The weight of gender bias on women’s scientific careers

But in 2016, sexual harassment isn’t the only major hurdle that female scientists still face: Systemic gender bias is keeping many women from advancing their scientific careers, and there are studies to prove it. An internal Hubble review recently found that even during her tenure, male-led applications for telescope time had a higher success rate than those led by women. She says that women, especially in male-dominated fields like engineering, tend to publish in more prestigious journals. In a 2014 survey of field researchers, 26 percent of female respondents reported that they had been assaulted at field research sites, and another 71 percent reported experiencing harassment. So that if you’re hiring a woman or a minority, you’re somehow compromising on the quality and the standards that you would expect in science.”
In addition to reducing the scientific community’s skepticism about bias, Cassidy Sugimoto says there’s more that needs to be done — like training more people to have conversations about implicit bias   and thinking critically about how labor in science labs is distributed. So people look at that and say, ‘It’s as good as it could possibly be.’”
“What I hope people are thinking about is that … white men are a shrinking fraction of the pie in this country, and if we’re not tapping all the talent that’s out there, we’re not doing as well as we could.”
This article is based on an interview that aired on PRI’s   Science Friday. And until we fully address bias in the sciences, Meg Urry adds, we’re selling ourselves short on scientific discoveries. “So we heard about citations and letters of recommendation,” she says. “Funding and proposals, there are a number of astronomy studies that show that women have less chance of getting their proposals accepted. Whether people are invited speakers or win prizes, those are biased by gender. “There are still skeptics who argue that this is due to some inherent differences in the content or quality of women’s work,” she says, adding that recent studies have shattered that myth: “Modeling all the properties of articles and predicting citation rates, we find that these systematic biases still exist against work authored by women.”
Authoring papers is just one aspect of building a scientific career, but another study recently showed that bias extends to another job-winning factor — letters of recommendation. For several years, Urry led the Hubble Space Telescope proposal review committee. PRI.org

The cases have shed light on the sexual harassment and assault that many scientists say has long been a pervasive, poorly addressed issue in the field — and one that systematically affects women scientists. Researchers analyzed recommendation letters for postdoctoral fellowships in the geosciences (a field in which women hold just 10 percent of full professorships, despite receiving 40 percent of doctoral degrees).  

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Fermilab/Lauren Biron [Public domain]/Wikimedia Commons
 

In fact, Meg Urry, the former president of the American Astronomical Society, and now a professor of astronomy and physics at Yale, points out that “every single one” of the major metrics considered in hiring, promoting or giving tenure to a scientist has been shown to be biased by gender. In her research, Cassidy Sugimoto has traced gender bias all the way down to how scientific labor is divided and performed. Teaching evaluations, even, the status of the publications, as was mentioned earlier. “What we found was that our results were very similar [for the geosciences], in that men … received more of these outstanding letters, and women were much less likely to receive them,” she says. “Not only does that show that this person really doesn’t know much about how implicit bias works, but these sorts of comments also give rise to a very damaging perspective — that there’s a trade-off between diversity and excellence. They found that female applicants are only half as likely as their male peers to receive “excellent” versus “good” letters of recommendation. Those tend to go more to men than to women.”
Another surprising finding of the study? “Whether it was a male writing the letter, or a female writing the letter, it was very similar.”
Dutt argues that the gender bias exhibited in preferentially glowing recommendation letters probably doesn’t come from a “conscious intent to harm someone.” It’s more likely the product of widespread cultural stereotypes, she says. But mounting evidence is painting a picture of just how deep-rooted those gender stereotypes are in the scientific community. “So in short, women were the hands of science, but men were choosing which questions to ask.”

Astronomer Meg Urry is shown here presenting   at Fermilab. “And when I say outstanding letters, I mean the ones that portray the applicant to be this top-notch scientist, this role model, this leader, this pioneer, this rising star. “In searches, we hear comments like, ‘Let’s not look at race or gender, let’s just look at merit,’” Kuheli Dutt says. But even then, their work receives fewer citations. We typically get a couple of Nobel prizes every season, and we have amazing discoveries that have fueled our economy. “And I think we need to continue to do research that brings light to these disparities, whether it’s about gender, race, social class, citizenship or other variables that impede our progress in terms of a healthy scientific system,” she says. They produce more, and their work is more highly cited.”
Sugimoto was the lead author on a 2013 study which found that papers with female lead authors receive fewer citations than those with male lead authors. “As you know, this is how we do our work, supposedly,” she says. Researchers recently determined that for nearly three decades, underrepresented minority scientists have consistently been awarded grants from the National Institutes of Health at lower rates than their white and mixed-race peers. In a Science Friday panel, scientists discussed how gender bias manifests in myriad ways over the course of a career — and what should be done to address it. “The gender of the letter writer didn’t seem to matter,” Dutt says. “I think we really have a problem here where we need to get people to understand they have biases that they don’t even realize,” she says. “They’re more likely to be in leading roles. This year, as she writes in a blog post, the telescope proposals did not include the name of the principal investigator. So all these things that that are how we measure excellence are systematically biased against women.”
But the bias can be subtle. “And so people are very resistant to the idea that they’re not objective.”
It’s a resistance that plays out across multiple forms of bias in the scientific community. “We found that men were more likely to be granted authorship for conceptual tasks like designing or writing the study, whereas women are granted authorship for technical tasks,” she says. “American science is extraordinarily successful. “Our studies have reconfirmed that men’s voices matter more in science,” says Cassidy Sugimoto, an associate professor of Informatics at Indiana University Bloomington. From Urry’s perspective, fighting entrenched bias in the sciences means facing one particularly stubborn issue: It’s difficult to get scientists to admit that they’re not objective in the first place. Kuheli Dutt, the study’s lead author and the assistant director of academic affairs and diversity at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, says that similar studies of recommendation letters have already been done in medicine, psychology, chemistry   and biochemistry. A series of high-profile sexual misconduct investigations have sent waves through the scientific academy this year.Player utilitiesPopout
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A manhunt is underway in Istanbul after an attack at a nightclub kills dozens

