The flawed and offensive logic of "Academic Science Isn’t Sexist" in the @nytimes

OK.  It is Halloween night and I am tired and need to get my kids to sleep.  But someone on Twitter just pointed me to an opinion piece just out in the New York Times: Academic Science Isn’t Sexist – and after reading it I felt I had to write a quick post.

The opinion piece is by Wendy M. Williams and Stephen J. Ceci and discusses work by them (and coauthors).  In particular they discuss findings in a massive report “Women in Academic Science: A Changing Landscape” by Stephen J. Ceci, Donna K. Ginther, Shulamit Kahn, and Wendy M. Williams in Psychological Science in the Public Interest.  I note – kudos to the authors for making this available freely and under what may be an open license and also apparently for making much of their data available behind their analyses.

The opinion piece and the associated article have a ton of things to discuss and ponder and analyze for anyone interested in the general issue of women in academic science.  I am not in any position at this time to comment on any of the specific claims made by the authors on this topic.  But certainly I have a ton of reading to do and am looking forward to it.

However, I do want to write about one thing – really just one single thing –  that really bothers me about their New York Times article.  I do not know if this was intentional on their part, but regardless I think there is a major flaw in their piece.

First, to set the stage — their article starts off with the following sentences:

Academic science has a gender problem: specifically, the almost daily reports about hostile workplaces, low pay, delayed promotion and even physical aggression against women.  Particularly in math-intensive fields like the physical sciences, computer science and engineering, women make up only 25 to 30 percent of junior faculty, and 7 to 15 percent of senior faculty, leading many to claim that the inhospitable work environment is to blame.

This then sets the stage for the authors to discuss their analyses which leads them to conclude that in recent times, there are not biases against women in hiring, publishing, tenure, and other areas.  Again, I am not in any position to examine or dispute their claims about these analyses – to either support them or refute them.

But the piece makes what to me appears to be a dangerous and unsupported connection.  They lump together what one could call “career progression” topics (such as pay, promotion, publishing, citation, etc) with workplace topics (hostility and physical aggression against women).  And yet, they only present or discuss data on the career progression issues.  Yet once they claim to find that career progression for women in math heavy fields seems to be going well recently, they imply that the other workplace issues must not be a problem.  This is seen in statements like “While no career is without setbacks and challenges” and “As we found, when the evidence of mistreatment goes beyond the anecdotal” and “leading many to claim that the inhospitable work environment is to blame.”

Whether one agrees with any or all of their analyses (which again, I am not addressing here) I see no justification for their inclusion of any mention of hostile workplaces and physical agression against women.  So – does this mean that a woman who does well in her career cannot experience physical aggression of any kind?  Also – I note – I am unclear I guess in some of their terminology usage – is their use of the term “physical aggression” here meant to discount reports of sexual violence?   This reminds me of the “Why I stayed” stories of domestic violence.  Just because a women’s career is doing OK does not mean that she did not experience workplace hostility or physical or sexual violence.  I hope – I truly hope – that the authors did not intend to imply this.  But whether they did or not, their logic appears to be both flawed and offensive.

UPDATE 1. November 1, 8:30 AM

Building a Storify about this.

UPDATE 2: Nov 3, 2014. Some other posts also criticizing the NY Times piece

UPDATE 3: Nov. 4, 2014.  More posts about the NY Times piece

A tale of salt and gender: participation of women in halophile research

Interesting paper on women in science of direct relevance to my work: Frontiers | Salty sisters: The women of halophiles | Extreme Microbiology.  I have been working on halophilic archaea for many years (since introduced to them in graduate school) and published papers on this topic (e.g., see The Complete Genome Sequence of Haloferax volcanii DS2, a Model Archaeon and Sequencing of seven haloarchaeal genomes reveals patterns of genomic flux and more coming).  However, I have never been to a meeting dedicated to the topic and confess I have not thought specifically about the gender of scientists in this field and at meetings in the field and such.  Thus I was pleasantly surprised to see this analysis from Bonnie Baxter, Nina Gunde-Cimerman and Ahoren Oren.  Their abstract is below:

