Friday, April 12, 2013

Gender balance

In his recent interview, HvS asked me about how we might engineer society so that there are the same numbers of men and women in atmosopheric (or climate) science. Sitting in my cubicle in Japan it seemed an odd question, as there are so few women doing science that it's easy to assume that most women aren't interested in it, so there is no point even thinking about having 50% women. I chose to answer the question in terms of "equality" (ie treating everyone fairly) rather than actual numbers.


However, after a week at the EGU I am starting to wonder if there was a point to the question after all. I recall noticing, at about the turn of the 21st century that there seemed to suddenly be LOTS of young women at the EGU (EGS is was then I think). I remember relaxing, and looking forward to the gender gap basically disappearing as these women progressed through their careers; the science gender battle was won.


Those women from 10 years ago should now be in their mid-thirties. Unless I'm perceiving age wrong due to my own advancing years, most of those women aren't here! What's happened to them? What are they doing instead? 


Are women being mostly employed as more attractive bench monkeys and then being discarded by their middle-aged male bosses once they cease to be so cute? Thoughout my career I have had the ocassional conflict with certain men when they discover I'm an outspoken battle-axe rather than a cute little fluffy bunny rabbit. And I've seen for myself the different reaction the same words from James and I receive. As I said in my interview, we don't get this in Japan; there we are both unfathomable foreigners, which is nice, as it allows us to just be ourselves.

38 comments:

William Connolley said...

> Are women being mostly employed as more attractive bench monkeys and then being discarded...

Before thinking that, you should consider the more obvious, which is going off to rear children. I'm not saying its the whole answer, but its certainly an obvious part.

Paul S said...

Have the old women been replaced by new ones in their mid-twenties? If so, it's the attractive bench monkey thing.

It wouldn't necessarily have to be that they've "gone off" to raise children, but that international travel isn't so easy when you have kids. Also some countries are in an Easter school holiday now (the UK is), so even those who've packed kids off to boarding school might be lumbered during this week.

James Annan said...

That's always been my answer, but it surely should apply more or less equally to all jobs.

David Young said...

I know this will raise a firestorm of outrage, but its worth saying.

As Jules found out on the thread about her interview, some fields are very contentious. In climate science this comes complete with rude, sarcastic, and disingeneous activists and various hangers on. Also there is a crop of young male climate scientists who are pretty arrogant themselves (I won't mention names, but those of meteoric rise are often this sort). They tend to lower the level of the general discourse. This is true in other fields also of course, for example medicine. I would argue there are better self policing mechanisms there including a more open literature and a healthy diversity of opinion.

What I have observed of female scientists is that they tend to be more collaborative than confrontational. They also tend to be more careful about statements they make and worry about what other people think of them. I am not saying this is an inherent trait, just an observation about a subset. The consequence of this is many get turned off or discouraged and find other work.

A confounding factor is the rise of soft money funding for research where the constant pursuit of money tends to reward those who are less than totally honest shall we say. The insecurity tends to be better accepted by those with strong personalities and a "high opinion of themselves." It is ironic that Penn State's primary stated reason for exonerating Mann was that he was good at getting grants and his papers were published in the literature.

These issues I think are particularly acute for young researchers. Once one reaches a certain age and level of financial security, you care less about what others will say and realize you have only a few decades left anyway. As someone said, there are three types of upper class British young men. The vast majority will do absolutely nothing of note or excellence. A smaller set will do something bad that is noteworthy and the smallest group will make a significant positive contribution. One could say this about some fields of science too.

Steve Bloom said...

More or less OT, but I can't let this pass:

"It is ironic that Penn State's primary stated reason for exonerating Mann was that he was good at getting grants and his papers were published in the literature."

"primary stated reason"? Really? Evidence for that?

Steve Bloom said...

I have to imagine there's been some survey work done on this question.

And is AGU any different?

EliRabett said...

But Eli always thought you were the Bunny of Caerbannog

More seriously, at least on the PhD, post doc level women are now getting about half or more of the degrees and position in bio/med, and chemistry. Engineering, physics and math still lag. At least some of the drop out at that point is serious who needs this crap stuff (Eli knows more than a few of those). This is one place where affirmative action has had an effect.

SCM said...

