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Maybe it will work!

This sounds so familiar. You notice a bias in the speakers at a meeting (an obvious bias that everyone notices), and so you start suggesting to conference organizers that maybe it would be a good thing to do a little more outreach, get a little more diversity. I was doing that to atheist meetings 5 or 6 years ago, or perhaps longer…it’s been a longstanding issue. So now in 2012:

So here is a plea. Next time you are involved in organizing a meeting – make some effort to have a strong representation of diversity of speakers and participants. For example, if you invite lots of women for example and all say no – try to figure out why and see if you can fix the issue. Offer travel fellowships for students. Offer child care or child activity options (even if you cannot pay for it – at least make it easy for people). Make sure to advertise/promote the meeting to groups/institutions with a high representation of underrepresented groups. Don’t give up if your first efforts don’t work. Sometimes it can be difficult to make sure diversity levels are high. But keep trying … it will help make the conference better and also will help the field in general …

That’s Jonathan Eisen, talking about genomics meetings. I hope it works out for him. I can say that atheist meetings have gotten much, much better at representing more women (the race issue, not so much, but it is slowly improving there, even).

The next stage after that success, however, is pushback from the white men who had previously been the sole kinds of faces on the stage. They can’t quite start screaming at the women to get off the stage — that degree of bigotry is a little too naked, usually — but they will aim their fury at the people who brought them to the sorry state of having women equally represented with men.

The only answer to that, of course, is to keep on fighting.

Comments

  1. profpedant says

    For me a diversity of physical appearances tends to imply that a group is tolerant or welcoming of a diversity of viewpoints and experiences. I know that a group that seems diverse can be annoyingly in lockstep, but it does seem that a group with a lot of people who do not look alike, dress alike, or speak alike is generally going to have more room for people who do not think alike. Not all straight white males think alike, for some straight while males a diverse crowd is more welcoming than a crowd of straight white males.

  2. kayden says

    Great advice from Mr. Eisen: “Next time you are involved in organizing a meeting – make some effort to have a strong representation of diversity of speakers and participants.”

    It’s not White men versus diversity. It’s White men as part of a diverse group of competent speakers. Not sure why some people view diversity as a lose situation for their group.

  3. Brownian says

    For me a diversity of physical appearances tends to imply that a group is tolerant or welcoming of a diversity of viewpoints and experiences. I know that a group that seems diverse can be annoyingly in lockstep, but it does seem that a group with a lot of people who do not look alike, dress alike, or speak alike is generally going to have more room for people who do not think alike. Not all straight white males think alike, for some straight while males a diverse crowd is more welcoming than a crowd of straight white males.

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen it spelled out that way, but that generally describes how I feel. Thanks!

  4. 'Tis Himself says

    kayden #4

    Not sure why some people view diversity as a lose situation for their group.

    I suspect that some straight, middle-aged, middle-class white males see diversity as “this group used to concentrate on my concerns, now they’re less involved in what interests me and more involved in what interests (women, Blacks, atheists, progressives, whatever).”

    That’s what’s happening with JREF. The white, middle-class, goddist libertarians decided to close ranks to minimize women, Blacks, atheists, progressives, etc. so they could keep up the hate on Bigfoot and psychics and ignore what non-white, middle-class, goddist libertarians are concerned with.

  5. ianrennie says

    An approach I’ve seen some people take in the sci fi community is that that of individual responsibility for redressing the balance. Paul Cornell (excellent sci fi writer and comics writer, wrote several of the best Doctor Who episodes) has a policy that is as follows: if he is invited to be on a panel, and when he gets there the panel is more than 50% male, he will give up his seat on the panel to a female writer. A number of other writers are doing the same. The idea is that if conference organisers claim they can’t find enough female contributors to make their panels representative, it’s up to panelists to show them that there are female voices out there.

    This may not work as well in, say, academic conferences, but it’s an interesting approach that I think could pay off well.

  6. says

    Help! Help! Its the #genomicsbullies!

    anyway…

    Not sure why some people view diversity as a lose situation for their group.

    If I’m used to getting to eat all but one slice of the pizzas we always split the costs of and am not inclined to notice that that’s unfair, I’m going to cry and feel like I’m losing something if you ask to be able to eat pizza that you’ve paid for.

    Sorry if I sound silly but I’m up too late, insomniated (I’m just gonna invent that word right here) and uncomfy with a mild case of ChevronExplosionItis. Official Dr. diagnosis: “chemical inhalation and chemical eye irritation.” (yeah, I kinda figured, Doc.)

  7. Andy Groves says

    The Gordon Research Conferences place weight on having diverse meetings, and they have a detailed questionnaire at the end of each meeting that includes the feelings of the participants on the diversity of the meeting. The organizers strongly push for the questionnaires to be completed by as many people as possible. One could argue that white male participants might perpetuate an imbalanced meeting by rating the diversity as good, but this has not been my experience in practice.

    The Society for Developmental Biology gives out small grants to help organize meetings, and they specifically ask applicants to provide a gender breakdown of speakers that will be invited.

    I’m certainly not trying to imply that everything is fine by mentioning these two small things, just offering some data points to show that although we have a long way to go, there are positive signs along the way.

  8. Gregory in Seattle says

    I’ve recently taken over a track programming position at a science fiction convention, and have found that there’s a lot of inertia because no one wants to ruffle feathers. So basically:

    1. We have room for X speakers this year.

    2. We had X+3 speakers last year. If we do not invite them all back, they will 1) be unhappy, 2) give the convention bad publicity on their blog, and/or 3) refuse to return in the future.

    3. We make room for all of the X+3 speakers from last year, which leaves no room for new speakers this year.

    There is another related issue:

    1. We have had Panel Y every convention for the last Z years.

    2. The same four panelists have always done that panel.

    3. We must make sure to invite back those four panelists to do that panel yet again.

    Fortunately, I’m new to the position so I can get away with kicking the apple cart. Next year, I suspect it will be more difficult.

