Sunday, September 30, 2012

KGOY: Kids Getting Older Younger

Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies' facebook page linked some things I'd like to think about. One was a link to the Media Education Foundation, which made a documentary called Consuming Kids: the Commercialization of Childhood. The documentary is an hour long. I'm not sure if this is available online, but I'd like to see if I can get it on Netflix. It was discussed in a blog post (eats shoots 'n leaves) that compares corporate grooming of chidren to be consumers to that of pedophiles. The blog points out that the U.S. is the only nation that has deregulated advertising to children (ah, yes we can thank our Republican golden boy Ronald Reagan for that one, too.) That post refers to previous post of the same blog discussing a loss of empathy among college students over the past 30 years. The latter post says that questions regarding the loss of empathy issue are basically answered in the documentary. The loss of empathy study is discussed in Scientific American, as well. Finally, PPBB links a news video about what marketers call "KGOY," or Kids Getting Older Younger. It is from 2004, in the height of the midriff-baring tank-top fashion phase. I'm really happy that long shirts and layers have come back into fashion.

In the past couple of weeks, my daughter has made the movie character/product marketing connection. We were in the store looking at Band-aids, and she saw some with Cars on them. But to her they weren't Cars, she didn't know about the movie, to her they were just cars. We got them because she liked them. Later that weekend, we decided to watch a movie, and we thought, hey, since we got the Band-aids we can watch the movie. Her brain instantly made the connection. She's big on both bandages and TV (meaning DVDs or Netflix, mind you) right now. Since then she has gotten a Woody drinking cup and become famililar with Toy Story. Yesterday in the grocery store, she stopped cold in front of a display of Disney-themed coloring books, enamored by the Cars book. I thought to myself, when she becomes familiar with all of the characters on display in that rack, we are going to be in trouble. The marketing machine is amazing and it catches you when you least expect it.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

"Science faculty's subtle gender biases favor male students": My synopsis of a study in PNAS

I came across a scATX blog post about an article in Inside Higher Ed discussing a new PNAS study that empirically demonstrates a bias against women among science faculty. The IHE article was a decent overview of the study. A blog post in Scientific American was actually a much better summary, and it addressed in clear terms what makes the study unique and why it is important.

Here is my summary of the PNAS paper "Science faculty's subtle gender biases favor male students."

The PNAS paper begins by noting the U.S. will be faced with a deficit of scientists and engineers in the next decade. The number of women pursuing higher science education has certainly increased over the years, but "there is a persistent disparity between the number of women receiving PhDs and those hired as junior faculty." Translation: women are getting their PhDs and jumping the academic ship. Why?

Biological differences in ability between the sexes have been disproven. So, study has focused on lifestyle choices and preference. Perhaps women have other things they'd prefer to focus on than pursuing an extremely demanding position. Perhaps they are more interested in non-science disciplines. Perhaps they take on more caregiving responsibilities than their male counterparts. How do you prove any of this? You can't prove it, you can only demonstrate a correlation. The fact that you can't prove or disprove what made a woman choose a particular career path has led some to conclude that there is no bias in science, the gender gap exists as a result of choice or preference. (snort)
"Past studies indicate that people's behavior is shaped by implicit or unintended biases, stemming from repeated exposure to pervasive cultural stereotypes that portray women as less competent but simultaneously emphasize their warmth and likeability compared with men."
Are academic researchers objective individuals that are above bias? Or are they, as some research demonstrates, "people who value their objectivity and fairness [who] are particularly likely to fall prey to biases, in part because they are not on guard against subtle bias?" The authors provide a long list of evidence favoring the argument for sexism in science, including "science is robustly male-stereotyped," inequitable resource distribution among sexes, perception of unequal treatment, and bias presence in other fields. They also point to studies demonstrating women are perceived as more likeable but less competent, but note that these studies utilized undergraduate students and not faculty members.

In this study, the subjects were faculty members chosen to lend "a high degree of ecological validity and generalizability" to the results, meaning they were chosen in a manner to make them representative of research academia at large. The subjects were each provided with an undergraduate student's application for a lab manager position and asked to evaluate the student. The "student" in fact did not exist, and faculty members each evaluated identical applications, with the exception that half had a male name and half had a female name. Let me clarify: research science faculty evaluated job candidates with identical GPAs, research experience, student statements, and faculty recommendations... the applications were COMPLETELY IDENTICAL in every way EXCEPT the sex of the applicant.

The authors sought not only to demonstrate the existence of sexual bias, but also to define its "mechanisms and consequences within academic science." They chose the lab manager position because it is typically the route by which undergraduates move into graduate studies. Faculty test subjects evaluated the applicant's perceived competence, their hireability (in terms of salary offerred), and whether they were deserving of faculty mentoring.

The rating for these three measures (competence, hireability, and mentoring) was scaled from 1 to 7. The authors also administered the Modern Sexism Scale, which "measures unintentional negativity towards women, as contrasted with the more blatant form of conscious hostility toward women." The authors did all kinds of statistical analyses on the responses.

