Saturday, April 24, 2010

A link from a comment I received today

A commenter wrote to ask why I don't discuss this old post, instead of all these ridiculous sexism theories.

So, I (re-)read the post in question. I think the author is an asshole, though a deceptively thoughtful one. I think in many ways his commentary on science in general is exactly right (nobody ever said all assholes are idiots).

However, regarding why there are fewer women, and why sexism is still a major problem, he is missing the point.

Is sexism just another facet of the abuse heaped on junior scientists? Is it just another way of abusing idealists, and if we are minorities they insult our race, and if we are women they call us bitches, and if we speak up for ourselves we are pessimists? Are they just pushing our buttons?

Or is it a larger cultural problem we unfairly have to shoulder ON TOP OF all the existing problems in the academic science hierarchical mess?

Didn't we choose science in part because it was supposed to be different from all the other career trajectories where you're taught to expect sexual harassment, where you're expected to sleep your way to the top?

Don't we have as much right as stupid little boys do, to pursue research if that's what we want?

Or are we supposed to know better, the way little girls are not allowed to play in the dirt but boys are? Because we're supposed to be in training to wear frilly dresses and soon enough we'll have to be somebody's responsible mommy? Women are supposed to care only about money and security, is that it?

Would we be stupid masochists for saying but we wanted to do science anyway, despite all the bullshit?

Well, yes.

But do we have any less right to it than men? Really? Since when does being a woman take away my right to choose?

Oh, well, yeah, there's that whole crazy thing about it being my body. But I really did think my choice of career would be my own.

Have at it, Dr. (and soon-to-be-Dr.) Chickadees!

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At 2:02 PM, Blogger Kea said...

It's hard for these guys to understand, but I never actually planned to be a masochist when I chose to become a physicist at 15 years of age. Now I'm a friendless, childless, unemployed 40+ postdoc and whatever I do now (the 3 options are waitressing, starving or somehow finding a postdoc) it seems that I'm bound to go on being a masochist. There isn't any escape. Occasionally I try to explain my situation to young, unemployed male postdocs, but they really, really, really don't get it.

At 4:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems like you are digging your heels in deep in favor of your sexism theory.

The idea that the misery, poor opportunities and crappy work environment may be just systemic of science is just too much for you to accept.

It would be like telling you that you are living in the Matrix and your perceptions have simply been shaped by a lot of fiddling by sociologists hell bent on proving something that is of minor importance to women in science.

Greenspun's theory is far more elegant. Why would any American go into science? It's a lonely, depressing environment with years of training and the possibility of being rendered obsolete within years of getting a degree. The reward in the end for an industrial/academic scientist is a job in an area with a high cost of living, constant fear of not finding the next job opportunity.

Women don't do science for the same reason they don't do computer programming. Way to volatile, low reward for intelligence and the incredible isolation it imposes. If you have autism, do science, if not, get a life.

At 8:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've long wondered why you chose to ignore this article by Greenspun. I have posted it here myself in the past and you deleted the comment.

Probably because it's the only document out there that offers an alternative (or just complementary) view of the issues - which you obviously don't like.

Greenspun never says women are not discriminated against, and he never says that they are less capable. Have you ever read the article in its entirety, or just glanced through it and thought "oh its a man that wrote then - forget his opinion - it's not valid". In fact, he gives them women credit for being SMARTER than men - for seeing earlier that science is not a career worth pursuing unless you are someone willing to foolishly give up your life for some slim chance at being a "rockstar".

Asshole? Please find me any where in the article where he treats women as less than men, or not strong enough to handle the bullcrap in Science. It's not that they can't do it - it's just they realize stupid immature men are not a peer group to be compared against.

I myself am male and have realized it is not worth spending my time trying to impress a group of people with the immaturity of children (men and women "hardcore" scientists included) that are not interested in a work-life balance or science for that matter, but to simply be the science "genius" they think they deserve to be recognized as.

