A ballsy play indeed

May 24, 2010

From Female Science Professor we learn:

In an article on May 18 in The Globe & Mail, the results of the program are described, including the fact that Canada was able to “poach” leading researchers from other countries and lure them to Canada with the millions of research $$ associated with these Chairs. The article effuses about the aggressive program of luring top researchers:
For Ottawa, it was one of the biggest bets on scientific research in a generation. But for the man at the centre of Canada’s worldwide drive to recruit top scientists, it was a “ballsy” play that at times resembled a bidding war for NHL free agents.
These CERC chairs are referred to by the following terms: star researchers, renowned scientists, foreign researchers, and, more generically, as “individuals”, or simply “these people”.
Two days later, The Globe & Mail realizes that it might want to mention that “these people” are all men.

Cripes. I was just drafting up something responding to Bob O’Hara on spousal hire policy and wrote an aside that fits much better here.
In discussing affirmative action hiring (a thing Bob called discrimination-and-therefore-unethical in a comment), he admits that he is okay with “discrimination” to deal with existing “disparity” which is a result of “past discrimination”.
Nice framing.
I mean seriously dude, c’mon. Read how you framed that stinker. Try it this way- Affirmative action hiring policies exist to make current discriminatory hiring policies that favor white guys slightly more fair, equitable and ethical for candidates who are more meritorious but have lost out to undeserving white guys.
This CERC thing that FSP pointed to is totally past-tense, right?
Go read her post, especially those of you who frame this nonsense the way Bob O’Hara does in your own mind.

19 Responses to “A ballsy play indeed”

  1. Bob O'H Says:

    You are aware that I wrote that blog post in the past, are you?
    Yes, nice framing – at least represent my argument honestly. I was arguing that there were ethical arguments on both sides, and that a balance had to be struck.
    In the specific case I was mentioning, I would be rather surprised if there were any big problems with sexism at present. I’m not connected with the university involved, but considering its location, I’m confident that they are more progressive than most places.
    More importantly than any dick-waving competition is what the articles says (and implies). The reasons for the imbalance in sex ration are subtle. this is the sort of thing I want to see – an examination of the factors that lead to sex ratio biases in hiring. After I thought through the female-only advert, one of the problems I had was that it’s a blunt instrument, and that we should be doing better in the way we hire, to make it more equitable. The analysis of the Canadian problem is something I’d like to see more of: as a PI I want to know what are the subtle influences that I should be aware of.


  2. Bob O'H Says:

    BTW, is there a reason I’m being moderated now?


  3. Bob O'H Says:

    Shit, my last comment was moderated. Am I not using ‘douchbag’ enough?


  4. DrugMonkey Says:

    Bob, no, i thought you wrote it in response to the present discussion. my bad.


  5. DK Says:

    Unequal outcomes =/= discrimination. Just how difficult is this concept to understand?
    Canadians wanted the best of the best. Hopefully they’ve got what they wanted. If they wanted “the best that includes given percent of this and that gender, ethnic group or sexual orientation” – they could have easily gotten that, too. But that wasn’t a goal. Nor it should have been.


  6. TreeFish Says:

    I’m confused, DM. Are you trolling, or are you outright upset with this? It seems like one of those ‘reasonably outlandish opinions’ to me…like religion, or gun rights, or liking dark chocolate (which I despise).
    Who cares? He’s making a point. Point well taken, right? I dunno. It’s an important discussion, I suppose. It just seems like stirring the pot to me…maybe I had too much cake from baby TreeFish #3’s 1st on Satty.
    I need a smoke. And a beer. And a nap. After sleeping. And a ride. To work. Well, no. A nap’ll do. Drive past work if I’m in your car. Don’t stop. Well, slow down and see what I do. If I flinch, whack me in the temporal lobe. I have a septal and a temporal pole…either will do. I also have a pond and a pool. Pond is good for me…oof..damn Canadians.


