Why Do Undergraduate Women Stop Studying Philosophy? (guest post by Morgan Thompson)


The following is a guest post* by Morgan Thompson (Pittsburgh), who, along with Toni Adleburg (UCSD), Sam Sims (Florida State), and Eddy Nahmias (Georgia State), authored the newly published “Why Do Women Leave Philosophy: Surveying Students at the Introductory Level” (Philosophers’ Imprint). Below, Thompson covers some of the main points of the paper for the purposes of discussion here at Daily Nous.


Why Do Undergraduate Women Stop Studying Philosophy?
by Morgan Thompson

Recently on blogs, at conferences, and in journals there has been much speculation and various hypotheses concerning the causes of women’s underrepresentation in philosophy (e.g., here, here, and here). Most of the discussion has focused on factors that contribute to the very low proportion of women graduate students and faculty in philosophy, rather than undergraduates. And few discussions have included empirical support (or they draw only on research regarding other disciplines).

In early 2012, Toni Adleberg, Sam Sims, Eddy Nahmias, and I began a project to gather empirical support for explanations of the gender gap in philosophy, focusing on potential causes of the early drop-off of women in philosophy between initial courses and choosing to major, since research shows that this is the most significant drop-off. If the proportion of women majors remains stuck under 1/3, as it has been for decades (National Center for Education Statistics 2013), then it will remain difficult to improve the proportion of women graduate students and faculty.

Our paper describing our surveys, results, and suggestions is now published in Philosophers’ Imprint here. We hope people will find it useful, especially for generating more hypotheses, research, and solutions. Below, we offer a few highlights and welcome discussion here at Daily Nous.

During the project, we considered a number of questions: What factors could explain the dearth of women majoring in philosophy, as well as the dearth of minorities? Which hypotheses from the literature and from blogs have empirical support? If we can implicate factors in a particular group’s underrepresentation, can we successfully intervene on those factors? Do underrepresented groups face different sets of problems at different types of institutions or in different countries? Are the sets of factors distinct for different underrepresented groups? How might intersectional analysis of data highlight specific or intensified factors for particular groups? (We also gathered data on differences in responses to our surveys by Black students and White students and are considering hypotheses about why fewer Black students major in philosophy. We also aim to highlight the importance of intersectional analyses in demographics of philosophy studies, but have faced struggles in securing large enough sample sizes. A future paper—with Liam Kofi Bright and Erich Kummerfeld—will explore these results and issues.)

In the fall of 2012, we developed and conducted a survey of over 700 undergraduate students enrolled in Introduction to Philosophy courses at Georgia State University, and we repeated the survey (with additional questions) in fall 2013 with over 800 students (see Appendix 1 of our paper for the questions and responses). One of our most important findings is that women and men did perceive philosophy and the philosophy classroom differently.

While students on average reported enjoying the course and finding philosophy interesting and relevant, women were significantly less likely to agree to these statements than men. Women were also less likely to identify with the typical philosophy major or their instructor and less likely to believe that “people like me” can be successful in philosophy. Finally, women were less likely to report interest in taking further philosophy courses or to consider majoring in philosophy. We then asked what factors might contribute to women’s disproportionate lack of identification with philosophy and less willingness to continue in the field.

Here I will highlight just a few of our results, but several others are described in our paper. One early hypothesis for the lack of women in philosophy is that a schema clash between ‘woman’ and ‘philosopher’ makes it more difficult for women to enter and work in the profession (Haslanger 2008). A woman philosopher may be seen as a token instance that violates the stereotype that philosophers are men, or she may be seen as lacking membership to one of the relevant classes. We found evidence that undergraduate students recognize the gender gap in philosophy among majors and professors.

We examined students’ perceptions of the gender balance of authors on their course’s syllabus. In 2012, students on average disagreed that there was “a fair proportion” of women on the syllabus, and women were more likely to disagree than men. When we looked at the syllabi used in the 2012 courses, on average only 10% of authors were women. This proportion is not anomalous. We looked at 18 Intro textbooks and found that the gender proportion was even worse (6.94%; see Appendix 4 of the paper and here). Furthermore, 44% of these articles by women are on “women’s issues” like abortion, sexism, feminism, etc. We found that student perception of the fairness of gender ratio of authors partially contributed to women’s (un)willingness to continue in philosophy.

We decided to intervene on the percent of women authors on introductory syllabi for the fall 2013 courses. Thanks to the enthusiasm and support of the Chair George Rainbolt, both Tim O’Keefe and Sandy Dwyer, who run the graduate student teaching program at GSU, and the fall 2013 graduate student instructors, introductory syllabi included an average of 20-30% women authors (individual syllabi for all sections, some taught by faculty, ranged between 5-39%). Students on average disagreed less than in 2012 that there was a fair proportion of women authors. Men’s responses hovered around the midpoint while women on average disagreed significantly more, and responses to this question influenced willingness to continue in philosophy. However, we did not find that students or women specifically were more willing to continue in philosophy in relation to higher proportions of women on the syllabus.

Ultimately, the intervention on gender ratio of authors on syllabi did not by itself prompt more women to consider continuing in philosophy, perhaps for any number of reasons: for instance, women still found the 20% ratio to be unfair and perhaps a higher ratio of women authors would make a difference, the intervention on one factor alone in the absence of interventions on other factors is not enough, or perhaps gender ratio on syllabi—in the grand scheme of choosing a major—is not very important when choosing a major. Further research is necessary. (It’s worth noting that GSU has continued to include 20+% women authors in most of its Intro sections and also includes a powerpoint on the value of the philosophy major, and the proportion of women majors over the past five years has increased from below 40% to 50%, and the proportion of Black majors has also increased significantly.)

Finally, in the 2013 survey we probed students’ perceptions of field-specific ability beliefs (FABs). Sarah-Jane Leslie et al. (2015) proposed the hypothesis that women and Blacks are underrepresented in academic fields to the extent that practitioners in the field take natural brilliance (in contrast to hard work) to be required for success in that field (discussed here). Strikingly, out of all the fields discussed in their work, philosophers had the highest proportion of brilliance-based FABs. Leslie and colleagues indeed found evidence that the proportion of women and Blacks in a field is negatively correlated to these brilliance-based FABs. This hypothesis suggests that we pass onto our students the message that success in philosophy requires natural brilliance (“a special aptitude that just can’t be taught”), while hard work just won’t cut it, and this stereotype disproportionately turns women and minorities away from the field.

We did not find that undergraduate women were more likely to hold brilliance-based beliefs than men (the FAB theory does not predict they would). We did, however, find that those students who do hold brilliance-based FABs about philosophy were less likely to be interested in further philosophy courses or the philosophy major. And this effect was more pronounced in women than men. Hence, it seems likely that the subtle ways in which philosophy instructors, texts, or stereotypes about philosophers contribute to this brilliance-based belief about success in philosophy partially explains why women leave (or simply don’t enter) the field. It’s likely that both the gendered stereotype of philosophy and brilliance-based beliefs about it are “in the air” such that students are influenced by them even before taking any college philosophy courses. If so, it may be that much more important to try to challenge those beliefs in students’ first philosophy course, at least if our goal is to prevent women from saying goodbye to philosophy right after they say hello to it.

Since 2012, many research groups have begun investigating why women leave philosophy after introductory courses at their own universities. We hope this paper (and subsequent ones) inspire more research on the question of why women and minorities are majoring in philosophy at such low rates and what might be done to inspire more women and minorities to major, ideally by making philosophy more interesting to all students. We are happy to share our survey or answer questions here or by email.

Matisse - Marguerite Reading

(Henri Matisse, Marguerite Reading)

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Alfred MacDonald
Alfred MacDonald
5 years ago

oh great another beliefs-influence-behavior-let’s-change-pedagogy study by people who are generally not that great at establishing causation

further I’m just going to take a guess that more biological explanations are considered offensive because… some unspecified reason, and so the much more socially desirable belief-centric views are preferred

this is approximately the millionth mention of stereotype threat I’ve seen on blogs like this and I have not seen a single mention of endocrinological terminology or neurotransmitter profiles of participants yet both of these things are extremely important when trying to predict whether someone maintains interest in an activity. testosterone levels are going to have a huge impact on whether a person stays in any analytical field. probably way more than any belief-set. I mean, just two examples http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0018506X06001887 and http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ab.10041/abstract and there are dozens of journals that study this sort of shit, but yeah let’s let our biases run wild and give disproportionate probability to the beliefs we measured as some kind of predictor of behavior

“it seems likely that the subtle ways in which philosophy instructors, texts, or stereotypes about philosophers contribute to this brilliance-based belief about success in philosophy partially explains why women leave”

lots of things ‘partially’ explain this but it’s not clear that this is a huge percentage of causation or even a significant one

a ton of beliefs of a similar kind may threaten men and they may stay in light of these beliefs. you don’t have any way of knowing if the people currently in philosophy faced this view and chugged on, because this only measures some coexistence of having this belief and being more likely to leave. and for all you know, the belief that you think leads someone to leave could be a rationalization of some other reason. or it could be an entirely bullshit belief said to be socially agreeable because of some other meta belief about what is socially desirable. at any rate, this isn’t easily tied to leaving when you can have an innumerably huge amount of beliefs on some subject that are unaccounted for that may influence your actions in some way or another.

“natural brilliance” in some field-specific sense is a generally stupid idea to apply to philosophy, although hereditary intelligence differences do exist, so it’s not exceptionally stupid insofar as it’s specific in a dumb way. regardless, the absence of some kind of inherent philosophical brilliance is worth discrediting on its own, not out of some inane idea that this has a causal relationship with whether women stay in philosophy.

people in this field are extremely bad at doing psychology.Report

Joe
Joe
Reply to  Alfred MacDonald
5 years ago

The studies linked show that testosterone predicts outward aggression and competitiveness. So, the next step in the argument would be… to show that philosophy disproportionately selects-for aggression and competitiveness, right? (note: not that it is an “analytical” field… completely unclear how that is logically related to the linked studies). So, what we need is to find out whether women and men are affected by some perceived aggression and competition within the field. If only someone would do a study on that! Oh, wait. I just found one. It’s linked at the top of this page. No perceived differential competitiveness in intro classes.

Now, a little psychology. What could possibly explain someone missing information in a paper that is critically relevant to a hypothesis they favor, a hypothesis they claim is ignored by the authors of the same paper? Something is clouding his judgment. I wonder what it could be? Well, I count six instances of overt anger-expression in this comment. Anger is a classic culprit in cognitive distortion. Propensity to Anger, as we know, is related to testosterone. Looks like being male is clouding this author’s judgment. Such a pity.Report

Alfred MacDonald
Alfred MacDonald
Reply to  Joe
5 years ago

“The studies linked show that testosterone predicts outward aggression and competitiveness”

no they don’t. the first study did not mention outward aggression, so I know you did not read it. the second study only described a certain behavior as aggressive but it did not actually measure aggression.

the first study measures DECISION TO COMPETE AGAIN AFTER LOSS.
the second measures EXPRESSION OF COMPETITIVE FEELINGS AND RATE OF COMPETITIVE INTERACTIONS OVER ATHLETICS, not necessarily aggression, IN WOMEN.

I have capitalized these because the original, uncapitalized study results were not sufficiently read by you.

the “next step” would be to show that philosophy selects for competitiveness, yes, not aggression. although we know that philosophy already selects for low agreeableness in facebook users who state their major as philosophy, due to mypersonality data that has been available for at least five years. persistence in a major that deals with intellectual conflict probably selects for competitiveness, in the way that anything that selects for persistence in conflict would select for competitiveness — such as chess. chess does select for competitiveness, since the game is literally a competition, but it does not select for aggression.

“If only someone would do a study on that! Oh, wait.”

if only you would understand what you’re reading before you comment on it!

oh, wait. waiting is what you should have done before thinking you had sufficient understanding of the first study to make a reply. (the second is forgivable for misunderstanding, and I can’t expect you to SciHub the paper unfortunately, but you still didn’t understand what it measures properly.)

“What could possibly explain someone missing information in a paper that is critically relevant to a hypothesis they favor”

if I did miss that information — laziness and situation-specific conscientiousness. factors like laziness and how I manage attention are determined by things like my neurotransmitter profile, which I stated previously will be the sort of thing that influence persistence in a discipline. whether I receive more or less dopamine in response to doing an activity, whether I’m stressed out over the possibility of missing a detail — those things are predictive. but then, I mentioned that already.

but I didn’t miss that information. you just assumed I did, and then chugged on with two paragraphs.

perceived ANYTHING does not matter in psychology when explaining WHY people do things. the actual reason people do things is rarely known to them and explained by far less conscious factors than their perception. when you ask people to write a paper on why they like a painting, they rarely know why.

related:
* http://youarenotsosmart.com/2010/05/26/the-perils-of-introspection/
* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preference_falsification (this phenomenon explains why you cannot explain what people find attractive by merely listening to their stated preferences.)
* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_desirability_bias

now admittedly, I can’t find the measured competitiveness perceptual differences you mentioned. the “link at the top” (there are several and you didn’t specify which one — three go to Daily Nous posts) is just the study mentioned, and given that the most obvious route for condescending sarcasm is to say that competitiveness perceptions were already addressed in the study discussed, it would seem that you’re saying they’re mentioned by the study discussed. if I misread it feel free to tell me where it does, but otherwise, it only mentions perceptions of aggressiveness, not competitiveness: http://quod.lib.umich.edu/p/phimp/3521354.0016.006/13/–why-do-women-leave-philosophy-surveying-students-at?page=root;size=150;view=image#pagenav — note that aggression is not equivalent with competitiveness. plenty of people are aggressive but not competitive (angry police officer stereotype), and more importantly plenty of people are non-aggressive yet competitive (chess).

but this is mostly just trying to be charitable to you and not misrepresent your view, because measured differences in PERCEPTION OF COMPETITIVENESS are not the same thing as actual differences in COMPETITIVE BEHAVIOR INDEPENDENT OF PERCEPTION.

someone can believe they are not competitive at all and actually be quite competitive, and vice versa. in fact, a lot of white middle-class social norms involve downplaying and even outright deluding oneself about the competitive nature of things, if not outright avoiding conflict all together. so I’d not be surprised at all if persistence after competitive loss were required even if competitive perceptions differed.

“I count six instances of overt anger-expression in this comment. Anger is a classic culprit in cognitive distortion.”

1. you counted wrong

2. and anyway, anger is subjective to your baseline. what reads as angry to me won’t read as angry to you. if you are an emotional marshmallow, lots of things will appear angry to you.