  9. frog says

    I recently learned a term that many Pharyngulites (and Cesar Milan fans) probably already know: extinction burst. It’s a fantastic explanation for the “pushback from the white men who had previously been the sole kinds of faces on the stage.” Moreover, if that’s the explanation, then it really does indicate that the correct course of action is to keep fighting. The burst will burn out eventually and the new normal will settle in.

  10. says

    Ruffle feathers. If they complain, you don’t want them anyway.

    For example, Skepticon: I’ve been invited to speak there every year since the beginning. I’ve mentioned to the organizers before that it’s no problem if they want to bring in new blood — I love the conference, but I don’t want to be the guy who takes it as his right to be there. Some year they won’t invite me anymore, and I will understand completely and not be offended in the slightest.

    If your boring old regulars are so locked in that they can’t bear the thought of doing something different, then fuck ‘em. Ideas have to grow.

  11. otrame says

    You know what? For something like 70 years the Texas Archeological Society, which is a group of amateur and professional archaeologists, has had a “field school” in early summer, where an archaeological site is excavated under the control of a professional. People either camp or stay in nearby motels, leave very early in the morning for the site, work until about 1 pm, then come back to cool off and sit around enjoying each other’s company. There are presentations every night. People bring musical instruments and quite a bit of alcohol, and have a great time. There is usually almost as many women as there are men.

    For at least as long as I have been a member, that is, almost 25 years, there has been a kid’s program that the society arranges, getting people to run it and asking a parent of each kid to join the program for one day. The kids are from 5 to 12 years old. While everyone else is digging on the site, or doing survey work (in which one looks for sites), or working the in the labs (in which artifacts and other items are washed, cataloged and bagged for future study), the kids are doing fun things. They always spend a little time at the site, digging along with the grownups, and a little time in the lab, but they also watch movies and play ball games and color. The kids have a great time, the parents have a great time. When you are 13 you graduate to joining the adults at the dig site, not on the same crew as your parents (everyone kind of keeps an eye on the youngsters, but for the most part they are treated like adults, which they love).

    The kid’s program is not an extra expense. The cost (which is not much because the people who run it are volunteers) is part of the general expenses of the school, along with printing of the forms, portapotties, and ice water. It works very well. There are anywhere from about 400 to 600 people (occasionally more if the site is extra-sexy) with about 25 to 50 kids every year.

    My point is that day care for such things is perfectly possible and not terribly expensive. You just have to think about it, consider it necessary, and then do it. It is true that lack of day care is not the only thing that keeps people, especially women, away from conferences, but it would definitely help.

  12. tychism says

    What happened to PZ posting about awesome biology-related stuff? I swear that was the reason his blog won awards and became famous. I miss reading about science from an esteemed evo-devo biologist.

    TL/DR: Where’s all the cool science gone?

  13. Gregory in Seattle says

    @PZ Myers #12 – That’s been my attitude. I am hoping that if I can keep this position, I will invite several new people (or people who haven’t been speakers for a while) every year. That right there helps to shake up the list of panels, to accomodate everyone’s strengths.

    More than half of my invitees are women, so no problem there. Trying to find local-ish non-white Europeans qualified to talk on biology panels has been a bit more challenging, though I think I’m doing better than past coordinators.

  14. tychism says

    @adamgordon

    My apologies, I clearly overlooked that one. However, you must admit it’s getting progressively harder to spot them in amongst all these drama posts.

    Didn’t have to hunt for them in the old days, they were simply right in front of me whenever I clicked the blog…

  15. says

    tychism, you mean back in the day of Dover and Expelled, when the vast majority of idiots throwing something at for him to deal with were creationists and not sexists and racists?

    Also, there are three science posts on the front page currently. If you’d like the rest of it cut out, there’s still the ScienceBlogs site.

  16. Matt Penfold says

    My apologies, I clearly overlooked that one. However, you must admit it’s getting progressively harder to spot them in amongst all these drama posts.

    Didn’t have to hunt for them in the old days, they were simply right in front of me whenever I clicked the blog…

    On behalf of PZ, I apologize that you are too stupid to be able to work out how to use tags.

  17. absolute says

    If your priority is quality, invite the best speakers.
    If your priority is feeling good, quotas will do.

  18. Gregory in Seattle says

    I’m probably outing myself, but what the heck.

    I’m the biology track coordinator for Norwescon, which is Easter weekend in Seatac (between Seattle and Tacoma.) It is one of the largest general science fiction and fantasy conventions in the US (meaning it is not tied to a particular genre or franchise) and is run as a non-profit entirely by fans (meaning there is no corporate sponsorship and no corporate interference.) We usually sell out every year, at around 3,200 members. Most of our programming is panel discussions; with more than 400 panels in 17 different tracks (biology, technology, writing, costuming, art, culture, etc.) there is lots and lots for everyone. We have an entire track of children’s programming, as well as a large vendor room, an art show, a costume competition and much more.

    I still have a few slots for biology panelists, although at this time I cannot guarantee official invitations. If anyone is interested in putting their name in, go to the Norwescon website linked above, and under Norwescon 36 go to Programming and then Becoming a Panelist. We do not pay speakers — did I mention we are a fan-run non-profit? — but we are happy to provide a free convention membership for the weekend to speakers willing to do 5 or more panels, in any combination of tracks. I am particularly looking for more diversity, but I’ll consider anyone with an interest and the qualifications. Hurry, as I have to get my list in to the programming director by the end of next week.

    Our theme for 2013 is “Save the World!” Some of the biology panels I have planned in that theme are: “Old MacDonald Had a Lab” (pros and cons of GM crops), “Biobanking on the Future” (the benefits and controversies of biobanks), “Preparing For the Superplague” (how will we deal with the next major pandemic?) and “But Not a Drop to Drink” (how we can mitigate the growing global shortage of clean water.) Other bio panels include “Blinded by Pseudoscience” (how to tell medical science from quackery and why it matters), “Remedial Exobiology” (if we ever find non-Terran life, it will almost certainly have more differences than pointy ears or head-ridges) and “Evo-Devo: More Than a Cool Band Name” (what is evolutionary development and what we’ve learned from it.) And that’s just what I’ve been working on!

