Tuesday, June 29, 2010

July Scientiae: Fantasy Institute

Scientists in Fantasy Land have announced the opening of a new Research Institute, to be located in Far Far Away. This Institute will be funded by grants from Bill Gates, Oprah, and Donald Trump, and will be dedicated to curing human disease because the drug companies won't do it and the Obamacare plan stalled and never helped anybody.

Fantasy Institute will be open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with round-the-clock ordering, deliveries, and support staff for completely state-of-the-art equipment. Because of this 24-7 policy, FI will be able to employ 3 full shifts of researchers, all of whom can come and go as their experiments require. Equipment will be sufficiently available, maintained, and cutting-edge that all researchers can use any piece of equipment at any time, without having to sign up or worry that the person before them might have broken the instrument and forgot to tell anyone, or that the software is no longer compatible, or that the old Windows box it ran on died because someone spilled radioactivity on it.

Employees will be judged on only two criteria:

(1) Data points. All data will be uploaded to the Institute Wiki and shared worldwide in real time. Continued employment will depend on deposition of data points and pointers to said data points indicating usefulness to others.

(2) Training each other. Time spent instructing or helping other researchers will be logged, regardless of outcome, but a minimum amount of time must be spent each year helping at least 5 different people. No overlap is allowed from year to year for that minimum of 5 people. This requirement will prevent groups from weaseling out of it by helping only their buddies.

All employees will be hired at the same level and will be treated, paid, and funded as equals, regardless of length or level of previous employment or funding. There will be no internal competition among researchers, and no promotions. Helping each other is thus entirely voluntary, except for the training-each-other requirement as stated above.

Catering will be gourmet and on demand at all hours; the gym and outdoor recreational facilities will be similarly available 24-7, including the indoor swimming pool and ski slopes. Housing will be available within walking distance, and rapid public transportation is available every 5 minutes in all directions from FI to the surrounding neighborhoods.

24-7 daycare for children or pets is provided onsite. Emergency leave for either/both partners is paid for up to 2 years for any reason, including birth, death, or illness of family, friends, or pets. Healthcare for all workers, their families, and their pets will be given as lifetime contracts, such that any service longer than 1 year at FI guarantees lifetime top-notch healthcare for all its researchers, regardless of where they end up living later. Similarly, salary and retirement packages will be generous, including enforced vacation and sick days.

All restrooms will be unisex, include private showers with private changing areas, and will be stocked with any and all personal hygiene supplies that might be needed by anyone.

Sexual, religious, or ethical harassment will not be tolerated. Any discomfort on the part of any employees will result in the offender being voted off the island.

Researchers at FI anticipate cures for all known human diseases in the next 10 years. FI publicly thanks its insanely rich sponsors for finally getting together to spend all that money in one place, and is extremely grateful to its cadre of scientists who finally grew up enough to realize that they were wasting all their energy arguing about who was smarter instead of actually getting anything done.

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Are lawsuits really the only way?

Sorry to say I've been so far off the radar that I missed this essential post by Dr. Isis about how women went from 1.4% to 20% of NIH study section members in 1971, thanks to AWIS.

Too bad AWIS didn't have anything remotely so revolutionary brewing in my scientific lifetime.

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Oh Mr. Tierney

I generally ignore this guy at the NY Times, because he clearly doesn't understand the data.

For example, the supposedly innate difference between women and men in math. He loves to cite the studies that say men are at either end of the bell curve for math, but rarely cites the accompanying evidence that on average men and women are equally good at math and science.

I'll admit, his last article on June 7th (linked above) was not that bad. I actually agree that legislating awareness workshops doesn't really fix anything. Although, who knows, they did help for drastically reducing sexual harassment (he doesn't mention that).

Yesterday's column by Mr. Tierney, on the other hand, was downright offensive.

Mr. Tierney deliberately mis-cites this National Academy study that came out last year as claiming that women and men "enjoy comparable opportunities" in grants and promotion at universities.

One of the things that infuriates me about that study and this article is basically the point of this blog: the problems are in publishing and hiring. The reason those are still the two biggest problems is because they're entirely "confidential" which means THERE ARE NO STUDIES EXAMINING WHETHER THEY ARE FAIR OR NOT.

Of course, he also cites the most anti-feminist female writer Christina Hoff Sommers.

However, we can't just ignore these people, because too many readers get their only information about science from places like the New York Times, and they don't know that Sommers and Tierney are far from representative, and far from being scientists themselves.

Tierney cites the famous Wenneras and Wold paper from 1997 castigating a Swedish postdoctoral grant review panel for being sexist. And then promptly dismisses it as an aberration.

(note that the same newspaper has an article today entitled Oil Executives Tell Committee That BP Spill Is an Aberration.)

Seriously though, I've been thinking long and hard about how to get gray-haired white guys like Mr. Tierney, and crazy anti-feminists like Sommers (okay let's face it, I'd have an easier time with Tierney) to understand how I feel after experiencing gender bias in all its subtle crazymaking persistence on a daily basis for years as a scientist.

Tierney clearly doesn't get it. But he is smart enough to tap into the growing furor over women in science, and he's right that the workshops won't solve our problems. And the controversial style he uses also brings more attention to our cause, even if he's defending Larry Summers while he does it. I'm beginning to think Larry Summers is one of the more open-minded folks out there, if people like Mr. Tierney are any indication.

Tierney is defensive and scared now that women outnumber men in college (an issue that Sommers loves to write about), while again emphasizing that women and men struggle with having children as as academic tenure-track faculty.

It's true that there are more women than men applying to and qualifying for college, but it's not true that they're all admitted. In fact, most colleges actively discriminate against women now, in an effort to maintain near-gender parity and avoid the disdain they would receive upon becoming a "hen house".

Tierney is also completely missing the point that women of child-bearing age routinely experience hiring and discrimination at the postdoc level on the basis of the assumptions that women

a) all want children
b) all lie about wanting children
c) won't do as much work after having children as men do.

At least, that's the type of discrimination I experienced. Repeatedly. Despite my vocal reminders that I don't want children, and that what I wanted was a career in the science field for which I have spent my entire adult life training.

But Mr. Tierney couldn't possibly understand what it's been like to be me.

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