3. anger is not necessarily distorting; it predisposes one to bias, but it does not entail bias. you can, in fact, be outraged over someone’s unwillingness to care about their bias, which is an anger at non-neutrality.

finally, testosterone does not entail being male; men and women produce testosterone and estrogen. you should know this because (1) this is introductory physiology and (2) you’d have to know this if you know how birth control works and (3) the second study I linked measured testosterone differences… in women. a person in a different way could make a remark like “oh, how emotional. estrogen is clouding their judgment” — because I do have estrogen, and so do you, and so does everyone who has not chugged letrozole tablets.

lots of women have high testosterone. millions. and since women are more sensitive to androgens, something like 70 ng/dl will induce a hell of a lot more androgen-associated behavior than 60 ng/dl would in a man.

so not only are you wrong, you’ve just called any woman with high testosterone a male. good job, ace. (<– I wonder if this is the 'angry' behavior you mentioned.)

and while I'm here (since I had no other place to mention this), the questions in the study that's the subject of conversation are VERY EASILY influenced by social desirability bias and questions like "I think there were a fair proportion of non-white authors" (pg 25) don't allow people to draw the inference that philosophy is or is not undertaken because it's 'white' one way or the other, but way too many people will assume it does.

but no, competitive persistence probably has something to do with persistence in INTRO philosophy, since people's default perception of arguments (as in, before they understand that they aren't win/loss type events and truth doesn't have a 'winner') is to imagine them as win/loss scenarios.

and since competitive persistence IS influenced by testosterone, well, you get the idea.

these studies should take way more biological factors into account than they do. I'd be less critical of them if they evidenced any effort to research behavioral endocrinology or physiological psychology AT ALL, but the bibliography of studies like this is like, journal of social psychology almost exclusively, fucking HYPATIA at least a dozen times which doesn't even have the same methodological requirements as other psych journals, and maybe one or two other experimental psych journals.

if it is at all unclear to you why my tone might seem aggressive, it's because you're doing far too little reflective thought on the results of these studies given the conclusions you're trying to make, you're trying to conclude a lot more than what these studies allow you to conclude, and this determines what you can and will treat as true, which is just about the most important thing to people who *value* truth as an end to itself. you could argue and you'd probably be right that pursuit of values is probably influenced by testosterone, so high testosterone women would also exhibit my behaviors. but instead, you went with "being male."

at least I bothered to read your goddamn links, even while 'clouded'. but I don't think you have a hormonal excuse.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Alfred MacDonald
5 years ago

A few things. Firstly, you are coming across as rude and angry. Secondly, it is wrong if we treat this as undermining your argument, because that would be ad hominem. Thirdly, on a practical point, it would be helpful to the discussion if you could try to tone that down. Fourthly, that goes for people in general here. We have a problem with lack of civility. I know we care passionately, but that’s all the more reason to strive for civility.Report

UG
UG
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

That’s just tone policing/victim silencing! (Obviously, I’m joking.)Report

Alfred MacDonald
Alfred MacDonald
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

considering that the norms of tone in philosophy are, regardless of sex, set by very upper middle class professionals who are largely devoid of experiences that craft emotional resilience, who shape their behavior by having their income tied to workplace norms of academia, I don’t at all doubt that it comes off as “angry” or whatever else to people with the stereotypical background.

nonetheless this does not seem to me a problem and if anything this discipline lacks far less intensity than it needs. people are intense about issues that matter and have high importance. it’s outrageous that anyone would take a personal objection to something like tone as more important than epistemic norms. I don’t mean you, specifically. far too often philosophy professors and students will treat discussions of epistemology or methodology like this is just some kind of hobby. a person’s epistemology determines what they will consider true which determines how they will vote or influence others which determines how society is run. considering that studies like this are used to form beliefs about policy and form policy itself, being misleading about them should be at least on a similar tier of outrage as provoking small scale voter fraud. yet, because of reasons I’m confident are due to bias, the consequences of epistemic violations are regarded as similarly serious only as a thought exercise, like it takes effort to think that way by default.

and I don’t mean to single out this study either. routinely I’ve seen ridiculously bad epistemic standards treated as a game in both philosophy and academia. yet I know that if I, I dunno, hit someone I’d be immediately removed. justifiably, right, but outrage and anger over this hypothetical assault scenario is justified by US middle class norms. yet jumping to conclusions and bullshitting/being misleading and a whole host of other things have consequences that reverberate far outside the discipline and when you object to tone you are saying this is not something you consider more important than tone. (since most wouldn’t care about tone if, say, you hit someone and that person yelled at you.) you’re (again, not you specifically) saying that distortions of truth or truthseeking aren’t worth getting angry about but some other thing is.

since we’re on the subject of intro classes, all the time professors try to make the case to intro students that philosophy matters in the real world and I agree, so hell yes I will seem intense about it because that’s what you do when you have every reason to sincerely believe something important is being discussed.

if I really come off as ‘angry’ to you, then philosophers and philosophy students don’t get angry enough.Report

Alfred MacDonald
Alfred MacDonald
Reply to  Alfred MacDonald
5 years ago

some typos above – wrote reply on phone and autocorrect killed me. apologies.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Alfred MacDonald
5 years ago

Alfred, I agree with you that there is not enough intensity in the discipline. I agree with you that tone is less important than epistemic norms and that we need to pay more careful attention to epistemic norms in philosophy. As a fact about psychology, the more hostile we seem to people, the less likely they are to hear and fairly weigh what we have to say. This means that if we want to improve epistemic norms in the discipline, as both you and I do, we should seek to maintain an atmosphere that is conducive to mutual reflection. We as philosophers need to be able to get so angry about something that we can be polite for the sake of changing it. i put it to you that we often see philosophers angrily blowing of steam and making speeches without relating in any useful to way to anyone who doesn’t already agree with them.Report

Psmith
Psmith
Reply to  Alfred MacDonald
5 years ago

“far too often philosophy professors and students will treat discussions of epistemology or methodology like this is just some kind of hobby.”
That strikes me as a pretty reasonable way to treat it.

“a person’s epistemology determines what they will consider true which determines how they will vote or influence others which determines how society is run”
I doubt it. Or, at least, to the extent that epistemology and so on determines anything important, I think it, in turn, is determined by things other than rational argumentation. See Haidt and behavioral genetics and so on.Report

Alfred MacDonald
Alfred MacDonald
Reply to  Alfred MacDonald
5 years ago

@HeyNonnyMouse:

“As a fact about psychology, the more hostile we seem to people, the less likely they are to hear and fairly weigh what we have to say”

yeah but you’re not really thinking about what that means or entails.

that sounds like a huge rationalization to avoid treating the gravity of epistemic norm violations accurately. and I say this because I don’t think you’re actually weighing fairly the implications of “we should care about appearances and tone and whatever else in a way that causes people to fairly weight what we say.”

why do I think this? because if research showed that, say, being/acting white caused people to fairly weight what we say, or any other superficial bullshit, there’s no way you’d be encouraging people to “act white.” rather you’d be encouraging people to evaluate behavior neutrally, and I’d support you on that because that is the right stance to take.

philosophers and other professionals are only on board with this “care about superficial bullshit when it gets your message across more and don’t stress neutral evaluation” shit ONLY WHEN it jives with ways they were going to act already. if you’re on board with neutral treatment, commit to it 100%.

the solution to “people are less likely to consider a message in [desirable way]” is not to act in that way, because then you’re a slave to whatever whims they have. the solution is to teach those people to neutrally consider messages.

@Joe:

Haidt’s research tentatively shows that people use epistemologies to rationalize their views and not the other way around. clearly, people are capable of using epistemology to make decisions. otherwise, you’re effectively saying epistemology is useless.Report

Alfred MacDonald
Alfred MacDonald
Reply to  Alfred MacDonald
5 years ago

(sorry I meant @Psmith not @Joe in the last paragraph)Report

Joe
Joe
Reply to  Alfred MacDonald
5 years ago

Yes, actual competitiveness and perceived competitiveness can come apart. Do they? How much? These are indeed important questions. Is this line of inquiry eight thousand times more reasonable than your initial equation of testosterone with success in “analytical” fields? Yup. Moreover, we still have zero positive evidence that differential interest in philosophy is partly explained by testosterone levels, and some (defeasible) evidence against it from the very study that this post is about.

Anyway, if this were an unmoderated internet forum I’d continue to enrage you with satire for fun, but let me be clear: I did not actually mean to seriously suggest that being male was responsible for any cognitive shortcomings on your part. I tried to signal the satire by signing my (male-coded) name. Sorry if the message wasn’t quite clear, but again, I’m not sure that subtle or intricate points can get through to someone who is as clearly pissed off as you are.

(P.s. Nonny mouse, identifying a belief as the product of a distorting factor is indeed ad hominem, but it only shows that the believer lacks justification, not that the belief is false. No fallacy there.).Report

Alfred MacDonald
Alfred MacDonald
Reply to  Joe
5 years ago

“Is this line of inquiry eight thousand times more reasonable than your initial equation of testosterone with success in “analytical” fields? ”

what… the hell? do you even understand *why* a study like the competitive persistence factor of testosterone would be a huge influence? it’s because lots of things generalize to persistence in light of perceived loss. something like “belief in natural ability” is very specific, but ‘loss’ is a very general feeling, and persistence under loss feelings can be stretched to fit numerous scenario categories in philosophy and outside of it.

in fact that’s why hormonal explanations of behavior are so much better than isolating specific behaviors and trying to extrapolate from them. behavior will, at a very root level, be caused by these very neurochemical things, so philosophy couldn’t be anything *but* hormones like testosterone — and cortisol and estrogen and oxytocin and all of the other hormones and neurotransmitters and everything else that govern our system. saying that neurochemical composition doesn’t explain behavior is ludicrous when there isn’t a single behavior that won’t be influenced by it.

(this meta-discussion of emotional tone is worthless, by the way, and all it shows is that you are capable of going off-topic. I only bothered to respond to it at all to demonstrate the willingness of segments of this forum to decry “male emotions” in a way they’d never do with female ones, but it truly is irrelevant.)

as you said, you’re not asking whether testosterone explains decisions to persist in philosophy. undoubtedly it does, because lack *or* presence of testosterone will influence behavior, but more specifically because the things testosterone predicts generalize to a lot of activities that philosophy falls under. you’re asking how much.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Joe
5 years ago

Joe, you are mistaken. Arguing that since Alfred is angry, he lacks justification, is ad hominem. Someone can be furious and also right.Report

Joe
Joe
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

Nonny Mouse, I am not mistaken. I can only invite you revisit the distinction between justification and truth, as it is well beyond the scope of a DN comment to run over that material. Psychological facts about a believer definitely infect their epistemic justification. For example, if you learn that you’re on LSD, your perceptual beliefs might still be true, but you certainly lose some justification for holding them. That is indeed an argument ad hominem, but just about every working epistemologist will say that it could easily be a legitimate one.Report

Alfred MacDonald
Alfred MacDonald
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

Joe, this tells me a few things:

1. I’m not sure if you’ve actually taken LSD
2. I think you know far less about pharmacology than I expected
3. You’re glossing over a few important things that would not allow you to hold this view

for example:

“if you learn that you’re on LSD, your perceptual beliefs might still be true, but you certainly lose some justification for holding them”

(1) there are a lot of doses where LSD is barely active; you aren’t “on LSD” or “off LSD.” at 10 blotters of high-purity LSD I doubt you’d be able to even think, much less say you hold a belief. meanwhile if you weigh 400lb a single blotter of LSD would be not likely to even be active.

(2) you only “lose some justification for holding them” IF you are unable to articulate why you hold them and there is reason to believe you do not hold inarticulated reasons for those beliefs. if you can otherwise recite justification for the beliefs like you would without LSD there isn’t a difference.

this view of pharmacology and impairment would have catastrophic consequences for sobriety testing if it were widely adopted. you really need to learn even just the concept of dosing if you’re going to be writing these things and expecting people to take them seriously.

lastly, NOTHING is out of scope for the internet. the internet is a timeless medium where you have access to every journal article via hyperlink. people treat the internet trivially only because it’s a convenient parachute from epistemic accountability.Report

Diana Neiva
Diana Neiva
Reply to  Alfred MacDonald
5 years ago

How would testosterone explain the lack of Black men in Philosophy?Report

Alfred MacDonald
Alfred MacDonald
Reply to  Diana Neiva
5 years ago

it wouldn’t

didn’t say it did, though.

my personal hypothesis is that black men are alienated from a lot of things because academic culture as a whole is extremely white *AND* the response to this is to act even whiter (more fake-polite / fake-considerate); when I’m around my fiancee’s black family the level of directness and comfort with assertiveness is a 180 from what I’m used to in academia and it’s refreshing in ways I’d need paragraphs to explain. so I hypothesize that, at least partially, academic culture strikes a lot of black guys as overly fake, overly polite, and filled with bullshit

there’s no way in hell that explains all of it though, I’d be surprised if that explained even 5-10% of it. frankly the causation of racial minorities a much more controversial area of research and I’d prefer not to get into it unless people here really want toReport

Alfred MacDonald
Alfred MacDonald
Reply to  Diana Neiva
5 years ago

actually I was an idiot when writing that let me amend that statement, testosterone WOULD affect whether black men get into philosophy but in the other direction

namely the ideal testosterone level to succeed in academia is:

low-medium (if you’re a man), i.e. like 20th to 40th percentile
medium to high-medium (if you’re a woman), i.e. 50th to 75th percentile but not something like 90th

when you have high testosterone it works in the other direction. people with high test are way more likely to be uncomfortable with rules they consider bullshit and way less likely to tolerate perceived unfairness. this is why men with high testosterone are more likely to be unemployed — they’ll outright quit a job they find stupid and refuse to work under someone for a while until they find it justified.

high IQ + high testosterone guys are way more likely to go into medicine or trial law or whatever, not philosophy.

if this helps clarify things at all, I am high testosterone. in fact my digit ratio is comically low and I’m “HIGH” (in large red lettering) when I take a blood test. the easiest way to understand the difference in high vs. low testosterone is to look at fields that are structured *for* high testosterone. the military is inherently oriented for people like me because the higher-ups work to make you care right away; it is established from the get-go what the consequences are and you are given an immediate connection between your fuckups and the consequences. meanwhile academia gives you imaginary letters for success that don’t really transfer to anything. an A at one school might mean nothing at another school. it’s not like, say, a 300lb bench press, which is 300lb no matter where you are. so being competitive is a lot harder at academia, and you cannot get a person with high testosterone to care unless you have competitive structures.

black guys tend to have higher testosterone on average and do a lot better in culinary and the military than they do in academia.

if there is any relationship with testosterone and black men it’s probably something along those lines

I’m speculating, though, because I don’t have as much research demonstrating this one way or the other, so take it with a grain of salt.Report

Alfred MacDonald
Alfred MacDonald
Reply to  Diana Neiva
5 years ago

I replied to you and I’m not sure it went through. in the event it doesn’t, the gist is that black men have *higher* testosterone than the academic average and the consequences of this are what you’d expect: academia seems far too over-polite and filled with bullshit and this is a turn-off for someone with high test. I am skeptical of this though because I don’t know what testosterone is like in the high IQ black population so it can only explain so muchReport

Alfred MacDonald
Alfred MacDonald
Reply to  Diana Neiva
5 years ago

one last thing — fourth reply, I’d edit them all into one if this website had an edit button, sorry.

my fiancee told me about a study where women with high testosterone and women with low testosterone lived together as roommates and kept diaries. the women with low testosterone assigned low-status to direct behavior/competition while women with high testosterone assigned high status to it. (I’m probably fucking up some details here since I’m repeating this second hand, apologies.)

