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Feb 21 2014

Et tu, Chemistry?

Quick, everyone! Get out your Bingo cards!

The International Congress of Quantum Chemistry is going to be held next year, and they announced their preliminary speaker list: it was entirely made up of men. This is not surprising. It’s held by the International Academy of Quantum Molecular Sciences, which is almost entirely made up of men, too.

Notably, there are only four female scientists among the 110 living members of IAQMS, which elects new candidates by internal vote. Ten out of 102 talks during the previous three conference were given by women, and only two female chemists have been awarded medals over the past decade, according to the instigators of the boycott.

I’ve highlighted the bit about how this kind of sexism is perpetuated. It takes a real effort by existing members of the organization to break up bad habits…and it doesn’t sound as if some members are interested, despite the fact that there is an online list of women in quantum chemistry that would make it easy to find interesting women to invite.

Cue the excuses:

Zhigang Shuai, a professor at Tsinghua University in China and chair of this year’s ICQC, wrote a letter to explain that one woman had been among the original invitees, but had not responded

There might be women in our second choices!

many of the people on the original list were obligatory selections

There aren’t any women of obligatory importance in the field.

And then, of course, the Asshat Backlash. Here’s Professor James Kress, complaining about all those people complaining about discrimination on a chemistry listserv.

If you INSIST on discussing this on CCL, the please place an identifying header on all your emails so that those of us who care about SCIENCE, as opposed to trendy whining about supposed “gender inequality” and other fashionable modes of Political Correctness can at least have a hope of filtering out all of the nonsensical content and peruse the SCIENTIFIC content.

Oh, Dr Kress cannot shut up:

Inequality is a fundamental characteristic of any collection of more than one human being, he said, and suggested that if people don’t like the current conferences they should start their own. You’re not entitled to excel. You have to earn it. I guess that’s kind of an old fashioned perspective but it’s certainly mine.

Kress doubled down in a followup email. Given that everyone has unique DNA, it is scientifically certain that no two people will be identical in terms of capabilities, he wrote. ALL SORTS of differences in capabilities exist in Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Math, etc. Those who work harder, overcome their capability deficient and make themselves equal to or better than their colleagues. Hard work is the way to address the capability issue and thus achieve equality.

He’s got his, and by god, he deserved it, and if you aren’t getting invited to speak at conferences, it’s entirely because you are a lazy slacker with female DNA.

So, what conferences have a problem with rampant manly privilege so far? Atheist, skeptic, science fiction, literature, philosophy, technology, and now chemistry? Did I miss any? Yeah, probably. It seems to be all of them.

54 comments

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  1. 1
    jt4014

    This Dr Kress?

    http://www.kressworks.org/page/Our%20Founder

  2. 2
    marko

    It’s interesting that the lazy women, in spite of representing less than 4% of the membership, still managed to deliver almost 10% of the talks.

  3. 3
    moarscienceplz

    I believe I’ve found James Kress’ biography in Cambridge Who’s Who. Here’s what he attributes his success to:

    He attributes his success to God, and his ability to find patterns and recognize behavior is systems that are chemically, physically or mechanically.

    Obviously it got cut off mid-sentence, but it tells me enough about this particular old white dude (says this old white dude).

  4. 4
    garnetstar

    Chemistry has always been like this.

    Once I did some research that attracted a lot of publicity, which universities love. I was doing a lot of interviews about it, so a colleague in my department told me that my pictures weren’t pretty enough, and couldn’t I fix myself up?

    I replied that I’d heard that Cindy Crawford was available for only $10,000 a day, so why not take my salary and hire her for the photographs?

    And that was the end of my future in that department.

    At that time, there was only one woman chemist in the National Academy.

  5. 5
    hillaryrettig

    @3 moarscienceplz

    If he’s attributing his success to god, this already makes me doubt his ability to “find patterns and recognize behavior in systems.”

    Despite being a chemist, he’s got a real engineering background. More than anyone else I’ve encountered, engineers confuse knowing something with knowing everything.

  6. 6
    David Marjanović

    And that was the end of my future in that department.

    *blink* Seriously?

    Christ, what assholes.

  7. 7
    a miasma of incandescent plasma

    … please place an identifying header on all your emails so that those of us who care about SCIENCE … peruse the SCIENTIFIC content.

    Except for Social Sciences. Fuck that noise, amirite?!?!?!

  8. 8
    moarscienceplz

    @#5 hillaryrettig

    Yeah, if someone acts like a pompous know-it-all there’s a high probability that he’s an engineer (and a ‘he’).
    As an engineer myself, I was very sorry to come to this realization, but it’s an important lesson to learn.