  19. Matt Penfold says

    If your priority is quality, invite the best speakers.
    If your priority is feeling good, quotas will do.

    And if your priority is to ensure that a wide range of views are heard, rather than just the usual white, middle-class, middle-age, male ones, then invite other speakers, who not have white skin, or be reasonably well-off, or be men, but who still have something worthwhile to say and who can say it in an interesting way.

    There is no shortage of people from the non-standard backgrounds of speakers who are more than capable of speaking. It is simply laziness to keep inviting the same old faces. It note that seem to buy into that laziness.

  20. Rumtopf says

    Talking about inclusiveness at conventions(and the relevant successes) is drama now?
    Oh wait, my mistake, just another whiner who doesn’t care about an important topic other people(including the owner of the freaking blog)clearly care a lot about. The whiner thinks the world revolves around them and we allll know you can’t find Biology blogs anywhere else, so PZ ought to stop caring and do what whiner wants right now, dammit *stamps feet*.

  21. tychism says

    @Stephanie Zvan

    ScienceBlogs sounds perfect.

    @Matt Penfold

    Thanks for the casual insult and poor attempt at wit and sarcasm, made me chuckle.

  22. Matt Penfold says

    Thanks for the casual insult and poor attempt at wit and sarcasm, made me chuckle.

    Well, you must admit you do not seem to be able to use tags. If you could, you would not have felt the need to complain. It was a bit rude of your to complain about the advice offered. Most people would have just said thanks.

  23. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I see absolute thinks women and non-whites are second class citizens by birth, unworthy to speak and sit on panels. Not surprising.

  24. Matt Penfold says

    Also, if people never get invited to speak, how are they going to become any good at it ? It takes practice to be able to stand up in front of a group of people and give a talk that holds their attention.

  25. tychism says

    @Rumtopf

    I was just saying that I missed it when he had more time and energy to focus on science (and I hate to leave him since he is an exceptionally good blogger on the topic of biology).

    I totally understand that PZ and others enjoy the topic of inclusiveness etc and like writing about them… But maybe he could find a little bit more time for those of us who like the science?

    Obviously PZ is not my bitch and I can’t demand that he writes only about what I want to read. However, maybe expressing my dislike for these other topics might make him feel that he still has a strong base of readers who love his more scientific posts?

  26. Matt Penfold says

    Obviously PZ is not my bitch…

    Well you weren’t doing very well to start with, but did you really have to prove what an unpleasant person you are by resorting to gendered insults ?

  27. tychism says

    “Also, if people never get invited to speak, how are they going to become any good at it ? It takes practice to be able to stand up in front of a group of people and give a talk that holds their attention.”

    This is totally true. Can’t always just invite the top players, it’s massively important to help build-up the new speakers and give them some confidence as well as a chance to prove themselves.

  28. tychism says

    @Matt Penfold

    It’s actually a clever reference to a phrase used by Neil Gaiman regarding G.R.R.M., but if I have to clarify that in order not to offend people the subtlety is somewhat lost.

  29. Matt Penfold says

    It’s actually a clever reference to a phrase used by Neil Gaiman regarding G.R.R.M., but if I have to clarify that in order not to offend people the subtlety is somewhat lost.

    Looks like a gendered insult to me, no matter how much you pretend otherwise.

  30. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    But maybe he could find a little bit more time for those of us who like the science?

    And who the fuck are you to tell PZ what he should and shouldn’t post about? Your name isn’t on the masthead. You seem to be pretending otherwise. Typical arrogant asshat.

    However, maybe expressing my dislike for these other topics might make him feel that he still has a strong base of readers who love his more scientific posts?

    You are Heinleins “well meaning idiot”. If you say X, not X is correct. And PZ knows that.

  31. absolute says

    I see absolute thinks women and non-whites are second class citizens by birth, unworthy to speak and sit on panels. Not surprising.

    If you see like that, you’re as good as blind.

    If you’re poor and talking about poverty, you can at least claim a point based on your experience (unless you go for identity politics which is laughable).

    Other than that, no, I don’t care who lectures me on physics, as long as it’s good.

    Quotas are to make the organizers feel good about themselves, which is absolutely fine if diversity is the goal.
    Not so much as far as quality is concerned.

  32. tychism says

    @Matt Penfold

    You’ve not heard of Neil Gaiman’s famous tweet? I felt it was apt in this situation because his tweet which used that phrase ‘not your bitch’ is all about how you can’t force someone to write what you want them to.

    Obviously I did not intend it to be meant in any kind of derogatory way, but I can appreciate that it is possible that common use of that word could lead to people associating negative behaviour/thoughts with women. Hence why I shan’t use it again, even in jest.

  33. Rumtopf says

    Tychism
    Why did you think sharing your dislikes would make PZ consider you at all when you’re showing your dislike for topics on issues he really cares about? Seems pretty silly to me.

  34. Matt Penfold says

    You’ve not heard of Neil Gaiman’s famous tweet? I felt it was apt in this situation because his tweet which used that phrase ‘not your bitch’ is all about how you can’t force someone to write what you want them to.

    Nope. Any reason I should have ?

    Never been a fan of Gaiman anyway, and calling someone your bitch (or denying that they are) did not originate with Gaiman.

    Obviously I did not intend it to be meant in any kind of derogatory way, but I can appreciate that it is possible that common use of that word could lead to people associating negative behaviour/thoughts with women. Hence why I shan’t use it again, even in jest.

    Good. And thank you.

  35. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Quotas

    Prima facie evidence I am right, as such a word is only used by those who think there are second class citizens, when nobody but you mentioned it. You think quotas are required for diversity to happen, and those like you are discriminated against. Claim what you will, but your privilege is showing. Remember, you have already shown you think women are second class citizens, so adding those who are non-white or non-straight isn’t a big leap. Gotta keep the old-boys network going.