I have no reason to believe this wouldn’t hold true with men with high testosterone, and since academics tend to not have high testosterone*, if black men had higher test on average it could be that they object to a lot of the behavioral norms in academia. mean T levels in black males are 19% higher than in white males so that could explain it at least partially, since test on the low end of normal (or outright low test) wouldn’t be as common and that’s the range that tends to go into STEM (and philosophy has hormonal/behavioral profiles that overlap with STEM). http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3455741

* source for this: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17018183 (doesn’t explicitly measure ng/dl levels which would be far more useful, but if they had higher testosterone on average you’d expect the digit ratio to be a lot lower)Report

Alfred MacDonald
Alfred MacDonald
5 years ago

did you delete my comment saying that this does not establish causation and that biological explanations are regarded as offensive, because if so that’s not really conducive to actually truthseeking so much as just giving undue weight to a preferred category of explanation

anyway no, this study does not establish causation and “partially explains” is overreaching given how many other variables can explain this result. you don’t have a way of measuring if other students had similarly constricting beliefs but overcame them and this is just one belief out of many they may have. it’s not even established that beliefs change behavior as much as people think they do when beliefs themselves can just be rationalizations of some long-established impulse prior

but whatever manReport

Alfred MacDonald
Alfred MacDonald
Reply to  Alfred MacDonald
5 years ago

oh sweet it’s not updated my page just loaded the reply and loaded a blank version when hit refresh

now I have 2 replies saying the same thing though. sorry justin.Report

the Onion Man
the Onion Man
5 years ago

Women are “underrepresented” in the syllabus because for 2450 of the past 2500 years of philosophy (and 2500 of the past 2500 years of philosophy in societies that aren’t part of the industrialized West) women weren’t writing philosophy. And women weren’t writing philosophy for the same reason the vast majority of men weren’t writing philosophy, either: it was the niche pursuit of a handful of eccentrics, which they pursued while being financially supported by independently wealthy patrons or else while having what we might today call a “real job.”

Studies like this are great for answering a question that has much vexed the commentariat here at DN. My question is, why do we care so much about that question? It presupposes the value of the institutionalization and academicization of philosophy, as though “Philosophy” is something that primarily or even exclusively happens in peer-reviewed journals and academic press monographs, now that we’re past the Bad Old Days of a bunch of cis het white dudes smoking and jawing in a salon or whatever. “Philosophy” these days entails a commitment to norms of citation and stylistic strictures that even the Scholastics would have found oppressive. This is inseparable from the model of the industrial production of knowledge, as though the discipline of philosophy were straightforwardly analogous to the natural sciences. (The same delusion holds for most of the humanities, but that’s something of a separate issue.)

The problem is, this model is completely unsustainable, as we’re already seeing. You can’t produce new humanistic knowledge in the exact same way you can produce new knowledge in the natural sciences, no matter how many journals you create–hell even the natural sciences can’t produce new knowledge the way they pretend to–and it is folly to try. This entire line of questioning, “why aren’t there more women philosophers?”, presupposes precisely this kind of industrial pipeline, the identification of “Philosopher” with “published tenured professor of ‘Philosophy’ at an academic department of the same name.” Which, I mean, sure, if we accept that definition, obviously it would be great for there to be more women who are published tenured professors in Philosophy departments. But this doesn’t actually do anything to address the issue of whether this model for philosophy is actually a good idea in the first place.

The reality is that this model of academic philosophy is a house of cards built on the quicksand of the societal consensus that “everybody” can/should go to college, funded by the economic anxieties underlying this drive to universal higher education. It cannot and will not last. The reality is that philosophy is inherently irrelevant. You cannot make it relevant by buying into the idea of the Springer/OUP prestige nexus and pretending that it’s just like the natural sciences, with obvious and immediate practical applications. Attempts to do so will inevitably degenerate into political water-carrying. Now I’m well aware that many of the commenters here (including our gracious host) see this as a good thing, but the idea of philosophy as the handmaiden of politics is, in addition to being an idea with an ugly 20th century history, profoundly out of touch with both the history and the potential of the discipline.

TL;DR We shouldn’t be asking how to get more women on the sinking Titanic of the university system or the exploding Hindenburg of academic Philosophy departments. We should be asking why we have them in the first place.Report

the Onion Man
the Onion Man
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
5 years ago

Thanks for the link! But

(a) There’s nothing there [‘Read More’ and the links at the top all return an error page]

(b) I should think it goes without saying that “women weren’t writing philosophy” is a broad and general statement which admits exceptions. Certainly we could point to Hildegard of Bingen and other women philosophers too. But the history of philosophy is largely male, because it was mostly men who had the free time and resources to be able to pursue it.

(c) While it certainly sounds like an interesting project, it doesn’t actually address the underlying issues I’m talking about. You could do a whole course on women philosophers, or just those four figures, or include them in a survey of Enlightenment philosophy. But those courses would all take place in the very institutional structures that I’m pointing to as problematic.Report

Lisa Shapiro
Lisa Shapiro
Reply to  the Onion Man
5 years ago

Actually, there have been quite a lot of women, and others, writing philosophy for quite a long time. The early modern period is particularly full of published philosophical works by women, because, well, you know, there was a printing press. Project Vox is focussed on a very small subset of those women. The New Narratives Project (see http://newnarrativesinphilosophy.net is, among other things, working on a bibliography of philosophical works by women of the early modern period. It will go live shortly. The project is quite sympathetic with part of the point you are making — that much of contemporary philosophy makes assumptions about what it is to write a philosophical work. You don’t have to look very far to see that this is a very recent point of view. Plenty of thinkers who are most respected philosophically adopted a variety of genres and methods in their philosophical writings. (Think: Descartes, Voltaire, Mandeville, Hume, Nietzsche, Dennett, to name a handful of men.) Recognizing that diversifies the canon pretty darn quickly, both in terms of who we read and the kinds of works we read.Report

the Onion Man
the Onion Man
Reply to  Lisa Shapiro
5 years ago

Again, no one (here) is claiming that there do not exist philosophical works by women, or that such works have not on occasion been influential. But projects like New Narratives wouldn’t be perceived as necessary if the “canon” weren’t overwhelmingly male. And this also gets into sticky questions about why we should bother reading people that the tradition by and large ignored in their own day; I have to deal with this myself in my own area of study (late medieval Indian epistemology). There are some extremely interesting texts, or texts that I find interesting at any rate, which never really had much of an impact either inside or outside the tradition in which they appeared. So why should anyone apart from eccentrics like me care about these texts? Why should anyone pay me to study them? “No one has studied this before!” is not, in and of itself, enough of a reason. There are plenty of things that people haven’t studied that are, in fact, not worthy of study. Philosophers are not entomologists collecting dead specimens for display.

I’m all for getting people to read Hildegard and Wollstonecraft alongside Kant and Nietzsche. But please let’s not pretend that the philosophical output of men and women before 1945 or thereabouts is remotely comparable, at least in quantity.Report

Ben Almassi
Ben Almassi
Reply to  the Onion Man
5 years ago

The Onion Man, with all due respect, you seem to have moved the goalposts here. If you reread your initial assertions in this thread, I think you will have to admit that they went well beyond rebutting the notion that the philosophical output of men and women before 1945 was comparable in terms of quantity.

To argue against the claim that women weren’t writing philosophy does not commit one to defending the claim that women were writing philosophy in comparable quantity to men.Report

Lisa Shapiro
Lisa Shapiro
Reply to  the Onion Man
5 years ago

Onion Man, I don’t think you got my point about genre. Almost everyone doing interesting philosophy in Europe from roughly 1620-1760 (I could go earlier, to say Ficino) is doing it outside of a university. That includes men and women. And more often than not they are writing to a broad audience in an array of genres. Hardly what is being done by philosophers today. I’d say this also holds for non-European philosophy, but I am less confident of my expertise. I think it is indeed important to ask the question why should anyone care about these texts, but perhaps I am not looking for a definitive answer as much as you are. Because they present an interesting take on a central philosophical question is good enough for me.Report

philosopotamus
philosopotamus
Reply to  the Onion Man
5 years ago

This, “because it was mostly men who had the free time and resources to be able to pursue it” is such a banal statement. Descriptively accurate, neutral, uncontroversial. And yet, I feel like much of the gender problem in Philosophy is grounded in such statements. Was it merely freedom and resources that made for the gender imbalance? Should we really just stop our inquiry there? I think Philosophy as a discipline acts as though we can. We can’t change the past, can’t change the cannon, right? That’s just how things have shaken out, so let’s accept it and move on. But the inability or unwillingness to deal with the thinking of the past that gave rise to the imbalance–when thinking is our bailiwick–appears suspicious and not a little disingenuous. Because of course this didn’t just happen naturally, and if we act as though it did, if we gloss over the difficulties in the thinking that brought it about, then philosophy will (continue to) speak to only those whom its thinking favors.

For instance, when we hold up Aristotle, and Kant, and Nietzche, as paragons of intellectual virtue and elite examples of (Western) history’s most brilliant thinkers we should remember what that says to women and people of color. We are saying: these were brilliant men even though they were not capable of recognizing the full humanity and potential of someone like you. This is problematic. So either we must admit that these thinkers were not really that brilliant after all because the full human virtues of women and people of color were always there to be discovered–and their oppression (the opposite of freedom and resources) represents a deep failure of reason. Or, if not, we seem to be saying that these virtues of marginalized and dehumanized peoples were not there to be discovered, that they were not always available in plain sight nor clearly knowable even to the greatest (elite white male) minds with all of their available freedom and resources.

If your teaching fails to address the former and even merely implies the latter, you shouldn’t really be surprised that only white men feel welcome in Philosophy.Report

the Onion Man
the Onion Man
Reply to  philosopotamus
5 years ago

This is the perfect, Platonic ideal of a Daily Nous comment. Congratulations!Report

David Mathers
David Mathers
Reply to  philosopotamus
5 years ago

philosopotamus: As a white man, am I also allowed to simply dismiss and ignore everything that Malcolm X said about American racism because for years he belonged to a religious cult with many nutty beliefs, including specifically, the belief that whites were *literally* devils, created by a Biblical patriarch? (He did, of course, famously see sense eventually. Perhaps it’s only after that that he had anything worth saying?) Should we all disagree with the many physicists who think Newton was one of the greatest scientists in history, because he spent so much time on weird pseudo-science? (Newtown was also, of course, notoriously a very personally unpleasant man.)
Or maybe, saying that an individual produce some work of an extremely high intellectual calibre doesn’t imply anything at all about whether or not they also had other beliefs that were completely unjustified and crazy, and so neither does placing them on a syllabus?Report

Clement Loo
Clement Loo
Reply to  David Mathers
5 years ago

David: That might be too strong of a conclusion to be analogous to the reasoning offered by philosopotamus. I think you, following from philosopotamus’ assertion, would be justified in not joining the Nation of Islam.

Philosopotamus doesn’t suggest that people have reason to ignore anything that philosophers have to say just that it’s understandable that they don’t want to become one of us.Report

David Mathers
David Mathers
Reply to  David Mathers
5 years ago

I should add. I’m certainly not dismissive of the idea that philosophy courses are insufficiently attentive to the things women or people of colour are interested in. I think making sure race and gender are treated as important topics in intro courses, at least those which cover ethics (and I tend to think contemporary stuff on ethics is the best place to start) is a good idea, for a variety of reasons, *one* of which is that it shows women and people of colour who are interested in these things that they’re interests are respected. It’s just the suggestion that somehow, you either have to admit that anyone who said something bigoted cannot be a great philosophers or you’ll come across as tacitly condoning the view that it’s non-obvious that bigotry is wrong that I want to push back against, because it’s silly,.Report

JMM
JMM
5 years ago

Great work! There is much more in the paper that is fascinating. Everybody should go read it! Ignore the BroPseudoScientists.Report

H.F.Ghost
H.F.Ghost
Reply to  JMM
5 years ago

“The Bros” seem to be listening and thinking. At least Alfred and The Onion Man seem to be doing so.

