Academic science is sexist: We do have a problem here

The New York Times has featured an op-ed in the Sunday Review with the provocative title, "Academic science isn't sexist." For the limited percentage of US readers who give a shit, that title probably set all sorts of antennae aflutter. After all, how could anyone with any actual experience in academic science say something like that with a straight face?

I can't speak to the symmetry of the faces of those who penned the op-ed, but I can certainly highlight their inability to align their own words with their own data, or even their own words with their other own words. Their editorial and their paper are riddled with self-contradictory observations and internal inconsistencies. They seem to be arguing that the problems with gender imbalance in science aren't the fault of sexism in the academy but instead trace to kindergarten and grade school and to the 'choices' that women (actually, girls) make. I'm all good with recognizing the problems with early inculcation in gender stereotypes, but that doesn't exculpate the academy, and neither do these authors' data. It's also unclear to me why they believe the 'academy' needs a rousing defense against these valid accusations of sexism--and worse--as though it were a much-beleaguered long-suffering warrior fending off an undeserved piling on. 

In their op-ed and their paper that they tout therein, Wendy M. Williams and Stephen J. Ceci offer some variation on their theme. I begin with a showstopper:
As children, girls tend to show more interest in living things (such as people and animals), while boys tend to prefer playing with machines and building things. 
First ... link, please? From what I understand, girls are very flexible in their choice of play and toys, and the gendered nature of play is more complex than "Girls, living things; boys, wheels." And second ... have these folks ever heard of David Attenborough and Ada Lovelace? Finally, are they aware of which sex is (still) responsible for the vast majority of scientific research published about living things? This statement evokes girls going gaga over furry bunnies while the boys operate mini-ditch diggers in the background. If anyone wants to look for the sexism in the academy, this op-ed looks like a great starting point.

They go on to state:
Our analysis reveals that the experiences of young and midcareer women in math-intensive fields are, for the most part, similar to those of their male counterparts: They are more likely to receive hiring offers, are paid roughly the same (in 14 of 16 comparisons across the eight fields), are generally tenured and promoted at the same rate (except in economics), 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.
Emphasis mine. Eliding words like "roughly" and "generally" and "for the most part" set my antennae atingle. So I looked for some examples of supporting data for these statements. Look at Table 3, which contains the data to support the statement that articles published by women are cited as often as those by men (obviously, this can't be a raw numbers comparison). Take a look at Figure 14 in their paper. The analysis suggesting that women are cited as often as men is weird and selective, but this graph is pretty clear: Men are still published significantly more than women. There are so many significant difference asterisks on those graphs, they look like a tiny galaxy. I know the H index is a hot new thing, but which one matters more still on your CV: Your citation count or your publication list?

Check out Figure 15. Go ahead. Just for fun. And scroll on down to Figure 16. Look at the salary values on Table 4. Look at Figure 18. See the job satisfaction results in Figure 19. Take a gander at Figure 5. Figure 4. I don't understand how they wrote the paper or the op-ed they did while looking at the same results I see in their paper. Nothing about these data says, "OK, folks. Our work in the academy is done. Let's focus on those kindergartners."

And evidently, the implications weren't manifest to them, either. Even as these authors say there's no sexism in the science academy, they write:
... we actually found a greater exodus of women from non-math-intensive fields in which they are already well represented as professors (like psychology and biology, where 45 to 65 percent of new professors are women) than from fields in which they are underrepresented (like engineering, computer science and physics, where only 25 to 30 percent of new professors are women). Our analyses show that women can and do prosper in math-based fields of science, if they choose to enter these fields in the first place.
Emphasis mine. See, the problem here is that women don't choose to enter these fields in the first place. But that's not because academia's not unwelcoming to them or anything.

We don't have a problem here, do we?
As we found, when the evidence of mistreatment goes beyond the anecdotal, it is limited to a small number of comparisons of men and women involving a single academic rank in a given field on a specific outcome.
We don't have a problem here, do we? Oh, except this. And this. And this. And this
The transition from graduate programs to assistant professorships shows more pipeline leakage in the fields in which women are already very prevalent (psychology, life science, social science) than in the math-intensive fields in which they are underrepresented but in which the number of females holding assistant professorships is at least commensurate with (if not greater than) that of males. That is, invitations to interview for tenure-track positions in math-intensive fields—as well as actual employment offers—reveal that female PhD applicants fare at least as well as their male counterparts in math-intensive fields.
It's as though that poor, evidently badly constructed pipeline were so flooded with women (at 50% representation, y'all) that those gals simply overflowed the limits and slipped right outta there. What about the other 50% of the people in that pipeline, the ones who aren't women? Do they slip right out, too? 

