In case you were wondering why Quillette is a hacky web site


They ran an article titled Activists Must Stop Harassing Scientists. That made me wonder what they’re complaining about: animal rights activists setting fire to labs? Anti-vaxxers deluging immunologists with abusive emails? Republicans misrepresenting climatology and trying to shut down research?

Nope, none of the above. They are concerned that women complaining about sexual harassment are driving “good” men out of scientific fields. Their evidence: two anecdotal complaints. The first is from an anonymous Australian astrophysicist who left his native country for a position in China, because of the “political climate in Australian universities”.

It’s very hard to find a tenured job in astronomy if you don’t belong to a protected group (alas, I am a white hetero Christian male, bad luck!) and/or you don’t do enough visible activism (or at least enough virtue signaling) for a number of green-left issues. In China, it’s highly likely that Chinese astronomers are subject to the same political interference from the Communist Party, but at least a foreigner like me is left alone, and I can do astronomy in peace, without wasting my time with diversity initiatives. And I see first hand that astronomy jobs are still given to the best candidates regardless of gender, ethnic origin, etc. Unlike my Australian boss, my current Chinese boss has never berated me for not being socialist enough.

Huh. Here’s a chart of the percentage of women in the International Astronomical Union, by country.

I don’t see evidence of discrimination against males, Christian, white, hetero or otherwise in Australia, or in China. Rather, there seems to be a strong bias against women. I wonder why that is?

If you care about the science or your specific field, abandoning diversity initiatives would seem to be likely to drive more good women out of the field than good men. If you actually cared about merit, I would think you’d want to work to make sure the best people had opportunities.

He also complained that he had to write a diversity statement. It is routine that researchers have to justify their contributions to university administrations — you have to write a summary of your research, your teaching, and committee work and outreach. This is utterly normal. As he describes it below, the diversity statement is simply more of the same.

There are many levels of discrimination. At one level, you have an increasing number of jobs, fellowships and grants officially reserved for women and “first nation” people. At another level, for jobs open to white males, there will be special clauses in the application to make sure the candidates are sufficiently woke. For example, you’re required to write a “diversity statement”—which is nothing more than a pledge of allegiance—to illustrate how you have shown “leadership” when it comes to diversity issues in your previous jobs, your teaching and your research (organizing workshops, writing reports, giving talks for women-only audiences, etc.)

It’s not a “pledge of allegiance” to state how you have addressed diversity concerns in your work. It is not oppressive to be asked how you’re trying to correct a bias in your field. But I guess some snowflakes are so outraged at having to write a paragraph about that that they’ll pack up, leave their homes, and move to a country where their native language isn’t routinely spoken, rather than face up to real problems in scientific recruitment.

Their second example of the oppressive nature of Leftist academics is…Alessandro Strumia. Strumia is the guy who gave a talk at CERN in which he invented his own citation metric which conveniently “proved” that women were less productive in physics than men, and also even more conveniently “proved” that a woman who got a job that he applied for was inferior to Alessandro Strumia, as if the job application process could be fairly reduced to performance on a single metric. His arguments were all refuted by the physics community, exposing what a shallow, bigoted thinker he is. All you need to know is that Strumia blamed “cultural marxism” for sexist discrimination, and claimed that differences in physics ability were forged by “human biology practiced as in the plains of Africa thousands of years ago” (his grasp of English grammar is rivaled only by his understanding of biology).

(You can see all of his slides online. They do him no favors.)

Quillette predictably claims that he is the victim of…wait for it…a witch-hunt, a word that automatically throws a red flag on the play. But then, being published in Quillette is itself a big red flag.

Comments

  1. Matt G says

    Will no one think of the bigots?? It’s really hard for them these days, so a little empathy is in order.

  2. erichoug says

    God, I hate seeing these sort of people. Once these guys put on the “cape of victim-hood” it just never ends with them.

    If you read their manifesto’s, there seems to be a few common threads.

    1) Women are just desperate to get pregnant so they can “trap” a guy who then exists only to provide for the women and his unwanted child. Several of them talk endlessly about women digging used condoms out of the trash to impregnate themselves after their one night stand has left. Reality would beg to differ.

    2) Any time a woman gets hired for a job, instead of a man, it is entirely because of prejudice against men. It has nothing to do with here having a better resume, qualifications or not coming off like a total psychopath in the interview, she was just hired because she was a woman. Reality would beg to differ.

    3) The biggest problem with rape/sexual assault is all the faked claims that women file to “get back at” a man who has pissed them off. Reality would beg to differ.