Philosophy has a tendency to marginalize groups of people. But that’s bad. A diversity of ideas and perspectives is truth-conducive. Perhaps I need an argument for that claim. Maybe I’ll make one. Now I have to go to work.Report

Francesco
Francesco
5 years ago

Nice research (I’ve read the article). But, for non-US readers, it would be good to explain how US curricula work. I understand that students do not enrol in this or that speciality from the start, and that during the first year they ‘look around’, and only later (second year?) do they settle on one major. Is that so? Also, is Intro to Philosophy (generally) a compulsory course? For all students? Etc.
It occurs to me that, if students were enrolled in philosophy from the start, and so were already during their first year exposed to more than just the Intro course, the gender gap might not be as wide. In this sense, it is somewhat risky to stake everything on that one course, also considering most students’ lack of previous exposure to philosophy (something that perhaps doesn’t apply to Intro courses in other subjects, I don’t know). So one should also check what happens in other countries, where students can choose philosophy as a major from the start.Report

Eddy Nahmias
Eddy Nahmias
Reply to  Francesco
5 years ago

At GSU, Intro to Philosophy is one course among others (e.g., World Religions, 3 different intro English Lit courses) that can satisfy a ‘core requirement’ in humanities. So, most students taking the course are taking it to fulfill a requirement (hence the large enrollments). It would be useful to compare responses from these students with responses to students at similar universities who take Intro to Phil as an elective. The U.S. system is different than most countries, where students often choose majors before enrolling. And (unfortunately) most U.S. students have no exposure to philosophy before college.Report

Francesco
Francesco
Reply to  Eddy Nahmias
5 years ago

Thanks. So Intro to Philosophy is deliberately chosen among other options they could take in order to satisfy the humanities core requirement. I also understand that the humanities core requirement concerns students across disciplines and not only within humanities. So, even if most women take the class without eventually intending to major in philosophy, they do seem to take it in preference to other classes they could take. That at least means they are just as curious about it as men are. It also means that even if there is a pre-university bias against majoring in philosophy, this bias is not as strong as to make them uninterested in philosophy.Report

Tim O'Keefe
Reply to  Francesco
5 years ago

Well, it might weakly indicate they they don’t have a super-strong bias against philosophy–but I suspect that many people ‘prefer’ Intro to Philosophy to one of the other limited set of options that fulfill the requirement just because it fits their schedule, or they think it will be easy, or some other totally extrinsic reason.Report

Eddy Nahmias
Eddy Nahmias
Reply to  Francesco
5 years ago

Note that GSU has 58.8% women undergraduates, while our grades study in Appendix C indicates that Intro to Phil is taken by 52% women. So, it looks like women are selecting philosophy at a slightly lower rate than some of the other options for that requirement. This would be consistent with the points we discuss (e.g., footnote 6) suggesting that women may be less interested than men in philosophy even before having any “formal” exposure to it.Report

Morgan Thompson
Morgan Thompson
Reply to  Francesco
5 years ago

Francesco, you raise some important questions. Dougherty, Baron, and Miller have already done some investigations into the gender gap in philosophy at the University of Sydney and there are some differences between our results and theirs. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/hypa.12150/abstract There’s also some reason to think that there will be differences among the set of contributing factors in the UK because the drop-off appears to occur after receiving an undergraduate degree, probably due to the fact that it is difficult to change one’s area of study during the undergraduate degree. http://www.bpa.ac.uk/uploads/2011/02/BPA_Report_Women_In_Philosophy.pdf I agree it would be interesting to know why women do choose to major in philosophy in the UK though.

Speaking anecdotally, I didn’t major in philosophy until my third year of undergrad. I was a psychology major upon entering college and I added a philosophy major only after taking a course in epistemology. I think students in the US often come to philosophy later in their undergraduate studies and often add philosophy as a double major. There is some initial evidence that women are disproportionately disinterested in majoring philosophy upon entering college in the US as well. http://philosophy.as.nyu.edu/docs/IO/42468/UnderreprinPhil.pdf

The extent to which our results generalize to other countries is still an open question and I expect there will be differences in the set of factors between countries (though I also expect some similarities). Another interesting generalization question is the extent to which our results at Georgia State are representative of US institutions. Some US institutions do require philosophy course(s) for all undergraduates; it would be interesting to see whether those colleges have better balanced gender and race proportions in the philosophy major.Report

Francesco
Francesco
Reply to  Morgan Thompson
5 years ago

Thanks for the links. The UK drop-off between undergrad and postgrad (and between Masters and PhD) is quite striking (compared to other disciplines) and does invite all the hypotheses that I’ve seen proposed in your article and in others. In comparison, it seems that the same drop-off doesn’t occur in US (reading from your article: only 30% major in philosophy, but 30% also make up graduate philosophy students). But one thing about the US seems clear (and that’s why your paper goes in the right direction): unlike in other countries, decisions to major in this or that subject are pretty much revisable along the way, so something crucial must be happening (or not happening) right there rather than at pre-university level.
One thing I didn’t find much discussion of, but which seems to me quite important: who generally teaches those classes? And I don’t mean male/female, but rather: are they good, mature, experienced, entertaining etc. teachers or not? The role of personal charisma cannot be overestimated in philosophy.Report

Daniel
Daniel
5 years ago

This was an interesting paper and I enjoyed reading it. I was really struck by footnote #5:

” Interestingly, the proportion of women philosophy majors at GSU has trended upward since 2011 and is currently at 52%, explained by a roughly proportional increase in the number of women majoring and decrease in the number of men majoring. This period corresponds to the period when we developed and carried out the research discussed below, including more discussion among the instructors of Introduction to Philosophy about attempts to increase the diversity of the major and the proportion of women on the syllabus and showing a presentation on the value of philosophy in every Intro class (see Section 4.4 below).”

Of course from the perspective of gathering unbiased data this is a shame. But to me this really shows that we’ve got lots of low-hanging fruit when it comes to making philosophy more healthy and inclusive! If GSU could do this partially accidentally, we should all be able to at least make similar strides.Report

Shane Wilkins
5 years ago

I should start by mentioning that I haven’t read the paper yet, but I am excited to do so. We need more such empirically informed studies, so my thanks to the authors.

Here’s a suggestion for a follow-up study. Some departments, such as the one where I teach, have a policy that core classes have a strongly historical orientation. Other departments don’t. Call them *Historical* departments and *Thematic* departments respectively. Suppose we want to show that a higher proportion of female authors in the intro syllabi leads to a higher proportion of female philosophy majors. The intro syllabi in Historical departments, one assumes, will tend to include a higher proportion of male authors than the intro syllabi in Thematic departments. Hence, if a white, male syllabus causes women not to pursue the major, then we should expect a higher proportion of the female majors at Thematic departments than at Historical departments. It should be relatively easy to check whether this is the case or not: we just need to get a couple representative schools of each type which have relatively fixed intro syllabi and then inquire about the gender distribution of majors at each school, no?

I’d be very interested in learning the result of such a study.Report

John Protevi
John Protevi
Reply to  Shane Wilkins
5 years ago

Shane, I see what you’re saying, but even in a historical course you can do at least two things: 1) you can include some contemporary female-authored work about male historical figures as supplements to the primary texts; 2) as Lisa Shapiro notes above, once you get to early modern Europe you have a lot of woman-authored primary texts to choose from.Report

Shane Wilkins
Reply to  John Protevi
5 years ago

I’m not denying that you *can* include female authors in a historically oriented course. In fact I work pretty hard to do so myself! But that’s not relevant to the question at hand, which is whether a higher proportion of female authors on the intro syllabus leads to a greater number of female majors.

My assumptions is that at historically oriented departments the syllabi have to include *specific authors,* not just some figures in the history of philosophy somewhere. (I’m required to make 50% of my readings come from Plato, Aristotle, Augustine or Aquinas, and Descartes, for instance.) My thought is that if you *have* to have 50% of your authors be white men, then you’re more likely to have a higher proportion of white men on your syllabus than if you are not required to do so. I think that’s a pretty reasonable assumption. Or am I missing something here?Report

Richard Zach
5 years ago

I guess it would have been too easy to just increase the percentage of female-authored readings to see an effect. Since you know what different people in different sections did to diversify the readings: did you get any sense that some things worked better than others? E.g., did WillingnesToContinue go up more for women if the additional readings by women were evenly divided among course topics, or if the instructor added specific topics with a high number of female-authored readings (while reading lists for other topics remained unchanged).

Also, in the Sydney study you linked to, they found significant pre-existing gender gaps in attitudes toward philosophy. You surveyed only at the end of the classes, right? Did you get any data on how intro courses changed your student’s perceptions of philosophy (ie, are US students like Australian students or not)?Report

Morgan Thompson
Morgan Thompson
Reply to  Richard Zach
5 years ago

Richard, we did not test whether willingness was influenced by the “spread” of women authors throughout the topics or the syllabus itself. Since we had less than 20 instructors in our sample each year, I think we would not have had large enough samples to get meaningful quantitative information. It’s a good point that just adding women authors to the syllabus is not enough, but we hope that raising the issues and asking graduate student instructors to think critically about who and what they include in their syllabus will also lead to reflections of diversity of opinions and topics in the discipline. With the text-book survey, we found that many women authors are included in textbook primarily on feminism and “women’s issues” topics. Many women have written very influential papers on these topics and the work is certainly worthy of inclusion in introductory courses, but it is important to avoid (even unintentionally) presenting the view that women in philosophy are required or expected to work on these issues.

Our methodology involved giving the survey only at the end of the introductory course, so we don’t have data about students’ views of philosophy before taking the course. I think it would be beneficial to do more pre-/post-test designs and other groups, for example, some Stuart Brock and Justin Sytsma at VUW in New Zealand are running such a study. There is also evidence from Chris Dobbs that women in the US are less interested in philosophy before entering university since less women declare a philosophy major before their first year of university. Crystal Aymelek also has some qualitative research that suggests exposure to philosophy pre-university in the US is important for a number of women who go on to major in philosophy. http://pdxscholar.library.pdx.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1144&context=mcnair I also think it would be interesting to examine the feelings towards philosophy of students who will never take a philosophy course.Report

Stephen Bloch-Schulman
Stephen Bloch-Schulman
Reply to  Morgan Thompson
5 years ago

Hey, Morgan (et al.),
Great work. Per usual.

As part of our study at Elon, which we are writing up now, we have data about the views of students who have never taken philosophy. Hopefully it will be ready to go out for review soon and it can add to the conversation.Report

Morgan Thompson
Morgan Thompson
Reply to  Stephen Bloch-Schulman
5 years ago

Awesome. I look forward to your paper, Stephen. Your study at Elon is great also because you combine quantitative and qualitative methods! Plus, our study was at a private research college, though one with a pretty diverse student population, but Elon is a private liberal arts college. It will be great to begin to determine the extent to which different institution types influence the set of contributing factors. For folks who don’t know, here’s a description of the project at Elon: http://www.elon.edu/e-web/academics/elon_college/philosophy/DIP.xhtmlReport

Lisa Shapiro
Lisa Shapiro
5 years ago

This is a great piece of work — I skimmed it yesterday, and will read it more closely. Right now not only a lot of philosophy departments, but humanities departments more generally, are thinking about curriculum revision in light of declining enrolments (and declining majors and minors). You provide a systematic way of gathering evidence that can help to inform changes, which is largely preferable to armchair theorizing. And your findings show, interestingly, that at least in philosophy small changes may make a difference — small syllabus changes and a simple slide about the value of philosophy. I do wonder though about the effect of a whole department focussing their concern on the experience of their students. Giving the students a sense that faculty/instructors actually care about their futures might well have also impacted students continuing to take philosophy courses.Report

Richard Zach
Reply to  Lisa Shapiro
5 years ago

It would be wonderful if GSU Philosophy would share some of the things they’ve done. The slides are great, but only in PDF. Can we have a version other departments can adapt (ie, assigned to the public domain and in an editable format)? Examples of effective diversified syllabi? Is there a policy in place regarding diversity of readings, and if so what does it look like?Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

The studies suggest that women are less likely to think philosophy “interesting” and “relevant” (whatever exactly “relevant” means). Why do they find it not interesting and or not relevant compared to men? Can we make philosophy more interesting and relevant to them? Should we? If so, how should we do it?Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

Here’s a suggestion of my own, not as a complete solution, but as one tool. Popular philosophy books sell well and there is no reason why they can’t target groups that are under-represented in philosophy. If we want more women, we could do a better job of reaching out to them this way. It is worth nothing, by the way, that a heavy majority of popular philosophy being sold in bookshops is written by men. More women getting involved in writing philosophy for the public would be one way to combat any public impression that women can’t do philosophy.Report

Morgan Thompson
Morgan Thompson
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

Yes, that’s a good idea, as long as it doesn’t somehow turn into a “Philosophy for Women” series, which I know you are not endorsing. I also think Myisha Cherry’s Unmute Podcast is a great representation of philosophy outreach that (1) promotes diversity of topics and ideas in philosophy, (2) shows diverse folks doing philosophy, and (3) makes great use of a popular media format to promote philosophy in general. Check it out: http://unmutetalk.podbean.comReport

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Morgan Thompson
5 years ago

I applaud Unmute, but I don’t think it is a good example of what I’m talking about. By focusing on issues that have not received enough attention, it is positioned as a supplement for someone who is already exposed to the issues that have received most attention–to the issues that are not on “mute” in philosophy. Unmute is critiquing and responding to a tradition that the average listener in not familiar with. This is great for someone already somewhat steeped in philosophy from other sources, and the last thing I would want to do is silence Unmute, but I don’t see it as a good example of tool to get women interested in philosophy in the first place. Having said that, I don’t know how many listeners Unmute is pulling in. If lots of women from outside the profession tune in to Unmute, that would be strong evidence that Unmute is interesting them in philosophy! By the way, I assure that you are right that the last thing I want to see is a “Philosophy for Women” series. Targeting women is desirable, but I agree that that is not the way to do it. We can try to address issues that women find interesting and relevant in philosophically substantive ways without splitting philosophy into “his” and “hers”.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

I’m over-simplifying Unmute above and I badly don’t want to do that. It isn’t just responding to issues that haven’t received attention in philosophy, but to issues that haven’t received enough attention in general. And that’s a very important thing to do. My point about its position as a recruitment tool stands, though.Report

Morgan Thompson
Morgan Thompson
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

You ask some great questions and in a way, they encompass the questions of our entire paper. The questions about interest in philosophy and the relevance of philosophy to one’s life load onto a factor we call IdentificationwithPhilosophy, which includes other questions about a student’s willingness to continue taking philosophy courses or their ability to picture “people like me” being successful in philosophy. Women in general feel less identification with philosophy than men and we try, throughout the paper, to explore which of the other factors might partially account for this finding. In terms of how students are interpreting “relevance”, we can’t exactly say. We chose to do a quantitative analysis of the problem to get a large number of participants and as such we used a fixed-question survey with very few open response questions. Were I to receive a large grant to do this sort of research again, I’d now include a qualitative research component such as structured interviews or focus groups to complement the quantitative survey. In qualitative research, there can be more freedom to explore the nuances of students responses and experiences as well as the experiences of members of groups so underrepresented that their experiences cannot adequately be quantitatively studied (without substantial funding) like, for example, disabled students.

Your last three questions are difficult ones that we as a field will have to address. I do think that we should make philosophy courses more interesting and relevant for all students. First, we have pedagogical responsibilities as instructors to engage and motivate all of our students. Second, student interests do not develop in a vacuum. To the extent that students’ interests in different fields is responsive to cultural or structural issues, we should consider how we can change those factors to allow student interests to develop. For example, Carnegie Mellon University found that women had less programming experience before entering the computer science major. While most of their courses had presupposed previous programming experience, they changed the way they taught their courses by starting from the very basics to make the major more appealing to women and students who lacked programming experience in general. They also found that some women were interested in the applications of computer science rather than the theoretical debates and added more work on the applications to real world issues. I’d argue that these two changes are improvements for all students, but they also increased the proportion of women majors in computer science. While I do think that we should remove barriers to interest in philosophy, that’s not to say that we should pressure anyone to major in philosophy. Instead, we should work to remove the barriers to interest to the extent that removing these barriers can improve and diversify philosophy itself.Report

Shane Wilkins
Reply to  Morgan Thompson
5 years ago

This last point about removing barriers is really interesting, but it’s hard to see how it would apply in philosophy classrooms in the US. Don’t most intro philosophy courses in the states presuppose that the student has no prior background in the subject?

