Sunday, May 21, 2017

Martinus Rørbye, Scene Near Sorrento Overlooking the Sea, 1835.
(Source: Nivaagaard Collection)

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Last Word?

Paul Griffiths' farewell to the university is worth reading. He has experienced something that many of us have been watching unfold with concern from the sidelines in now countless other cases. He expressed his views and faced disciplinary proceedings as a consequence. This also happened to Laura Kipnis and, I dare say, to Tim Hunt. In all cases, one can accept that people are upset or angered by what one says. One can even accept that those who are offended call for one's dismissal or disinvitation. What we cannot and should not abide is university administrators that, knowing full well that the complaint was occasioned merely by something that was said, and said very clearly as an expression of opinion, actually move against the "offender".

Griffiths writes that

words, in universities, have been what I’ve used to make my way. I’ve used them to elucidate, to explain, to understand, and to argue. The word-life, which is the same as the life of the mind, has been for me one of struggle to accentuate and sharpen intellectual differences with the goal of increasing clarity about what they come to and what’s at stake in them.

I respect Griffiths' decision, though it saddens me and I wish he would stay. Someone who has been living, and thought he could continue to live a "word-life" cannot continue to work happily in an environment where the words he chooses are subject to administrative oversight. Critical oversight is another matter. We want our peers and colleagues to argue with us when they disagree. But the increasing legitimacy of the act of going to administrators for help in settling intellectual disputes takes the life out of our words. Academia becomes a place to negotiate ideological positions grounded in power, not knowledge. It stops being a place to make up your mind about what the truth is.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Tolerance of Ambiguity

"The idea that women cannot think logically is a not so old venerable sterotype. As an example of thinking, I don’t think we need to discuss it." (Rosmarie Waldrop)

I've been having some interesting exchanges over at Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa's blog. It think I've located an important fault line, that runs through both the discussion and what is sometimes called "sexual negotiation" (i.e., the communicative process by which consent is established). Jonathan recently summarized one of his disagreements with Kipnis as follows:

Kipnis has strange ideas about sexual agency, thinking that tolerating harassment and assault is a more genuine exercise of agency than is filing a complaint about it.

Kipnis's ideas about agency may seem strange to Jonathan, but I think it is unfair to characterize her view as suggesting tolerance of harassment and assault over filing a complaint. She is saying that stopping harassment and assault in the moment is a more genuine exercise of agency than letting it proceed (for perhaps weeks and months) and then filing a complaint (perhaps years) later. She is saying that a woman who is able to assert her boundaries and defend herself if necessary has more agency than a woman who depends on the intervention of an authority to maintain her personal space.

She not even saying that this agency also includes tolerating behavior that is merely annoying but falls short of harassment or assault. Getting a man to stop "merely" annoying her is an exercise of the very same agency that she is talking about. Indeed, exercising this agency is a way of avoiding the escalation of the behavior to something where the authorities might relevantly intervene. Note that the woman is not protected by the authority at this point, i.e., she does not have the "agency" to file a complaint if no actual harassment has taken place. [She doesn't have a "case".] But she very definitely might have the agency she needs to stop a guy from hassling her. So Kipnis is making a substantial point: the Title IX regime is (implicitly) encouraging women to tolerate mild annoyance, about which no complaint can be made, until it escalates to harassment, when the complaint-filing agency kicks in.

One of Jonathan's commenters has suggested that Kipnis is sometimes "smeared" by her critics as promulgating "rape myths". I think Jonathan is doing something like that in this way of characterizing her position. (I called him "slick" at one point for insinuating that Kipnis approves of Trump's "grabby" behavior.) Kipnis is clearly not saying that women should tolerate being assaulted. She's saying they should express their intolerance directly, not through the intercession of a higher power. I think that's important to keep in mind.

One of the things that the Tim Hunt scandal taught me was that some of today's feminists seem intolerant of ambiguity. They don't like to play on what Rosmarie Waldrop once called "the lawn of excluded middle". Ironically, she asserted the importance of this space of ambiguity with distinctly feminist intent. I recognized it again in the "difficult conversation" about harassment in astronomy. I think Kipnis is trying to indicate the importance of this space of human interaction too.