There have been studies about this sort if thing. The phenomenon is often known as the leaky pipe - e.g. Plenty of women at the bottom of the pipe but fewer and fewer as you move up the ranks.
I think child bearing is a very significant factor because it tends to occur at exctly the time that you need to be building your track record. In science couples I have known this is often the point at which her career starts playing second fiddle to his. It is very difficult for both to maintain the career intensity required while caring for youngsters.
Certainly the proportion of older successful female scientists who have kids is much less than that of the general population. In some specific cases I know of where a female scientist with kids has had very senior roles it has been because her husband has been prepared to take a less demanding role and handle more of the family responsibilities.
In Australia the have been attempts to deal with this issue. One is that granting bodies are supposed to take into account career breaks due to kids, and some institutions offer grants for a technician or similar to help keep research going during maternity breaks.
(I am a female scientist and I have 2 kids so I have some personal experience of the difficulties)

Aside from the childbearing issue there is much truth in comments made by Jules and even David Y above* about the way women are percieved by colleagues, and a system which favour the self-promoting willy-waving types (who more often come in the male flavour)

Sadly I saw a recent study where academics were given identical CVs with male and female names at the top and asked to rate them as job candidates. Female versions were rates as less capable than male ones, even by female academics.

* though I thought David's snide comments about 'some' climate scientists was uncalled for. This kind of phenomenon is not restricted to climate science by any means. While a self promoting streak is helpful to success, generally you need to be a pretty good scientist too!

David Young said...

Let me be as clear as is humanly possible to make sure I comply with the prime directive from the Generalissimo of climate scientists and not appear snide. There are 3 points in my post. My fault for not being clearer. However, SCM still won't like what I say.

1. The part about self-promotion and lack of full honesty is not unique to climate science even though Gore, Mann, and now Shakun are setting new high water marks in this regard. I know Gore is not a climate scientist, but his work was treated as if it was scientifically respectable. Didn't he recently make $100 million by selling out to a company controlled by the evil oil interests who according to Mann's book are behind all the problems.

2. The part about the tone of the debate is absolutely worse in climate than in virtually any other field. It's little better than in politics during the American Civil War when Samuel Eliot Morrison described it as "often mean, libelous, and nasty." Speculations about the species of people's parents were standard fare. And this is fed by the current emphasis in climate science on "communication" which is essentially a political activity. Climate scientists generally seem like nice people in their private lives, with a few notable exceptions, but the public discourse is not very nice and is in fact nasty and libelous.

3. The final one is the kind of thing revealed by Climategate, where there is an orthodoxy that a few leaders of the field attempt to enforce through intimidation and attempts to get people fired or get journals boycotted. Has anyone heard ever in any field of a journal editor tendering his resignation after getting an email from another scientist about a paper he disagreed with? Climate is very unique in the closed nature of its debate and the rigorous exclusion of people who are either outsiders or just plain outside the politically correct regime. There is no openness to statisticians for example and their work is denigrated and kept out of the literature by the Team. Thank the almighty for Annals of Statistics where the Team must actually follow rigorous scientific standards and can't control the rules of the debate. That may be getting a little better, but it was very bad over the last decade. There is little discussion of things like positive results bias, the reliability of the literature, and little self-reflection. It is mostly just straight defense of the orthodoxy against anyone questioning it. Carrick nailed it on a previous thread here. Everyone is instantly judged to be either for us or against us and everything else follows from this judgement.

I would propose that medicine offers a better model even though not perfect. There is a lot of open discussion of scientific integrity, fraud, positive results bias, the role of money and grant seeking. The literature is more open and there is a broader range of opinion that is considered legitimate. There is no organ of the orthodoxy like Real Climate. There is no division of people into camps. And finally, there is a heavy emphasis on involving statistical experts in all phases of trial design and execution.

My thought is basically that lack of civility and a highly polarized field further discourage people who are non confrontational and don't want others to be upset. In climate science someone is always upset and calling you names. Just look at the thread here on Jules interview. Life is going to go on regardless of climate policy and its not the end of the world. You know, as a historian said of Asquith's retirement from politics I believe, "he knew there had been an ice age and there would be another one." People just need to get a life and relax a little in this field. Open a bottle of fine wine, light up a cigar and realize that the other guy is human too. The purity of your prescioius bodily fluids is going to be fine.

David B. Benson said...

