All Too Familiar


xkcd 'How It Works' cartoon
xkcd: “How It Works”

Interesting, since this very matter came up in the deliberations of a committee I was on recently…

-cvj

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21 Responses to All Too Familiar

  1. candace says:

    Yep, this one brought a wry smile to my face, too. Thanks for throwing it up here.

  2. Tom Weidig says:

    I do not understand this cartoon. Why is there “Girls” written? Could the person with the long hair not be a boy?????

  3. Yeah, I saw that one. Someone sent it out on a women-in-science mailing list I’m on.

    –IP

  4. Tom T says:

    Tom W. If there where boobs on the the long haired person, would you understand it?

  5. Kea says:

    Geez, who are all these people (here and elsewhere) who pretend not to understand the cartoon? Yeah, yeah, we all know it’s a cheap attempt to show some solidarity, but a non-anonymous comment telling us what you’ve done to change things would go a lot further.

  6. pedant says:

    Very true – very sad. Sadder still: for >99% of the world’s population the conversation would read ‘math sucks’ and come to an abrupt end. What did I, albeit anonymously, do about this? Once I tutored a young lady who was pretty much into the wild child thing (with its cool corollary that math sucks) pro bono and convinced her that math in fact did not. Now she is an accountant, and living happily ever after.

  7. anonymus l. says:

    I was in one of the non-ivy universities admission committee the year after the former President of Harvard declared women to be “less strong” in sciences than men. I’ve seen files of teenage women scientist so accomplished already… We accepted as many as we could. The said president resigned shorty after the comment and the subsequent debate, but the bias continues, unspoken, with regards to both women and minorities. What a sad state of affairs…

  8. nige cook says:

    My A-level physics teacher at school was a female, as was my A-level maths teacher in England. My undergraduate “personal tutor” was a female with a PhD, who was the department head. Maybe America and Kea’s part of the world down under are simply more backward than England.

    The Harvard president (Lawrence Summers) referred to by “anonymus I.” above was clearly trying to get his 15 minutes of fame through notoriety, having failed to have accomplished fame ethically through constructive behaviour.

  9. Clifford says:

    Excellent scientific reasoning nige. The results of your own personal sampling trumps everything else. Nicely argued.

    -cvj

  10. MikeinAppalachia says:

    Wow! Brit undergrads get PhD Dept. Heads as “personal tutors”-which I assume was tutoring in a very “personal” way-and it’s America that is more backward? Yeah, right. And, we’re told that since there are female high school teachers of physics and math in England, pretty much the same as in the USA, this implies..well..what, exactly?
    Summers hardly needed to create a controversy to achieve “fame”. Nige might want to do a little checking as to the object of his insults prior to making such. Summers made an absolutely correct observation that caused a female in attendence to “..become faint…” (her words, despite the irony as to temperment). The resulting PC condemnation gave the Harvard faculty, smarting at being asked to actually earn their posts, thier opening to rid themselves of Summers. Nige must be a faithful Guardian reader, thus his views.

  11. nige cook says:

    “Excellent scientific reasoning nige. The results of your own personal sampling trumps everything else. Nicely argued.”

    Clifford, thanks, yet personal experience is no more “argued” by me to be a piece of “scientific reasoning” than putting a cartoon on a blog is “argued” by you to a piece of scientific reasoning.

    I make a suggestion that since the complaints I’ve seen sexism in science are coming from USA and Australia, and since I’ve over my life seen female scientists and teachers held only in respect in England at all levels during my education, “maybe” the problem is regional to the areas where people do have complaints! Of course I may be totally wrong – maybe everything I’ve seen and heard in education over many years may be a totally misrepresentative of the situation elsewhere in England – but I haven’t actually claimed that, I’ve merely suggested that the problem may be a regional one, localised to highly geographic regions where the complaints of sexism in science appear to be coming from. I didn’t claim to make made a scientific study, and made clear from my wording where my information came from.

    MikeinAppalachia: the personal tutor is someone who about ten students have regular meetings with to discuss general matters. I suggest you re-read my comment if you can’t grasp the relevance.

    Summers’ general statement that females are “less strong” in sciences is not an opinion or a suggestion, it is stated by him as if it is fact. Generalized patronising statements about women are certain to grab media attention.

    Since making such an inaccurate statement would lead to controversy, I that would explain the facts. Yes, Summers had a degree of “fame” as President of Harvard and from his work as an economist up to then, but that hardly have him the media attention widely across society that he got out of his controversial comment. The media eagerly reports such statements from prestigious academics.