What this requires is a "comfort zone", if you will, that can be challenged without violence. That is, it requires us to "allow" or "tolerate" discomfort without immediately considering this to be harassment or assault. It means we have to take responsibility for establishing and maintaining boundaries in particular situations and allowing them to move in real time, sometimes "too far", but then back again. What is "intimacy" if not the moving of the boundaries of one's personal space with respect to some particular person? The idea that every move here can be made with the unambiguous "affirmative" consent of the other is unrealistic and, I suspect, completely foreign to most people over 40. (And most younger people without a college education, too, no doubt.)

This has a rhetorical, perhaps even logical, corollary. "The law of excluded middle is a venerable old law of logic," Waldrop tells us, "But much must be said against its claim that everything must be either true or false." There has to be a space in which we don't immediately conflate tolerating behavior that someone (and even a Title IX investigator) has found to be harassment with "tolerating harassment" itself. It may be a denial of the assumption that the behavior was indeed harassment. That is, I may simply be arguing, in a particular case, that it is false that someone harassed or assaulted someone else, given the facts.

But is may also be inexorably ambiguous, even to the two people who have direct access to memories of the experience. It may simply remain unclear whether the pain (if such there was), emotional or physical, was the result of violence or accident. That's why it's so important to work it out in the moment that unfolds, and in the moments that follow, in the days and weeks to come. Perhaps, on one outsider's interpretation, a woman was assaulted, but, on her own interpretation, she successfully defended herself against, i.e., averted, an assault. Or perhaps it was never an assault but whatever was going to happen didn't. Perhaps we must accept, then, that there is no simply true or false proposition about what was going on there.

"The four points of the compass are equal on the lawn of excluded middle," Waldrop tells us, "where full maturity of meaning takes time the way you eat a fish, morsel by morsel, off the bone." To say, as Kipnis does, that we should educate men and women in the art of letting the meaning of their encounters mature, rather than seeking its unambiguous adjudication by a Title IX panel, is not to say they should tolerate assault and harassment. What we need to learn, Kipnis is trying to tell us, is to manage the ambiguities of desire. In my view, we need not law but literature here, not policy but poetry. "The gravity of love," says Waldrop, "encompasses ambivalence."

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Kate Clancy Gets James Watson Disinvited

"Moral character and ethics matter more than science."
(Kate Clancy)

I wouldn't normally write about this, but Kate Clancy happens to be in my wheel house, or perhaps just a little stuck in my craw. It seems she led the charge against James Watson speaking at the University of Illinois. I want to deal with this both at the level of principle and the particulars of the case. For good order: I refuse to send the obligatory virtue signal of "denouncing" the man's views before defending his right to speak.

I think this sort of silencing is distasteful, no matter who is speaking. Someone at UI wanted to hear what Watson had to say and there was no reason to think that he was going to incite anyone to violence or otherwise undermine the institutions of Western democracy. By contrast, Clancy threatened to organize a protest against those institutions if the talk was to go ahead. Clancy was objecting to the peaceful exchange of ideas between interested parties in a university setting. Watson appears to have had something on his mind that he wanted to share; an institute appeared to be willing to listen. The fact that Clancy couldn't abide this event says a great deal about her and people like her. The fact that the talk was immediately cancelled because of her Twitter-based objections says something about the institute and perhaps the larger institution. The weakness of our institutions against even the threat of protest is a bit disconcerting. But there it is.

But what about the basis of the complaint itself? James Watson is, of course, one of the discoverers of DNA, something for which he is justly famous. He doesn't just know a thing or two about genes. He knows what is, arguably, the first thing about them. It is not surprising that an institute devoted to the study of genomic biology* would want to hear his thoughts on cancer.

The News-Gazette article points out that he was going hold a narrowly "scientific" talk, but why should this matter? Watson apparently once held and perhaps still holds views about the genetic basis of intelligence and, well, "fun". He thinks, or thought, that black people are less intelligent, and women more fun, than he is. That is or was his opinion, or is at least something he accidentally said and later regretted saying. Regardless of what he now thinks, as a question of the distribution of traits in a population it may or may not be true. (We are told it is scientifically "discredited".) Watson's proposed mechanism (genes) may or may not explain the phenomenon. Now, even if that was what he had wanted to talk about, and if the Carl Woese Institute had wanted to hear him talk about it, what business is it of Clancy's?