There have been quite famous feuds in geology, statistics, mathematics and physics. I suppose also in chemistry and biology but I don't really know enough of those fields to say.

Of the first four it has traditionally been the case that women were acceptable as colleagues only in mathematics. I couldn't say in this century whether there are any noticeable changes. What has changed is women in engineering positions, primarily in industry.

jules said...

Impression of EGU vs AGU...
Fewer younger people speak at AGU. Fewer women speak at AGU. Fewer women at AGU (proportionally).

Conveners in climate at EGU were told to choose a spread of seniorities for talks, but I didn't, simply because I didn't know the career status of the people sending in abstracts. I also made the first cut by abstract title only, and didn't even have the names of the authors visible. This wasn't a deliberate equality measure - I just wanted an easy way to shuffle them. I'm very good at not knowing who people are, and at not recognising names, and I don't have many friends to favour*, but I am starting to wonder if I need to wake up and be generally positively discriminatory.

*actually you have to watch out if you are my friend. Dan Lunt's abstract made the cut on merit, but his occupation of the deadly 8:30am slot was based on the fact that I know him so know he's not a phd student or postdoc who could be very disappointed by a small sleepy audience.

James Annan said...

David Y,

Climate is only about 10% of the EGU, and the politically contentious component of that is a still smaller subset. Whatever the issues may be, "climate activism" can't be more than a negligible component of them.

SCM said...

David Y

The controntation and lack of civility you perceive in climate science is mainly a feature of the public sphere, such as comments on a few high profile blogs and interaction between the relatively small number of climate scientists who have a public profile with the media, the public and climate skeptics.

This doesn't mean that the working environment of the average climate scientist is like this. I am not a climate scientist myself, but I know a few and I have spent my whole life working in a scientific environment. I see no sign that climate scientists are much different from their colleagues in other fields in terms of civility and confrontation with one another.

Tim Worstall said...

"That's always been my answer, but it surely should apply more or less equally to all jobs. "

It does. It's visible all through all of the statistics about the gender pay gap (which is really a motherhood one), number of women as CEOs and all the rest.

As long as a career demands a bloody minded fixation on career, and also women are the primary care givers, it will continue too.

To break it one would have to change that second.

James Annan said...

Tim, is there really an absence of middle-aged female teachers (say)? Long time since I've been in school.

Interestingly, of the three female scientists in our lab in Japan that have had children fairly recently, all of them were back at work full-time in a matter of weeks. Hard to judge how it might affect career progression when there is none for any staff member, though.

JCH said...

I've read a lot of climate papers that have women authors. Just off the cuff, Judith Curry, J. Hargreaves (didn't know the gender there until a couple of weeks ago; have enjoyed her photographs for years), Gabi Hegerl, Katrina von Schuckman, Mrs.Lonnie Thompson, the Sato on a plethora of Hansen papers, MG Wyatt...

And if a dumb cowboy like me knows that many, that means there are likely a whole bunch more.

In a field that is hostile to the advancement of women, like bluegrass banjo, you would never see such a thing.

EliRabett said...

Eli will say it again. Besides all of the points that Jules and SCM have put on the table (for more look at the Female Science Professor" blog), there simply is some crap that most women will not eat, and like it or not that hurts their professional advancement. Most guys munch happily (well grumpily maybe) away. That IS a feature not a fault

jules said...

Rabett: to wot are you referring?

James Annan said...

JCH, I'm not sure whether "Mrs Lonnie Thompson" is an obscure reference to his wife, as the scientist of that name appears to be male (I don't know him personally). Makiko Sato doesn't seem to write anything much as first author, which (IMO) makes it hard to see her as a scientific heavyweight. However, there are indeed many others if you look around.

One interesting feature that jules didn't mention, is that PMIP has heavy female representation, including a substantial majority (I think) of the committee. FWIW I've always found this group of researchers to be extremely cooperative, friendly and open, which is one reason why I've found myself drawn towards working more in it. It really seems to have quite a distinctive culture.

Steve Bloom said...

"organ of orthodoxy like Real Climate"

A touch of paranoia goes a long way.

Still waiting on that Mann evidence, BTW.

EliRabett said...

Women, or at least many of them of Eli acquaintance, including Ms. R., don't think that professional or financial success is defining. There are better things to do that leave room for life and makes living better.