Many revelers threw themselves into the freezing waters of the Bosphorus in panic. The assailant “left the gun and went away from the scene of the incident,” he told reporters in Istanbul. The shooting spree at the waterside Reina nightclub was unleashed just 75 minutes into 2017, after a year of unprecedented bloodshed that saw hundreds of people die in strikes blamed on jihadists and Kurdish militants and a bloody failed coup. “Just as we were settling down, by the door there was a lot of dust and smoke. On December 10, 44 people were killed in a double bombing in Istanbul after a football match hosted by top side Besiktas, an attack claimed by the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons, seen as a radical offshoot of the outlawed PKK rebel group. Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu added that of 20 victims identified so far, 15 were foreigners and five were Turks. The bloodbath came as the Turkish army wages a four-month incursion in Syria to oust ISIS jihadists and Kurdish militants from the border area, suffering increasing casualties. In Istanbul, at least 17,000 police officers had been deployed and some, as is customary in Turkey, dressed themselves as Santa Claus as cover, according to television reports. Television pictures showed party-goers emerging from the Istanbul nightclub in a state of shock. Credit:

Huseyin Aldemir/Reuters

‘Walking on top of people’
From Sydney to Paris, Rio to London, security had been boosted over fears that the New Year festivities could be a target for violent extremists. But he denied earlier reports the person had used a Santa Claus costume as disguise. In June, 47 people were killed in a triple suicide bombing and gun attack at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport, with authorities blaming ISIS. Two weeks ago, an off-duty policeman assassinated Russia’s ambassador to Turkey in an Ankara art gallery. Another 65 people were being treated in hospital. “When I was walking, people were walking on top of people.”
Turkey in 2016 saw more attacks than any other year in the history of the country. France said a dual-national Tunisian-French woman had died along with her Tunisian husband, while India said it had lost two nationals. Istanbul governor Vasip Sahin said at the scene on the shores of the Bosphorus that the attacker “targeted innocent people who had only come here to celebrate the New Year and have fun.”
The attack evoked memories of the November 2015 carnage in Paris when ISIS militants went on a gun and bombing rampage on nightspots in the French capital, killing 130 people including 90 at the Bataclan concert hall. Erdogan said in a statement that with such attacks, “they are working to destroy our country’s morale and create chaos.”
Turkey would deploy every means to fight “terror organizations” and the countries supporting them, Erdogan said, without elaborating. “It was an armed terrorist.”
No-one has yet claimed responsibility for the bloodshed. German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned “an inhumane, sneaky attack on people who wanted to celebrate” while Pope Francis condemned the shooting in his New Year message. Credit:

Reuters

‘Create chaos’
There were a number of Arabs among the dead and wounded, including Saudis, Jordanians and Tunisians. The assailant shot dead a policeman and a civilian at the club entrance and then turned his gun on partygoers inside where up to 700 people were ringing in the New Year. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the gunman was still at large after slipping away unnoticed after the attack. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the carnage sought to sow chaos and undermine peace, but vowed that Turkey would never bow to the threat. The United States and France voiced outrage at Sunday’s attack and said they stood alongside their NATO ally in its fight against terror. A young Israeli woman, reportedly aged 19, was killed and another injured, Israel’s foreign ministry said. Gunshots rang out,” witness Sefa Boydas, a professional footballer, told AFP. A former employee of the Reina nightclub reacts outside following an attack by a gunman in Istanbul. Police in Turkey are searching on Sunday for gunman who killed at least 39 people at a nightclub Instanbul. Turkey is also spearheading a ceasefire plan with Russia aimed at creating a basis for peace talks to end the near six-year civil war. Soylu said the gunman had arrived with a gun concealed underneath an overcoat but subsequently exited the venue wearing a different garment. “It’s hard to imagine a crime more cynical than the killing of civilians during a New Year’s celebration,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a condolence message to Erdogan. by Stuart Williams with Raziye Akkoc/AFP ‘No crime more cynical’
Mainly Muslim Turkey’s religious affairs agency Diyanet condemned the attack, saying the fact it took place in a nightclub “was no different to it being in a market or place of worship.”
Turkey is still reeling from a failed July coup blamed by the government on the US-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen that has been followed by a relentless purge of his alleged supporters from state institutions.

