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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.