Women in Science, Engineering, and Politics

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.

6 thoughts on “Women in Science, Engineering, and Politics

  1. I don’t have time to really get Into It right now although a few lines to remind everyone that we are quite an Inferior Species !, As we do not Give a hand down to help anyone up that may In the future give US a hand up ! As An Evolving Species WE need All the help We Can Get ! SILLY BOYS ! Let the girls play !!! Little Girls , You will obviously continue to refine and strengthen as a result of Constant Bully Repression ! Time’s Coming , Hopefully , If there’s no planet left , We’ll have brought some girls to Mars , or some such other habitable place , for our pathetically SLOW EVOLVING SPECIES TO SURVIVE ! HUMANS SUCK !

  2. Thank you Luka ! Silly discussions prevail ! What Is the true factor , the true common denominator Is Perception ! The only reality Is our perception of It ! Reality Is what Is perceived , not only on our limited capacity , but also , the cherries we pick on the way ! Everyone thinks Where the cart’s ass , So you start charging more for the cherries ! Their the same cherries for anyone that would pick the fucking things themselves !

  3. I would like to point out that not only is it a testable proposition, but it *has already been tested* and the evidence supports the claim. Guess where the claim came from. It came from a scientific study of hundreds of letters of recommendation. The study found that recommendation letters written about women were more likely to refer to personal/communal qualities than men.

    There is a lot of evidence for subconscious gender bias. It’s something we computer scientists need to take seriously and watch out for.

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