The New York times has an interesting article (read it while you can) about MIT’s effort in the past 10 year to tackle discrimination against women, initially in the School of Science and then over the entire university.

A recently released report points out the progress, as well as interesting problems that remain open. For example (the following sentence is not attributed and does not appear in quotes):

Despite an effort to educate colleagues about bias in letters of recommendation for tenure, those for men tend to focus on intellect while those for women dwell on temperament.

This is very interesting if true. In principle, it is a testable assertion: one could take a large sample of recommendation letter, remove all direct reference to gender (she/her/ first names, etc.), use half of them to train a machine learning algorithm, and then see if the algorithm is able to guess better than randomly which of the remaining letters are for women and which are for men. (Among other things, the learning algorithm would pick up a higher frequency of words about temperament, if such comments were really more frequent about women.)

The article also points out societal issues on which MIT has little control but that are important, for example the fact that child care and family-work balance are seen as women issues, rather than parents issue.

In a way, it is good that now these are the kind of issues that remain to be addressed, compared to the outright discrimination that was determined to have occurred in a mid-1990s review, and compared to what happens in other fields and/or in other institutions.

Meanwhile, Mark Krikorian, in National Review, writes that the United States intervened in Libya because the women in the administration “nagged” Obama into doing so, and Mr. Krikorian worries about what foreigners will think of us because of it. Note the classy title of his post.

Edited to add: the top two students in my class CS261 were both women.

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