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Gender and scientific research

by Bill Osler / August 22, 2006 2:29 AM PDT

An interesting, if perhaps too circumspect, commentary on gender and scientific research.

PLoS Biology: Men, Women, and Ghosts in Science:
Some have a dream that, one fine day, there will be equal numbers of men and women in all jobs, including those in scientific research. But I think this dream is Utopian; it assumes that if all doors were opened and all discrimination ended, the different sexes would be professionally indistinguishable. The dream is sustained by a cult of political correctness that ignores the facts of life?and thrives only because the human mind likes to bury experience as it builds beliefs.
The conclusion of the article:
I have argued that reducing the premium we give to aggression would, in several different ways, lead to more women in science and also to better science. Even so, in this Utopia, I think that far less than 50% of top physicists would be women (and far less than 50% of top professors of literature would be men). But I don't think that would matter?we would be making better use of the diverse qualities of people. Both women and men might accept that although there is much overlap in the two populations, we are constitutionally different?a diversity we should be able to celebrate and discuss openly. Both women and men should be leading such discussions with pride.

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Isn't that like what
by marinetbryant / August 22, 2006 4:18 AM PDT

the university pres. said and then got canned?


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Risk taking.
by Angeline Booher / August 22, 2006 4:58 AM PDT

My brother was engaged in medical research.

When we were discussing women in research, his opinion was based on "risk taking". The researcher must be able to take risks. Females tend to be more cautious. (Perhaps related to being nurturers?)

The same could apply to female Air Force pilots being fighter pilots. (Though this is lightened somewhat by the long range missiles now used in air combat.)

I am aware that there are exceptions to the rule. Madame Curie comes first to mind.

In my "olden days" when we were making our career decisons, I did not see that females could not pursue a chosen career. IMO, it was the NOW movement that began the gender wars. In my career, I was generally more comfortable with male leadership as there were fewer over bearing and vindictive males than females. (BTW, I never saw either gender being called upon in class in a biased way.)

I still believe that females can go into any field they desire, including scientific research, and make valuable contributions. Whether they can take whatever necessary risks are involved would be on an individual basis, IMO.

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I have to say I find the "risk taking" angle odd
by Evie / August 23, 2006 2:55 AM PDT
In reply to: Risk taking.

There's nothing particularly risky in most scientific research. Sure there are cases of personal risk as in the case of the SARS (I believe) researcher killed by that virus, but this cannot explain the gender gap, and likely less risk than the historically female dominated field of nursing for example. (Also, in this country prominent researchers rarely do the actual research). As to the economic risk of such a career choice, again, especially more recently, there's far less than some other career paths chosen preferentially by women.

I think the gender gap in research mostly results from cultivating an early interest in science. Science is so often lumped with math that some feel that to be any good in science they need to be good at math. While that is certainly true in many areas, it is not necessarily the case in many fields.

We are seeing gender gaps closing. I believe that female medical school graduates are on pace to exceed male nationally, and in certain areas already do. The same is seen for graduation rates in certain sciences. I believe in Chemistry, the trend has increased in the past decade or so from about 1/3rd to almost half.

I believe that the research "industry" such as it is structured is somewhat slower to react. There is a mentoring heirarchy and "peer review" often acts to hold back younger researchers who haven't paid their dues yet and generally are not the first author on a paper. The "big names" in various areas tend to be men because they tend to be from the older established generation of researchers. It will take a while longer for the female graduates of today to make an impact on those of decades from now ... but I believe it will happen.

Evie Happy

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Straw man alert!
by Dan McC / August 22, 2006 5:11 AM PDT

Who has such a dream? I have never heard anyone express such a dream as that.


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(NT) (NT) Lots of dreams, lots of people. Widen out.
by drpruner / August 22, 2006 8:41 AM PDT
In reply to: Straw man alert!
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(NT) (NT) What do you mean?
by Dan McC / August 23, 2006 12:50 AM PDT
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Maybe you don't get out enough.
by drpruner / August 23, 2006 2:52 AM PDT
In reply to: (NT) What do you mean?

"I have never heard anyone express such a dream as that." I have, and stranger ones. "Widen out" was Paul's advice to some Christians; means 'Talk to the people in the next pew for a change.'

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Do you mean to be
by Dan McC / August 23, 2006 4:57 AM PDT


In any case, the "dream" propositioned here is not a common one, or prominent.


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Nonsense ...
by Evie / August 23, 2006 10:08 AM PDT
In reply to: Do you mean to be

... if it weren't the dream of so many, we wouldn't have so many bogus suits when there are fewer women in certain fields because women just are less likely to be suited to or attracted to certain jobs.

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If there are so many cases, Evie,
by Dan McC / August 23, 2006 11:34 AM PDT
In reply to: Nonsense ...

could you point us to just a few that are decided on the basis you postulate here?


