Dawkins rolls out some pretty tired and simplistic tropes about affirmative action

Okay then....
The blogging on this seems to have started with the hgg blog:


Got myself an early yule present today; "The Oxford book of modern science writing" edited by teh Dawkins d00d. A first glance of the table of contents sends happy shivers down my spine - a great collection of 83 pieces of science writing. ... Of 83 texts Professor D has selected 3 written by women. That's about 3.6 %. How hard could it be to find a handful more? Like 10 %? It would still be a wiener fest.

Sheril Kirshenbaum picked it up at The Intersection blog:

... we have work to do.

Don't we always?


Dawkins, who gets great credit from YHN for engaging the blogosphere, replied.

2008? Who said anything about 2008? This anthology goes back a hundred years, and not a single contribution is as recent as 2008. It is not an anthology of "science writing", such as would indeed include Olivia Judson and the other admirable science writers whom you list. It is a collection of writing by good scientists, many of them dead and very distinguished.

As you can imagine the Twitter and blogo spheres started humming! w00t!
Tara of Aetiology blog:

I call shenanigans. First, Dawkins also claims that he is "...not one of those who thinks men are genetically better equipped than women to become distinguished scientists." Therefore, he must know that it's other factors that have led to larger numbers of men than women in the top ranks of the scientific enterprise--one of these factors being a nasty feedback loop. Women lack role models in the upper echelons of science, leading more of us to think that perhaps this isn't the place for us, which is reinforced by examples such as this anthology. While Dawkins may not support such an attitude, his incredibly male-dominated collection, and his "too bad, so sad, that's just the way it is" response to this criticism reinforces this conclusion.

Dunford of Questionable Authority blog:

I am not disappointed because Dawkins failed to bend over backward to make sure that the scientists included in his anthology matched some sort of set of diversity statistics. I am disappointed because Richard Dawkins, a man who is as gifted and talented a communicator of science as anyone alive today, clearly failed to consider the message that his choice of authors might send to quite a few of his readers, and the good that might come from putting a bit of thought into finding even one or two more talented scientists to include in the anthology who were not white men.

UPDATED to include drdrA at BlueLabCoats blog:

Let's focus on that lost opportunity, however big or small, to actively and positively influence the future of the other 50% of the population to participate in academic science and participate at a high level. That, in my humble opinion, is what everyone is so upset about. You see, I'm a young(ish) female scientist- and there is a high probability that your book will cross the threshold into my house, like so many of your other fine books. I'm going to read your book, and I'm going to see that great science writers don't include people like me, hardly at all. Then I'm going to re-read your - hey, sorry,-it's-not-my-fault-history-is-what-it-is comment up there- and I'm going to have the reaction I'm having right now.... which is- yes, duh- I know you can't change history- but you CAN influence the future SO WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?

Just a sample but I was Twitt-lerted to another comment of Dawkins' over on a blog which was defending his position. Miranda objected to the notion of:

I'm opposed to the idea of inclusion for inclusion's sake.

Dawkins approved and the shenanigans began. Go Play.
__
Additional reading from YHN
Thanks Doc
On diversity in white institutions
The Gender Smog We Breathe: The NIH Edition
HHMI Eary Career Awards
I am...
Major, Jack, Willie and Warren
On racial discomfort and blogger diversity

38 responses so far

  • bsci says:

    How about a list of 20 female authors from the last 100 years that can match quality of the Dawkin's selections?
    One can easily argue that no female author would bump Einstein off the list, but I highly doubt the 83 authors are all einsteins. Even in the promo text, I see a few male names who happen to be good science writers, but no one would blink an eye if another good science writer was included instead of them.
    I'm ashamedly not good at making such a list (a Curie, like Eve, is the first name that comes to mind), but that's the beauty of crowd-sourcing.

  • drdrA says:

    Yikes and double yikes. I was alarmed by the comments over there...

  • becca says:

    face it, Dawkins didn't include women because they are mostly irrelevant to his own development as a scientist. Ergo, I consider it only fair to note that Dawkins is completely irrelevant to not only my own development as a scientist, but most of my generation. He's a washed up old fart and can go diddle his dead and very distinguished scientists for all I care.