At 9:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To be fair, you have to admit that this article has explained the situation of science in the US very well. He hasn't gotten the "women in science" part right, but it is a very good argument for why one shouldn't go into science as a career. I am going to send it to my younger sister who wants to do a PhD in biology. :)

At 11:04 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Kea - only fellow masochists would understand. ;-)

Anon 4:30,

It seems like you're digging your heels in deep against actually READING MY BLOG.

I've written EXTENSIVELY about how fucked up science is in general. I'm well aware, and you can certainly argue that Greenspun argues it more elegantly than I ever have, but he isn't saying anything I haven't said repeatedly.

HOWEVER, arguing about why women "choose" not to do science or computer programming is a very dangerous thing for men to try to do. You're still MISSING THE POINT.

Anon 8:10, who sounds suspiciously like the Anon above, I certainly didn't intend to ignore this article or delete your comment if you sent it to me before.

It's really NOT an alternative view at all, it's what we've been saying all along is wrong with science.

HOWEVER, defending Larry Summers will get you NOWHERE on this blog.

Claiming that women are "smarter" to quit is bullshit, it's like saying slaves are smart to run away from being beaten and then claiming there's no point to outlawing slavery.

So yeah, that's where I'm coming from with the "asshole" comment.

NONE of this is going to get fixed so long as we all pretend like women are doing the "smart" thing by "choice" and that it's all okay for things to stay this way.

Having said that, I agree that we shouldn't spend out time trying to impress people with the maturity level of children. But my point all along has been that science should be more about data and less about "impressing people".

Anon 9:32 wrote "To be fair, you have to admit that this article has explained the situation of science in the US very well."

Um, I did. Actually. In the blog post. It's right up there.

Thanks for reminding me why I don't really like blogging anymore. What's the point when nobody actually reads what I wrote? Why bother trying to impress people, indeed.

At 2:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am anon 8:10 - I posted that Greenspun article AGES ago..

We all recognize that you said that Greenspun has a point. (I think the last anonymous just was reinforcing that we all have to admit Greenspun is right). Nobody said that you haven't touched upon the suckiness of Science. Good god you are defensive.

I don't know Greenspun or his intensions, but I fail to see why you think he is an asshole. You haven't really given any evidence other that you don't like what he has to say. I also don't like to hear the message that my career choice was bad, that I must be a masochist/stupid/naive to continue, etc - but I don't kill the messenger!

At 10:48 PM, Blogger Dr.Girlfriend said...

I agree Greenspun's general synopsis of science.

He says going to graduate school is not a smart thing to do, finically speaking. However, most of us knew this - right? Perhaps we did hope for a little more, but we wanted a higher degree, more than a higher earning potential. At least I did.

I did not do my bachelors to improve my employability - I knew plenty of graduates working the same crappy bar jobs I was at the time!

I went to graduate school to extend the experience of higher learning as long as possible. I do not regret my Ph.D, and I would do it all over again given the chance. Hell, if I won the lottery I would be a student forever.

I did not research the earning potential of the route I was taking - I just assumed (correctly) it was better than when I was a high-school dropout. Even though my truck-driving brother earns more than I do, a postdoc does earns more than the average non-college graduate.

I wanted to play scientist, so I did. I certainly do not regret or resent my years spent as a PhD student. Now I have grown up a little and want to play the money game. So what if I am a little behind?

What I resent about the tone of the Greenspun article is how he implies females cannot be just as competitive, irresponsible, and shortsighted children as males.

I feel like my inner 11 yr old boy is being forced to wear a dress again.

At 12:52 PM, Anonymous FrauTech said...

Greenspun is addressing why science in America doesn't work. Nowhere does he really explain why women are at such a low percentage other than "immigrant populations are mostly male" (ok I grant him that one) and "men are more likely to take risks and are more stupid and foolish than women." That reminds me of all the articles after the financial collapse that stated to a certainty the collapse would not have happened had women been in charge. But there was no real effort to change the status quo.

Saying things like "women are less risk averse" or "women don't take as many foolish career choices as men do, because they are smarter" overlooks the obvious. Like, in many cases, women CAN'T take risky career choices. There are societal punishments in place for those that do, that are not there for men.

