So… Slavery Did Not Exist?

There’s this thing that’s been in the news lately. It’s actually quite an interesting bit of awful, and exactly the kind of thing we would normally discuss on FtB: an educator who abhors asserting facts because some people refuse to admit the truth of those facts. Now, the right wing loves to claim that this is a common left wing practice, routinely employed to hide facts supportive of conservative opinions, religions, or ideologies. (For our purposes in this post, we’ll follow the Fox News formula and accept arguendo that anyone working in the public schools is a “lefty”.) I don’t particularly see that, and more telling still, the examples that Fox News blowhards tend to cite don’t actually show that when one returns to original sources. If this really were happening all the time, one would think that the conservatives opposing the practice could come up with at least one good example. In these cases, then, the absence of evidence is waggling its eyebrows suggestively and mouthing, “Hey! Look over there!”

But that doesn’t mean that ignoring fact in favor of opinion or “belief” is something of which we on the left are  never guilty. Just recently, the news has gotten hold of a story about a principal in Boca Raton, Florida, where many of the large contributors to local taxes are Jewish. What was the story you ask, as if you didn’t both already know?

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A lack of ability in the upper echelons

PZ has frequently written about how sexism affects the number of women taking degrees in certain fields, and the smaller percentage of degree takers who go on to the next level of academic activity (a higher degree, a research fellowship, a teaching position, etc.). While you inevitably have a large number of men insisting that meritocracy has everything to do with this, on the face of it such hypotheses are very hard to justify. After all, if women are graduating with the same degrees and the same grades, why shouldn’t the same percentage be welcomed into the next stage of professional development. One popular theory has been, and continues to be, the idea that men have more variability – the bell curve of merit is flatter for men than for women, with larger numbers of truly incompetent and large numbers of genius men compared to incompetent and genius women. PZ has been tackling this myth for a long time.

And yet, the disparity exists. So it’s worth taking the time to attack the problem when another report comes out to verify its persistence. That Pharyngula post I linked showed that the disparity in entering science professions is cultural rather than genetic (in large part by showing that the disparity is stable and reproducibly consistent over time, institution, and location within a country, but varies widely when crossing over a border into a different country). So cultural factors are driving this … but which cultural factors?

It can’t be said enough that you can’t predict the psychology or motivations or life circumstances of a single individual from aggregate data, but quantitative research can still be informative. With all that in mind, I bring up the most recent bit of research to tackle one aspect of the enduring myth that men deserve their science positions and women just … don’t. It comes from ScienceMag.org. Study investigator Lauren Aycock and her peers gave a questionaire about sexualization and sexual harassment in academic spaces to 455 undergraduate women physics students. 74.3% (338/455)
reported behaviors that form core aspects of sexual harassment. THREE IN FOUR.

Now, it must be said that for something to meet the definition and to have the effects we normally describe as sexual harassment the behavior must repeat. The authors do not gloss over this, but instead make a strong case that most if not quite all of these 338 respondents are experiencing sexual harassment as defined in the case law surrounding Title IX. Read the entire journal article yourself and you will understand just how serious and compelling this research is – far more serious and compelling, and far different qualitatively, than asking students if anyone has ever called them pretty. I bring this up because many sexist jerks use the fact that the full effects of sexual harassment cannot be understood without putting the rare assaults in the contest of quotidian sexualizing and sexist behaviors. When a single report addresses both, as they are justified in doing and likely to do, the defenders of the harassing status quo will strip individual sexualizing comments from the context of harassment and insist that they didn’t know it was wrong to compliment women on their appearances. The work from Aycock, et. al. is exactly of the kind and quality we need to keep up the pressure on institutions to create academic, research, and professional pipelines open to all qualified persons.

I am pleased to note that the publishers of the Aycock, et. al. paper (Physical Review: Physics Education Research) publish an editorial comment as well. That comment is written by a woman scientist at Michigan State University, Julie Libarkin. While I mention her name merely because she deserves credit for her writing and her advocacy, I mention her affiliation because MSU is where I majored in physics … for a year and a half. Although the reasons for leaving MSU were complicated and had a lot to do with my personal history that included abuse experienced years before college, it also had quite a lot to do with the atmosphere of sexism and general gender rigidity that made it difficult for me as a closeted trans* woman to find community or a sense of belonging. Aycock’s paper itself addresses sense of belonging and imposter syndrome as important factors in why people discontinue work – either in the middle of a degree, as I did, or when considering whether or not to take the next step after completing a degree or fellowship.

I’m glad to know that Libarkin is at MSU today and using her voice for the betterment of physics education, but the problem has persisted for too long already. Too many people that might once have chosen to be scientists made other choices because of changeable conditions of cultural climate.

