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.