologically. Bottom line.. BIOLOGICAL DIFFERENCES AND GENDER ROLES EXIST FOR A REASON, STOP TRYING TO CHANGE THAT

  • BBBShrewHarpy

    Somehow I’ve escaped the biological urge to do all these womanly things suggested by Papovich at #112. What I have done over the last 10 years is a lot of hiring in academia, mostly students (undergrad and graduate) and postdocs. It has given me a fair sample from which to draw my own conclusions about what is desirable in a trainee, though who knows whether the outcome is affected by innate biases affecting my interactions with those trainees.

    In addition to the sub-conscious biases uncovered in this study that seemingly lurk within each of us, I have developed acknowledged (to myself) prejudices based on my experiences with trainees. In particular, applicants from one particular country have shown themselves, when hired, to be nothing like their transcripts, awards, recommendation letters suggest, and have performed very poorly in comparison to other trainees with less stellar resumes. This means I have a prejudice against applicants from this country. I don’t reject them out-of-sorts, but I don’t believe the publicity. It would be unfair of me to dismiss the individual applicant from this country because of my prejudice. Instead, I have developed a set of exercises and questions which I pose to all candidates who make it past the first screening. It is more difficult for applicants from this country without a track record including refereed publications to make it past the first screening because I have less to go on than other applicants, and I regret that. It is probably also more difficult for a candidate from that country to impress me even if they get beyond that first screening.

    I think it is important to acknowledge our prejudices and to treat each applicant as an individual, and it can be very difficult.

  • McJibJab

    Let’s just hope TW and cronies are force-retired soon, and that the next generation can do better than theirs. I mean wow! Granted he is probably one dirty old dudes who make my poster look like such a hot spot at the conference, but I would gladly be rid of those d-bags for a lick of intellectual justice.

  • TW

    @Odexios: “@TW Do you have any actual evidence to substantiate your claims that pregnancy is a real disadvantage and actually has a substantial impact on productivity, or… based on anectodes?”

    Of course, it is. The woman is simply NOT at work. If that is not a disadvantage, I don’t know what. I have seen 4 of my colleagues being pregnant and work just stopped for months. 3 had not interest for work after the child was born. But I also have to say that the law makes it worse. Most women when in the late stages are still happy to contribute and work for several hours from home, but are NOT allowed by law to have tasks assigned, even though they wouldn’t mind and bore themselves to death at home.

    @Greg: @TW and other commenters, why is pregnancy the only gender factor you cite?

    Pregnancy risk is a risk affecting all woman and a very clear SEX (not gender) factor. I cannot think of any other, except men having to do military services or being exposed to claims of paedophilia when working with kids, or women not having the necessary physical strength.

  • HC

    >Kris, there’s a very famous example in the sciences of women being hired partly because the pay differential allowed for a larger workforce at the same price:

    It’s striking that the chosen example was from 100 years ago.

  • TW

    @McJibJab: Please stay on topic. No need for personal attacks. We are just presenting counter-arguments. Force-retiring is certainly discrimination: one ideology simply pushing out those that do not agree. And for the record, I still have at least 25 years to retirement. In fact, most young woman are not moaning. It is the women of my generation from 35 upwards that moan. And many blame their failure on discrimination rather than on any other factors.

    @Sean: No need to use the word “troll”. I would like you to give counter-arguments instead and engage in the debate.

  • McJibJab

    @ TW: on topic? okay… ahem- cause ‘physical strength’ is essential at the bench? ha! By your own standards this is totally on topic…

    TW, I will take you in a pushup contest, foot race, bike, or swim. But I’d rather stay in the lab and find things you hadn’t thought to look for. Good luck catching up with the world, dude

  • Seanan

    What were the sexes of the scientists who were questionned!? I suspect if you were to only include the data from male scientists you would have a stronger male bias, whilst if you only took the responses from females scientists, you would have a female bias!?

  • Kieran

    Why doesnt the salary scale start at 0? Trying to overhype the bias are we?

  • Meowmeows

    To all who question the validity of Figure 2 on the basis of a non-zero axis: Wow… are any of you actually scientists? I am a researcher at Caltech and the majority of my published graphs do not have an axis that begins at zero. If differences between data points are statistically signifcant, there is no reason why you cannot adjust the range of a graph to more clearly visualize a trend. Go back to stats class. Oh wait… according to TW, classes don’t mean shit for men. I guess this is why there are so many male commenters who do not understand this extremely basic principle routinely taught in high school science classes.

  • MarriedtoaScientist

    Very interesting, esp because non-scientists like myself are taught that good scientists rely on data not unsupported hunches. This seems not to be the case, judging by this debate, and throws light on a lot of bad science.

    I am confused by @TW’s logic that being lazy means you are a better hire because you are a) smarter (based on what evidence?) and b) might someday not be lazy. However his broader point deserves the benefit of the doubt.

    I have noticed at work that women tend to take on a lot of procedural or supportive tasks that benefit the team but not them personally. Men save their energy for the big moment when they’ll get more glory. This is exacerbated by work assignments from male managers, and the tendency of male managers to hang around with their non-busy male subordinates. The not-so-busy employee also has more time to think creativity. Therefore women should simply stop doing anything that doesn’t benefit them personally, remain free to brainstorm with the boss or let your mind wander to that prize-winning idea, and get someone else to do the grunt work. In my profession this would go a long way towards women getting the same recognition as men.

    I think it is true that child-rearing (not pregnancy) takes a lot more time than most people expect. I don’t think it would hurt feminists and equal-ists to acknowledge that. Most men get around this by having their wives take up the slack. If more women worked and stood their ground on sharing the burden, more husbands would be forced to be reasonable about balancing work-family commitments.

    #112 Nathan Popovich has clearly not spent much time in less developed economies, where it is very common to see women working tough manual labor in the fields or keeping long hours in shops while men sit around and chat.

    In the past few years in my company, one man has had a nervous breakdown and missed 4 months of work. Another had to be removed from a post due to alcoholism. Various men have quit for other jobs, two of them within 2 months of getting a promotion. Four senior men failed to be promoted and were kept on the payroll for several months to one year each while they did very little but look for other jobs. One man had a stroke in the office and missed months of work. Three men and one woman missed several weeks of work each due to broken bones. Two women had to take off time for severe anemia. Four women have gone on maternity leave (including myself) while at least two others quit once they were pregnant, thereby sparing the company from any pregnancy-related expense or absence. My point is simply that there are lots of reasons for long, expensive absences. Pregnancy at least you can plan around.

    I have suffered under bosses who lack confidence or consistency – those bosses have all been male. I’ve had some good male bosses too, and some good female bosses. I’ve had underperforming male colleagues and underperforming female colleagues.

    My “scientific” conclusion therefore that employers should select for intelligence, competence, assertiveness, confidence, consistency and authoritativeness, not select for male or female. If they are selecting for male instead, based on the logic in some of these posts, then it should be no surprise that there are so many mediocre hires.

  • TW

    @MarriedToaScientist: You did not read the second post. Men at university usually do other things than focus on coursework, and that does not mean that they don’t learn something for life. You equate grades with success in science. I disagree. it’s maybe true for an administrative job but not for a science job (except maybe tedious lab work).

    I also did not say that laziness should be rewarded. I am just saying that if both men and women have the same grade. I expect the men to have more potential and the women to have worked harder for the grade on average. That is how I would decide. If you are the boss, then just decide how ever you want to decide. I don’t care. i just care about output.

  • JMW

    @44 TW:I just gave you one example. I spent more than 10 years in this environment. I saw it over and over again. Grades and ability to do good science do not 100% correlate. Women just get better grades by studying more and more regularly but that doesn’t mean the men didn’t learn other stuff in the mean time.

    I’ve seen it too. I had a friend who actually skipped a grade in high school. Each year I helped him study for his exams, which were a year ahead of me. I even helped him study for his first year university exams while I was still in high school. He consistently got marks that were 5-10 percentage points higher than mine, but I was consistently teaching him the same stuff for his finals that I had taught him for his mid-terms and other tests. He functioned by rote memorization, not by understanding.

    My issue is that you are generalizing from your experience with one (as you mentioned in your the first post I responded to) or even several (as you mention in your post @44) to THE ENTIRE GENDER OF WOMEN. It ain’t so.

    The CVs were not the same. Sex is an additional piece of information.

    And it was the ONLY piece of information that was different on the CV. The name was either a masculine or feminine name.

    And we are humans and are all biased as we take a lot of unconscious decisions based on our experience. So many might have unconsciously discounted for pregnancy risk and potential.

    Perhaps. That’s irrelevant to the study. The study was not asking why people are biased, it was measuring whether they are biased.

    I would be interested in whether just men had this bias or also female reviewers.

    Obviously you’re not reading the article above. Trolling? Let me refresh your memory:
    Both male and female scientists rated the female applicants lower.

    And the study is somewat unrealistic, because NO-ONE is hired by CV but by interview.

    And again, you’re not reading the article. The article didn’t ask reviewers to hire the person from the CV. It asked them to rate the competency of the person represented on the CV. Period.

    In the real world, the person on this CV might be called for an interview, if the name is male. And the person might NOT be called for an interview if the name is female.

    Put it another way, Theresa (I’m going to guess that’s your first name). Since I’ve guessed that you’re female, I can make certain assumptions about you even though all I know about you is what you’ve posted here.