A history of halophile research reveals the commitment of scientists to uncovering the secrets of the limits of life, in particular life in high salt concentration and under extreme osmotic pressure. During the last 40 years, halophile scientists have indeed made important contributions to extremophile research, and prior international halophiles congresses have documented both the historical and the current work. During this period of salty discoveries, female scientists, in general, have grown in number worldwide. But those who worked in the field when there were small numbers of women sometimes saw their important contributions overshadowed by their male counterparts. Recent studies suggest that modern female scientists experience gender bias in matters such as conference invitations and even representation among full professors. In the field of halophilic microbiology, what is the impact of gender bias? How has the participation of women changed over time? What do women uniquely contribute to this field? What are factors that impact current female scientists to a greater degree? This essay emphasizes the “her story” (not “history”) of halophile discovery.

As part of their paper they analyze participation of women at conference on halophiles:

This is a useful analysis and compendium and it would be great to see this done for as many fields as possible. 

No Ovaries? Well this Ovarian Club Conference is For You (YAMMMs for everyone)

Well, I just got an email invitation to attend CME – OVARIAN CLUB 4.  And alas, rather than just dumping it into SPAM (which I did do) I clicked on one of the links.  I had to know – what was the gender balance at this meeting.  Was there any chance that the organizers would see that it would be ironic to not have a decent number of female speakers?  Alas, nope.

The organizing committee is 17:1 males to females.

And the speaker balance is not much better something like 25:6.

I guess maybe they should rename this “Meeting brought to you by people who mostly do not have ovaries.”  Sad.  Another YAMMM (Yet another mostly male meeting).

Related posts and pages

Today’s YAMMM (Yet Another Mostly Male Meeting) Brought to You by CIFAR & NAS

Well, just got an invite to this meeting: Symbioses becoming permanent: The origins and evolutionary trajectories of organelles.  The topic seems of direct interest to what I work on.  And, it is relatively close (Irvine is a short hop away).  So this could be a way to go to a meeting without having to travel too far.  And maybe I could see my younger brother Matt who lives in LA and just graduated from UC Irvine’s Masters program in Sound Engineering. Then I looked at the schedule of speakers and organizers.  Many are friends.  Many others are colleagues.  Could be fun to see some people I have not seen in a while.  And then I realized, most – no nearly all of them – are men.  Below I list the people involved in the meeting, highlighting men in yellow and women in blue.

Organizers: W. Ford Doolittle, Patrick Keeling, and John McCutcheon

Distinctive Voices Public Lecture presented by Michael Gray, CIFAR Advisor, Dalhousie University

Session 1: Genomes (evolutionary rates, oddities, and reduction)

  • Introduction and welcome remarks – W. Ford Doolittle, CIFAR Advisor & Patrick Keeling, CIFAR Program Director and Senior Fellow
  • John McCutcheon, CIFAR Associate Fellow, University of Montana
  • John Archibald, CIFAR Senior Fellow, Dalhousie University, Nuclear organelles 
  • Andrew Roger, CIFAR Senior Fellow, Dalhousie University, Organelle reduction 
  • Siv Andersson, Uppsala University, Alphaproteobacterial genome evolution 
  • David Smith, University of Western Ontario, Roots of genomic architecture variation 
  • Daniel Sloan, Colorado State University, Cytonuclear co-evolution under extreme mitochondrial mutation rates
  • John Allen, University College London, Why keep genomes?