  • bryan says:

    Drugmonkey, I found it very difficult to follow your arguments. Miranda and Richard provided very compelling stances for quality of science (or any field for that matter) over diversity. You may disagree, but surely you wouldn't tax quality for diversity would you?

  • lostmarbles says:

    "That imbalance, and not an imbalance in my preference or my choice, is what is reflected in the anthology."
    You've gotta be fucking kidding me. The entire anthology reflects an imbalance in Dawkins' preferences when it comes to other things* and I don't feel like assuming the gender of the writers is somehow magically immune from his biases.
    *Go ahead and count how many of those scientists are biologists and of the biologists how many are evolutionary biologists. Reading that table of contents, you'd think studying evolution was correlated with good writing.

  • drdrA says:

    DM- I found it very easy to follow your arguments- indeed, I thought that was quite a memorable take-down.
    bryan- you'd have to suppose that less-qualified women being hired over more qualified men *actually happens* to buy their argument- in point of fact it has been documented about a bazillion times that women must be MORE qualified than men applying for the same job to be hired. This nonsense just makes me totally nuts. I'd be delighted for someone to show me some evidence that discrimination that favors women over men happens in hiring for academic positions, or any other measure of what makes one successful in academic science (paper publication acceptance rates, grant funding rates, pick your fave). Furthermore- there is no evidence, that quality science has suffered because of the promotion of diversity. Come on. We all know this is not a pure meritocracy- it doesn't even remotely approach that status. To think otherwise is to be completely ignorant of the way this works.
    Thus ends this rant.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Actually bryan, Miranda and Dawkins provide no compelling stance for anything apart from their personal opinion.
    The notion that one needs to "tax quality for diversity" is a straw argument as I and others have noted. Repeatedly. Hows about you step away from facile talking points and address the responses. To give you some issues to grapple with...
    What is "quality" and how is it determined? How do you show that personal decision bias does not affect achievement? What are "qualifications" for hiring decisions? Name fields of human endeavor where there has been a categorical bottlneck, a relaxation of same at a later date, and it has not been proven in spades that said bottleneck, if maintained, would have lessened the current state of the endeavor.
    Feel free to start with the human endeavors of sport, music and politics since this has played out so distinctly and publicly.

  • Jeremy says:

    While I somewhat agree with your position Drug Monkey, I think the problem here is one of agendas.
    Dawkins obviously wanted to create an anthology of writing by the scientists he considers to be the best, or something along those lines. Science is obviously male dominated, and especially more so in the past. When you look at a list of nobel prize winners, royal society members etc. I think we can't escape that reality.
    Dawkins list is obviously biased by his perspectives, hence the large inclusion of biologists. I don't think that's a fair criticism at all. It's obviously a subjective list so it *has* to be biased.
    One of the things I think Dawkins is really good at, is being prepared to go with the truth no matter what. He doesn't "spin" things and he's prepared to say unpopular things if he thinks they're true (see his edge world question responses about eugenics and his one about crime and punishment). He set out to create a collection of the writing of the people he considered the best scientists and because science has been so male dominated, his list is male dominated.
    Other people have an agenda (and I use that word grudgingly because I'm aware it implies negative connotations and I don't mean them at all) of increasing the number of females in science. Doing so would contradict Dawkins subjective list of the best scientists. They wouldn't be the people he considers to be the best irrespective of gender any more.
    Of course as I said at the start, I largely agree with your position, I think the benefits of positive discrimination in this case, compared with the loss in Dawkins perception of the best scientists would have been unnoticeable. Nevertheless Dawkins commitment to truth makes me thinks he'd never do such a thing.

  • bsci says:

    Jeremy,
    As mentioned before this is Dawkins' list of people he things are the best, but the bias towards evolutionary biology (at least as lostmarbles writes) shows that he didn't venture far from his confort area looking for the "best" I can't find the full table of contents, but there's nothing I've seen from Pinker or Dennett that I'd call required admission on a best science writing list (not that they're not both very good writers)
    Dawkins doesn't have any lock-hold on the truth. If anything, he seems to get rather testy when people challenge his beliefs. Many times he might be correct and sometimes he might be wrong, but the ability to be stubborn has little to do with always being right.