Further, what should we say about other majors where women are overrepresented like Psychology? Students don’t tend to have much high school exposure to psychology, do they? And yet psych attracts female majors just fine. There’s an interesting paper here: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Carol_Sansone/publication/226255224_The_Role_of_Interest_in_Understanding_the_Career_Choices_of_Female_and_Male_College_Students/links/02e7e52c59f2fcda76000000.pdf

which asserts that females tend to rate “interpersonal goals” like working with people, or helping people more highly than males and that this fact makes some disciplines like Psychology more attractive to females than the STEM disciplines. I wonder if something like this might not be at work in the case of philosophy as well.Report

Morgan Thompson
Morgan Thompson
Reply to  Shane Wilkins
5 years ago

Thanks for sharing that paper, Shane! In terms of removing barriers, I guess I was using barriers in a wider sense so that it would include elements of social environment like sense of belonging or comfort speaking in class. Although I’m not sure whether or not it would help improve the gender gap, I do think particular pedagogical frameworks can provide better introductions to philosophical argumentation and writing. For example, Ann Cahill and Stephen Bloch-Schulman have a really interesting article about teaching critical thinking courses in a step-by-step, student-paced way. Check it out here: https://www.pdcnet.org/8525737F00588478/file/B22CFF32B79132DE852579AC004D4FB2/$FILE/teachphil_2012_0035_0001_0045_0066.pdf I do think that learner-centered teaching pedagogical methods will help improve philosophy for all students and may increase interest in philosophy across all students.

You do raise an interesting point about students who might find collaborative or helping work more important than solitary endeavors. In the paper by Buckwalter and Turri we cite in our paper, they did find that among students with 3 or more philosophy classes, women found questions discussed by a team of researchers to be more important than men did and there was no gender difference for the importance of questions pursued by an individual researcher. Paper here: http://john.turri.org/research/weaknesses.pdf To the extent that this generalizes, it may be interesting to emphasize the collaborative nature of some philosophical works. In my experience, my papers improve substantially when working with co-authors, talking with colleagues at conferences, discussing my ideas with other graduate students in our lounge, or engaging with feedback from faculty members at my program. All of these are more or less forms of collaborative work and interpersonal interactions. I also think some subfields of philosophy lend themselves more readily to collaboration than others. Experimental philosophy, for example, is nearly always collaborative and there is a really lively, supportive community that discusses, critiques, and builds on previous work.

However, in terms of exposure to psychology before university, I think that it is actually greater than philosophy. I took an Advanced Placement course (and the test) in psychology in high school. If I’m not mistaken, there is not an AP exam for philosophy. I don’t have data about high schoolers’ knowledge of different fields, but I’d be willing to bet that they have a better understanding of psychology, if only that clinical psychology can lead to careers in counseling, than they do of the career paths associated with majoring in philosophy. (Also, the Buckwalter and Turri paper linked above speaks to the differences in stereotypical methodologies in the two fields. All students prefer observational methodology over intuition pumps, but women dislike the method of cases more than men do.)Report

Tim O'Keefe
5 years ago

People who are interested in finding some suitable readings by female authors to use in an Intro class may want to look at this compilation by subject area of all of the readings by female authors used in the sections of Introduction to Philosophy taught by graduate students (and the departmental chair George Rainbolt) in the academic year 2012-13 plus in summer 2013 at Georgia State. The page also includes links to additional resources at the bottom.

To partially answer Richard Zach’s question above, from looking over people’s syllabi, the additional readings by women were more “evenly divided among course topics,” rather than “adding specific topics with a high number of female-authored readings.” (FWIW, I think that that way is preferable.)Report

Sabrina
Sabrina
5 years ago

Thanks for sharing this important work. I will read over the original paper more carefully as time permits. Two initial thoughts:

-The number of authors on a syllabus may not be a good proxy for women’s representation in syllabi. For example, I have two versions of my core-curriculum intro class. Using back-of-the-envelope calculations, one has 50% female authors and the other has 33% female authors. However, in those classes, we only spend 25% and 10% respectively of the class time discussing female authors. Sometimes this is the case because female authors tend to be more contemporary and therefore write in article form (good for one or two class periods’ discussion) whereas a book like Plato’s Republic will take up a month or more; other times, because the female authors are included as a relatively brief comment on the canonical, male author’s text. So even when 50% of authors on my syllabus are female, my students would be quite justified in saying that women’s work does not make up a “fair proportion”.

Another point to consider is that, while you did not see an appreciable difference re: instructor gender, it is not surprising that when only 3/14 graduate student instructors are female, UG women get the idea that philosophy is not for people like them. Of course, women are usually underrepresented on the faculty and in the images of philosophers displayed on book covers, department posters, promotional materials etc. It would be quite interesting to compare gender rations among UG majors to gender ratios on the faculty of various philosophy departments.Report

the Onion Man
the Onion Man
5 years ago

@Ben Almassi

I appreciate your question, though I don’t fully understand it. My initial contention indeed concerned the question of philosophical output before ca. 1945 (“2450 of the past 2500 years of philosophy,” give or take two decades). Furthermore I don’t agree that my subsequent clarification at all went against the clear meaning of my initial remarks. Saying “women didn’t write philosophy” is like saying “women didn’t lead armies”; the existence of a Boudicca or a Joan of Arc doesn’t invalidate the point. Granted more women participated in philosophical discourse than led armies–we have more female philosophers than fingers on one hand–but the point remains that culturally you wouldn’t expect to find women writing philosophy any more than you would expect to find men tending to infants.

@Lisa Shapiro

“Almost everyone doing interesting philosophy in Europe from roughly 1620-1760 (I could go earlier, to say Ficino) is doing it outside of a university… Hardly what is being done by philosophers today.”

–I admit to a certain circumlocutionary style, but nevertheless insist that if you read my first comment carefully you will see that much of my argument is predicated on precisely this point. Yes, you are absolutely correct here and I agree 100%. This is a crucial element of the argument I am making.Report

Senior Undergrad
Senior Undergrad
5 years ago

This is such a complex problem and I’m excited to see that this research being done. As a woman philosophy major in a department where the percentage of women philosophy majors is MUCH lower than 52%, I do think there are many other salient factors besides the number of women authors studied (though this is obviously important—I have only read two women authors for a class my entire undergraduate career). At least in my experience, these other factors seem to include the (real or perceived) highly combative nature of philosophical debate and the frequency with which female students get interrupted and/or overtalked by their male peers. Conscious pedagogical changes, I think, could also help to resolve these issues.Report

H.F.Ghost
H.F.Ghost
Reply to  Senior Undergrad
5 years ago

The combative nature can be fun when your opponent is really listening to and understanding what you’re saying. But it’s beyond frustrating when your opponent is straw-manning you all over the place. At least that’s my experience. Is there any good reason to think that women experience this sort of straw-manning more than men? Probably.

Okay, I should read the article- and I probably will.Report

Morgan Thompson
Morgan Thompson
Reply to  Senior Undergrad
5 years ago

Senior Undergrad, I had very similar experiences to you in undergrad and occasionally at conferences. The difference between my psychology courses and philosophy courses in terms of combative discussion was stark and unlike H.F.Ghost below, I don’t really find combative discussion fun even under ideal circumstances. One possibility is that students (or perhaps women in particular) do perceive combative discussion in their philosophy courses, but were not willing to explicitly say so or that our survey questions on the combativeness weren’t very good.

The reasons you provide are, in part, reasons I’d like to do qualitative research on women’s experiences in philosophy. If I had unlimited research funds, I’d also want to fund a set of independent coders to sit in on philosophy courses and determine the prevalence of women being interrupted or talked over by the men in the class. There is also a phenomenon many women experience: a man repeating your comment gets credit from the group for the idea. It would be interesting to see how often these experiences occur in philosophy classrooms and to what extent they disproportionately occur to women. It’s worth pointing out that in our data set, students did feel that male students treated female students with respect and the gender difference in agreement with this statement was not significant after correcting for multiple comparisons. Still you’re right that an instructor has pedagogical duties to ensure that all students are respected in classroom discussion. It may be that this is an issue philosophers need to address in other domains as well though (such as the Q&As of talks or causal shop-talking at conferences).Report

Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
5 years ago

Two observations: (1) Women make up a very large portion of ancient philosophy scholars; perhaps people could study what ancient is doing right, instead of what other subdisciplines are doing wrong, (2) Many female students show little or no concern for the issues motivating feminism, but I have hardly ever seen such a student pursue philosophy. Perhaps we are sending signals that women are not welcome in the profession unless they are feminists?Report

the Onion Man
the Onion Man
Reply to  Arthur Greeves
5 years ago

“Perhaps we are sending signals that women are not welcome in the profession unless they are feminists?”

I think the signal about the entailing relationship between your support for third-wave feminism and the extent to which you are welcome in the profession is fairly gender-neutral.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Arthur Greeves
5 years ago

I think it makes great sense to look at areas of philosophy that attract women ask ask what they are doing right. Regarding feminism, you bring up an interesting point. Feminist academics are not politically mainstream. Roughly half of women lean conservative and a fair proportion of young women seem to reject all political movements (sometimes, in my experience, even as they support Bernie Sanders). Even those women who identify as feminists are likely to be more mainstream in their views than academic feminists. Obviously, men lean conservative slightly more than women, but they might also feel less pressure to conform to a political model. All of this is pure speculation, of course. Like all hypothesis here, it is to be tested by trying to disprove it with solid evidence.Report

Chris Rawls
5 years ago

Let’s also talk about teaching as much as possible. For some reason(s) I am still trying to unpack, I get both majors and minors in philosophy after every class in my undergraduate courses. So our numbers at John Carroll University in the philosophy department are on the rise. My colleagues also get majors and minors each term in our department. Let’s keep talking about all these issues and include effective, enthusiastic, caring, and flexible teaching methods Paulo Friere and bell hooks style!Report

UG
UG
5 years ago

A couple thoughts from a current undergrad:
“perhaps gender ratio on syllabi—in the grand scheme of choosing a major—is not very important when choosing a major.”

I’m glad someone is finally saying the obvious!

“This hypothesis suggests that we pass onto our students the message that success in philosophy requires natural brilliance (“a special aptitude that just can’t be taught”), while hard work just won’t cut it, and this stereotype disproportionately turns women and minorities away from the field.”

Here’s a question: why is it that this is happening? Is it because men are more likely to see through the myth? Why is that though? Anyway, this has not really had on effect on me: I never perceived brilliance to be a necessary condition to be a philosopher (probably because, before majoring in philosophy, I had actually read some philosophers who were obviously not brilliant!), and this had no effect on my decision to major as such. I majored in it because I’m interested in, and enjoy reading about, some of major issues in it. (Perhaps women just don’t like philosophy at a higher proportion to men?)

Finally, here is another possibility: we are constantly told about how bad the job market is for philosophers. Perhaps men (like myself) are just dumber than women, in the sense that we hear this and do nothing. For instance, one fellow undergrad woman phil major that I know is doing her UG in phil, and then going to try to be a lawyer. She is doing it the smart way, I’m doing it the dumb way.

One final question: what proportion of women to men are we looking for anyway? We should not expect nor want 50-50 (it would be an odd thing to want…), since women and men generally have different interests: women appear to be more attracted to social sciences and issues than men, for instance. So what is the target here? Surely, again, it is not for a 50-50: I guess that would be nice, but it certainly is not a vice to have one gender to make up the majority. So what is it then?Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  UG
5 years ago

UG, in an ideal universe, it would be advantageous to have a 50-50 split in all disciplines, including those that are presently male heavy and those that are presently female heavy. Now, we probably aren’t going to get that, but the further we fall short of that, the more reason we have for concern.Report

UG
UG
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

Thanks for the response!
However, I’m not really sure why an ideal universe would have a 50-50 split in all disciplines. Why think that there’s some inherent value in a perfect split?

Why think there is concern if we aren’t at the split anyway? Suppose the following is true: it just so happens that the world that we occupy, that 80 percent of women do not enjoy philosophy. Suppose that the other 20 percent love it so much that they successfully pursue a career in it (hence there is a 20-80 split – obviously assuming (falsely) that 80 percent of men love phil so much that they pursue a career in it). Why is this world inferior to one that is 50-50? I can’t see why anyone would think it is…Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  UG
5 years ago

Hi, UG. I think that in an ideal world, there would be a 50-50 split for all disciplines and sub-disciplines for two reasons. One is that there may be things that members of one gender are more likely to notice that members of another (like, for example, unfairness to to that gender). Another is that it serves as an advertisement that the subject is open to all. Regarding philosophy, if 80 percent of women don’t enjoy philosophy, then 80 percent of women need to learn to put philosophy ahead of their personal enjoyment. We can help them in this by working to make philosophy less tedious for them.Report

UG
UG
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

Neither of those are compelling: the former may or may not be t rue, but it certainly is not a necessary truth (for whatever it’s worth, I doubt it’s true: if only women were philosophers, I don’t think we’d be missing some essential info that only a man could spot, and vice versa. The latter is just odd: I feel like nursing is open to me (if I wasn’t so dumb in regards to chemistry!) Despite the gender imbalance: gender imbalances do not necessarily entail that a subject is not “open to all.” Seems to me that you’re merely prizing the perfect split\diversity when there is no real motivations for it.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  UG
5 years ago

UG, I agree that it is not a necessary truth that gender balance is useful. I suspect that if humans were morally perfect, it really wouldn’t matter. But don’t you agree, for instance, that if the interests of a group are being overlooked in a discipline, members of that group are more likely, everything else being equal, to pick up that fact? I think that if only women were philosophers, as in your thought experiment, we could expect a significantly worse echo-chamber effect in professional philosophy in general and particularly in ethics, politics, and philosophy of sex and gender. I agree with you that gender imbalances don’t entail that a subject is open to all. The point of gender balance is advertising that the subject is open to all.Report

cordelia
cordelia
Reply to  UG
5 years ago

I’ve seen the idea that men are just dumb and women are smarter for not taking philosophy before, and I never find it very convincing. For one thing, it makes a sweeping generalization about both men and women that seems unlikely to be true, it’s kind of a ‘cute’ response that isn’t really cute, because it potentially sweeps under the rug real problems the discipline may have with its climate for women and minorities.

