Issue of March 4, 2011
eds. Joan Schmelz, Caroline Simpson, and Michele Montgomery
This week's issues:
1. Update on Coming Out (of a Different Type of Closet)
From: Joan Schmelz [jschmelz_at_memphis.edu]
A special thanks to everyone who commented on my "Coming Out (of a Different Type of Closet)" article from the 18 Feb 2011 issue of AASWOMEN. I'm in the process of getting back to all of you. Some of you posted public remarks on Facebook or on the blog, but most of you e-mailed me directly. It is indeed true that sexual harassment remains a very private thing. Many of you thanked me for sharing my story, and some of you even called me "brave" and "courageous." Thank you SO MUCH for the support and encouragement. A few of you forwarded the story to women you know who are victims of sexual harassment. A couple of you even admitted that you were victims or survivors.
I feel that one of the reasons our community is still dealing with sexual harassment is because so much of what happens is surrounded in secrecy. We are afraid to come forward because of the long tradition of blaming the victim, which goes back at least as far as Anita Hill. In addition, many of the victims are in the most vulnerable positions, i.e., students and post docs. They _should_ be anonymous (or at least as anonymous as possible) when they are courageous enough to either ask for help or come forward with a complaint.
As a full professor and a senior astronomer, I no longer feel the need to be anonymous. So now that I'm out (of a Different Type of Closet), I can tell you that it is a relief. Some of the old frustrations about this period of my life seem to have dissipated as a result of telling my story. So, let me issue this invitation to survivors of sexual harassment: join me! Tell your story to friends, colleagues, and the people you love. You can even share with AASWOMEN (anonymously, if that is your choice).
There appears to be a lot of us, survivors and supporters, but perhaps geographically isolated (like me) who have never had the opportunity to come together in force and stamp out this plague on our community. I feel that we are the nodes of an as-yet unformed network. For those of you that already have an active Women-in-Science group in your department/institution/research group, I'm envious!
I have a suggestion for the rest of us - a way to start small. Recently, I asked two other women in my department to coffee. I did it reluctantly, feeling somewhat bad that we would all be taking time away from our research, but even I was surprised at how much we had to talk about! We continued meeting every month or so and have now expanded our get-togethers to include female students. I invite all of you who want to insure that sexual harassment fades from the collective memory of the astronomical community to try this bottom-up approach.Back to top.
2. Faber Wins the 2011 Russell Prize
From: Joan Schmelz [jschmelz_at_memphis.edu]
The winner of the 2011 Henry Norris Russell Lectureship is Dr. Sandra Faber, Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Lick Observatory, UC Santa Cruz. The Russell Lecturer is chosen based on a lifetime of eminent astronomical research. Dr. Faber is the 64th recipient of the Russell Prize. She joins Margaret Geller (2010), Vera Rubin (1994), Margaret Burbidge (1984), and Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin (1967) as the fifth woman to win the award.
Congratulations, Dr. Faber!
Here is some information from Dr. Faber's web site: Her research focuses on the formation and evolution of galaxies and the evolution of structure in the universe. She utilizes ground-based optical data obtained with the Lick 3-meter and Keck 10-meter telescopes; she also has several projects on the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). She does most of her work with graduate students and has several ongoing collaborations with former students which have lasted many years.
She is currently working to measure the large-scale peculiar motion of local galaxies and make comparisons to density maps from IRAS and optical galaxy catalogs. The aim is to measure the total mass-density of the universe. Related to this is a long-term project on the mass-to-light ratios and stellar populations of elliptical galaxies. This work has culminated in methods to disentangle age and metallicity for stars in elliptical galaxies, with the result that many elliptical stellar populations are found to be surprisingly young. Faber is planning to hunt for the presence of such galaxies using lookback studies of distant clusters with the Keck Telescope.
Faber is a member of the Wide-Field Camera (I) Team of HST. With team members (including three former students), she is studying stellar populations in nearby globular clusters, elliptical galaxies, and distant clusters of galaxies. She also leads a group of scientists searching for nuclear black holes in using HST FOS (Faint Object Spectrograph) spectroscopy.
With David Koo, Faber is involved in the DEIMOS (Deep-Imaging Multiobject Spectrograph) Project. This is a high-throughput spectrograph for Keck that would increase its power on distant galaxies by over a factor of ten. Students will have the opportunity to become involved in the building of this spectrograph and in observations at the Keck Telescope.
Faber is also a core member of the DEEP (Deep Extragalactic Evolutionary Probe), a large-scale survey of distant, faint field galaxies using the Keck twin telescopes and the Hubble Space Telescope.Back to top.
