Sexism & racism in astronomy

Chanda Prescod-Weinstein has a fantastic essay on Medium up exploring all the various statistics that have been collected on researchers themselves in the field of astronomy:

But ultimately in a world where people who are professional data gatherers and interpreters seem to reject an overwhelming amount of evidence that women (and others) experience systemic and individualized gender discrimination (Tsang 2013; Brinkworth et al. 2016), there is a lot of value in a study that asks the simple question: how do women-lead paper’s citation numbers in astronomy compare with those of men-lead papers? The question is not insignificant, given the way that citation number is used in hiring. The next question is: does this represent a systemic bias against women? If the answer is yes, then it becomes clear that while the non-human objects that we study in astrophysics may be doing their operational calculations objectively, we scientists have some way to go before human structures do the same.

Indeed, Caplar et al. find that papers written by women receive about 10% fewer citations than comparable papers by men. The metaphorical playing field, as we call it in American English, is not level. Since citation numbers are used for hiring, fellowships, and granting, this means that the average woman publishing in astronomy may be starting out with a 10% deficit compared to male applicants for the same programs and jobs. This puts in stark relief the debates about affirmative action — or the rather loaded term “positive discrimination” as they call it in the UK — and whether women should be given extra consideration simply because of their gender. If white men start with a systemic 10% leg up, isn’t it negative discrimination not to affirmatively promote people who are not white men?

Of course, for those of us who work in Women’s Studies and the interdisciplinary field of Science, Technology, and Society Studies (STSS), the result is not surprising. Although one might hardly know it from the increasingly popular “diversity and inclusion” discourse in physics and astronomy, STSS has produced intellectual work for decades that tackles the ways in which gender and sex hierarchies and discrimination are deeply embedded in the human production of scientific knowledge. In such works, it is standard to begin with an intersectional analysis (Harding 2011). As defined in Vivian May’s excellent 2015 book, intersectionality “approaches lived identities as interlaced and systems of oppression as enmeshed and mutually reinforcing: one aspect of identity and/or form of inequality is not treated as separable or subordinate” (May 2015) Intersectionality articulates a critical framework for data analysis: the way sexism and racism (among other forms of discrimination) can combine in the life of a woman of color cannot be disaggregated separately into “the sexist stuff” and “the racist stuff,” and the power associated with one’s social positioning with respect to systemic discrimination matters.

This work compliments the fundamental view that science and society co-construct (Jasanoff and Kim 2015; Subramaniam 2014) and not just in discussions of gender. This is in academic parlance a matter for “Science Studies 101,” but quite absent in mainstream discussions by scientists about science and society. (Cheng 2017) In other words, it is no surprise to those of us in STSS that as we excavate data that reflects women’s experiences in astronomy — and science in general — that we are finding that scientific communities mirror the sexism and racism of the broader society in which they exist. Noting that astronomers like Cassini and Huygens played a role in deploying research programs that helped improve the efficiency of shipping enslaved Africans to the Caribbean and their low-cost work product to Europe, it is evident from this and many other examples, that science can be a tool of the oppressor by aiding those who are engaging in oppressive practices such as slavery. (McClellan, 2010) By the same token, the invention of Pasteurization revolutionized public health and changed lives for the better. Science and society are processes working in tandem with each other, unified not (yet) by a Grand Unified Theory of the Universe but rather by humans.

That bit about science and society co-constructing is of vital importance–while people oppose my work for a large variety of reasons, a misguided invocation of “science” is often one of them. This argument fails to comprehend that scientific analysis may neglect a subject because the scientists themselves neglect the subject, to say nothing of how any work in any field may also be subject to interference from outside scientific communities. With respects to gender variance specifically, it also ignores the fact that we have data these days, and that a reasonable analysis ought to account for it.

-Shiv

 

Signal boosting: WeCopwatch

The Establishment has an interview with the creators of WeCopwatch, a group that trails police officers and records their activities during arrests so as to corroborate allegations of police brutality. (emphasis mine)

The WeCopwatch members spotlighted in the documentary — Kevin Moore, David Whitt, and Ramsey Orta — have stepped behind the lens to record police brutality in New York, Baltimore, and St. Louis.