I agree that it seems rather strange to aim for a perfect 50/50 split, but I also think aiming at a particular split isn’t necessary for thinking it’s worthwhile to consider why more women and minorities aren’t as likely to major or minor in philosophy – there might be problems we want to think about behind that, even if we don’t have a specific demographic split in mind as a goal.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  cordelia
5 years ago

I think that there are quite a few philosophers who think that philosophy is a pointless sham. But if it is, we should get rid of it altogether, rather than taking one position or another on the importance of gender balance. Regarding the 50/50 split, I don’t mean to suggest that anything less than complete gender balance should be thought of as a major problem. Rather, there is a continuum such that at one end, where members of one gender are entirely absent, there is a major problem, and the problem gets smaller and smaller as we approach 50/50 and vanishes entirely at that point. This model is compatible with a wide variety of different opinions about how bad the problem is at any point between those extremes.Report

Eddy Nahmias
Eddy Nahmias
5 years ago

Some brief responses to UG’s discussion, in reverse order:
1. I doubt anyone thinks an ‘ideal universe’ would have a 50-50 gender split in all disciplines or in philosophy. That view would make the same mistake that your hypothetical makes (suppose that 80% of women do not enjoy philosophy)–namely, that there is something about the nature of philosophy (or of any discipline X) and about the nature of gender (or race or culture) that would explain any particular ratio of people of that gender (race, etc.) in philosophy (or X). In our paper we dismiss this view, but point out that at a minimum it would require a lot of empirical research to try to establish it.
2. The FAB (natural brilliance) hypothesis is (roughly) that currently we implicitly or explicitly associate natural brilliance with men more than women, so the degree to which people think discipline X requires natural brilliance will correlate with the attitudes people in that discipline have about whether women belong in it. It’s not that men see through the myth that philosophy takes natural talent; it’s that the people in philosophy (who are mostly men) teaching it and making decisions about students’ abilities will be disposed to think that men, more than women, have what it takes. (FWIW, I think there may be a day when it’s women more than men who are associated with natural or innate brilliance.)
3. Your hypothesis about men being less influenced than women by the bad news about the job market is plausible (I’ve have anecdotal evidence of it). But I doubt it trickles down to the level of decisions about majoring, since most people don’t pick philosophy or other such majors because they want to get a job as a professor in that discipline. It might impact the number of majors who apply to grad school. The idea (the myth!) that majoring in philosophy is a dead-end for career prospects likely influences less affluent (e.g., first-generation) students to shy away from philosophy. Countering that myth is important to attract more diverse students to the major.
4. You applaud our line: “perhaps gender ratio on syllabi—in the grand scheme of choosing a major—is not very important when choosing a major.” Note that it comes within a discussion in which we suggest that it might take a more significant increase in the proportion of women on the syllabus to change the stereotype of philosophy as a male discipline (a stereotype that exists before students see any syllabi at all). If we could impact that stereotype, it would likely impact women’s interest in philosophy and willingness to major. But the bare fact of number of women on the syllabus alone is probably not that important in choosing a major.
Thanks for your comments.Report

DocFEmeritus
DocFEmeritus
5 years ago

Why don’t women go into philosophy at the same rate as men? Hmmm… Well maybe because fewer undergrads, period, are going on in philosophy since there are so few jobs; self-selection, their own reasons and free choices, not bias or negative experiences (just didn’t like it, as my students used to say about philosophy, male or female, too hard). The data and stats of how many students take intro to philosophy and then become majors is a bogus measure. I took intro to English lit, intro to biology, intro to…well, name it, and didn’t major in any of them — male bias against me? The assumption seems to be that not only undergraduate phil majors all seek to go to grad school in philosophy, but that undergrad students who took philosophy would be attracted to major in philosophy, seems quite questionable. Phil majors are big on going to law school and other fields after getting an undergrad in phil.

Do I think there is an issue for women in philosophy? Yes, I do. Do I hope more women go into philosophy? Yes. Do I think women are the equals of men philosophically? Hey, the women I’ve known for 40 years in philosophy are more than my equal or any of the men I’ve known in philosophy.

But seriously, can it not just be that women choose, for their own reasons, not to go on into philosophy, just as I did not choose English lit?

I don’t know how to put this to be both sympathetic to the gender-bias claims (and there are those that are valid in individual cases), and fairness to institutions that may not be discriminatory. The issue about how undergrads choose future careers and majors and grad schools is very complex and fluid. I harken back to my own choices and thoughts: history major, psych major (got a BS), phil major (got a dual degree), English lit major (had enougn credits)…all meaningless except to show how undergrads choose to move on.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  DocFEmeritus
5 years ago

DocFEmeritus, English Lit. has a terrible problem with gender imbalance. I take your point that we must keep in mind the many factors that might contribute to the dearth of women in philosophy that have nothing to do with the climate in philosophy itself. But English strikes me as a good example of a department with serious gender problems.Report

Alfred MacDonald
Alfred MacDonald
Reply to  DocFEmeritus
5 years ago

sorry again — phone replied to the wrong thread.Report

Veronica Allievi
5 years ago

Personally, I interrupted my philosophy studies due to several reasons: even though I found the topics in general highly interesting, at some point I started feeling that I was developing a too strong rational outlook on reality and missing the development of other areas of knowledge and self-knowledge. I thought it was a very useful tool, and my best acquisition from university at the Philosophy career was Ethics, Special Problems in Ethics, Levinas as an author -being “Totality and Infinity” almost my bible…, Metaphysics . I also enjoyed logic seminars much. However, to some extent I was leaving aside huge amounts of sensorial information, with my eyes sunk inside a paper or my mind quite absent from the places I was going through, always “thinking”. I joined a music workshop, an instrumental assembly for chamber music, and I started finding much more harmony, well-being, getting back to the world as a regular person, not flying from above through rational arguments. This had strong impact on my awareness of “feeling”, something that tended to be lost except for the intellectual satisfaction of finding definitely deep truth in some authors or fascination in theories as Spinoza’s ethics. A musician, Heitor Villalobos, said that instead of traffic lights, in corners of streets they should put metronomers, and I think this would drive us to other ways of interaction…
Reason, besides, has proved to be devastating in many cases. XXI centuries of good reasons have driven us into today’s political and social panorama… I think maybe we should develop empathy with human beings, and for this purpuse, I am not certain that philosophy would be the best means… maybe art as a paradigm… Do I sound Nietzschean? I’m not… My last reason would be that if institutions with all their philosophical background, cannot stop candidates who defend the Ku Klux Klan after 21 centuries of ethics and having had John Rawls develop his Theory of Justice, I have little hopes on arguments and laws… Neither have I for legal systems which permit devastation of poor countries to please unscrupulous speculators…Report

Ward
Ward
5 years ago

Kudos to Alfred MacDonald! It would help if the people making the case that biology needn’t be considered knew more about and were willing to discuss the biology.

Just a small note–the Leslie, et al. study keeps getting relied on in conversations like this, but Scott Alexander has shown that the distribution of women across different academic disciplines is far better explained by quantitative GRE score than ‘perceptions of brilliance’.

http://slatestarcodex.com/2015/01/24/perceptions-of-required-ability-act-as-a-proxy-for-actual-required-ability-in-explaining-the-gender-gap/

This was hard to see in Leslie, et al.’s reporting of the data, as they lumped quantitative reasoning with two measures of verbal reasoning and (as Scott points out) they dismiss the literature on the subject matter as having not sufficiently made its case. But when you look at quantitative GRE scores as an explanation of the data, and compare it to the ‘perceptions of brilliance’ hypothesis, there’s no question which is the better explanation. Here’s the takeaway:

“There is a correlation of r = -0.82 (p = 0.0003) between average GRE Quantitative score and percent women in a discipline. This is among the strongest correlations I have ever seen in social science data. It is much larger than Leslie et al’s correlation with perceived innate ability.

Despite its surprising size this is not a fluke. It’s very similar to what other people have found when attempting the same project. There’s a paper from 2002, Templer and Tomeo, that tries the same thing and finds r = 0.76, p < 0.001. Randal Olson tried a very similar project on his blog a while back and got r = 0.86. My finding is right in the middle.

A friendly statistician went beyond my pay grade and did a sequential ANOVA on these results4 and Leslie et al’s perceived-innate-ability results. They found that they could reject the hypothesis that the effect of actual innate ability was entirely mediated by perceived innate ability (p = 0.002), but could not reject the hypothesis that the effect of perceived-innate-ability was entirely mediated by actual-innate ability (p = 0.36).

In other words, we find no evidence for a continuing effect of people’s perceptions of innate ability after we adjust for what those perceptions say about actual innate ability, in much the same way we would expect to see no evidence for a continuing effect of people’s perceptions of smoking on lung cancer after we adjust for what those perceptions say about actual smoking."Report

the Onion Man
the Onion Man
Reply to  Ward
5 years ago

Math is sexistReport

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  Ward
5 years ago

Wait, are we supposed to think GRE scores actually reflect innate ability?Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
5 years ago

It isn’t clear that “innate ability” means in this context. Is is potential at birth? If someone has less potential for philosophical training because their intellectual growth was stunted before they got to college, does that count as less innate ability for philosophy?Report

Ward
Ward
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

Alexander discusses environmental influence as it effects what he means by ‘innate,’ which he is taking from Leslie, et al. I hope people are reading that post and thinking about what he has to say. It’s long, but it’s worth it. From part II:

“I’m going to use terms like “ability” and “innate ability” and “genius” and “brilliance” because those are the terms Leslie et al use, but I should clarify. I’m using them the way Leslie et al seem to, as a contrast to hard work, the internal factors that give different people different payoffs per unit effort. So a genius is someone who can solve difficult problems with little effort; a dullard is one who can solve them only with great effort or not at all.

This use of “innate ability” is not the same thing as “genetically determined ability”. Genetically determined ability will be part of it, but there will also be many other factors. Environmental determinants of intelligence, like good nutrition and low lead levels. Exposure to intellectual stimulation during crucial developmental windows. The effect of steretoypes, insofar as those stereotypes globally decrease performance. Even previous training in a field might represent “innate ability” under this definition, although later we’ll try to close that loophole.

Academic programs presumably want people with high ability. The GRE bills itself as an ability test, and under our expanded definition of ability this is a reasonable claim. So let’s talk about what would happen if programs selected based solely on ability as measured by GREs.”Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  Ward
5 years ago

Why should we believe that the GRE is an ability test though (at least in any relevant sense)? Sure, it bills itself as one, but there are also a plethora of criticisms regarding precisely this claim — not to mention that many find GRE prep courses and materials to both be helpful and incredibly expensive.Report

Ward
Ward
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
5 years ago

This comment does not seem responsive to what Alexander is saying. Of course GRE prep courses can be helpful, and of course they are expensive. Are you unsure of what ‘innate’ means here? Alexander is clear. Are you questioning whether the GRE is an accurate measure of one’s quantitative reasoning? That line of questioning is irrelevant to Alexander’s broader points, which are

1) GRE quantitative test scores far better explain the data than the hypothesis of Leslie, et al.

2) Leslie et al. offer no discussion of this despite the fact that it is hardly a new idea.

Alexander’s assessment seems right:

“[The Leslie et al. paper] ignores the pre-existing literature on the importance of innate ability versus hard work. It ignores the rigorous mathematical techniques developed to separate innate ability from hard work. Not only that, but it ignores pre-existing literature on predicting gender balance in different fields, and the pre-existing literature on GRE results and what they mean and how to use them, and all the techniques developed by people in those areas.

Having committed itself to flying blind, it takes the thing we already know how use to predict gender balance, shoves it aside in favor of a weird proxy for that thing, and finds a result mediated by that thing being a proxy for the thing they are inexplicably ignoring. Even though it just used a proxy for aptitude to predict gender balance, everyone congratulates it for having proven that aptitude does not affect gender balance.

Science journalism declares that the myth that ability matters has been vanquished forever. The media take the opportunity to remind us that scientists are sexist self-appointed geniuses who use stereotypes to punish women. And our view of an important issue becomes just a little muddier.”Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
5 years ago

You wrote, “Academic programs presumably want people with high ability.” If a GRE score can be substantially improved through the use of a prep course, and if the GRE is a reflection of ability, then I take it that academic programs want people with high ability rests on an equivocation. GRE prep materials do not provide deep insight into critical thinking methods; they teach you how to work the test. Moreover, if we took the GRE to be reflecting what kind of ability programs are looking for, I take it accepting this as normative rather than descriptive would pose serious problems related to economic justice. Wealthy students will be able to improve their GRE scores in ways that disadvantaged students couldn’t — but we don’t think that being wealthy ought to have this kind of relationship to whether or not you are a good candidate for graduate school — we don’t think students come to graduate school as ready-made intellectuals, we think they go there to learn, right?Report

Ward
Ward
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
5 years ago

You’re quoting Alexander, not me. I hope you’ve read his analysis. At any rate this line of thought remains orthogonal to Alexander’s point, and whatever “serious problems related to economic justice” you think are at stake just aren’t relevant to Alexander’s assessment of Leslie, et al.. The point is, quantitative GRE scores far better explain Leslie, et al.’s data than does their hypothesis. As Alexander notes, their study ignores the literature on gender balances in different disciplines, on quantitative GRE scores, and on the formal methods used by people doing this work to distinguish innate ability from hard work (and please pay attention to what Alexander has to say about ‘innate’ ability!). Their paper just doesn’t establish what it claims to.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
5 years ago

We are talking past each other. I haven’t yet said anything at all about Leslie et al. I have only taken issue with Alexander. And I am saying that I just don’t think we have good reason to think that GRE scores explain anything in themselves (they may well be correlated with other things that themselves explain GRE scores, for instance) — particularly here, where the drop off seems not to be in the graduate school application/matriculation transition, but rather in moving past an introduction to philosophy as an undergraduate.Report

Ward
Ward
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
5 years ago

Aha, I see. Thanks for the clarification. Please note that Alexander’s analysis of the Leslie et al. data does not explain the relative paucity of women in philosophy—the quantitative GRE scores of philosophy students predict a greater percentage of women than we see. Philosophy’s an outlier in that dataset, so either way this explanation isn’t going to cut it for philosophy (unless quantitative reasoning is relied on to a greater extent than our GRE scores indicate, or that score is tracking something else).

