Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Statue phobia

Low female representation in STEM fields is NOT due to selection bias

Recruiters in fact lean over backward to hire females.  Female candidates are just not there in the numbers that would enable equality

I don’t agree with everything in the infamous “Google Memo” written by James Damore, but I can understand why one might write such a memo after sitting through one too many training sessions on unconscious bias. I’m a professor in a STEM discipline, and like many STEM fields mine has substantially fewer women than men. Like every STEM professor that I know, I want my talented female students to have fair chances at advancing in the field. I’ve served on (and chaired!) hiring committees that produced “short lists” of finalists that were 50 percent women, I’ve recommended the hiring of female job applicants, I’ve written strong reference letters for female job applicants and tenure candidates, and I’ve published peer-reviewed journal articles with female student co-authors. At the same time, I’ve become increasingly frustrated by the official narratives promulgated about gender inequities in my profession arising from our unconscious biases. These narratives are, at best, awkward fits to the evidence, and sit in stark contradiction to first-hand observations.

My field is smaller than many other STEM fields, so for the sake of anonymity I will not name it, but all available data shows that the proportion of women in my discipline remains stable from the start of undergraduate studies and on through undergraduate degree completion, admission to graduate school, completion of the PhD, hiring as an assistant professor, and conferral of tenure. There have even been statistical studies (conducted by female investigators, FYI) showing that the number of departments with below-average proportions of women is wholly consistent with the normal statistical fluctuations expected from random chance in unbiased hiring processes. I cannot say that everyone in my field is perfectly equitable in all of their actions, but I can at least say that available evidence strongly suggests that the sexist actions of certain individuals do not leave substantial marks on the composition of our field. This should be a point of pride for us: Whatever sins might be committed by some individuals, as a community we have largely acted fairly and equitably in matters with tangible stakes for people’s careers.

Nor is my field unusual. In 2015, Professors Wendy Williams and Steven Ceci of Cornell University published a series of experimental findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), and in their experiments they found that faculty reviewing hypothetical faculty candidates consistently preferred female candidates to male candidates. Moreover, Williams and Ceci cited literature showing that in real-world hiring women have an advantage over men.

My guess is that many readers will be surprised to hear me describe such findings. (After all, we’ve all sat through training sessions on purported biases in hiring processes.) Not being a social scientist myself, I cannot offer an in-depth defense of the work of Williams and Ceci, but I have searched in vain for informed critiques by experts. Alas, every critical summary that I’ve found reveals that the author did not actually read the paper. For instance, many people express incredulity at the assertion that real-world hiring data supports the finding of an advantage for female scientists in academic hiring. However, references 16 and 30-34 of the Williams and Ceci article make exactly that case. Are these references representative of the wider literature? Do they show data that was collected and analyzed via sound methods? I have yet to see a critic make that case, but if an informed expert can point to flaws in those references I would gratefully read their analysis.

Another common criticism is that Williams and Ceci ignored the famous “Lab Manager Study” of Corinne Moss-Racusin et al., also published in PNAS in 2012, which found that faculty were willing to offer higher salaries to hypothetical applicants for a lab manager position if the name on the resume was male rather than female. However, Williams and Ceci did not ignore this study; they actually cited it in the main text of the article (reference 6) and then discussed it at length on page 25 of the supplemental materials. The response of Williams and Ceci is that faculty hiring involves highly-accomplished applicants for high-status jobs, not less-accomplished new college graduates applying for lower-status jobs, and so different psychological factors may come into play when people are evaluating the prospective hires. Are they right? I don’t know enough about the relevant psychological literature to venture an informed opinion, but I’d love to read a response by a critic who acknowledges that Williams and Ceci actually discussed these findings, rather than one who dismisses them by asserting that they ignored the work of Moss-Racusin.