  36. Matt Penfold says

    Quotas are to make the organizers feel good about themselves, which is absolutely fine if diversity is the goal.
    Not so much as far as quality is concerned.

    You keep mentioning quotas. I’m not sure why, since PZ has not called for quotas, but merely that conference organisers should cast their net a bit wider, and be a bit more creative when deciding whom to invite as speakers.

    For some reason you do not seem to like that idea.

  37. screechymonkey says

    “If your priority is quality, invite the best speakers.”

    And how do we do that? By looking at their scores on the Standardized Speaking Test?

    The argument you’re trying to make has some validity when it’s applied to things like college admissions that are judged in whole or in part on objective data like standardized test scores. (Which may be flawed or biased, but let’s put that aside for now.)

    But with speakers, that just doesn’t apply. There isn’t some objective ranking of speakers by which we can say, “oh, gosh, the top five speakers are all white men. We’d love to have a woman and a person of color, but we’d have to dip down to #9 and #13 in the rankings in order to do that, and that would mean a 17% decrease in Interestingness and a 29% drop in Presentation Skills.”

    I mean, what makes someone the “best” speaker anyway? From the stories that PZ has relayed of his conversations with organizers, it sounds like they’re mostly focused on name recognition: who have the organizers heard of (hence the once-frequent excuse “but we don’t KNOW any women speakers!”), and/or whose name will attract attendees. And that second point is important, but (1) it’s not the only consideration, and (2) it mostly matters at the “top” of the speaker’s list — not every speaker at a convention needs to be a “big name”.

    I think of efforts to improve diversity among speakers not as a matter of “quotas” that promote supposedly inferior speakers above where their merits would have them, but rather as a way of getting organizers to look harder at the merits of all potential speakers rather than relying on shortcuts like “who have we used in the past” and “whose name do I recognize” that don’t take into account all of the things you would if you were truly trying to identify the “best” speakers.

  38. kayden says

    I am sure that Mr. Eisen and PZ are calling for the diversification of panels with qualified women/minorities. Doesn’t sound like quotas to me. Sounds more like being inclusive by having women/minorities who are experts in their field on panels, instead of having all-White male panels.

    Again, this is not a losing proposition for White males. They’re still on the panels — along with the qualified women/minorities.

  39. screechymonkey says

    Since no argument is complete without a sports analogy, let me add to my last comment the following:

    Imagine the speaking circuit as a baseball team circa 1950. You think that the argument is “hey, we should put some black players on the team even though they’d be worse players, because diversity will make us feel good about ourselves even though we’re winning fewer games!” But that’s not it. The argument is “you know, there’s a lot of good players out there that would make our team better, but they’ve been overlooked so far.”

    Or, to use a more modern analogy, we’re telling the team that maybe the scouting department should be taking a look at players in a region or country that scouting has traditionally ignored, and you’re insisting that this means we’re proposing to recruit inferior players.

  40. Matt Penfold says

    Or, to use a more modern analogy, we’re telling the team that maybe the scouting department should be taking a look at players in a region or country that scouting has traditionally ignored, and you’re insisting that this means we’re proposing to recruit inferior players.

    There is a book called Soccernomics by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski that takes a statistical look at football (soccer). One analysis they do is too look at the results of the teams in top English leage in the 1980s.

    That was a time when there was a lot of racism in football. Both the crowds and clubs had racist attitudes. It was not uncommon for black players to have bananas thrown on the pitch in front of them during a game.

    There were some clubs that had a reputation for not signing black players, and more than one club chairmen said that blacks were not temperamentally suited to the game. Kuper and Szymanski’s analysis showed that those clubs who did sign black players did better, when the finances of the club were taken into consideration, than those who operated an de fact colour bar. The reason was not that black players were better, but that by including black players there was a bigger pool of talent to select from, and since there was less demand for black players, they could be signed on lower wages.

    These days thankfully such racism is pretty much a thing of the past.

  41. Paul says

    Nope. Any reason I should have ?

    Not in particular.

    In the interest of understanding the reference, This is Gaiman’s blog entry where he uses it. It’s a common phrase now in fantasy circles when discussing fans and entitlement. I am not excusing the use of said gendered slur, of course, just providing this for informational purposes.

  42. Matt Penfold says

    Not in particular.

    In the interest of understanding the reference, This is Gaiman’s blog entry where he uses it. It’s a common phrase now in fantasy circles when discussing fans and entitlement. I am not excusing the use of said gendered slur, of course, just providing this for informational purposes.

    Fantasy fiction leaves me cold, which would explain why I have never come across it. Thanks for the info.

  43. says

    screechymonkey @ 42: Very well put.

    Furthermore, even if you could somehow rank the “best” speakers in some neutral objective sense, there are numerous circumstances in life where you don’t just “pick the best”. If you’re looking for someone to date, you don’t just go for The Best Lover in your area. Not only should you both have compatible interests, but what if The Best Lover isn’t even part of the sex to which you’re attracted?

    Furthermore, colleges don’t just go with the top GPAs or SAT scores (the objectivity of both being in dispute anyway). They look for diversity, and not just in the senses that freak out conservatives but also diversity of interests, creeds, etc.

    In the context of conferences, maybe your attendees specifically want to hear from non-WASP atheists. (Well, okay, techincally no atheists are “WASPs” but you know what I mean). And there’s the “practice” issue as well, which kind of puts us back where we began: status-quo types (conservatives and libertarians) refuse to think that systemic racism has unfair effects on people’s life-paths, and therefore see no reason to intentionally veer from the staus quo because the best people will “naturally” rise to the top, and after a while the conservatives insist that that’s indeed what already happened… rinse and repeat.

  44. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Any conference that that brings in a dozen speakers, can easily have a cadre of 6-8 experienced name speakers to bring in people buying tickets to see folks like PZ, Dawkins, etc. Then, with the remainder, they can bring in a couple of newbies, and fill out the rest with up and comers, those who have passed the newbie stage and have decent reviews from other organizers or previous newbie years.

