Wednesday, December 20, 2006
It's not clear what precipitated this news article. Many of its references are to a September 2006 National Academies of Science report on the status of women. The NAS report repeated several well-known points, such as that although women make up more than half of graduates from biology programs, they account for only about 15% of full professors in science departments at top-tier research universities.
The challenge it offered to universities to reform academia was stronger than previous reports. It places the burden of reform squarely on the shoulders of university administrators to show that they are doing everything they can to promote parity for women, and not just to show that they are doing nothing to hold women back. It strongly recommends policies that provide for paid parental leave, on-site child care, and revised tenure clocks for parents.
The National Academies also reported that although men publish slightly more than women in the sciences, they also receive more financial support through grants and university leave, and that when this factor is controlled for, men and women publish at about the same rate.
Although bias against women's research may be small for any given project, it adds up over the course of a woman's career. Likewise, women are more likely to be assigned administrative service work, a burden that may be small at any given time but which adds up over the course of years.
The NYT also mentions an article (no citation available) which showed that letters of recommendation written for women job applicants were six times more likely to mention the candidate's private life than letters written for men. Women are more likely to be evaluated on their teaching in recommendation letters, while men are more likely to be evaluated on their research. Since top jobs often value research over teaching, this subtle bias may contribute to women's difficulty in getting top research jobs.
Monday, December 11, 2006
Not these philosophers. They talk politics. One of their number, Ivy educated and with an AOS in metaphysics, proclaims herself a libertarian. Not that kind of libertarian. Not the kind whose main concern is to secure reproductive freedoms. Well, yes to those liberties, she concedes, but our primary political problem is taxation, and all the lazy folks who rely on welfare because they would rather not work a real job.
Another dinner party-goer, defending some of the folks who are on disability and drawing social security, offered up some personal experience in support of government support for those unable to find or hold a job for medical reasons. Another, a criminal defense attorney who deals with people on federal assistance, also tried to defend the importance of federal aid to maintaining civil order (at the very least). But our libertarian friend held her ground.
Why? Because she doesn't accept "appeals to authority" as good reasons. And now we come down to it. For what do we teach Introduction to Logic?
A logic professor brushing aside personal testimony (first- and second-hand) with the 5-cent fallacy "appeal to authority" has lost the key to epistemology. How can there be knowledge if we don't base it on experience? If all appeals to authority were suspect, we would know precious little, including how to interpret our own experience.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Call for Papers:
Annual Meeting of the Society for Social Studies of Science
October 11-13, 2007, Montreal, Canada
Theme: “Ways of Knowing”
Abstracts for sessions or papers due on February 1, 2007.
The theme for the conference is ways of knowing.
By this we mean several things: implicitly, that there are many ways of knowing any particular object, process, or event; that some of these ways of knowing have historically been more valued than others; and that processes of adjudicating ways of knowing have usually been neither nice nor neutral.
So we are interested in processes of valuation (from the language of debates to acts of censorship) that result in one way of knowing as “the right one” or “the natural one.” We are interested in how people, groups, or cultures hold more than one way of knowing, and whether this is stable, durable, or problematic.
-When different ways of knowing are triangulated, how is this actually done in practice?
-What is lost and what is gained in the triangulation process?
We are interested in how certain ways of knowing are deemed to be “non-scientific,” (for example, magic, divination, astrology, etc).
-Several other interesting areas spring from this mixture of questions: historically, what is kept, or what is ignored, in studies of knowledges and paradigm shifts? (Including here questions of collective memory and collective forgetting.)
-How do new regimes of record keeping, such as the electronic patient record or the full text data base, affect what is remembered and what is forgotten? (This may be true across a large numbers of fields.)
All sorts of questions about translation arise in discussing these issues:
-Who chooses what is to be translated?
-Who does the translation?
-Does the quality of the translation impact the nature of knowledge, and if so, how?
-In Howard Becker’s famous concept, “hierarchy of credibility,” he claims that information coming from the top of a hierarchy (e.g., a bank president) is more credible than that coming from a disreputable person (e.g. a street person, or a drug addict, or a “seedy character.”) Given that our conference will be in Quebec, one of the sites where language (as a marker) difference are really bitterly disputed (up to the point of a gun), we must examine the idea that language is a powerful source of dispute, even war.
-Finally, there are different ways of knowing that are formed by gestures, by ways of pronouncing words, or by how names are heard and understood.
-Sometimes ways of knowing are different with respect to quantitative vs. qualitative; visual vs. textual, or statistical vs. enumerative. These only suggest the ways knowledges may frame findings, thus mirroring a final finding.
A final word about themes: these are suggestions to draw together work and a suggestion of a question or women and work. As always, themes are meant to suggest and encourage, not provide an iron cage. So, the Program Committee welcomes work that is outside the sketches drawn here; submissions are welcome from any of the variety of areas normally addressed by 4S (or even those not normally addressed, but which need to be).
Find more information and submit abstracts and session proposals at http://www.4sonline.org/meeting.htm.
Friday, November 24, 2006
The hope behind the technology was that by monitoring both heartrate and oxygen level, obstetricians would be able to discern which babies were truly in an emergency situation, thus lowering the rate of Cesarean sections. That is, the additional monitor, it was hoped, would correct for the failure of heartrate monitoring alone to lower infant mortality rates and the rate of complications such as cerebral palsy. The fetal oxygen monitor will now be discontinued.