  • Jeremy says:

    Maybe. Greg Laden wrote a good post about this and makes me ask this question;
    Can anybody provide an example of some kind of anthology of scientists that does not contain a massive male dominance? All the similar books that I own that I looked through contained what appears to be fairly similar ratios. The most gender equal is Ten Commitments which is the recommendations of supposedly the top scientists of their field for protecting and restoring Australia's natural environment. It has 9 out of 40 women. Susan Blackmore's Conversations On Consciousness is 3/21 women. Biodiversity by EO Wilson has only 2 definite female, a couple of authors with only first initials, out of 61. I could be bothered counting the results of John Brockman's World Centre Question anthologies, but they appeared fairly similar.
    I never recall seeing people complain about other anthologies. It makes me wonder about whether it's coincidence that Richard Dawkins is the person targeted over this issue.
    In any event I still agree that including more women would probably have been a good idea, but I think this is largely meaningless internets drama based on a values argument that can't easily be resolved.

  • Jeremy in the 1800s:

    Hey, I'm not the only dude owning slaves. Can you point out any guy around here who's not owning slaves? That makes it totes ok.

  • LostMarbles says:

    I never recall seeing people complain about other anthologies. It makes me wonder about whether it's coincidence that Richard Dawkins is the person targeted over this issue.

    BWAHAHAHAHA! It's the Illuminati + the Vatican, they're plotting to ruin Richard Dawkins' good name and we're just their faithful minions.

  • becca says:

    #bobchickenshit doesn't need the Illuminati + the Vatican to discredit Dawkins?

  • I'm opposed to the idea of inclusion for inclusion's sake.
    Mighty white of him.

  • History Punk says:

    One of the glories of the American system is that if one dislikes the book produced by someone else, one is free to go out there and do their own research and put out a competeting product. If it is good, people will buy it, or at least borrow it from the nearest library.
    So, you're all free to read Dawkins book, read the available literature, and compile and edit your own volume. Given the lack of detail in these complaints, i.e. which selections should removed and which papers should have been included, I am guessing it would be best not to hold my breath while waiting for publication.

  • Jeremy says:

    It's pretty hard to have a serious discussion when people's responses are so ridiculous.
    I have made two comments, both saying that I think he made the wrong decision and that including more females would have been the right thing to do.
    Everybody try to make polarising attacks on their perceived opposition because that's clearly the best way of changing people's minds.

  • Sigmund says:

    Jeremy said:
    "It's pretty hard to have a serious discussion when people's responses are so ridiculous."
    That's right Jeremy, try to change the subject now that Isis has cleverly exposed you as a racist slavery supporter!

  • DSKS says:

    I think the appeal to affirmative action here is rather misguided. The problem is not that there are more men than women represented in this tome - which, as others have said, is inevitable due to the severe discrimination against the latter in the past - but that there are virtually no women represented at all. Was Jane Goodall just not interested in being represented? Was there too much politics to be had in fielding a piece from Susan Greenfield?
    I actually find the focus on affirmative action from the prosecution to be rather insulting, because it implies that this is the only way that increasing the estrogen content of this tome can be defended. I think we've progressed further than that, and the more pertinent question is why - and there may be good reasons, but if so let's hear them - there are a large number of highly prestigious female scientists, who have penned more publicly accessible articles, that are conspicuously absent from a book that includes its fair share of ho-hum material from male scientists.

  • JohnV says:

    "Nevertheless Dawkins commitment to truth makes me thinks he'd never do such a thing."
    How soon we forget...
    -signed: Richard Dawkins personally handing the Richard Dawkins award for Science and Reason to a germ theory denialist, pro-homeopathy, anti-vaccionation Bill Maher.