    These guys just get more and more pathetic as time goes by.

  3. chigau (違う) says

    I wonder if the anonymous Australian astrophysicist speaks or reads any Chinese.
    If not, it’s pretty much certain that he doesn’t have a clue what the hiring practices are.

  4. says

    I scrolled to the end of the article, and the last sentence was:

    One last irony of this story: Galileo was once a professor at the University of Pisa.

    Wow, that’s supposed to be a stinger? What a godawful essayist.

  5. hillaryrettig says

    Hi PJ – I used to post here a few years back then dropped away, but have been rereading for several months. You’re still as great as ever! I’m commenting now because I have a niece who is an astro major and so I particularly appreciated this post and will send it to her.

  6. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    Matt G., try as I might to see things from the bigot’s point of view, my head just won’t fit up my arse.

  7. zetopan says

    If you read the comments it is apparent that many of the commenters are rather rabid reich wingers, and AGW denialism is also obviously quite rampant. Scientific illiterates raging about bad science tends to be the norm for that crowd. One bozo even brags that he has a BS so that makes him a qualified scientist to dispute anything he doesn’t like about science. They scream that Marxists and
    feminists are taking over! Professional losers are always claiming to be the poor victim.

  8. cartomancer says

    I wonder what you’d find if you asked actual Marxist academics how easy they have found it to get jobs in academia in the US…

  9. says

    I wish they’d called it “cultural stalinism” instead. Because I think Marx was probably too hard for them to understand; they’d have caught on to Stalin pretty fast. I know it’s a deceptive/lazy/wrong and disparaging term (because “political correctness” is wearing out) but I can still wish that the opposition used language more honestly, can’t I?

  10. unclefrogy says

    @10
    if they did that they probably would not long be the opposition.
    uncle frogy

  11. Pablo Campos says

    Quillete is a absurd right-wing rag of a site. What annoys me is how some people claim it’s a centrist or moderate right-wing free speech heaven. No it’s not. Most people who read or comment on articles are deranged right-ringers. I notice that centrists and right-wing scholars and “public intellectuals” tend to use this site to try to justify why they’re part of political parties or support politicians and policies that are openly anti-science, anti-reality and anti-intellectual. Since conservative/classical liberal/whatever the fuck you call yourself academics know that their support of anti-intellectual politics is based on a very unstable foundation they target the “SJW/PC/Cultural Marxists” boogeyman for a attempt to justify and say “See! The left is worse than the Right because they bully for diversity so it’s ok that I ignore and support climate science denialists, evolution deniers, those that want to cut education funding, those that invented alternative facts…” The gist is that these people are saying bullshit to justify believing in bullshit and to support others that say bullshit.

  12. Pablo Campos says

    Excuse my spelling error. I meant “Right-Winger” not “Right-ringer”. My phone is acting stupid so yeah.

  13. says

    I don’t care about this Australian guy I assume that he is wrong, but I expect @pzmyers to be better than typical journalist.

    How exactly the table pz provided disproves the notion that (1) recently women have preferential treatment and that (2) diversity campaigns at australian universities take too much time and require too much effort?

    (1) If you reserve minuscule number of spots for women it will not be effective, if you reserve high percentage, there will be men who were as well qualified as women counterparts that will be denied a position because of gender (which may be worth it it is not the point to discuss here). Even if campaign is well intended, it may be designed or implemented poorly. If there would be law that 50% of researchers has to be female, in some places you would have to hire only females for many years before the current numbers would catch up (not that it happen anywhere is just an example that it is possible to overdo it).

    So using data of current membership in the society with some members being there 30-40 years is problematic at best if you assume that low percentage of females is an indication of current bias. The percentage of females among currently hired would be better but not enough if we don’t know what are the numbers of applicants for professor positions, numbers of grad students and such. Maybe the discrimination happens at much lower level and is partially reversed higher up showing signs of “positive discrimination towards women”.
    The data is for the 1997-2009 period and unlike many countries that stagnate there, Australia sees whooping increase from 7.9 to 15.3. So that suggests that there is a progress and low overall numbers may be accompanied with reverse situation among new members?

    So the table provided by pz is not enough for the statement: “I don’t see evidence of discrimination against males, Christian, white, hetero or otherwise in Australia, or in China. Rather, there seems to be a strong bias against women. I wonder why that is?”