And that’s why we have to ask if the people at the top of the science education pyramid, the tenured professors, the department chairs, the university presidents, actually have the ability to lead. When I reported harassment, lack of belonging, and imposter syndrome at MSU, I was sent to student counseling, as if my psychology was the only problem. And yes, while there I talked about other things, things that made me uniquely vulnerable. I was diagnosed with depression (not for the first time) and with PTSD (also not for the first time). But here’s the thing: the presence of those things made it less likely that I would be able to overcome the hostile cultural climate at MSU, but they did not render the cultural climate magically irrelevant. It’s possible that even a wounded child could, with the right support, start and finish university in one go. Sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, and ableism combined to make what I told the MSU physics department meaningless. As affected as I am and was and have been by mental illness, I’m not without insight into the human condition or the ability to express it.

And so I wonder, do the people we place in positions of academic power really have upper-echelon ability to lead an educational department? Let me answer that question with another question: Do we graduate fewer people and do more of the people we graduate avoid certain sciences, certain departments because of ongoing oppression? I think that answer is clearly yes. It was yes when I left MSU and Aycock, et. al. make a convincing case that the same is true today. I know MSU had this information in 1990 – I know because I told them. But it’s certain that they had this information decades before that. And if I didn’t personally inform professors or ombuds in other universities around the world, I don’t doubt that they, too, had the same information available on roughly the same timeframe. In fact, many disciplines have done a better job rooting out gender bias than physics and some other sciences have.

And so the truth is this: while we’ve disproved the idea that women are underrepresented in science faculties because women are simply underrepresented in the upper ranks of ability, I believe that the evidence is also sufficient to prove that women are underrepresented in physics programs and faculties in significant part because physics department chairs are underrepresented in the upper ranks of educational ability.

Someone needs to start kicking out the people who have been tolerating the harassment of 3/8ths of humanity in the hope that somehow we’ll get better science from 4/8ths.

PZ’s Pull Quote Leaves Me Cold: Racism, Sexism, & the Adjunct Crisis

PZ, as is his wont, has a post up about higher ed jobs and the outsourcing to adjuncts and guest lecturers of work that used to be done by the professoriate. It’s a good problem to highlight, but the article he quotes leaves me cold:

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Presented Without Comment: “I Thought I Was Going To Die”

Content Note for, like, almost everything.

And to be clear, it’s not that I don’t want to comment, it’s simply that i don’t know what to say about setting someone’s hair on fire:

A 13-year-old girl is recovering after a classmate set her hair on fire, while other kids looked on laughing.

The incident happened while she was waiting at a bus stop, two blocks from the Gompers School, last Tuesday. Eighth-grader Nevaeh Robinson says a fellow classmate used a lighter to set her hair on fire.

“When it happened, I panicked real fast, because I thought I was going to die because it burned my hair so fast,” she said.

Don’t think that everything is okay except for this one minor “lighting another kid on fire” incident either:

Two years ago, a classmate broke Nevaeh’s thumb at another school.

I’ll let Nevaeh’s mom say a few words:

Robinson wants to see the bully kicked out of school.

“I want expulsion if you’re setting kids on fire,” said Robinson.

Ya think?

 

 

Girls Ruin Everything

The Guardian is telling me that Tennessee has given us yet another example for our ongoing examination of school dress codes and the sexism and racism found therein.

The evidence is, of course, subtle, but for those with a devil-worshipping, anti-christian, misandric bias, you can probably find reasons to believe there is a bit of sexism in the statements of Jared Hensley, athletic director of Soddy-Daisy High School:

I know, boys, you’re thinking, ‘I don’t understand why, it’s not fair, athletic shorts go past your knees’ … If you really want someone to blame, blame the girls. Because they pretty much ruin everything,” said Hensley. “They ruin the dress code, they ruin … well, ask Adam. Look at Eve. That’s really all you really gotta get to, OK. You can really go back to the beginning of time. So, it’ll be like that the rest of your life. Get used to it, keep your mouth shut, suck it up [and] follow the rule.

The good news, if you can call it that, is that the Guardian also reports that the sexist educator is now on administrative leave. Maybe also, too, we’ll find certain other individuals that have gotten media attention for their sexist, misogynist behaviors will also, too find themselves officially not working sometime soon!


There’s a video of it, in case you want to watch:

Unclear on the Concept: No-Platforming at Stanford and the Right Wing

Some time back clinically-diagnosed dumbfuck Charles Murray was invited to participate in a media program at Stanford known as Cardinal Conversations. Lefty folks, mostly students, at Stanford organized a “Take Back the Mic” rally with counter-programming.