    At one point PZ was a newbie. After a few conferences with good reviews, an up and comer. Now he’s a name for drawing in the general populace to see if he really has a cyberpistol, a squid on his shoulder, and a cat out to kill him. The pool of newbies is greater than what most people think. Pedigrees don’t mean as much as the ability to speak with conviction and humor, which can be found anywhere, even those without Harvard/Yale/Princeton/Public Ivy on their resumes.

  45. McC2lhu saw what you did there. says

    I was thinking this looked exactly like what PZ himself had scribed a few weeks back. Turns out that great ideas tend to form spontaneously everywhere at once (or hit the subconscious because the interwebs are ubiquitous).

    If they really want to avoid the level 10 schmuckery that we’ve had to endure, just have them link to the discussions here so everyone can preview how truly idiotic and petty (and often outright juvenile) the chauvinism is. If someone still wants to drag himself through that muck, maybe they weren’t cut out to belong to the speakers or guest groups anyway. There’s obviously a character flaw that’s hindering them from recognizing inequality.

  46. says

    Why is it that when people complain about “quotas” they’re so often attempting to prevent change to something that is so unrepresentative of the general population that it already strongly appears that a quota is and has always been in place?

  47. says

    Didn’t have to hunt for them in the old days, they were simply right in front of me whenever I clicked the blog…

    Were those old days back on Scienceblogs, or here on FreeThoughtblogs?

  48. suerivers says

    @ Tychism

    Maybe a good way to encourage more posts on topics you like, would be to write comments on those posts. Some nice words, thoughtful questions, etc may inspire more writing of the kind you are most interested in. Just a thought….

  49. geniusloci says

    Liberal Christians are way ahead of you here.

    At first, this shocked me, but then I realized what assholes male scientists can be. My husband, an atheist and a physicist, is concerned about the lack of women who go into his field and makes every effort to ensure that his female grad students get all the support they need and takes them very seriously–but engineering fields and computer science are still pretty much boys’ clubs, and there are some physical science departments at major research universities that still throw out all the applications from prospective female students, rationalizing that they aren’t worth wasting time and resources on because they’ll only get married and pregnant and take too long to get their Ph.D.s.

    Meanwhile, fundamentalist, so-called charismatic Christians are complaining that the church is too feminized–too much emphasis on compassion and tolerance and turning the other cheek–and are trying to “masculinize” Christianity and somehow claim that Jesus would have beat the shit out of people who disagreed with him.

    Somehow, I’m not surprised about all of this. Sexist dickery transcends belief in God, just as one’s political ideology is a better indication of one’s moral character than one’s profession of faith.

  50. txpiper says

    “Quotas are to make the organizers feel good about themselves, which is absolutely fine if diversity is the goal.”

    I’m not really clear about the commitment to diversity. Is it to recover something perceived as lost, or the pursuit of a newer and better ideal?

  51. Owlmirror says

    txpiper, I am still deeply interested in the answer to the question of what makes you right and atomic theory wrong.

    I’m not really clear about the commitment to diversity.

    I guess you’re not really clear on what it’s like to not have privilege.

    A commitment to diversity follows from a commitment to egalitarianism.

    Is it to recover something perceived as lost, or the pursuit of a newer and better ideal?

    Is egalitarianism something perceived as lost, or is it the pursuit of a newer and better ideal?

    I know that some Christians assert the former, and point to Galatians 3:28 as support.

  52. jefrir says

    If your priority is quality, invite the best speakers.
    If your priority is feeling good, quotas will do.

    If you are effectively ignoring more than half of the population in your selection process, there’s a very good chance that you are not inviting the best speakers.

  53. barrypearson says

    “If your priority is quality, invite the best speakers”

    Future “best speakers” may be today’s “not best speakers” who get the chance to practice and have experience of speaking.

  54. absolute says

    If you are effectively ignoring more than half of the population in your selection process, there’s a very good chance that you are not inviting the best speakers.

    Don’t ignore gingers too, they have insights into physics you would never imagine.

    It’s true that the phrase ‘best speaker’ is vague and might be based on popularity or recognition rather than quality, but it will be like that regardless of your position.

    I’m already considering a scenario where you think you have a couple decent candidates. If half of them are female, and you pick dudes, it might be worth to ask yourself why. It would still not be equal to a bias, but it does beg the question. What if the ratio is NOT like that, i.e. the gender/ethnicity you want to promote is the minority?

    If you pick the woman just because you want diversity, fine, but don’t kid yourself that this magically increases the quality of the given enterprise, as is suggested.
    And it in effect is a quota, just not a written one, a one in your head. “I have to have a woman, otherwise people will jump on me”

    Quota is fighting fire with fire, even if you like your fire.

  55. johnwolforth says

    I am always amazed as the resistance to child care. I suggested it to my board of Kids Against Hunger and even they were reluctant. One person took charge of it, then complained, then we didn’t do it the next time. That is a family event, but we can’t accommodate kids under 8. So if we don’t have child care we are telling a family with a 7 and 9 y.o. to get a babysitter. It’s a simple thing and adds young adult voices to your group.

  56. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I’m not really clear about the commitment to diversity. Is it to recover

    Well, you not being clear on a concept is normal for you txpiper. Here’s the question for you: should those at the front of the hall mimic the composition of the country? Those for more diversity say yes, it should.

    Absolute the RWA fuckwit:

    If you pick the woman just because you want diversity, fine, but don’t kid yourself that this magically increases the quality of the given enterprise, as is suggested.

    Here’s what you are doing, presuming with prejudice that the woman automatically decreases the quality of the talk,which is misogynist on your part. If they bring in new perspective not seen or heard with all old white men, the woman performs a valuable service of expanding the perspectives presented. But since they may tell you, you are a misogynist bigot in the process, you may not think well of them. But others in audience will swoon over hearing what was said, as they have waited for a while for someone to say it. Your opinion isn’t everything, as it isn’t all about you. You are more like Heinlein’s “well meaning fool”.

