Sex(ism). Murder. Art. And Science.


Trigger warning. If you find that you are unable to respond to criticism of sexism and misogyny without randomly arranging terms such as SJW, white knight, cuck, kill yourself, bitch, whore, rape, professional victims, PC gone mad, First Amendment, feminazi, fuck (and other assorted expletives) into grammatically dubious and arbitrarily capitalised boilerplate then you may find the following post both intellectually and emotionally challenging. A strong and potentially damaging kneejerk response or, indeed, extreme overreaction may result.

You have been warned.

The furore surrounding #TimHunt’s sexist comments continues to rage.

And rightly so.

As my erstwhile colleague, Peter Coles, has pointed out in a typically clear-headed and eloquent piece, what Hunt said was indefensible. In a similarly insightful blog post, Michael Eisen convincingly argues that Hunt’s attempts to defend the indefensible were certainly not due to any lack of awareness of how bad the problem of sexism in science can be,

while both Dorothy Bishop and David Colquhoun, among others, have pointed out just why the Royal Society was correct to ask Prof. Hunt to step down from membership of the Biological Sciences Awards Panel.

I say all of this as someone who has met Prof. Hunt and attended meetings with him (and others) in the context of challenging the damaging focus of the research councils on near-term and near-market socioeconomic impact in science funding. In those discussions, Tim came across as a modest, insightful individual who passionately advocates the value of curiosity-driven science. I found him to be personable, likable, and, indeed, often inspiring, as this BBC4 programme from a few years back amply demonstrates…

But what he said in that conference in Seoul was beyond dumb. It was crass. And immensely damaging.

I don’t want to retread well-worn ground at this point — particularly when (i) Profs. Bishop, Coles, Colquhoun, et al. have done all the legwork, and (ii) the subject of this post isn’t so much the impact of Hunt’s views on academics and researchers as the broader public influence of what he said — but I will note that it is worth considering Tim’s comments in the context of Adrian Sutton’s recent letter to Physics World:


That’s just in physics, but the situation in other scientific disciplines is pretty similar. 1.7% of the postdoctoral research population per year make it through to a full time academic position. That’s how tough it is to get a permanent academic career these days. I know for a fact that what I had in terms of research ‘outputs’ when I got my lectureship in 1997 wouldn’t get me within sniffing distance of a shortlist today.

Prof. Hunt’s comments, regardless of whether they were misjudged 70s-esque ‘humour‘ or not, put the Royal Society in an exceptionally difficult position. The RS is meant to be scrupulously fair in how it distributes its awards and fellowships, the latter being like gold dust and increasingly being the pathway to a permanent lectureship. And yet Tim decides he’ll shout his mouth off — with just possibly, maybe, a smattering of bravado about not being cowed by the “PC Brigade”? — and say that he doesn’t really want women researchers in his lab because they burst out crying if they’re criticised? When he sits on the Biological Sciences Awards Panel? And when, as Eisen points out, he was more than aware of the problems which continue to plague women in science?

And no, the argument that “Well, he’s 72 you know, let’s cut him some slack given his age and the environment he grew up in” just. doesn’t. wash. Over to Colquhoun (78) again:

I should perhaps also note that I’ve been managing research students and postdocs for the past 18 years. It should not need saying — but, depressingly, it does — that Hunt’s remarks certainly do not reflect my experience of supervising female research students and postdocs.

It’s the impact of Tim Hunt’s statements outside the ivory towers/dreaming spires/[insert cliché of choice] of academia, however, that’s the real subject of this post.

I suspect that Prof. Hunt may be oblivious to the shockingly high levels of not only sexism, but deeply ingrained vicious misogyny, which infest the web. Like this. And this. And what’s described here. And, while we’re at it, this.

Hunt’s comments are, of course, a universe away from the absolutely appalling abuse which is meted out online. But the problem is that his statements feed directly into, and are exploited by, that sexist/misogynistic culture. Let’s consider the case of Milo Yiannopoulos, described by The Observer, no less, as “the pit bull of tech media” and a poster boy for many of the more rabid sexists and misogynists out there.

Last week, Yiannopoulos appeared in a debate with Dr. Emily Grossman on the topic of sexism in science, prompted, naturally, by Hunt’s comments. I watched the debate slack-jawed in astonishment. That Yiannopoulos could manage to trot out so much lazy, uninformed, stereotypical misinformation — oh, let’s not mince our words; I mean shite — in such a short space of time was a quite remarkable achievement. After being invited to put his views across, within the first minute or so he managed to follow up a complete non-sequitur of a non-argument with an entirely groundless assertion regarding women’s motivations for doing science. Here’s exactly what he said:

“We hear a lot from scientists. We hear a lot, in particular, from female scientists. But the fact is that there is some reason to suppose that there are…ummm…there is an advantage to being a man in certain subjects.

There’s reason to suppose that gender essentialism, biological determinism, whatever you want to call it…The fact that there are male brains and female brains may indeed have some basis in science.”