And while it's obvious there's something wrong in academia, saying "well it's bad for everyone" isn't a fair attempt at dealing with why it's worse for women or why women are punished unequally.

I also find his article amusing now that it's so out of date and recommends people are much better off going to Wall Street or being lawyers. There are so many out of work people now in both those fields, unable to switch careers, and maybe wishing for the mediocre pay an adjunt somewhere might have. Truth is, nothing will please everyone. Whatever you have a passion for you should pursue. Just because an industry is bad overall doesn't mean we can be blind to the gender disparities it continues to hold. Just because The Menz have it bad does not mean women don't have it worse and don't deserve a voice somewhere.

At 12:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I understand your point, but I still resent the stupid little boy comment. I completely support women doing whatever they want, whether it be being a unhindered scientist, president, or stay at home mom. And I played with many a girl in the dirt back in my heyday, and we both got in trouble, not just her :) Point is, I would rather not be called stupid just because I have a penis. Rather, I would like all those who continue to harass you and have penises to be called stupid :)

At 8:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"What I resent about the tone of the Greenspun article is how he implies females cannot be just as competitive, irresponsible, and shortsighted children as males."

An honest opinion, but as I read the article he didn't say this. I think he did imply that arguing about what Larry Summers said is like re-arranging the decks chairs on the Titanic. I'm not sure what to think about the charges of sexism, and since I'm not a victim I'm not too firm in my view, but I don't think that anyone really made a "choice" to go into "science" when what we "chose" to go into was sold to us fraudulently.

At 8:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And I second the comments about the lack of self-awareness of people ranting about sexism while making comments like "stupid little boy."

Wouldn't it be funny if people did a personality or fMRI study and found out that women who go into science are a lot like "stupid little boys."

At 4:58 PM, Anonymous Hope said...

On the subject of Greenspun’s article: while I think that academia certainly has its problems, I don’t agree that Greenspun gets it “exactly right.” As a general principle, only when there is a truly post-sexist culture in science and academia am I going to take explanations like “women found better jobs” seriously.

It’s interesting to hear Greenspun talk about sample bias and then to watch him fall prey to that when he talks about the lives of doctors, lawyers, and those in business. For many people, a lot of other considerations go into deciding upon a profession – it’s not just about the money. Some very smart people who find science fascinating find law very tedious. They might also dislike dealing with the sick or worrying only about making a buck. No matter how motivated or intelligent you are, it’s hard to be successful in a career where you really don’t enjoy huge chunks of what you do. And let’s hope that if you are one of those people, you somehow figured this out before you went to law or medical school. I have some friends who didn’t, and the amount of debt that they were saddled with when they graduated is almost impossible to pay off without working in one of those two professions. Getting a PhD in science seems extremely low-risk, by comparison. A lot of people can’t afford the med/law school gamble. Oh, and those salaries he’s quoting? Those aren’t exactly average. Would it be fair to represent what engineering faculty make by quoting salaries at MIT? I’m guessing Greenspun has never really thought seriously about what it might be like to be a lawyer stuck in a mediocre law firm with tons of debt to pay off.

Greenspun’s description of life as an industrial scientist seems pretty alien to me:

Want a job where you seldom have to meet anyone new? Want to sit at the same desk or bench year after year and work mostly by yourself?

I’ve worked at three very different places, and his description does not at all match my experience, or those of my friends who work in industry. And some of them are computer programmers!

No, in general I stay away from the zealots … and those men who presume to know the minds of women.

At 3:34 PM, Anonymous Hope said...

One more thing about the Greenspun piece: his “solution” to the low numbers of women in science is proof to me that he just doesn’t get it. Sure, let’s bribe women to become scientists in academia, and out of the other side of our mouth, let’s talk about fairness and equality. For me, the point has never been to achieve some predefined ratio or number of women in science. What I care about is that any woman with an interest in the field should have the same shot at success that the men do. Whether the chances for success are great, average, or dismal is really beside the point in this case.


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