  9. 9
    Rob Grigjanis

    hillaryrettig @5:

    More than anyone else I’ve encountered, engineers confuse knowing something with knowing everything.

    Have you met many geophysicists?

  10. 10
    doublereed

    I actually thought Chemistry was relatively balanced. As far as students are concerned, I have gotten the impression that it’s 50/50 or nearly 50/50. Such claims of inequality, especially at such an imbalanced rate, are frankly baffling.

  11. 11
    Athywren

    Those who work harder, overcome their capability deficient and make themselves equal to or better than their colleagues. Hard work is the way to address the capability issue and thus achieve equality.

    What about those who work harder, don’t actually have a capability deficit to overcome, and demonstrate time and time again that they are easily equal to their peers before we consider the fact that they’re working harder and yet are still treated as inferior?
    RARGH!

    Damn it, but I hate this “inequalities exist because you’re inherently inferior and too lazy to fix yourself” attitude so very much.

  12. 12
    Rob Grigjanis

    “I’m all right Jack keep your hands off of my stack”

  13. 13
    rq

    Rob
    My brother the geophysicist might take exception. ;) He’s pretty good with acknowledging he doesn’t know something… sometimes.

    Mathematicians aren’t on PZ’s list, and their junior mathematicians’ conventions seem to have (at least) one woman speaker out of every three – so maybe there’s hope! (Maybe… see, there’s the Joint Mathematics Meetings, with two women out of six speakers, and the International Congress of Mathematicians, which seems to have at least a couple of women showing up on their website – plus childcare options (see: Participants)!)

  14. 14
    twas brillig (stevem)

    I’ve encountered, engineers confuse knowing something with knowing everything.

    I.E. “Dunning-Kruger Effect”

    Those who work harder, overcome their capability deficient and make themselves equal to or better than their colleagues. Hard work is the way to address the capability issue and thus achieve equality.

    I.E. “Lying, without lying”, So you can’t disagree with what he just said. Yes, hard work is how one becomes ‘equal’. What he is tacitly implying is, “*Women* don’t work hard enough to be equal; only men have ever done so, and that’s why they are our speakers”. </Obvious> (:-(

    I too thought Chemists were ‘above’ these petty attitudes. It must be the “Quantum” part of the label that reveals their Schrodinger nonsense. They only look fair if you don’t look. Open the box and they’re petty, don’t look and they’re fair. Why is “Quantum” always used to hide behind? Quantum is a REAL science, not a camo to hide your nonsense.

  15. 15
    doublereed

    Yay mathematics!! Woo!! We’re not as sexist as chemists, somehow!

  16. 16
    timgueguen

    Does anyone doubt the “and of course men are smarter etc. than women” implied in Kress’s statement?

    Anyone?

  17. 17
    Rob Grigjanis

    rq @13: Yes, that’s probably unfair to most geophysicists. I’ve had the misfortune to meet a couple of doozies. One insisted that special relativity was nonsense (because length contraction and time dilation just didn’t make sense!), and that the Ancient Egyptians must have been ten times as strong as modern humans. The other was a bully with serious rage issues. Disagreeing with him was actually dangerous.

  18. 18
    Sili

    Hey! Quantum chemists are not real chemists.

    We have enough problems of our own. Don’t saddle us with the sins of mere physicists.

  19. 19
    loreo

    What the fuck is with this self-congratulatory bullshit? Can’t anyone take pride in saying “I worked hard” without needing it to be “I worked harder than everyone else ever”?

  20. 20
    Ogvorbis: Still failing at being human.

    Can we throw Quantumn Tomatoes at these assholes?

  21. 21
    Rob Grigjanis

    Sili @18:

    Don’t saddle us with the sins of mere wannabe physicists.

    FTFY. They’re in an incoherent mixed state.

  22. 22
    Esteleth, [an error occurred while processing this directive]

    doublereed:

    I actually thought Chemistry was relatively balanced. As far as students are concerned, I have gotten the impression that it’s 50/50 or nearly 50/50. Such claims of inequality, especially at such an imbalanced rate, are frankly baffling.

    Chemistry is relatively balanced at the undergraduate level. It’s slightly less so at the graduate student level, and a bit less at the postdoc level, and a bit less at the professor level, with decreasing amounts as one climbs the ranks of the professoriate.

    It’s typical of STEM fields in that regard.

    Also, please keep in mind that “chemistry is relatively balanced” is like saying “medicine is relatively balanced.” Overall it might be – because 75% of high school chemistry teachers are women, which balances the fact that 80% of theoretical physical chemists are men. Both of those numbers were pulled out of my ass, for the record.

