Saturday, March 3, 2007

Women in science or Hey Larry don't you have a degree in Economics? (Repost)...

Awhile ago, Dr. Myers over on Phayrngula has an interesting & disturbing piece on The cost of being a woman in science sparked by a correspondence to Nature entitled Mysterious disappearance of female investigators. It is about the worrying results of the first European Young Investigator awards. Women were severely underrepresented. The authors of the correspondence would like to study why this is the cause and replicate the work of C. Wennerås & A. Wold (Nepotism and sexism in peer review, view for free). The European Science Foundation (ESF) has refused to release any data to help the researches study the cause of the under representation of women in winning EYIAs.

Wold and Wennerås looked at peer-review evaluations to the Swedish Medical Research Council, including scores reviewers gave applicants for scientific competence, and compared those scores to more objective real world evaluations such as impact scores. What did they find? Something very disturbing:

"Did men and women with equal scientific productivity receive the same competence rating by the MRC reviewers? No! As shown in Fig. 1 for the productivity variable ‘total impact’, the peer reviewers gave female applicants lower scores than male applicants who displayed the same level of scientific productivity. In fact, the most productive group of female applicants, containing those with 100 total impact points or more, was the only group of women judged to be as competent as the least productive group of male applicants (the one whose members had fewer than 20 total impact points)."

They were also able to look at the impact of being a woman had on their competency evaluation for the grants:
"a female applicant had to be 2.5 times more productive than the average male applicant to receive the same competence score as he ((40+64)/40=2.6)."

In other words to get the same level of respect, women had to do basically 2.5 times more work to get this grant. Extrapolate out (which does appear to be the case I am afraid to say) to other grants/publications, etc. and you have a pretty good reason why so many women leave science. You have to get grants to stay in science. If the bar is raised higher for women then men, then men will get more grants and be more "successful". Not to mention who wants to put in 2.5 times more work to get the same reward? One has to be pretty passionate about science to do that. It is economics 101. We need to understand & appreciate the full extent of this problem, let the studies happen. It is the answer to the Larry Summers (an economist mind you) of the world.

Science and society as a whole is limited when we opress and exclude people for no reason other than they are not the dominate group. The enrichment for white guys means we are not getting the best and the brightest in the sciences not to mention lacking the full range of perspectives necessary for productive science.

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