  57. tinkerer says

    @ absolute…

    From PZ:

    The next stage after that success, however, is pushback from the white men who had previously been the sole kinds of faces on the stage. They can’t quite start screaming at the women to get off the stage — that degree of bigotry is a little too naked, usually — but they will aim their fury at the people who brought them to the sorry state of having women equally represented with men.

    … that’s you, that is.

    From absolute:

    It’s true that the phrase ‘best speaker’ is vague and might be based on popularity or recognition rather than quality, but it will be like that regardless of your position.

    I’m already considering a scenario where you think you have a couple decent candidates. If half of them are female, and you pick dudes, it might be worth to ask yourself why. It would still not be equal to a bias, but it does beg the question. What if the ratio is NOT like that, i.e. the gender/ethnicity you want to promote is the minority?

    If you pick the woman just because you want diversity, fine, but don’t kid yourself that this magically increases the quality of the given enterprise, as is suggested.

    That’s pretty garbled and confused, but what I get from it is that you’re concerned that if women and members of minority groups are properly represented they will lower the “quality” of whatever they’re involved in, and you’re scrabbling around for justification for that smug, self-satisfied, and bigoted view. You can’t actually put together a coherent argument for it though, which is unsurprising as it goes against everything we know about the distribution of human ability. Straight white males don’t have a monopoly on talent, it’s simply that for historical reasons that particular group (to which I belong) has awarded itself a privileged status which has lead to their over-representation in positions which confer influence and authority. You should be asking yourself why you object to attempts to correct that unjustified privilege – unless you believe that privilege is justified, of course. Is that what you believe?

    From absolute:

    And it in effect is a quota, just not a written one, a one in your head. “I have to have a woman, otherwise people will jump on me”

    I think that’s very revealing. The only reason you can imagine for others wanting to promote fairer representation is to avoid the disaproval of the “PC brigade”. You find it hard to conceive that anybody would want to ensure a fairer society simply because it’s obviously the right thing to do for a number of different reasons. Reasons such as a sense of justice, or the benefiting of society as a whole through enabling talent which would otherwise be wasted.

  58. Nightjar says

    absolute,

    It’s true that the phrase ‘best speaker’ is vague and might be based on popularity or recognition rather than quality, but it will be like that regardless of your position.

    Yes, but speakers don’t become popular or recognisable if they never get a chance to prove their talent and improve their skills at these events. Unless you want your field/movement to die, you’re always going to have to invite new, not-so-popular-yet faces. That’s why this argument doesn’t work. Of course the most popular and recognisable speakers are straight white males. But unless you’re really determined to keep it that way (are you?), that’s no excuse to not give more people from underprivileged more chances.

    I’m already considering a scenario where you think you have a couple decent candidates. If half of them are female, and you pick dudes, it might be worth to ask yourself why. It would still not be equal to a bias, but it does beg the question. What if the ratio is NOT like that, i.e. the gender/ethnicity you want to promote is the minority?

    If very few of them are female, it is also worth to ask why and wonder if perhaps it is because women are not being given the same chances as men. Because if that’s the case, you are undermining your own field/movement by failing to take advantage of approximately half the potential talent of its members.

    If you pick the woman just because you want diversity, fine, but don’t kid yourself that this magically increases the quality of the given enterprise, as is suggested.

    Yes, it does. Not wasting potential talent does increase the quality of any given enterprise. Why is this so hard to understand?

    “I have to have a woman, otherwise people will jump on me”

    How about “I have to have women because I care about equality and don’t want this enterprise to keep wasting talent”?

  59. says

    And it in effect is a quota, just not a written one, a one in your head. “I have to have a woman, otherwise people will jump on me”

    I’m sick of this shit. The only way this sentence would make any sense is if one assumed that we already live in a true meritocracy, and white men really are the best at everything they do, and everyone else is naturally and necessarily inferior to them.

    In reality of course we don’t live in a true meritocracy, and so instead of having the actual best 20 or 30 speakers, we get the 20 or 30 best white, straight, dudely speakers, many of which are actually less meritorious than the minority candidates whose “place” in the Top 20 or 30 speakers they got because of bias. Consciously choosing to include diversity is simply consciously choosing to not fall victim to this bias.

  60. screechymonkey says

    absolute:

    I’m already considering a scenario where you think you have a couple decent candidates. If half of them are female, and you pick dudes, it might be worth to ask yourself why. It would still not be equal to a bias, but it does beg the question.

    Throughout your posts there’s been this implicit assumption that the process is unbiased, unless and until we start to consider diversity, when it becomes biased in favor of minorities.

    All you’re doing in the above quote is backing that assumption up one stage. You start by conceding that hypothetically, maybe, there might be a problem if you end up picking “all dudes” when the “decent candidate pool” is 50% women. But then you say this:

    What if the ratio is NOT like that, i.e. the gender/ethnicity you want to promote is the minority?

    And now the implicit assumption that the “decent candidate pool” is fair and unbiased, such that:

    If you pick the woman just because you want diversity, fine, but don’t kid yourself that this magically increases the quality of the given enterprise, as is suggested.

    You’re the one who is invoking magic. You assume that the decision-making process of conference organizers and other people in power is perfect (or at least, the best that is humanly achievable) and that we’re arguing for selecting “worse” candidates.

    But your assumption that human beings, who we know to be subject to biases and cognitive errors, who operate in a culture with various sexist, racist, and other discriminatory impulses, will somehow identify the “best candidates” free from any such errors, is quite unreasonable.

    You do seem to be making progress: you’re at least willing to admit that there could be something wrong (though you stubbornly insist it can’t be bias) with a process that selects a gender-skewed pool of speakers from a non-skewed pool of “candidates.” You need to start backing it up a stage and asking yourself what’s going on with a process that produces a gender-skewed pool of “candidates” from a non-skewed general population.

  61. says

    Other than that, no, I don’t care who lectures me on physics, as long as it’s good.

    only if you’re a statistical outlier, given the studies that show unconscious bias on this. Actors given exactly the same lecture to hold in front of physics students ended up being judged differently based on gender. The women were considered less competent, even if they obviously weren’t since the men were just actors, too.