The results?
"Our results revealed that both male and female faculty judged a female student to be less competent and less worthy of being hired than an identical male student, and also offered her a smaller starting salary and less career mentoring."
All of the author's hypotheses proved true. Women are viewed as less competent, but more likeable than men. They are also afforded less mentorship and offered less money. These results are true regardless of the gender of the faculty member. This tells us that female faculty members are biased and don't even know it. There is a distinct and measurable difference in opportunities awarded to aspiring scientists based solely on their sex, and those faculty providing those opportunities are not even aware of it.
"The fact that faculty members' bias was independent of their gender, scientific discipline, age, and tenure status suggests that it is unlikely intentional, generated from widespread cultural stereotypes rather than a conscious intention to harm women."
So, if a group of people who pride themselves on their objective thinking can be influenced by negative gender stereotypes, is there any doubt that folks who are decidedly NOT objective thinkers exhibit, at minimum, a subtle sexism? (I'm talking to you, politicians. yes, even the lady-politicians.)

So what's the good news? The good news is that we now have empirical evidence demonstrating a clear effect that gender bias has in the world of science. Many folks who poo-poo'd the anecdotal and correlational evidence in the past may realize hey, wow, this really is an issue. Many faculty members might be encouraged to re-evaluate how they perceive potential students and employees. From Ilana Yurkiewicz in Scientific American:
"Certainly, some gender bias in the workplace still takes the form of blatant misogyny. But a large portion of it does not. It’s subtle. It’s subconscious. And many people who perpetrate it, if only made aware of what they are doing, would want to change."
Awareness is the first step if we are to change the culture. This study is the first big step in the right direction. The authors note that the next logical step is to evaluate the effectiveness of education about gender bias in science, noting that similar educational programs have been effective in combating subtle, underlying racial biases.

All quotes are from the original paper cited below, except for the quote attributed to Yurkiewicz. Citation below copied from PubMed.

Science faculty's subtle gender biases favor male students.
Moss-Racusin CA, Dovidio JF, Brescoll VL, Graham MJ, Handelsman J.
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Sep 17. [Epub ahead of print]

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Sh*t Hits the Fan for Mittens

There are many things that I'd like to blog about (or at least call attention to so I can look back on things later), but usually I put it off until something pushes the buttons just right. This week the shit hit the fan, at least for Mitt Romney.

Yesterday, Mother Jones published several short video clips secretly filmed while Romney was hosting a fundraising dinner. They basically confirmed what we have suspected all along: Mittens is completely out of touch with American society, and sees the electorate not as a diverse group of individuals whom he would represent, but as basically haves and have-nots. Oversimplified take-home lessons from these clips:

  1. Half of the electorate is a bunch of shiftless deadbeats that will never vote for him because they are waiting for the government to send them their check
  2. The things that animate Democratic and Independent voters are completely different from those that animate Republican voters. They are this whole other species that must be demystified so they can be wooed into voting republican. Oh, and they plan to make up lies to do this wooing
  3. Members of his campaign team worked for Netanyahu (Isreali Prime Minister), and know "which ads work" (presumably the false ones).
  4. He doesn't think the electorate will engage with highly intellectual subject material, which is why his campaign is devoid of any real substance. Because we are too stupid to be interested or factor it into our voting decision.
  5. He predicts markets will pick up if he is elected, and if Obama is re-elected he predicts doom.
So, yeah, basically what we've suspected all along. He thinks we are all losers. Yesterday evening Romney gave a press conference and looked pretty darn disheveled. His eyes are all crazy and he didn't get his hair done quite right. Although I must give him credit, it was the first time I thought he was actually saying what he thought and believed (well, except for the video prompting the conference to begin with...). Basically he stuck with what he said, though acknowledged he did not put it elegantly, encouraged the anonymous source to release the full video, and peppered in a few "of course I want what's best for the American people"s.

The Obama camp responded via Twitter contrasting Romney's disdain for half the population with Obama's vow to be everybody's president. Their Tumblr posted a map of the U.S. and a pair of scissors, asking Romney to cut out the 47% of the country that doesn't matter. In and interview with David Letterman, Obama reiterated his vow to be everybody's president, not just to the folks that voted for him. And on and on.

Today Mother Jones posted the full version of the video. I listened to most of it but was otherwise occupied so didn't quite catch all of it. It didn't sound like the previously posted clips were cut to be taken out of context, they pretty much summed up the content. There was a considerable amount of foreign policy talk, including his thoughts on why there can never be an Israeli-Palestinian peace. He basically sounds like his take on foreign policy is to be a big bully. A lot of it was more on the subjects in the early clips. At one point, a guest asks why he isn't pressing the issues discussed at the dinner in his campaign. Also, he referred to the Hispanic voting block and black voting block, as if race/ethnicity is the one defining factor of your personal experience and political philosophy, and of course when referring to women he spoke of their kids, because hey if you are a woman without kids then you aren't even worth consideration. 

Romney did appear on Fox news today, but I haven't been able to watch the interview. Also, his campaign is pointing at a video of Obama discussing wealth redistribution, which they say contrasts their philosophy. The speech was made in 1998. As in, fourteen years ago. The most damning thing they could find on Obama is fourteen years old? Interestingly, New Civil Rights Movement points out that this video was "uploaded today to YouTube by someone who opened their YouTube account today, and has uploaded only that video. (Gee… Who could that be?)"

Many think it's the end of the road for Romney. I know I do. Josh Barro at Bloomburg proclaims that "Today, Mitt Romney Lost the Election." And David Brooks at NYT lists the many ways Mittens is out of touch and says that "he’s running a depressingly inept presidential campaign." Pretty bad for a conservative to say.

PS Listen to the very beginning of the recording, where Mittens discusses how smooth Obama thinks he is, and how that is supposedly expected to win over our enemies, and how Obama carries a small stick but Romney will carry a big stick.... I swear this man has a small dick and is envious of Obama's presumably large black dick. A little insecure there, Mittens? LOL