Shorter Responses to Ben Barres

This week’s Nature is out, and the letters page has some rebuttals to Ben Barres’ article (CNN summary here, for those of you who don’t subscribe to Nature) on gender discrimination in science. They’re great!

Steven Pinker:

To say that I believe women are predisposed not to be scientists is a distortion of my position (that women are predisposed not to be scientists, and also there’s discrimination sometimes too). Ben Barres is a meanie stupidhead ideologue.

Peter Lawrence:

Women are less likely to be murderers than men, therefore I did not say that they are innately worse at science.

Margaret McCarthy:

We are only now ridding the scientific study of sex differences of its sexist roots. But I also believe in some biological basis for gender, so please don’t discount my opinions as those of a crazy feminist!

Donna Dierker:

Marilyn vos Savant says that men are smartest (and stupidest), therefore Barres is just whining over irrelevant garbage. You should speak out in the face of discrimination, but not all discrimination; it’s important to just ignore most of it.

Trackbacks & Pings

  1. Truth, Justice, and the Academic Way on 03 Aug 2006 at 8:50 am

    […] I was responding to John’s comment, but the response outgrew the scope of the comment box. I’ve got some general pronouncements to pronounce. So, first, a quote for context: Getting to the truth is the goal, though, so if this incites more incisive investigation, maybe it’s worthwhile. […]

Comments

  1. John Vidale wrote:

    I’m amazed Nature published that original article, which was more of a circus than an application of science to the very real issue of discrimination. I’m particularly annoyed with how he takes claims that men and women are different, in a neutral way overall but favoring one or the other in particular circumstances (doubtless true, but maybe not a major factor), and turns it into the claim that women are inept.

    There are real issues and the facts are elusive, but such an anecdote-filled and misstated presentation just gets in the way of their resolution.

    Getting to the truth is the goal, though, so if this incites more incisive investigation, maybe it’s worthwhile.

    I thought the 1st, 2nd, and 4th reviewers made their points at Barres’ expense, but then two couldn’t stop themselves from over-generalizing. Come on, we’re scientists, we don’t need the murder number interpretations to clear up anything.

  2. yami wrote:

    Your goal might be truth, but mine is justice, of which truth is a necessary but not sufficient component. And I have a long argument about the implications of this, but it’s outgrown the comment box. I’ll try to post a new entry on it later tonight.

    Nature is part magazine, part journal, and since the article was on the magazine side I thought the anecdotes were entirely appropriate. Sometimes we just need human stories to put sociological research into context.

  3. John Vidale wrote:

    I felt bad about posting my retro response, but that article looked like politics, not science.

    In a similar vein, I disliked the Michael Moore anti-Bush movie violently, despite agreeing with probably 90% of his arguments. And Kerry debating was as painful a sight as Bush debating (well, almost).

    I don’t want flaky anecdotes about his “sister” mixed in a Nature piece, nor cheap shots at his opponents.

    There are a lot of fascinating points raised in the discussion, so I’m glad you posted all the links.

  4. Lab Lemming wrote:

    No summation of the other six zillion letters to the editor? How about this one:

    “Changing the status quo is hard. Will someone please do it for me?”

  5. yami wrote:

    This is totally politics! But it’s a political discussion of interest to scientists.

    LL: hee! That’s, like, all letters to the editor, ever.

  6. John Vidale wrote:

    maybe I’m an optimist, but this male/female difference in science advancement looks amenable to a scientific deciphering, then a political solution, not the reverse.

    Based on a sample of one, my daughter, I harbor a suspicion that many women consider physical science boringly bereft of humanity, and migrate towards biology or medicine, rather than the idea of some that the woman don’t excel because they are inept. But I’m no expert in the subject.

  7. Lab Lemming wrote:

    John, might I suggest that you and your wife continue to reproduce until you have a statistically significant number of female offspring?

  8. John Vidale wrote:

    LL,

    my comment was slightly tongue-in-cheek, as I’ve worked around students from college freshmen to post-docs for decades, seeing first hand their reaction to and interest in science. Although I’m not a social scientist, neither are you, from what I can tell.

    I was going to post a more hostile response, but your blog was too entertaining. You should modify your link to

    http://lablemminglounge.blogspot.com/

    rather than

    http://lablemminglounge.com/

    for it to work on my Safari browser.

  9. Lab Lemming wrote:

    I’m a very social scientist! I go to the pub twice a week, throw parties, meet all sorts of interesting people. I try to get my tongue in someone else’s cheek at least as often as my own. But to get serious for a few seconds (no longer, i promise) The important point is this: Whether or not women who enjoy hard-core science are in a minority in their gender is irrelevant to the problem at hand, which is this: Those women who do enjoy science are often discriminated against and told to go do something more “mainstream”. That shouldn’t happen to anybody in any profession.

  10. John Vidale wrote:

    I’m not a social scientist nor a very sociable scientist, I’m afraid. Although I often run with Mark, who used to be a geochemist over your way.

    Also, so many things that shouldn’t happen, do happen, so it is important to document how much injustice arises from which mechanism to get the big things right first.

    And I’m just plain curious and have a daughter, so my interest is in exactly what is going on.

  11. Mel wrote:

    Whether or not women who enjoy hard-core science are in a minority in their gender is irrelevant to the problem at hand, which is this: Those women who do enjoy science are often discriminated against and told to go do something more “mainstream”.

    Precisely. (ANECDOTE WARNING–don’t worry, it’s followed by non-anecdote) I personally prefer my sociability on my leisure time; I study rocks and long-extinct critters and write databases at work. I don’t need people telling me “women are bad at math” when I tell them what I do (Math? Not a huge part of what I do, anyway, or of a lot of other types of science). (END ANECDOTE)

    If the majority of women want to go into biology, whether that’s influenced by socialization (definitely), biology (not improbably), or both (most likely), that’s fine. But I’d like to see socialization, and specifically discouragement from “unfeminine” fields, to play a lesser role.

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