    I know it is tempting to use DATA to pwn bigots, but using data poorly makes us less trustworthy

    (2) Even if there is a bias against women, it is still possible that in an effort to help the situation some administrators invent stupid and time wasting procedures that are well meant but ineffective and time consuming. Maybe on US universities it is >>writing a paragraph about […] how you’re trying to correct a bias in your field” and maybe on australian universities it grew out of proportion takes too much time and is valued too high?
    In my country I never heard about such diversity essays, but we don’t really have minorities. Everyone assumes everyone is trying to avoid bias and there are some projects/grants/scholarships designed for women and some provisions for maternity leave. I can’t say if it is a good system or not, it is just completely different.

    I think that if the australian guy follows Strumia than it is risky to treat his complaints seriously. However I think that pz hurts his case in the first part drawing unconvincing conclusions from not really relevant data.

  14. gijoel says

    It’s amazing how people who claim they’re a victim of witch-hunts would probably have been the ones organizing said events if they had been born a few centuries ago.

  15. longdog says

    I would be deeply interested in Myers’ response to Gorzki’s criticisms of the provided table.

  16. chrislawson says

    Nobody should need an explanation of that table, but since some people have asked for one, here goes…

    Women make up 15.3% of Australian IAU members. If there were no bias (the null hypothesis), then ~50% would be the expected proportion. This discrepancy could be explained by fluky sampling if the sample was low. The lowest that could get approximately that proportion would be 1 woman out of 6 IAU members — but we know from the table that there are 262 Australian IAU members. Which means we can calculate a p-value for a simple proportion. Quick number crunch: 40 women out of 262 IAU members → z=-11.53 → p~10^-28.

    This p-value is so small that there is no standard SI prefix for orders of magnitude that negative. Effectively there is zero chance that there is no bias against women becoming IAU members.

    Stats can’t identify the source or sources of course, but it indicates there are undeniably biases present. This is no different to how we look at the universe and see matter>>>antimatter and know that some process biased the proportion. Our understanding of the bias against antimatter is a matter of great uncertainty, debate, and ongoing research of course. Conversely we have a very good understanding of many processes that bias against women in science and even more importantly we have overwhelming evidence that the women-are-not-suited hypothesis is a complete load of bulldust.

    The fact that the female proportion of IAU members is increasing steadily in all countries is further evidence that the bias against women is NOT due to any innate difference in ability.

    For someone to look at a country that has <16% women in his field and perceive this as evidence of bias TOWARDS women is bad enough. For that person to use their Vulcan logic to move to a country which has almost exactly the same proportion of women in the IAU (15.4% vs. 15.3% — seriously!) is overwhelming evidence of motivated reasoning. Basically this anonymous astrophysicist hates the idea of diversity and moved to another country just to get out of the occasional education session on diversity (a 45-min online course+quiz every couple of years if my experience in Australian universities is any indication).

    As someone has already pointed out, there is a sort-of tenure system in Australia but in name only. It works nothing like the US system and gives the tenured academic no guarantee of permanent employment. And China doesn’t even have a tenure system in name. The anonymity plus the clear lack of understanding of tenure plus the loopy “logic” of moving to a country with the same proportion of female IAU members makes me question the whole story.

  17. chrislawson says

    Also worth noting: the “activists harassing scientists” in this case are…scientists.

  18. Derek Vandivere says

    And the one woman scientist the article names (at least the only one I saw) misspells Marie Curie’s name.

    I really like to daydream about my friend who’s a researcher at CERN and how far up Strumia’s butt her foot would have been in that presentation he gave.

  19. longdog says

    @chrislawson, it’s pretty obvious 50% is the null hypothesis value. I took Gorzki’s criticism to be far more about using the table’s numbers to assess the present situation. That’s arguably not a valid approach, because the values include Union members who have been in their position for any given amount of time. If anything I’d say it’s far more a representation of past practices. I mean, to demonstrate, depending on intake by year they could conceivably recruit 100% women from ’97 onwards and still get these results.

  20. jrkrideau says

    What Australian?

    The article does not say that he is “native” Australian. For all we can tell he just moved back to China after a relatively successful career in Australia. He could be from the USA or anywhere in the world.

    It seems to me that from a stats/numbers point of view we need the numbers for Ph.D students, new grads and maybe new hires over, let’s say, the last 5 years.

    Galileo was once a professor at the University of Pisa.
    And one or two other universities, IIRC. I believe that his main responsibility was teaching astrology to the medical students.

  21. says

    if you reserve high percentage, there will be men who were as well qualified as women counterparts that will be denied a position because of gender

    So, when a man and a woman are equally qualified, the job should go to the man?
    Because that’s what you’re saying. Also, cry me a river.
    Signed, all the women who have seen mediocre dudes get given better grades and evalutations and who were hired even when there were women with much harder earned qualifications.