    Quotas are to make the organizers feel good about themselves, which is absolutely fine if diversity is the goal.
    Not so much as far as quality is concerned.

    oh, so you do even consciously think that white men are naturally the best at everything. Can’t say I find it refreshing to see old-fashioned sexism and racism for a change, instead of the more typical microagressions of today.

  62. Nightjar says

    Uh…

    that’s no excuse to not give more people from underprivileged more chances

    I think I accidentally a word.

  63. txpiper says

    Owlmirror,

    “I am still deeply interested in the answer to the question of what makes you right and atomic theory wrong.”

    I don’t recall the context, but this was a declaration on your part.
    ===
    “A commitment to diversity follows from a commitment to egalitarianism.”

    I guess my curiosity about such commitments is that they seem to be a preoccupation only in affluent western cultures. Also, both diversity and equality are actually rather difficult to define or apply, don’t you think?
    ===
    “Is egalitarianism something perceived as lost, or is it the pursuit of a newer and better ideal?…I know that some Christians assert the former, and point to Galatians 3:28 as support.”

    Has equality ever actually existed? Do you have an example in mind that would serve as a goal? I don’t really see how either diversity or equality would rest well in the context of evolutionary theory. They would seem to me to actually oppose each other.

    The verse you mention has a very narrow application in my view.

  64. says

    I guess my curiosity about such commitments is that they seem to be a preoccupation only in affluent western cultures

    and?

    I don’t really see how either diversity or equality would rest well in the context of evolutionary theory. They would seem to me to actually oppose each other.

    the theory of evolution is a description of an existing process in biology. egalitarianism is an ethic of how people should interact. they have absolutely nothing to do with each other.

  65. Nightjar says

    “I am still deeply interested in the answer to the question of what makes you right and atomic theory wrong.”

    I don’t recall the context, but this was a declaration on your part.

    Oh, I suspect the context may have something to do with the flavour of creationism you subscribe to.

    I don’t really see how either diversity or equality would rest well in the context of evolutionary theory. They would seem to me to actually oppose each other.

    Do tell.

  66. Owlmirror says

    “I am still deeply interested in the answer to the question of what makes you right and atomic theory wrong.”

    I don’t recall the context, but this was a declaration on your part.

    Your memory is poor; this was less than a month ago.

    Context.

    [Old Earth] Creationist Henry F. Schaefer, III, whom you cited approvingly because he “objects” to evolution, also asserts that atomic theory is one of the best supported theories that currently exist.

    I wrote: “Radiometric dating is ultimately founded on the validity and soundness of atomic theory.”

    Then I asked the question which you didn’t answer, and still have not answered.

    ======

    I guess my curiosity about such commitments is that they seem to be a preoccupation only in affluent western cultures.

    If you were actually curious, you could study the history of the idea.

    Also, both diversity and equality are actually rather difficult to define or apply, don’t you think?

    Do you think that there is some special magic that makes having your particular genital configuration and/or skin color and/or amount of personal wealth that makes you magically more special than everyone else?

    One might craft a definition of egalitarianism that specifically rejects that premise as the logical fallacy of special pleading that it is.

    And one might craft a application of diversity as following through on the rejection of that premise.

    ======

    I don’t really see how either diversity or equality would rest well in the context of evolutionary theory. They would seem to me to actually oppose each other.

    Because monocultures are magically the fittest; the best able to survive in all circumstances?

    The verse [Galatians 3:28] has a very narrow application in my view.

    Well, those who use it are generally the sort of Christian who tries to argue that western values are ultimately Christian ones. I don’t particularly agree with that.

    I think it could even be argued that Christianity is actually more like a totalitarian dictatorship — complete with brainwashed indoctrination, and eternal torture for thought criminals — than anything else. Don’t you agree? I mean, I assume that you’re smug in the certainty that you’re in the good graces of the totalitarian dictator, so no worries for you, right?

  67. txpiper says

    Owlmirror,

    “I wrote: “Radiometric dating is ultimately founded on the validity and soundness of atomic theory.”
    Then I asked the question…””

    Well, your question expects RD, and the assumptions that it involves, to get automatic approval on the basis of atomic theory. It also requires ignoring anomalies that are contrary to reasonable expectations of taphonomy.
    ===
    “Do you think that there is some special magic that makes having your particular genital configuration and/or skin color and/or amount of personal wealth that makes you magically more special than everyone else?”

    Of course not, but “special” is not the issue. Specialty is. There are all kinds of things I am not suited for (or can’t afford). But you could well add all kinds of other considerations…age, physiology, IQ, work ethic, mental health, etc. And don’t overlook the fact that women have considerably more emotional strength than men. The boys are completely inferior in that regard.
    ===
    “One might craft a definition of egalitarianism”

    Egalitarianism and equality are not the same thing.
    ===
    “I assume that you’re smug in the certainty that you’re in the good graces of the totalitarian dictator, so no worries for you, right?”

    ha ha…I suppose you are right, except for the smugness, which implies that I have something that is not available to anyone else.

  68. Owlmirror says

    Well, your question expects RD, and the assumptions that it involves, to get automatic approval on the basis of atomic theory.

    Of course radiometric dating gets “automatic approval” on the basis of atomic theory. Radiometric dating is implied by atomic theory because radioactive decay is part of atomic theory.

    It also requires ignoring anomalies that are contrary to reasonable expectations of taphonomy.

    It most certainly does not. Atomic theory beats taphonomy. If there are “anomalies” that are “contrary” to “reasonable expectations”, then the “reasonable expectations” must be wrong, or the “anomalies” are something else that have been misinterpreted.

    Why do you think Schweitzer and her co-authors and colleagues have not converted to YEC? Because they know that however weird their findings of apparent Cretaceous dinosaur-tissue-like substances are, there is far too much evidence in support of deep time.

    Besides, you don’t actually know anything about taphonomy; nor have you learned anything about the subject. You love ignorance, and love arguing from ignorance.