    Those assumptions might be wrong, or they might be right…but without meeting you and getting to know you, that’s all I have to go on – what you’ve written and your name, Theresa.

    On the other hand, Thomas (and now I’m switching your first name), when I look at your posts again, I come to a different set of assumptions about who you are and what type of person you are. Merely by changing the named attached to your posts.

  • Lucy

    @TW – Seriously? You really need to expand on the females you have encountered in your life. What if they don’t want a kid, ever? Ever met one of those? Do you think it’s fair to not let them have the job, even if they’re more qualified? Especially when, you “prove” that they study and focus better than men. Yes, you’ll find that quality more common in women because they have to work harder to even be given a chance in the first place, but you will also find that quality in men too. I’ve met many men (and women) who work hard and push their limits to the max… it’s varies from person to person. What you’re implying is that men are smarter than women even when they don’t try. That’s called sexism, so don’t be surprised if you’re pissing a lot of people off. Imagine comparing the hire-ability of white men against black men. If the white man was higher that wouldn’t be fair either and something would be said and done about it. But in this case nothing gets done about it because “men are the bosses”. Try putting yourself in our shoes.

    Anyway, you’ve taught me that if I apply for a job now and get rejected, I’ll have to sink to asking “Is is because I’m a woman?” … I really thought we were beyond that …

  • MNb

    What I like about TW’s logic @26 is this:
    1) A woman works her ass off – don’t hire her.
    2) A woman doesn’t work when she gets pregnant – don’t hire her.
    That’s what I call a lose-lose situation.

  • Fiona

    @TW, your initial post stated that you were ‘not convinced about the interpretation’, because people ‘use all the available information, including gender’. This is a ridiculous argument. The study was designed to test the specific hypothesis that gender would explain variation in how CVs were judged in terms of candidate competence. Therefore, the researchers controlled for other sources of variation (e.g. qualifications and so on), and only changed the gender. So the interpretation that gender explained a significant amount of variation in how these CVs were assessed is a totally justified and straightforward interpretation.

    Further, it’s also strange to me that you disagree with this interpretation, then go on to make a chain of sexist and unjustifiable remarks, based on anecdote and your own personal biases – which brings in to question your own ability to make a judgement based on scientific data, as well as rather ironically supporting the researchers’ interpretation of their data, since you are openly admitting to exactly the kind of sexism that their research suggests is happening elsewhere.

    Your comment that women should be treated as some kind of ‘risk’ factor because they are able to get pregnant is ridiculous. Yes, a woman might take time off work while they are pregnant, but then a person of any gender might need to take time off work for any number of reasons (illness, family bereavement etc.), and it is not the employer’s position to guess how likely these circumstances might be, nor do they have the necessary information to make any kind of reasonable guess.

    I am a young female scientist who so far has shown a lot more scientific skill than many of my male cohort. I am also biologically unable to have children. Should I state this at the top of my CV to improve my job prospects??

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  • TW

    @Fiona: if you are unable to have children, then stating it would increase your probability to get hired because you have a lower risk. but given the current social environment you would be viewed as strange and awkward to put it on your cv, but you can say it at the interview.

    @MNb: >> 1) A woman works her ass off – don’t hire her.

    absolutely, if i want to have top scientists and not just work slaves.

    if i am a sport coach and i see someone winning or equalling games without much training against someone who had trained hard, i would immediately take this person.

  • Fiona

    @TW: It makes me sick to think that someone with dated and unscientific views like yours might be in a position to judge applicants for a science job, or any job for that matter.

  • Haelfix

    I have no problem with the study perse, but the notion that we must correct for these subconscious biases is really quite unmanageable.

    The fact of the matter is you can probably come up with hundreds of similar biases.

    Biases against a right handed person vs a left handed person. Bias against styles of handwriting. Bias against redheads. Bias against people with stutters or asymmetrical faces. etc etc

    At one point, you just throw your hands up in the air. Human beings are not perfect, and its probably impossible to arbitrarily design a selection algorithm that does much better anyway. Some of these biases indeed have been imprinted into our minds for a reason (evolutionary biology likely favors individuals who can more readily find and create groups)

  • vmarko

    I am not very surprised by this level of gender bias in science. It is completely ridiculous from the ethical point of view, while at the same time quite expected from the performance point of view. The employer takes into account the potential absence of the applicant due to pregnancy leave, and as a result favors males, or offers less salaries for females, or both. It’s a simple calculation of potential damage control. It is completely unfair to women, but then again business in general is never fair. It’s always about effective exploitation — a man can be exploited more effectively, since he does not get pregnant. Therefore prefer men when hiring. As simple as that.

    Lucy (126):
    “What if they don’t want a kid, ever? Ever met one of those? Do you think it’s fair to
    not let them have the job, even if they’re more qualified?”

    I wonder, what if the boss requires the applicant to sign a document that he/she will not ask for a paternity/maternity leave during the lifetime of the contract? How many women would agree to sign such a document in order to be treated equally as men? I am assuming that most men would have no problem signing such a document, if they really want the job.

    Also, would such a thing be legal? Can an employer ask the applicant to give up their right to go on a maternity leave, in order to get the job? If the employer actually asks for such a document, would that eliminate the gender bias? Or would it just eliminate women who want to have an open option wrt. pregnancy?

    Btw, regarding the legal treatment of pregnancy on the same footing as being sick — it is just ridiculous. Illness is something a person will always avoid if at all possible. Pregnancy is something that can be wanted and planned, several times over. I just cannot believe that pregnancy leave can be treated on the same footing as cancer-treatment leave, or such. US laws always keep amazing me with the level of nonsense in them.

  • Andrew

    Just to add a different twist to the conversation. The authors aggregate their data and compare treatment of male versus female applicants. That’s fine. It tells a story and allows them to write their grant.

    Another way to look at their own data (Table 1) is to separate the hiring faculty by gender and see how they view male and female applicants. One way to do this is to calculate a female:male ratio using the mean values supplied. Thus, on competence, male faculty rate females at 3.32 and males at 4.01 for a ratio of 82.7….female faculty rate females at 3.33 and males at 4.1, for a ratio of 81.2%. If we do this for all four measures, we get:

    Competence: 82.7% (male faculty)….81.2% (female faculty)…one could argue this is a wash, but I didn’t have time to do formal stats on this.

    Hireability: 79.1 % (male faculty)…72.4% (female faculty)….no way this is a wash.

    Mentoring: 84.4% (male faculty)…82.6% (female faculty)….also tough to say if this is even. Maybe, maybe not.

    Salary: 88.8% (male faculty)…85.2% (female faculty)….most likely not a wash.

    It is interesting how across all measures, male faculty seem to judge female applicants less harshly (relative to male applicants) than their female faculty counterparts. Why is this so? Any sociologists care to chime in? And this is not just the ratios that are talking, but the raw data as well. Female faculty seem to judge female applicants lower than male faculty…and….what I found most paradoxical…is that female faculty tend to judge male applicants EVEN HIGHER than their male counterparts. Indeed, the hirebility difference above is mostly due to the fact that a female faculty will judge the same male applicant to be more hireable than her male faculty peer (3.92 versus 3.74)!!! And male faculty are willing to give a much higher starting salary (27,111.11) to a female applicant than a female faculty is (25,000).

    So, what’s another take home message here, besides the obvious “yes, there is a gender gap”? One might also conclude that a woman applicant might be better off having a male faculty judge her candidacy (at least relative to equally-qualified-on-paper males) because she’s more likely to be offered more money by the male faculty, and less likely to be judged as “less hireable” than a male applicant by the male faculty.

    As women are underrepresented in the faculty ranks (indeed, the ratio seems to be about 3:1 in this sample), one could also envision how the situation would be even worse for women if the faculty split were 50:50 because there would be more women faculty to judge the female candidates more harshly…and offer them less money! I’m NOT…repeat NOT…suggesting that hiring more women into faculty is bad. I am suggesting that there are other issues at play beyond the obvious gender gap. And as irresponsible as it is for people to claim that there is no gender bias, it is equally irresponsible (based on this data) to reduce the argument to this must be another case of the uterine-free oppressing the uterine-endowed.


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  • Elizabeth

    I’d like to address my fellow female scientists who are commenting that they don’t intend to have children so they should not be discriminated against based on the pregnancy issue:

    I appreciate the point that you are trying to make, but your comments make me a bit uncomfortable because at some level they validate the argument that a woman being pregnant/having a child makes her undesirable as a scientist. It seems clear to me that the “pregnancy catastrophe” is a specious argument attempting to put a veneer of logic/pragmatism on what is really just regular old sexism.

  • Erin

    TW has no data, just what he thinks are logical conclusions, but are really hunches. I wouldn’t worry about him. TW is not the scientist you want to be working for.

    The problem is that there seems indeed to be no data on how many female scientists leave work permanently due to pregnancy. I would certainly guess it is less than the female workforce generally. Without that, there is not even a statistical justification for hiring bias, especially if there is no data on male disability-related absences.

    The whining about figure 2 is indeed hilarious.

    I don’t know how anyone could look at this study and say it doesn’t show a big problem. It hasn’t been a problem for me personally (female scientist) but there’s too much money in my field at the moment , and too few skilled people, to allow for that. I am fortunate enough to be in demand, and to have been raised to be assertive more than likable. but I know it’s fortune. I preferentially hire women, because someone has to balance this stuff out.