3. Gender Gap: Selection Bias Snubs Scholarly Achievements of Female Scientists
From: Rick Fienberg [rick.fienberg_at_aas.org]
[Ironically, as I was writing up the previous item about Sandy Faber, the AAS Press Officer sent this release from Southern Methodist University. A quick glance at the AAS awards page http://aas.org/grants/awards.php will show that the AAS falls right in line with the results of Dr. Lincoln's study. If any readers of AASWOMEN would like to help us nominate women for AAS awards, please contact us - Eds.]
Analysis shows that female scientists win fewer awards for their research, more often for service and teaching. Women scientists must confront sexism when competing for awards that recognize their research, according to a new analysis.
Research funded by the National Science Foundation and sponsored by the Association for Women in Science found that female scientists win service or teaching awards in proportion to the number of women in the PhD pool for their discipline, says sociologist Anne Lincoln at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. That's not the case, however, for awards for their research, says Lincoln, one of three authors on the research, which was reported in Nature.
The number of women who win scholarly awards is far fewer, the authors report.
"Using data in the public domain on 13 disciplinary societies, we found that the proportion of female prizewinners in 10 of these was much lower than the proportion of female full professors in each discipline," the authors write.
Why the gap? Lincoln, an assistant professor in the SMU Sociology Department, and her co-authors point to the award selection process.
An analysis of selection practices found that selection committees carry out their duties with few guidelines, minimal oversight and little attention to conflict-of-interest issues, the authors write. The researchers' investigation found that the chances a woman will win an award for her research improve if a woman is serving on the committee.
The analysis found, however, that many committees don't have female members, that there are few female chairs and that female nominees are few, said the authors.
Nomination letters for women typically include personal details and contain stereotypically female adjectives, such as "cooperative" and "dependable," the authors report in the article.
"Notices soliciting nominations, by contrast, tend to use language that fosters male images, such as 'decisive' or 'confident,'" they report.
Co-authors were Stephanie H. Pincus, founder of the RAISE Project, sponsored by the Society for Women's Health Research; and biochemist Phoebe S. Leboy at the University of Pennsylvania and the Association for Women in Science.
Seven U.S. science societies are working now with the Association for Women in Science on the basis of the findings to change selection committee practices, say the authors.Back to top.
4. Flawed Study Dismissing Job Bias Thrills Media
From: Wanda Rushing [wrushing_at_memphis.edu]
From WOMENSENEWS Tuesday, February 22, 2011
The media is having a heyday with a study that came out earlier this month finding that scientific women are stalled by their own lifestyle choices, not discrimination. Co-authors Roz Barnett and Caryl Rivers say "show us the data."
Is discrimination against women in the sciences a thing of the past? Do women do less well than men because of choices they themselves make, rather than bias and structural barriers in the workplace? Yes, says a new paper that's getting a lot of media attention. Researchers Stephen J. Ceci and Wendy M. Williams say women's underrepresentation is mostly a matter of career preferences and fertility and lifestyle choices.
Seeking time with family, caring for children or elderly parents, following a spouse or preference for working part time are the real reasons they say women lag behind men in good jobs in math and science. Their paper, "Understanding Current Causes of Women's Underrepresentation in Science," was published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Feb. 7. The news media loves it.
"Goodbye glass ceiling; so long old-boys club," said Nature news. The Washington Post called the article a "stunning critique of research on bias against women." John Tierney of the New York Times featured the article in a column in the paper's science section and the Guardian asked, "When it comes to worrying about the underrepresentation of women in science, especially at higher levels, are we stuck in the past?"
Afraid not. This rosy scenario about the decline of sex discrimination is very flawed. Ceci and Williams dispense with any data to the contrary as "aberrant, of small magnitude" and "superseded by larger, more sophisticated analyses showing no bias." What's the basis for this conclusion? The authors don't tell us. At the same time, they brush aside a huge trove of contradictory evidence.
To read more:Back to top.
5. Deconstructing Bunk Reporting in 5 Easy Steps
From: Wanda Rushing [wrushing_at_memphis.edu]
[This article by Beth Skwarecki and illustrated by Meg Hunt originally appeared in Wired in 2008 - Eds.]
British scientists have uncovered the truth behind one of modern culture's greatest mysteries: why little girls play with pink toys. Is it because toy companies flood whole store aisles with the color? Or because well-meaning relatives shower girl babies with pink blankets and clothing? Nope. According to the men in lab coats, it's purely biological.
Apparently, women are hardwired to like pink because our cavewoman foremothers spent their days gathering red leaves and berries amongst the trees while their husbands were out hunting. Later, women needed to notice red-faced babies and blushing boyfriends. And why do men like blue? Because it's the color of the sky.
