Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Blogging, Big meetings, and Bias

Regular blog readers may have noticed that a number of recent posts were not actually written by me (Hannah). This is part of an effort to bring a variety of new voices to the blog, and make it more truly about Women in Astronomy, rather than Hannah's Personal Blog With Some Thoughts on Women in Astronomy.

Who are these people? you might ask. We are the Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy, and our membership can be found here. We were recently expanded from 8 members to 10. You can read our thoughts here on the blog, subscribe to our weekly newsletter AASWOMEN, and meet some of us in person at the upcoming AAS Meeting in Washington, DC. We are sponsoring a number of special sessions:
  • 208 Longitudinal Study of Astronomy Graduate Students
    Monday, Jan 04, 2010, 2:00 PM - 3:30 PM
    Virginia B

  • 221 Mentoring Astronomers: Students to Faculty I (co-sponsored with CSMA
    [Committee on the Status of Minorities in Astrononmy])
    Special Session
    Wednesday, Jan 06, 2010, 10:00 AM -11:30 AM
    Maryland A

  • 226 Mentoring Astronomers: Students to Faculty II (co-sponsored with CSMA)
    Special Session
    Wednesday, Jan 06, 2010, 2:00 PM - 3:30 PM
    Maryland A
You might also be interested in this poster session on Tuesday:
  • Public Policy Issues
    Poster Session
    Tuesday, Jan 05, 2010, 9:20 AM - 6:30 PM
    Exhibit Hall

Looking forward, one of the topics we want to bring up at the summer 2010 AAS Meeting in Miami is unconscious bias. An excerpt from our proposal:
When evaluating identical application packages, male and female University psychology professors preferred 2:1 to hire “Brian” over “Karen” as an assistant professor. When evaluating a more experienced record (at the point of promotion to tenure), reservations were expressed four times more often when the name was female. This unconscious bias has a repeated negative effect on Karen’s career. Ref: Steinpreis, Anders, & Ritzke (1999) Sex Roles, 41, 509.

I bring this up now because this story of the writer James Chartrand revealing herself (himself?) to be actually a woman has been all over the internets (h/t: Feministing). The upshot of the story is that she struggled for a while trying to earn a living as a writer under her real name, but as soon as she adopted a male pseudonym, she started earning real money. This is a 21st century story, mind you, not George Eliot's of the 19th.

So, when it comes to publishing scientific papers then, is it better to publish under your initials to hide your gender, or not? Personally, I chose to publish under my full, real name. Part of this was motivated by an arrogant desire on my own part to show the world that women can do excellent science. Has this come true, or has this hurt me in the end? I may never know for sure, but knowing that bias is alive and well in the world certainly has me concerned.