Thursday, September 28, 2006

More on the Report by the National Academy of Sciences

A follow-up to the post on September 18 regarding the National Academy of Sciences' report that women pursuing academic careers in the science and engineering fields suffered from gender discrimination in hiring, support and promotion (and that more enforcement of regulations such as Title IX was necessary to begin addressing the issue): more media attention has been given to this report, in the form of an op-ed piece by New York Times columnist John Tierney (subscription required), entitled "Academy of P.C. Sciences."

Essentially, Tierney dismisses the findings of the National Academy as a triumph of politics over hard science on three grounds:
(1) The expert panel was made up of mostly women, with one male panel member, who Tierney assumes has been appointed because he agreed that with the panel's "pre-ordained conclusion." The view that an expert panel comprised primarily of women is unable to produce an objective report on issues dealing with gender is utterly patronizing. Frankly, if society chose to disregard every report or commentary on gender issues that was authored primarily or only by men, we would all be doing a lot less reading (Tierney's column included).
(2) There is some data that show that when a woman is up for tenure, she has similar odds to a man of being approved. Tierney doesn't cite conflicting data, nor does he address the other concerns of the panel, namely issues surrounding hiring, support and (non-tenure) promotion.
(3) Some studies have shown that boys and girls in high school who excel in math and science courses tend to be interested in different career fields, with boys gravitating toward "abstract theoretical pursuits" and girls generally showing more interest in fields that involve "social values" and "people contact." There are certainly many scholars and commentators who believe that inherent gender differences play some role in this decision-making process, but how that translates into Tierney's wholesale dismissal of the reports findings, which involve not only what fields women are interested in, but how women are treated once they pursue a career in that field, is inexplicable.

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