  • Passerby says:

    I agree with Jeremy. That was uncalled for. All he was saying was that if Dawkins should be criticized, then so should others. When did he say he wholeheartedly endorses what Dawkins has done? There is also hardly any doubt that the last century's major scientific achievements and accompanying writing have seen a disproportionate contribution from men. Several factors are responsible for this unfortunate fact. Or is this Dawkins's fault too?
    There's no point in making the discussion unnecessarily bitter and provocative so I suggest we keep it civil and respectful.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    If I might venture, Passerby, I think a lot of the problem here is the same-old, same-old and frustration with same.
    Dawkins is just a current and topical example of a larger problem.
    Some feel, as I do, that you best discuss general problems *starting* from a specific example and branching it outwards. If you do not at least start from a specific example, you get the "show me the problem still exists" argument. So you have to use a current example or you can't even get the discussion out of the box.
    This leads, unfortunately, to an impression with some that the current example is being held up as somehow the worst possible person who embodies all of the general problem within one highly evil persona. Not so.
    Trouble is that then when people who see it this way defend the current example in various ways it looks very much like minimization of the general problem. The more irrelevant straw-man chaff is thrown up, the more it looks like minimization and avoidance of the general issue. You can imagine how that goes over.
    Personally, I am eternally bemused at the inability of people to grapple with the general principle within a context of variable expression. Also an inability to dissociate criticism of acts of an individual from criticism of intrinsic qualia. But perhaps that is my own lack of imagination.

  • KBHC says:

    I did this on Sheril's first post, but I'll do it again here for all the folks who love to demand lists of competent women (oh, sorry, women who are not only competent but are so amazingly awesome that they could dare to take a spot from a man). I'm an anthropologist so I'll name some anthropologists. People in other disciplines are free to do the same.
    -Kristen Hawkes
    -Beverly Strassmann
    -Margie Profet
    -Jane Goodall
    -Barbara Smuts
    -Sarah Blaffer Hrdy
    That's off the top of my head, and just after considering the subdisciplines within bio anthro closest to my own. I ignored functional morphology, paleo and molecular anthro, though there are paradigm-shifting women in there too, simply because I know less about those fields and I would love to hear people who do know those fields name more folks.
    The reality is, most fields contain women who have made contributions to their discipline so important that they should be included in an anthology like the Oxford book. Laypeople, as well as PhD candidates and faculty, should be exposed to a more realistic list like this.

  • Sigmund says:

    KBHC said:
    "The reality is, most fields contain women who have made contributions to their discipline so important that they should be included in an anthology like the Oxford book."
    Nobody is suggesting that women have not made significant contributions to every field of science. The question is whether they have also written about these contributions in a form suitable for inclusion in this volume. It's all very well suggesting the name of a brilliant woman scientist, say Marie Curie or Barbara McClintock, but we also need examples of an essay length piece of prose written by them that is suitable for inclusion.
    Perhaps it would be illustrative to see the list of included authors such that we can also make suggestions for authors we might drop in favor of the missing women or other excluded minorities.
    (I suggest dropping Matt Ridley and Steve Jones!)
    PART I
    What Scientists Study
    3 James Jeans from THE MYSTERIOUS UNIVERSE
    4 Martin Rees from JUST SIX NUMBERS
    11 Peter Atkins from CREATION REVISITED
    16 Helena Cronin from THE ANT AND THE PEACOCK
    18 R. A. Fisher from THE GENETICAL THEORY OF NATURAL SELECTION
    22 Theodosius Dobzhansky from MANKIND EVOLVING
    27 G. C. Williams from ADAPTATION AND NATURAL SELECTION
    30 Francis Crick from LIFE ITSELF
    35 Matt Ridley from GENOME
    40 Sydney Brenner ‘THEORETICAL BIOLOGY IN THE THIRD
    MILLENNIUM’
    48 Steve Jones from THE LANGUAGE OF THE GENES
    53 J. B. S. Haldane from ‘ON BEING THE RIGHT SIZE’
    59 Mark Ridley from THE EXPLANATION OF ORGANIC DIVERSITY
    61 John Maynard Smith ‘THE IMPORTANCE OF THE NERVOUS
    SYSTEM IN THE EVOLUTION OF ANIMAL FLIGHT’
    66 Fred Hoyle from MAN IN THE UNIVERSE
    69 D’Arcy Thompson from ON GROWTH AND FORM
    78 G. G. Simpson from THE MEANING OF EVOLUTION
    82 Richard Fortey from TRILOBITE!
    86 Colin Blakemore from THE MIND MACHINE
    89 Richard Gregory from MIRRORS IN MIND
    96 Nicholas Humphrey ‘ONE SELF: A MEDITATION ON THE UNITY OF
    CONSCIOUSNESS’
    103 Steven Pinker from THE LANGUAGE INSTINCT and HOW THE
    MIND WORKS
    viii . CONTENTS
    110 Jared Diamond from THE RISE AND FALL OF THE THIRD
    CHIMPANZEE
    114 David Lack from THE LIFE OF THE ROBIN
    115 Niko Tinbergen from CURIOUS NATURALISTS
    123 Robert Trivers from SOCIAL EVOLUTION
    127 Alister Hardy from THE OPEN SEA
    130 Rachel Carson from THE SEA AROUND US
    138 Loren Eiseley from ‘HOW FLOWERS CHANGED THE WORLD’
    143 Edward O. Wilson from THE DIVERSITY OF LIFE
    PART II
    Who Scientists Are
    151 Arthur Eddington from THE EXPANDING UNIVERSE
    152 C. P. Snow from the Foreword to G. H. Hardy’s A MATHEMATICIAN’S
    APOLOGY
    157 Freeman Dyson from DISTURBING THE UNIVERSE
    161 J. Robert Oppenheimer from ‘WAR AND THE NATIONS’
    168 Max F. Perutz ‘A PASSION FOR CRYSTALS’
    172 Barbara and George Gamow ‘SAID RYLE TO HOYLE’
    174 J. B. S. Haldane ‘CANCER’S A FUNNY THING’
    176 Jacob Bronowski from THE IDENTITY OF MAN
    179 Peter Medawar from ‘SCIENCE AND LITERATURE, ‘DARWIN’S
    ILLNESS’, ‘THE PHENOMENON OF MAN’, the postscript to
    ‘LUCKY JIM’, and ‘D’ARCY THOMPSON AND GROWTH
    AND FORM’
    188 Jonathan Kingdon from SELF-MADE MAN
    190 Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin from ORIGINS RECONSIDERED
    195 Donald C. Johanson and Maitland A. Edey from LUCY
    200 Stephen Jay Gould ‘WORM FOR A CENTURY, AND ALL SEASONS’
    211 John Tyler Bonner from LIFE CYCLES
    214 Oliver Sacks from UNCLE TUNGSTEN
    219 Lewis Thomas ‘SEVEN WONDERS’
    226 James Watson from AVOID BORING PEOPLE
    229 Francis Crick from WHAT MAD PURSUIT
    232 Lewis Wolpert from THE UNNATURAL NATURE OF SCIENCE
    234 Julian Huxley from ESSAYS OF A BIOLOGIST
    235 Albert Einstein ‘RELIGION AND SCIENCE’
    239 Carl Sagan from THE DEMON-HAUNTED WORLD
    PART III
    What Scientists Think
    247 Richard Feynman from THE CHARACTER OF PHYSICAL LAW
    249 Erwin Schrödinger from WHAT IS LIFE?
    254 Daniel Dennett from DARWIN’S DANGEROUS IDEA and
    CONSCIOUSNESS EXPLAINED
    259 Ernst Mayr from THE GROWTH OF BIOLOGICAL THOUGHT
    263 Garrett Hardin from ‘THE TRAGEDY OF THE COMMONS’
    266 W. D. Hamilton from GEOMETRY FOR THE SELFISH HERD and
    NARROW ROADS OF GENELAND
    273 Per Bak from HOW NATURE WORKS
    276 Martin Gardner THE FANTASTIC COMBINATIONS OF JOHN
    CONWAY’S NEW SOLITAIRE GAME ‘LIFE’
    284 Lancelot Hogben from MATHEMATICS FOR THE MILLION
    289 Ian Stewart from THE MIRACULOUS JAR
    297 Claude E. Shannon and Warren Weaver from THE MATHEMATICAL
    THEORY OF COMMUNICATION
    305 Alan Turing from COMPUTING MACHINERY AND
    INTELLIGENCE
    314 Albert Einstein from ‘WHAT IS THE THEORY OF RELATIVITY?’
    317 George Gamow from MR TOMPKINS
    323 Paul Davies from THE GOLDILOCKS ENIGMA
    332 Russell Stannard from THE TIME AND SPACE OF UNCLE ALBERT
    336 Brian Greene from THE ELEGANT UNIVERSE
    342 Stephen Hawking from A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME
    PART IV
    What Scientists Delight In
    349 S. Chandrasekhar from TRUTH AND BEAUTY
    352 G. H. Hardy from A MATHEMATICIAN’S APOLOGY
    357 Steven Weinberg from DREAMS OF A FINAL THEORY
    362 Lee Smolin from THE LIFE OF THE COSMOS
    367 Roger Penrose from THE EMPEROR’S NEW MIND
    371 Douglas Hofstadter from GÖDEL, ESCHER, BACH: THE ETERNAL
    GOLDEN BRAID
    378 John Archibald Wheeler with Kenneth Ford from GEONS, BLACK
    HOLES, AND QUANTUM FOAM
    381 David Deutsch from THE FABRIC OF REALITY
    383 Primo Levi from THE PERIODIC TABLE
    390 Richard Fortey from LIFE: AN UNAUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY
    392 George Gaylord Simpson from THE MEANING OF EVOLUTION
    393 Loren Eiseley from LITTLE MEN AND FLYING SAUCERS
    394 Carl Sagan from PALE BLUE DOT

