Yet another post about gender and academic conferences

genderThis is becoming something of a cottage industry recently – it is fairly straightforward to calculate the gender ratio of presenters at academic conferences and to evaluate that ratio against some theoretical baseline. However, these sorts of questions are important to look at because the work is highly complex and so requires a large number of people looking at the diverse kinds of conferences to provide a bigger picture. A number of previous studies have shown a range of different patterns in gender and academic conferences (references at the bottom):Read More »

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The perils of predictability

Order is a standard part of nature, from the mathematical patterns found in natural structures to the predictable variation in sunrise times at different times of year. Indeed, animals and plants rely on regular, logical ordering of events.  For example, in my work on pollinator ecology bees rely on seasonal patterns in flower blooming as a food source. But this regularity is a double-edged sword: just as a bee can exploit regularity in flowering times, so can birds exploit the regularity in bee occurrence. A shared synchrony of life cycles brings costs and benefits. And this is where we bring in the Greek sea-god Proteus (pictured right). Proteus was a god who was able to change his form to avoid having to tell the future, and he has given his name to “protean” phenomena – those phenomena that are changeable or unpredictable. We can see a potential benefit in the plants altering their timing of flowering (of exhibiting protean flowering patterns) – if they remain predictable then the bees on which they rely for pollination are also predictable, which means that they are easy to exploit as food for birds. However, unpredictable flowering times might result in flowers occurring when there are no pollinators, which would be bad for both groups. Synchrony in the seasonality of flowers, insects, and birds is a complex association between populations (or even communities) of animals, and this makes evolutionary change slow.Read More »

Sexism is a (horrible and depressing) fact

When I posted the proposed method to look at diversity in skeptical/atheist conferences, one comment was particularly illuminating.  I stated that part of the motivation for the exercise was that:

“…there is clear and unequivocal discrimination against women in a wide array of situations and so we should be conscious of that bias when we choose speakers for conferences.”

A commenter responded that:

“Ok, I’m not sure as to what you are referring, it appears you are just performing some vague political posturing. If there were clear, and unequivocal discrimination against women at these conferences, you wouldn’t need a study to demonstrate it. It would be clear and unequivocal, such as a sexist, limiting clause in an organization’s charter. No such thing exists, so your point seems moot.”

Unfortunately, the commenter is taking a very simplistic view of sexism.  Systemic sexism of the kind to which I was referring is an insidious and far-reaching problem.  This post is a quick review of some empirical demonstrations of the subtle and systemic bias that women face, because it is clear than some people need to be made aware of the extent of the problem.  This is not a post of vague anecdotes, though – these are scientific studies.Read More »

Sexist skeptics? Here’s how to find out

Some have said that skeptical conferences have too many older, white men… (photo by Scott Hurst)

There has been an ongoing (and really rather bitter) argument over discrimination against women in the skeptical/atheist community – particularly over whether or not conferences are preferentially selecting old, white, male speakers.  Arguably this could be expanded to include discrimination against youth and against different races, but the sexism issue is that which has been front-and-centre over the past year.  The allegations have been that the organisers of various conferences (particularly TAM) have not been inclusive when considering female speakers and that this has contributed to an unwelcoming environment at skeptical conferences.Read More »