Friday links: women in academia (then & now), cicada personal ads, and more

From Meg:

I had a pretty depressing link related to women in science/academia last week; this week I have a link that is a reminder that things used to be much worse for women in academia. This 1961 letter from a Harvard professor to a female applicant is pretty astonishing, saying “our experience, even with brilliant students, has been that married women find it difficult to carry out worthwhile careers” and also asking her to state “specifically how you might plan to combine a professional life in city planning with your responsibilities to your husband and a possible future family”. Wow. I enjoyed her reply. I did not enjoy his.

Continuing on the same theme, here’s a piece by Anne Fausto-Sterling on how she confronted sexism in academia over the course of her career. (She is now the Nancy Duke Lewis Professor of Biology and Gender Studies at Brown.) Once again, it’s a reminder that academia has come a long way, but still has a way to go.

And, on a lighter note, Craigslist Missed Connections for Cicadas, which includes great pickup lines such as: “You put the “ten” in antennae”.

From Jeremy:

Writing in Plos Biology (open access), Desjardins-Proulx et al. make the case for open preprints in biology. Over at The Sea Monster, Jonn Bruno has some comments. Interesting discussion.

The rules of evolution in sci-fi movies.

How the rich get richer, in rock & roll, economics–and science? This is a very good non-technical talk by economist Alan Krueger on the origins of inequality, illustrated with some fun examples to do with rock music. I link to it here because I’ve been thinking about how the same line of argument might apply to science. For instance, scientific citations are very unequal–most papers garner very few citations, while a few garner many, and the same is true for any “altmetric” you care to name. I have some old posts on this (see here and here). I was pleased to see Krueger refer in this context to the same fun experiment by Salganik and Watts that I’ve referred to. Salganik and Watts showed that people given the opportunity to listen to a bunch of songs and choose which ones they’d prefer to download tend to pick whichever one has been downloaded the most. I’m sure you can see the obvious analogy to, say, the behavior of journal readers deciding which papers to download (and I think it would be really cool to repeat the Salganik and Watts experiment with scientific papers) Krueger also has a nice summary of a standard economics idea I wasn’t aware of, Rosen’s (1981) “superstar theory“. I’m thinking about how that idea might apply to scientific publishing…

This cartoon tells you everything you need to know in order to become a leading blogger like me. Well, the first two panels do. I’ve never tried the advice in the last two panels.🙂

And finally, the greatest tweet ever:

4 thoughts on “Friday links: women in academia (then & now), cicada personal ads, and more

  1. This one was my favorite:

    ” Saw juicy cicada in park on tree and fell in love with you, mushy mushy. Want to make breeding with me? Make hundreds of cute, adorable, delicious babies?

    By the way, I totally not a cicada-killer wasp trying to lure delicious, juicy cicada into my lair. Why I do that when I could just paralyze crunchy, munchy insect with my sting? If I cicada-killer wasp. Which I not.

    If interested, bring biggest, most succulent friends to thing in ground that look like cicada-killer wasp nest but totally isn’t, or e-mail me at No be alarmed by e-mail address, it joke account with some of my friends who are also cicadas. Juicy, juicy cicadas. “

  2. There is a classic but little known paper (if such a thing is possible) by Shockley (Nobel prize for inventing transistor) on why scientific productivity is lognormal (highly skewed on arithmetic scale). He was head of Bell labs and he was basically arguing that pay is linear (additive) but productivity is POLO (power-law/lognormal like). He was really arguing with his bosses that he should be able to pay his top people 2-3x the average salary instead of 1.2x the average salary. Clear shades of his future eugenic tendencies, so I always cringe when I read it. But it is a really well thought out argument about how many human outputs are POLO but most human thinking is wired around additive/linear processes.

    • Hmm, I’ll try to have a look.

      These days, I’m sure one reason productivity is skewed is the funding is skewed. Now, I would never argue that everybody who wants a grant should be given one, and be given one that’s the same size as everybody else’s. But the fact that funding and productivity are going to be closely related makes it really hard to judge people’s track records, which some granting bodies like NSERC do care a lot about. NSERC’s guidance to reviewers actually isn’t clear on this (at least, I don’t recall it being clear–haven’t looked in a while). Should “excellence of the researcher” be judged relative to how much funding they had?

      And of course, what makes it even trickier is that funding level can actually affect research excellence. Much as being lucky enough to be born to well-off parents will actually make you smarter (for instance because your family can afford to expose you to lots of enriching educational activities), getting a grant will actually make you a more productive scientist (e.g., by letting you buy more/better equipment, allowing you to travel more and so build a network of collaborators, etc.).

      Just musing here…

      • I suspect the correlation between easily measured productivity and funding is even higher n the US (and other places that fund grad students and postdocs primarily through PI grants). Grant money=students/postdocs=papers. Its a pretty strict relationship.

        I suppose just another form of positive feedback which are what create the inequality.

        Interesting point that productivity is not usually normalized by grant money. But beyond the virtue of getting the grant, is there extra virtue in turning it into productivity. One could say that if you asked for the money it is expected that you turn it into productivity and thus not very virtuous.

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