    Of course not, but “special” is not the issue.

    “Special” is indeed the issue. What do you think racists and sexists are thinking, if not that they are special?

    Specialty is. There are all kinds of things I am not suited for (or can’t afford). But you could well add all kinds of other considerations…age, physiology, IQ, work ethic, mental health, etc.

    And do you think that your race and/or gender contribute to your “speciality”?

    And don’t overlook the fact that women have considerably more emotional strength than men.

    What is this alleged “fact” based on? Actual peer-reviewed evidence, or your own biased perceptions?

    I suppose you are right, except for the smugness, which implies that I have something that is not available to anyone else.

    The favor of the dictator is not available to everyone, except in the most liberal theologies.

    You’re not a universalist, are you?

  69. says

    I don’t really see how either diversity or equality would rest well in the context of evolutionary theory. They would seem to me to actually oppose each other.

    Diversity allows greater plasticity in response to changes in environment. Equality promotes diversity. Compare the health risks pedigree dogs have to mutts.

  70. says

    for example, diversity is a crucial part of pest management. Attempts to eradicate insects from crops was a colossal disaster that caused more damage in the long run because insects have a wide diversity and thus were able to evolve adaptations making them resistant to treatments.

    The recommended practice now for something like a GI resistant crop is to keep an area NON-TREATED vulnerable crop to act as a buffer. This ensures that there is always a portion of the insect population that has not had a selection pressure favoring resistance to treatment imposed on them, and thus can keep such advantages diluted.

    For another examples cheetahs are facing the opposite problem. Even with breeding programs it is believed that the gene pool is so limited that recovery of the species will be difficult. They are so uniform that they’re at risk of extinction.

    There is also the known phenomena in selective breeding of hybrid vigor, where often the cross breeding of two breeds (such as two different breed of pig) is better than ‘pure’ offspring. This is because of greater diversity and because the traits the breeds were selected for can transfer positive traits to the offspring. In pigs at least the purebred pigs are maintained mostly for breeding purposes; not for production themselves.

    Evolution relies on diversity, that’s the point. Do you know what bacteria strain has perfect replication? Zero, because if there weren’t mistakes in replication they’d all be the same and would all be wiped out when shit hit the fan.

    Diversity isn’t prohibited by the evolution or natural world, it is what drives it. It is the idea. Diversity is very important. one tactic can be countered, blocked, thwarted. A diversity of tactics greatly compounds your chances of survival. True in all things.

  71. mos1 says

    Perhaps, PZ, you could link us to some white male atheist speakers ‘aiming their fury at those who brought us increased diversity’?

    Personally I don’t know any white male atheists who don’t appreciate diversity – the views of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Maryam Namazie for example – so perhaps you could back up that prediction with some, y’know, evidence.

  72. absolute says

    Here’s what you are doing, presuming with prejudice that the woman automatically decreases the quality of the talk,which is misogynist on your part.

    Why did all of you take this opposite stance? You know, there is a third value you’ve missed. Values can go up, down, or stay the same, i.e. become a non-factor, or at least an unreliable one.

    Diversity is good for diversity’s sake.

    I also never implied that the world is perfect.
    I’ll say more – if you counter-balance the roster because of known biases, that’s awesome.

    You’d have to be careful though, not to acknowledge the stereotype of the gender/ethnicity you wish to promote by assuming they need that extra help.

    And then there is the caricature of the effort, when you see a panel discussion of speakers of different genders and ethnicity, and then you have the audience question that usually goes like “hey I don’t see a black ginger lesbian speaking tonight, what’s with all the exclusion and racism”.

  73. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    You know, there is a third value you’ve missed.

    Nope, we missed nothing. You missed the point. Typical of folks who believe they are absolutely infallible. Like your moniker implies. You’ve added nothing to the discussion but prejudice.

    The point is that diversity helps with problem solving. If a team trying to solve problems is homogeneous, of the same ethnic background, upbringing, and education sources, there is difficulty thinking outside of a small box due to shared upbringing and thinking. If the team has people of different backgrounds and places of education, they all bring a different toolkit to the process, and the combined box prior to being looked outside of is bigger than the homogeneous group, and by bouncing ideas around, the chances of finding a creative solution outside of the bigger box are also much greater.

    The other thing with diversity is everyone in the public can feel welcome as they see similar faces on the podium. Unless, they are like you, who think by having diversity makes you unwelcome.

    If you think you are playing devils advocate, there is a word to describe such behavior. Trolling.

  74. says

    Why did all of you take this opposite stance?

    because diversity automatically also broadens the expeience and therefore minimized bias within a group, individual smartness and merit of the members of a diverse group notwithstanding.

    I also never implied that the world is perfect.

    no, you implied that the world is sufficiently meritocratic that any deviation from the current standard of selecting speakers would decrease quality. Which by extension implies that white men are superior to everyone else.

    You’d have to be careful though, not to acknowledge the stereotype of the gender/ethnicity you wish to promote by assuming they need that extra help.

    once again you’re assuming that white men really are the best at everything. No “stereotypes” are being acknowledged when we admit that people who aren’t white and/or male get less respect and have more shit thrown at them, and thus are forced by society to become up to twice as meritorous as white dudes before society acknowledges them as equals of whites.

    And then there is the caricature of the effort, when you see a panel discussion of speakers of different genders and ethnicity, and then you have the audience question that usually goes like “hey I don’t see a black ginger lesbian speaking tonight, what’s with all the exclusion and racism”.

    that’s not so much a caricature as a strawman, since that doesn’t actually ever happen. what actually does happen is that white folks like to tokenize: one minority is enough to speak for all of them, amirite?

  75. Nightjar says

    You’d have to be careful though, not to acknowledge the stereotype of the gender/ethnicity you wish to promote by assuming they need that extra help

    You really don’t get it, do you. It’s not extra help. It’s equal opportunities. Like, women don’t need to be given more help than men, they need to be given the same help. That’s not what happens, so something has to be done to change this.