Or we can put this point even more strongly. If James Watson can't say that intelligence has a genetic component, who can? How can this idea ever be discussed if the Nobel prize winner on the topic can't discuss it? Likewise, if not even a Nobel prize winner can talk about how to have fun in the lab, who can? But, again, that wasn't even what he was going to talk about. On Clancy's view, it seems, once you have said something that she thinks science has "discredited" you shouldn't be allowed to speak anywhere again about anything. This is a very strange view to me. I don't mind her not inviting him to dinner, or even not putting him at the top of her list of suggested speakers for her events. But to prevent researchers (and students) from hearing what he wants to tell them seems like overreach to me.

Unfortunately, she does seem to understand the power she wields. The Carl Woese Institute was certainly sufficiently cowed by the prospect of her "plan to organize against it". She may call it "moral character and ethics" but what she really thinks matters more than science is her morality. For Clancy, ideology trumps knowledge.** It saddens me. I hope this tactic will soon be sufficiently discredited to be immediately ignored by our institutions of higher learning.

Update: A Twitter exchange between Nathaniel Comfort and Kate Clancy tells us something important about discourse in this area. "[Kate Clancy] gets Jim Watson disinvited to give lecture at UIUC. What do you think: Social justice or censorship?" tweeted Comfort. That is, he simply raising the question of whether disinviting Watson is a good thing. He's calling for a reflection on a (threatened) protest. Clancy's response is to associate even raising the question with sending death threats. (She also deflected blame for "getting" Watson disinvited; she did not, of course, likewise deflect the praise she had been given before this.) This was echoed by Clancy's supporters who demanded that Comfort delete his tweet. Matthew Francis's statement clearly states (and amplifies) Clancy's objection: "OH FUCK YOU. How can this be read as anything other than calling people to give Kate more misogynistic hate? This is shitty." Grant offered the following advice: "You made a huge social media faux pas in your approach. Screencap the tweet, issue a simple apology, delete it, and try again. Very easy." Remember that Comfort's "faux pas" was to ask whether disinviting Watson was justice or censorship (which is the question to ask here and on which Clancy simply has an answer: it was justice) and to name the person who publicly led the campaign to make that disinvitation happen. Social justice activists appear to believe that questioning their actions is, in itself, as a social injustice! That's not good for discourse. To his credit, Comfort has left the tweet up and, after trying to explain himself and offering a private apology, appears mainly to have let the event pass.

*I wonder if some sort of underlying conflict between biological anthropology (Clancy's field) and genomic biology is playing out here. It would be interesting to look into that.
**I added these two sentences and the epigraph. I'm grateful to my anonymous commenter for bringing this tweet to my attention.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

A Magic Trick

I would like to do a magic trick in which an audience member has to bring an unopened can of ground coffee to the performance. The can is set down on a table out of my reach. I never come into contact with it. I then give them an unopened pack of playing cards. They are to inspect it, open it, and then inspect the cards. It is an ordinary deck of cards.

I now ask them to shuffle the cards thoroughly and set the cards down on the table beside the can of coffee. I touch neither the cards nor the can. I produce an envelope from my pocket and hand it to the audience member. I ask them to take the top card off the deck, show it to the audience, and to me, and put it in the envelope and hand the envelope back to me. I return the envelope to my pocket.

At this point I explain how the trick works. Some time in the future, I, or one of my descendants, will invent (or purchase) a time machine. I, or they, will go back in time and work out where the coffee was put into the can. At the crucial moment, before the can is sealed, they will slip the card that is now in the envelope into the can. The envelope along with the instructions for what to do when the time machine is acquired will be passed down from generation to generation.

If I am right, then, a double of the card from the future has been in the can all along. No one could have known what card would be selected during this performance. Only a visitor from the future could put the right card in the can before it was sealed and subsequently sold to the audience member.

At this point, still not having touched the can myself, I ask the audience member to open it and to dump the contents on the table. What, I wonder, would we find?

Thursday, May 11, 2017

4 hours 42 minutes and 58 seconds...

...of reason.
...without incident.

This is worth watching. You don't have to binge watch it and the sound gets better about 53 minutes in. You don't even have to watch it all. The important thing is that a reasonable conversation that went almost five hours about sexual assault on college campuses actually happened. The audience was clearly not predisposed to the speaker's point of view. Perhaps not incidentally, the invited (i.e., not dis-invited) speaker was critical of the current Title IX regime.