A rather DC take on this. About twenty five years ago, Eli began noticing that not a few of his younger acquaintances (not only at his Uni) were taking jobs at granting agencies like NSF, DOE, etc. from tenure track positions, often after they got tenure. To a person, they said that they were sick of the daily pressure to support their groups and especially their graduate students, that they needed time for themselves and their families (not just having babies). These were not only women, but the majority were.

Steve Bloom said...

SCM, there was always going to be resistance to the implications of climate science given basic human nature, but I think it's important to observe that the particular tone you note can be traced back to the George Marshall Institute in the '80s (see Oreskes for that history) and the closely-related early efforts of the fossil fuel industry to defend their interests (by e.g. funding the efforts of Pat Michaels, Jules Seitz and Fred Singer).

SCM said...

Yep Steve, I'm aware of that stuff, but I was just trying to point out to DY that the aggro in the public sphere around climate science is not a reflection of the culture on the inside of climate science.

James - Interesting comment re rapid return to work of your colleagues. I wonder what the maternity provisions are like in Japan? I work in CSIRO in Australia and we get 14 weeks paid leave and up to 2 years unpaid. A lot of us are from overseas and don't have family nearby who can help out so most of the female scientists here will take 6 months off after the birth and many return to work part time initially. Interestingly a few of the scientists of Chinese background have brought their parents over to do the childcare and help around the house so they can return to work.

I did return to work 2 months after the birth of my second child. I would not recommend this to anyone unless they have family support or some such, I felt like a zombie for the first few months and was pretty exhausted for most of the first year.

Of course child-bearing is not the only challenge facing female scientists but it is a significant one that I have been able to observe close at hand as I work on a large and rather fecund site!

guthrie said...

James, if you mean schools for 5-18 year olds, I've always thought, based both on my own knowledge (Mother a teacher, knowing her colleagues, as well as a friend or two of mine), as well as things I've seen in the media re. sudden gaps in experience as lots of old teachers were getting ready to retired a few years ago, that yes, teaching has lots of middle aged women in it.
But then teaching in the public sector certainly used to be easier to take a child break and come back to.
Unless it has changed significantly in the last 6 years or so, there are probably plenty of middle aged women teachers.

Of course you might find that more men have made it to the dizzy heights of headmaster, but that I don't know.

David Young said...

I thank SCM, James, and Eli for constructive reactions. Steve Bloom, I think you are part of the problem. The stuff you want me to provide you is readily available at places like Climate Audit. Steve McIntyre is usually very understated and not a partisan in any sense of that word.

Real Climate is not a conspiracy, its an open collaboration with very publicly stated aims, much like the Democratic or Republican Party. Actual conspiracies theories are abundant and usually wrong. That goes for Mann's "fossil fuel interest" conspiracy as well as for other KOOK ones we all know well. This whole issue of conspiracy "ideation" is of no substance and a diversion for those with too much time on their hands.

jules said...

I'm not sure if it's the thin walls or what, but in our area of research in Japan, little is expected of new fathers. They work short hours, don't travel to any meetings more than an hour away, and sometimes even sleep most of the day at work. Admittedly the men do start to travel more quickly than the women.

I'm not sure that the EGU knows the age of attendees, but it would be interesting to see the gender/age numbers and to see how they are progressing through time. There are too many confounding issues, like the pyramid career structure, that seemingly more women started to come in at the bottom about a decade ago and and the fact that women make more of an effort to look nice (and thus younger).

I find the studies about our innate cultural gender biases particularly interesting, and from my own experiences, I'm sure such biases have a significant effect. It was hoping they'd more or less been stamped out in Europe. Now I'm not so sure.

PeteB said...

Apologies - I think this is a bit off topic - please delete if you think best !

David Y,

You have made this comment or something like this a couple of times

"The final one is the kind of thing revealed by Climategate, where there is an orthodoxy that a few leaders of the field attempt to enforce through intimidation and attempts to get people fired or get journals boycotted. Has anyone heard ever in any field of a journal editor tendering his resignation after getting an email from another scientist about a paper he disagreed with?"

- does this refer to

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soon_and_Baliunas_controversy

Hans von Storch said in his resignation letter

"The review process had utterly failed; important questions have not been asked ... the methodological basis for such a conclusion (that the 20th century is probably not the warmest nor a uniquely extreme climate period of the last millennium) was simply not given."

