Op-ed submission: In response to April 13 article

Jonathan Katz | Professor of Physics

One of the things one learns in all fields of scholarship, and is taught in high school, is that when citing the work of others, one must supply enough detail for the reader to find the source (so that he may evaluate it critically). “Studies have shown” without bibliographic details has no weight as evidence; Jen McLish does this twice in her article.

A study has shown that the majority of published studies in psychology are not reproducible, and hence their results are not reliable. Similar results have been found in the “harder” science of clinical biomedicine. Even if McLish had cited actual, published, peer-reviewed papers, we should be skeptical.

In some fields of science, planned experiments are impossible. But unplanned “natural experiments” may be informative. One such experiment was the change, a few decades ago, in expectations of women’s careers. In medicine and law (fields that, unlike physics, were notorious for hostility to women) the fraction of female professional students rapidly rose to about 50 percent. In the physical sciences, mathematics and engineering, the percentage stayed stubbornly in the 10-20 percent range despite deliberate efforts to increase it. No one has been able to explain this as the result of prejudice or hostility, so it is plausible to consider that there may be some other explanation. There is no basis for rejecting the hypothesis that men’s and women’s minds, as well as their personalities, are intrinsically different.

Serious students don’t care if their instructors look different from themselves. They are almost always older (are we concerned that there aren’t many 18-year-old professors?). Serious students do not feel “anxiety and isolation” if “everyone except you, including the professor, looks the same”; they regard this as a stimulating challenge to prove themselves.

There are no such things as “male physics” vs. “female physics”, “Aryan physics” vs. “Jewish physics” or “white physics” vs. “black physics”. There is only physics. This is true of every field of knowledge.

Once we realize that different results are not necessarily the result of invidious discrimination, we will recognize that “diversity” is only a euphemism for discrimination and an excuse for patronage. In the U.S. legal system, individuals have rights; groups do not.

  • jclevenger

    Dr. Katz opens his response to Jen McList’a article with a pedantic criticism of not supplying bibliographic details for her “studies have shown” claim. The criticism is pedantic because the bulk of McLish’s article focuses on how clueless Dr. Katz is about the issues at stake. The studies she mentions are secondary to her primary thesis. By leading with a minor point he suggests that he doesn’t get the bigger picture, effectively confirming her point.

    Katz couches his no-source criticism in the language of academics, “One of the things one learns in all fields of scholarship, and is taught in high school, is that when citing the work of others…” But McLish is not writing a scholarly piece. She’s writing an op-ed. The rules for citation are less rigorous compared to a journal article. Indeed Katz starts his second paragraph, “A study has shown…” Where is your citation Dr. Katz?

    Far more troubling is the tone that he takes in the first paragraph. McLish has stepped forward to debate him print. Rather than adopt a position of debater to debater — one of presumed equals contesting the merits of their positions — Katz adopts the professor to student stance. He lectures her on her failures as a scholar-in-training and questions her right to be at the university (she didn’t even learn how to cite sources in high school). He does not address the merits of position and dismisses her standing to contribute to the argument with a quibble about citations. He then immediately asserts the privilege of a double standard by referencing an uncited source. Dr. Katz this is hostility to women — dismissing or not engaging their ideas while enjoying a double standard.

  • tryingtobeobjective

    We could just as easily conclude that women recruits may be turning down offers because during the interview and decision-making process, they find that one particular faculty member stands out as someone who may be a difficult colleague.

  • Syrus J

    That being said, it is odd to say that serious students shouldn’t care. It’s easy for men not to notice, but a female friend of mine said that she definitely would feel a bit uncomfortable in a room solely of men for a class.

    The major point of the author stands clear, but his need to respond to every point of Jen’s op-ed leads to some faults in logic.

    • Val Ryland

      “That being said, it is odd to say that serious students shouldn’t care. ”

      It is incontrovertibly correct. Serious students don’t care. A student who cares is giving clear and unambiguous evidence that they don’t care. If what’s on their mind is what their instructor looks like, they aren’t interested in the science. End of.

      “a female friend of mine said that she definitely would feel a bit uncomfortable in a room solely of men for a class.”

      Swap the genders in that sentence and listen to what it sounds like. That’s right, your friend is a sexist and a bigot and should be ashamed of herself.

  • Syrus J

    I actually agree with Professor Katz on a number of points. The April 13 article is very righteous, poignant (and I agree with the writer’s main point), but does lack a foundation of facts. Does society deliberately try and discourage women from pursuing STEM and physics? There isn’t a direct answer to that. What we do know is that women only end up taking up 20% of the field–I sincerely doubt that is due to a STRUCTURAL discriminatory mechanism. It’s possible that the result of holdovers from traditional family upbringings or family legacies.