This makes me want to issue a challenge. Would a member of the Astronomy Allies make themselves available in this way? I'm thinking of Joan Schmelz, Christina Richey, and Bryan Gaensler. And, of course, Kate Clancy (tough she's an "ally" but not an astronomer.) Would they accept an invitation for an open-ended conversation about the problem of harassment in astronomy that could go on for four or five hours, depending on the interest of the audience?

It's an interesting asymmetry in these sorts of cases. I, for one, would love to talk about the problem of sexual harassment in astronomy (or science or academia in general) in this sort of way. I would listen to all questions and objections, and I would answer them to the best of my ability. I don't get the sense that the other side of this debate is willing to talk in this sort of open and unstructured way.

KC Johnson is very impressive here. And, like I say, very generous with his time. It is amazing to think that there was opposition to this conversation even taking place (see 03:02:00).

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

The Responsibility of Anthropologists

Anthropologists sometimes get the cultures they study wrong. This is not just because anthropologists, too, are human beings, and therefore fallible; it is because they are, by their own admission (or boast, if you prefer) engaged in "science", and therefore subject to falsification. [In order to say something true and meaningful you risk saying something false.] We trust science not because we think it is always right but because it regularly corrects itself. It is able, not just to discover that it has made a mistake, but to admit it when it happens.

In anthropology this is especially important because the cultures it describes also have images of themselves. Some Samoans, for example, famously took offense at Margaret Mead's description of them as sexually promiscuous. They did not recognize themselves in the image she presented. This is not surprising when we consider that her conclusions were based largely on interviews with teen-aged girls. Leaving aside the question of whether they were being completely truthful with her, looking at a culture from this perspective is likely to be distorted in particular ways. Speaking to the adults in the community would have offered a corrective.

I have lately been concerned with the cultural description of the community of astronomers. It has been described in terms that very few members of any community would take pride in. The Committee for the Status of Women in Astronomy commissioned a survey of the workplace climate in the discipline, and enlisted the help of two anthropologists—Kate Clancy and Katharine Lee at the University of Illinois. At a preliminary presentation of its results, astronomers were told that their "community is steeped in unconscious bias and is set such that white, cisgendered, heterosexual, able-bodied men are the dominant group by a larger percentage than the general population". They were also told that they "have a problem": "scientists in the astronomical and planetary science communities experience and witness inappropriate language, verbal harassment, and physical assault." Women were told they'd be "lucky" if they weren't harassed.

These are claims made about a community of about 10,000 people. The study remains unpublished, which is to say, un-vetted by peers.

The claims it makes are are not inconsequential, however. Not only has the description of astronomy as a sexist culture, rife with harassment, tarnished the public image of astronomy, and that of a number of individual astronomers, it has informed policy. The American Astronomical Society has rewritten its harassment policy and begun to regulate the "romantic inclinations" of its members at conferences. Citing the problems in astronomy specifically, and with the explicit support of the very same Kate Clancy, Rep. Jackie Speier has introduced legislation at the federal level to deal with what she describes as "rampant" sexual harassment in the STEM fields.

Like I say, anthropologists sometimes get the cultures they study wrong. One check on this is the scientific culture of anthropology itself. By publishing its results, by being open about its data and its methods, anthropology exposes itself to criticism. It not only presents its results, it commits itself to a conversation about them. Given the implications of judgments about a culture, especially a culture that is subject to federal regulation, anthropologists have a responsibility to acknowledge objections to their descriptions of the communities they describe. They have an obligation to discuss, and even debate, their claims.

It will not do to just enlist the support of some members of the community under study. This is not just because of the problem of Mead's "teenage perspective" on Samoan culture. Far worse is the possibility that one's description will be informed and endorsed by a particular faction within a community during a time of political struggle. (Imagine an anthropologist describing a gang war in the inner city from the perspective of one of the gangs, or even the police.) A purportedly objective account of a culture might thus be skewed to fit a particular interest. In the case of astronomy, the image of a "harassment culture" appears to be driven by stories that circulate in a network of "allies", a network that has ended the career of at least one major astronomer by a deliberate campaign of vilification. Although not herself an astronomer, there is good reason to think that Kate Clancy has effectively joined this network. She has "gone native" as one sometimes puts it.