  • FmsRse12

    Does PNAS also include social sciences ??…I don’t understand why this shitty article was published in PNAS… physics paper which had original experimental observation for the first time was recommended for society level journal and here they are publishing this kind of crap…I can’t believe it….

  • Erin

    #138 funny, I can totally believe it.

  • Nir

    Statistical Discrimination made the most interesting comment. This is a bit of conceit on my part, as I made almost the same comment when I heard about this study. Here’s a simple example of how this can happen using real facts.

    The average IQ (or g factor) for men and women is equal, but men have significantly higher standard deviations. If you condition a sample from these two distributions conditional on some minimum intelligence, the resulting distributions will have men with higher intelligence on average.

    In other words, the average male and female intelligence are equal, but the average intelligence of men with at least 120 IQ is higher than that of women with at least 120 IQ. If you assume that people applying to jobs in STEM are of above average intelligence, when you work out the math you actually get a correlation between gender and intelligence. This could be affecting people’s perceptions even subconsciously, given that our brains are designed to notice patterns and trends.

    Of course, IQ is hardly a perfect measure of job performance, and so on. It would be interesting to look at reasonable measures of grad school success (i.e. number of papers published or sum of impact factors during PhD) and compare them between men and women in the same field, to see if people in academia have reasons to make a connection between gender and competence.

  • Nir

    Oh, and a number of people here posted their opinions on how they think women are more competent (blanket statement). Funny how that blanket statement is ok, but the reverse is not. Here are my experiences from a decade of being in university:

    1) I work with math, physics, algorithms, etc. Abstract intelligence is valuable and usually quickly inferred in these fields. I find that men are far more likely (even proportionately speaking) to be brilliant problem solvers that have the intuition to do the hardest theoretical problems than women (consistent with my statistical argument above). On the other hand, even in a discipline like theoretical physics, once you get out of classes and into research this is FAR from the most important thing. A good work ethic, persistence, working well with others can all be more important. In those other categories, I find women to be at least the equal of men on average.

    2) Women are not as assertive as men. I think this mostly hurts women not because this makes them less efficient managers, but because they don’t stand up for themselves and take credit for their great work. This is really a shame. My advisor is female and I feel like she consistently doesn’t get as much credit for her work as she deserves, because she is not brazen enough about telling people how great it is.

    Those are the two main differences I’ve noticed, and both of them (one correctly, one falsely) might condition people to think that a male would do a better job in the same role as a female.

    @Erin: the fact that you admit that you preferentially hire women is atrocious. Justify it to yourself however you want, it doesn’t make it one iota more acceptable. It’s just as bad (no better) than the people preferentially hiring men.

  • Anon

    #134: “And as irresponsible as it is for people to claim that there is no gender bias, it is equally irresponsible (based on this data) to reduce the argument to this must be another case of the uterine-free oppressing the uterine-endowed. Discuss.”

    Andrew, there is nothing to discuss. You apparently lack basic reading skills. The authors of the study wrote: “Both male and female scientists rated the female applicants lower.” This has been pointed out several times in this comment thread. No one is interested in discussing your straw-man argument.

  • erin

    @Nir I think it’s atrocious that you think men are inherently better at math. You may find it to be so in your experience, but people find what they expect to find. You justify one set of generalization (men are better at STEM) with another (women work harder), and you have no data for either one. I’m not apologizing, because that type of sloppy thinking perpetuates this situation, and I want the situation to change. I’m changing it.

    It probably doesn’t help the cause to say it outright, because the knuckle-draggers among you will point to me as an example of why it’s ok to discriminate against women. But as they’re doing it anyway, I’m not too worried.

  • Nir

    In my post, I said I was giving my personal experiences, as many others did. If you read what I wrote in the previous post, you will see that I don’t think men are better at math. The averages are pretty comparable and the average is the only thing that’s meaningful to talk about when you use the simple word “better”.

    There are a lot of people out there though that still strongly believe that males display greater variance in intelligence (I would say it’s a majority, but I don’t know the field well enough. It might well be a majority however). It’s controversial and there are people who don’t agree, but believe me for every paper you find that claims the variance is the same I’ll find one that claims it’s larger.

    A larger variance means that men are over-represented amongst people with high intelligence, as they are over-represented amongst people with low intelligence.

    All this was already posted. You can disagree with my claims or reasoning, but to say I have no data when I bring up a very standard claim in the testing world for which dozens of studies have been performed and agree is ridiculous.

    Nothing you do would justify discriminating against women. Justification has nothing to do with it because the people in the study are not (at least, as far as we know) doing it consciously. That’s the whole point; we want to try to figure out what and why that is, and ideally if practical eliminate it. But you can’t accuse someone of being immoral for having an unconscious bias, everyone has those. But someone who willfully displays a bias is acting immorally.

    PS Just to give you an idea, a quick google search on “gender variance intelligence” yielded the following hit: In the abstract, the over-representation of men in the upper extremes of intelligence is taken as a GIVEN. Then data is given supporting the reason for it is greater variance.

    PPS I like how you use the word “inherent”. A difference between two groups of people can only be from two sources: their genetic code, or the collection of events that happened to them since conception. So really what you meant was “biological”. The nice thing about inherent is that it’s sloppier and more volatile.

  • Erin

    @Nir I have better things to do than explain myself to you. I don’t accept your judgment of me. If I cared about you or your opinion, I’d argue it. Bye now.

  • wk

    I’m not buying this. Funding is tight, job market is tight, and people are vying for whatever edge they can get to land what they need to support themselves and their family. Because of these, everyone imagines some form of discrimination (including reverse discrimination) if they take a blow to their ego and don’t get what they were hoping for.

    Equality is here and we’ve all seen it…sure we’ve seen isolated cases of discrimination and we’ve also seen cases be taken to court. Everyone has the opportunity at this point to apply, be considered, and even fight the outcome by legal means if they feel it is unjust.

    This is an example of using a personal interest and common fear to try and gain an edge in the marketplace (in this case it is likely funding seeking or continuance of funding). This study is despicable and very hard to control for ambiguities and experimenter bias.

  • Nir

    @Erin: so you call me names when I present a view that doesn’t agree with your perspective that men and women apparently have to be equally good at everything, then when I present more evidence you tell me you don’t care about my opinion and leave the discussion?

    You didn’t have better things to do but to post in this blog several times, but suddenly you are too busy to respond?

    Clearly your objectivity as a scientist comes second to your need to hold certain views as correct. I am happy to say that your approach is not at all characteristic of the many women in science that I respect, women that would be able to try to view the data and reach a conclusion whether or not that conclusion was convenient.

    I dearly hope you aren’t a physicist.

  • Erin

    @Nir What name did I call you again? Yes, I have a job that must limit the time I spend being goaded by anonymous blog commenters, sorry about that. It doesn’t make me less of a scientist for not wanting to talk with you (personally) on this subject further.

  • Andrew


    I’m quite happy with my reading skills, thank you. Yes, the authors do state that both male and female scientists rated the female applicants lower. And I do not deny that this is true. Indeed, my post states several times that the conclusion that a gender gap/bias exists is “obvious”. I invite you to reread my post.

    What I am merely pointing out is that if you separate male faculty behavior from female faculty behavior (rather than treating the faculty as one large group), the gender gap/bias in the way male faculty consider the female applicants (relative to equal male applicants) is smaller than the way female faculty consider the female applicants (relative to equal male applicants). In other words, there is a greater disparity between how a female faculty judges a female applicant versus a male applicant (at least for the metrics of hirability and salary) and the way a male applicant judges the very same applicants. Look at the data yourself. The female faculty are: 1. harsher on the female applicants than the male faculty…2. kinder to the male applicants than the male faculty…and 3. offer the female applicants less money than the male faculty (8% difference, versus 4% difference).

    This isn’t creating any strawmen. I am looking at the very same data everyone else is. Yes, it is still true that both faculty genders still give the male applicant higher score across the board. I don’t deny that. The gender gap is real. But it is also impossible to deny that relative gender gap is smaller for male faculty than female faculty (again, at least when hirability and salary are concerned). If there is some “constant” or “standard” bias against female applicants, one might expect male and female faculty to prefer males over females to the same extent. But they do not. The extent to which male faculty are biased towards male applicants (over female applicants) appears to be smaller than the extent to which female faculty are biased to male applicants (over female applicants). Again, this is most obvious in the metric of hireability and salary. This has been noted before in this thread (#19 Fergal) but by putting numbers to it, I thought I might rekindle that point.

    So I merely want to know why? Why might women, whom one might expect to be more “sympathetic” or “understanding” (or use your own adjective here) to the inherent barriers facing women, contribute more to such barriers? I am not insinuating anything. I am merely asking for someone more qualified than me, who might be able to speak intelligently (perhaps because they work in this field) as to why this might be the case. Along those lines, I’m suggesting that issues of gender bias, while very much real, are more complicated than the typical patriarchal-stereotype arguments.

    But clearly I won’t get that sort of insight from you. I invite you to check out post #94. At least TeaHag has an interesting idea to explain the salary phenomenon, suggesting that women’s experience with receiving lower salaries might precondition them to offer lower salaries in turn. But if that’s the case, one might expect a female to discount the male salary by the same amount…yet female faculty offer male applicants only ~4% less money than male faculty, but they offer female applicants ~8% less than male faculty.


