The New York Times have published a manipulative article about women in STEM fields,
In the first paragraph, she describes a 2012 paper written at Yale that "goes a long way toward providing hard evidence" of anti-women "bias" in science. If the admission committee gets the same documents about men and women, they're more likely to pick the male candidate and/or pay him some extra $4,000 in salary.
I doubt that the standards of that research would satisfy my quality expectations but I think that the result is right because it should be right. What Ms Pollack doesn't say is that this treatment of the applications is completely fair and rational. The people who are admitting new students or hiring only get some very incomplete information in the applications and they have to "guess" what the candidates really are and what they aren't, what they can do and what they can't do. And they have to realize that some of the comments in the recommendation letters are exaggerated.
There are two main reasons why this process ends up giving lower scores to the women. One of them is that it is a fact that the percentage of women who are capable of becoming really good physicists or mathematicians is lower by more than one order of magnitude than the percentage among men. So everything that the application doesn't say is naturally filled by some neutral expectations and the neutral expectations inevitably reflect the known group information about the candidates.
Second, every member of the admission committee knows that the female applications (especially the recommendation letters) are being improved more intensely than the male applications (because it's often considered "cool" or "gentlemanly" to say nicer things about women) so they simply subtract this improvement back from the female candidates' scores, to get an idea about the candidates that is as accurate as the data actually allow.
Moreover, these games about improving the female applications followed by the subtraction of the same improvements don't really matter. There are tons of institutions that are obsessed by the political correctness and who would selectively hire good female candidates if there were many of them on the market. But none of these institutions is flourishing simply because there aren't too many good female candidates for such jobs.
Pollack describes some of her math and physics classes where she had a hard time to catch up with others and she constantly wanted to raise her hand to slow the instructor down. You shouldn't be shocked that with these data, her environment wasn't optimistic about her being a physicist. Then she boasts that she graduated summa cum laude.
You may see that whenever the system makes her succeed, it "proves" that she is good. But whenever the system and the environment is telling her something bad, the system and the environment must be rotten. If she disbelieves the system, why doesn't she do so consistently? Most likely, her "summa cum laude" was mostly due to the political correctness at Yale but she is afraid to even consider this possibility and she would like to make sure that the readers will be afraid to consider it, too.
This is just plain dishonest. To make things worse, she blames her being slow on her attendance of a rural school where the education wasn't that good and where people "knew" that girls didn't go to maths and physics etc. Let me tell you something: the percentage of men and women is close to 50 percent in the countryside, too. There are many male physicists who used to attend rural schools, too. And the rural stereotypes also say that being a mathematician isn't a job for a "real man" (it's not macho enough); it is for sissies. The main point is that the anti-intellectual sentiments in the countryside are being supported by any arguments that can be found, regardless of the sex. Her references to the rural high schools clearly provide us with no evidence that her conspiracy theory about the anti-female bias is right.
The actual explanation is, almost certainly, that she just wasn't great in physics and – which may be more important – she doesn't even like it. Her negative attitude to what the "physics research package" includes seems manifest in every other sentence she writes. What she wrote is really a hostile anti-physics tirade. For example, we learn:
At the end of four years, I was exhausted by all the lonely hours I spent catching up to my classmates, hiding my insecurities, struggling to do my problem sets while the boys worked in teams to finish theirs.Physics (and especially mathematics) is often supposed to be a lonely enterprise. So of course that if someone suffers whenever she or he tries to work on physics (or mathematics) in a lonely way, it is not a good idea for her or him to do similar things for decades.
The comment that boys surely solve their homework together and they don't accept girls into their gangs sounds just silly. It surely matches nothing that I have observed as an undergrad. The boy-girl relationships were actually used much more frequently than the "equal sex" bonds. And I don't even have to discuss what my roommate was doing with his future wife in the shower, greetings to Honza and Zdena Smolík. ;-)
I was tired of dressing one way to be taken seriously as a scientist while dressing another to feel feminine. And while some of the men I wanted to date weren’t put off by my major, many of them were.This way of thinking also shows that she is in no way a natural physicist because natural physicists don't really care about the outfit. Of course that some kind of an outfit would look surprising in the environment of physicists but the outfit isn't the primary thing and physicists – male and female physicists – mostly don't care about it. Some of them do (physicists are also men, women, and human and they differ from each other) but that doesn't matter for their social status because most of their environment doesn't.