I believe that anthropology, as a discipline, is failing the astronomy community by not subjecting a quickly spreading characterization of its culture—as "misogynistic", "homophobic" and "racist"—and the anthropologist who is promoting it, to critical scrutiny. I have done what I can to bring the problem to light. I have long tried to engage with Clancy about her results—her methods, her data, and her interpretations of them—and she has completely ignored me. I hope that at some point Clancy's peers in anthropology will join me and help me put her work into proper perspective.

Anthropology has a long history of collusion with the powers that be. As a discipline, it is rightly, if sometimes a bit ostentatiously, ashamed of its colonial past. I believe we're seeing a repeat of this process as anthropologists conspire with reformers to transform the culture of science in the name of "diversity". This, as I have argued before, is not so much a feminist (or even an "intersectional") project as a corporatist one. We are talking about the colonization of science by politics, of knowledge by power. It is the takeover of inquiry by management. By calling itself "social science", this ideology is avoiding accountability. It is irresponsible.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

As a man in science, I need to conceal my masculinity to be taken seriously

The Women in Astronomy blog/AASWomen Newletter brings us the shocking news: "As a woman in science, I need to conceal my femininity to be taken seriously." Eve Forster, at the University of Toronto, writing at Vox, "tested the thesis [her]self". I don't doubt her results. Here's how she describes the everyday (control, I guess) condition:

"When I’m at the lab, I dress as invisibly as I can. I wear dark jeans, boring, long-sleeved shirts and hoodies, and casual shoes. My hair is tied back into a sloppy bun, and my makeup is minimal. I look like I live in an organic granola commercial."

She says she was treated less seriously by her students when she let her hair down one day. I guess that's possible. But, as the title of this post suggests, it got me thinking about the corresponding male experiment. I picked two of my currently favorite scientists (I just discovered the very good Sixty Symbols videos) and when I found comparably ordinary pictures I googled their ideal "masculine" and "feminine" counterparts using the search terms "feminine woman sunglasses" and "masculine man sunglasses", using the first picture suggested in the image search for each. Here's the side-by-side comparison:

I hope my point with this image is obvious, even if the differences are intentionally subtle. If you need it explained to you, go ahead and ask in the comments, but I warn you that to make my meaning clearer I may have to go "full frontal".

As with my previous attempt at this kind of playful pushback against a certain kind of feminism, I know this doesn't prove anything. But I do think it's a bit unrealistic to expect to be able to express your "femininity" by becoming a scientist. I don't think male scientists feel especially "masculine" at work. Perhaps "the academic fashion" stems from wanting to signal that it is not sex but truth one is (at least directly) after. Perhaps one is trying, as a scientist, to express neither one's masculinity nor one's femininity but, rather, one's intelligence. (Virginia Woolf reminds us somewhere that Coleridge thought "the great mind is androgynous".) It may be vain to deliberately dress down in order to give the impression that one cares less about how one looks (to the opposite sex)* than what the facts are in the hopes of being "taken seriously" by other scientists and students. But I don't think vanity is a particularly feminine vice, either.

PS. For good order I should mention that one of the scientists in my little comparison does actually have an opinion on gender stereotypes in science. You can hear her views here.
*I don't think it's completely out of line to suggest that "masculinity" and "femininity" are not merely intrinsic "gender expressions"; given their role in mating, they are distinct aspects of what is, quite rightly, called "sex appeal".

Thursday, May 04, 2017

A Critique of the SAFE13 Study

[This post was edited for clarity on 05/05/17 at 14:30]

SAFE13 is widely regarded as a ground-breaking study of sexual harassment in the sciences. It was conducted by Kate Clancy, Robin Nelson, Julienne Rutherford, and Katie Hinde in 2013 and published in PLOS ONE in 2014. The data set comprises 666 survey responses and 26 interviews with field scientists from 32 different disciplines in life, physical, and social sciences. In a press conference, Clancy summarized the result as follows:

In our sample, 71% of women and 41% of men reported experiencing sexual harassment. 26% of women and 6% of men in our sample reported experiencing sexual assault including rape.

In this post I want to look at what these claims mean and how they are supported by the data. Since the study is, indeed, altogether likely to be breaking new ground, inspiring similar studies in other fields, I think it is important to take a critical look at its methodology. Does it really "reveal" what it says it does? My conclusions are, let us say, skeptical.