If we have a plumbing problem here, it starts in kindergarten, it seems. Sure. These gendered assumptions and obstacles start early. But just as these authors blamed women for not pursuing math-intensive science degrees, they throw the blame for the earlier loss from the pipeline on the girls themselves and their choices:
As adolescents, girls express less interest in careers like engineering and computer science. Despite earning higher grades throughout schooling in all subjects — including math and science — girls are less likely to take math-intensive advanced-placement courses like calculus and physics.
That poor warrior academia needs defending, see.

But soft! It's not the girls' fault. Indeed, in their paper, the authors write:
The results of our myriad analyses reveal that early sex differences in spatial and mathematical reasoning need not stem from biological bases, that the gap between average female and male math ability is narrowing (suggesting strong environmental influences), and that sex differences in math ability at the right tail show variation over time and across nationalities, ethnicities, and other factors, indicating that the ratio of males to females at the right tail can and does change. We find that gender differences in attitudes toward and expectations about math careers and ability (controlling for actual ability) are evident by kindergarten and increase thereafter...
So, as it turns out, it's not the girls who are expressing less interest. Society is expressing less interest in the girls' potential interest... very early on.

Yet, in their op-ed, the authors write that the biggest culprits in the absence of women from science tracks in academia are
rooted in women’s earlier educational choices, and in women’s occupational and lifestyle preferences.
It's our choices, you see. Our preferences. Not anything to do with institutional sexism. Except for all of those differentials in their own paper showing that academia overwhelming favors being male. 

But we don't have a problem here, do we?

In spite of the authors' assertion that the problems arise outside of and before the academy and that the academydoesnothaveaproblemnothingtoseehere, they then say:
Women are also less likely to declare college majors in math-intensive science fields... 
....and also show data in which women drop out of the academic track after the bachelor's degree in greater numbers than men. 

So sure, there's a root to this problem that starts early on. But women aren't being hindered only from kindergarten and only outside of the ivory tower. It's silly to argue that society inflicts these biases on girls from an early age but that somehow, those biases stop at the doors of the august, gender-blind academy. They don't, and as many women can and have and will continue to attest, the manifestations of these biases range from daily microaggressions to unconcealed contempt and misogyny.

There's much more of this kind of thing in the op-ed and parts of the paper--an assertion alleging an inference from the data that those data don't seem to support and statements that demonstrate a clear presence of sex bias within the academy but that the authors don't seem to realize do so. And, of course, they don't address the opening issue that they lay out in the lead paragraph of their op-ed:
Our country desperately needs more talented people in these fields; recruiting more women could address this issue. But the unwelcoming image of the sexist academy isn’t helping. 
Their data show lower salaries for women in academic STEM compared to men, almost across the board (Table 4 and Figure 17; note the drop in salaries for female assistant professors from 1995 to 2010 and that they're at 85% of what male assistant professors were paid); lower job satisfaction for women (Table 19); fewer publications than men across fields (with one exception) in early career, whether we have children or not (Figure 16); fewer publications than men in most fields even when we're full professors (Figure 14); more hours worked than men (Figure 15, not significant); scarcely breaking 30% representation in the "math-heavy" STEM fields (Figure A1; damn you, kindergarten! and Figure 1--note the lumping of life sciences with psychology and social sciences--I have a problem with that, and this paper is one example of why); and a dropping off of women from the pipeline between BS and PhD (Figure 2). Where I come from, we call that institutional bias. I gotta say, though, that when it comes to psychology, women sure are representin'.

But we don't have a problem here. Right?

As for that "unwelcoming image" of the beleauguered academy that women keep pushing on the poor, gullible world in the absence of all of the data sitting right there: Geez, ladies, if you'd just stop with the "almost daily reports" about hostile workplaces and physical aggression, maybe academic science could move on already and shine up its image.

Evidently, the selling point for that image is the closing words of the NYT op-ed: "We are not your father's academy any more." Hmm. While I'll accept that the data indicate some improvements on my "father's academy," it still looks a whole lot like my mother's academy has done for decades. When do "we" just get to call the academy our own?

What we have here, it seems, is still a problem.
Update: Thanks to a full-time job, a family, and Halloween, I missed an entire conversation about this article on Twitter yesterday. Luckily, Alberto Roca @minoritypostdoc Storified it. Pay special attention to the deep critiques from @kevinshawnhsu and @othersociology, who are particularly well acquainted with this literature.

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