The Chronicle makes much of the fact that the National Academy of Sciences elected 16 women this year, as opposed to nine last year.
One, with numbers this small, it’s not unusual to see significant variations, so this is not evidence of a “significant reversal” — just normal statistical bouncing. Two, given that men and women perform differently in the sciences, it’s hard to tell whether a higher percentage of electees even should, by merit, be women.
But three, and most important, it’s troubling that NAS is “trying to do better to identify qualified candidates who are women and members of minority groups underrepresented in science” — it has already sacrificed its objectivity to political correctness quite enough. After the jump is a (newly polished) commentary I wrote back when the organization released an absurd report on women in science (see the Becker-Posner blog for more comments):
It contends that women are underrepresented purely because of discrimination by employers, not at all because of innate or intractable differences. Though the NAS is intended to express mainstream scientific thought, it goes so far as to say in its press release that studies have not found any pertinent biological differences between men and women.
That is patently incorrect. There are many researchers who argue that men and women’s biological differences contribute to their varying SAT scores. A good summary of this research can be found in Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate, or in Charles Murray’s brilliant article “The Inequality Taboo.” For the purposes of this post, a quote from Murray will suffice:
“In the past few years, magnetic-resonance imaging has [revealed] that parts of the brain’s parietal cortex associated with space perception are proportionally bigger in men than in women.”
However, let’s assume for a second that the National Academies panel is right on the biological front. Is there any evidence that differences in post-graduates are attributable to discrimination by employers? Not much. By this point, the gender gap has already set in, measurable, as mentioned before, in SAT score gaps. This may be due to discrimination, but not at the adult-employment level.
The one valid point the study may have is that women who are hired in these fields are promoted more slowly and paid less than men. The NAS claims these differences aren’t due to quality of work, so this at least merits looking into.
Now, one might wonder how a team of 19 could have produced such strong conclusions out of such a controversial subject. This is where the scandal kicks in: 18 of the 19 people chosen to investigate female academics were…female academics!