Part of my skepticism comes from the authors' attitude to criticism. PLOS ONE normally publishes papers only on the condition that data be made available on request, and that authors will provide information about metadata and methods. In this spirit, I have been trying to contact Clancy to discuss the issues in this post since November of last year and, in preparation for writing this post, I again contacted Clancy and requested the data. Hearing nothing back from her, I contacted PLOS ONE's data team (as per the data policy) and asked for their assistance. I was soon informed that my request had been "escalated" to the editorial team, who eventually informed me that I would not be getting the data. The reason I was given was that the data I was asking for (namely, the survey data) did not support the claims in the paper I was asking about (the incidence of rape in the sample).* Rather, I was told, the interviews supported the relevant claims and these were confidential. This seems to belie the impression left by the paper itself, namely, that the conclusions therein are based solely on the surveys. This is important to keep in mind.

At a recent NYU panel (video here, see 00:06:05f.), Clancy described the study as a "Fuck You!" to reviewers of an earlier abstract who weren't persuaded by merely listening to women's "experiences" and wanted something more "empirical" instead. The paper, however, makes it clear that the "survey data neither allow us to estimate the rate of these experiences among our trainees and colleagues, nor do they allow any estimation of the prevalence of field sites with a hostile work environment and/or systematic abuse." This has not prevented either the authors or their readers from taking the results as an indication that science has a significant harassment problem. "[T]he large number of respondents from across dozens of disciplines and high prevalence of harassment and assaults," the paper tells us, "suggests that the results presented here are likely not attributable to only a handful of hostile field sites." In a 2014 podcast Clancy emphasized that they had "absolute numbers of hundreds of women saying they were harassed and assaulted". Despite its own stated limitations, then, the study is clearly being used to support claims about prevalence. The question is whether those claims hold up.

The paper claims that the

survey revealed that conducting research in the field exposes scientists to a number of negative experiences as targets and as bystanders. The experiences described by our respondents ranged from inadvertent alienating behavior, to unwanted verbal and physical sexual advances, to, most troublingly, sexual assault including rape.
I, for one, do not think that SAFE13 provides an empirical basis for saying that field work "exposes" scientists to any particular risk of harassment or assault and, especially, that this exposure includes a significant risk of rape. This is not just because the sample has an (acknowledged) self-selection bias, but because the measuring instrument (the questionnaire) is far too imprecisely designed. Moreover, no attempt has been made to compare the result to any estimate of baseline risk, though this point is somewhat moot since the imprecision of the instrument gives us nothing very definite to compare.

It cannot be stressed enough that the survey questionnaire itself did not afford an opportunity to describe behavior. Rather, as the supplementary material shows, the respondents answered yes-or-no questions about what they had experienced. These, arguably, included alienating behavior, unwanted verbal and physical sexual advances, and sexual assault including rape, but there were only two catch-all questions, one for non-physical and the other for physical harassment:

32. Have you ever personally experienced inappropriate or sexual remarks, comments about physical beauty, cognitive sex differences, or other jokes, at an anthropological field site?

39. Have you ever experienced physical sexual harassment, unwanted sexual contact, or sexual contact in which you could not or did not give consent or felt it would be unsafe to fight back or not give your consent at an anthropological field site?

Answering "yes" to question 32 was counted as a report of "sexual harassment", while a "yes" to question 39 was counted as "sexual assault" (presumably, "including rape"). In so far as experiences of alienating behavior, unwanted advances, assault and rape were actually described by the respondents, then, this must have been done in the interviews, i.e., by only 26 of the 666 respondents. (Like I say, this appears to have been confirmed by the authors, albeit only through the editors of PLOS ONE, after ignoring my question for months.)

We do not know how many of the 26 interviews described rapes. But it should be possible to provide the de-indentified** extracts from the interviews that were coded “alienating”, “assault”, “rape”, etc. The definition of “rape” in the social sciences, it should be noted, is somewhat elastic. The University of Texas, for example, recently announced that 15% of its female undergraduates on the Austin campus had been “raped”. By comparison, the US Department of Justice puts the baseline rate of “rape or sexual assault” among 18-24 year-old women at about 0.7%.

Now, since the rape(s) and assaults reported in the SAFE13 study can only have been described in the interviews, the survey can have counted at most 26 of them. I think a count should be in fact be provided, and the data that underpins that count (i.e., the de-identified description of the behavior that got it coded as “assault” or “rape”) should be openly available. At the very least, the coding methodology should be made available, and the authors should be willing to explain their choices to critics like me.