  • Kevin

    @Corinne Moss-Racusin @Meowmeows

    I think it’s an important study and I don’t doubt the results. I was merely suggesting that it was not an optimal representation. When axes cross, it looks like a “0” point. When bars are used for plotting, it is natural to compare the lengths. These features could be improved upon.

    I thought I was commenting on a less contentious topic than the gender issue itself, but apparently not! :-)

    BTW, “I am a researcher at Caltech” gives out an “argument from authority” vibe.

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  • Nir

    @Erin: Judging from the fact that you responded just 3 minutes after I did, seems like you have plenty of time to check the comments! You’re right, you didn’t outright call me a name. I notice that you continue to have the time to post here, but manage to keep avoiding making any comment on the fact that men are more highly represented among the high-IQ end of our society. Is that idea really so unpalatable to you?

    By the way, here’s a scientific article saying that men in fact are more intelligent on average (which is apparently a new upcoming trend) by about 3-5 IQ points, because they are… get this; taller!

  • Mike

    @Erin @Nir

    Hilarious to see a domineering male shout down a woman, appealing to reason rather than emotion. You can come armed with all the facts in the world and be as loud, as confident and as right as you want, but at the end of the day, you’re still what you are. And with the indignation about her hiring practices… heaven forbid a better qualified white male ever get passed over for a job he deserves. In your ideal world of “fairness”, “equality of opportunity, not outcome” etc., women and minorities get the short end of the stick. Justify it however you want.

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  • Anonymous

    I’m female and have years of experience in sciences, along with numerous publications and stellar references. I’ve been flat-out told during job interviews that my being female was a strike against me (my first name is gender neutral). With the exception of two labs, I’ve always been asked what my family planning plans are during job interviews. I’ve also been told that I was not considered for jobs because I was in my child-bearing years. Joke’s on them as I’m infertile and have never felt like discussing it with anyone who is asinine enough to base hiring criteria on it. I seriously doubt the scientific prowess of anyone with such a strong bias for something as silly as gender.

    1 in 8 couples, worldwide, who are trying to have kids is infertile. There’s no way of knowing if that woman you’re interviewing is a member of one of those couples or not. It’s not like we have a giant I stamped on our foreheads. There’s no way of knowing if that woman wishes to remain childfree for any reason. Making an assumption about a person just because of gender or marital status is frankly idiotic.

    And so what if a woman has a child? If she’s unable to adapt due to problems in the workplace, it means there’s a problem in the workplace. Allowing for flexible schedules benefits everyone, including non-parents. And this notion that more hours on the job leads to increased productivity is ridiculously outdated. More hours in the lab just lead to more mistakes and more expensive experiments that have to be repeated due to brain fog.

  • JF

    @Nir, you are not the first male scientist to point to the greater variance in male IQ as a convenient argument to excuse the gender bias in academia. I remember there was quite a raucous when MIT published an article with a similar argument. I just don’t find it satisfying, especially when IQ trends for men and women are not at all static.

    For example, type in Men and Women IQ into Google, what are the first articles that you see? There titles follow something like this: “Women overtake men in IQ tests for the first time in 100 years…”

    I went to the article that you sited:
    And found the following quote:
    “Psychometricians have known since the end of the 19th century that height is positively correlated with intelligence: Taller people on average are more intelligent than shorter people. And men in every human population are taller than women. So one possibility is that men are more intelligent than women, not because they are men, but because they are taller. Our analysis of a large representative American sample from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health shows that this is indeed the case. In fact, once we control for height, women are slightly but significantly more intelligent than men. Further controlling for health, physical attractiveness, age, race, education, and earnings does not alter this conclusion. Height has exactly the same effect on intelligence for men and women: Each inch in height increases the IQ by about .4 point. The partial effect of height on intelligence is more than three times as strong as the partial effect of sex.”

    Now, this is still talking about average and not variance, but I like the way it introduces a new factor to the equation and challenges previous findings of sex differences in IQ. Instead of discriminating against women, we should really be discriminating against short people (JOKE).

    The results about higher variance in men’s IQ fit so snuggly in your preexisting bias that you immediately adopted it into your schema as the logical reason for why you’ve noticed better male mathematicians in your field. You yourself admitted that IQ might not be the best measurement of intelligence. Have you ever thought of how the biased society in which your women and men colleagues were raised might have caused their apparent differences in math ability in your observation?

    I had a very interesting conversation with a UT Austin graduate student earlier this year about a study that showed the effect of self-bias in standardize testing. It went something like this: if asian students were able to check a “race” box at the beginning of the exam identifying themselves as asian, they were significantly more likely to perform better on math portions than other races. However, if asians were allowed to check their sex as well, the boost of being asian was negated by being a woman. I don’t know if this has published and a preliminary search has not turned out anything, but it has long been known that minorities self incorporate cultural biases to their own detriment. Could inner biases against women be present in your female colleagues, could these biases account for historically lower performance by women in STEM fields?

    In this article: “Is the female of the species really more intelligent than the male?” I found some interesting quotes, please enjoy:
    “For years, the cause of the Flynn Effect (increasing IQ scores over the decades) was a mystery. One thing it could not be was genetic: the effect is happening too fast for any form of evolution to be occurring. In the end, it was Flynn himself who solved the mystery. The effect, he argued, is not due to innate changes in our brains, but to how they react to the sort of problems that define the modern world. In this sense IQ, or rather differences in IQ, may not be so much a measure of intelligence as of modernity…It is this that may give us a clue as to why women are not only catching up with men but, in some places, starting to overtake them. There may be something innate about the way women’s brains are put together (or the demands placed upon them) that allows them to cope with complexity and the need to systematise. As Prof Flynn said at the weekend: “In the last 100 years the IQ scores of both men and women have risen, but women’s have risen faster. This is a consequence of modernity. The complexity of the modern world is making our brains adapt and raising our IQ.””

    Now, I’m not going to wield the results from these studies around like a piece of armor or safety net. I’m not going to cherry pick quotes or results from articles to support a claim that somehow women are more intelligent than men, or whether they are more likely to succeed in life. I’m not going to accept these results as never-changing facts. I’m not going to use these findings to excuse sexism. And I am not going to use these findings to influence my hiring practices or to deny anyone their fair chance at opportunity, when the day comes for me to be in the position to do so. Do I sometimes wish men like you will in your next life be subjected to the existence like that of the male angler fish, hyena, or jacana? Yes. But men like you are on the decline, and when you are gone, the world will be the better for it.

    So to all men like Nir, please don’t be so smug with yourself. Don’t use one finding to justify your sexism. Women and men both have a lot to offer. When girls are raised in a society that encourages them to pursue science and math as much as it encourages boys, I can only imagine that you’ll find yourself among more capable, confident, and assertive colleagues.

    PS. Gender bias in earnings is all across the board, not just for jobs in science that require people who have >120IQs. So, what’s your excuse for that? Sexism is more dangerous when it is subtle, so thank you, TW, and others for your candor, it exposes the mindset of people who might be in power to influence hiring decisions.

  • JustSayin

    Babies, brains, and booty.

    To be honest, it still seems to me that attacking unfair discrimination based on any criteria is a far better goal than just one factor.

    In other words, I don’t get why scientists don’t do science on hiring. What hiring techniques lead to successful hires? Which suck? Too high a dose of reality?

    If you don’t get along with your boss or your subordinate it doesn’t matter what background they have or what physical attributes, your chances of success are much lower. It becomes this self-fulfilling prophecy.

    I really don’t get why science has found effective ways for identifying psychopaths but can’t test for compatible candidates? (Though, I suspect it’s because scientists look at individuals without considering their relationship to the group culture they would have to adapt to)

    Thanks for the good reads.

  • cory

    Anonymous, until people make the legal complaints that they should, labs and others will get away with asking those personal questions. But please remember–EVEN ASKING YOU THOSE QUESTIONS is ILLEGAL. If no women answered those questions, but instead redirected the interviewer, that would help. Every one of us needs to defend our rights or they will be eroded. Do not reward their illegal acts by answering!

    This is from

    llegal Interview Questions to Avoid

    It’s not that women have an unfair advantage over men during the interview process, yet some federal and state laws prohibit prospective employers from asking certain questions that primarily relate to women.

    Examples of questions that may discriminate include:

    Do you have any children? If so, how many and what are their ages?
    Are you single, married, divorced, or engaged?
    What kind of childcare arrangements do you have in place?
    Are you currently taking any form of birth control or fertility treatment?
    What are your plans if you get pregnant?
    Does your spouse work? If so, what does your spouse do for a living?
    Should we refer to you as Mr., Miss, or Mrs.?

    and here is an appropriate response, from

    When cornered, try this tactic to assure you won’t become a staffing problem down the line:

    Whether or not I plan to have children in the future is not central to my career. Like so many other energetic women today, I intend to work and have a career no matter what happens in my personal life.

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  • http://deleted Gary

    “…people with the same ability should be treated equally.”

    300 Million years ago,…

    Oh, never mind. It’s pointless to converse with people of different abilities.