  • For a start Dawkins could have looked at the 16 women who have won Nobel Prizes in Physics, Chemistry, and Physiology/Medicine since 1903.

  • Sigmund says:

    Here's the list of those women you've suggested Thomas.
    Could you now also suggest a classic piece of science prose written by each? (And also suggest who you would drop from the current list)
    1903 -
    Marie Curie
    1963 -
    Maria Goeppert-Mayer
    Chemistry
    1911 -
    Marie Curie
    1935 -
    Irène Joliot-Curie
    1964 -
    Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin
    2009 - Ada E. Yonath
    Physiology or Medicine
    1947 -
    Gerty Cori
    1977 -
    Rosalyn Yalow
    1983 -
    Barbara McClintock
    1986 -
    Rita Levi-Montalcini
    1988 -
    Gertrude B. Elion
    1995 -
    Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard
    2004 -
    Linda B. Buck
    2008 -
    Françoise Barré-Sinoussi
    2009 -
    Elizabeth H. Blackburn
    2009 -Carol W. Greider

  • Sigmund: Could you now also suggest a classic piece of science prose written by each?
    I suppose I could, but what would the point be? If for, example, I recommended taking a selection from Marie Curie's dissertation Radioactive Substances, you know because it set the stage for the first two time Nobel Prize winner, and suggested dropping Alister Hardy's excerpts from The Open Sea, what would the end game? Other than to say that the choices meet subjective criteria more than they do objective ones? Which, is of course, the entire point. Since there is no "hard and fast" rule which requires almost 97% of the selections to have been male, a few more women could easily have been selected.

  • Sigmund says:

    Marie Curie's dissertation is interesting to read for its historical value (the experiments involving placing radium on the skin of herself or Pierre are particularly horrifying from a modern perscpective) but it is hardly the sort of thing to include in an anthology of fine writing about science. The point is not whether Curie or the others on your laureate list was a brilliant scientist - its whether they have written pieces suitable for the general public. Take another example, Rosalind Franklin. Brilliant scientist, and deserving of a share of the Nobel prize for the discovery of the structure of DNA. She came second in a recent poll of inspirational women scientists and yet the only writings we have from her are her technical papers and certainly not suitable for such a collection.
    I suspect a similar case with many of the others on your list. Brilliant scientist does not necessarily make brilliant writer.
    The other problem is the one that can only be addressed by avoiding it - namely "why only women?"
    What about African American Scientists?
    What about East Asian scientists?
    What about a host of other groups who are grossly under-represented in the author list (or grossly over-represented in the case of Jewish scientists?)