Session 2: Integration/Control (trafficking, signaling, transporters)

  • Debash Bhattacharya, Rutgers University, Transporters in organellogenesis 
  • Nancy Moran, University of Texas, Austin, Insect endosymbionts 
  • Geoff McFadden, University of Melbourne, Diversity of protein trafficking
  • Chris Howe, Cambridge University, Why integrate?
  • Steve Perlman, CIFAR Fellow, University of Victoria, Maternal transmission, sex ratio distortion, and mitochondria 
  • William Martin, Düsseldorf University, Endosymbiont and organelle, what’s the difference? 
  • Moriya Okhuma, Riken University, Metabolic integration across endosymbiotic communities

Session 3: Theories and Models

  • Eors Szathmary, Loránd University, A fresh look at cooperation in some major transitions, especially the origin of eukaryotes
  • Marc Ereshefsky, University of Calgary, Evolutionary individuality
  • Peter Godfrey-Smith, City University of New York, Individuality and the egalitarian transitions 
  • Maureen O’Malley, University of Sydney, Philosophical Reflections on Endosymbiosis: Implications for Evolutionary Theory
  • Toby Kiers, University Amsterdam, Bacterial cooperativity

Closing remarks J. McCutcheon

So – that appears to be a ratio of 18 male speakers and 4 female speakers for a whopping 18% female speakers.  No thanks CIFAR and NAS.  I will sign up for a different meeting.  And by the way – WTF?  There are so so many qualified women working on these topics – what let to this 18:4 ratio?  The organizers should really rethink their processes and the sponsors should pull funding from meetings like this.  It is the only way some people will pay attention to diversity.

UPDATE: 8/20

Wrote to the NAS via their Website

To whom it may concern:

I am writing to express my disappointment in the gender ratio of speakers at this meeting (18 males, 4 females).  Due to the skew I am unwilling to participate.  See for details.


Jonathan Eisen

Got this response

Dear Dr. Eisen,

The NAS Committee on Scientific Programs, which oversees the Sackler Colloquia most definitely considers gender diversity when approving these programs.  When organizers propose the programs they achieve a good balance on paper. Regrettably, in many fields, women scientists are at a premium and are sometimes overwhelmed with invitations and demands for their participation on programs and committees.  For a variety of reasons, including availability of speakers, the final program is not always as optimally balanced as originally intended.

I have conveyed your message to NAS Vice President and Chair of the Committee on Scientific Programs and will also share your concerns with the colloquium organizers and co-sponsor.

Best regards,

Susan Marty
Program Director
National Academy of Sciences
Sackler Colloquia

So I wrote back


Thank you very much for the response.  It is good to hear there is some emphasis on gender diversity when programs and developed.  However, in my experience and based on my readings of the literature on this topic, this is not usually sufficient to produce diverse conferences.  Do you know if the NAS has any additional policies relating to diversity at conferences.  For example, if someone does not accept an invitation, is the organizer of the meeting then free to select whomever they like or are there protocols to help guarantee that the selection of replacements is also diverse?  Also do you know if there are any policies relating to the meetings themselves such as child care that have been shown to impact the attendance of women more than men?   

Any additional information you have would be appreciated.  I think that NAS could and should do more than just review the proposed list of invitees. 

Jonathan Eisen 

Quick Post – Interview of me is up on the Story Exchange re: #WomenInSTEM especially at conferences

Thanks to the Story Exchange and Candice Helfand for featuring me and the issue of Women in Science on their blog.  Here is a link to the interview she did with me a few days ago that she just posted:  Welcoming Women at STEM Conferences – and Beyond | The Story Exchange.  The interview discusses not only some of the reasons to care about diversity in science and at science meetings, but also how I got interested in the topic in the first place.

For some other background on my work and posts in this area see this page with a compilation of my Posts on diversity (gender, etc) in science.

Some selected ones are below:

May 23 at #UCDavis – Wikipedia editathon about women in science and academia

Phoebe Ayers, librarian extraordinaire at UC Davis is running another Wikipedia Editathon on women in science and academia.  See Wikipedia:GLAM/University of California Davis Libraries.  It will be May 23.  The last one went quite well.  I had posted a few announcements here and there (e.g., Wanted – participants and helpers for a “Women in Science Editathon) about the previous one that was inspired by Dawn Sumner and run by Phoebe.  These are good ways not only to help promote women in science but also to learn a bit about Wikipedia and about some female scientists.