  23. 23
    a_ray_in_dilbert_space

    Last year, the proportion of women among new PhDs in physics in the US reached 20%. When I was in grad school an eon or so ago, it was around 10%. Interestingly, several other countries had higher proportions of women. Portugal had over 25% and Italy over 15%–not countries known for their enlightened attitudes toward women. The explanation I got was that the proportion of women in a field correlated inversely with the prestige in which the field was held in the society rather than any sort of enlightened attitudes.

  24. 24
    knowknot

    19 loreo

    What the fuck is with this self-congratulatory bullshit? Can’t anyone take pride in saying “I worked hard” without needing it to be “I worked harder than everyone else ever”?

    - No. Because those are two distinct types of pride, and they differ in the same way that objective morality (which requires God, and is real) and subjective morality (which denies God, and does not wash its hands after pottying) do. And happily, both analogues of the former allow those who posses them to confer equally righteous suffering upon their opponents.
    - Duh.

  25. 25
    roxchix

    I’ve never heard any grumblings or complaints about AGU or GSA meetings. I’ve never had any reaction to my presence there that wasn’t based on the quality of my presentations, or the expectations based on the affiliation on my badge. Talks/awards/honors from the societies seem to be representative of the overall community distribution (which becomes more pale and more male the higher you go in higher education institutions or industry jobs, but has improved greatly over the last 50 years). Maybe there are some complaints I’m not privy to, but I think anything widespread would be talked about.

  26. 26
    Caish P

    I just wanted to make a positive comment that the atmospheric/ocean/climate sciences community is pretty good. I’ve so far never had any gender-based weirdness, and our annual conference was about 30% female speakers and had anspecial lunch on women in science to try to make it even better (which lots of men attended!). Plus the directors of my group at uni are really supportive of part-time postdocs, kids in the office when necessary, and helping female lecturers get childcare.

    I mean, there’s still the leaky pipeline like everywhere else, but there’s really good work here (or maybe it’s just better in Australia ;) )

  27. 27
    Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    I was fascinated when learning about the Soviet Union, where most doctors are women, to find that a doctor is held in about the same respect as auto mechanics. (Implied… “Because if a woman can do it….”)

  28. 28
    sonderval

    So, what conferences have a problem with rampant manly privilege so far?

    Last year I attended a conference in computational mechanics. There were 14 keynote speakers, all male, all older than 50 and all working at european, american or japanese research institutes. (And, to be honest, many of them being rather boring and telling more or less the same stuff as two years before.)
    After the conference I wrote amail to the organisers asking if it might not be good to add a bit more diversity to the keynote speakers. The answer was basically “Sorry, we cannot do that, because we want to invite only the best.”
    (Not all of the field is like this, I have to add.)

  29. 29
    maddogdelta

    [sarcasm] Silly PZ! Don’t you know that chemists can’t be women! Their ladyparts all get in the way of doing serious chemistry!

    After all, don’t you think that if chemistry could be done by women, then some women would be recognized by the scientific community for doing chemistry, you know, like Nobel prizes and stuff… and that NEVER happens!
    [/sarcasm]

    I just threw up a little typing that…

  30. 30
    David Marjanović

    I actually thought Chemistry was relatively balanced. As far as students are concerned, I have gotten the impression that it’s 50/50 or nearly 50/50. Such claims of inequality, especially at such an imbalanced rate, are frankly baffling.

    Gradual glass ceiling, as Esteleth said.

    I was fascinated when learning about the Soviet Union, where most doctors are women, to find that a doctor is held in about the same respect as auto mechanics. (Implied… “Because if a woman can do it….”)

    Before the revolution, doctors were grand-bourgeois, almost aristocrats, in much of Europe. The communists resented that and took them down a notch or three till they had gotten the reputation of the job so far down that, as an unintended consequence, women could enter en masse.

  31. 31
    garnetstar

    The American Chemical Society brags that their national meetings are the largest scientific conferences in the world, with about 25,000 attendees at each one.

    And, I’ve been harassed at almost every one I’ve gone to. I finally stopped going, which wasn’t great for my career, because I’ve had enough.

  32. 32
    Chris Cramer

    Just a note to say that I made a reply to Kress, which may be found on CCL but also at http://pollux.chem.umn.edu/CompChemGenderEquity_140216.html

  33. 33
    disabledtoiletcubicle
  34. 34
    chigau (違う)

    troll

  35. 35
    disabledtoiletcubicle
  36. 36
    saccharissa

    @disabledtoiletcuible:

    …and why do you think that might be? In a discipline that discourages women from entering, harasses them when they do, and prevents them from advancing due to the good ol’ boy’s network in charge?