  12. nige cook says:

    (apologies for the grammatical errors, it’s late)

  13. Clifford says:

    I put up a cartoon that expresses a well-documented phenomenon, with which numerous women can identify, have done so here (and to me by email), and in all the many places the cartoon appeared. By itself, it is not an argument and does not claim to be. You, on the other hand, are using your single data point to try to invalidate the collective experience of thousands of others. I find this remarkable: Because you personally have not seen sexism in academia in merry old England, that does not mean it does not exist. There are umpteen women I know who would happily tell you about their similar experiences there, if you’d care to listen. Yes, some places are worse than others, but no… England is not perfect in this regard. Far from it.

    -cvj

  14. personal experience is no more “argued” by me to be a piece of “scientific reasoning” than putting a cartoon on a blog is “argued” by you to a piece of scientific reasoning.

    A cartoon isn’t an argument, and I don’t see where anyone claimed it was. I think it would be more accurate to say that the cartoon illustrates a (separately scientifically documented) phenomenon.

    As an aside, having female maths/science teachers is not surprising since I believe it is still the case that the majority of schoolteachers in the UK are female. Nobody is claiming that there are *no* women mathematicians/scientists, only that there are disproportionately few, and that this is due to sexism in academia (sexism in industry is also documented).

    –IP

  15. nige cook says:

    ‘You, on the other hand, are using your single data point to try to invalidate the collective experience of thousands of others. … There are umpteen women I know who would happily tell you about their similar experiences there, if you’d care to listen.’

    Clifford, thanks again. Giving my personal experience, and making a suggestion, is not – in my opinion – exactly the same thing as trying to invalidate the experience of others. I always listen to others, and have been doing so all my life. It is on this basis that I made the comment. If you’d care to reread what I wrote, maybe you’d see that I’m not trying to invalidate other people’s experiences.

  16. I make a suggestion that since the complaints I’ve seen sexism in science are coming from USA and Australia, and since I’ve over my life seen female scientists and teachers held only in respect in England at all levels during my education, “maybe” the problem is regional to the areas where people do have complaints!

    Sexism in the UK is far from undocumented, so I would query how hard you are looking for your information. Have you asked women/minority scientists whether they ever feel isolated, unheard, invisible, or discriminated against? Had you tried something as simple as typing the search term “women in science UK” into Google, you would have noticed that the majority of the top hits are pages for organisations that deal with the gender inequality in the sciences.

    Generalising from your own limited experience to claim that sexism in England is not much of a problem, is quite a step. You seem to be arguing that because you personally haven’t seen discrimination against women, it’s not much of a problem in England. Why not give more weight to the possibility that sexism is a problem, but you just haven’t seen the discrimination?

    –IP

  17. nige cook says:

    “Sexism in the UK is far from undocumented, so I would query how hard you are looking for your information.”

    I’m wrote lifetime personal experience from the UK of seeing how my female teachers and professors were respected:

    “My A-level physics teacher at school was a female, as was my A-level maths teacher in England. My undergraduate “personal tutor” was a female with a PhD, who was the department head. Maybe America and Kea’s part of the world down under are simply more backward than England.”

    It is crystal clear as to where my information comes from! This makes me query how hard you looked for your information, and whether you actually read what I wrote.

    “Have you asked women/minority scientists whether they ever feel isolated, unheard, invisible, or discriminated against?”

    Yes, that’s why I commented. Discrimination occurs where “women/minority scientists” are isolated from the majority, and I’ve seen plenty of evidence in the U.K. that this isn’t occurring in the red brick colleges I was educated at.

    “Had you tried something as simple as typing the search term “women in science UK” into Google, you would have noticed that the majority of the top hits are pages for organisations that deal with the gender inequality in the sciences.”

    Gender inequality in the sciences is a sad fact, although it is fast diminishing. My comment was about gender prejudice, not gender inequality, because the cartoon on this blog is about gender prejudice, not gender inequality. There are still a smaller number of females entering the sciences, but that inequality might not be completely due to the existence of prejudice by men against women and discrimination. There are many factors involved, e.g. society to some extent tries to role model the sexes from an early age, with females pushed maybe more into arts as a rule than into sciences. This is done by peer-pressure, parents, relatives, etc. So the inequality in the numbers of the different sexes employed is not the same thing as males disrespecting females who want to enter science.

    I’ve had prejudice due to hearing and related speech problems at an early age, so I’m interested in how it arises from groupthink (lack of thinking) and from my experience the few women scientists that there are in the UK which I’ve been fortunate enough to have as teachers, are highly respected people.

    It may be true that there is more sexist in science in the US and Australia (i.e., places from where I’ve seen complaints come from, e.g. Harvard and Kea’s Australia/New Zealand). But in the UK, such a cartoon as produced on this blog post would not be helpful. It’s not statistically based science, it’s not even a particular piece of individual experience: it’s a message that females are prejudiced against in mathematics by males. Maybe this kind of message causes the inequality by discouraging many females from entering science in the first place?