So, although I cannot assert with complete confidence that STEM fields are wholly free of sexism, I can point to strong evidence that disparities in STEM are not driven by hiring bias, and I must regretfully note that there has been little informed engagement with such findings. It is not intellectually healthy to have so little informed, critical dialogue around work with potentially high significance for such an important issue. Meanwhile, for those of us working in STEM, it is demoralizing to see that when researchers find evidence that we are working actively and fruitfully to remedy gender gaps in our profession, the response is not to celebrate our success but rather to offer uninformed critiques. It seems to be impermissible to question whether our purported sexism continues to drive inequality in our community.

If this were just about one study then we could (and should) react with stiff upper lips, and not let it colour our perception of the debate around gender in the STEM disciplines. Alas, there is a pattern (bias?) in research on bias in academic science. For instance, in the same year that PNAS published the work of Williams and Ceci, they also published a study of gender bias in science by van der Lee and Ellemers, purportedly showing that female scientists in the Netherlands are more likely than male peers to have their grant proposals rejected. However, the numbers provided in the article clearly show that the disparities in funding success result from how women are distributed among disciplines, not differential treatment of men and women in the review process: Women in the Netherlands are more likely to be in fields like biology (with low funding success rates) than physics (with comparatively higher funding success rates), but within each field women and men have similar success rates for their grant proposals. This point was quickly noted by a reader, and the editors of PNAS published a critical comment within two months of the original article’s publication.

Perhaps it is a sign of healthy scientific communication when published work sparks informed discussion of alternative explanations and the journal editors make room for that discussion, but it is worrisome that such a basic error was allowed to slip through the initial review process. It’s even more worrisome when one examines the “Acknowledgments” section of the Williams and Ceci article, which I will quote in part: “We thank [names of colleagues who provided advice], seven anonymous reviewers, one anonymous statistician who replicated our findings, and the editor.” It is very unusual for an article to be reviewed by seven separate peer reviewers before publication (the most I’ve ever had was four, and I’ve published in some rather high-impact journals), and even more unusual for a journal to insist that the raw data be sent to an anonymous statistical consultant for independent verification of the results. One cannot help but wonder if Williams and Ceci were held to a higher standard than van der Lee and Ellemers because Williams and Ceci offered work that contradicted a common narrative while van der Lee and Ellemers offered work that allegedly affirmed the conventional wisdom.

To put these articles in context, keep in mind the place that PNAS occupies in the hierarchy of academic journals. PNAS is not merely a high-status, high-impact, widely-read journal. There are many such journals; indeed, every field of science has at least one such publication venue (and often more than one). What makes PNAS stand out is that it’s one of the few well-respected journals to publish work spanning the entire breadth of science and engineering, ranging from psychology to materials engineering to marine biology. My colleagues and I don’t usually read psychology journals but we do read PNAS. It’s unlikely that we’ll ever have a lunch conversation about an article published in a specialty venue for social scientists, but it’s entirely possible that we’ll pass a lunch time discussing some social science finding published in PNAS. An editorial slant in such a respected and well-read journal will have consequences for the narratives that gain traction in our field.

So much for the big picture. What about the small scale? Everyone has heard anecdotes about sexist treatment of women, and I confess that I’ve witnessed a few such incidents. (I tried to do what I could when I witnessed them, but it isn’t always easy to process what you’ve seen quickly enough to respond in a timely fashion, especially when issues of power and status loom large.) At the same time, I’ve also witnessed compensatory measures, and even over-compensation. I’ve seen “diverse” colleagues get away with conduct bordering on fraud because nobody wanted to call them out for it. I’ve seen middling female students lavished with praise and encouragement when they were ambivalent about whether to apply to graduate school, while similarly weak male students were met with (quite appropriate!) skepticism about their interest in graduate study. I’ve seen hiring committees bend over backwards to paper over a female applicant’s weaknesses while rigorously critiquing a male applicant.

