Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Scientist parent

You know what makes it hard being a woman in science? These attitudes:

1. Yesterday I read this comment from a friend:
This reminds me of the conclusion many of us have faced: that it's impossible to be a rock star career woman while being a rock star mom. 
"If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one - Russian Proverb"
2. And today, this correspondence in Nature. It's short, but the shorter summary is this: There's no gender bias in science, and if there is, it's because women are busy having babies.

Let's start with the first, shall we?

No, it is not impossible to be a rock star career woman and rock star mom. 
I think this is a false dichotomy that gets fed to women. It isn't about choosing one over the other, but finding a career, and a way of parenting, that lets you succeed at both. That doesn't mean it is easy, or that it is the right choice for everyone. It may also mean acknowledging that cultural expectations of rockstar parenting (especially for mothers) are unrealistic, and that you may never reach global rockstar scientist status, even if you put every waking moment into it.

Rockstar parent
In my mind, being a rockstar parent is not about making all the cutesy kid activities, but spending real time with my daughter. I see plenty of stay-at-home parents who spend less time actually interacting with their children than I do (granted, there are others who truly take advantage of the opportunity). I answer questions, we explore and play together. My daughter comes before work. Sometimes that means a lot of work happens after hours, but it means that the time we spend together is quality time.

Rockstar scientist
There are scientists who do half the work I do, without family obligations, pissing away the day chatting to everyone, and bypassing opportunities that come up. Am I as social as everyone in the lab? No, but that isn't what being a rockstar scientist is about - it's about doing good research and getting it out. Could I publish more if I weren't a parent? I don't know. I've published more as a postdoc, with a child, than I did before my daughter was born. I've been lucky to get independent funding for my research, and even gotten some publicity for my research. For me there are only so many hours I can be productive in a row, which means that dividing up my working time into different sections of my day is how I'd work with or without a child.

Fewer women because babies
And then we have half-witted comments like the "correspondence" Nature editors thought would be a good idea to publish. It's hard not to quote the whole thing, but here's one section, by Lukas Koube:

Having young children may prevent a scientist from spending as much time publishing, applying for grants and advancing their career as some of their colleagues. Because it is usually women who stay at home with their children, journals end up with more male authors on research articles. The effect is exacerbated in fast-moving fields, in which taking even a year out threatens to leave a researcher far behind.

So, women are too busy babying (y'know, because those are the only people who raise offspring these days), to be productive, ergo, there really is no gender inequity in science. Never mind all the women who don't have children, or those of us who manage to do both. And never mind the research that shows female applicants are ranked lower than equally qualified male applicants. And never mind that letters of recommendation are implicitly biased against female applicants. Let's just say that my conclusion was that this comment was printed because one of the editors wanted to say it, but wanted someone else to get the blame for saying it.

Chopped liver?
Every time I see someone post about how we have to choose between being good scientists and being good parents, or suggesting that we can blame those lazy women for gender inequality because they're too busy babying, I feel my chest tighten, and I just want to scream: "So what the hell am I? Do you think I'm a failure as a scientist? Do you think I am a terrible parent? Am I not productive enough for you? Am I not doting enough for you?"

If we identify aspects that make sciencing while parenting challenging, let's address these, support each other, and develop policies to help people do both well. And why so much judgement instead of just observing that, miraculously, parents, even women, have been able to science good, and parent good. At the same time.

7 comments:

lukas said...

you dont understand the article. the point that was made on Nature is that there are a large number of systemic reasons men and women may differ. assuming that 100% of the variance is due to discrimination is a logical fallacy.

all i did was point out the fallacy.

i dont know if its possible to be a rock-star mom and scientist, that isnt an empirical claim. we should be asking IF women are taking time off, and how does this affect their career. assuming discrimination does nothing but exacerbate internal tensions and create devastating witch-hunts.

look at how yall have treated me so far, rather unprofessional, simply for stating a truth that 90% of Americans would find uncontroversial.

familyinequality said...

Hey, look at that: "On re-examining the letter and the process, we consider that it adds no value to the discussion and unnecessarily inflames it, that it did not receive adequate editorial attention, and that we should not have published it, for which we apologize" --Love, Nature. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v505/n7483/full/505291e.html

mathbionerd said...

lukas, if you respond to the research articles I cited, then we can talk. I don't see you citing any research, anywhere.

MikeSamsa said...

Lukas said: "assuming that 100% of the variance is due to discrimination is a logical fallacy."

That's true, but who said that?

It seems that you're engaging in fallacious reasoning by suggesting that since some of the variance is due to non-discriminatory processes then none of the variance must be due to discriminatory processes.

It's essentially what we see with debates over the gender wage gap, where even when we account for a number of factors that contribute to the raw unadjusted wage gap like differences in careers, hours worked, etc (and generously assume that none of those things are due to discrimination and sexism), we're still left with the existence of the adjusted wage gap.

The same thing applies here in that even if we accept that some of the difference in publishing is due to raw differences in the choices of men and women (and again generously assume these choices are independent and unaffected by discrimination), we're still left with the fact that there is a significant amount of variance left to explain.

mathbionerd said...

Exactly, MikeSamsa. I don't think lukas read the original Nature paper. No one claims that 100% of the variance is due to discrimination.

legriske said...

The hysteria of this is laughable. What he said is entirely true, and not even offensive. You people are just desperate for things to complain about.

I will say something offensive though. Here goes: it is true that there must be error in the systems we use assign to assess individual value, but on the whole this error works in women's favor, not against (error reduces group differences).

I know this because objectivity of assessment is negatively correlated with women's representation at the top. There are certain areas of human endeavor where great pains have been taken to get the most accurate merit assessment systems in place: mind sports.

Lets see how women are doing:

- 1 woman in the top 100 at chess [1]

- 1 woman in the top 100 at Rubik's cube solving [2]

- 6 women in the top 100 at scrabble [3]

- 0 women in the top 100 at poker [4]

- 1 woman in the top 100 at MtG [5]

All of those have objective statistical ranking systems, and women do terribly.

And about the studies you cited: publication bias. All the hallmarks.

Notes

[1] Well known fact.

[2] http://rcm-papers.info/gender-and-speedcubing.html

[3] http://rcm-papers.info/gender-and-scrabble.html

[4] PocketFives

[5] http://www.hipstersofthecoast.com/2013/06/hipsters-of-the-coast-presents-the-top-100-magic-players-in-the-world/

MikeSamsa said...

legriske said: "The hysteria of this is laughable. What he said is entirely true, and not even offensive. You people are just desperate for things to complain about."

I find it strange that you can accuse others of being 'desperate for things to complain about' without understanding at all what they are complaining about. Yes, what he said is entirely true - non-discriminatory factors affect publishing differences between men and women.

Can you point to anyone in this discussion who questioned this? If no one is questioning it, what exactly do you think people are complaining about?

legriske said: I know this because objectivity of assessment is negatively correlated with women's representation at the top. There are certain areas of human endeavor where great pains have been taken to get the most accurate merit assessment systems in place: mind sports.

What makes you think those measures are objective and not affected by discrimination?

This woman disagrees.