At any rate, I’ll let others weigh in on whether or not the quantitative reasoning portion of the GRE is measuring what disciplines like math and physics ought to be paying attention to, and the questions of “economic justice” that some people think turn on the answer. I’d rather see people get square on the facts before they start worrying about the “justice” issues they think they see at work. For my money, too many people in the philosophical community today seem driven by interests in social justice that are not supported by sufficient attention to the matters of fact that bear on what anyone ought to do. But carry on.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
5 years ago

I don’t know what the numbers are on how many students in various graduate programs of study, or how many professors, majored in the same academic area as undergraduates, but part of my concern here is that if these things are strongly correlated, it may be that the kind of training you get as an undergraduate major is itself what explains the patterns in GRE results. So, I’m just not sure about the import of the GRE datum as it pertains to any differences in demographics.Report

Ward
Ward
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
5 years ago

Aha, so you “don’t know what the numbers are”, but you have a “concern” about a correlation you admit you are ignorant of, and what “may be” as a result. On this basis you raise doubts about what the GRE data shows. This kind of activism-oriented ideological stance on data collection is exactly what I was calling attention to when I said “too many people in the philosophical community today seem driven by interests in social justice that are not supported by sufficient attention to the matters of fact that bear on what anyone ought to do.” Please familiarize yourself with the data. People have been working on this for years. You can start by reading Alexander’s post and following the links he provides in responding to the blindspots of Leslie et al.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
5 years ago

Yeah, I read the Alexander post the other day when you posted it, and I didn’t see that it addressed this question. If there’s something I’m missing there, please do point it out. Let me try this another way: if I told you I got a perfect math score on my college and graduate entrance standardized tests, would you think it said anything about my innate ability?Report

Ward
Ward
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
5 years ago

From the beginning of this subthread you’ve not used either “ability” or “innate ability” in a way that shows you are working with anything approaching operationalized definitions. Alexander, meanwhile, has. So why don’t you begin by telling us what you are interested in when you talk about “innate ability”. It would help if you drew on the work that has already been done in this area, and to familiarize yourself with that work before raising “concerns” about an issue you admit you are ignorant of but which “concerns” you use to dismiss the GRE data as evidence for the fitness of individuals for different courses of study. The pursuit of a social justice end while selectively attending to data is not doing your cause any favors.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
5 years ago

Should I take that as a no?Report

Ward
Ward
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
5 years ago

I was clear about how you should take that.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
5 years ago

Right, right, but then it looks like we have a bit of a dilemma even if I accept your view — either GRE data is evidence for my fitness for for different courses of study, or my “social justice end[s]” have given me a problematic “activism-oriented ideological stance,” as you put it, that interferes with my ability to understand data. This seems like a problem for the view.Report

Ward
Ward
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
5 years ago

I don’t know about your fitness for this sort of work generally, but my assessment here stands. And you’re still not helping your cause.Report

the Onion Man
the Onion Man
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
5 years ago

Is there any form of quantitative assessment that you would, in principle, accept as providing at least a rough index of “innate ability” (however defined)? If so, what is the problem with the GRE specifically?Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  the Onion Man
5 years ago

Isn’t education, which is distributed on an economically unjust basis, an important element of being a good candidate for graduate school? Surely, real disadvantages in readiness to study philosophy need not all be present at birth.Report

the Onion Man
the Onion Man
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

I’m not sure I follow you. I mean I agree that relative advantages/disadvantages are environmental as well as congenital, but surely this does not militate against the idea that there are important congenital factors, nor that the GRE isn’t measuring something approximating the sum of congenital and environmental factors that we call “ability” (“innate” is perhaps a complex qualifier).Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  the Onion Man
5 years ago

Sorry. I was trying to reply to Katheryn and the conversation wires got crossed. I was just trying to say that believing that males and females have equal ability for philosophy at birth is compatible with believing that ability is no longer equal once they reach college or grad school.Report

Richard Zach
Reply to  Ward
5 years ago

Cimpian and Leslie have shown that this criticism doesn’t hold water: http://internal.psychology.illinois.edu/~acimpian/reprints/CimpianLeslie_Science_response.pdfReport

Myopic Myops
Myopic Myops
Reply to  Richard Zach
5 years ago

I’m not sure they have. C&L respond to a related criticism by Ginther and Kahn (http://science.sciencemag.org/content/349/6246/391.2) From a brief look at the response, and the response to the response, two points stand out:

(1) The criticisms relating to multicollinearity and VIF seem fair enough. But they speak only against using models which use *three* GRE variables (quantitative, qualitative, and the ratio of the two), since they’re all highly correlated with one another. I don’t see any reason why this criticism would extend against a model where only the quantitative measure is used, like Scott Alexander’s.

(2) C&L say “The results displayed in Table 1 make it clear that academics’ ability beliefs are a significant predictor of female representation above and beyond whether a discipline (i) requires mathematical ability (as indicated by the quantitative GRE score) and (ii) privileges this ability relative to verbal ability (as indicated by the quantitative: verbal ratio or the quantitative−verbal difference)”

But I’m not sure why they say this. The results in Table 1 show a number of models all of which predict that female representation is, roughly speaking, correlated with quantitative GRE with coefficient -0.6 and correlated with field-specific ability beliefs with coefficient -0.4. So if anything, by their own lights quantitative GRE is a better predictor of female representation than ability beliefs!

The conclusion of the response seems non-responsive to the thrust of the Scott Alexander piece (although perhaps it is addressed more to Ginther and Kahn): “In light of these analyses, the claims we made in Leslie, Cimpian et al. remain valid as originally stated: Fields whose practitioners idolize brilliance and genius have fewer women.” But the hypothesis considered by Scott Alexander is that the real cause of lower female representation within certain disciplines is that they are quantitatively more demanding; and he postulates that this is correlated with the “idolization of brilliance and genius”. Nothing in C&L’s conclusion seems to speak against this hypothesis, as far as I can see, and indeed the stronger correlation with GREs (noted above) seems if anything to support it.Report

Richard Zach
Reply to  Myopic Myops
5 years ago

Table 1 http://science.sciencemag.org/content/349/6246/391.3.full#T1 gives multiple regressions for 12 different ways in which you might think that the gender gap is entirely explained by “innate” ability (as measured by some combination of GRE scores). If FABs made *no* contribution to the prediction of gender gaps, the corresponding coefficient for FAB should not be significantly different from 0. But in all but the last one, it is (ie, p values are < 0.05).

Leslie and Cimpian never claimed that FAB are the only predictor of gender split. It's of course consistent with their findings that mathematical ability, whether that's trained or innate, predicts the gender split as well, and even that it predicts it more strongly.

Why so many people think that Alexander's is a plausible hypothesis in the first place is beyond me. I would find it really really surprising if the facility (innate or trained) of people to solve trig problems *by itself* would *fully* explain the gender gap in *all* fields, or that people's beliefs about whether it takes raw talent to be a good philosopher (or a good composer) just reflects how good (they think) philosophers and composers are at basic math.

Leslie, Cimpian, et al. also have additional evidence, eg, not just the degree to which people report they believe that field-specific un-teachable ability is required predicts gender gaps, but also the frequency of "brilliant" and "genius" on teaching evaluations. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0150194 The analog of Alexander's hypothesis (in this case, that the degree to which students think their instructors are brilliant just tracks instructor's actual mathematical ability) is even less plausible in this case.Report

Ward
Ward
Reply to  Richard Zach
5 years ago

Neither Alexander nor Leslie et al. require that their respective explanations are total for the phenomenon we observe. And when the two explanations are compared with one another, there is no question which is the better one–quantitative GRE scoring far better explains what we see than the ‘perceptions of innate ability’ data collected by Leslie et al. Yet this explanation received no discussion from Leslie et al. From Alexander:

“There is a correlation of r = -0.82 (p = 0.0003) between average GRE Quantitative score and percent women in a discipline. This is among the strongest correlations I have ever seen in social science data. It is much larger than Leslie et al’s correlation with perceived innate ability.

Despite its surprising size this is not a fluke. It’s very similar to what other people have found when attempting the same project. There’s a paper from 2002, Templer and Tomeo, that tries the same thing and finds r = 0.76, p < 0.001. Randal Olson tried a very similar project on his blog a while back and got r = 0.86. My finding is right in the middle.

A friendly statistician went beyond my pay grade and did a sequential ANOVA on these results4 and Leslie et al’s perceived-innate-ability results. They found that they could reject the hypothesis that the effect of actual innate ability was entirely mediated by perceived innate ability (p = 0.002), but could not reject the hypothesis that the effect of perceived-innate-ability was entirely mediated by actual-innate ability (p = 0.36).

In other words, we find no evidence for a continuing effect of people’s perceptions of innate ability after we adjust for what those perceptions say about actual innate ability, in much the same way we would expect to see no evidence for a continuing effect of people’s perceptions of smoking on lung cancer after we adjust for what those perceptions say about actual smoking."

His assessment:

"[Leslie et al.] ignores the pre-existing literature on the importance of innate ability versus hard work. It ignores the rigorous mathematical techniques developed to separate innate ability from hard work. Not only that, but it ignores pre-existing literature on predicting gender balance in different fields, and the pre-existing literature on GRE results and what they mean and how to use them, and all the techniques developed by people in those areas.

Having committed itself to flying blind, it takes the thing we already know how use to predict gender balance, shoves it aside in favor of a weird proxy for that thing, and finds a result mediated by that thing being a proxy for the thing they are inexplicably ignoring. Even though it just used a proxy for aptitude to predict gender balance, everyone congratulates it for having proven that aptitude does not affect gender balance.

Science journalism declares that the myth that ability matters has been vanquished forever. The media take the opportunity to remind us that scientists are sexist self-appointed geniuses who use stereotypes to punish women. And our view of an important issue becomes just a little muddier.”Report

Richard Zach
Reply to  Ward
5 years ago

Alexander did claim that. (You just quoted him where he claimed that!) And the peer reviewed letter in *Science* gives evidence that that’s not true. It’s very unlikely–we have no independent reason to believe–that gender gap is determined by a single factor. So comparing how well two factors individually predict gender gaps and then saying “well, the correlation is stronger for math GRE so it must be math GRE that explains the gender gap by itself” is not particularly informative.Report

Ward
Ward
Reply to  Ward
5 years ago

What are you talking about? Nowhere does Alexander say he thinks the gender gap is determined by a single factor, whether perception of ability or actual ability. Nor does he think anyone else thinks that. With the ANOVA analysis he’s concluding only that we cannot reject the hypothesis that the perception of ability is entirely mediated by actual ability—that doesn’t touch on whether ability alone explains the gender gap. And in a number of places Alexander is quite clear that he does not think quantitative GRE scoring is in fact the only explanation for the gap. He’s doing a conditional analysis in order to see how strongly correlated GRE scoring is with the distribution of the genders in different professions, in order to show that the paper by Leslie et al. is seriously defective, and he explicitly flags that GRE scores are not the whole story. His point is that the Leslie, et al. data on perceptions of ability are far better explained by actual ability than the data on gender distribution is explained by perceptions of ability. Yet Leslie et al. ignore the GRE data and the literature surrounding it.

Either way, if you wish to continue this line of thought please quote the places you think Alexander says otherwise. And I’ll produce passages like this:

“So let’s talk about what would happen if programs selected based solely on ability as measured by GREs.

This is, of course, not the whole story. Programs also use a lot of other things like grades, interviews, and publications.”Report

Richard Zach
Reply to  Ward
5 years ago

Well he can do that conditional analysis, but it doesn’t show that the paper by Leslie et al is seriously defective. If he were right and FAB is just a proxy for whatever underlying thing it is that math GRE measures then we shouldn’t see significant effects of FAB in the the multiple regressions. But we do.Report

Ward
Ward
Reply to  Ward
5 years ago

You continue to frame this as if it’s an all-or-nothing analysis. Perceptions of ability need not be just a proxy for ability, but when you’re looking for what best explains gender distribution, the perception of ability turns out to reliably track actual ability (big surprise!), measured as quantitative GRE scoring, and actual ability is a better predictor of gender distribution. That is–perceptions of ability are better explained by actual ability (GRE) than perceptions of ability are explained by gender distribution. And he’s established that. All of that is consistent with there being some effect of gender on perception of ability. Leslie et al. is defective because of what they ignore, not what they report.

I really wish you’d refer to the Alexander piece, and show specifically where you think he’s made a mistake, if you think he’s wrong. I’m willing to be convinced that he’s made a mistake if you (or anyone else) can show that he has. But for now all the attention this paper is getting looks to me to be seriously misplaced. It’s more notable for what it ignores than what it discovers. Here’s Alexander’s summary:

“[Leslie et al.] ignores the pre-existing literature on the importance of innate ability versus hard work. It ignores the rigorous mathematical techniques developed to separate innate ability from hard work. Not only that, but it ignores pre-existing literature on predicting gender balance in different fields, and the pre-existing literature on GRE results and what they mean and how to use them, and all the techniques developed by people in those areas.

Having committed itself to flying blind, it takes the thing we already know how use to predict gender balance, shoves it aside in favor of a weird proxy for that thing, and finds a result mediated by that thing being a proxy for the thing they are inexplicably ignoring. Even though it just used a proxy for aptitude to predict gender balance, everyone congratulates it for having proven that aptitude does not affect gender balance.

Science journalism declares that the myth that ability matters has been vanquished forever. The media take the opportunity to remind us that scientists are sexist self-appointed geniuses who use stereotypes to punish women. And our view of an important issue becomes just a little muddier.”Report

Richard Zach
Reply to  Ward
5 years ago

I’m confused. Did you mean to write that it’s consistent with there being an effect of FABs on gender split?Report

Ward
Ward
Reply to  Ward
5 years ago

That’s right, I’m sorry. What Alexander shows is that perceptions of ability are better explained by actual ability than the perception that a field requires innate talent explains gender distribution in that field. Leslie et al.’s conclusion that the underrepresentation of women in fields that emphasize talent is “because women are stereotyped as not possessing that talent” is defective because their paper ignores this better explanation for the distribution we see, but that’s consistent with perceptions of ability partly explaining differences in gender representation in different disciplines.Report

Richard Zach
Reply to  Ward
5 years ago

That is not their conclusion. Their conclusion is merely that FAB robustly predict gender gaps across a wide variety of fields (in the article), and that this still holds even if you throw all kinds of GRE measures into the mix (in the letter). The sentence you quoted starts with “We hypothesize that” in the actual paper. Suggesting a hypothesis that explains their findings is not concluding that it is so explained. I know that Alexander also writes as if they “concluded” that, but they didn’t. It’s a straw man. Moreover, in order to “reject” that hypothesis you need a whole lot more evidence than that the correlation between quant GRE and gender gap is stronger than that between FAB and gender gap. All the other evidence you/Alexander cite is a) specific to math & physics, and b) perfectly compatible with L&C’s findings and their hypothesis.Report

Ward
Ward
Reply to  Ward
5 years ago

Nothing turns on whether we call Leslie et al.’s explanation a hypothesis or a conclusion. The point is that the *explanation* they give for why women are underrepresented in fields that emphasize ability, namely, “because women are stereotyped as not possessing that talent”, is not nearly as explanatory as the explanation for the representation of women in those fields that makes use of quantitative GRE scoring. Yet they ignored the pre-existing literature on that alternative explanation, and the pre-existing literature distinguishing the impact of hard work from ability (as in math and physics). The fact that their explanation is consistent with a better one is fine, no one disagrees with that. Nor does anyone disagree that there may be some effect of perception of ability on gender distribution. But they ignored the better explanation, and all the work that’s been done surrounding it. You’ve not said anything to overturn Alexander’s summary:

“[Leslie et al.] ignores the pre-existing literature on the importance of innate ability versus hard work. It ignores the rigorous mathematical techniques developed to separate innate ability from hard work. Not only that, but it ignores pre-existing literature on predicting gender balance in different fields, and the pre-existing literature on GRE results and what they mean and how to use them, and all the techniques developed by people in those areas.

