Women in Science poll responses

Mary Ann Cushman cushmam at okstate.edu
Mon Sep 30 09:48:37 EST 1996

Mark Camara <Mark.Camara at Helsinki.fi> wrote a lot of really AMAZING
stuff, and I have interposed my comments:

>As a male evolutionary biologist who normally merely lurks on the edges
>of this newsgroup, it may be inappropriate to add my views to this
>particular discussion, but I hope they will be tolerated.
>JuneKK recently summarized the results of an opinion poll of female
>neuroscientists and concluded based on the responses that there were
>still important but "subtle" problems facing women who choose >scientific careers. These conclusions, however, are based on a very >small sample of approximately 30 responses gathered in an entirely >non-random survey.
>(Would JuneKK give equal weight to the perceptions of men having >trouble finding jobs who feel that they are victims of affirmative >action?).

perceptions...Do you want concrete examples? I have some.
How about being asked whether your husband is looking for a job elsewhere (which is illegal) while you're trying to pursue your PhD, and a few weeks later, having your project handed off to a post-doc, and being told to 'find another lab.'
OR, how about your advisor hanging up pictures scanned from porno magazines in the fume hood in the lab, where EVERYONE has to work, not just the goons? Also in his office.
This didn't happen where I am now. I could give you lots more examples, but I don't want to keep going.
I think a lot of respondents were trying to keep things polite.

>While I do not want to deny that there have been and still are
>gender-based problems in the academic community<...

I REAALLY hate to answer this, but I don't think the poll was intended to be a purely scientific social study, but more a call for personal experiences. Despite the patronizing tone, your views are being tolerated, not flamed, but they do reflect your apparent lack of contact and communication with women scientists about the problems they have experienced in this realm.

Your equation of the statistical validity of the poll with the possibility that the respondents just imagine that they have been discriminated against is interesting:
> The biases in response probablilites are, I would argue,
>probably heavily in favor of those women who feel that they have
>experienced discrimination, and yet, the number reporting that they
>have been discrimainated against never exceeds 50%.  Furthermore, the
>poll asked about the perceptions of respondees, and it is
>oversimplified to equate these perceptions to actual discrimination.

And you bravely recommend that women:
>stand up to INDIVIDUAL transgressions and transgressors whenever and >wherever they appear

Do you have ANY idea what its like to 'stand up to individual transgressors' in an academic, or any other setting? Doesn't sound like it.

And we should try to:
>to be as fair as human nature allows when facing any gender-based
>biases in either direction,  rather than resorting to statistical >arguments based on biased samples.

I don't remember seeing any actual statistical arguments.

And don't forget we should ALL try:
>to be the best scientists they(we) can be by devoting time
> to their work rather than to opinion polls.

That's right, M.C.

It doesn't help anything for you to deny that a problem exists:
>I would like to caution against using such non-scientific sources of >"evidence" to either fan the flames of a partially extinguished fire or >to maintain the walls between men and women in science when we should >all be working to tear them down.  With all due respect and at the risk >of being flamed, I suggest that the best way for women to succeed in >science and to gain equal footing with men is to try to de-emphasize >gender in all important aspects of scientific endeavor.

OK, so we should have to DENY our femininity, or cover it with masculine attributes to make all the men we work with more comfortable? I'll believe we've made progress when women can be themselves and be great scientists, too. Vive la difference!


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