Link Roundup #1

An amazing collection of Victorian Microscopic Slides. I look at it whenever I feel blue, and then I feel red and golden with embedded diatoms.

This is what a Women’s Rights conference in Saudi Arabia looks like…

On women, feelings and badassery.

Beautiful pictures of women at work around the world.

Female pressure : a tumblr collecting pictures of women working in electronic music, following this Bjork interview that you HAVE to read.

This Nature piece about how we define sex is really good, and interesting.

“My feeling is that since there is not one biological parameter that takes over every other parameter, at the end of the day, gender identity seems to be the most reasonable parameter,” says Vilain. In other words, if you want to know whether someone is male or female, it may be best just to ask.

Last week tonight on paid family leave. Happy Mother’s Day! (And get the f*ck back to work)

I guess we could make a bunch of contributions on the science side on this new tumblr : “Congrats, you have an all male panel“.

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Cognitive bias : Important topic, wrong example (a communication fail).

The Dean of my Institution frequently sends inspirational messages to the campus. It’s ususally nice, sometimes (unintendedly) funny. I always considered it a manifestation of this still-strange-to-me american way of being positive and motivational. Except this one time.  This time where the Dean -or more likely his communication team- chose to illustrate a message on cognitive bias in scientific and medical communities with the Rolling Stone UVA rape story. I KID YOU NOT. It goes :

The magazine Rolling Stone recently gave us a striking (and, I suspect, deeply regretted) illustration of just how dangerous unexamined assumptions can be. One of their articles, published late last fall, turned out to be a fabrication. The publication later retracted it.

How—in an established, respected publication—could something like that happen? There was obviously uncharacteristic carelessness and a woeful lack of professionalism in the mix. But the deepest explanation, I think, is: to everyone involved, apparently, the story seemed true, so they concluded—without checking—that it was.

A classic case, in other words, of the phenomenon known as “cognitive bias.”

One of the frailties of being human is that we tend to “see” what we’re expecting to find. Cognitive bias is what leads people to jump to conclusions or fall into the trap of stereotyping. It’s what makes prejudice such a potentially dangerous state of mind.

Whether we realize it or not, very, very few of us, I suspect, are completely free of cognitive bias. The key is to recognize that fact, especially if you’re charged with making decisions that affect other people.


Really? You wanna talk pride stereotyping and prejudice, and you pick this example??? I thus proceeded to ruin a  perfectly fine day of expected maximum productivity to carefully craft a respectful email with trembling fingers (I’m only slightly exaggerating)(yes, unexpected encounters with rape culture ruins my ability to focus)(on analysis). It goes :


While I agree with the general message conveyed by [message from Dean], I can’t help but bring to your attention that starting such a message, especially addressing cognitive bias, by citing the UVA rape Rolling Stone story is ill-advised.

The Rolling Stone alleged rape case is an intricate and complex story, for which the “truth” will never be established. The bad reporting on the story was tremendously detrimental to rape survivors, treatment of rape victims, and handling of on-campus rape cases, which is a national issue. Most importantly, “cognitive bias” actually works against the victim most of the time in rape cases.

There are numerous examples of stories published, then retracted, including in science, that could have served for illustrative purpose. Choosing as an example a story that sparked controversy across the country about a campus rape case while addressing a message to the whole [institution] campus about “truth” seems highly inappropriate. It also implicitly suggests that potential sexual assault or harrassment victims at [institution] might not be taken seriously.

I hope that the issues I’m raising will be carefully and respectfully adressed, and that in the future the implications of  [Institution’s Dean] internal communication will be considered more thoughtfully.

Substance P. (that’s not my actual name)

I received a carefully crafted and respectful email (though, I suspect, not written with trembling fingers) re-explaining me why the Rolling Stone example was the perrrfect example (because cognitive bias + everybody has heard of it, duh), and that -of course- they take sexual assault and harrassment seriously. Note my final hint that -maybe- they should remove the message from the Institution website. Guess what? It’s still there. Am I the only one shocked?

(Bonus : A Nature Editorial on cognitive bias in science : quite a different flavour…)

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Recipe for a flawed conversation on sexism in STEM

I’m a little late (as usual) and the debate has been raging for a few days now over a new paper in PNAS showing a strong hiring bias at faculty level IN FAVOR of women. Even if they have – wait for it- kids. Can you believe it?