I don't really think it would matter in many areas of science but this (American Petroleum Institute funded) study was being used for political purposes :

..The Bush administration was involved in editing the first Environmental Protection Agency Report on the Environment prior to the draft being made public. The administration's Council on Environmental Quality chief of staff Philip Cooney deleted all references to surface temperature reconstructions showing world temperatures rising over the last 1,000 years, and on 21 April 2003 sent a memo to Kevin O’Donovan in the Office of the Vice President stating "The recent paper of Soon-Baliunas contradicts a dogmatic view held by many in the climate science community that the past century was the warmest in the past millennium and signals human induced “global warming.” ... We plan to begin to refer to this study in Administration communications on the science of global climate change

PeteB said...

Also I should add Hans von Storch didn't resign because a bad paper was published in Climate Research. He resigned because he wanted to correct the process, starting off with an editorial to acknowledge the problem, but he was prevented from doing so

http://www.hvonstorch.de/klima/CR-problem/cr.2003.htm

I as newly appointed Editor-in-Chief wanted to make public that the publication of the Soon & Baliunas article was an error, and that the review process at Climate Research would be changed in order to avoid similar failures. The review process had utterly failed; important questions have not been asked, as was documented by a comment in EOS by Mann and several coauthors. (The problem is not whether the Medieval Warm Period was warmer than the 20th century, or if Mann's hockey stick is realistic; the problem is that the methodological basis for such a conclusion was simply not given.) It was not the first time that the process had failed, but it was the most severe case. However, my authority as Editor-in-Chief did obviously not cover the publication of an editorial spelling out the problem. The publisher declined the publication, and I cancelled my task as Editor-in-Chief immediately on 28 July 2003.

Steve Bloom said...

Thanks for setting the record straight on that, PeteB. DY is tending a bit to Gish galloping at this point, not surprisingly since in his usual environs these are Things That Everyone Knows To Be True and seem to get repeated as a sort of club handshake.

I had been going to rub his nose in his misrepresentation of the PSU reports exonerating Mann, but then lost interest in bothering when he asserted that McI is "not partisan in any sense of the word." Of course few reading or participating here, least of all our hosts, are persuaded by such ridiculosities. What's amazing is the apparent lack of self-awareness.

James Annan said...

PeteB,

Thanks for saving me the trouble of saying all that. David, you devalue your contributions when you regurgitate these sort of denialist memes. Unless you were talking about something else, of course...

Steve Bloom said...

IIRC there was another editor resignation subsequent to von S., but the circumstances don't support DY's implication of intimidation any better. If you're an editor and something really, really bad happens on your watch because you weren't paying attention or abdicated your responsibility in some way , you ought to resign. Note also the recent resignation of one of Jules' colleagues (not a chief editor, albeit).

Steve Bloom said...

Oh, just to note that both of those instances were subsequent to and thus not "revealed by Climategate." But they do help illustrate that this sort of thing isn't unique. (And let's not forget Wegman and Said.) I expect there are plenty of examples elsewhere in scientific publishing.

David Young said...

Sorry, I got the details wrong on this resignation incident and I thank Pete for doing the leg work. It's been a long time since this was on my radar screen. However, what does the American Petroleum Institute and the Bush Administration have to do with it?? It should have nothing to do with it. And of course that's the problem. Everything is viewed through a political lense. There was another instance in New Zealand which was revealed in Climategate where there was a discussion in email of trying to get the editor fired from his academic post. It did not come to fruition I believe.

However, this is not the thrust of my point and the discussion here has shown why my point is correct. There is a tribalism in this field that does affect the quality of the science. And there is a lot of uncivil discussion. At Real Climate it reached a peak about 2006 in the McIntyre/Mann war. And it showed up here on the Anthropogenic Data Point thread. James too had a comment from a Susan Anderson I believe who was concerned that James statements were giving aid an comfort to the enemy.

McIntyre I do believe is not a "denier" and believes in the greenhouse effect. Bloom is master of the subtle insinuation that sows seeds of doubt without actually providing any evidence on anything. McIntyre is also not a partisan and is quite comfortable with government action on climate. He just wants the basis of it to be as correct as possible. That's part of the problem too. Its called "poisoning the well" and its a political and not a scientific tactic.