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Since there is no "hard and fast" rule which requires almost 97% of the selections to have been male, a few more women could easily have been selected.
    NO, NO, we must fight out the subjective merits of each and every exemplar or you have FAilEd to MakEz the OverwhelMingz argumentez...!!!!
    Sigmund, you are turning into a caricature.

  • Joe says:

    I posted this on The Intersection also:
    I'm just wondering what people would think about an anthology of all women science writers? (I haven't read all the previous comments so I'm not sure if it's been mentioned before in this discussion) I think it would be cool, but to tell the truth, I can never tell when people are going to get up in arms about feminist issues. (Maybe arguing that you're then singling women out as deserving of special treatment or something because they wouldn't fit into a "normal" anthology - I dunno) I'm just wondering what people's thoughts on this are?
    Cheers.

  • DSKS says:

    "I'm just wondering what people would think about an anthology of all women science writers?"
    My own opinion is that it would be a terrible idea, because such segregation merely provides an illusion of equality, and facilitates rather than opposes what is the central problem. It suggest that, as in certain sports, women are naturally disadvantaged, and therefore must by necessity be given their own category complimentary to their lesser ability. There is no evidence to support such a belief, and so there is no reason to react as if it were true.

  • Spartan says:

    In order for the criticism of Dawkins to be legitimate, it seems like you'd have to show one of two things:
    1) Using Dawkins criteria for how he chose the anthology's selections, 3% clearly vastly under-represents the number of women who have made contributions, no matter how you slice it.
    2) Even if I can't show 1), Dawkins has a responsibility to yours or any particular social cause when creating this anthology.
    Given that he's defined 'modern' as the last 100 years or 20th Century, I don't know if, sadly, 3% is that far off the mark. And I think 2) does not hold at all.
    Is the beef concerning this is 'The Oxford book'? Would all this criticism still be legitimate if he just titled it, "My Favorite Science Writing"?

  • DSKS says:

    "Given that he's defined 'modern' as the last 100 years or 20th Century, I don't know if, sadly, 3% is that far off the mark. And I think 2) does not hold at all."
    This is an interesting aspect of all of this. The truth is, after negligible digging, it's already clear to me that this percentage is an inadequate representation of the role of women in good modern mainstream science writing. But, I confess, I did have to look and read, and clearly these writers are not as popular as many of their male colleagues (despite having careers that are more than competitive with those colleagues).
    However, so far, I've seen no indicator that the lesser popularity and renown of female science writing is an issue of writing prowess, or public relations savvy. So what's going on? Is the public naturally compelled to a greater degree by a fella writing about science than a chick? I reckon it would take an almost George Willian level of social optimism to assume that gender bias, like racial bias, is now relegated to a matter of historical import, and thus I'm inclined to suspect that, indeed, female science writers tend to be overshadowed by their male colleagues in part because people are not attracted to a book about science with a female name stamped on the cover.
    But then, others were pushing this point all along when they said that although Dawkins was likely not intending to submit to gender-bias, his choices were unconsciously driven by that bias nonetheless.
    On that note,
    "Is the beef concerning this is 'The Oxford book'? Would all this criticism still be legitimate if he just titled it, "My Favorite Science Writing"?"
    This is certainly an issue. A book with the current title I think should fairly be expected to present an objective* list of good science writing unencumbered by the inevitable gender bias that will be incurred by asking a man or a woman to tell you what their favourite something-or-other is. If it was entitled, "Dawkins Desert Island Selection" then no, it probably wouldn't have ruffled feathers quite so much.
    * I want to emphasize this, because much of the argument has been about whether we should be giving the ladies a leg up for the sake of old injustices. I don't think such a proactive effort is really required in this case if an attempt at an objective view of good science writing is made instead. It's not so much about the gentlemanly act of opening the door for the ladies, they can do, and have done that, for themselves; it's simply about expending a small effort not to let the door slam shut in their faces because we simply forget that they are walking with us.