Otherwise the claim that 26% of the women (and 6% of the men!) in the survey experienced “sexual assault including rape” is simply not supported by the data. To be sure, if the interview data were made available, there would still be a legitimate criticism to be made about the representativeness of the interviews with respect to the overall sample; but this would not be a formal criticism of the relationship between the claims in the paper and the data, since being open about this would allow for discussion, which is all that is needed.

As far as I can tell, then, SAFE13 does not actually support the conclusion that working in the field "exposes scientists” to any particular rate or range of negative experiences (i.e., experiences that they are not already exposed to the possibility of simply by being human). If a woman is at a particular risk of being assaulted anywhere else, then SAFE13 does not provide a rate of assault among field scientists that can be meaningfully compared to it. It is entirely possible that any given woman is safer while in the field than she would be in her own neighborhood of a major US city.

"Science doesn't have a sexual assault problem," Clancy has rightly said; "life has a sexual assault problem." But what she, as well as her fellow authors and many of their readers,*** fail to consider is that the prevalence of harassment and assault—including, indeed, rape—may be lower in science than in all other social and professional spheres. If it is then, not only does science not have a harassment problem, it has a solution. This, I dare say, is an empirical question. And I hope that SAFE17, or an equivalent study, deploys a methodology that lets us answer it.

Update: See also "The Responsibility of Anthropologists"

*In my request, I stated, out of what I considered courtesy, my reasons for wanting the data, but I also made clear that, in addition to the question of the basis of claims about rape, I had a "general" interest in the data. I wanted to see what the data set looked like, and be able to consider alternative interpretations of it. Though I have repeated my request, I have still not seen the actual data and can therefore not even confirm that it exists.
**The "data availability statement" at the beginning of the paper makes clear that data that could lead to the identification of respondents will not be available, but "limited, de-identified data may be available by contacting the corresponding author".
***Monica Byrne, for example, reads the SAFE13 study as showing that female scientists are exposed to a notable risk of being raped by a colleague.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Hypatia, Tuvel and ... Kate Clancy?!?!?!?!

It really is a small world. I don't have anything to add to the substance of the discussion about the Rebecca Tuvel case at this point. Jesse Singal provides a detailed account of what happened in New York Magazine. And Brian Leiter has offered his view (and legal opinion) and collected some illuminating responses to the affair. Justin Weinberg has covered it the The Daily Nous, to which Tuvel has responded. (My two cents here: she should not have apologized even as little as she did.) Feminist Philosophers weighs in too.

[Update: Brian Leiter asks the philosophers who called for the retraction of Tuvel's article, Why? Lisa Guenther answers. I'm also very curious to hear what Judith Butler was thinking.]

[Update 2: It is good to see that Tuvel's department at Rhodes College displaying some institutional decency! This is generally what is lacking in these cases, just ask Tim Hunt.]

I agree with what, thankfully, appears to be the majority view. The demand for retraction is very misguided and Tuvel has been seriously mistreated by her editors.* There is only one thing that I'm particularly well-positioned to point out. I was struck by the addendum to the letter that was sent to the editors of Hypatia. It thanks Chanda Prescod-Weinstein for pointing out that the letter had not been "direct" enough about anti-Blackness. Prescod-Weinstein is an inter-sectional feminist astrophysicist*, who has been active in the campaign against sexual harassment in her field, which I have been studying very closely for a while now. Recognizing the name, I followed a hunch: has anyone else involved with the Committee for the Status of Women in Astronomy signed the letter? Lo and behold, there was someone: Kate Clancy, who helped Christina Richey conduct the CSWA Workplace Climate Survey. Wow!

Update: I originally described her as an "astronomer", but I've been told this isn't quite accurate. Her PhD is in physics and her research appears to be mainly theoretical.

*IMPORTANT UPDATE: It turns out that the statement by "the majority of associate editors" does not represent the views the journal's editor or it's board.

Miriam Solomon, president of the board of directors of Hypatia Inc. — the nonprofit corporation that oversees the journal and other activities, such as conferences — echoed Ms. Scholz’s disavowal. The apology did not represent the views of Hypatia’s editor, its local editorial advisers, or its editorial board, she said. "The associate editors are speaking for themselves."

The full story in the CHE.