Actually, I couldn’t (and I wasn’t the only one). Given the amount of literature showing opposite bias (i.e. favoring males) in science and other fields, including the now-famous Moss-Racussin paper, I found the result quite puzzling. These were my first raw thoughts, by order of appearance :

– In a context where such studies using fake applications are becoming commonplace, the participants were likely aware to participate in such a study : they might have consciously favored women in order to NOT  appear biased.

– Even if the methodology was flawless (which it isn’t), and it was actually believable that he bias favors women, this doesn’t solve the problem of sexism in STEM. The problem arises from a constellation of factors (randomly : gendered education, lack of mentoring, lack of role models, micro-aggressions, impostor syndrome, grant attribution bias, salary bias, lab space bias, award bias, sexual harassment, boy’s club effect, etc)(but but let’s not digress too much) among which hiring bias is MINOR.

-This paper, especially given the way it was covered in the mainstream media, will be used to downplay or negate the influence of sexism in science and its role in the leaky pipeline (ie the progressive diminution of the proportion of women along the academic track). This was actually the concern of the friend who brought the paper to my attention.

It turns out a lot of people have had similar first thoughts… After reading a bit a lot more about this, I think besides the mere -questionable- results and the methodological issues, what got a lot of people angry at this study was something that makes a lot of people angry in science : over-interpretation. By the scientists, chorus, the media. (Interestingly it seems that the authors of the study are familiar of simplistic over-intepretation since they recently authored an op-ed column in the New York Times very humbly titled “Academic Science Isn’t Sexist”. Yeah, right…) The interpretation being here that the times are extremely favorable to the careers of women in science.  And this would be awesome!! But we know it isn’t and how dangerous it is to claim it is when it isn’t. That’s how we end up in the uncomfortable position of having to prove again and again that sexism IS STILL a thing in science (and elsewhere), before we can even focus on solutions.

On this last point, Dr. Acclimatrix wrote a very touching/infuriating piece on Tenure She Wrote. You should really read the whole thing but this part specifically  resonated with me:

I am not disappointed by articles claiming sexism is dead because victimization gives me a leg up and I worry that I’m losing my edge. I get upset because those articles are biased and flawed and their authors claim that women are unhappy with their findings because we have a vested interest in maintaining our victimhood. As though pseudo-inequality was a job that came with really cushy benefits and perks and a company car. As though there were no opportunity costs, or emotional costs, or personal costs to a real, tangible thing.

So, I have a vested interest.

I have a vested interest in convincing you that sexism and misogyny are real, because they are.

For a thorough criticism of the methods of the Ceci & Williams paper, including heated debates in the comments, you can check Dr Zuleyka Zevallos’ blog, The Other Sociologist.

If you have a few hours before you or an urgent need to procrastinate, Karen James made a Storify that compiles all that’s been written about this on blogs and medias plus the twitter discussions (#StillAProblem #GasLightingDuo). Have fun, people!

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The rise and fall (and rise?) of women in computer science

Sociological Images just relayed this NPR podcast about the (sharp!) decline of women in computer science. Apparently, gendered advertising of personal computers (sold as toys and targeted at boys/men) might have a lot to do with it, by introducing a gender gap in computer access and representativity in the computer culture (they’re also talking about it here).

It is often forgotten (NPR I love you) that, historically, women played a crucial role in the creation and rise of computer technology… Everybody knows Ada Lovelace (I wanna read this book, but TIME, lack thereof)(don’t buy on amazon, people), but for example, who knows about the women operating the Turing machines during WWII? Anyway, now the deed is done, it’s time to find a way to educate all those Silicon Valley Brogrammers and convince women that it’s worth dealing with the douchebags. Since I’m being sarcastic, I’ll mention the GamerGate here, infamous for providing a frame for hordes of very serious douchebags to harass women having opinions about sexism in the gaming industry, including Anita Sarkeesian from Feminist Frequency.

But there’s hope my friends, check out for example those two amazing organizations : Girls who code, Black girls code. I’m sure there are a lot of other ones providing support and education to women at various stages of their lives and careers, please mention them in the comments if you know any!

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I’m late on the News…

So here’s a bunch :

Nature has published an interesting historical piece about women in labs during World War I and how it didn’t really succeed in giving them a longer term access to science : Women in science: A temporary liberation.