    In which case, it does seem to be odd that we should give preferential hiring treatment to women in physics. Yes, it’s important that women are introduced into the field. But since women are a smaller proportion of the field, does it not follow that there are going to be far fewer women who are hired on the basis of merit to the department? It makes no sense that the department staff is sitting in a room and deliberately discriminate against a female candidate for no good reason.

    If we want to address gender imbalance, the effort should not be vilifying professors or the department, but instead advocating for broader awareness of the role of women in STEM from an early age.

  • Olivia Harman

    Phew! That was a swift dismissal of almost all research from the fields of psychology and/or clinical biomedicine! I guess the solution must be simply to trust the intuitions of Jonathan Katz. Interestingly, in light of your first paragraph, you neglect to cite ~anything at all~ in support of claims made in your third paragraph. Or your claim that “serious students” don’t care if their instructors “look different from themselves.” It’s almost as though you’re missing evidence that might support your claims, Jonathan.

    • Val Ryland

      “That was a swift dismissal of almost all research from the fields of psychology and/or clinical biomedicine! ”

      Well, vast swaths of research in such fields is indeed completely worthless, so dismissing it is the only sensible thing to do. Psychology isn’t even a science.

  • Moses

    “In the physical sciences, mathematics and engineering, the percentage stayed stubbornly in the 10-20 percent range despite deliberate efforts to increase it. No one has been able to explain this as the result of prejudice or hostility”

    Lol, you must be trolling, right?

    • Fish Fast

      No, really. Read his blog; he believes fewer women are in hard sciences because they aren’t as good. He’s said this in writing many times.

      • Val Ryland

        “Read his blog; he believes fewer women are in hard sciences because they aren’t as good. ”

        It’s your burden to prove that 1. there are just as many women as men who are good enough to do physics and 2. there are just as many women as men who are interested in doing physics. Without such a demonstration, the charge of “discrimination” is worthless.

        • Fish Fast

          No, actually, if he publishes op-eds and blog posts asserting a causal explanation for an observed phenomenon, then it’s up to him to provide evidence supporting that assertion. Your concept of the burden of proof is, like, literally the opposite of how it works.

          • Val Ryland

            No, really. It’s up to you to prove that there is a problem. Someone saying “it could be these explanations X, Y, and Z which you haven’t considered” is simply pointing out the size of the task ahead of you. You have to disprove X, Y, and Z if you want to assert that there is a problem. You are so hopelessly confused about this that you inverted the null hypothesis.

          • Fish Fast

            You’re still very confused. I have not asserted a specific cause for gender disparity in the sciences, so there is nothing for me to prove. Professor Katz *has* proposed causes for the gender disparity in the sciences, so that *does* put a burden of proof on him. Except he’s not really offering any proof that there are biological causes–he’s just saying that without evidence.

          • Val Ryland

            Nope, I am not confused whatsoever. It’s people on your side saying there’s a problem. Prove that there’s a problem, then we’ll talk.

          • Fish Fast

            Sorry, bud, but it is a matter of record that I have not offered an explanation for gender disparity in the sciences anywhere in this thread–my words are right up there. And since I haven’t done that, you can’t possibly know what my “side” is. So either 1) quote where I offered an explanation (then we’ll talk), or 2) you’re confused.

          • Val Ryland

            Nope, I am not confused whatsoever. It’s people on your side saying there’s a problem. Prove that there’s a problem, then we’ll talk.

            Really not rocket science.

          • Fish Fast

            It’s not rocket science, you’re right. It’s really, really simple, which makes your complete inability to understand a basic conversation really embarrassing for you. So, one more time, then I’m done repeating myself — try saying the following words out loud to yourself, slowly, so you make sure you get it: “I. Have not. Said. There’s a problem.” Not anywhere. Quote where I have, if I have. But you can’t. Because I haven’t.

            I didn’t write the article we’re all responding to. Every comment I have left on the article has only been to post other articles he has written. I have said nothing else. You seem to be having an argument with a voice in your head, and you’re confusing me with that voice. It’s creepy.

          • Val Ryland

            Nope, I am not confused whatsoever. It’s people on your side saying there’s a problem. Prove that there’s a problem, then we’ll talk. What Katz has done is point out several possible things the so called “problem” could be caused by, and these are all things your side has to DISPROVE before you can assert any there’s any problem at all.

            Really not rocket science, your dishonest protests notwithstanding.

          • Fish Fast

            Again, you have no idea what I believe, so you can’t possibly know what “my side” is–that is your confusion #1.

            I’m glad that you’ve finally clarified what you have meant as you keep saying “the problem”–that a gender disparity exists in the sciences. Because that’s your confusion #2–there is no controversy over whether a gender disparity exists. Neither I, nor Katz, nor anyone else in this thread anywhere disputes that the gender disparity exists. All of us agree it exists, because it’s a simple, observable, existential fact.