  22. says

    1) If you reserve minuscule number of spots for women it will not be effective, if you reserve high percentage, there will be men who were as well qualified as women counterparts that will be denied a position because of gender (which may be worth it it is not the point to discuss here). Even if campaign is well intended, it may be designed or implemented poorly. If there would be law that 50% of researchers has to be female, in some places you would have to hire only females for many years before the current numbers would catch up (not that it happen anywhere is just an example that it is possible to overdo it).

    Oh, I am sick to the death of this stupid argument.

    I say let’s do it! Let’s SERIOUSLY stop hiring men in male dominated fields until there is 50/50 representation of women and men in the field. Let’s stop blathering on and on endlessly about pipeline problems and lack of interest, shall we?

    You know, people don’t usually pick their jobs just based on what they want to do. It’s a combination of 1.) what’s needed, 2.) what they can do, and 3.) what they can be hired to do. If they did, we’d probably have a whole lot more artists and happy people walking around than we do.

    What would you say to little Sally who wants to grow up to be a combat soldier? Mmmm?

    Yeah, nice idea Sally, but pick something else.

    So, I say let’s give ourselves a wee bit of time to prepare and get the message out. What do you think? 5 years enough? Let’s tell all the boys that they can’t go into astronomy, tech, or physics because there’s a hiring freeze until the genders (oooh and races, let’s do that too) balance out. We can even do some grandfathering to ease the transition – we wouldn’t want to lose experience and intellectual ground, after all.

    Timmy, astronomy is a locked field right now but it’s a GREAT hobby for enrichment. Have a back up plan, is my advice.

    But, let’s also flip it around for women dominated industries – lest you think I’m being unfair. Freeze the hiring on women until K-12 education balances out or… even better ….child care!

    Yeah!

    But, but, but…what if there aren’t enough men in the pipeline for those careers? They don’t make enough and men don’t like them.

    Well, capitalism ensures me that in the face of lack of supply and overwhelming demand, prices go up. Let’s use that. If men don’t want to go into child care because the wages are low and the conditions are awful, then it’s time to break out economic incentives, wouldn’t you say? After all, don’t we go on and on and on about how the children are the MOST important? Let’s do that. Let’s start improving conditions in those areas until the men flock to them. Then we can balance it out again.

    In case you think I’m kidding, I’m not really.

    I think it would overall improve society (after some chaos) because then jobs wouldn’t pay according to women’s work or men’s work – they would pay and have status according to what the society keeps saying it values but never really acts upon. Maybe then we wouldn’t have some CEO or athlete who makes more in a year than the entire salary budget of some school districts – not to say anything about adding up all the wages for child care workers. It might be the first coherent step we can take towards making income disparity much, much narrower and letting people do the things that we always preach are actually important and meaningful in our society.

    Women and minorities have been having our expectations lowered for centuries. It’s time to be unapologetically unfair until we catch up. And it just might do everyone some actual good.

  23. chrislawson says

    longdog@17–

    You can’t really believe that can you? Yes, possibly Gorzki was positing that the null hypothesis should be “the increase in women members of the IAU is because Australia has a rule that only women will be given new jobs in astronomy”, but surely you can see that this is a ridiculous null hypothesis.

    First of all, the best way to test it would be to Google Australia’s academic recruiting practices rather than squawk about the stats. Secondly, if Gorzki is seriously considering this as a hypothesis, then he should be the one doing the reading rather than getting belligerent about insisting that PZ do it. Thirdly, the link PZ gave to the IAU membership is a whole paper on women in astronomy and if you go read that paper you will find plenty of data pertinent to Gorzki’s question. Fourthly, I gave information from my own experience working in Australian universities that the diversity training requirements are actually pretty trivial (less than an hour online every 2-3 years).

    Gorzki could have read the linked paper or done a preliminary Google (hint — there have been a small number of STEM academic positions advertised for women only in Australian universities; we’re talking about literally a handful of positions at Melbourne and Adelaide universities, and these positions were only offered because the universities were tying to get their numbers up from a terrible 17% female participation rate; oh, and the applicants still needed to be suitably qualified of course).

    But why do that when he could whine about how unprofessional it was that PZ didn’t personally investigate and rebut every possible unrealistic hypothesis that could explain those IAU numbers? I’m going to take a wild guess and imagine that even if PZ had answered Gorzki’s particular questions in the OP, he would have just come up with some other ridiculous assertions.

