Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences Dedman College Research Faculty News Sociology Sociology (Faculty)

Anne Lincoln, Sociology, cited in a story about changing the paradigms regarding women in math/science careers

Science Magazine

Originally posted: December 4, 2014

Science, argued physicist and philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn in his seminal 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, makes fundamental advances when new, unfamiliar intellectual paradigms replace older, accepted ones that can no longer account for important data and observations. But new paradigms, Kuhn added, inevitably face resistance from people committed, whether intellectually or personally, to a former consensus that no longer adequately explains the evidence. It’s likely that we’re witnessing something of the sort right now, in a discussion that has vexed academic science for decades: Why do women constitute a minority of faculty members, especially in math-intensive fields?

The conflict between new and old flared into public view in October, when a pair of well-regarded Cornell University psychologists, Wendy Williams and Stephen Ceci, published an essay in The New York Times challenging long-established orthodoxy. “Academic Science Isn’t Sexist,” declares the headline (although editors, not article authors, determine headlines, usually with the aim of attracting readers). “[T]he experiences of young and midcareer women in math-intensive fields are, for the most part, similar to those of their male counterparts,” the authors write.

By “experiences” Williams and Ceci mean the objective facts of who is currently getting jobs and promotions, not how it feels to enter and advance in a field traditionally considered male. Contrary to the accepted narrative of pervasive sexism and gender discrimination, they write, current data show that women scientists now “are more likely to receive hiring offers [than men], are paid roughly the same …, are generally tenured and promoted at the same rate …, remain in their fields at roughly the same rate, have their grants funded and articles accepted as often and are about as satisfied with their jobs. Articles published by women are cited as often as those by men. In sum, with a few exceptions, the world of academic science in math-based fields today reflects gender fairness, rather than gender bias.”

Williams and Ceci acknowledge the long history of discrimination against women scientists, but their conclusion about the current situation derives from a nuanced and meticulous 67-page literature review they wrote with two leading labor-market economists, Donna Ginther of the University of Kansas and Shulamit Kahn of Boston University, and published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest. As our colleagues at ScienceInsider and Science Careers have noted, objections to the Times essay immediately erupted in the blogosphere, and some scholars of the subject have expressed reservations.

Still, the review firmly concludes that today—in fields where fewer women than men are obtaining faculty posts—the reason is that fewer women are applying for the jobs. After detailed examination of eight possible explanations for this discrepancy, the authors declare themselves unable to specify a cause. Some revealing light on this question, though, comes from other recently published research. READ MORE


Leave a Reply