Of course, I’ve seen white and male colleagues get away with certain things as well, so I can’t say that the situation is entirely one of “reverse sexism” or “political correctness” or some such thing. What I can say is that my ground-level observations are largely consistent with the big-picture data: Sexist things do happen, but people work conscientiously to compensate and even over-compensate, resulting in an employment landscape that is at the very least level and often somewhat favorable to women. But it is impermissible to vocalise this observation, so we are left with no choice but to nod and agree as we are scolded for shameful internal biases that allegedly leave their mark on our professional community, a community that many of us care deeply about improving.

This can only go on for so long before people push back. I certainly have my criticisms of Damore’s arguments, and I would be the first to agree that he is clueless about how to navigate workplace politics. Nonetheless, if we keep hearing that conscientious and hard-working people are at fault for gender gaps, disparities that they themselves have actively worked to combat, and that have even seen peers perhaps over-correct for, eventually people will start responding with something other than enthusiastic confessions of privilege and bias. People will start pointing to contradictory data, and even sympathetic people might start grumbling about excesses of political correctness that they may have witnessed. Some of us will do it pseudonymously, both for our own comfort and the comfort of co-workers, but some people will do like James Damore and speak out under their own names, making the workplace uncomfortable (to put it mildly).

We have a choice before us. One option is to celebrate the progress that has been made, stop pointing the blame at the alleged biases of conscientious people, and steer the conversation to the true origin of disparities, earlier “in the pipeline” as they say. The other option is to keep admonishing generally well-meaning professionals to stop behaving in such an allegedly biased manner, and then act shocked and scandalised when somebody draws attention to the countervailing data. The first path will mean fewer silly training sessions, but it might also mean awkward conversations about how and why people become interested in different paths of work and study.  Whether these factors arise from nature, nurture, or the interaction thereof, they come into play long before anybody gets to a STEM career, and moving past bias explanations means that people who are concerned about the makeup of the profession will have to be able to confront these questions. The second path will avoid those awkward conversations, but at the cost of resentment that might occasionally pour out. I can’t speak for everyone in STEM, but as a scholar I’d rather see conscientious people confront data and discuss its implications, not paper over it with misplaced blame.


Politically correct princesses?

This month, Disney’s Dream Big, Princess initiative launched its “global photo campaign” on social media in yet another attempt to foist its politically correct message on young girls. According to its website, the campaign “collaborated with professional photographers from around the world to create a series of empowering images showcasing real-world girls and women” in order to encourage kids to “dream big.”

Each photographer will post her images on social media with the hashtag DreamBigPrincess. For every like a #DreamBigPrincess photo receives, and every photo published publicly with #DreamBigPrincess (the initiative encourages the public to share their own images of their daughters’ big dreams using the same hashtag), Dream Big, Princess will donate $1 to GirlUp. The campaign will continue until October 11, 2017.

According to its website, GirlUp is an organization that aims to give girls in struggling nations “an equal chance for education, health, social and economic opportunities, and a life free from violence.” Which is a big dream. And a worthwhile one too. But it’s a little unclear who exactly is meant to see these photos and be inspirited by them since, presumably, the impoverished girls who will benefit from the funds raised for GirlUp aren’t viewing and sharing images on Twitter.

So, essentially, the idea seems to be that this campaign wants Disney princesses to inspire young girls here in America to follow their dreams which, in turn, will raise money to help girls in less affluent countries to follow theirs. A bit complicated, perhaps, but not necessarily a bad idea. Disney princesses have been inspiring girls to follow their dreams for over seventy years. Why should they stop now?

Disney princesses are nothing if not dreamers. Pretty much every Disney princess begins as a girl who longs for something more than the life she is currently living. All that Dream Big, Princess (and their photo campaign) should have to do to effectively speak to an audience of girls, whose dreams are myriad and varied, is highlight the attributes these princesses embody that allow them to achieve their dreams. Courage, tenacity, independence, curiosity, sacrifice, hope — the kind of inner strengths that turn a dream into a reality. And then, no matter what each girl’s individual dream happens to be, there will be (as Dream Big’s promotional materials state) “a princess to show her it’s possible.”