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  • Ellen

    Next level of analysis would be revealing. To what extent do the differences in competence, mentoring etc. account for the differences in salary recommendations? Or, do the differences in compensation exceed that which would be predicted by the differences in perceived competence etc.?

  • Carl

    If you look at the paper’s supporting material you will find that the participants were informed about the purpose of the study as follows: “In the current phase of the study, we are interested in how undergraduate students’ [sic] are selected for competitive lab manager positions following their graduation and before they apply to doctoral programs.”

    Thus the people who participated in the study knew what it was studying. So it’s not obvious to me that it’s possible to conclude that their responses were identical to what they’d give if they were hiring for their own program. Perhaps some would be more prejudiced against women in an actual hiring case. Perhaps some realized that it was a study of sex biases and adjusted their answers accordingly.

    I’d rather see a situation where, for example, the same application was used to apply to grad school. These tests are frequently split into piles where one faculty member is assigned to each pile. It should be possible to run a test on that without the faculty knowing that they’re being tested.

  • Syd

    Omg it’s hilarious to see all the men defending men on this by coming up with some dumb, petty excuse.

    this is a study that proves it yet they’re still not willing to believe it exists. this is some sad, sad stuff.

  • Shara

    I was disturbed to see that the “pregnancy argument” that TW makes was also made, many times over, by young future physicians in response to a similar study. (The study found a 17K gender gap in physician starting pay with all other factors controlled for.)

    This link highlights some of them:

  • Al

    As a supplement, they note that “of participants, 74% were male and 81% were White.”
    And everyone seems unanimous to maintain the equilibrium!

  • Meh

    @ Syd,

    Men do it because women do it. Women do it because men do it. I guess the concept of conservation truly is a universal phenomena. What’s really some sad, sad stuff is watching all these people who can’t see how similar both sexes are in their social behavior. How would you react to someone saying:

    ” Omg it’s hilarious to see all the women defending women on this by coming up with some dumb, petty excuse.
    this is a study that proves nothing, yet they’re still willing to believe it exists. this is some sad, sad stuff. “

  • Elizabeth1

    @ TW,

    If women are getting lower ratings for the exact same resume in a workplace, is it really that much of a jump to think that maybe they are also getting lower ratings for equally good school work? I have known plenty of girls in college who completed assignments/ take home exams with a male friend, and received a substantially lower grade on the assignment/ exam than male friend, despite having turned in identical work.
    Before you decide that two candidates of the opposite sex have the same grades and therefore the man is the better choice, maybe you should think about the possibility that the woman was already having to perform better just to receive equal grades.

  • Syd

    @ Meh

    this isn’t about how men and women pick on each other.
    im a dude and i realize that males are way more privileged then females. especially when it comes to getting a job.

    this study shows that by just switching the gender on job applications men got the jobs just for being male. if you’re going to support that and the fact qualified men get beaten by overqualified women there is something wrong.

    and of course it’s going to be mainly men who get agitated over the face that this is being brought to people’s attention. it makes sense because we like these odds and rather than equal the job playing field out, we make some dumb excuse as to why things like this are bogus.

    im sorry i had to clarify this out for you

  • Meh

    you didn’t “clarify it out” for anyone, you just assumed I was attacking you and made an ass of yourself by making a stereotypical trolling comment. I also don’t think your a man. I think you’re just claiming to be a man to try and make a point. I’m sorry you feel that every attempt at coexistence and equivalence of the sexes is an attack on you. My point IS that it’s about how people like you and men like those you specified, do pick on each other like whiny and pathetic brats instead of making logical points so that something can be accomplished in a discussion. Your previous comment, and this one, are simply spam due to their pointless and snarky nature. Like those men you spoke about, you are an inverse extreme on the spectrum of dumb and petty excuses.

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  • David

    Has anyone out there ask an employer?

    As an employer of a small business owner in my industry we’ve found that the cost of women in some positions are higher at least that what comes to our minds rightly or wrongly.

    If you hire a female for the same position – suddenly a small business owner has to consider: 1. potentiality maternity costs
    2. bathrooms (thinking in terms of tradesman)
    3. balance to current teams ….. among many other elements.

    The reality is we dont we’re too busy and just drop the price down. (if we can)

    Basically I see this is an opportunity for women. From a small business point of view if i can hire a woman that can do the same as a man i would – generally speaking (abit more complex in my business). Therefore you’d expect that women would have more chance of getting the position initially. The rest is up to that individual.

    As a professional, she would acquire “the right” for a pay rise – what i mean by that is showing her worth or value to the business or she moves on. Pretty soon all employers will be paying more – simple. You know economic rules.



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  • cory

    @ David

    If you are running a business and haven’t considered, before starting the business, what would happen if you actually employ both men and women–I hope the rest of your business plan was more carefully thought out. Because I think eliminating half of your potential employee pool at the start would be rather short sighted.

    Maternity costs to you might occur. So might prostate cancer costs. So might granting leave to a male employee who chooses to stay home with a baby. So might granting leave to a male employee whose father has a stroke and needs 24 hour care.

    I would hope that, for your customers’ sake, you have installed bathrooms for both sexes. Although I don’t see why men and women can’t each clean up after themselves and have a unisex restroom. I don’t know the legal requirements on that.

    The truth is, rightly or wrongly, that if you are considering the person’s sex when you don’t hire a female employee…you are breaking the law. If you are considering the person’s sex when you do hire a female employee, but offer her less than her male counterpart…you are breaking the law. I surely hope that you are not describing your own business practices re: hiring women with your “just drop the price down” comment.

    This is the 21st century. Women can own property and vote, too. I’m curious to know what “your” business is, that you think is so complicated women might not be able to handle. In my immediate family, women have been stage managers, union welders, rock climbing instructors, union carpenters, professional landscapers (both design and planting), heavy equipment operators, and plumbers. Oh yeah, and in several instances–the boss.

  • Julia

    I find it really funny from the comments that the bias that’s usually referred as subconscious is actually a CONSCIOUS one. I also don’t see how telling people about this bias would help them not to be biased, if they already feel entitled to be such, even breaking the law is not being a problem… Scientist make judgements based on presented facts, not on their imagination, really??? (otherwise I would give no credit to their research). The experiment is pretty much taking the same person and randomly assigning them a female or a male name. I was conducting a real life experiment on this myself, attaching different names to my qualifications. The male ones were treated much more favorably. Another famous example is “James Chartrand” (google) and other female writers changing their names for male ones. I don’t know, what’s the “scientific” explanation to how is changing somebody’s name makes the same person more qualified?

    As for maternity leaves… doesn’t absenteeism and employee attrition cost more? wouldn’t discrimination and harassment potentially cost much more? I found it really myopic with my past employer how scared he was of “maternity leaves”, yet, with me the only female working there (and not missing), men were allowed to be on all possible leaves – including taking care of children and even dating! No I didn’t quit because of any pregnancy.

    Speaking of statistics, an average time people spent at one job in the US is 4 years. There are 2.01 children born per a woman (say, anytime during 25 years). With at will employment, it makes on average 3 times less likely for a woman to quit because of pregnancy, then for a men (or a woman) to be terminated or quit for any reason… When hiring somebody, go ahead and toss a coin, it would make more sense and science then any gender bias.

  • Phillip Helbig
  • Curmugeon

    Here’s a contrarian thought: with grant money as tight as it is, lower pay could be a distinct advantage to female applicants! Maybe that’s why it seems like the majority of new hires around here are phenotypically XX.

  • Dan L.


    Wow, way to throw away any credibility you might have had.


    “Basically I see this is an opportunity for women. From a small business point of view if i can hire a woman that can do the same as a man i would – generally speaking (abit more complex in my business). Therefore you’d expect that women would have more chance of getting the position initially. The rest is up to that individual. ”

    This assumes that human beings are rational economic actors. Behavioral economists have demonstrated time and time again that this is simply not the case. Ever hear the phrase “No Irish need apply?” Why were employers intentionally forgoing the most inexpensive labor in favor of WASPS back in the 1800’s? Because human beings do not make economically optimal choices.

    In what ways are humans irrational? Well, they discriminate on the basis of variables that are poor predictors of competence and productivity. Read the thread for examples — TW and Papovich are striking ones.

  • Mackenzie

    Pregnancy is also a factor for transgender men who haven’t had bottom surgery. It’s not a factor for infertile cisgender women or for transgender women. Last I checked, fertility status wasn’t a question on common job applications, nor was birth control status, or your opinion about abortion.

    So all you talking about pregnancy: what’s your point? You can’t tell by someone having a feminine name that they’re going to get pregnant.

  • Syd

    @ Meh

    Wow, man. Just because I believe in an equal and non-biased job playing field it automatically makes me a woman? That’s not really how gender or sex works at all, and I am completely positive that I am in fact, male.

    No, I support it because I’m tired of under-qualified coworkers who don’t know a thing about what they’re doing that could have been replace with a more profitable worker. Also, I didn’t think I would have to remind you that this is MY opinion. You calling me an asshole, a troll, and a “whiny brat” or whatever just for not agreeing with you is insanely childish. I wasn’t trying to attack you in my previous comment. I was only trying to clear things up and you took it the wrong way, I understand.

    But to insult my beliefs is just being rude. I’m sorry if you don’t support equality through gender. You don’t have to.
    I picked at men because I looked and saw that male names were the majority of the comments making excuses, it was the logical thing for me to observe at the time.