What to do when you realize the meeting you are speaking at is a YAMMM (yet another mostly male meeting)?

I am supposed to be talking at a meeting Tuesday: Almaden Institute 2014: Sequence the City -Metagenomics in the Era of Big Data.

In looking at the agenda for the meeting I am pretty bummed about the gender ratio of speakers. Looks like 18:5 Men to Women. 

  • Jeff Welser IBM 
  • David Haussler UCSC 
  • Daniel Huson Tubingen U 
  • Joe DeRisi UCSF 
  • Jane Carlton NYU 
  • Ajay Royyuru IBM 
  • Paula Olsiewski Sloan Foundation 
  • Christopher Mentzel Moore Foundation 
  • Anne Marie Kimball Gates Foundation 
  • Jonathan Eisen UC Davis 
  • Jessica Green U Oregon 
  • Mark Adams JCVI 
  • Eric Alm MIT 
  • Raul Andino UCSF 
  • Scott Kahn Illumina 
  • Mike Lelivelt Ion Torrent 
  • Radoje (Rade) Drmanac Complete Genomics 
  • Brett Bowman Pacific Biosciences 
  • Chris Mason Cornell 
  • Bart Weimer UC Davis 
  • David Crean Mars 
  • Astri Wayadande Oklahoma State U 
  • Christopher Elkins FDA

Not sure what to do about this. I am certainly (in a few minutes) going to be writing to the organizers. I am also pondering cancelling talking. I try very hard to be vigilant about gender ratios at meetings and it drives me crazy to see such skews. I know it is not always possible to have meetings have equal representation and I know some people try very hard and do not succeed. But this seems unpleasantly extreme. So – any thoughts or recommendations as to what to do would be appreciated.

UPDATE 5/5 –

Well the schedule has been updated – and now the male: female speaker ratio is 21:6. Note – Jack Gilbert is moderating and speaking and I am counting him twice. Also Robert Prill is opening each day and closing day 2 so in a way this could be counted as 23:6.

  • Robert Prill, IBM 
  • Jeff Welser IBM 
  • David Haussler UCSC 
  • Daniel Huson Tubingen U 
  • Joe DeRisi UCSF 
  • Jane Carlton NYU 
  • Ajay Royyuru IBM 
  • Laurie Garrett (moderating) 
  • Paula Olsiewski Sloan Foundation 
  • Christopher Mentzel, Moore Foundation 
  • Anne Marie Kimball Gates Foundation 
  • Jonathan Eisen UC Davis 
  • Jessica Green U Oregon 
  • Robert Prill 
  • Mark Adams JCVI 
  • Eric Alm MIT 
  • Raul Andino UCSF 
  • Jack Gilbert (moderating) 
  • Jack Gilbert (speaking) 
  • Scott Kahn, Illumina 
  • Mike Lelivelt Ion Torrent 
  • Radoje (Rade) Drmanac Complete Genomics 
  • Brett Bowman Pacific Biosciences 
  • Chris Mason Cornell 
  • Bart Weimer UC Davis 
  • David Crean Mars 
  • Astri Wayadande Oklahoma State U 
  • Christopher Elkins FDA 
  • Robert Prill


So I decided to go to the meeting and talk. Here is a video slideshow of my talk with audio.

 and here are the slides on Slideshare

I am not sure if I made the right decision but what I decided to do was to change my talk to feature the work of women and to highlight those women.


Here are some pics showing the before (left) and after (right) for how I changed my talk from the previous talk I gave about this topic.  Among the changes I made:

  • I added names and pictures of the women behind the work 
  • Changed examples to be about work of women when I had been using work of men
  • Added additional examples of work by women directly related to my talk
And I used the pictures and names on the slides to remind me to talk about the women behind the work. 