This study is important because it was performed before the technology was widely adopted, in contrast to fetal heart monitoring. A number of studies have shown that routine fetal heart monitoring, too, is no better at predicting fetal distress than a trained nurse with a fetoscope, but that it does increase a woman's chance of having a C-section (not to mention that it constrains a woman's movement during labor and that internal monitoring is an invasive procedure for both mother and fetus). Nonetheless, obstetricians have come to rely on fetal heart monitoring, and 85% of births are so monitored. The C-section rate rose again last year to 30.2% of all births, a 46% rate increase in a decade. (An editorial about the shortcomings of fetal heart monitoring, with references, is here.)
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
What we do is theoretical, but to what end do we do theory? Philosophers of science, for instance, are sometimes cautioned not to be so presumptious as to believe that our normative statements about good scientific reasoning should guide scientists. Who are we to tell scientists how to reason or how to arrange their institutions? Who are we to even judge which practices are best? How can we know science better than scientists themselves? But if we have no legitimate means of influencing scientific practice, then what is the point of our work?
But this attitude is not just pressed on us from the outside. It is readily embraced. Some philosophers do believe that what philosophy can best contribute to inquiry is, for example, a theory of universals, and that philosophy as a whole suffers when the importance of this lofty but impractical goal is overlooked.
And what benefits are promised by a career in philosophy? What jobs are there for philosophers other than the job of training and speaking to other philosophers?
The self-endorsed view that philosophers are sorrowfully misunderstood and that we suffer for this reason was put in front of me again recently when filling out a survey for my undergraduate college, where I majored in philosophy. The survey asked the standard questions that might be needed to evaluate and update curricula: "What courses served you the best?" "Were you well prepared for graduate school?"
In addition, there was this question:
"How was majoring in philosophy a burden to you after graduation?"
Would a business college ask the same question?
"How has your accounting degree held you back in life?"
Or about a degree in science,
"How has studying chemistry changed your life for the worse?"
Monday, October 30, 2006
Biennial Meeting of the International Society for the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology (ISHPSSB)
Exeter (Great Britain), July 25-29, 2007
Since its inception, the International Society for the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology (ISHPSSB) has brought together scholars from diverse disciplinary backgrounds to discuss historical, conceptual, epistemological, political, institutional, and ethical issues of the life sciences in an open and informal setting. Over the past twenty-odd years, attendance has increased from about 60 participants to about 350 in Guelph, 2005. In 2007, we hope to continue our tradition of an inclusive and experimental approach, while meeting the challenge of increased attendance.
Scholars wishing to attend the meeting are now invited to submit session and paper proposals on the ISHPSSB website (visit http://www.ishpssb.org/meeting.html). Deadline for submissions is February 15, 2007, and abstracts should not exceed 500 words.
While individual paper submissions are welcome, we strongly encourage submission of session and panel discussion proposals. For the 2007 meeting, we especially seek sessions that
- are innovative and cross-disciplinary in content and/or format;
- strengthen the lines of communication among historians, philosophers, social scientists, and biologists;
- open conversations that lead to new ways of thinking about the life sciences and the disciplines that study it;
- bring together people of different disciplinary and national backgrounds.
The Society is open to proposals on any topic connected with the history, philosophy and social studies of the life sciences. For the 2007 meeting, we would especially welcome sessions in the following areas:
- Anthropology of the Life Sciences.
- Biology and Politics.
- Systems Biology.
- Biology beyond the Evolutionary Synthesis.
Sunday, October 29, 2006
the Philosophy of Science Association, the Society for the Social Studies of Science, and the History of Science Society.
The PSA, I am disappointed to say, seems to be featuring no talks explicitly on the topic of feminist approaches to philosophy of science, though a session on Friday afternoon may be smuggling them in. It is titled "Towards a more political philosophy of science." Some of us on this blog would rather not find feminist approaches always categorized as political, since the label seems to imply a particular bias. It is the exclusion of women and of feminist thought from science and philosophy of science that is biased, not the exploration of diverse points of view.
The 4S conference has feminist inquiry scheduled throughout, too many sessions to catalog here. But we will point out those sessions of particular interest to philosophers of science:
1. Our own, of course, scheduled for Thursday morning:
"How central are values in scientific reasoning?"
2. On Friday morning, a panel of papers on Miriam Solomon's social empiricism
3. A session of author meets critics on John Zammito's A Nice Derangement of Epistemes: Post-positivism in the Study of Science from Quine to Latour on Friday afternoon.
Women, Gender, and Technology
Mary Frank Fox, Deborah G. Johnson, and Sue V. Rosser, eds. (University of Illinois Press, 2006).
This is an interdisciplinary investigation of the complex relationship between gender and technology. Each of the ten chapters explores a different aspect of how gender and technology work--and are at work--in particular domains, including film narratives, reproductive technologies, information technology, and the profession of engineering. The volume's contributors include representatives of over half a dozen different disciplines, and each provides a novel perspective on the foundational idea that gender and technology co-create one another.
Unfortunately, the table of contents is not yet available for viewing either at Amazon or at the University of Illinios website, so it is impossible to know who has contributed to the volume and on what topics without buying the book. Deborah Johnson is an ethicist who has written a textbook on computer ethics, so we can expect that there will be some contributions of interest to feminist theorists.
The other book is
Women and Information Technology: Research on Underrepresentation
Joanne McGrath Cohoon and William Aspray, eds. (MIT Press, 2006).
Computing remains a heavily male-dominated field even after twenty-five years of extensive efforts to promote female participation. The contributors to Women and Information Technology look at reasons for the persistent gender imbalance in computing and explore some strategies intended to reverse the downward trend. The studies included are rigorous social science investigations; they rely on empirical evidence--not rhetoric, hunches, folk wisdom, or off-the-cuff speculation about supposed innate differences between men and women.