I know many male and female physicists who like to dress professionally, sometimes stunningly, and I know an even higher number of those who wouldn't give a damn about such things and those who deliberately dress in a homeless way. This isn't really the key to physics and her thinking that it is important is just another indication that she just isn't thinking as a physicist.
Mostly, though, I didn’t go on in physics because not a single professor — not even the adviser who supervised my senior thesis — encouraged me to go to graduate school.Well, I wouldn't encourage her, either, after having observed years of her frustration about the solitude that physics often requires, frantic attempts to catch up with the classmates, and so on. Surely she agrees that they have legitimate reasons to make the conclusions they did make, doesn't she?
Long paragraphs about Larry Summers' famous 2005 speech about the women in science follow. In this discussion, she is already participating as a woman who "locked my textbooks, lab reports and problem sets in my father’s army footlocker and turned my back on physics and math forever" (no one who actually loves this science would do such a thing) and who just wants to fight against the physics community and physics itself for its having hurt her pride about her great talents that never existed.
Lots of boring emotional paragraphs about feminists who try to team up follow. None of the comments has any relevance for the issue, it's an emotional outburst similar to something that Stephen Hawking has called a stream consciousness in a somewhat related situation.
Other women chimed in to say that their teachers were the ones who teased them the most. In one physics class, the teacher announced that the boys would be graded on the “boy curve,” while the one girl would be graded on the “girl curve”; when asked why, the teacher explained that he couldn’t reasonably expect a girl to compete in physics on equal terms with boys.What a scandal. ;-) In sports, no one would have doubted similar claims. Pretty much all sports are segregated. It's common sense. The men and women belonging to comparably selective groups differ in their muscle mass and other things. But one can't "see" the mental powers, can he? So it seems right to many folks to assume that no differences similar to the muscle mass etc. exist. Except that they do exist. And these differences are often much more dramatic than the relatively modest differences in the male and female distribution of physical strengths.
The most important factor deciding about the underrepresentation of women at the top of maths and physics is the higher standard deviation of the men's math-related IQ distribution. It's about 10 percent wider than it is for women. So if a woman is 5 female standard deviations above the female average, it really means that she is just 4.5 male standard deviations above the female average. And 4.5 and 5 standard deviations correspond to dramatically different (small and even smaller) percentages of the whole. Moreover, the different mean values – 3 points in men's advantage – play a minor role, too.
Pollack tries to demagogically abuse the most ordinary human interactions to justify her feminist delusions. For example, we learn the following about a Pakistani female student:
Shaken to find herself the only girl in the class, unable to follow the first lecture, she asked the professor: Should I be here? “If you’re not confident that you should be here” — she imitated his scorn — “you shouldn’t take the class.”She imitated his scorn. Women couldn't ever talk this scornfully to younger men, could they? Well, they could. This is from the sperm bank scene in the first episode of The Big Bang Theory (I am sure that many of you remember the scene):
Leonard: Yes. Um, is this the High IQ sperm bank?You see that it's an almost identical sentence. In the Pakistani student's case, the instructor's reaction is more justifiable, by the way, because the Pakistani student had had hours to figure out where she had been while Leonard just came to the sperm bank only seconds earlier.
Receptionist: If you have to ask, maybe you shouldn’t be here.
Sheldon: I think this is the place.
Well, The Big Bang Theory sitcom is being used as "evidence" of some bias in subsequent paragraphs, too. She tries to suggest that there are almost no female scientists in the show. Then she realizes that there's Bernadette and Amy (the visiting female scholars are quite frequent, however) so she realizes that the claim would be indefensible so she tries to change her explanation of her dissatisfaction many times and the result is completely incoherent. Pollack doesn't like Bernadette's voice or something like that. Why? Why does it matter?
But at the root of it, you can see that she hates the character features that are often linked to physicists:
“The Big Bang Theory” is a sitcom, of course, and therefore every character is a caricature, but what remotely normal young person would want to enter a field populated by misfits like Sheldon, Howard and Raj? And what remotely normal young woman would want to imagine herself as dowdy, socially clueless Amy rather than as stylish, bouncy, math-and-science-illiterate Penny?It is not just a sitcom. It is a highly realistic sitcom when it comes to the physicists' social life (although it surely contains more stories than an average physicist goes through). And thanks to David Saltzberg, the physics quotes are more accurate than in most popular scientific TV programs.