    Naw, it must just be that the wimmin in general are of less “high ability”, right?

    I refer you to chigau’s comment, who says it much more succinctly than I do.

  37. 37
    saccharissa

    disabledtoiletcuible @35:
    ” Men and women have different statistical distributions”

    WTH does that mean? Are you talking about IQ, which is notoriously biased toward white males?

  38. 38
    disabledtoiletcubicle
  39. 39
    Daz: Experiencing A Slight Gravitas Shortfall

    I remember when trolls had enough talent to seem just serious enough to suck people in. Whatever happened to that?

  40. 40
    disabledtoiletcubicle
  41. 41
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    Daz,

    maybe they weren’t stupid enough to try and simultaneously troll in two different threads?

  42. 42
    Rey Fox

    I remember when trolls had facts and evidence. Wait, no I don’t.

  43. 43
    Chris Cramer

    @disabledtoiletcubicle

    It’s true that gender can lead to different ability distributions. An obvious one would be running speed. No question that the tail of fastest men exceeds the tail of fastest women on that front. (Mind you, the fastest women will still, of course, kick the ass of MOST men!)

    But, if it comes to something like, say, “math ability”, even IF we could separate the impact of culture, upbringing, etc., on the samples so that we could test fairly, how would one define the x axis? With running, it’s pretty easy to come to agreement that, say, number of seconds to run 100 m is a good standard. But what constitutes “ability” in, say, quantum chemistry at the research frontier? To assign value, you’re likely to need to survey precisely those populations whose abilities you then plan to test, which can certainly lead to unpleasant feedback loops where people pick a standard that causes THEM to appear most favorably, and, voila, you can institute a self-perpetuating system of self-satisfaction.

    Finally, since the goal at most scientific conferences (where this discussion started, after all) is not to accomplish the necessarily subjective task of picking “the best”, but presumably to accelerate progress in the field as a whole, doesn’t it make sense to accelerate that progress in part by picking speakers who will motivate not merely through the “power” of their intellects, but also through their ability to connect with those others in the field who come to hear them? Since the distribution of women surely includes many, many, potentially very productive individuals, even IF somehow the fraction of all such women were to be slightly less than that of all such men (which I prefer not to believe, but, as noted above, consider a difficult thing to assess reliably), it would still make sense to choose a speakers list that makes those women feel welcome in the field, and I would argue that an all-male list fails to do that (basing my argument not merely on faith, but also on the multiple zillions of reports from women scientists, engineers, etc., who say PRECISELY that, and whose experiences are the raw data, after all).

  44. 44
    a_ray_in_dilbert_space

    Toilet,
    You are suggesting that we generalize characteristics for the central portion of a probability distribution to an entire population of 3.7 billion individuals. This is the ecological fallacy writ large.

    On the other hand, you have revealed yourself by your performance to be from the portion of the curve that is shallow and gently rising.

  45. 45
    David Marjanović

    Although the average intelligence of men and women may be the same men are over-represented at the extremes because they have a flatter statistical distribution. For every woman at the highest level of ability there are 10 maybe 100 men and the same is true at the low end of the scale too – males are also over-represented among the mentally retarded.

    That is not so.

  46. 46
    Anna Krylov

    Correction: Kress is not a professor and has never been. He has total of 15 publications.

  47. 47
    disabledtoiletcubicle
  48. 48
    Tony! The Queer Shoop

    disabledtoiletcubicle:

    I don’t believe that happens. The most likely explanation is that there is simply a shortage of women of high ability.

    What evidence are you basing this on? If you hold the belief that women are not discouraged from careers in chemistry (or STEM fields in general), or that they aren’t harassed if they do pursue such a career, surely you have some evidence to support this belief. Your “most likely explanation” is an assertion without supporting evidence. If you’re not going to support your assertions, they’re going to be tossed in the toilet.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/06/magazine/why-are-there-still-so-few-women-in-science.html

    Last summer, researchers at Yale published a study proving that physicists, chemists and biologists are likely to view a young male scientist more favorably than a woman with the same qualifications. Presented with identical summaries of the accomplishments of two imaginary applicants, professors at six major research institutions were significantly more willing to offer the man a job. If they did hire the woman, they set her salary, on average, nearly $4,000 lower than the man’s. Surprisingly, female scientists were as biased as their male counterparts.
    The new study goes a long way toward providing hard evidence of a continuing bias against women in the sciences.
    [...]