This volume is focused on sociology rather than theory, but it will be interesting to examine the various types of explanations that are given for the continuing disparity in IT as well as evaluations of the remedies that have been implemented in educational settings.
Sunday, September 10, 2006
I'm teaching a course in Environmental Philosophy for the first time, and I've had less success in designing an inclusive syllabus than ever before. Among the required readings, there are 23 authors, and 4 of them are women (17%). This is a higher percentage than in many of the Environmental Ethics textbooks I looked at, but it's nothing to be proud of. Part of the difficulty is that the course centers on topics that have an epistemological or philosophy of science cast to them rather than being ethics-based, so I haven't assigned any ecofeminism. (I resist including feminist readings merely for the sake of including women because I think it tends to reinforce an artificial separation between 'mainstream' philosophy and feminist philosophy.) Among philosophers who write on issues in ecology and environmental science, Kristin Shrader-Frechette is the only woman I'm aware of, but suggestions would be appreciated!
Monday, September 04, 2006
These are familiar questions from the age of identity politics. That age which had a hey-day in the 1980s and 90s may seem to be over. The rise of queer thought and theory, the deconstruction of race and gender, all reveal that identity is much more fluid than it seemed. Yet identities marked by oppression still deserve special consideration, however we understand them: socially constructed or biological, embraced or rejected.
One of the questions that remains is how to give voice to marginalized experience without presuming to speak for or appearing to speak authoritatively about those positions when one does not share the same marginalization. "How same must one be" is a related issue, but that begs the question (in the logical sense) of whether we must be the same, and whether we can be the same. Clearly full identity is never possible (even playing oneself involves pretending to a lost youth!), but how do we negotiate sensitive differences?
The issues of sameness and playing another person, are central to theatre. On stage, identities are always assumed. So, the problems of assuming "voice", that is speaking authoritatively from a particular personal and social position, have a particular urgency. How can a straight person play gay? man play woman? white play black?
J. Kelly Nestruck argues in "Playing it Safe" from the last issue of This Magazine (for those of you in the U.S., it's a Canadian analogue to Mother Jones) argues that such issues are killing radical political theatre. Notably, the native Canadian playwrite Tomson Highway will no longer pen dramas, but stick to monologic fiction. Moving away from a format that requires representative voices is needed because theatres shy away from scripts if they don't have a cast who share the marginalized experiences of the characters. Having native characters without adequate numbers of native actors entails shelved rather than performed plays.
Of course, dramatists have strategies for avoiding the "voice" conundrum. Instead of a performance, a reading may be put on, as Windsor Feminist Theatre attempted to do this summer with Ntozake Shange's choreopoem "For colored girls who've considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf". Yet avoiding the polish of a full performance can give the impression of disrespect, and of inattention, when quite the opposite is the case. Impressions, one might think, can be tutored by program notes, but these too can fail to be read or understood.
The misunderstanding has created a lot of discussion. Perhaps that is all one could really hope for. Yet I fear that this is a truly a harbinger of the death of radical theatre, as Nestruck suggests. Losing that creative and imaginative space seems very dangerous for feminism, and other social justice movements.
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
June 28-July 1, 2007
Submission deadline: November 1, 2006
The National Women's Studies Association is pleased to announce that the Call for Proposals for its 2007 conference scheduled for June 28-July 1, 2007 in St. Charles, IL, a suburb of Chicago, is available at www.nwsaconference.org.
NWSA invites submissions that examine the conference theme,
"Past Debates, Present Possibilities, and Future Feminisms: A Women's and Gender Studies Conference Celebrating 30 Years of NWSA"
and its related sub-themes:
— Girls Studies and Activism,
— Performing Feminisms, and
— Im/Migration and Mobility
from women's and gender studies practitioners in college and universities, women's center administrators, independent scholars, K-12 educators, artists, and community activists. The Association also welcomes proposals that do not directly address the theme, but are relevant to women's and gender studies today.
The 2007 conference will feature:
* Women's Centers Pre-Conference
* Sandra Cisneros, celebrated author of The House on Mango Street and
the novel Caramelo will speak
* Engaging Scholarship Sessions to promote intellectual exchange and
* Writing workshops for graduate students and junior faculty
* Tribute panel to honor past scholarship that has set new directions
for the field: This Bridge Called My Back
More information here.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Sunday, August 27, 2006
Female Science Professor blogs about the value of “Old War Stories,” the stories that women in academia tell about "how it used to be."
Novices, whether women or men, can make good use of cautionary tales of others’ experiences. I think they can play an especially valuable role for women in male-dominated areas of academia. Stories that narrate what made it tough for other people can help us identify and avoid similar situations, and by naming a situation (as harassment or as discrimination or as otherwise unfair), the blame for failure can be shifted from the self/victim to the institution or individuals that have caused it. They make us aware and wary of acting in ways that reproduce the marginalization of women, especially since in competitive circumstances (like grad school) there is often something to be gained at others’ expense (“better her than me”). Sharing war stories, especially of recent conflicts, can build awareness of ongoing problems so that they can be addressed. War stories have helped us build our identity as feminists because the general patterns of discrimination are far too common, even when the details change from one person's telling to another.
Personal narratives, the good and the bad, are a necessary complement to feminist theory, since experience is where feminism begins. Their role is not just critical, but also positive: war stories don’t just identify obstacles, they can also point out alternative career paths when life circumstances (partners, children, preconceptions) block the conventional route through graduate education to tenure. Stories where the heroines have won their battles are just as necessary as the cautionary tales.