    I am also not going to go back and forth with this either; there isn’t really a point to it. This is the last comment I’m making just for the sole purpose of standing up for myself and my values.

  • 1mp

    I’m surprised how many people dispute ‘maternity risk’ as being a real phenomenon. As a society we’ve come to the consensus that it is unethical to discriminate against individuals on the basis of statistical generalizations, which I completely support, but this doesn’t in any way invalidate the underlying statistic. I think Daniel Kahnman describes this situation very well in Thinking Fast and Slow.

    I have no high quality evidence, but my intuition is that women who have just finished their undergraduate degrees and are about to take a temporary job before continuing their careers are more likely to take time off to start a family than a man at a similar point in his life. I’d increase my estimate of the odds if said woman was in her early thirties.

    So I agree with TW’s appraisal in this regard, I just think that it would be unethical to act on it. I’m sure many a PI looking to hire for a postdoc position has agonized over this decision, and I’m sure many a PI has been burned for doing the right thing. So by all means bemoan the fact that granting agencies don’t include contingency funds to hire new staff in the event of a mat. leave, or that child care is so inaccessible, but I don’t think it’s helpful or honest to pretend that a young woman isn’t more likely to take a 9-12 mo leave of absence than a comparably aged male, even counting all the trouble young men are more likely to get into (WoW addiction anyone?)

    p.s. My grad student is currenly on maternity leave. We are thrilled for her, but can’t wait to have her back at work 😉

  • BBBShrewHarpy

    In my experience in the US, women in science leaving on maternity leave are gone for a max of 2 months, more usually 4-6 weeks, so really not a big deal. So at least in the US, this is a non-issue, even for a limited term postdoctoral appointment.

  • Petronius

    Women got better marks because they worked harder? Then one might suspect they will also do the job more effectively because they work harder.

    Taking time off to have children, which might happen once, twice, or never in a woman’s career, is a reason not to hire them? It is simply a double standard. I have observed a company avoiding women because they take time off to have babies, while they subsidize the company ski chalet where men break bones and take off just as much time to recover, without anyone penalizing their career chances. Or taking off several weeks for “mental fatigue” after a few years of drinking a case of been every weekend. It’s not only illegal and unfair, it’s a waste of talent.

    One study a few years ago found that even in enlightened Sweden, female scientists had to publish five times as much to be considered equal.

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  • Petronius

    I suggest that women who decide not to return to work immediately and TW’s women over 35 who are “moaning” about workplace discrimination may both have recognized that they’re not getting anywhere because of sexist evaluation of their skill, their competence, their ambition, and their leadership. Speaking of leadership, this is for whoever said men were naturally seen as better leaders:

    “Research shows that incongruities between perceptions of female gender roles and leadership roles cause evaluators to assume that women will be less competent leaders. When women leaders provide clear evidence of their competence, thus violating traditional gender norms, evaluators perceive them to be less likeable and are less likely to recommend them for hiring or promotion (Eagly and Karau; Ridgeway; Heilman et al.).”

    This is from the brochure mentioned above about bias,

    A friend commented, “It’s just not a discussion of a study that proves sexism exists without a bunch of men denying it.”

  • Drake Sullivan

    “I think it’s atrocious that you think men are inherently better at math. ”

    So what, precisely, is your evidence that men and women are exactly equal at math? Their achievements in this field are clearly dramatically different. It seems you want to claim that this vast difference is exactly accounted for by vast amounts of discrimination, social gender pressure, etc etc, that exactly balance things out. That seems rather like the Fine Tuning problem of feminist studies.
    To make a credible claim of a precise underlying symmetry, you surely need some data to back it up. (Since you’re a logical scientist.) What are these data, please? Or is it actually just a hunch on your part? Thanks very much.

  • Michael McCarthy


    If you want evidence about equality of math skills, look on my blog post ( That post has a link to a review about stereotype threat – this result is highly repeatable: women and men do equally well at mathematical tests, until the participants are told women do worse. Then the women do in fact do worse. Substitute any group that has a tradition of being unfairly discriminated against, and you get the same result.

    As I understand, there might be some gender-based reason for the extreme tail of exceptionally high performance in mathematics. But it is hard to disentangle that very slim tail from questions of opportunity. Such studies are necessarily correlative, so they have limited explanatory power.

    The study that on which the initial blog post was based is fully experimental, as are the studies on stereotype threat. They also produce repeatable results.


    I don’t think discussing the topic will reduce bias among those who consciously believe that women perform worse the men. However, there are plenty of people with unconscious gender bias. Making those people aware that unconscious gender bias exists should help (and the evidence suggests it does).

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  • Nathan

    Nice job suppressing the zero in the salary graph. Sure does make it dramatic and adds pizzazz. Stay classy, Discover.

  • Martin Sewell

    Moss-Racusin, et al. (2012) erroneously interpret the failure of the subjects of their study to commit the base-rate fallacy (ignore background information) as sexism. That the applications were designed to reflect ‘slightly ambiguous competence’ makes the background information (the sex of the applicant) all the more important, and exacerbates the authors’ error. The sex of the applicant contains important information, there are significant sex differences, actually dichotomies, in terms of motivation. In order to attract a high value mate, men have to compete with other men for their rank in the male dominance hierarchy and this translates directly into men contesting each other for positions within organisations. There is no parallel for women. The article by Moss-Racusin, et al. is ill-motivated (in reality, there is no intersexual competition), wrong (the authors commit the base-rate fallacy) and sexist (the authors implicitly deny sex differences).

  • BillF

    Since the job the fictitious student was being considered for was “lab manager,” could it be that the bias was against women as managers, rather than women as scientists?

  • Erin


    Michael answered your question, but

    “It seems you want to claim that this vast difference is exactly accounted for by vast amounts of discrimination, social gender pressure, etc etc, that exactly balance things out.”

    You don’t know what I want to claim, so you just go straight to the extreme opposite of your beliefs as a straw man argument. You are 1. completely wrong about the existence of a vast difference between men and women’s mathematical abilities, and 2. already confident in your beliefs about women. No data will convince you of anything different.

    Also @Martin Sewell Is the idea that women should be paid less when they have the same qualifications for the same job, because they are less motivated, from an evolutionary perspective, because they don’t need to compete to find a mate ? That’s pretty funny. The world, and people, are more complicated than that. Modern hiring laws are definitely more complicated than that.

  • Drake Sullivan

    Thank you very much for your answer – this sounds like exactly the sort of response that might change my mind completely on this topic. I’d like to look at the study in detail, but I’m not sure which one you’re referring to. When I click on the link “Why So Few”, it seems the link from your blog is broken. Please could you provide a direct link to the study you’re talking about. Thanks.

    “You are 1. completely wrong about the existence of a vast difference between men and women’s mathematical abilities,..”.

    If you believe I am completely wrong, please could you provide a reference to back up your claims. As for my claims: I observe a huge disparity in the results achieved by women versus men in the mathematical sciences across a huge range of measures. For example, women account for approximately 1% of physics nobel prize winners (or zero percent since the rise of Women’s Lib, if you prefer that statistic). They account for exactly zero percent of Fields Medallists. They account for 4% of Turing Awards. They account for only around a couple of percent of Mathematical Olympiad participants, varying by country. I’d say that qualifies as a vast difference in performance. If you dispute this gap is due to ability and wish to explain it as something else, then please provide a link to your own favorite study that demonstrates there is really no vast underlying difference. If you wish to rely on Michael’s answer, then please tell me which of his referenced studies you’ve read and found most convincing. Thanks.

  • Phillip Helbig

    This seems a good place to bring up my old chestnut. Why are there so few famous female rock musicians who are not singers, not part of something marketed as a girl group and not romantically involved with someone else in the band? Can you even think of one (keep the “famous” criterion in mind)? Not that there is anything wrong with these, but most male rock musicians are not singers, not part of a boy group and not romantically involved with someone else in the band.

    Consider that in other fields of music, there are often even more women than men.

    There are gender inequalities in many fields: nursing, chess playing, three-Michelin-star chefs, garbage collectors, lorry drivers, models, highly paid porn participants. Is there an individual, field-specific explanation in each case, a common explanation, or some combination?

  • Michael McCarthy

    @Drake Here is the link.

    Thanks for letting me know about the broken link in my post.

  • dgvdsgv

    Because of PC the idea that women are not as good at sciences is never tested or entertained. Some things women are better at than men and that’s accepted yet the opposite is shunned. Gender bias studies are biased.

  • MKS

    not all women are women; not all men are men

  • Frustrated

    @Drake I wonder why you point to those statistics and make unwarranted conclusions about women’s innate biology/cognitive ability vs environmental factors working against women in those fields? I’d love to know if you your believes could be wavered in the face of studies like the ones Michael posted. For example, look at Fig 9 and 11 showing increasing representation of women in STEM fields. Do you think these trends are due to women becoming innately smarter at math and physics?