Naturally, Niall Fergusson, a member of Stanford’s Hoover Institute, prominent Republican and eminent jerkface, and a small group of conservative students responded with the typical concern for free speech that anyone might have when their preferred speaker is getting campus support for their speech while others say different stuff nearby. The Stanford Daily has the low-down on all this, including this particularly freedom-loving quote:

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The Genius Excuse

Correction Below.

Since we’re talking about Watson again, I thought I’d recommend a post on BitchMedia about how genius is used as an excuse for sin in the arts (thought the article focuses on film specifically). Despite the seeming differences in the scientific enterprise and the artistic enterprise, the observations in that piece seem quite relevant to how our society treats Michael Shermer, James Watson, and Inder Verma.

Consider this:

Auteur theory, originating in French film criticism, credits the director with being the chief creative force behind a production—that is, the director is the “author.” Given that film, with its expansive casts and crews, is one of the most collaborative art forms ever to have existed, the myth of a singular genius seems exceptionally flawed to begin with. But beyond the history of directors like Terrence Malick, Woody Allen, and many more using their marketable auteur status as a “business model of reflexive adoration,” auteur worship both fosters and excuses a culture of toxic masculinity. The auteur’s time-honored method of “provoking” acting out of women through surprise, fear, and trickery—though male actors have never been immune, either— is inherently abusive. Quentin Tarantino, Lars Von Trier, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, and David O. Russell, among others, have been accused of different degrees of this, but the resulting suffering of their muses is imagined by a fawning fanbase as “creative differences,” rather than as misogyny and as uncompromising vision rather than violence.

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No, It’s Not Always A Sexual Predator

So, Michigan State’s investigation into how in the world could an employee have sexually abused athletes for multiple decades? turned up a not-so-stunning fact. Abuser Larry Nassar’s one-time supervisor and later dean of the university for 15 fucking years, a man named William Strampel, turns out to be a rape-y jerk. Multiple people have come forward to tell their stories of sexual harassment in the workplace, naming Strampel as a perp. Despite how hard these cases are to criminally prosecute, the evidence is, in fact, good enough that a local District Attorney has filed charges. In this case, the charges are for “forcible sexual contact”.

Gee, the man ultimately responsible for the failure to discipline (read: fire and turn over evidence to the cops) an abusive employee and to protect not-yet-adult athletes, the man who ignored (or, I suppose, downplayed to insignificance) clear evidence of sexual abuse … that man is guilty of sexualizing the workplace and probably guilty of criminal sexual conduct?

“Big surprise,” I can hear you thinking. But actually, yes. Yes it is a surprise.

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What is Glorification Anyway? Shannon Watkins Seems Unclear on a few Concepts

Wonkette brought my attention to an essay published by the James G Martin Center for Academic Renewal. It was written by Shannon Watkins and has a whole bunch of things to say about how awful, awful, awful campus feminism is. Then it adds a few things about how hopeful it is that the situation is changing and that anti-feminist groups are on the rise. Yippee! The article itself can be found here. It is intriguingly titled “Campus Feminism: The Real War On Women.”

Stunningly, it fails to grasp the basic idea behind the labeling of “The War on Women”, which was that when certain policies are adopted – policies like instituting (or maintaining) abstinence-only sex “education” – more women die. If someone is advocating for policies that cause increased deaths (or that correlate with increased deaths and have at least a plausible mechanism for causation), labeling that advocacy part of a War on Women is metaphorical but has a reasonable underlying comparison between advocating the policy and promulgating a war: deaths result. However Watkins seems impervious to such points and presents no evidence that more women die when campus women’s and/or feminist centers are permitted to flourish or that more women die in a given jurisdiction when policies favored by those centers are enacted.

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Who Does He Think He Is? Harvey Weinstein?

Because I write a blog, I can subject you to any damn fool thing I want, and they only thing either of you can do, my readers, is to stop reading. But then who suffers, huh? Huh?

And thus, while strung out on painkillers trying to find the way to finish the rest of my move today, I am taking the opportunity to write for you about a story that is years old, and not one like the Tuskeegee Experiments, which might occasionally still have up-to-the-minute relevance, or the Tuskegee Airmen, who were fortunate, indeed, to be part of a segregated air force unit so they didn’t have to fight side-by-side with Gungans. (I’m telling you, it was a pretty close call, there.) No, it doesn’t even have anything to do with slavery.

It’s just not that important. And yet, it is the very quotidian nature of it that stuck with me. I keep thinking every so often that I should write about it, then don’t because it’s never important enough. Well, today, strung out on a bit less than the prescribed dose of my prescription painkiller, so obviously not competent to consent to keyboard, there is nothing to stop me. Today is the day you get to hear me talk about the everyday horror that is vagina.

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