When should we not share our old war tales? Telling them too often, perhaps, is boring. Hearing them too often is discouraging. But the worst is when they induce a race to the bottom, a competition for pity: who has had the worst experiences? Or when they mask Schadenfreude. Or when they are used by one generation to put the next generation in their place: “Your battles are not nearly so bloody as the ones I had to fight.”
Some autobiographical stories have been published and are worth reading:
Linda Martin Alcoff, ed. Singing in the Fire: Stories of Women in Philosophy, 2003.
Constance Coiner and Diana Hume George, eds. The Family Track: Keeping Your Faculties While You Mentor, Nurture, Teach, and Serve, 1998.
Jane Roland Martin, Coming of Age in Academe: Rekindling Women’s Hopes and Reforming the Academy, 1999.
Christine Overall, A Feminist I: Reflections from Academia, 1998.
George Yancy, The Philosophical I: Reflections on Life in Philosophy, 2002.
But not all autobiographies are useful in this way. Stories from those who have led a charmed existence but can still find things to complain about are not as likely to inspire those of us with a more ordinary lot. Take Colin McGinn’s autobiography. He tells of being both surprised and not surprised to be offered a position over Christopher Peacocke:
“…soon after the interview I was offered the job. I was totally astonished. Rumor has it that the psychologists found Peacocke too difficult to understand…I, on the other hand, was as clear as daylight—whatever my other failings may be.”But sadly, there is a grey lining in every silver cloud:
“I had my misgivings about accepting the job. I now liked living in London and felt apprehensive about living in Oxford, which is, after all, just a small market town.”
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
More commentary over at Gristmill, by Maywa Montenegro, on the attitudes we should adopt: half skeptical pragmatism (skeptical, that is, that the trend can be shifted before we have to respond to its more drastic effects) and half optimism that political action on energy consumption and fuel sources can stall further warming.
The Chronicle of Higher Education has invited seven bloggers to comment on various issues the case raises--on politics, blogging, and being a public intellectual (and has uncharacteristically made the forum free for non-subscribers. Hooray!). What are the hazards of academic blogging? Indeed, what are its benefits? To the blogger, to their academic communities, to the broader public?
For one thing, academics blog about a range of topics. Some are mostly personal, and some discuss their professional setting in a personal way. Privacy issues arise. But what about blogs that are continuous with a person's (or a group's) academic activities? Is blogging a distraction from our work, is it a complement to our work, is it (can it be) a part of our work?
It certainly seems plausible that there are individual benefits for the academic blogger, and that these may vary according to where the person teaches, her rank, her other academic obligations, her experience:
- frequent writing exercise. This may be especially helpful for graduate students or other inexperienced, rusty, or blocked writers.And there are surely community benefits as well:
- an informal venue in which to work out half-done thoughts
- a place to get feedback other than at conferences (especially for those with limited travel funds or travel abilities)
- a way of keeping track of ideas that have not yet found a home in a scholarly paper, and a way of keeping track of sources and examples
- group blogs can unite a coherent core of bloggers (and readers) to discuss academic topicsSome communities and community members stand to benefit more than others. Although some blogs are guarded by gatekeepers, which reinforce the prestige of those associated with them (need I mention a particular philosophy blog?), blogging is also open to all comers--beyond the policing of pre-set standards--and so encouraging of experiment and innovation. The structure of blogging therefore explains their popularity among graduate students and young academics. It should also be attractive to other academic groups that struggle with feeling marginalized or are spread thinly among institutions.
- informal exchange of ideas (through comments) that does not depend on being invited into a social network--and that can extend social networks
- a central location for storing calls for papers, announcements, and book reviews that is more easily searchable and more optional than listserves
- through the blog's very publicity, in comparison to listserves, it permits easy access to newcomers and an exchange (or flow) of ideas from one academic subcommunity to another via links
- again, via links, blogs encourage permeability between academic exchanges and real-world events and non-academic readers which are rare through venues like conferences
Finally, weblogs are a venue for public intellectuals--something philosophers and feminists should aspire to.
About the benefits of blogging, Brad DeLong writes:
Plus — and this is the biggest plus — it is a play in the intellectual influence game. My blog got about 20,000 page-views a day last month.And Michael Berube adds:
And though there are people who consider my blogging a waste of time, my guess is that many of them see writing for newspapers and magazines to be a waste of time as well.
Monday, July 24, 2006
The cause of preeclampsia is unknown, and the recommended treatment is delivery of the baby ASAP. Although the complex causal pathways that lead up to many diseases are unknown, it is worth pointing out that there is something special about pregnancy disorders: they are not well-studied.
There are several reasons for this. Fetuses cannot consent to participate in clinical trials. Pregnant women, understandably, are not motivated to take on risks to their pregnancy and fetus in order to test new drugs and therapies. Moreover, in some cases, as in preeclampsia, the best available treatment is to deliver the baby, which precludes further testing or treatment in utero.
But if pregnancies are so valuable, shouldn't it be possible to overcome some of these obstacles? Perhaps by running larger trials which permit deeper statistical inferences. But large trials take funding, and this is what the New Yorker article has to say:
Among medical researchers, obstetrics is often regarded as a dead end. "An enterprising young physician-researcher who seeks to make his [sic] name in a field faces huge hurdles if he wants to work with pregnant women"..."Our ability to truly understand what goes on in the fetus is poor," he [Sachs] said. "You can't predict physiologically how a fetus is going to respond to some treatment given to the mother. So people are very hesitant to do this kind of research, and the committees that protoect human subjects are, by and large, gun-shy"..."The only large clinical trials that have been going on involve innocuous treatments, like antioxidants, low-dose aspirin, or supplements like calcium," Sachs said.But it is not just studies of treatments that cannot get off the ground. Even descriptive studies and the development of registries for tracking diseases of pregnancy and post-delivery outcomes are lacking. As with gestational diabetes, the exact rates of preeclampsia in the US are not known, nor are the contributing factors well understood.