Let’s pause there. “May indeed have some basis in science“. I suspect that Yiannopoulos — who, it must be said, is a seasoned media ‘player’ — knows full well that he’s skating on thin ice here. (Here’s a very good article by Tom Stafford, a Lecturer in Psychology and Cognitive Science at Sheffield on the age-old nature vs nurture debate regarding brain differences. Neuroskeptic‘s blog posts (e.g. here and here) on the subject are also highly recommended. I must admit that I was astounded by the prevalence of under-powered statistical ‘analyses’ after spending some time reading papers in this field.)

Anyway, here’s what Yiannopoulos says next:

“This is thrown out of the window completely by feminists and female academics who refuse to accept that there’s any reason whatsoever why there might be a gender imbalance”

Hmmm. “…by feminists and female academics…”. We’ll let that one hang there. Let’s see where Milo is going with his argument…

“Two things on that. One, the science is very much still out on that…”


He’s going precisely nowhere.

Because his argument is totally lacking in any self-consistency:

“May indeed have some basis in science…The science is very much still out on that”.

Cannily, Yiannopoulos plants the seed that the science supports his initial claims about gender differences. Then, less than thirty seconds later, he back-tracks. However, the important thing is that he’s planted the seed — a frustratingly disingenuous debating tactic. (But then, it’s just possible that adopting a principled position isn’t really what Milo is all about…)

But what’s Milo’s second point?

Two, if you look at equality in society, if you look, for example, at Bangladesh vs Norway, what you notice is that the number of women in science and technology subjects actually goes down as societies get more equal because women simply don’t make the same choices as female academics and feminists would like them to.

Women actually don’t want to go into the sciences on the whole…

And the source(s) of Yiannopoulos’ evidence for this astoundingly sweeping claim is…? How credible is that evidence? Does it represent a consensus scientific view?

He doesn’t tell us.

Strange, that.

Shortly after the debate, Yiannopoulos wrote this: Why do feminists cook up stories about misogyny when they lose debates. He, in his usual modest and understated manner, clearly feels that the debate went his way. A link to his post somehow ended up in my Twitter timeline. So I sent Yiannopoulos and his acolytes a number of tweets asking for the evidence — admittedly, in a somewhat, errm, robust manner — to support his claims in the debate, and, in turn, I ended up embroiled in some lengthy Twitter-spats about the reliability (and lack thereof) of the quantitative analysis in papers on gender differences.

What was Milo’s response to being challenged on the matter of data and evidence?

Followed by

[Update June 02 2018 — Tweets no longer available. I deleted my Twitter account for reasons explained elsewhere at this blog. Milo’s account was suspended.]

Not for the first time in the #TimHunt debacle was I reminded of the cartoons here. [Before those of you who have posters of Milo on your wall click on that link, remember the trigger warning…]

OK, let’s now finally get to the rationale behind the title of this post and the associated image above. (Apologies that it’s taken a while, but then context is everything.)

The title of the blog might give it away for some, but I’m a huge fan of heavy metal and all its various sub-genres. (There are, of course, very deep and fundamental links between metal and quantum physics, so my love of metal isn’t entirely non-professional). Metal has, let’s say, had its issues with sexism, as wonderfully lampooned by the brilliant Christopher Guest in this classic scene from This Is…Spinal Tap.(My favourite ever film).

(Shame that the punchline is in the title of the video but if you haven’t seen Spinal Tap yet, you haven’t lived…)

Since the #shirtstorm incident last year — which we covered in a Year 4 undergraduate module at Nottingham called The Politics, Perception, and Philosophy of Physics (see Slides #8 and the set of whiteboard photos at the bottom of that page) — I’ve been struck by some of the parallels between the “PMRC wars” that the metal ‘community’ (for want of a better term) fought in the 80s, and #shirtstorm, #GamerGate, and the entire “Don’t infringe our rights to say whatever the fuck we like” flavour of a lot of the debate surrounding sexism and misogyny.

I was a teenager in the eighties and remember being incensed by the PMRC’s attempts to lock down metal music. Can I understand why a community which feels beleaguered and under attack might kick back against what it sees as threats to its autonomy and creativity? Yes. Do I think that banning words and images is the way to go? No. That would be entirely hypocritical given that I’m a fan of Slayer’s music (well, up to about album #5. Their output has tailed off quite a bit since then). The title of this post and the image are taken from a t-shirt that Tom Araya, the lead vocalist in Slayer, wore on, I believe, the South Of Heaven tour in 1988. (I told you we’d get to an explanation eventually…). Sex. Murder. Art is also the title of a Slayer song. With exceptionally vicious lyrics.

Metal has progressed a great deal over the last few decades when it comes to sexism. I urge you to read this insightful and intelligent article by Dom Lawson on the evolution of metal. Here’s a choice quote:

…heavy music has spent the last few decades steadily edging away from an overriding culture of crass misogyny and making the whole scene a lot more welcoming and palatable to women in the process.

There are also intriguing parallels between the #TimHunt case and what Lawson says in his article above with regard to sexism being explained away as humour:

But no, Dom, I hear you cry, it’s not sexist. It’s funny! Look at those vibrating butt-cheeks! Brilliant. It’s probably ironic or something.

Well, no. It’s still sexist.

The progression away from the “overriding culture of crass misogyny” to which Lawson refers hasn’t happened by banning certain albums, lyrics, or bands. