Thursday, June 17, 2010

More Responses to Tierney

Since my last post on Tierney's NY Times Op Ed piece, he's published part 2 of the series, which continues the argument that the only obstacles that women in science face are themselves. A number of bloggers have taken on the task of debunking the articles, including astronomer Ed Bertschinger. He notes,
As Head of the MIT Physics Department, I categorically reject his conclusion that stereotype threat and implicit bias play no significant role in holding back women in the hard sciences. They do; I have seen them at work.
I recommend you go read the whole article, it's quite a good read.

Our very own CSWA has taken on the issue of implicit bias and stereotype threat at recent meetings, including plenty of data on the subjects. But, as Isis notes, Tierney does enough cherry-picking to make a pie. After all, Tierney himself demonstrates the bias that women face, by blaming our lack of advancement on our soft maternal natures, rather than realizing that the assumption that we care more about work-family balance than our careers is an example of the kind of bias we face.

Finally, I just wanted to note that I was a little surprised that I didn't see more of an uproar on the blogosphere on Tierney's articles than I did. After all, he did "dare" us to confront him. But I think many of us are suffering from outrage fatigue. After all, it's the same tired arguments over and over again. So I think it's worth taking Zuska's point to heart: Tierney's audience is not us, women in science and our supporters. Rather, he is lobbying against a specific piece of legislation that would help us. And right there is the reason that we should continue to fight, no matter how tired we become of the battle.


Bonnie said...

As a lifelong reader of the NY Times, I too was dismayed by Tierney's misinformed articles. First, there is no evidence that those in the upper 99.99% are more likely to achieve the highest levels in science. After a certain level of aptitude - I guess it's somewhere in the upper tenth - there are so many other factors that determine success, including creativity, persistence, "emotional intelligence", leadership skills, the ability to frame problems, the ability to work with others and ask for help, and pure diligence. Secondly, why does everyone assume that only math aptitude leads to success in science? Verbal aptitude tests (to the extent that tests can test) the ability to rapidly understand ideas, the ability to organize thoughts, the ability to communicate, etc. These aptitudes also lead to success in science. Why isn't anyone looking at the gender of those who score high in *both* verbal and math? I contend these people are the best candidates for becoming the top tier of scientists.
Bonnie J. Buratti, PhD, Senior Research Scientist, Jet Propulsion Lab (for identification only)

Meredith said...

Another thing -- I'm in the middle of reading the book Tierney cites in his article that purportedly discounts evidence for the role of bias and barriers in limiting the participation of women in STEM ("The Mathematics of Sex: How Biology and Society Conspire to Limit Talented Women and Girls"). The interesting thing is that it also largely discounts the role of biologically-based cognitive differences! (Cherry-picking, indeed.) In their meta-analysis of many different fields of biology and social science, they note that the evidence for biological cognitive differences between men and women is small and often inconsistent. Not only that, but men and women each score higher on some individual tests of mathematical and verbal skills: for example, men score higher on verbal analogies and 3-D rotation, while women score higher on verbal fluency, arithmetic calculation, and 2-D rotation (not to mention getting consistently higher grades in college-level math classes!). And to address Bonnie's point, the evidence seems to be that more women than men score at the extremes of combined math and verbal skills.

Of course, the overall conclusion of the analysis in "The Mathematics of Sex" is that the underrepresentation of women in STEM is primarily due to occupational preferences and the penalty they pay for child-rearing. The "preferences" argument seems like a cop-out to me, since what we'd really like to know is whether women's preferences for fields like medicine and veterinary science are biologically or socially determined. But I'm only about halfway through the book. :)

Ms.PhD said...

Hey - thanks for the linkout.

I like the explanation that we're suffering from "outrage fatigue". I know I am. I have to get good and pissed off before I write a post these days, and it's tiring. And quite often, I feel like a broken record playing to the tree that fell in the forest.

And then some d00d shows up in the comments and says I'm wrong, there's no tree there at all, that I'm just whining and I should shut up.

And then what good am I doing, really? Did I get his blood boiling? Maybe.

Does that help? Does it make him THINK differently?

Um... Probably not.

Truthfully, I still don't believe that this legislation is going to be some amazing cure. It might help somewhat...? Maybe?

I actually kind of wish somebody who's really in favor of it would write a persuasive blog about exactly why and how this policy is going to be a huge help, and if it's not, what more we should be doing. I don't think I've read anything like that anywhere. And my understanding is that the original document has been revised so much that now it basically has no teeth. As almost always happens with these things, in the process of getting it through, the original intent fell apart.