Disorders of pregnancy receive relatively little research from the federal government, even though they exact a considerable medical and financial toll.
The culture of obstetrics is not oriented toward identifying causes that would permit prevention. This is also a relevant topic for feminist bioethics. As Laura Purdy has argued in her article, "What feminism can do for bioethics," bioethicists can and should take on advocacy tasks that shift the way that research is ordered and prioritized.
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
First, the parts I think are right. Yes, we should be careful when advocating compulsory health care. Yes, we should make it possible for all women to get routine Pap smears. Both of these points seem right, but this argument is constructed in such a way that one might walk away thinking that Pap smears will prevent cervical cancer and so there is really no need for this vaccine, end of story. But this is disingenuous and misleading. It isn’t Pap smears that prevent cervical cancer. Pap smears alert us to the need to proceed to other procedures that can prevent cervical cancer. So they are necessary but not sufficient. Since the current vaccine prevents only the four of the most common forms of HPV (which account for 70% of cervical cancers), it is not sufficient to prevent cervical cancer either and so does not eliminate the need for Pap smears. The lesson here should be that this is not an either/or situation; the ideal is both vaccine and Paps.
There’s another concern that I have though. Rabin focuses on the number of deaths from cervical cancer (relatively low) and notes that these have been and can continue to be reduced though Pap smears as part of routine health care for women. True, but the medical cost of HPV should not be weighed only in terms of deaths. Women whose immune systems do not automatically clear the virus will need more frequent Pap smears (every three or 6 months rather than once a year) and may also need more invasive treatment to remove dysplasic cells. These treatments, such as the LEEP procedure, while done on an outpatient basis, can be uncomfortable and expensive. Repeated incidents of “bad” Pap results can mean multiple procedures. The jury is out on whether and if so to what extent repeated procedures compromise cervical competence and so put future pregnancies at risk. (Samson SL, Bentley JR, Fahey TJ, et al: The effect of loop electrosurgical excision procedure on future pregnancy outcome. Obstet Gynecol 2005 Feb; 105(2): 325-32.) So while certainly the most frightening cost of HPV is cervical cancer it is not the only cost.
Given a political climate in which it has already been suggested that this vaccine should not be offered because it will encourage sexual promiscuousness, I think we need to be very clear about just what and are not the consequences of advocating particular public health policies. While I fully agree that it should be a public health priority to ensure that all women are informed and able to get Pap smears as part of their routine health care, I do not think we should be seeing this as an alternative to making use of a vaccine that can cut out the possibility of contracting the forms of HPV which result in 70% of cervical cancers. This strikes me as another case of false economic reasoning about health care that occurs in a society that does not have health care as a priority for all of its citizens.
General information about the vaccine from the CDC here.
Friday, July 14, 2006
Barres describes various forms of intentional and unintentional bias that limit women's opportunities in science (and, presumably, some other academic fields). In some form of journalistic balance, the Post article also interviews Stephen Pinker, "who said he is a feminist," and who holds that there are innate differences in men's and women's cognitive abilities. Pinker has not yet revealed the source of his insight into bare innate cognitive differences in fully trained professionals who have had life-long gendered social experiences to shape their cognitive development and professional stature. (See also a post by Majikthise.)
Update: Jim Johnson, at Politics, Theory, Photography, points out that the Nature commentary, titled "Does Gender Matter?" is really about whether or not there are innate SEX differences in cognitive ability, and the good reasons for thinking that there are not (or, at least, that if there are, they are indistinguishable from and minor relative to the impact of culture and acculturation). That perceived gender does matter is what makes Barres' standpoint a noteworthy source of insight.
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
The international council of national academies of science has released a report on the status of women in the sciences. The report emphasizes solving the leakiest parts of the pipeline--graduate education, workplace advancement, and centers of prestige such as national academies themselves. It argues that women's ability to advance into the top tier of research scientists has as much to do with management and social environment as it does with individual women's promise and achievements.
A tragic expression of the frustration that women encounter is covered in this news story about the death of Denice Denton, chancellor of UC Santa Cruz.
On a side note, the representation of women in philosophy is higher than in engineering, roughly equivalent to physics, and lower than other sciences.
Adventures in Science and Ethics reflects on what is happening when journalists question scientific sources excessively. For one thing, there can be a psychological dance that inhibits trust, in that each party could have an advocacy agenda. That is, scientists--in some cases--may be misconstruing results, intentionally or not. And for their part, journalists--sometimes--may be hoping for a particular angle that would serve their own views or add drama to a story. As Stamwedel points out, discomfort with the uncertainty that is inherent in science may also complicate communication.
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
First, some background. Discussion of fire activity usually focuses on land-use history, and particularly on the legacy of fire suppression. That is, in some western forests, eighty years of suppressing wildfires has produced denser forest growth with more closed canopies and shifts in the predominant tree species. Before the 20th century, some of these forests experienced natural (or intentionally set) fires every ten years or less. Frequent fires produced an open, park-like forest that supported grass fires which didn't kill most mature trees. Dense, closed-canopy forests with heavy litter, on the other hand, burn dramatically and unpredictably. Some forests, especially in the subalpine regions of the Rocky Mountains, are naturally dense and have supported severe fire regimes for centuries.