            You and I even agree on something, Val: “what Katz has done is point out several possible things the so called “problem” could be caused by.” And all I have said anywhere in the comments section of this article is that he doesn’t offer meaningful evidence for the cause that he asserts. He says biology causes the disparity. He does not give any biological evidence for this claim.

            Which brings us, finally, allllllll the way back around to our original exchange of comments, and your confusion # 3 (the most important one): “these are all things your side has to DISPROVE .” I’ll quote my original comment to you: “that’s literally the opposite of how the burden of proof works.” We are all looking at a phenomenon (note that you are the only person who keeps calling it “the problem”) that we all agree exists–gender disparity in the sciences. Katz says “biology is the cause of this phenomenon.” The burden of proof demands that the person asserting a causal argument provides evidence for it. He hasn’t done that. I’m glad to be able to finally clarify that for you.

            There’s no dishonesty, bucko. If you want to know what I think the cause(s) of gender disparity in the sciences is/are, you only have to ask (I promise, you don’t already know). And unlike Katz or you, I can actually provide you with a mountain of quantitative evidence for my claims–because unlike either of you, I’ve actually researched the topic. But this comment thread isn’t about arguments I might make, it’s about the strength, or lack thereof, of the argument Katz made in his article that we’re commenting on.

          • Val Ryland

            “Again, you have no idea what I believe”

            Actually I have a pretty good idea.

            “I’m glad that you’ve finally clarified what you have meant when you keep writing “the problem”–you mean that a gender disparity exists in the sciences. ”

            Nope. A gender disparity exists, but that doesn’t mean a gender disparity is a problem. Prove that there is a *problem*. An actual, bona-fide problem, and not some simple difference. This really isn’t that complicated and I’m baffled that you could be confused by such a simple point.

            Again. Prove that there’s a problem, then we’ll talk. Not before.

            “Which brings us, finally, allllllll the way back around to our original exchange of comments, and your confusion # 3 (the most important one): “these are all things your side has to DISPROVE .” I’ll quote my original comment to you: “that’s literally the opposite of how the burden of proof works.” ”

            No, it very much isn’t, and once again it’s bizarre that this needs to be explained. People on your side assert there’s a problem. Sane people ask “do you have any evidence for that?” and you say “PROVE THAT THERE ISN’T ONE!”. Sorry pal, but that’s not how any of this works. You want to claim there’s a problem, you WILL disprove alternate explanations. Not negotiable. Sorry.

          • Fish Fast

            I. never. said. there. was. a. problem.

            You. are. the. only. person. who. has. used. that. word.

            I. only. said. Katz. doesn’t. provide. evidence. for. his. explanation. of. an. observable. phenomenon.

            And I’m not going to waste further time having a conversation with someone who will only respond to what they wished I said to them instead of what I actually said to them. Sorry, Val, I know knocking down straw men is easier than grappling with the actual arguments of someone smarter and better informed than you, but I have better uses of my time.

          • Val Ryland

            “I. never. said. there. was. a. problem.”

            Who cares whether you said it? You think there is a problem.

            “I. only. said. Katz. doesn’t. provide. evidence. for. his. explanation. of. an. observable. phenomenon.”

            He doesn’t have to. He’s showing _what kinds of alternate explanations you must ruled out before you can assert there is a problem_. You think there is a problem, so you ought to rule these things out. That’s how this works. It’s not up to everyone else to rule out alternate explanations every time you come up with some harebrained idea. You had the idea, you do the legwork. It’s that simple.

  • tryingtobeobjective

    Referring to the study on replicability of psychological research merely further weakens Katz’s conclusions about why women are not taking position offers from the physics dept (i.e. His observational conclusion, based on no reserach, that their husbands can’t find work in the area). Furthermore, it is annoying for those of use who conduct sociological and psychological research to be told by physicists, who seem to think they are super smart and can easily conduct and interpret psychological research, that psychological research is flawed, when in fact dealing with human variability is far more complex than physics.

    • Val Ryland

      “It is annoying for those of use who conduct sociological and psychological research to be told by physicists, who seem to think they are super smart and can easily conduct and interpret psychological research, that psychological research is flawed”

      You can be annoyed by such a statement if you wish, but it is almost incontrovertible. I use the word “almost” only because I would replace the word “flawed” with “worthless”.

      “when in fact dealing with human variability is far more complex than physics.”

      It is more complex, which is clear proof that psychology is a worthless field. If it weren’t, it’d be much harder to understand than physics. But it isn’t, so it clearly can’t capture the correct dynamics of human behavior.