Let Me Fix That For You, New York Times

Yesterday, the New York Times dropped an opinion piece by Cornell researchers Wendy Williams and Stephen Ceci, making the bold claim that Academic Science Isn’t Sexist (<– that IS the title of the post, Gentle Readers).  As one may well imagine, several excellent analyses went up almost immediately.  The opinion piece is effectively an advertisement for this paper, which at 67 pages, few of us will read in its entirety, much less comprehend.  On reading the NYT post, we were struck by some creative statistical analysis and sleight-of-hand with regard to cause-and-effect.

In order for any persuasive piece to be effective, internal consistency and logic is the rock-solid foundation upon which to pile on your massive heap of shite.  We’ll let the good people of science decipher the treatment of data, and tackle the post for the masses instead.  In the interest of bettering persuasive science writing, New York Times, let me fix that for you…

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23 Responses to Let Me Fix That For You, New York Times

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  2. Passerby

    Telling women to “LEAN IN, GODAMMIT” and “just don’t breed” hasn’t won you any supporters, least of all this woman. I don’t want to ‘lean in’, to commit to my career – I have better things to do, my own priorities to follow, and I’m not going to throw away my childbearing years chasing some stupid career – you want to spend your life on that, fine. Just leave the rest of us out of it. As Bain pointed out above, the socialization theory of gender development has been disproven years ago, and at a cost written in blood. That you’re trying to prop up Dr. Money’s fraudulent work to make you point is just the sickening icing on an insulting cake.

    • Gentle Reader, Thank you for taking the time to reply. I am not altogether convinced you have understood our gist. If your comment is For Serious, I am certain of it. If you comment is sarcastic, it is a little too meta for our blood.

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  5. This article seems a pretty standard “it’s not us, it’s the pipeline” defense.

    That is, it isn’t directly contradictory to say “we don’t have a problem, it’s all stuff that happens before women get to academia” and at the same time cite the disparate outcomes. It is a common response from academia or industry; I’ve even seen it in high school settings (“*we* certainly don’t discourage girls, they just come through middle school hating math by the time they get here”).

    This defense has the advantage that whatever earlier point you look at is almost certainly obviously worse in terms of institutional sexism,(*) and also clearly not the fault of the people making the defense. Can’t hold college professors responsible for the high school experience; can’t hold high school teachers/administrators responsible for the pre-high school experience; can’t hold those teachers responsible for the home experience and general societal messages. Everyone passes the buck to a seemingly more blameworthy target, and what sexism does exist at the level being examined is brushed off as insignificant compared to what happened at earlier stages. (with words like “roughly the same” or “generally … at the same rate”)

    While it’s true that influences prior to students’ entry into academia are probably larger in effect than influences in academia, there are two basic problems I see with this defense even if the underlying facts hold. First, saying “we tiny compared to those people over there” isn’t a defense no matter how much it feels good to look at worse behavior elsewhere; even if the biases in your are are “tiny”, small slights accumulate to huge effects – this (long) video includes the results of a simulation in which “women” were randomly assigned performance scores from 0 to 99 and “men” were randomly assigned performance scores from 1 to 100, and the resulting gender skew at different organizational levels is huge. Second, this defense relies on the unarticulated assumption that the sexism women experience in academia would remain at its current levels if somehow the problems at earlier stages in the pipeline were fixed. Complicated systems don’t tend to achieve long-term stability without developing some sort of internal regulation; given the persistent disparities between men and women in academic positions, it’s reasonable to at least investigate whether sexism and sexist harassment in an academic setting is acting as a regulatory system keeping female participation within an acceptable range. If it is, then improvements to earlier stages in the pipeline may be undone, or at least minimized, by an academic culture that automatically reacts with increased sexism.

    In short, this article seems more of a standard defense tactic that’s targeted primarily at getting people to blame someone else or look elsewhere than at being effective in eliminating sexism. Sure, a study of what caused what can be useful for determining an allocation of resources but the article’s goal isn’t to fight sexism more effectively – it’s to declare academic science blameless and then move on to nothing, leaving even the sexism the authors will admit exists unexamined and therefore untreated. (e.g., WTF is going on in economics?)