This evolutionary just-so story takes up three pages of a 2007 issue of Current Biology. To back up the assertion that pink is a universal girly preference worth examining, the authors refer to a 1985 study finding that little girls use more pink and red crayons in their drawings than little boys do.
Dig further, however, and the story completely falls apart. British women do prefer pink, but the author's claim of a "robust, cross-cultural sex difference" turns out to be neither. The scientists compared British natives with Chinese immigrants to Britain, and glossed over the differences. For example: The girliest color in the British results, a purplish-pink, was in fact the Chinese men's favorite.
Nowhere do scientific findings get more mangled than when they're about the differences between men and women. According to the science pages, women aren't just biologically hardwired to prefer pink to blue. We're also predisposed to backstab one another in the workplace, cry in the boardroom, and have both lower iqs and less of a sense of humor than men.
Some misleading stories come from bad science, where the study authors' conclusions aren't supported by their own data. Others are well-conducted studies whose conclusions mutate upon contact with the mainstream media. Newspapers and websites are prone to playing fast and loose with their reports on studies, often neglecting to reveal salient facts about a study's sample group or methodology.
To read more:Back to top.
6. Seattle AAS Plenary Talks Now Online
From: Andrea Dupree [adupree_at_cfa.harvard.edu]
If you missed Abby Stewart's plenary talk on "Unconscious Bias" at the Seattle AAS meeting, you can now view it online.
Abby Stewart is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan who directs their successful ADVANCE program. Her current research, which combines qualitative and quantitative methods, includes comparative analyses of longitudinal studies of educated women's lives and personalities as well as research and interventions on gender, race and sexuality as they affect people's careers in science and technology. She also serves on AURA's Committee on Workforce and Diversity.
The Seattle meeting videos are available only to AAS members.
To access the videos, go to the AAS Member Pages, members.aas.org and log into your account. Select "AAS 217th Session Videos Now Online" from the left-hand side of the page.Back to top.
7. Colloquium Organizer: A Cautionary Tale
From: Marc Postman [postman_at_stsci.edu]
Recently, a colleague of mine described how the colloquium organizer at their institution narrowly averted a speaker series that was embarrassingly out of balance with the gender ratio in the astronomical community. It began, as many of these situations do, with the objective of finding engaging speakers who are working on forefront research. The series organizer polled colleagues for suggestions and also came up with a list of people the organizer thought would be ideal and cover topics that had not been already presented at recent prior colloquia. No particular attention was paid to ensuring the speakers would be representative of the male/female distribution in the astronomical community. Surely, it would work out statistically.
Invitations were sent out and a tentative colloquia schedule, with 15 speakers, was shown to the department chair. The chair, who was attune to the importance of ensuring diversity in speakers gender and race, was shocked to see a list with only two women. And so was the organizer - who had not paid attention to this issue and only at that point realized, to the organizer's genuine dismay, what had been allowed to happen. Fortunately, through some diplomatically adept negotiations, some of the speakers agreed to postpone their talks until the following semester and several new and equally talented and engaging, female researchers were invited with a goal to rectify the strong imbalance in gender. The final female-to-male distribution was still a bit below that in the available pool but at least it was not embarrassingly so.
The outcome was a colloquium series that achieved the objective of containing top-notch speakers discussing exciting new research and also one that exhibited representative gender diversity. These two objectives are never mutually exclusive. But in order to achieve both well, those who are organizing colloquia or symposia must pay attention to this from the start - long before invitations are sent out. It is difficult to retroactively fix large underrepresentation in gender after the fact. I know some folks who think worrying about such things is "social engineering" and has no relevance to the dissemination of astronomical knowledge. I disagree. For our field to thrive, it must attract the best and brightest minds. It is good to see that the fraction of women pursuing Ph.D.'s in astronomy is 3 to 4 times higher than the fraction of women currently holding the most senior research positions. But if the incoming generation of astronomers is regularly exposed colloquia and symp osia with speakers who do not look like their peers, it can send a strong message about how a given department or research center views the parameters for career success. I encourage my colleagues to pay as much care to gender balance when organizing colloquia series and symposia as they do to the quality of the science being presented. You will find you do not have to sacrifice one for the other.Back to top.
8. How to Submit to AASWOMEN
Send email to aaswomen_at_aas.org .
All material will be posted unless you tell us otherwise, including your email address.
Please remember to replace "_at_" in the e-mail address above.Back to top.
9. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe to AASWOMEN
If you experience any problems, please email itdept_at_aas.orgBack to top.
10. Access to Past Issues of AASWOMEN
Each annual summary includes an index of topics covered.Back to top.