Having committed itself to flying blind, it takes the thing we already know how use to predict gender balance, shoves it aside in favor of a weird proxy for that thing, and finds a result mediated by that thing being a proxy for the thing they are inexplicably ignoring. Even though it just used a proxy for aptitude to predict gender balance, everyone congratulates it for having proven that aptitude does not affect gender balance.

Science journalism declares that the myth that ability matters has been vanquished forever. The media take the opportunity to remind us that scientists are sexist self-appointed geniuses who use stereotypes to punish women. And our view of an important issue becomes just a little muddier.”Report

Ward
Ward
Reply to  Ward
5 years ago

I mean look, here is the only time in their paper they come close to discussing the better explanation:

“Are women and African Americans less likely to have the natural brilliance that some fields believe is required for top-level success? Although some have argued that this is so, our assessment of the literature is that the case has not been made that either group is less likely to possess innate intellectual talent (as opposed to facing stereotype threat, discrimination, and other such obstacles).”

That’s an inadequate response to the fact that GRE quantitative scoring far better explains their data than does their hypothesis. Yet they conclude:

“The extent to which practitioners of a discipline believe that success depends on sheer brilliance is a strong predictor of women’s and African Americans’ representation in that discipline.”

But quantitative GRE scoring is a better predictor, and Leslie et al. do not discuss it. Their paper is flawed. That Cimpian and Leslie later look at GRE scoring without considering its explanatory value, only to assert that the effects of perceptions of ability still hold, does not correct these flaws.Report

Richard Zach
Reply to  Ward
5 years ago

a) The purpose of the L&C study was not to establish the hypothesis that gender gap is (solely) caused by FABs, but to report the statistical findings that they predict the gender gap, while controlling for a range of factors, and that they do so better than a number of other proposed factors. It has done that. It is not a valid criticism of a study of this sort that it has not also established that the relationship is causal. L&C have hypothesized a prima facie plausible mechanism, but it’s not expected or required that they must also show that this is the mechanism at work. It is also not a valid criticism of this study that it has “ignored” or “failed to reject” other potential factors such as mathematical ability, since there is absolutely no claim anywhere that these other factors can’t also be in play. b) Given that the study didn’t claim to establish the causal relationship, nor that it claimed that FABs are the only factor explaining the gender gap, Alexander’s starting point misrepresents the study. c) He then draws a false analogy between the L&C study and an imagined attempt to establish that cancer is caused by stereotypes about smoking, by establishing a correlation between beliefs about whether someone is a smoker and whether they have cancer. I won’t spell out the many ways in which this is not an apt analogy. But the most salient one is this: field-specific ability beliefs are beliefs about the extent to which field-specific, unteachable (innate) abilities are required to succeed in that field; they are not beliefs about the degree to which individuals who succeed in a field actually have the ability to do so.

d) He then hypothesizes that it is not “perceptions of ability” but “actual ability” that explains the gender gap. Here the equivocation that underlies the rhetorical force of the analogy is also important: field-specific ability beliefs as studied in the L&C study are not “perceptions of ability”. The hypothesis sounds persuasive because what could be a better explanation of the gender distribution of people who “make it” in a field but the gender distribution of people who actually have the ability to do so? But if there is an argument that actual ability to succeed in a field is linked to field-specific ability beliefs in L&C’s sense, Alexander hasn’t given it. He also hasn’t given an argument that there is such a thing as unteachable, raw “talent” required for success in each of the fields covered.

e) Having committed himself to attacking a straw man using a false analogy based on an equivocation using unsupported hidden assumptions, Alexander then presents a statistical argument for his hypothesis: the correlation between quantitative GRE and gender split is stronger than between L&C’s FABs and gender gap. This would be an argument against L&C’s hypothesis only if it is both the case that quantitative GRE measures the degree to which unteachable, field-specific abilities are required to succeed in all studied disciplines, and that the fact that there is a stronger correlation between quant GRE and gender split than between FABs and gender split implies that you can rule out the FAB hypothesis. The former is completely implausible, and in any case Alexander hasn’t given evidence for it. The latter would only be true if we knew that it can only be one or the other. If two factors A and B jointly cause/explain C, but the contribution of A is stronger than the contribution of B, then A will be more strongly correlated to C than B. So that can’t rule out that B makes an independent contribution. Specifically, that mathematical ability plays a role in explaining the gender gap is consistent with L&C’s results and the FAB hypothesis, even that it plays a larger role than FABs. You have conceded that. Given that these are not competing hypotheses, there is no reason that L&C have to discuss quantitative GRE scores. It’s a bit like criticizing a study that finds a correlation between asbestos exposure and cancer rates by saying, “look here, the correlation between smoking and cancer is much stronger than yours between asbestos exposure and cancer. Your study is flawed because you have not discussed the pre-existing literature on the connection between smoking and cancer!”

Now there is a kernel of a valid criticism in all this: maybe mathematical ability is such a strong factor in predicting the gender gap that once you take it into account, the predictive effect of FABs in L&C’s analysis disappears; this is the G&K letter. (Note again that this is not Alexander’s criticism: his argument rests on the assumption that field-specific ability beliefs just reflect underlying, unteachable field-specific abilities, that these underlying field specific abilities are measured by the quantitative GRE score, and that the stronger correlation between quantitatitive GRE score and gender gaps shows that it’s the underlying abilities and not the FABs about them that explains the gender gap. All three of these are false, implausible, or unsupported). The re-analysis in L&C’s response shows that the effect of FABs in fact does remain significant in most cases, including the case that Alexander considers; the cases where it doesn’t suffer from the VIF problem.

Please try to refrain from quoting the same long passage from Alexander’s post a fifth time.Report

Ward
Ward
Reply to  Ward
5 years ago

Regarding (a): Leslie et. al. failed to include a discussion of a pre-existing hypothesis that explains the under-representation of women across the academy on the basis of quantitative GRE scoring, while at the same time giving an explanation relying on FABs that has worse predictive value than that hypothesis. That’s a valid criticism of the study. When Leslie et al. put forth a hypothesis on which FABs are used to explain why women are underrepresented in those fields (“because women are not stereotyped as possessing such talent”), it is entirely in order to point out that the fields in questions are ones that emphasize quantitative GRE scoring and that women’s representation in those fields is far better predicted by quantitative scoring than FABs. Particularly when there is already a body of research establishing that connection. That is nothing like pointing to the link between smoking and cancer as an objection to a study on asbestos and cancer. Instead, it’s like pointing to the link between asbestos and cancer as an objection to a study that purports to show there’s a link between living in a house constructed before the 1970s and a perception that people living in houses before the 1970s are predisposed for cancer. Of course there’s such a correlation. But when we want to know what’s going on and there’s already evidence that asbestos is correlated with cancer, and with greater strength than perceptions of predispositions for cancer are correlated with living in houses constructed before the 1970s, ignoring that evidence is a flaw in the study. So your claim that there is no reason for Leslie et al. to discuss that hypothesis is false. (And please don’t get hung up on the disanalogies that 1) we have a causal connection in the asbestos case that we don’t (yet?) have in the case of FABs, and 2) in the Leslie et al. case there is statistically significant effect of FABs even when controlling for GRE scores–the analogy concerns the substitution of a weaker predictor of the observed phenomenon for a stronger one, while ignoring the existence of the stronger one.)

Remarks (b) through (e) continue to frame Alexander as giving “an argument against L&C’s hypothesis”, but that just isn’t what is going on. He’s showing that their paper ignores the pre-existing literature on the correlation between quantitative reasoning and the representation of women in different disciplines, and that this correlation is a better explanation for that representation than is a correlation between FABs and their representation. He’s established that. And I would refrain from quoting Alexander if I thought you were giving it the consideration it’s due.Report

Richard Zach
Reply to  Ward
5 years ago

I don’t know how to read the large chunks of Alexander’s post where he belittlingly compares what they do to trying to establish a link between smoking stereotypes and cancer as anything other than an argument against the hypothesis that FABs explain the gender gap. What remains of your response is simply that L&C should have also corrected for quantitiative GRE. That’s exactly G&K’s point. (Note that it is not Alexander’s point: his point is that they ignore pre-existing literature on innate ability and hard work, not pre-existing literature on the effect of mathematical ability on gender gaps; see in particular the passage you’ve quoted.) Well, C&L did that in their response letter, and found that the effect remains statistically significant.Report

Ward
Ward
Reply to  Ward
5 years ago

You write:

“[Alexander’s] point is that [Leslie, et al.] ignore pre-existing literature on innate ability and hard work, not pre-existing literature on the effect of mathematical ability on gender gaps; see in particular the passage you’ve quoted.”

Alexander makes both points. The second is found in parts II and IV. Part II includes his discussion of ‘ability’ and looks at the case of mathematics. There he’s speculating about a causal mechanism, and so he restricts his analysis to the cases where quantitative reasoning is presumed to be most important for success–STEM fields, and math in particular. In part IV he points out that pre-existing research has suggested that while hard work and innate ability are fungible in disciplines “such as Sociology, History, English, and Biology,” they are not in Physics and Mathematics. So yes, he does think Leslie et al. err in not considering this data.

But the point of part I of his post is to show that Leslie et al. should have been paying attention to pre-existing literature on the effect of mathematical ability on gender gaps. There he shows that quantitative reasoning abilities far better predict those gender gaps than does Leslie et al.’s FAB hypothesis:

“There is a correlation of r = -0.82 (p = 0.0003) between average GRE Quantitative score and percent women in a discipline. This is among the strongest correlations I have ever seen in social science data. It is much larger than Leslie et al’s correlation with perceived innate ability”

This analysis is not restricted to math and physics, however, for In part III he considers that his analysis applies only to STEM fields and responds:

“I divided the fields into STEM and non-STEM and ran an analysis within each subgroup. Within the non-STEM subgroup, there was a correlation between GRE Quantitative and percent female in a major of -0.64, p = 0.02. It is completely irresponsible to do this within the STEM subgroup, because it has n = 7 which is too small a sample size to get real results. But if we are bad people and do it anyway, we find a very similar correlation of -0.63. p is only 0.12, but with n=7 what did you expect?

Both of these correlations are higher than Leslie et al were able to get from their entire sample.”

Alexander’s point is not that Leslie et al. should have corrected for quantitative GRE scores; it’s that they should have considered them as a competing explanation for the gaps in the first place. Instead they dismiss that explanation and ignore the work done on it. Thus, Cimpian and Leslie’s response to Ginther and Kahn does not respond to Alexander.

You also write:

“I don’t know how to read the large chunks of Alexander’s post where he belittlingly compares what they do to trying to establish a link between smoking stereotypes and cancer as anything other than an argument against the hypothesis that FABs explain the gender gap.”

I believe you. Frankly, assuming you’ve read it carefully, I’m becoming rather pessimistic about the odds you’ll leave this conversation with an understanding of Alexander’s post. That’s a shame. But let me say, as I’ve become something of Alexander’s bulldog here, that I do think the FAB hypothesis is worth talking about. And it’s particularly relevant for philosophy, a discipline for which average quantitative GRE scoring predicts a ratio of men to women much closer to 50% than we actually observe. I’m certainly open to the thought that FABs are an important part of the story in philosophy, and at any rate the work of Leslie et al. does support the hypothesis that FABs are part of the story for the gender gap. But there’s a lot more to the story than FABs, even if FABs may in general have an effect and in specific cases an important one.Report

Ward
Ward
Reply to  Ward
5 years ago

Sorry, I bungled where Alexander makes the two points you consider: your first point (that Leslie, et al. ignore pre-existing literature on innate ability and hard work) is made in parts II and IV: your second point (that Leslie et al. ignore pre-existing literature on the effect of mathematical ability on gender gaps) is made in parts I and III.

So at the start of the post, immediately after the first quote, substitute ‘first’ for ‘second’ in “Alexander makes both points. The second is found in parts II and IV.”Report

Ward
Ward
Reply to  Ward
5 years ago

Cimpian and Leslie respond to a critique from Ginther and Kahn that used aggregated GRE scores, and suggest that the quantitative score alone would be more informative. That’s just what Alexander used. I see nothing in their response that addresses his analysis, but if someone would like to explain where Alexander went wrong that would be great.

As for whether GRE scores reflect innate ability–I suggest that interested parties look at what Alexander says about what he means by ‘innate’, particularly in parts II and IV of his post. From part II:

“A reader of an early draft of this post pointed out the imposingly-named Nonlinear Psychometric Thresholds In Physics And Mathematics. This paper uses SAT Math scores and GPA to create a model in which innate ability and hard work combine to predict the probability that a student will be successful in a certain discipline. It finds that in disciplines “such as Sociology, History, English, and Biology” these are fungible – greater work ethic can compensate for lesser innate ability and vice versa. But in disciplines such as Physics and Mathematics, this doesn’t happen. People below a certain threshold mathematical ability will be very unlikely to succeed in undergraduate Physics and Mathematics coursework no matter how hard-working they are.

And that brought into relief part of why this study bothers me. It ignores the pre-existing literature on the importance of innate ability versus hard work. It ignores the rigorous mathematical techniques developed to separate innate ability from hard work. Not only that, but it ignores pre-existing literature on predicting gender balance in different fields, and the pre-existing literature on GRE results and what they mean and how to use them, and all the techniques developed by people in those areas.

Having committed itself to flying blind, it takes the thing we already know how use to predict gender balance, shoves it aside in favor of a weird proxy for that thing, and finds a result mediated by that thing being a proxy for the thing they are inexplicably ignoring. Even though it just used a proxy for aptitude to predict gender balance, everyone congratulates it for having proven that aptitude does not affect gender balance.

Science journalism declares that the myth that ability matters has been vanquished forever. The media take the opportunity to remind us that scientists are sexist self-appointed geniuses who use stereotypes to punish women. And our view of an important issue becomes just a little muddier.”Report