  • Spartan says:

    I agree with your synopsis, DSKS, except for this:

    But then, others were pushing this point all along when they said that although Dawkins was likely not intending to submit to gender-bias, his choices were unconsciously driven by that bias nonetheless.

    I guess I disagree that it is clear that he has under-represented women. For example Thomas, suggested:

    For a start Dawkins could have looked at the 16 women who have won Nobel Prizes in Physics, Chemistry, and Physiology/Medicine since 1903.

    I get a count of 562 total NP winners in those categories, which comes out to be 2.8% women. I think a greater disparity (or a disparity at all since this metric supports the compilation Dawkins already put together) needs to be identified before we start discussing Dawkins being driven unconsciously by some bias.

  • DSKS says:

    Spartan,
    Admittedly, the critics of Dawkins on this issue have fielded some v. shoddy reasoning, and this one,
    "For a start Dawkins could have looked at the 16 women who have won Nobel Prizes in Physics, Chemistry, and Physiology/Medicine since 1903."
    is one of the stinkers, particularly as it pretty much sets up the tracks and the trucks for the opposition's subsequent derailing strategy. However, it's exactly because this argument is a non sequitur that the following rebuttal cannot serve as defence of the anthology:
    I get a count of 562 total NP winners in those categories, which comes out to be 2.8% women."
    Besides, we know that this statistic is heavily influenced by gender bias in the first place (alas Lise Meitner et al.)!
    What seems more apparent to me is that there are more than a few high profile female scientists who have written for the mainstream readership but that are absent from this compilation. Some of whom are arguably more well known to the reading public than a good few of the male authors in this book, and are certainly not lacking in good style of expression.
    There may be good reasons other than bias at work. Publication permissions, author permissions, publishing house politics (which are likely as bad as the recording label politics that underlie movie soundtracks) &c. However, no such defence has been made, it simply seems that either a) Dawkins has read the material of Goodall and others and simply not been taken by it (which is his right), or that he simply hasn't had the opportunity to read them. But these excuses can only serve as defence for a self-confessed subjective view of science writing, but this is not indicated by the title of the book.
    I find it hard not to see how women in science, both past, present and future, haven't been served unfairly as a result.

  • I think a greater disparity (or a disparity at all since this metric supports the compilation Dawkins already put together) needs to be identified before we start discussing Dawkins being driven unconsciously by some bias.

    How many motherfucking times do you debate-team fuckwits have to be told that this has NOTHING to do with Dawkins's internal mental state, including whether he is personally "biased", "misogynist", or anyfuckingotherthing!?!?!?

  • Spartan says:

    How many motherfucking times do you debate-team fuckwits have to be told that this has NOTHING to do with Dawkins's internal mental state, including whether he is personally "biased", "misogynist", or anyfuckingotherthing!?!?!?

    My my, someone's cranky; did Isis not have time to change your diapers today? It's not surprising you cry about 'debate' since you consistently demonstrate your inability to, ya know, state a specific argument. Here's about the closest you've gotten on this subject from your 'brilliant' post, in response to Dawkins explanation:
    "This is so woefully deficient and so transparently apologetic for his own white-d00d privilege, that I won’t say any more other than that it is a shame that Dawkins wasn’t willing to sack the fuck up and admit he blew it."
    Way to sack up yourself, fuckocrite; don't be such a pussy.
    I'm sure, "I won't say any more", is compelling on the playgrounds you frequent so I'll try to hand-hold you: your first step is to demonstrate specifically how 'he blew it'. And news flash, if you can't show, or apparently even argue, that his gender-breakdown is inaccurate (and the bar's set pretty high for you considering how subjective the selection criteria necessarily is), failing to compile a book to meet the demands of your particular cause doesn't count as 'blowing it' .

  • sinema says:

    I agree with your synopsis

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