But, instead of showing girls how to achieve their dreams (whatever their dreams may be) Dream Big, Princess co-opts the princesses (and their dreams) and uses them to disingenuously promote the types of dreams they think little girls ought to have.

In the central ad of the Dream Big, Princess initiative, Disney princesses are paired with little girls who are, supposedly, inspired by them to follow their own (very specific dreams). Ariel swims through the ocean, a girl dives into a pool. Cinderella twirls in her homemade ball gown, a little girl performs a dance routine. Rapunzel swings by her hair, a little girl swings on a rope swing. “Be students, be teachers, be politicians, . . . be astronauts, be champions,” the accompanying song commands them.

And, sure, these are all dreams a little girl could have. But she might also want to be a mother. Or a wife. Any number of other things. Why does she have to be an athlete?

The dreams this campaign is projecting on young girls certainly aren’t the dreams of the princesses being used to inspire them. Ariel’s dream was not to be a champion swimmer. Cinderella’s was not to be a professional dancer. Rapunzel didn’t hope to make hair swinging an Olympic sport. In fact, none of these things had anything to do with their dreams at all. A little girl who longs to be a professional dancer isn’t going to take much away from Cinderella’s time at the ball. The connections that Dream Big, Princess is making between a young girl’s potential dreams and the dreams of Disney princesses are, at best, a stretch.

Dream Big, Princess is using the princesses to promote their own agenda because they know how much little girls love Disney princesses. But the dreams of the princesses aren’t the kinds of dreams this initiative approves of for young girls.

The narrator in the ad for the photo campaign actually says it best: “When I think about all the girls . . . that are influenced by the idea of the Disney princess, you know that this is an opportunity to inspire girls to do something more.”

No, Dream Big, little girls love Disney princesses because they already encompass the things girls long for. Because they show us the way to be whatever it is we yearn to become. Because they accept all our dreams, no matter how small, and teach us the virtues we must embody to achieve them. To those little girls, the princesses are perfect just the way they are. And to the princesses, so are those little girls. Shame on you, Dream Big. We want our princesses back.


Tennessee Theater Cancels ‘Gone With the Wind’ Screening After 34 Years Over ‘Racist’ Content Complaints

The Orpheum Theatre in Memphis, Tennessee, will no longer screen Gone With the Wind after the theater’s board said it had received “numerous comments” from viewers who called the 1939 film “insensitive” and “racist.”

A statement from The Orpheum Theatre Group reads:

    While title selections for the series are typically made in the spring of each year, the Orpheum has made this determination early in response to specific inquiries from patrons. The Orpheum appreciates feedback on its programming from all members of the mid-south community. The recent screening of Gone With the Wind at the Orpheum on Friday, August 11, 2017, generated numerous comments. The Orpheum carefully reviewed all of them.

The group said the film was ultimately pulled because it was “insensitive” to local patrons.

“As an organization whose stated mission is to ‘entertain, educate and enlighten the communities it serves,’ the Orpheum cannot show a film that is insensitive to a large segment of its local population,” the group said.

The theater’s decision to pull the film ends a 34-year tradition at the Orpheum. The removal apparently stemmed from a post on the Orpheum’s Facebook page from an early August screening, in which someone deemed the eight-time Academy Award-winning film “racist.” Another Memphis resident said of the news that “slowly but surely, we will rid this community of all tributes to white supremacy.”

The iconic film, set around a southern plantation during the Civil War and Reconstruction periods, follows the lives of several black and white characters of the historic era. Actress Hattie McDaniel, who played a house servant named Mammy, became the first African American to win an Academy Award for her role in the film.

What’s more, the film’s producer David O. Selznick went out of his way to avoid offending black audiences and consulted with black leaders at the time to insure the film would not be insensitive to blacks — in the way that, for example, Birth of a Nation was.