I think this strategy is a potentially useful tool in combatting the implicit and subtle biases against women in STEM fields.  All of what I said was true.  I just made sure to emphasize and use examples of work by women when previously I had either not said who did certain work or had sometimes emphasized work by men.  And I made sure to show pictures and say the names of the women behind the work too.

Added name and picture of program officer Paula Olsiweski who I had quoted previously.
Changed example of new publication that we add to our collection and used a publication
by a female graduate student, post doc Rachel Adams.  
Included name and picture of student post-doc Rachel Adams on other slides
about the topic

Included name and picture of student post-doc Rachel Adams on other slides
about the topic. 

Added a mention of the blog post by student post-doc Rachel Adams.

Added picture and name of post doc Allison Fish who organized meeting
I was discussing.

Added name and picture of Mary Jo Seminoff who coordinates
production of the newsletter I had mentioned.

Added screenshot and names of Holly Bik interviewing Amy Pruden for the
“People Behind the Science” series mentioned in previous slide.

Added name and picture of Brooke Borel and discussed her news stories (had mentioned
news stories in general w/o examples)

Added picture and name and blog post of Holly Ganz who wrote about
the news stories by Brooke Borel.

Changed example to be about Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello instead
of Thomas Bruns.

Changed example to be about Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello instead
of Thomas Bruns.

Added extra slide discussing Software Carpentry workshop
organized by Jenna Lang and Tracy Teal (and added
names and pics of them).

Added pics and names of Jo Handelsman and Tiffany Tsang who coordinated
one of the examples on the slide but who had not gotten mentioned

Added picture and name of undergraduate student Hannah Holland-Moritz who was
involved in this work.

Added picture and name of research associate Madison Dunitz
who led this work.

Added name and picture of undergraduate student Sabreen Aulakh
who was involved in this work.

Added picture of graduate student Laura Sauder who
was our main contact in the lab of Josh Newfeld.

Added pictures and names of Darlene Cavalier and Caren Cooper who
inspired me to get involved in Citizen Science.

Added picture and name of Darlene Cavalier who was keynote speaker
at these meetings.

Added extra slide on the phone microbiome project and added names and pics of the people
involved including graduate student Georgia Barguil.

Added names and pics of the people behind this project (Holly Menninger and Rob Dunn)

Changed slide a little bit and added name and pic of Jessica Richman, one of the people behind the uBiome project.

Added pics that included more of the key women behind this project – including Darlene Cavalier, Wendy Brown
and Jenna Lang.

Added a slide about Altmetrics and added pic and name of Heather Piwowar and mentioned
her work  Had included one line about Altmetrics on a slide before.

Added reference to paper by Holly Bik and Miriam Goldstein and
emphasized the workshops run by Holly Bik.  Included pics and names on slide too.


Added links to find out more information about the work of the women in the slides (links are in the image captions).
UPDATE 9/6/14

Today’s wondering – why are so few of the speakers at "UC Drought Summit" women?

Got pointed to YAMWASGR (yet another meeting with a skewed gender ratio) this AM via Twitter.


This was in reference to a meeting in Sacramento:  Apr. 25: UC Drought Summit, free and open to public | Center for Watershed Sciences and alas the gender ratio is definitely skewed on the speaker list.  Men in Blue, Women in Yellow.