Science should in my view be above politics. Science has real problems. Medicine knows it has a problem and that's the first step to getting better. You must stop "denying" that there is a problem to use a charged phrase.



David Young said...

Just for the record since it was so easy to find, and even though I know Bloom will not change his mind, from the Atlantic Monthly and Clive Crook:

"The Penn State inquiry exonerating Michael Mann -- the paleoclimatologist who came up with "the hockey stick" -- would be difficult to parody. Three of four allegations are dismissed out of hand at the outset: the inquiry announces that, for "lack of credible evidence", it will not even investigate them. (At this, MIT's Richard Lindzen tells the committee, "It's thoroughly amazing. I mean these issues are explicitly stated in the emails. I'm wondering what's going on?" The report continues: "The Investigatory Committee did not respond to Dr Lindzen's statement. Instead, [his] attention was directed to the fourth allegation.") Moving on, the report then says, in effect, that Mann is a distinguished scholar, a successful raiser of research funding, a man admired by his peers -- so any allegation of academic impropriety must be false.

You think I exaggerate?

[From the actual report] This level of success in proposing research, and obtaining funding to conduct it, clearly places Dr. Mann among the most respected scientists in his field. Such success would not have been possible had he not met or exceeded the highest standards of his profession for proposing research...

Had Dr. Mann's conduct of his research been outside the range of accepted practices, it would have been impossible for him to receive so many awards and recognitions, which typically involve intense scrutiny from scientists who may or may not agree with his scientific conclusions...

Clearly, Dr. Mann's reporting of his research has been successful and judged to be outstanding by his peers. This would have been impossible had his activities in reporting his work been outside of accepted practices in his field. [end of report quote]

In short, the case for the prosecution is never heard. Mann is asked if the allegations (well, one of them) are true, and says no. His record is swooned over. Verdict: case dismissed, with apologies that Mann has been put to such trouble."

The Atlantic Monthy is not a perveyer of "denialist memes," if such a thing can be defined, nor is it part of an evil fossil fuel industry conspiracy to destroy the reputation of The Mann. One can disagree with Crook, but it is a legitimate point that should not be dismissed with trite slurs or subtle implications.

David Young said...

Just to restate and try to avoid any 'red flag" terminology: In fields like medicine there is a recognition that there are a host of problems in the field that need corrective action. This is true in other fields too, where these issues are taken seriously. That is the normal course of science even though the discussion can be uncomfortable for some. In climate science, I personally don't see a similar process and I believe it does hurt the field and this ironically delays government action. Crook says it very well. Ultimately, voters must be convinced that the problem is worth doing something about. In an era of economic pain, that case can only be made if people think the science is correct and not politicized.

There are some signs that people are getting tired of the politics in the field and the recent discourse has been more restrained and scientific, for example, around some of the points about statistics made by James here and Lewis and Jewson. Will the IPCC pay attention? I just hope James and Jules continue their work.

It's not a point that is of any personal interest to me except as a concerned citizen, and it may not matter in the long run anyway. The developing world may not care very much about a warming world. And if they don't do anything, what we do doesn't really matter. Muller is excellent on this. Ironically, the biggest progress on CO2 has been a result of that evil fossil fuel industry exploiting natural gas. That may be the best short term way to make a difference if you believe its a top priority. We could in the US easily convert our transportation fleet to natural gas and save a lot of money and cut our emissions to boot. Not a panacea, but a step that everyone can support.

Steve Bloom said...

Please stop digging, DY. You seem incapable of getting your facts straight, although it strains credibility to think that you somehow managed to miss the first of the two PSU reports, the one that addressed the first three allegations (although, hey, so did Dick Lindzen). Re the second one, it addressed Mann's proposing, conducting and reporting of his research as three separate items. Do you seriously suggest that getting lots of grant awards over many years isn't a good indicator of success at *proposing* research (noting that this is the phase before research is conducted)? If not, what exactly do you suggest would be? RTFRs, as Eli says.

Re insinuating, I don't think so. It's more of a meat axe approach, although I do try to maintain a razor edge.

David Young said...

So I knew Bloom that you would disagree with Crook. i can see no substance to your comment other than that. I would be interested in a substantive response though.

James Annan said...

All this about Mann is truly fascinating stuff but of no relevance to the topic under discussion....