In addition to revealing the importance of exposing abuse, the documentary shines a light on the aftermath of such activism. Orta’s video of Eric Garner’s last words-turned-mantra, “I can’t breathe,” as he died in a headlock on a sidewalk in Staten Island went viral, prompting him to take several interviews. Copwatch reveals this made him a target for the police, who surveilled him until he was brought up on charges. Orta was eventually arrested and found with a gun, and later charged with second-degree criminal possession. Ramsey, too, was arrested, on gun charges and for domestic violence; he maintains his innocence on the latter, and says he’s been harassed by the police since filming Garner’s death.

Copwatch points out that this might be the “cost” that members of the grassroots organization face as they challenge a broken system set up to fail them at every turn.

The film, which just had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, has plans for more festival appearances in the U.S. and Europe in the coming weeks, and is currently pursuing digital and theatrical distribution. I spoke with director Camilla Hall about police brutality against African Americans, knowing your rights, and the process of making her crucial film.

Read more here.
-Shiv

No, Washington Post–it’s not an “unusual fixation.” It’s called racism, and it’s quite common.

Let’s play a game called “edit out the whitewashing in this Washington Post article:”

Khalid Jabara was worried.

Last year, his mother had been jogging through the family’s quiet Tulsa neighborhood when she was nearly killed in a vicious hit-and-run. Police quickly arrested Vernon Majors, who, according to a police report, confessed to the crime and even offered a motive, calling the Jabaras “filthy Lebanese.”

On May 25 of this year, however, Majors bonded out of jail.

That’s when he returned home — right next to the Jabaras.

Must be some of that “tough on crime” policy to let loose an attempted murderer.

On Friday, Khalid learned that his next-door neighbor, the man accused of harassing his family and attacking his mother, was now armed.

Not “attacking.” Attempting to murder. Let’s not beat about the bush here.

“Khalid called the police stating this man had a gun and that he was scared for what might happen,” his sister, Victoria Jabara Williams, wrote on Facebook. “The police came and told him there was nothing to be done.”

Police useless until there’s a body? Say it ain’t so.

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Internet proves how not racist it is by hurling racist abuse on social media

Content Notice: Virulent racism.

Brad Wall, the Conservative Premier of Saskatchewan, is normally a slime ball.

He still is, generally, but when he asked social media commentators to tone down their racist content following a confrontation that left an Indigenous man dead, the internet decided the best way to prove how not racist it was was to up the ante on anti-Native racism:

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Texas needs a reminder on the definition of insanity

Apparently not convinced from their many defeats in the many levels of court, Texas lawmakers have vowed to pull a North Carolina come their next session in January, further demonstrating my belief that authoritarians must receive vaccines to immunize them against irony:

GOP state Rep. Matt Shaheen told The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, for a story published Sunday, that he plans to introduce a bill that would prohibit cities, counties and school districts from allowing transgender people to use restrooms based on their gender identity.

“We’re taking that ability away,” Shaheen said. “We should leave that power where it should reside, at the state and federal level. I think this is such a silly topic. At the end of the day, this is about common sense and decency.”

No it’s fucking not, Shaheen. Common sense and decency would be actually doing something useful with your time, and instead you are perpetuating a violent lobby that makes it impossible to exist while trans. It’s a cultural genocide. To say it is “indecent” would be putting it lightly.

Shaheen is joined by another witless cocksplat, Bill Zedler

GOP Rep. Bill Zedler, who once tried to ban LGBT resource centers on state university campuses, told the Star-Telegramthat the issue of trans restroom use “raises concerns mainly because anytime you want to make it where someone who self-identifies as a man … can now go into the woman’s restroom, I believe it puts small children at risk as well as … inconveniencing 99, 98 percent of the population so a very small percent of the population can supposedly feel comfortable.”

They’re not even fucking trying to understand at this point.

Jesus fucking christ. I inconvenience you by existing? Fuck off, you predatory sacks of shit.

-Shiv

Edmonton Police: As useless as tits on a nun

On today’s issue of “Dispelling the Myth that Racism Isn’t a Thing in Canada,” we have an incident where I take back everything good I have said of the Edmonton Police Service.

In yet another unbelievably straightforward case of crime, Canadian law enforcement fucks it up. An Edmonton cyclist, who had the audacity to stop at a red light, was honked at by a pair of white folks in a pick-up truck, who yelled at him to get off the road–this despite Albertan traffic laws dictating that the cylist’s bicycle is the type that must be on the road and not on the sidewalk. But we get a picture of what the actual problem was–not merely that this person committed the unthinkable crime of “using a bicycle in accordance with the laws that govern both him and his equipment,” but rather that this person had dark skin.

Content Notice: Virulent racism.

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