Westerling et al. conclude that the largest fires—and the greatest rise in wildfires—in the past three decades have mostly occurred in such naturally dense sub-alpine forests. These fires are apparently correlated with changes in hydroclimate, but they are in forests which are relatively unaffected by land use history and by the legacy of fire suppression.
But this is not surprising. Unlike Ponderosa pine forests of the Southwest and California, subalpine Rocky Mt. forests do burn big, when they burn. So, it is not surprising that if there is an increase in fire size, it would be in those areas. And it is also well-accepted that past large fire events in these areas have been associated with drought.
It is not clear what the authors hope to gain by playing the two causes of increased fire activity (climate change and land-use history) off of one another. They demonstrate a relationship between large fires in subalpine forests and climate change that is more significant than we had previously recognized. But this does nothing to diminish the importance of the causal role of land-use history in areas of the Southwest and West Coast where the impacts of grazing, timbering, and fire suppression are more profound.
Although some careful distinctions are made in the body of the report, there are also generalized, misleading statements. The authors imply that forest restoration and fuels treatments will be “ineffective.” A more contextual stance is required for three reasons:
1.) Advocates of forest restoration do not hold that a return to pre-(Euro-)settlement forest structure is a panacea, nor that restoration should be used to alter natural fire regimes. If the climate-caused increase in wildfires is seen in regions with natural stand-replacement fire regimes, then there is no conflict with the policy of restorationists to use fuel treatment and prescribed burning where appropriate in order to reproduce the forest structure of understory fire regimes.
2.) Some advocates of fuels treatments are concerned exclusively with using cutting and burning techniques and silviculture to restore altered fire regimes (especially in Ponderosa pine forests). Others have advocated more radical and expensive measures with the primary goal of limiting the spread of massive wildfires. This latter position should be distinguished from a restorationist approach because it advocates changing historical fire regimes. The real debate in this case is over feasibility: can preventive tactics control fire spread in subalpine forests, and would they be more cost-effective than current firefighting techniques? This is a policy question. It does not hang off of discovering the cause of wildfire activity. Such radical fuel treatments may actually be more necessary in the face of increased fire activity, especially since large fires feed global warming significantly. Whether fuels treatments are “ineffective” has not been analyzed one way or the other by this research.
3.) The authors motivate concern about wildfires by referring to the hundreds of homes that are burned annually. This raises yet another policy issue, and one that is again unrelated to the substance of the paper. Implying an association between an increase in large fires and the loss of homes is disingenuous because most of such damage occurs at the urban-wildland interface, and mostly in California. Areas such as the recent fires in San Diego and in Texas and Oklahoma are not the primary concern of this report, which focuses on subalpine areas like those in sparsely populated Idaho and Montana.
The authors have tried to draw implications for policy. Unlike their scientific reasoning, their expression of policy implications is muddled and misleading. Why indulge in such rhetoric? Especially since substantive statements about the urgency of controlling global warming are conspicuously absent. Global warming is the real issue here, not fire policy. Perhaps this shift in rhetorical emphasis away from the real implications of the study should not be surprising, given the political environment.
Monday, July 10, 2006
1. It is not news that there is a link between global warming and wildfires via atmospheric carbon dioxide. The source of nearly 40% of global atmospheric carbon is what Stephen Pyne (historian of wildfire) calls "open burning" of living biomass, as opposed to internal combustion of fossil fuels. The news is that not only do forest fires fuel global warming, but also that climate change is apparently causing increased wildfire activity, a feed-forward cycle that could accelerate the rate of increase in atmospheric carbon. It will be interesting to see whether these results are replicated in other areas of the globe. Similar mechanisms could be at work, for instance, in Siberia, another region of large wildfires where the timing of snowmelt could affect fire seasons.
2. The possibility of several confounding factors is not discussed in the Science report.
a. Could the increase in the incidence and size of large fires on public lands in the mid-1980s be associated with changes in federal fire control policy and with how firefighting resources were deployed?
b. The area with the greatest increase in fire activity shows a link to warm temperatures and drought because the level of fuel moisture and the length of the dry season are tied to snowmelt. These also happen to be among the most inaccessible of areas to firefighting crews and some of the hardest areas to monitor for early ignition warnings. Their inaccessibility could be linked to the growth of small fires into larger ones, accounting in part for the differences between subalpine forests and the other study areas which did not see such large increases in fire activity.
3. The authors emphasize the interactive relationship between climate as a cause of increased wildfire activity and land-use as a cause, in that increasing drought can affect land management, especially in the Southwest. I hope this complexity is not lost in news reports.
4. The study raises interesting questions about how increased fire frequency and size and decreased fire intervals may change forest structure and composition in the long term. There are also interesting questions to be addressed about effects on wildlife and the interactions between warmer and longer summers, increased fire activity, and forest pests.
Sunday, July 09, 2006
How can a movie which is little more than a computer slideshow lecture be so engaging? It doesn't drag and the viewer is bound to be thinking about it days later. I think the answer is that the evidence he presents is truly compelling. The photographic evidence of glaciers retreating in North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa is only one of a litany of types of evidence that the climate is changing, that the change is at least in part due to human activities, and that the rate of change is accelerating.
Critics can only attack one of these conclusions: that the change is due to human activities. For the practical among us, it's academic to debate the exact degree of blame and where it falls when the bottom line is that coastlines will be changing and that people dependent on glacial melt for drinking water are getting thirsty. IF human actions can reverse or stabilize the trend, regardless of its cause, what are the reasons for not signing on?