But my main point is that Sheldon, Howard, and Raj aren't "misfits". They're great folks and Sheldon is the most beautiful mind of all. It's mainly this wonderful likable character that has attracted 15-20 million Americans to the TV screens for more than 6 years. If she considers them "misfits", she clearly has a more negative relationship towards physicists than 15-20 million of Americans, and that's just not a good starting point to become a part of the physics community.
And many "remotely normal young women" actually agree with me, not with Pollack. Bernadette married Howard. Amy (and many real-world women she represents) loves Sheldon and if I can tell something, Penny has a secret crush on Sheldon, too. (I have already absorbed the fact that Jim Parsons is gay and I have restored my desire for Penny and Sheldon to be ultimately put together – I belong to the Shenny community.) Rajesh is cute and sexy for many women on the show (and their real-world counterpart) and the actor behind Rajesh has married a Miss India winner. It's totally clear that Pollack hates physicists more than the average human does.
Some aspects of the geekiness are optional and "not critically important" for physics but some of them are – Sheldon's scientific integrity that shows up in the real life is something that a good physicist should share with Sheldon. Of course that to a much lesser extent, the other guys share it, too. And even the non-essential aspects of geekiness (including the science-fiction movie obsessions etc., something that I don't share) are quite widespread among physicists for understandable reasons, because of natural correlations between the physics talents and other hobbies and inclinations. So if she finds such things intolerable, that's too bad.
One can't rebuild what physics and science mean. They do depend on many things including the independence and scientific integrity which makes the average scientist's character differ from the average human character in a predictable direction. If she finds this deviation unacceptable, it's her who isn't ready to become a scientist and it's ludicrous to "blame" the society for that.
Although Americans take for granted that scientists are geeks, in other cultures a gift for math is often seen as demonstrating that a person is intuitive and creative.The main problem with Pollack's reasoning is that she thinks it's bad to be a geek. And it's incompatible with his or her being intuitive and creative. But that's just not the case. Sheldon is surely creative. I would say that he's deeply intuitive as well – just the type of intuition of a person with IQ 187 is more sophisticated and looks less intuitive to the wildly less gifted ones such as Ms Pollack. But her hostile attitude towards the guys' character says much more about her than it says about them (and about their real-world counterpart): Ms Pollack is just an average woman, not a "natural born scientist".
“In other words, it is deemed uncool within the social context of U.S.A. middle and high schools to do mathematics for fun; doing so can lead to social ostracism. Consequently, gifted girls, even more so than boys, usually camouflage their mathematical talent to fit in well with their peers.”It doesn't matter. There are still lots of great, purely white, purely American, sometimes Midwest-born folks who like maths and physics and who think it's fun (and cool!) to do such things. They don't really care about "social ostracism". After all, it's a mutual relationship. One may say that those over 90% of the less bright people who think that maths cannot be done for fun are being segregated from the more elite subgroup of the nations who realize that maths and physics are fun.
Longish paragraphs of preposterous claims that biology doesn't affect people's attitudes to maths and science are printed afterwards. The paragraphs use flawed data, biased analyses, and they're utterly illogical, too. She also seems to be enthusiastic about the idea that the underrepresentation of women in STEM fields is just an American social construct. It's surely better in India and Pakistan etc., we learn. Except that the percentage of female physicists in India and Pakistan is also very small; be sure that I know dozens of Indian and Pakistani physicists and (almost) none of them is female. The bulk of none of these asymmetries depends on social factors.
We also learn that Feynman's IQ was just 125. We're supposed to believe that the IQ doesn't matter in maths and physics. Except that it does. It does matter more than it does in almost any other fields. 125 isn't spectacular but it's still 2 standard deviations above the U.S. average. Moreover, the story that Feynman's IQ was relatively low and he achieved so much anyway is one of the parts of Feynman's self-created image. One can't trust every single result of an IQ test. But when statistical ensembles of folks are being evaluated, the IQ becomes much more accurate and meaningful.