Selznick had refused to allow the N-word in the film. He wrote a letter to the NAACP president explaining that as a Jew he was painfully aware of what was happening in Europe (at that time, in the 1930s) to Jews and would not do anything to increase racial tensions in America. The NAACP wrote a corresponding letter to Selznick, thanking him for taking care not to include objectively insensitive material in the film.

Alas, the Orpheum said it will soon be “announcing an exciting movie series in the spring of 2018 that will, as always, contain both classic films and more recent blockbusters.”


A brainless but vicious "comedian"

HBO’s alleged comedian-host John Oliver (I’ve never found him to be particularly amusing) has the same problem a lot of wealthy Leftists have.

God has blessed Oliver (whether Oliver realizes it or not) – Oliver is wealthy. He makes a whole lot of money – in a field where maybe one in a thousand can even buy groceries plying their wares. Making it in entertainment is catching lightening in a bottle – twice.

Oliver makes huge coin – for a less-than-imperative service. He isn’t curing cancer. Nothing wrong with it – but he’s a court jester. Making as much as he does for what he does – leaves a lot of people in his position feeling almost like they’re cheating at life.

Many thus feel the need to crusade for causes – to make up for the incredible good fortune they enjoy. And when you aren’t a signally deep or practiced thinker – that oft means falling for the shallow facility of Leftism.

Oliver has fallen hard. And there’s no diving in his thought pool.

But Oliver ain’t alone with this particular affliction. Oliver isn’t even alone in the same tiny little sliver that is his “entertainment” genre.

Oliver is a rote copy of what passes today for cable television comedy. An endless parade of snide, cynical females and beta males. All taking nigh identical crass, classless, unfunny shots at capitalism and capitalists, conservatives, Republicans – and any American who doesn’t live in Manhattan or Beverly Hills.

Because, you know, they’re champions of the Little Guy. Or something.

If you miss Oliver – fret not, you can tune in to the exact same show, only presented by Trevor Noah. Missed Noah? Dial in Samantha Bee. Missed Bee? Punch up Jim Jeffries. The only variable – is the accent in which the undifferentiated pseudo-comedy is delivered.

Oliver is British – if that’s your intonation of choice. But by his own admission – Britain didn’t find him funny. So he limped across the Pond to try his luck here in the States.

And like America has done time and time again, our country rewarded Oliver well beyond what his limited talent would garner him anywhere else on the planet. And yet somehow, Oliver appears to be perpetually angry at the nation that took him in and has made his ridiculous life possible.

Oliver – just like so many others – rails against all the same Leftist bogeymen. Using all the same cheap, witless and personal attacks they all do.

After leaving his palatial, well-lit abode and driving his petroleum-mobile to his lavish, Klieg light-blasted television studio – Oliver does hilarious things like:

“(M)ake fun of (Murray Energy Corporation CEO Robert) Murray’s age, physical appearance and, according to Murray, falsely suggested that Murray had put profits over the safety of his workers. At one point, Oliver held a fake check that read ‘Eat sh*t Bob!’ and included the phrase ‘kiss my a—‘ in the memo. The HBO host also referred to Mr. Murray as a ‘geriatric Dr. Evil….’”

Wow – that’s high-brow, funny stuff. Especially considering Murray is in declining health and is reliant on oxygen to even breathe.

And what are Murray’s high crimes and misdemeanors? He runs a company that makes available to all of us coal – the substance that provides half of America’s electricity.

The stuff that makes Oliver’s palatial, well-lit abode – well-lit. That gives his studio’s energy-sucking Klieg lights – the ability to be energy-sucking.

Speaking of Oliver’s Home of the Common Man:

The John Oliver Property Tax Scam: HBO Comedian Secretly Buys Manhattan Mansion: “Liberal deity avoids taxes by using loophole created by Donald Trump.”

Well that’s fabulous. I don’t need to tell you how often Oliver has railed specifically against now-President Trump.