  • UC activities to reduce water use on and off campus
    • • Barbara Allen-Diaz, UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources 
    • • Matthew St.Clair, University Office of the President
  • Current drought: causes, how bad is it, and will we see more like it?
    • • Amir AghaKouchak, UC Irvine
    • • Michael Anderson, State Climatologist
    • • Daniel Cayan, UC San Diego
    • • William Collins, UC Berkeley; Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
    • • Glen MacDonald, UCLA
    • • Daniel Swain, Stanford University
  • Drought-proofing California?
    • • Michael Stenstrom, UCLA 
    • • Jay Lund, UC Davis
  • Kenneth Baerenklau, UC Riverside
    • Roger Bales, UC Merced
    • • Charles Burt, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
    • • Frank Loge, UC Davis
    • • Stephanie Pincetl,UCLA
    • • Scott Stephens, UC Berkeley
  • Remarks by Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi, UC Davis
  • Economic consequences of the drought: agriculture, energy, forests, industry and water
    • • Katrina Jessoe, UC Davis
    • • Anthony Madrigal, Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians 
    • • Josué Medellín-Azuara, UC Davis
    • • Daniel Sumner, UC Agricultural Issues Center
    • • David Sunding, UC Berkeley
  • Endangered species and drought: science, management and policies
    • • Richard Frank, UC Davis
    • • Ellen Hanak, Public Policy Institute of California
    • • David Hayes, Stanford University; former deputy Interior secretary
    •  • Peter Moyle, UC Davis
    • • David Sedlak, UC Berkeley
    • • Joshua Viers, UC Merced
  • State policy for future droughts: groundwater, storage, marketing and conservation
    • • Jay Famiglietti, UC Irvine
    • • Thomas Harter, UC Davis
    • • Ruth Langridge, UC Santa Cruz
    • • Steve Macaulay, consultant
    • • Samuel Sandoval Solis, UC Davis 
    • • Kurt Schwabe, UC Riversidepage2image9504     page2image9928

That comes out to 26:6 in my count or 18.8% female, 81.2% male.  Now, I note – I have no idea what the “pool” looks like in this area, but such a % certainly does not look good from an outside (to the field, even though I am an insider in that this was organized by some people at UC Davis).   Once again, I would like to point out to meeting organizers, that having a diverse pool of speakers for a meeting is important for many reasons and sometimes it takes extra work to pull it off, but in my experience it is definitely worth it.

Global Engage Plant Genomics Meeting – Bring Your Y Chromosome Because they Don’t Take XX – Calling for a Boycott of this Group

Saw this tweet earlier today


And something seemed hauntingly familiar about the organization referenced.  Turns out this is not the first time they have had issues with Gender Balance.  So I responded


Incredibly distasteful and painful to see this. This group “Global Engage” ran a Plant Genomics meeting last year that I posted about becuase the gender ratio was quite bad for the speakers: YAMMGM – yet another mostly male genomics meeting (series): Plant Genomic Congresses by Global Engage

And after seeing this new Tweet I dug around their web site some more and it is really unpleasant.  Look at their Advisory Panel (which is what Female Scientist was pointing to):

24 scientists.  All of them men.  If you know any of them, as I do, I would recommend you contact them and suggest they resign from this apparently gender-biased organization or force them to add some women to their advisory panel.

The speaker list for their next plant genomics meeting is quite skewed too.  I could find 49 men and 5 women.  What a joke.

I call upon everyone in the community to boycott this meeting and any organized by Global Engage in the future.  They have been informed previously of their gender ratio issues and are clearly not doing anything about it.  And in plant genomics there are so many excellent female scientists that this simply has to be a case of some type of bias.

In addition, I would recommend calling on the sponsors to withhold funding from this meeting and others organized by this group.

Sponsors include


Life Technologies








A must read: How to Level the Playing Field for Women in Science by Mary Ann Mason

This is a must read for anyone interested in Science / Academia: How to Level the Playing Field for Women in Science – Advice – The Chronicle of Higher Education.  By Mary Ann Mason, who is a professor at UC Berkeley and has extensive experience on studying issues relating to women in science and academia.  She details in this article four key things that can be done to reduce the “baby penalty”:

  • Better (and more) child-care options
  • Effective dual-career policies
  • Childbirth accommodations
  • Compliance with Title IX 
Definitely worth reading.  And worth checking out some of the web material from her including
(Thanks to Madhu Katti – who posted this to Facebook)