Pollack writes the following sentence in the bold face:
The most powerful determinant of whether a woman goes on in science might be whether anyone encourages her to go on.Right – but that's nothing else than another observation showing that women are much less likely to be "natural born scientists". Why? Simply because "natural born scientists" of any sex don't depend on encouragements. They just like the science or maths even without encouragement – and sometimes despite discouragement from their environment. If someone needs to be encouraged all the time, it really means that she is not in love with the subject because one doesn't need to be encouraged to love something (or someone) if he really loves it.
In other words, the very quote above supports the claim that the number of women in STEM fields is artificially increased by social engineering, by people who encourage girls to do something that they wouldn't naturally want to do and something that may ultimately make them unhappy, like Mr Pollack who prefers meaningless debates about outfits, being "cool" from the viewpoint of the average people, and libels of Dr Sheldon Cooper as a "misfit" despite the fact that he is 5,000 times more likable and social successful a person than she is.
Long pages of boring episodes about her studies are written in The New York Times and all of them are supposed to be used to support her theses about an anti-female bias except that none of them does support anything of the sort. Finally, she boasts about some positive words she has heard over the years:
... “By that measure, I would have to say that what you did was exceptional.” “Exceptional?” I echoed. Then why had he never told me? The question took him aback. I asked if he ever specifically encouraged any undergraduates to go on for Ph.D.’s; after all, he was now the director of undergraduate studies. But he said he never encouraged anyone to go on in math. “It’s a very hard life,” he told me. “You need to enjoy it. There’s a lot of pressure being a mathematician. The life, the culture, it’s very hard.”Well, the professor apparently had a consistent policy about encouragements and in my opinion, it is a wise one. It doesn't make any sense to encourage anyone. It doesn't make any sense to paint the life of a mathematician as being more cheerful than it is. Any distortion of the truth will be paid for in the future and the price may sometimes be high.
When I told Meg Urry that Howe and several other of my professors said they don’t encourage anyone to go on in physics or math because it’s such a hard life, she blew raspberries. “Oh, come on,” she said. “They’re their own bosses. They’re well paid. They love what they do. Why not encourage other people to go on in what you love?”That's what Ms Pollack's current job – in the humanities – looks like. She's her own boss, sometimes writes an anti-science hostile tirade in The New York Times, doesn't have to use her brain much, is never criticized for her absolutely incoherent, crackpot-like texts, and has no problems when she writes them. But the life of a mathematician or a physicist is often hard, energy-consuming, sometimes stressful, and the research is often lonely while the evaluation of the claims and results usually lacks compassion. Ms Pollack likes to suggest that all the negative things only happen to the females except that it's complete bullshit. They happen across the board and men are just much more likely to pass the tests, get into the system, and/or to stay in it.
Having babies is discussed, too. Some women just find their biological instincts and realize that the plans for babies and then having babies are more important things for them than their previous love for maths or physics. On the other hand, the article mentions that the social pressures "not allowing women to have babies" aren't a good enough explanation of the underrepresentation because the academic jobs are actually much more flexible when it comes to maternal leave etc. than most other jobs. So again, it's about the biology, not about a conspiracy in the society.
As Nancy Hopkins, one of the professors who initiated the study, put it in an online forum: “I have found that even when women win the Nobel Prize, someone is bound to tell me they did not deserve it, or the discovery was really made by a man, or the important result was made by a man, or the woman really isn’t that smart. This is what discrimination looks like in 2011.”Well, except that people make similar comments about men, too – they make them all the time. In the men's case, no one is trying to interpret these things "sexually". Incidentally, Nancy Hopkins probably didn't do much work since 1964 because the only chemistry or physics female Nobel prize winner was Ada Yonath in 2009 (chemistry, ribosomes).
It's just the case that none of the big discoveries in the last 50 years was made "mostly by a woman". The main reason why people mention such facts is that they are true – but something's being true isn't a factor that Nancy Hopkins would ever care about. She prefers her ideological delusions and lies. She prefers to throw up or at least whine and call her feminist friends from the media whenever she hears an ideologically inconvenient truth from Larry Summers' mouth. She's a dishonest bitch.
The rest of her article is boring and as far as I could see, it brings no new ideas. To summarize, Pollack's comments are very similar to the caricature of the feminists' opinions in the video above (hat tip: Honza Urban).