Oliver has definitely whined generally about wealthy people making wealth – and then trying to hold on to it after: “Back in July 2014, in an episode in which he lamented the ‘Wealth Gap in America’…Oliver said, ‘At this point the rich are just running up the score…What sets America apart is that we are actively introducing policies that disproportionately benefit the wealthy,’ such as tax cuts and loopholes like trusts.”

And now Oliver is ducking taxes on his palatial estate. Do as he screeches – not as he does.

Because Oliver’s comedy is so low-level guttural – I mean, “Eat sh*t Bob!” and “Kiss my a—“ ain’t exactly Shakespeare – he tends to appeal to the lowest common denominator. (Which isn’t even close to the same as being for the Little Guy – for many obvious reasons.)

So when Oliver went on a funny-free tirade against Trump’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for working to undo the Barack Obama Administration Internet power grab known as Network Neutrality – things quickly went awful, as only dumb Leftist things can. (See also: Saturday’s Left-on-Left violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.)

How the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) manage their networks – and what Net Neutrality means to it – is…fairly sophisticated stuff. It was quite obvious Oliver doesn’t understand it. And he knew the assembled nit-wittery tuning in to him – would have zero idea about which he was speaking.

So Oliver’s rhetorical assault – never ethereal in its reach or tone – was particularly low-lying. Oliver’s audience – managed to worm their way under the ridiculously low bar he set.

Alleged uber-racist Trump has named as his FCC Chairman – son-of-Indian-immigrants Ajit Pai. Oliver’s allegedly enlightened audience – flooded the FCC with death threats and racist slurs:

“Just a few weeks ago, for example, (Oliver) had to issue a plea for calm and restraint after he urged his audience to target top officials at an obscure federal agency…over a policy with which he disagreed. His plea was too little too late.

“Ajit Pai, the first person of Indian descent to run the agency, became the target of death threats, racial attacks, and a litany of other abuses hurled by progressives in the so-called Netroots movement who shared Oliver’s objections to Pai’s policy.”

Oliver and his Nutroots share a disdain for – but not an understanding of – said policy. Oliver’s minions – like Oliver – keep it classy:

“One commenter said, ‘{F]—k you Ajit Pai for what you’re are trying to do and I hope you die a horrible painful death with no remembrance to your name you cocksucka [sic].’

“Another said failure to keep net neutrality would ‘cause me to pray for the slow and painful death of Chairman Ajit Pai and every living member of his family, direct or indirect.’

“’Save internet and f**k this Ajit guy,’ said another. ‘He’s from India, deport that asshole. We will take care of him when he’s back.’

“Other comments used racial attacks against Pai, the son of Indian immigrants.

“Can you guys stop being complete greedy little s–ts and work for the American people and not for your wallets,’ said one commenter using the name ‘Andromeda Titan.’ ‘Also, f–k you Ajit Pai (a disgrace to all Indians). And f–k Trump too.’

“Another commenter said, ‘Ajit Pai looks and sounds like an Indian fraternity brother who exclusively f–ks underage women.’

“‘Ajit Pai looks like the lone Indian who rushed an all white bro frat and only got in because they needed someone to clean up after their weekend bender,’ said another, who added, ‘It’s not racist because I’m Indian and white privilege absolutely exists.’”

Again, see also: Saturday’s Left-on-Left violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Oh – and remember: Oliver’s Net Neutrality is favored and backed by – because it is a huge government cronyism gift for – tiny little companies like Google (market cap: $924 billion), Facebook (market cap: $488 billion) and Amazon (market cap: $465 billion).

Because, again, John Oliver – with his massive salary, his massive Manhattan mansion with its massive tax breaks and his massive government policy preferences that favor massive corporations – is definitely all for and about the Little Guy.

Oliver’s dumb-ness, dullness…and obscene wealth – prove yet again what a great country America is.

It matters not that Oliver is intellectually incapable of grasping that fact.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and  DISSECTING LEFTISM.   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  Email me (John Ray) here.


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