Dan Happy

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Women in the military ...
by Evie / August 23, 2006 11:39 AM PDT

... female cops, female firefighters. The list of local, state and federal suits related to the supposed discrimination and underrepresentation of women for just these is astounding. And no, I won't waste my time looking up links. Consider it my opinion and disregard the obvious if you wish.

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Yeah Evie, prove it
by marinetbryant / August 23, 2006 11:57 AM PDT

You know some here argue an opposite point but couldn't find a link on their own if their life depended on it. Some you provide a link for and they'll keep saying prove it, show me. Can we get an Etch-A-Sketch for CNET? Seems we need to be drawing pictures for some!


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Don't be disingenuous ...
by Bill Osler / August 23, 2006 12:29 PM PDT

You know very well what Evie (and the article I cited) are talking about. Feigned stupidity hardly flatters you.

Much of the legislative and social history of the last 50 or more years hinges on non-scientific assumptions about the claimed equivalence between men and women.

The lawsuits about female participation in Boy Scouts, Little League and a variety of other organizations are all predicated on that assumption. A lot of the rules about fair hiring practices and workplace discrimination are founded on that assumption of equivalence. Assertions of discrimination based on statistical differences in seniority or pay are founded on that assumption. The fact that there may well be explanations other than bias behind some of the observed differences between males and females seems to be largely lost on the PC crowd.

No, I won't find you links. You could just as well as me to give a link to prove that the sky is blue. Not gonna go there.

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Such is not my goal.
by Dan McC / August 23, 2006 2:21 PM PDT

Evie has made a specific statement of fact and all I wish if for her to provide specific examples. Generalities can be bandied about all day to no avail, but specific cases can be discussed. It could be that Evie's recollection of the cases is mistaken. It could be that her interpretation of the facts of the cases is faulty.

At least you state up front that you do not have support for your assertions. Evie doesn't do that til later in most cases.


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Get off it Dan
by Evie / August 23, 2006 2:35 PM PDT
In reply to: Such is not my goal.

You have NO standing to demand others provide support when you are notoriously unwilling to do the same.

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(NT) (NT) Oh, Evie.
by Dan McC / August 23, 2006 2:38 PM PDT
In reply to: Get off it Dan
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by Bill Osler / August 24, 2006 12:13 PM PDT
In reply to: Such is not my goal.

Dan, I do wonder what you've been smoking.

I said I won't waste my time coughing up links as part of your little game, not that there is no evidence out there.

Your recent posts have reminded me an awfully lot of the 'news' interpreted by MiniTruth.

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Nice language, Bill.
by Dan McC / August 25, 2006 12:06 AM PDT
In reply to: B.S.

I had hoped you would not sink to such levels.

You're under no obligation to support your contentions, Bill. But it is telling that you outright refuse to support them when asked.


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(NT) (NT) The usual attempt to be manipulative.
by Kiddpeat / August 25, 2006 1:11 AM PDT
In reply to: Nice language, Bill.
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Another dream is that we would be able to
by drpruner / August 22, 2006 8:41 AM PDT

find satisfaction in whatever we do.

Anyway, I agree with the view that political correctness is a dead end.
Will you be surprised to hear that the bible addresses these issues? Happy
God's view of woman's role: ''And Jehovah God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him.'' Gen 2:18, ASV
Not 'competitor' or 'rival', but 'complement'. Like one's left and right hands.

The only guarantee of satisfaction:
''Thou [Jehovah] openest thy hand, And satisfiest the desire of every living thing.'' Psa 145:16

Related: A TV show recently on physicist Lisa Meitner. Said she remained friendly with the chemist who stole the Nobel-level discovery from her. (A Gentile, he remained in Germany and prospered during and after the war.)

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Almost forgot poor Rosalind Franklin,
by drpruner / August 23, 2006 2:54 AM PDT

who was treated shabbily by "Honest Jim" Watson. Died young of cancer, possibly related to the very X-ray work that found the helix.

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IMO, the problem here
by dirtyrich / August 22, 2006 8:48 AM PDT

is the difference between observed stereotypes and analysis of individuals. There are tendencies among statistical populations that are not present in individuals or smaller groups. Take a large enough group, and you begin to see a slight, but noticeable, shift in the entire population.
Simply put, in the complex world that is today's educational establishment (where most high-profile careers are determined) there is a differencence between the sexes. Take any individual, though, and the assumptions fly right out of the window.
The same goes with biology. With all the differences between the sexes and among individuals, it is not unrealistic to theorize that there is a basic difference between men and women that determines their cognitive abilites or preferred job path. This difference would not be noticeable among individuals or small samples, but could be present among large populations.

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