Tell the negative committee to shut up : Fanuel Muindi talks bad to his impostor syndrome in Science (the journal).

The depressing list of the week : 13 subtle ways women are treated differently at work (Business Insider). They pretty much all apply to labs (yes, lab is work my dear friends…).

Should one choose to stay in academic science,  I do think you have a responsibility to not be a total dick.About being a woman scientist, transitioning to post-doc, leaving or not leaving academia, stuff. By outspoken Dr Isis.

Speaking of dicks : The evolution of female genitalia is understudied, and it sucks (no pun intended). A very interesting paper in PLOS Biology.  And another example of how science is penetrated by social stereotypes.

Why women rightly fear failure. (@The Nation.) “If the world demands that you work twice as hard to get half the reward, why would you handicap yourself by starting out somewhere that makes it harder to shine?” That’s actually a good question.

C’est tout pour aujourd’hui!
(That’s it for today!)

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“Inspire her mind” : Verizon tackles stereotypes keeping girls out of STEM.

It seems that feminist-washing is a new thing for big bad brands. It makes me very, very uncomfortable when it’s the beauty industry using feminist themes to sell cosmetic products, like Dove promoting “real beauty” (Dove is going to rescue you from a negative body image, but only if you buy more Dove) and, more recently Pantene (boo boo double standards, but you’ll get through it with beautiful hair). You don’t need to have read Naomi Wolf’s Beauty Myth to understand how hypocrite this is. On the other hand, because big money + TV, these commercials are sadly potentially much more powerful in changing minds than most underfinanced honest feminist campaigns.

That’s probably why I’m much less critical about the Verizon spot showing how stereotypes and gendered education keep girls away from science and engineering :

It’s smart and powerful, and does a very good job at pointing out how girls are gradually led to base their own value on how they look and how ‘well’ they behave (or maybe I am extrapolating?). Now Cynical-Me would like to know what’s the gender balance among Verizon’s engineers and if their internal and recruitment policies fit their egalitarian message… But I’m such a kill-joy.

More broadly : Can big companies take part in fights for social justice? You have 4 hours.

If you want to have a good laugh, there are very good parodies of the Dove spot here and there, among others.

There’s also the recent Always ad about what it means to do things “Like a girl” : gngngngnnnnn not too bad… And menstrual pads are not really a beauty product, are they? Too bad big bad Procter and Gamble also owns Axe, which commercials are notably sexist.


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Seven Things Keeping Women Out Of Science

It’s been a while since Eileen Pollack had her piece “Why are there still so few women in science?” published in the NY Times, but not long enough for the things she said to become obsolete (It was october 2013. Fun fact : at the current rate, we’ll reach 50% of female full professors in..2117).

It’s a long essay mixing bouts of personal experiences she had as a young women studying physics, facts and numbers about women in science, reports of conversation and interviews with other women, and a few anecdotes. It’s very interesting and easy to read, but if you don’t have time, another article at Business Insider builds on the essay to summarize the Seven Things Keeping Women Out of Science. And if you’re really not willing to open another to-read tab in your browser, here are those seven deadly sins of science :

  1. Teasing at school (by classmates and teachers)
  2. Lack of encouragement/proper mentoring.
  3. The big bad stereotypes (e.g. the way scientists are pictured in medias, or female scientists are not pictured in medias)
  4. Childcare (lack of)
  5. Competition (excess of)
  6. Marginalization (less space, less money, less awards), which is a result of :
  7. Bias (as “beautifully” evidenced by C. Moss-Racusin et al., for example)

I would also add 8. Lack of role models (I love this expression : there’s no good equivalent in french). The only thing that I did not really agree with (but somehow found a little bit funny) is this part :

“…at the space telescope institute where she used to work, the women from Italy and France “dress very well, what Americans would call revealing. You’ll see a Frenchwoman in a short skirt and fishnets; that’s normal for them. The men in those countries seem able to keep someone’s sexual identity separate from her scientific identity. American men can’t seem to appreciate a woman as a woman and as a scientist; it’s one or the other.”

As shown by the extensive (negative) comments and discussion that followed a presentation by a PI wearing a leather skirt at my previous institution in Paris, this is not true at all. Unfortunately, if fashion can indeed be quite different, there’s only slight variations in sexism and objectification between countries… And I wouldn’t try wearing heels and fishnets at the next FENS meeting if I’d want people to discuss my science and not my… whatever.

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