One of the movie's points which is worth repeating is that there is a gap between everyday human-scale experience and the effects of global warming. Although there can never be evidence that a particular hurricane would not have occurred if car emission standards were stricter, it takes experiences that are personal to motivate belief and then action. Gore argues that the scale of the danger presented by global warming is outside the range of other catastrophic experiences that are tangible within a human lifetime. It is also out of scale (both geographically and temporally) with other natural/social problems which policies have been able to solve (e.g., the eradication of smallpox). This quality lends the problem unique urgency while also threatening to paralyze movement toward solutions.
This movie is headed for heavy classroom rotation, I predict. We can hope that it will also provide a model for how to give a good slide-based lecture: use slides for visual evidence, not as a substitute for lecturing skill and careful preparation.
2. A report in this week's Science about the association between wildfires in the western US and climate change:
Westerling, A.L. et al. Warming and earlier spring increases western U.S. forest wildfire activity. (8 July 2006).
The study has two parts: First, it documents an increase in wildfire activity in the western U.S. for the period 1987-2003 as compared with the period 1970-1986. 'Increase in activity' means a nearly fourfold increase in the frequency of large wildfires (fires > 400 ha) and greater than a sixfold increase in area of forest burned. The greatest increase was in the Northern Rockies at mid-elevations. The Southwest showed a similar trend on a relative size basis but the study region was smaller. Second, the authors examined the relationship between the increase in fire activity and regional changes in climate and hydrology. They found that the increase was associated with longer fire seasons, warmer spring temperatures, earlier spring snowmelt, and increased summer drought. These climate and hydrology factors were most pronounced in the Northern Rockies, precisely the area which has seen the most increased wildfire activity in the past two decades.
The study strongly suggests that climate changes which are of a piece with other effects of global warming are a significant cause of our largest and most severe wildfires. The mid-elevation Rocky Mountain areas most affected by an earlier and quicker spring snowmelt are also those areas which are typically covered by lodgepole pine and spruce-fir forests--forest types that are conducive to dramatic, explosive crown fires.
The burning issue here is that forests are carbon sinks and a significant hedge against further increases in the atmospheric carbon levels that are linked to climate change. In Alaska and northern Canada, warmer temperatures have been conducive to the spread of pests that attack and thin the boreal forests, reducing their ability to store carbon. This new study indicates that more temperate forests are likewise at risk of feeding an acceleration of global warming rather than shielding against it.
Thursday, July 06, 2006
The initial filming had to be scrapped because of the political pressure of fundamentalist protests against its negative depiction of Hindu traditions. Filming resumed four years later in Sri Lanka rather than India, and after additional funds could be raised.
The cinematography is gorgeous, and the story and social background are sufficiently complex to make the film worth assigning in women's studies classes.
The political background to the making of the film adds another interesting layer. The reason that protesters gave for burning the set and causing location permissions to be revoked was that the film pandered to an outdated Western vision of India as a land of child brides and social stratification. But widow houses do still exist in Varanasi, the first film location. Certainly, in addition to depicting the social situation of widows in India in 1938, the film invites viewers around the globe to reflect on forms of social exclusion in their own communities.
Monday, July 03, 2006
Feminist Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition
CALL FOR PAPERS
SAF Session at the Central Division APA Meetings
Palmer House Hilton, Chicago, Illinois
April 18-21, 2007
The Society seeks papers that examine feminist issues by methods
broadly construed as analytic, or discuss the use of analytic
philosophical methods as applied to feminist issues. Reading time
should be about 20 minutes. Authors should submit four copies of
either (1) a paper, or (2) an extended abstract, as detailed as
possible (up to 1000 words) accompanied by a bibliography. Please
delete all self-identifying references from your submission to ensure
anonymity. Submissions should be POSTMARKED no later than Monday,
October 9th, 2006. Submission information is available on the Society's website.
The Society for Analytical Feminism provides a forum where issues
concerning analytical feminism may be openly discussed and examined.
Its purpose is to promote the study of issues in feminism by methods
broadly construed as analytic, to examine the use of analytic methods
as applied to feminist issues, and to provide a means by which those
interested in Analytical Feminism may meet and exchange ideas. The
Society meets yearly at the Central Division meetings of the APA, and
frequently organizes sessions for the Eastern Division and Pacific
Divisions as well.
Sunday, July 02, 2006
But if half of bloggers are women, why isn't there parity in the academic blogosphere? And specifically, why are so few authors and contributors to philosophical blogs women?
A brief survey of some philosophy group blogs shows that the percentage of female contributors is lower, even, than women's representation in the profession, which by most counts is somewhere between 20 and 25%:
PEA Soup has--what?--one female contributor out of 20.
Certain Doubts has a representation of about 13% women among its dozens of contributors.
Experimental Philosophy has one female contributor out of 22.
The Garden of Forking Paths has two out of 38.
Prosblogion, with none.
This is not to say that women philosophers are absent:
Janet Stemwedel's Adventures in Ethics and Science is not only philosophical, but also sometimes takes on gender issues.
The Women's Bioethics Blog is a collaboration between bioethicists, philosophers, and medical practitioners.
A possible explanation for the disparity, suggested by Laurie Shrage, is that since many bloggers are in the junior faculty stage of their careers, this absence says something about the pressures women are under. Another possible explanation is that group blogs, in particular, reflect social networking in philosophical subfields, and some of those networks are relatively closed to women.
This issue calls for more investigation, and in particular it raises questions about whether blogging helps or distracts from academic work. Stay tuned for blogger interviews.