    An example of how environment and upbringing can affect outcomes, how do you think gender-biased teachers would unconsciously treat boy vs girl students, and how that might affect the career they choose later in life, if this study’s findings are true?:

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  • Lisa

    I am a tenured physics professor and had 6 weeks of maternity leave. I published 3 first author papers 3 months after the delivery and was teaching full time, the research papers were submitted 2 months before delivery. While recovering from c- section, I had my female Ph.D student visit me at home so I was able to give comments on her thesis. She graduated in time and my research career and family career are continuing to flourish. I have a great husband who participates at home and I have hired a house keeper and my toddler is at day care 6 hrs/ day. The pregnancy is a non-issue, but then again I am originally from Scandinavia where women rights were acknowledged way before here in the US. Most of my male colleagues have house wives at home taking care of their children, so it was fun to see some of them disappointed that I continue to professionally flourish ‘even after having’ children. I have definitely learned to manage my time better and close my office door to keep the ‘time stealers’ at bay.

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  • Addicted

    I agree with Sean in the comments. Optimistically, I guess it’s a good thing that the deniers (yup, I am making a parallel to the climate change debate) have now moved onto the “it is happening, but it isn’t a problem” phase.

  • James Gallagher

    Jesus, I’ve just seen this! You mean those bar graph heights aren’t exactly equal across males/females??!!!
    That’s crazy, considering the whole of the rest of society has reached a 50/50 equilibrium with respect to every other possible measure: males/females looking after kids exactly equally, males/females having exactly same living expenses, males/females having exactly equal health problems, males/females dying at exactly the sames ages, males/females running at exactly the same speed…

    I mean, I could understand if some of the other factors in society weren’t EXACTLY 50/50 that these evil scientists might have some argument that 50/50 might not have to be REQUIRED RIGHT NOW WITHOUT ANY POSSIBLE SENSIBLE DELAY SO THAT THE EQUILIBRIUM MIGHT BE REACHED WITHOUT BULLYING AND FORCE OVER SOME REASONABLY NATURAL TIMELINE AND APPROPRIATE TO OTHER FACTORS IN SOCIETY AT LARGE.

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  • ix

    Someone mentioned this in the middle of the discussion; I also thought about the possibility that women were less likely to give higher pay because they themselves were paid less, but if you look at the study, table 1, you will see they would pay the male applicant about the same (a little bit less, not significantly different) as their male colleagues would. Apparently if I’m reading the table correctly, what they would pay the female applicant is not statistically significantly different from what the men would pay her, which is contrary to some of the reporting I read, but that’s a minor point.

    And re pregnancy. I think paternity leave of the same length as maternity leave is a good idea. Yes, it might make employers discriminate against parents, but there are not really that many people who go their entire lives without starting families (although I’d hypothesize more in academia than elsewhere). While it’s illegal to let this affect hiring decisions in pretty much every western country I’m certain that it still does. It’s really the low-hanging fruit to solving this problem, since it’s so easy. The economic impact is nothing to worry about. Plenty of countries already do it and employment has been generally unaffected (productivity and gdp might be slightly lower, but they are just relative numbers really).

    Men might still choose to take less paternity leave, but I think as a society we’re growing much less tolerant of absent fathers. It will just take a long while for something like this to really shake out.

    BTW I hear in Finland they’ve managed to create a system where you can take up to one year of parental leave. Even CEO’s of large companies do it. Strangely, their economy hasn’t melted down yet. Just saying.

  • Batman

    While I don’t deny that there is implicit gender bias, and that it does have an impact that should be addressed, I also think that it’s easy to over-simplify the results of studies like these, in such a way that men (in particular) feel that they are being *accused* of deliberate gender bias. That’s actually counter-productive: this is not about telling men that they are bigoted, and if it’s presented as such that makes some people react defensively (as many of the comments above suggest).

    So take this for what it means, literally: we very often think we are being objective, when in fact we are not. Trying to evaluate objectivity through studies like this helps us be aware of that, and behave more rationally as a consequence. It doesn’t matter what you believe about the relative scientific talents of men and women as a group: the fact is, in a random pool of students there are going to be some women who are more gifted than some men — so if you are the person doing the hiring, don’t you want to do everything you can to pick the most talented employee? Including being aware of factors that might bias you towards a less talented employee on the basis of race or gender?

    I also wanted to say, from personal experience, that there *are* a lot of scientists out there who do make the effort to reach out to female students, and offer them the encouragement and mentorship that is so key to becoming successful. And we should give them credit for this: changing behavior is not just about identifying things that could be improved, but also about recognizing the positive steps that have been made, and the people (male and female) who made them.

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  • The Fuz

    ” academic scientists are, on average, biased against women. ” Can nobody see that this article is a hoax? That’s like saying “All white people are racist.” It’s a tip off that this should NOT be taken seriously. If anybody reads something about people like them “being held down,” their natural instinct is going to be outrage and playing the victim. This article is just playing on that, with terms like “heir-ability.” There is more to that then grades, there are things like work experience, schedules, and adeptness for the particular position. Saying all the applicants were identical you KNOW is non-sense. Do you know what the odds are of having two people with the same intelligence, physical capability, experiences, and scheduling are? This article was meant to put panties in a bunch and nothing more. Also look how close the numbers ACTUALLY are, they used a bar graph simply to make the difference look more drastic, the test group they got simply had more qualified males than females, so they exaggerate it but putting a big space on the graph and crying sexism. It’s like rolling the dice 3 times and saying odd numbers are less common because two of the times it was even.

  • Chuck

    Women use “you” twice as often as men, arrange (like Latins) topics & tables horizontally vs. (like Nordics) topics & tables vertically

  • blake

    what you mean people do not produce results which are calculated in the same way a computer might!? shock horror!! the writer of this article seems to be unaware that the human brain uses heuristics to produce outcomes – ie to simplify what is a reasonably complex task of decision-making into a less complex task using some rough past experience. is it perfect? hell no! should we expect it to be? hell no! would we be better off letting a completely fair computer decide? well i’d like to see a study done on that 😉

    but to illustrate my point, consider an example: a person (male or female) has been burned in a relationship with a blonde who had a playful yet occasionally savage personality in the past. this person makes a new acquaintance – a blonde with a playful personality. they hit it off and the blonde asks the person out on a date. despite the fact that the person has no reason to suspect that the blonde might be occasionally savage, the person is fearful of this and decides not to accept the offer.

    now, supposing the blonde did not infact have any traces of savageness in their personality, was this decision fair? of course not. however, the person made the best decision they knew how, given the available information.

    it is not possible to get an honest answer if you ask somebody. “are you a vengeful person?”, just as its not possible to get an honest answer if you ask a future employee “are you a hard worker?”, or “are you smart?”, or “are you planning on getting pregnant in the next couple of years?”

    i would say that the differences in pay reflect the employer’s past experience which has been projected onto their future expectations. this may not be fair, but no human is completely fair.

  • ann

    thanks this

  • Anant Goel

    Evolution has Created Gender Bias in Modern Society

    Anatomically modern humans evolved from archaic Homo sapiens in the Middle Paleolithic, about 200,000 years ago. The transition to behavioral modernity with the development of symbolic culture, language, and specialized lithic technology happened around 50,000 years ago according to many although some suggest a gradual change in behavior over a longer time span.

    It has been assumed that the human race is thousands of years old and probably tens of thousands by some scientist. DNA says about 50,000 years, with humans not related to anything else─ no macro-evolution. The Bible would say about 50,000 years also when the gaps in the genealogies are filled in.

    For thousands of years primitive man possessed little knowledge except that which was necessary for bare existence. He killed whatever animals he was able to, and ate the fruits, nuts, and berries that grew wild. Humans have existed for thousands of years but were just very primitive. They had simple tools, and perhaps a very primitive sort of communication… like pointing and grunting.

    Gender bias in survival mode or bare existence with primitive communications either did not exist… or if it did exist, it wasn’t communicated or even recognized.

    Technologically, we have evolved in the last 100 years the most. In that time we have seen jet passenger planes, automobiles, indoor plumbing for the masses, electricity as a common utility, and color TV, computers, and on and on.

    As the modern life evolved and women joined the work force to supplement family income or to support the single parent family unit… the competition for jobs and business became more profound and so did the incidence and awareness about gender inequalities. What were feminist groups and women doing for all of the thousands of years up until then? Why did it take so long? Were women just unaware or unconscious or what?

    The social advocacy on gender equality from the feminist movements and GAD programs remained far from reality to reduce gender bias. It holds that there is now the liberation of women as their human rights and freedom is now equal to all men. In the contemporary time, the gender equality is at the pinnacle of success in the human liberation of women. I believe they have done so much to change the gender culture awareness in the western societies. These have been the result of the gender success in developed countries:

    • The high incidence of divorce and single mother because of the “fucking shit” father whose main interest is on masculinity, dominance and most of all the sexual drive for beautiful women.

    • The women kept on dating compassionate and good men as future partner. These are the genuine partners you can find for family now in developed countries.

    • The rise of feminist movement to sustain the fight against the gender discrimination including the responsibility of UN in the advocacy of “Gender and Development”

    However, the sexual drive of men in developed countries remains active based on this “age of commercialism” as the object of demand in economics:

    • The commercial products on whisky, scotch, beer, and red wine with theme of highly desirable for the physiologic response may find advertiser to use the sexy and beautiful women.

    • The commercial bar provides women in action as GRO and prostitutes. It also includes the use of magazines and pornographic materials where in the women are exposed in degrading sexual object just to meet the sexual drive of men.

    • Women rights are fighting on all the social fronts of gender bias; gay rights, lesbian rights, rights of abortion, and all other rights just to break the gender bias.

