It's not often that I'm genuinely disappointed to attend the Claremont Colleges, but when I read op-eds like that of Mary Hatcher-Skeers, associate professor of chemistry at Scripps College, I become downright depressed. Rarely have I seen something that was so obviously bias-laden as Dr. Hatcher-Skeers' piece in Insider Higher Education. It's title is "Reality Check," and its author could use a dose of her own medicine.
While positioning herself as a professor of chemistry, Dr. Hatcher-Skeers plunges head first into politics, shoddy statistics, and yes, even the comment section of the blogosphere to advocate for what she really wants: gender-based quotas in scientific education.
As much of our nation's growth relies on the best people becoming science, mathematics, technology and engineering degrees, we must take especially attention of this latest effort to subvert talent in favor of privileged classes. It is a national prerogative to ensure that the best rise to the top and that they be allowed to create companies to employ the rest of us.
Before we address the substance of what she has written, let's suggest a reading list so that we are familiar with what is being discussed. Here are the articles I recommend:
- Christina Hoff Sommers, "Why Can't A Woman Be More Like A Man?" American, March/April 2008 issue.
- John Tierney, "A New Frontier for Title IX: Science," New York Times, July 15, 2008
We will sidestep the first paragraphs in which Professor Hatcher-Skeers shepherds a girl through mathematics and will note only that Dr. Hatcher-Skeers mentions that she has three daughters. That will become important again in a moment.
Nationally, nearly 50 percent of chemistry undergraduates are women, but it’s nowhere near that percentage when it comes to gender equity in Ph.D. programs or in academic careers. And the reason for the falloff continues to be gender discrimination.Here is where Dr. Hatcher-Skeers commits her most egregious fallacy: assuming that if you have disproportionate numbers, there must be discrimination.
This is a common practice among those who advocate for quotas -- comparing a smaller to say that it ought to be or should be representative of the whole -- but that statistical disproportion doesn't mean that discrimination was an underlying cause.
For instance, the frequency of Jews in the population with college degrees is much higher than the general population.
Does that mean that we are discriminating in favor of Jews at American higher education? Or rather, that they tend to do well in high school at a disproportionate rate compared to their peers and hence gain access?
Let's continue looking at what Hatcher-Skeers has written.
The recent Harvard Business Review study on brain drain, “The Athena Factor: Reversing the Brain Drain in Science, Engineering, and Technology,” found that 41 percent of highly qualified scientists, engineers, and technologists on the lower rungs of corporate career ladders are female. But the study found that 52 percent drop out because they are marginalized by hostile macho cultures. . . .The study Dr. Hatcher-Skeers linked to wasn't produced by Harvard Business Review at all, but was rather a summation of a June article in The HBR by the Center for Work-Life Policy, a think tank "dedicated to promoting policies that enable individuals to realize their full potential across the divides of gender, race and class."
That they explicit note the phrase "divide" should give us pause. What if there is no divide at all, but rather individuals rising or falling due to the choices they make?
Worse yet, how can we be certain that the Harvard Business Review doesn't have a bias of its own? After all, it's hardly a secret that the business elites in America favor affirmative action programs for minorities to help sell in new markets, why wouldn't the same be true for women?
Dr. Hatcher-Skeers's reliance on data from groups that clearly have an agenda should have at the very least been disclosed in the article she wrote, if included at all. She later cite a study by Catalyst, a group which boasts that it seeks to "expand opportunies for women and business" on its homepage! Shouldn't Dr. Hatcher-Skeers' be a little more skeptical of the data she sees from such a group before she writes an article?
Dr. Hatcher-Skeer's next error is to quote the comment section of a Higher Education blog as somehow evident of some large anti-woman conspiracy. She even says that the people posting are likely to be young male academics -- how she knows such a thing is anyone's guess -- and yet she's not called out as a bigot for labeling an entire group to fit her political agenda.
The next study that Dr. Hatcher-Skeers cites is one from MIT. Here is what she writes.
What Dr. Hatcher-Skeers leaves out is that the study she mentions wasn't a "study" at all, but rather the work of several women faculty members who felt (rightly or wrongly) that they were being mistreated in comparison to other male faculty members. In fact, the study may have been cooked, as one of its members tellingly revealed in a 1999 Chronicle of Higher Education article. She and some of the fifteen other female faculty members in science "started to collect evidence that their male peers had received a disproportionate [here's that word again!] share of laboratory space and resources for research."
A 1999 MIT study on the status of women faculty in science states, “Once and for all we must recognize that the heart and soul of discrimination, the last refuge of the bigot, is to say that those who are discriminated against deserve it because they are less good.”
The MIT study is an excellent example of what can be achieved when people come together to solve a difficult problem. Their recommendations included establishing a continuing review of primary data to ensure that inequities do not occur, and ensuring close communication among senior women faculty, department heads, deans, and university leadership to prevent marginalization of women faculty and to integrate senior women faculty knowledge of gender issues at the level where academic power resides. The latter will remain critically important until women faculty routinely occupy positions of academic power.
So basically, the women at MIT collected evidence that they were being discriminated again and lo and behold, guess what they found? Yep, they were discriminated against.
Dr. Hatcher-Skeers continues by describing how she brought a man by the name of Dr. Zare who calls for the Nining of science. Skeers cites him approvingly, and moves to her final paragraph:
I think most male scientists have good intentions, but as Zare pointed out, gender discrimination is embedded in our culture. Gender discrimination can only be eradicated through a collective desire to eradicate it. We cannot continue to dismiss reports on brain drain, such as the recent Harvard Business Review study, as women whining. Such studies prove the problem has not been solved. We must remain vigilant. The attitudes and ideals about creating spaces for women as scholars and leaders may be the norm where I work, but we have to be vigilant about spreading these attitudes and ideals throughout academia and beyond.The essence of good science is skepticism. That Dr. Hatcher-Skeers seemed so willing to take biased students as proof should give us all a pause. That she is encouraging that her views be spread with subsidies through the federal government's Title IX should make all us be very vigilant.
The truth of the matter is something that Thomas Sowell long noted that women who choose to have children often decide to leave the work force for a few years as the children mature. For careers like those in STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math), the rate of obsolescence is only increasing for those careers, making re-entry very difficult. As again, people are prisoners of choices they make, not discrimination imposed from on high. When you control for children, women scientists often make slightly more than men.
Of course for any one considering hiring someone who is a woman, a serious concern is whether or nor they will get tenure and then stay home with the kids or some such other thing. "Discrimination" -- if it can be called that-- is often away of making sure that the college gets a high return on the value of training its new professor and that she or he will stick around.