  7. Bob O'H Says:

    DM, sorry I was being rather too obscure. My point was that anything one reacts to is in the past. When a women-only job is set up, the perception is that there are present imbalances, and that these are the result of passed actions. Doing something like this to rectify an imbalance that you’re simultaneously setting up is bizarre. Hence I think it’s reasonable to expect that such a position is set up to rectify past actions.
    DK – you have a point, but when there’s a disparity this large, I think it’s worth pausing to ask if there was any gender bias (whether intentional or not). it looks like the Canadian government did that, and got back some reasonable suggestions.
    P.S. douchebag (I’m just trying to get passed the moderation filters)


  8. DrugMonkey Says:

    Treefish- Whether I am “upset”, “trolling” is somewhat beside the point. One of the more interesting things about blogging is for us all to explore how things look/appear/connote/etc to other people. In this case I point you to FSP’s take on the situation.
    You might also take a gander at Abel Pharmboy’s recent reaction to a Nature bit covering expert reaction Venter’s Frankensteinian antics.


  9. DK Says:

    Bob O’h: pausing to ask if there was any gender bias
    Of course there was some gender bias. You take a human being and you’ll get some bias, conscious or not. Every time. But was it the defining factor in the outcome? I don’t think so. Would it change anything, for example, if there were two women among those 36? NO. The difference between 36:0 and 34:2 is statistical fluke, it changes nothing. The disparity is real. It’s everywhere anyone bothers to look.


  10. DSKS Says:

    1) What is assumed to constitute affirmative action in employment choices:
    Give a free pass to sub-par women and minorities for a position, even if they aren’t as qualified as x, y and z white guy candidate.
    2) The more common reality that constitutes affirmative action in employment choices:
    Expend a little extra energy actually looking for women and minorities that are likely equal to or better than the current top candidates whose resumes may well have been subject to filtering through an inherently bias selection process in the first place.
    The ethics of (1), which doubtless happens occasionally, is subject for debate. But the majority of cases represented by (2) seem pretty fair to me. The thing is, few places of work have an incentive to hire substandard workers for senior positions, with the only exception being, somewhat ironically, when that substandard worker also happens to be well connected (and we had 8 yrs to remind ourselves of the colour and gender that Well Connected tends to be in such circumstances).


  11. becca Says:

    DK- Oh, so we just know, a priorilike, that the Canadians used the best of all possible methods for identifying the best of all possible people, and everything is perfect so we should just start dealing with the Fact that Women Aren’t As Good? Well, I see how that works. Ok now.
    Come back when you can prove these people were the best of the best, or at least have some data that support that assessment, rather than your bald assertion. As far as we can tell, you’re just some asshole on the internet with an agenda in defending an obliviously discriminatory status quo. Some of us would prefer to analyze situations based on data. Just how difficult is that concept to understand?


  12. DK Says:

    Becca: As far as we can tell, you’re just some asshole on the internet with an agenda in defending an obliviously discriminatory status quo. Some of us would prefer to analyze situations based on data. Just how difficult is that concept to understand?
    Becca, if you truly wanted to analyze situations (sic) based on data, you’d do so instead of hurling insults. You’d dig data on a differential IQ variance between sexes (and might even understand what it means for the representation at the extreme tails of the gaussian); you’d look up how many women got Fields medal; how relatively unsuccessful women are at chess; and how gender ratios for those who major in mechanical engineering and psychology compare. And so on. There is an ocean of data that is out there for you to analyze and ponder about. But you seem to have never bothered.


  13. DrugMonkey Says:

    The difference between 36:0 and 34:2 is statistical fluke, it changes nothing.
    Funny how so many of those statistical flukes land on :0 instead of :2, isn’t it? That in and of itself must be a statistical fluke. And funny how anti discrimination efforts have a way of shifting those flukes from :0 to :2….just a coincidence, I’m sure. A statistical fluke.


  14. becca Says:

    DK- my goodness, that’s a long winded way of admitting you don’t actually have any data to support the specific assertion you made.
    Anyway, I’m sure it must be very difficult to be so obviously on the *low* end of the Gaussian tail, but I hope even someone of your abilities can see why it’s pretty obvious the gender ratios of mechanical engineering and psychology has almost nothing to do with this*.
    (*Interestingly, if type-of-degree per se *were* a relevant metric, I’m not sure it works in your favor… It appears that there is one chairholder who did his Bachelor’s in psychology, whereas none who are listed with any degrees in mechanical engineering)


  15. bpesta Says:

    I think people are confusing affirmative action and affirmative relief. The former is voluntary, the latter is court ordered.
    In the USA at least, it would be patently illegal to advertise a woman-only job, unless having a vagina was an essential function of the job (say, for a female porn star). One other way such an advertisement could exist and be legal is if a court ordered it as affirmative relief. A court would only do this if the company had a serious history of blatant discrimination against women.
    AA is voluntary (unless you’re a private sector company contracting with the feds). There is *no* implication that the imbalance is due to intentional discrimination. One just needs to show that blacks, women, or hispanics are under-represented in some job. The imbalance could be legal/not the result of discrimination, but instead resulting from defensible adverse impact on some job-related selection criteria. The classic example is physical strength requirements for fire fighters (the same reason older pilots are grounded just because they are old, independent of how well they can fly a plane).
    For legal AA, the company just has to show a disparity exists– not that the disparity results from intentional discrimination.
    Then, the company can use “class” as just one factor in a hiring decision. At least in theory, it would be illegal to hire a less-qualified minority over a more qualified white male.
    And, the preference has to be remedial (the disparity must exist now), temporary (preference ends once the disparity is corrected), and fair to whites (saying: Males need not apply would violate this rule).
    So, AA does not require female only applicant pools.


  16. Canuckistanian Says:

    It this particular case, not only were all 17 appointees male, so too were all 40 nominees. I am a male canadian scientist, and even I sense something amiss with this picture. Soon after its onset, the Canadian chairs program was temporarily suspended when the male:female hiring ratio was shown to be way out of whack, even at the assistant prof level. You’d think they’d have learned from this experience, but apparently not. The only more blatant gender distortion in the workplace I can think of is in Parliament, where old white men have always held reign, especially those who are bilingual.


  17. anon Says:

    Look at the process and the result seems predictable.
    1. First, universities submitted proposals for an area. Now, admittedly, the universities probably had a candidate or two in mind at this stage, but it was really a specific area they were arguing for.
    2. Then, the winning 40 got their areas approved and had to identify one candidate (who would ultimately say yes in order to get a Chair). The cases I am aware of (at 3 different universities) only went through one name, except in one case, where they went through two because the first person declined before the deadline for this step. There was no search, just people sitting around thinking of names and deciding to go after who they considered a star candidate and who they had some reason to think might be moveable or they put forward the name of someone they were already trying to recruit before the CERC program existed. And, as far as I know, these were truly outstanding men. Ultimately, most of them turned Canada down – so their names were among the 40, but not among the successful 19 only because they turned down the offer.
    So universities were identifying only 1 – 3 top (but likely to say yes) people, where women represent only about 10- 15% of the full professors at the top US institutions in these general areas. If an individual unit had to identify 10 names, they might have noticed if they were ignoring the top women for some reason. But, with only a few names, no one is going to notice if they are ignoring women or visible minorities — or any other group which studies have shown do noticeably better (compared to informal selection) if gender/race/etc blind selection is done or if a thorough search and evaluation for excellence is performed.
    3. All groups do steps 1 and 2 independently and you end up with 0 women out of 40.
    At this stage you realize that the top women have been ignored, because, statistically, one would have expected 4 or 6 women in this group. But really it was just adding up a lot of 0-out-of-1,2,3’s.


  18. Monado Says:

    How long has this “poaching” been going on? It’s pretty chintzy of the Canadian government, considering how many PhDs and MDs we have driving taxies and working as security guards.
    Women are consistently undervalued. As I recall, Nellie McClung’s rule of thumb still holds in some fields: “A woman has to be twice as good as a man to be thought half as good.” I quote that provocative statement because there’s an oft-quoted Swedish study (PDF) that is generally summarized as showing that women had to publish 2.5 times as many academic papers to be thought as good as a male scientist. HOWEVER, what is forgotten is that the impact levels of the journals where they published. also had to be higher than men’s. The only women who were formally evaluated to be as good as male scientists who published papers with a total impact of 20 or less, were those who published papers with a total impact of 100 or more.
    So it’s not twice as good. It’s not 2.5 times as good. It’s not even Nellie McClung’s four times as good. The women had to be five times as good, productive, and “impactful” to be considered equal.
    Having orchestras’ hiring committees listen to candidates without knowing who they were, for only the first audition, was enough to raise the number of women in professional orchestras by 20%. Is there any way of “blinding” academic evaluations?


  19. Anonymous Says:

    I guess I need to go back to the “Threadkillers” support group.


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