Why the moons of Uranus are named after characters in Shakespeare

The audio story was made possible with support from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and the Folger Shakespeare Library. So, there’s reason to believe that when his contemporary William Lassell   stumbled upon two more of Uranus’ moons in 1851, John Herschel may have had a hand in their naming, too. (Umbriel is a figure in an Alexander Pope poem, and Ariel turns up as a character in both Shakespeare’s and Pope’s works. “What’s in a name?” Shakespeare’s star-crossed Juliet famously wanted to know. But when it comes to Uranus’ moons, details are murky about who exactly began doling out Shakespearean monikers. This was really a big deal,” says Derek Sears, a scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center, who’s writing a biography of Kuiper. And true to tradition, Kuiper named the new moon Miranda, after a character in “The Tempest.”
In the 1980s, NASA’s Voyager 2 probe found 10 new moons around Uranus. The craters on Mercury are artists and musicians, like Bach, John Lennon   and Disney.   
What is certain is this: Next to Titania and Oberon, the moons Lassell learned of became known as Ariel and Umbriel. He also named Saturn’s moons. “So you are now putting Kuiper among these prominent astronomers from the 19th and 18th centuries. But according to Sears, sometimes simple has nothing to do with it. Pope is the literary exception to Shakespeare’s claim on Uranus’ moons.)
Continuing the tradition  
Nevertheless, a   clear Shakespearean precedent had been set by 1948, when the American astronomer Gerard Kuiper discovered a fifth moon of Uranus. Belinda, named for a Pope heroine, rounds out the leading ladies. He never discovered any moons, but he was a three-time president of the Royal Astronomical Society and one of Britain’s most prominent scientists in the 1850s. For centuries, whoever discovered a celestial body usually had dibs on the naming rights. PRI.org

There are constellations and planets christened after Greek and Roman gods. To label them, members of the Outer Planets Task Group in the International Astronomical Union’s Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature went back to the source: They started with Puck, from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The remaining moons sound like a character list out of the “Complete Works of Shakespeare.” They include Cordelia, Ophelia, Bianca, Cressida, Desdemona, Juliet, Portia   and Rosalind. They named them Stephano and Trinculo, after the drunken butler and drunken jester in “The Tempest.”
It would, of course, be more practical to quit linking celestial discoveries with mythological heroes, rock stars   or the odd mix of characters from Shakespeare and Pope. “I’ve read a huge amount of what Herschel wrote. And as far as I know, he’d never heard of Shakespeare,” Hoskin says. But the Shakespeare references had to come from somewhere. Gladman and Kavelaars named the next moon Sycorax — in reference to “The Tempest,” but also because Kavelaars loved the television show “Doctor Who.” Several years later, they found two more moons, which had staggering, off-kilter orbits. The first two moons called Titania and Oberon, after the king and queen of the fairies in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,”   were discovered by William Herschel in 1787. (He was also a famous composer.) But Herschel simply referred to the satellites as “number one” and “number two,” according to Cambridge University historian Michael Hoskin. In 1899, William Lassell’s daughter   Jane Lassell told a reporter that the moons’ names were given by Sir John Herschel, “to whom my father applied.” What that means for sure, we’ll never know — she also said she lost their letters in a move — and Herschel never took the credit. And the moons of the planet Uranus — there are, impressively, 27 altogether — have literary ties — 25 of them relate to characters in Shakespeare’s plays. And when the question of what to name the moons was raised, Gladman — who knew his Shakespeare — had a ready answer. The images were created using a technique that made faint celestial bodies more visible. So Caliban leaped out right away, as you know, a creature emerging out of the dark,” Sears says. And for those of us peering skyward, it’s a question for the ages: Where do celestial bodies get their names from?Player utilitiesPopout
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downloadListen to the Story. One clue: Herschel’s son, John Herschel, also became an astronomer. Two young astronomers, Brett Gladman and JJ Kavelaars, found two more moons in the mid-1990s, as they pored over images taken at the Palomar Observatory in San Diego. “What’s a Shakespearean character that lives in the dark? “It’s just something about the right side of the brain of the astronomers that says, ‘Let’s give them all names,’ you know — totally unnecessary, but we kind of like it.”
This article is based on a story that aired on PRI’s   Studio 360. “I do think most astronomers have some sort of a huge romantic streak,” he says.