    • The breakdown of family is culturally imminent once the women’s rights movement gathers momentum to disrupt the highly societal structure.

    The bottom line is…

    Gender bias against women has existed, in one form or the other, for thousands of years. Evolution and technology advancements, including global communications, have created gender bias to become more visible and thus debated in our modern society.

    However, gender bias is not going away soon; as long as procreation is at the core of survival and continuous evolution of the human species… whatever miserable consequences might happen to the female gender.

    Anant B. Goel

    Producer CEO RKNet Studios

    Based on and excerpts from media articles, blog articles, and sponsored research articles.

  • Matin Durrani

    People might also be interested in this Physics World article by Amy Bug from Swarthmore College, where she shows how small, unconscious biases can add to up to have a sizeable impact on female scientists’ careers. Her conclusion was based on a fascinating set of “experiments” in which four non-scientific actors — two men and two women — were trained to give identical physics lectures that were then rated by the students in the audience.

    Matin Durrani
    Editor, Physics World

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  • James Gallagher

    Modern qualifications don’t discriminate for ability, you can get a 1st class degree with 70% or 99%. Females have achieved equal scientific qualifications with males mostly because the higher ability class has been so dumbed down that the average attainment between males/females looks the same.

    Can the females please discover some great things, like the males do, in proportion to their numbers in the science establishments?


  • James Gallagher

    It’s like arguing that the World Chess Championship entry qualification should be 50/50 male/female because some socially engineered system has shown females are just as good at chess (on average) as males.

    Women aren’t as good as men at some things.


  • nooneinparticular

    I’ll give you one of the (mostly unconscious) reasons a successful woman scientist/engineer/any-women-underrepresented-professional might rate an unproven entry-level type woman lower than an entry-level man or offer them a lower salary. In general, the successful woman doing the evaluating has always had to fight the initial impression that she might not be qualified. She’s always had to prove herself. She’s always had to be better then the men at the table. Everyone is just starting to truly accept that women CAN be good at $profession, and not be surprised about it. It does no harm to her position – to the “image” of women in her profession – if the male candidate turns out to be lousy or just mediocre. But if the woman candidate is hired and turns out to be mediocre? Geez, we’ve spent years trying to prove women can be darn good in $profession! All we need is some mediocre or lousy woman dragging down the stats, hurting the overall image of women in $profession. Successful women in $profession will only want new entry-level women in $profession if they are confident they are not going to lower the average perceived performance of women in that profession. I think one reason the evaluating women only partly consciously rate women lower is this “risk” to themselves and women in their profession. They also offer lower salaries to “hedge their bets”, giving the women a chance, but not saying they are in their class of “successful in that profession” women.
    I have not gotten a chance to look at the “application materials” the study used, if they are available. It sounded like the materials portrayed the applicant as good/mediocre. Here’s a study I would like to see: try the same double-blind thing with changing only the name to appear male or female. But repeat it with 3 levels of resumes/materials – one mediocre at best, one a bit above average, and one documented superstar. I would be very interested to see if the “risk factor” I talk about above – the risk to themselves of lowering the image of women in the profession bears out. Would the rating women rate a female applicant with a rock-star proven track record lower, the same way that happened in the original study? My gut feeling is they would not, but I might be proven wrong. :-) I think they would rate a “sure thing” woman higher than an equally qualified male, but a “so-so” applicant as lower than an equally qualified male.

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  • Charles

    Shorter trolls: This study doesn’t show gender bias, it just shows that men are being favored over women, which is totally justified considering that men are better than women! What? Why is everybody looking at me like that?

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  • science lady

    @ TW As a woman who almost never needed to study for most of her chemical engineering exams throughout college, still got a high GPA, and also regularly picks up skills in industry with more speed than the average person to this day, I think the problem with your analysis is you. Any person male or female is likely going to have to work much harder than you to understand things if what you say is true. Have you really not noticed the same thing with men? I doubt it – they’re probably just less likely to admit it! (or you’re more likely to project the image of working hard on the woman than you are on the man)

    I could actually look at my experiences and conclude the same thing about men. The male valedictorian in my high school class was known for his intense dedication to studying from late afternoon to the wee hours of the morning – I, only a few ranks below with a few people with similar reputations above me, had quite the opposite reputation. Clearly his inferior male mind is why he had to work so hard compared to me!

    See the problem with that logic?

    I brag only because you do, whether you know it or not, by the way. I have a feeling that you are sharing this tidbit because of some intense desire to go on an ego trip about how much better you are/were than that clearly intellectually modest, hardworking woman – as somebody who never had to study for exams I am usually quite jealous of the amazing determination people like that have developed. Are you as well?


    Perhaps it’s because women have always incorrectly been told that they can’t do science and therefore there haven’t been *nearly* as many women in those fields as there have been men over the lifespan of those awards? You’d think your superior brain would be able to deduce that as a very clearly obvious reason for not many women having received those awards.

    Oh, and…here you go: (not a direct cite but it’ll lead you to all the facts you clearly need)

    I always have to wonder why men are so afraid of women being able to do science. Isn’t more people joining the science party a good thing?

    To the person asking women to make significant contributions to science – Ada Lovelace: programming? Marie Curie: radiation? Jane Goodall: chimpanzees? Mary Cartwright: nonlinear differential equations? Just to name a few famous examples. All of these women would’ve done their studies in a time that was significantly more negative about women studying math and science and they seem to have done just fine.

    And Re: maternity leave – in the US, federal requirements for paternity leave time are already the exact same as federal requirements for maternity leave time. Look it up. A lot of states are riding that equality train as well when they require or provide paid family time.

  • Gregory L.

    Why not, but start short analysis with William S.

    Their understand Begins to swell ;
    and the approaching tide
    Will shortly fill the reasonable shore
    That now lies foul and muddy. Not one of them
    That yet looks on me, or would know me. – Ariel,
    Fetch me the hat and rapier in my cell ;

    I will discase me, and myself present
    As I was sometime Milan : quickly, spirit ;
    Thou shalt ere long be free.

    Where the bee sucks, there suck I ;
    In the cowslip’s bell I lie :
    There I couch when owls do cry.
    On the bat’s back I do fly
    After summer merrily :
    Merrily, merrily shall I live now,
    Under the blossom that hang on the bough.

    (Shakespeare: The Tempest, extracts from act V.)

    valmis blogiviesti:

    Three tree points:


    Their understand Begins to swell ;
    and the approaching tide
    Will shortly fill the reasonable shore
    That now lies foul and muddy. Not one of them
    That yet looks on me, or would know me. – Ariel,
    Fetch me the hat and rapier in my cell ;

    I will discase me, and myself present
    As I was sometime Milan : quickly, spirit ;
    Thou shalt ere long be free.

    Where the bee sucks, there suck I ;
    In the cowslip’s bell I lie :
    There I couch when owls do cry.
    On the bat’s back I do fly
    After summer merrily :
    Merrily, merrily shall I live now,
    Under the blossom that hang on the bough.

    (Shakespeare: The Tempest, extracts from act V.)



    ecological situation on the planet Tellus today.

  • Bunni

    Well, I work in the technical nosebleeds with computer geeks, and I’m a girl. I must be a freak, yeah? Look — all the discouragement and slights I encountered (the many put-downs, the harassment, slurs, and firing-offenses) did nothing. Don’t expect pity, and don’t expect that a lot of guys are going to understand, or give a crap. A lot of guys are set in their ways. Don’t bother. Just stick to the ones who are jazzed you’re there. They’ll help you through the crappy days. Do know that if a girl wants it, she can do it. Everything anyone else says to you is nothing compared to what you say to yourself, and what you choose to believe.

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  • Magnús Pálsson


    Did you not read the bit where it explained that it was a randomized double blind test with all the applications identical? The only difference in the applications was the name.

  • Magnús Pálsson

    If you are going to claim women aren’t as good as men at some things you are going to have to cite some studies.

  • Magnús Pálsson


    There is, as far as I can see, no reason to attribute this bias to bad past experiences although it is difficult to completely rule out. Did you read the paper itself? I only skimmed through so maybe I missed something.

  • Magnús Pálsson

    Even if gender bias exists everywhere in society we should still try to work against it wherever it may be found.
    I did not see anyone suggesting that we should try to force the issue with some draconian measure but the first step to solving a problem is to understand it and the factors that influence it. That is why discussion about gender bias in science is important.

  • Anon

    Thanks for spreading your genes for brilliance on to the next generation!

  • Brian

    I’m sure an ethnicity control study would have results even more sensational.

    Have a read on implicit bias:
    It’s the reason why subtle institutional discrimination such as that which this article suggests is here to stay for our lifespans at minimum.

    People tend to follow their nature. They pay others what they’ve been conditioned to think they’re worth. This is why if you come from a marginalized social group ownership, not employment, must be the collective goal so you can hopefully come together and finance in-group organized social infrastructure. It’s the only way things will become fair. Out-group members will never care enough to genuinely defend another group’s social interests because economics run according to primarily selfish incentives.

  • Chayadevi

    Hi Lisa I am inspired and moved me to move on with my research in ‘Women in science’ I wish irrespective of the of the profession and the gender we can make what we want.So our self attitude and conviction makes the difference
    Ph.D in Gender Studies,University of Hyderabad.India


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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] .


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