    Summer’s controversial speech as President of Harvard on 14 January 2005 claimed:

    “… if one is talking about physicists at a top twenty-five research university, one is … talking about people who are three and a half, four standard deviations above the mean [intelligence]… If you do that calculation – and I have no reason to think that it couldn’t be refined in a hundred ways – you get five to one [males per female], at the high end.”

    He claimed that this calculation explains why you should get more male than female scientists – there are more males of high intelligence. This is wrong because the intelligence tests are just telling you about prejudice, not explaining it. In my own case, IQ scores when I couldn’t hear/understand or speak properly at school were over 20 points lower than they were once I got treatment. In studies of genetically and gender-identical identical twins, environmental factors cause differences as large as 20 points or so. On average, only 80% of IQ is innate. Females aren’t less intelligent. The percentage difference in IQ tests correlates to the proportion of questions in the tests requiring fairly deep immersion for several years in maths, patterns of numbers and geometric shapes, etc. All the difference in such statistics is telling you is that that on average there are fewer women being immersed in science from a young enough age. It’s not genetic. As in the case of identical twins, males who (on average) through social peer pressure get interested in maths more deeply than females, do on average get a higher IQ score just because of that acquired skill. So Summers was missing the point: the mean IQ difference is smaller than environmental variations in IQ proved to exist in identical twin studies. Summers’ argument that IQ explains inequality is false, because IQ differences and inequality can both result from the same cause, i.e. the social prejudice that maths and sciences are “traditionally (biasedly) male territory”.

    My point in my previous comment is totally different, however. Far from claiming that no numerical inequality exists, all I argued was that from personal experience those females who are in science, are respected. If I’m correct, may be there is a selection effect, whereby all the females who aren’t in science but wanted to be, ended up working outside science as a result of having been discriminated against (i.e. only the most hardy survived to take up a career in science). Maybe to some extent it may be due to legislation in the UK which protects females from discrimination and dates back to 1975. I don’t know how much better the sexual equality law is here than in the US or Australia.

  18. nige cook says:

    Sorry again for typos despite quickly proof reading the comment before submitting, but it’s 1.47am and I’m busy at the moment revising for difficult exams…

  19. Gender inequality in the sciences is a sad fact, although it is fast diminishing. My comment was about gender prejudice, not gender inequality, because the cartoon on this blog is about gender prejudice, not gender inequality.

    And what do you think causes gender inequality?

    Not all prejudice is direct, that’s true. And while it’s often the case that prejudice or deliberate discrimination isn’t directly responsible, it can be very very difficult to eradicate sources of subconscious or indirect bias due to prejudiced or simply apathetic attitudes among the privileged group (in this case men scientists). That is, gender prejudice and apathy becomes blatantly apparent when a group of senior men scientists are asked to change the procedure/arrangement that is contributing to inequality and replace it with a more equitable arrangement. I and many other people report similar experiences.

    It is crystal clear as to where my information comes from! This makes me query how hard you looked for your information, and whether you actually read what I wrote.

    And I’m saying that your having known three women scientists who were respected is not a good basis for claiming that gender prejudice isn’t alive and kicking in the UK. (Especially since, as has already been commented on, schoolteachers are a special case since the majority of schoolteachers are women.)

    Discrimination occurs where “women/minority scientists” are isolated from the majority, and I’ve seen plenty of evidence in the U.K. that this isn’t occurring in the red brick colleges I was educated at.

    Your personal experience is not proof that sexism isn’t a factor in the UK. The experience of one individual in any decent-sized-sample would still be well within the margin of statistical insignificance in a quantified study. A lot of women report experiencing sexism (including prejudice) in the UK. Also, women are far more likely to observe gender prejudice than men are if it is directed at them.

    It’s not statistically based science, it’s not even a particular piece of individual experience: it’s a message that females are prejudiced against in mathematics by males.

    It’s based on the frequently-reported (and documented) phenomenon than women face gender prejudice in science/maths. It’s reasonably accurate of a lot of people’s experience (including mine). And yes, you’re right that it’s “a message that females are prejudiced against in mathematics by males”…and women do face prejudice in mathematics by males — so what’s the problem?

    Maybe this kind of message causes the inequality by discouraging many females from entering science in the first place?

    Well that’s patronising. First tell people who have experience gender prejudice in the UK that gender prejudice in the UK doesn’t exist and you know so because because you’ve never seen it. Then people not to talk about the fact that women face prejudice in science because it’ll discourage women from entering science! As if prejudice was going to go away by itself. A far better response would be to say “Yes, let’s talk about prejudice and about what we can do to challenge prejudice and minimise the effects of prejudice.” But before you can have that constructive conversation, you have to acknowledge that there’s a problem, and that the thousands of people who report experiences of prejudice might actually have a point.

    –IP

  20. Clifford says:

    Very well said, IP. Thanks!

    -cvj