Saturday, July 01, 2006
Lotze, H.K. et al. Depletion, degradation, and recovery potential of estuaries and coastal seas. Vol. 312 (23 June 2006): 1806-1809.
This study of species distributions for ancient and recent sites of human settlement on estuaries and coastal seas compares historical baselines (recovered from paleontological and ecological records) with post-settlement conditions. It finds that human-caused overexploitation and habitat loss explains about 95% of observed declines in species richness. The sites were picked from various continents (mostly Europe and N. America), including the Chesapeake Bay, Galveston Bay, and the north Adriatic. Patterns of decline in each system were similar, commonly destroying over 65% of seagrass and accelerating the rate of species invasions by exotics. Systems with the longest history of intense human impacts were the most degraded.
This sounds like overwhelmingly BAD NEWS. Human settlement on coastlines is associated with severe declines in diversity and productivity.
Two points about how these results are reported:
1. The rhetoric of bad news is always accompanied by a promise for recovery. Maybe things aren't as bad as they seem: "It's important to rescue the frog." In fact, a graph in the report depicts very moderate improvement scenarios over the next century even in the best of situations and the text indicates, "Despite some extinctions, most species and functional groups persist, albeit in greatly reduced numbers. Thus the potential for recovery remains."
In spite of such restrained language, the news report in Science portrays the results far more optimistically, saying that the study indicates "that well-targeted management can reverse destructive trends" (1713). Mainstream news reports consistently conclude with this positive message.
2. This study in historical ecology provides detailed evidence of the type and degree of declines in relative abundance and species richness. It does not actually provide evidence of whether or how the situation can be improved. In this, the conclusions exceed the available evidence. Work on historical baselines is essential for establishing the magnitude of the problem, but it is far from being integrated with management.
Thursday, June 29, 2006
Evidence-based medicine is, presumably, about practicing using interventions and techniques which have been supported by empirical, clinic-based evidence—and avoiding techniques which are untested or have failed empirical tests. As one advocate explains,
The practice of evidence based medicine means integrating individual clinical expertise with the best available external clinical expertise from systematic research....By best available external clinical evidence we mean clinically relevant research, often from the basic sciences of medicine, but especially from patient centred clinical research into the accuracy and precision of diagnostic tests (including the clinical examination), the power of prognostic markers, and the efficacy and safety of therapeutic, rehabilitative, and preventive regimens (D.L. Sackett et al., British Medical Journal, 1996).
What alternatives are there to basing medical practice on evidence?
In the face of the obvious, there is indeed much of standard medical practice that remains empirically unsupported. To take an example, the standard formula for the expected length of pregnancy is calculated according to Naegele's Rule, which places the due date at 40 weeks from the start of the last menstrual period. This guideline was calculated in 1838 by German physician Franz Carl Naegele based on the belief that a term pregnancy ought to last exactly 10 lunar cycles (a nice, round number). It was not based on empirical data.
Indeed, empirical studies have shown that length of pregnancy is influenced by previous number of births, age, race, and other factors. So, for instance, the duration of pregnancy for white women with no previous births averages 7 days longer than Naegele's rule predicts (Mittendorf, American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 1990 and 1993).
Where is the harm in this? Standard practice for many obstetricians is to recommend labor induction—which increases risks to mother and baby—in the 41st week of pregnancy. This is the point at which, at least for first time mothers, only half would be expected to go into labor naturally. The most current figures I could find (from 2002) show that induction rates exceeded 50% for some hospitals, and anecdotal evidence is that they are now even higher.
Monday, June 26, 2006
Theme: "Knowledge that Matters"
February 8-10, 2007
Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona
Call for abstracts for individual papers or panels
Questions of difference, democracy and justice have been at the forefront of feminist discussions about what knowledge matters for social justice. How knowledge is produced, distributed, and taken up is intricately connected to questions of equality, ethics, sustainability, power, identity, voice, and social change. Activism and advocacy are so central to feminist knowledge that Lorraine Code argues “without advocacy and the negotiations it commonly enlists knowledge is not possible, in a strong sense, across diverse communities and socio-ecological situations.”
We seek feminist papers on the culture, structure, discourses and practices of science; about the vexed relationship between identity, experience and knowledge; and about the troubles of translating knowledge into action and practice. We will bring together an interdisciplinary group of feminist scholars who pursue knowledge questions in the interstices of epistemology, methodology, metaphysics, ontology, and science studies. Themes for the conference include:
Can science serve social justice in ways that expand democratic participation and empowerment? Or have attempts to expand participation foundered given the prevailing power structures within which they have taken place?
How do formations of class, gender, race and ethnicity, sexuality, and differences unspecified determine the social structure of technology and science, the questions considered relevant within it, and the outcomes that emerge from it?
What is the convergence between how we think about social reproduction and the gendered/racialized division of labor, and our understanding of why we have the science (and scientists) we have?
How can diverse social groups meaningfully participate in research priority setting and have a say in guiding research trajectories?
How can we do science including human science after the feminist critique of science?
Are there democratic models of epistemology and what do they share?
What are some of the promising new methodologies that can help us to understand the way science and technology construct and govern subjects?
How can we best create robust links between feminist epistemologies/science studies and activism?
What are some strategies for bringing policy concerns to the work of FEMMSS and the work of FEMMSS to policy-makers?
Please submit a 500 word abstract of your paper or panel proposal by September 15, 2006
at the FEMMSS/2 link at the Women and Gender Website at ASU at www.asu.edu/clas/womens_studies.
FEMMSS website is here.