    (*) That might make for an interesting discussion: where’s “peak institutional sexism” in the birth-to-academic tenure pipeline? Sure, you get the pink and blue toy aisles from the start but based on what I saw growing up I’m going to say 8th grade, where it was obvious enough that even I as a socially clueless male saw it.

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  10. I am not sure if there is one statement in this article that can be trusted. I don’t need any data or statistical analysis to see how women are discriminated in academia. It unfolds before my eyes everyday! I know women faculty in STEM that despite bringing hundreds of thousands of research dollars into the department, substantially higher than their male counterparts in the same department, were denied tenure. While those male faculties were easily promoted with low-quality publications in never-heard-of journals/conferences and minimum amount of ongoing research. I also know a promoted, established female faculty who makes only $200/month more than the junior male faculty that was just recently hired. I don’t know what the authors of the article have been smoking but I thank you for the corrections.

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  13. Bain

    And here we have the crux of the issue. Everything is socialization, gender is a patriarchal concept designed to stop women from advancing sexism, soggy knees etc etc. I’m sure there are very good studies that are peer reviewed by people from hard sciences that confirm that gender identity is in fact a societal concept, oh wait, John Money was wrong, David Reimer is dead because of his unethical horrid experiment that he used as proof as gender identity, and there are tests in place in which a child born with two genitalia can be administered tests to determine the most likely gender they will identify with. What we have here is someone attempting to debunk statistics by using an equality of outcome, not an equality of opportunity mindset and then using horrid pseudo-scientific bullshit that has resulted in at least one person’s death to justify their silly triad of how the patriarchy is sexist and how women are socialized from birth to not like those gross boy things and how boys are socialized from birth to think that girls have the cooties.

  14. aitavar

    These guys have no clue… Look, I have been laid off because I am female scientist…

  15. Andreas

    There seems to be a continuous trend in this “edit” of the article in that the value of scientific study seems to completely pass the Red Ink authors by.

    Throughout the edits there are no points where the original article is ever taken seriously. Any claim that is meant to arise from their evidence is adjusted to conform to the biases of the RI authors, examples of such include the changing of “claim” to the simple opposite claim that people are “pointing out” gender disparity (clearly the idea that there might be some scientific explanation for the gender disparity is immediately dismissed as wrong, a terrifying stance to take when tackling scientific questions).

    Perhaps I was being too optimistic, but when your very first edit posits such a lofty goal as to show “that ‘sexist’ means something different at Cornell”, I expected a far more reasoned argument than simply reiterating your position that every claim, regardless of what evidence the researchers believe they have gathered, is incorrect, and that sexism, contrary to the very findings that the study aims to present, is not pervasive in Academic Science.

    Nowehere is this more glaringly apparent than in page two paragraph one where it is claimed by the original authors that “articles published by women are cited as often as those by men” as justification for the following statement that this is indicates gender fairness. The response is stunningly to state the 70/30 percentage difference as if this in any way refutes, contradicts or even relates to the claim about citations.
    This becomes even clearer if we consider the hypothetical were women were cited far less than their male colleagues. In this hypothetical it is undoubtedly obvious that there is pervasive sexism. The idea that a complete reversal of this hypothetical does not imply the opposite claim (namely that there is at least some semblance of gender fairness in academia) is quite frankly unscientific.

    As such it seems unfortunately obvious that this article was meant to be a cathartic exercise, where you yell at the authors for being so stupid, rather than “bettering persuasive science writing”. If indeed the latter was genuinely the goal, then I regret to inform you that what is written in red ink as comment to this article is so unscientific that it belongs in the same class as Freuds theories of penis-envy.

    • Gentle Reader, there are several point where this opinion piece, in it’s claims, seems contradictory to the data presented in the research article. This has been dissected very well and linked in our post. Our intent is to provide feedback to the authors from the perspective of the lay reader.

      We are in complete agreement, though. At no point was the original article ever taken seriously. Thanks for reading.

  16. Steven Simmons

    That’s pretty ballsy to complain about something you admit you aren’t going to read.

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