Friday, February 15, 2008

Women in Science

For most of my undergraduate career, I was operating under the assumption that prejudice against women in the professional community was largely a thing of the past. As a result, I felt that quota-based hiring practices, etc. were largely artifacts whose only effect was to diminish male's ability to compete. If nothing else, I thought this was certainly true in science.

Going through graduate school disabused me of this notion, in a variety of ways. Primarily, I was surprised that many female grad students, and virtually every woman over 30, believed women were discriminated against in science. Perception isn't always reality, but it is hard to dismiss someone's opinion without reason, and I didn't have any good reasons. In fact, some pretty good reasons for how this discrimination were happening were explained to me.

Let's take perception. The North American Benthological Society is one of the few society conferences I've attended regularly. The society is small, and seems young, but there are perhaps a few dozen 'stars' of the society. These are the rock stars of the stream ecology world.

As my friend Sally pointed out at the last NABS I attended, the male and female rock stars are very different. The males are out late drinking every night of the conference, going to strip clubs, etc., etc. For many of them it shows in the talks (which tend to be incoherent and rambling; but funny), yet people pack the hall to see them speak because everyone loves them. The comparable women rock stars are generally described with words like scary or intense. The women tend to produce these fantastic (ok...good) talks that don't quite attract the same attention.

Why? Because women in science are judged much harsher than are men! Recent research is now documenting this (see a nice discussion and good references here), and demonstrating that being a woman reduces your odds of getting a paper published in Nature (holy grail for ecologists). In fact, this paper suggested a woman has to be over twice as productive as a man to be viewed with the same esteem.

And this isn't just an abstract factor. This translates into things like funding (pdf), where women are less likely to be getting funding.

So what is causing this? Most male scientists I know are surprised by studies like this. Women scientists are, literally, all over the place in academic science. I think I the male:female ratio of grad students I knew in graduate school was probably skewed slightly towards the female side, and I certainly know a lot of female rock star professors. Overall, I'm guessing it is happening because most scientists don't think its happening.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Not quite down for the count

Sorry for the long delay in posting, but apparently diseases have continued to evolve, while my own DNA remains embarrassingly stagnant. What does that mean?

I've been sick. I'm alive again, but I haven't had time to put anything together for the blog. I do suggest anyone interested in hearing how the coal plants in Kansas are coming along (and unfortunately, yes, it looks like they're coming along) go check out the Climate and Energy Project Blog (from the Land Institute). They've been amazing at following what's going on in Topeka.

Anyway, possibly interesting stuff will be posted here soon.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Coal Plants in Kansas: Ashtray of the Midwest

Well, as everyone suspected, legislators in Kansas have taken up the gauntlet on behalf of Sunflower Electric Power Corp. to build a pair of new coal mines in Holcomb, KS (previous posts on this here and here). From the Lawrence Journal World:

Bills addressing the top environmental issue of the legislative session were written in secret by those who support construction of two coal-burning power plants in western Kansas.

Energy bills written in secret? No input from environmental groups or stakeholders outside of the companies that will be directly profiting? Doesn't this sound like a certain presidential administration's Energy Task Force?

The bill that has been written is being described by intelligent people as a poor excuse for a compromise between the coal industry and environmental concerns. Diane Silver (from In This Moment) quotes Gov. Sebelius's press release:

Under the current bill, any coal plant, from anywhere in the country, applying for a permit and meeting the very minimum standards established by the EPA would have to be given a permit. It wouldn’t matter whether Kansas needed the energy or not. All the coal plants that have been denied permits or withdrawn applications in other states would be knocking at our door.
As the Sierra Club's Bruce Nilles puts it, this would make Kansas the ashtray of the midwest:
“Kansas is the first state that we know that is proposing to accelerate global warming,” Nilles said. “That is a real black eye for Kansas to be the one state right now proposing to accelerate global warming.”
Ok, that's what is happening, but what does this all mean? Well, basically it means that the Kansas legislators are not interested in listening to the interests of Kansas citizens. Earlier polls have indicated Kansans are heavily opposed to the construction of the coal plants, so why do elected officials continue to push an idea that is clearly unpopular? The reason is, of course, money. These legislators are guided only by the unholy dollar. Anything that is perceived, real or imagined, to be financially beneficial is going to be ram-rodded through the legislature.

Kansans need to let the legislature know how they feel about this issue. Here is the website where you can find your state representatives. Send them a letter.

[Hat tip: In this Moment]