    (Finally, I think this whole story sounds dodgy. Apart from the reasons detailed already I noticed that our anonymous Australian astronomer uses a lot of American concepts and phrases. We don’t have a US-style tenure system; the term “first nations” is a US/Canada construction almost never used in Australia, and we have never had a pledge of allegiance. Also, it seems odd to insist on anonymity yet give enough information that the source could probably be identified with some trivial searching; there can’t be too many Australian academic astrophysicists who moved to China in recent times. That and the source’s telltale whine about being a poor oppressed “white hetero Christian male”.)

  24. chris61 says

    @chrislawson

    (Finally, I think this whole story sounds dodgy. Apart from the reasons detailed already I noticed that our anonymous Australian astronomer uses a lot of American concepts and phrases. We don’t have a US-style tenure system; the term “first nations” is a US/Canada construction almost never used in Australia, and we have never had a pledge of allegiance.

    OTOH the story was originally posted in a French language journal and subsequently translated. Some of the American/Canadian phrases may have arisen from that.

  25. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    @15: You’re missing the point, and others have made good responses, but let me chime in. PZ wasn’t saying “Look, we’ve proven bias”. He’s showing that to allege male bias, with the kind of blase and extreme “If you’re a man you don’t get a job anymore”, when the industry is overwhelmingly male, is just laughable. It’s clearly false.

    But! Maybe, just maybe, men are so much more competent than women, by nature, that we should expect even more male overrepresentation!

    In other words, an overtly sexist argument.

    That’s what underlies a ton of opposition to anti-discrimination law and activism. The people involved really do think, whether they want to admit it or not, that the present hierarchies are natural and good, and that really the women and the blacks are actually just worse. What actually threatens meritocracy is the attempt to let those people in.

    Which leads us to @18. Any time we’re discussing these issues, as Tim Wise points out frequently, we can step back for a second. What would we expect in a fair society? Well, basically 51/49 women/men in pretty much every industry. There are some seeming natural differences in male and female brains that might predispose us to expect slight variations in other industries, but even then that’s making the assumption that any major job categorization only has one skillset or one approach and that’s just false. I howl every time someone says that because women are apparently predisposed to cooperation while men are predisposed to system and problem solving that that means that women will be sucky programmers. It strikes me that being better at communicating to your team, considering how your software might be actually used by real human beings, etc. might be an asset in the company. Alongside, not instead of, the more traditional male style, of course. Microsoft, for example, could almost certainly have benefited historically from people who cared if their software was intuitively usable.

    In any case, whether we’re talking about race, sex, etc., we shouldn’t expect disproportions of 50%, or 100%, or 200%. We shouldn’t expect women to be 5.5 fucking percent of astronomers in Japan, a developed country. The only way that would make any sense is if we really thought women were actually genetically inferior. That’s sexist. Now, it could be that women are, and then sexism would be correct. But no one actually wants to defend that position. The optics look bad and it’s not defensible. (Especially since, as you may notice, that table shows huge variations in female participation in astronomy, almost as if institutions matter more than culture. What’s the alternative? Are Argentinian women like eight times as good, genetically, at astronomy than Japanese women?)

    The whole point is to force the conservative to face their fundamentally biased reasoning. Now, critically, this argument doesn’t mean that an individual employer or even an entire industry is sexist. Maybe women in a particular culture aren’t getting good primary or secondary education to predispose them to astronomy but by the time those who do get there the process is fair. Or maybe there’s barriers at the tertiary education level, but the actual astronomy workplaces are actually pretty fair. Those could be the case just by doing that sanity check. All we know when we see an industry that has 10% female representation is that something is unequal somewhere. It takes direct research to see where the problems actually are. And the answer is, “Everywhere”. It’s not just that astronomers are meanieheads. It’s that there are biases all along the way that each tend to act as a barrier, small or large, to women in STEM, and you add them up and you get inequality along the way. And what’s so sad is that these aren’t that hard to correct, actually. It just takes some effort. We know empirically that a very few prominent role models can have a huge effect. We know that you can do just a little bit of recruiting and training, getting talented kids interested from the start, and circumvent the failures of the educational system. It’s doable. You just have to try. Which institutions don’t thanks to inertia and conservative political pushback.

    Now, as for discrimination in STEM? It is the sociological consensus that it exists. Period. If you look at the vast majority of studies on any kind of discrimination the left talks about, it is demonstrated by every methodology we’ve got, from paired audit tests and other field tests to specifically asking employers about their attitudes the way W.J. Wilson did to demonstrating specific mechanisms that cause discrimination onward. It’s how people like Blau and Kahn can divide up the wage gap into various kinds of causes with a fair amount of accuracy.

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