Women in Physics
It’s a long article on a very important subject. I very much encourage you to read the whole thing; there’s good stuff all the way through to the end.
“People said, ‘Oh, that might happen in the Midwest or in the South, but not in New England, or not in my department — we just graduated a woman.’ They would say, ‘That only happens in economics.’ ” Male scientists told Handelsman: I have women in my lab! My female students are smarter than the men! “They go to their experience,” she said, “with a sample size of one.” She laughed. “Scientists can be so unscientific.”
… Nor was she surprised that the bias against women was as strong in biology as in physics or chemistry, despite the presence of more female biologists in most departments.
I’ve mentioned before that women (and basically everyone but white men) are underrepresented in physics. It is deeply depressing that the same “girls never go on in science and math” sentiment that this author talks about – an author who got her BS from Yale in the year I was born – is still alive and well today. I’ve heard the same phrase from essentially every woman in science, including from many who are now in biology because they loved science but were told that physics was still a boy’s realm.
There’s a substantial societal effect here. We tend to forget that society is made up of individuals. In this case, clearly, it’s individual misogynists.
One of my old bosses was good enough to admit his bias. He knew, when he was involved in hiring decisions, that he made awful calls in the past when it came to not hiring women. (I believe his phrase was that most of the women who he voted against and were later hired ended up being exceptional teachers and physicists.) He didn’t know exactly how to counteract this bias, either – you can’t just decide to hire every woman who applies, and his internal measure of how good someone would be at physics was clearly skewed. He also couldn’t exactly recuse himself from every hiring committee involving women. What to do? Not only did he not want to be seen as a misogynist, he genuinely didn’t want to be one.
I’m getting into anecdotes more than I’d normally like to, but I think there’s some value here. Regardless of your beliefs about anecdotes and data, I think there’s still some value in the case study. John Clement once suggested to me that a case study was sort of like a dissection – it told you a lot about that one animal, and if you did it right, it would tell you a lot about that type of animal as well.
Subjecting yourself to a case study is difficult. Kudos to him for making the first step.