    As one of the first two women to earn a bachelor of science degree in physics from Yale — I graduated in 1978 — this question concerns me deeply. I attended a rural public school whose few accelerated courses in physics and calculus I wasn’t allowed to take because, as my principal put it, “girls never go on in science and math.” Angry and bored, I began reading about space and time and teaching myself calculus from a book.

    [...]

    Not until 2005, when Lawrence Summers, then president of Harvard, wondered aloud at a lunchtime talk why more women don’t end up holding tenured positions in the hard sciences, did I feel compelled to reopen that footlocker. I have known Summers since my teens, when he judged my high-school debate team, and he has always struck me as an admirer of smart women. When he suggested — among several other pertinent reasons — that innate disparities in scientific and mathematical aptitude at the very highest end of the spectrum might account for the paucity of tenured female faculty, I got the sense that he had asked the question because he genuinely cared about the answer. I was taken aback by his suggestion that the problem might have something to do with biological inequalities between the sexes, but as I read the heated responses to his comments, I realized that even I wasn’t sure why so many women were still giving up on physics and math before completing advanced degrees. I decided to look up my former classmates and professors, review the research on women’s performance in STEM fields and return to Yale to see what, if anything, had changed since I studied there. I wanted to understand why I had walked away from my dream, and why so many other women still walk away from theirs.

    (emphasis mine)
    You ought to try that. You hold a belief that is contradicted by many studies on the subject, and flies in the face of the experiences of many, many women. Instead of clinging to this belief, you’d be better served doing some research to determine whether or not your assumption (your: “most likely explanation”) is true or not. It would be great if you did your best to avoid your obvious bias in the process.

    Unless you’ve already done some research on this matter and are going to provide evidence to support your assertion.

    Shall I hold my breath?

    .

  49. 49
    Tony! The Queer Shoop

    disabledtoiletcubicle:
    Did you click on David’s link or are you just assuming you’re right and he’s wrong? Once again, bring the evidence. If he’s wrong, show your work.
    If you’re looking for a blog where people believe your evidenceless assertions, I assure you, you’ve found the wrong corner of the internet.

  50. 50
    PZ Myers

    35, disabledtoiletcubicle:

    Men and women have different statistical distributions. Although the average intelligence of men and women may be the same men are over-represented at the extremes because they have a flatter statistical distribution. For every woman at the highest level of ability there are 10 maybe 100 men and the same is true at the low end of the scale too – males are also over-represented among the mentally retarded.

    This is false, and it makes no sense at all from a genetic standpoint…but it is the common excuse of sexists everywhere. I’d really like to know where this nonsense started.

    Males have a higher frequency of disabling or damaging variations; part of this is caused by our lack of an X chromosome and consequent hemizygosity, and part of it is that developmental processes that increase strength and short-term advantages necessitate trade-offs that cost us in longevity, and make us a bit more fragile than women. There’s nothing in that formulation, though, that implies that we get some compensatory advantage. Women also get a disadvantage, in that they are more prone to autoimmune diseases, but they don’t get some wonderful side-effect as a prize. The universe and biology are not fair. There’s nothing that says the scales have to be balanced.

    #47, disabledtoiletcubicle:

    Anyway, I’m off to have some anus sex with my 12 18 year old gf.

    OMG, disabledtoiletcubicle! You just made post number 754750 on Pharyngula, and for that, we have a fabulous prize!

    First, you get a congratulatory smack with the banhammer! Isn’t that wonderful?

    Secondly, you get all your comments erased!

    Now run along and have some imaginary anus sex with your imaginary girlfriend to celebrate!

  51. 51
    Travis

    After seeing disabledtoiletcubicle’s comment on the Gamifying sex thread, I am not surprised they quickly found themselves banned. What an unpleasant person.

  52. 52
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    @Travis, 51:

    Yeah, I called JREF to predict dtc’s bannination, but dtc was so loathsome there wasn’t time to set up a reasonable evaluation protocol and now I’m out a million bucks.

  53. 53
    chigau (違う)

    I sent an Alert one minute after the banning.

  54. 54
    ochemgradstudent

    I think some subfields are doing better. In organic chemistry (which I know all you biologists hated, because I have to try to teach it to you), I have seen much more even distributions of speakers by gender. Although, frankly, there is probably still some underrepresentation going on because there is an old boy’s club mentality.

    My department is hiring a new faculty member for the organic division, I didn’t see a single woman come to give a candidate talk (and I am sure many applied given the job market). But I think speakers lists for major conferences in the field like NoS or OMCOS are getting better if not fast enough. You see the same people drawn from the same pool of 50 or so for every major conference, and that needs to change too.

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