The flawed and offensive logic of "Academic Science Isn’t Sexist" in the @nytimes

The flawed and offensive logic of "Academic Science Isn’t Sexist" in the @nytimes


OK.  It is Halloween night and I am tired and need to get my kids to sleep.  But someone on Twitter just pointed me to an opinion piece just out in the New York Times: Academic Science Isn’t Sexist - and after reading it I felt I had to write a quick post.

The opinion piece is by Wendy M. Williams and Stephen J. Ceci and discusses work by them (and coauthors).  In particular they discuss findings in a massive report "Women in Academic Science: A Changing Landscape" by Stephen J. Ceci, Donna K. Ginther, Shulamit Kahn, and Wendy M. Williams in Psychological Science in the Public Interest.  I note - kudos to the authors for making this available freely and under what may be an open license and also apparently for making much of their data available behind their analyses.

The opinion piece and the associated article have a ton of things to discuss and ponder and analyze for anyone interested in the general issue of women in academic science.  I am not in any position at this time to comment on any of the specific claims made by the authors on this topic.  But certainly I have a ton of reading to do and am looking forward to it.

However, I do want to write about one thing - really just one single thing -  that really bothers me about their New York Times article.  I do not know if this was intentional on their part, but regardless I think there is a major flaw in their piece.

First, to set the stage -- their article starts off with the following sentences:

Academic science has a gender problem: specifically, the almost daily reports about hostile workplaces, low pay, delayed promotion and even physical aggression against women.  Particularly in math-intensive fields like the physical sciences, computer science and engineering, women make up only 25 to 30 percent of junior faculty, and 7 to 15 percent of senior faculty, leading many to claim that the inhospitable work environment is to blame.
This then sets the stage for the authors to discuss their analyses which leads them to conclude that in recent times, there are not biases against women in hiring, publishing, tenure, and other areas.  Again, I am not in any position to examine or dispute their claims about these analyses - to either support them or refute them.

But the piece makes what to me appears to be a dangerous and unsupported connection.  They lump together what one could call "career progression" topics (such as pay, promotion, publishing, citation, etc) with workplace topics (hostility and physical aggression against women).  And yet, they only present or discuss data on the career progression issues.  Yet once they claim to find that career progression for women in math heavy fields seems to be going well recently, they imply that the other workplace issues must not be a problem.  This is seen in statements like "While no career is without setbacks and challenges" and "As we found, when the evidence of mistreatment goes beyond the anecdotal" and "leading many to claim that the inhospitable work environment is to blame."

Whether one agrees with any or all of their analyses (which again, I am not addressing here) I see no justification for their inclusion of any mention of hostile workplaces and physical agression against women.  So - does this mean that a woman who does well in her career cannot experience physical aggression of any kind?  Also - I note - I am unclear I guess in some of their terminology usage - is their use of the term "physical aggression" here meant to discount reports of sexual violence?   This reminds me of the "Why I stayed" stories of domestic violence.  Just because a women's career is doing OK does not mean that she did not experience workplace hostility or physical or sexual violence.  I hope - I truly hope - that the authors did not intend to imply this.  But whether they did or not, their logic appears to be both flawed and offensive.

A New Frame of Mind

This documentary, produced during the 2014 Summer Media Institute, explores women pursuing careers in science. Produced by Melat Kassa, Priya Joyce and Samantha Liu.

View the video Here -  A New Frame of Mind

RFS - A new frame of mind

Rosalind Franklin Society Applauds General Electric Ad Campaign

For Release September 18, 2014                                  Contact: Karla Shepard Rubinger  

                                                                                                                          (914) 740-2219

                                                                                This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.






Rosalind Franklin Society Applauds General Electric Ad Campaign Recognizing the Contributions of Women Innovators and

Inspiring Future Generations of Female Scientists



New Rochelle, NY—Though the main objective of General Electric’s (GE) current television ad campaign, “Childlike Imagination” is to illustrate that : imagination = innovation; a fortuitous byproduct is the spotlight shed on women in science: the life-changing inventions they create, and the call-to-action they provide to their daughters and other young women to “dream big!” "We think it's important to convey the message that science and technology isn't only a guy thing", added Danielle Merfeld, Technology Director for Electrical Technologies and Systems at GE Global Research. "We want girls - and boys - to dream big, to be inquisitive and innovative from an early age. In today's world, the value of a STEM education is so important, and GE is proud to do its part to inspire the scientists and engineers of tomorrow."

The Rosalind Franklin Society (RFS) is thrilled to share the compelling ad with our community. RFS’s mission is to recognize the work of outstanding women scientists as well as to foster greater opportunities for women scientists, and to motivate and educate by example, young generations of women who have this calling. According to RFS President, Professor Rita Colwell, PhD., “Great storytelling, even if it’s in the form of an ad, like GE’s, can have the power to breakdown longstanding and pervasive barriers that hold women back from believing and achieving their dreams of being successful in science.”

The new spot focuses on what GE looks like through the eyes of a young girl whose mom works at the company. Children have wild imaginations and GE makes inventive and innovative products that can seem almost unbelievable. The add brings viewers on a journey into a child’s imagination as she envisions all the amazing things her mom makes -- underwater fans that are powered by the moon, airplane engines that can talk, hospitals you can hold in your hand, and more.

“It’s amazing that a few powerful images combined with one simple phrase -- my mom works at GE – can educate the public and change lives,” asserts RFS Co-Founder, Mary Ann Liebert. The Society educates the public, policy makers, and the press community about the significant contributions of women to scientific research and their impact, and shares stories, about The Rosalind Franklin Society.

RFS’s esteemed Board is comprised of many true pioneers in their scientific fields – with 5 Nobel Laureates, eminent researchers, educators, administrators, and applied scientists. RFS is initiating a new Council of Corporate Leadership, representing business leaders who understand the need to address the barriers faced by women in typically male-dominated professions. For more information contact the Rosalind Franklin Society: (914) 740-2219 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


About the Rosalind Franklin Society  

The Rosalind Franklin Society recognizes, fosters, and makes known the important contributions of women in science. In so doing, the Society honors the achievements of the late Rosalind Franklin, who helped solve the structure of DNA.The Founding Board of the Rosalind Franklin Society is comprised of women and men who understand the importance of recognizing the work of prominent women scientists, foster greater opportunities for women in the life sciences and related disciplines and educate, by example, and encourage young generations of women who have this calling.

Rosalind Franklin Society

140 Huguenot Street, 3rd Floor

New Rochelle, NY 10801

Phone: (914) 740-2219

Fax: (914) 740-2101