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Blinded About Women

by Daniel Drezner

much of the political blogosphere seems obsessed cleavageBeyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and EngineeringNew York TimesCornelia Dean provides a summary
Women in science and engineering are hindered not by lack of ability but by bias and "outmoded institutional structures" in academia, an expert panel reported yesterday. The panel, convened by the National Academy of Sciences, said that in an era of global competition the nation could not afford "such underuse of precious human capital." Among other steps, the report recommends altering procedures for hiring and evaluation, changing typical timetables for tenure and promotion, and providing more support for working parents. "Unless a deeper talent pool is tapped, it will be difficult for our country to maintain our competitiveness in science and engineering," the panel's chairwoman, Donna E. Shalala, said at a news conference at which the report was made public.... The panel dismissed the idea, notably advanced last year by Lawrence H. Summers, then the president of Harvard, that the relative dearth of women in the upper ranks of science might be the result of "innate" intellectual deficiencies, particularly in mathematics. If there are cognitive differences, the report says, they are small and irrelevant. In any event, the much-studied gender gap in math performance has all but disappeared as more girls enroll in demanding classes. Even among very high achievers, the gap is narrowing, the panelists said.... The report also dismisses other commonly held beliefs -- that women are uncompetitive or less productive, that they take too much time off for their families. Instead, it says, extensive previous research showed a pattern of unconscious but pervasive bias, "arbitrary and subjective" evaluation processes and a work environment in which "anyone lacking the work and family support traditionally provided by a 'wife' is at a serious disadvantage.".... "Nothing was a foregone conclusion," [Shalala] said, adding that the committee was surprised at the strength of evidence supporting the report's conclusions. In an interview, Dr. Simmons of Brown said: "The data don't lie. There are lots of arguments one could have mounted 30 years ago, but 30 years later we have incontrovertible data that women do have the ability to do science and engineering at a very high level."
a link to the .pdf version of the executive summaryp. 125 of the report
Almost all English-language scientific and medical journals use anonymous review, in which the authors do not learn the names of reviewers, but fewer than 20% use blinded review, in which reviewers do not learn the names of authors. Journal editors who use blinded review have argued that blinding serves to decrease bias in the review process. Indeed, several studies have examined the effect of blinding and found that it reduced reviewer bias with regard to personal characteristics of the authors, including nationality, institutional affiliation, sex, friendship with the reviewer, race or ethnicity, and intellectual conformity with the reviewer. (emphasis added)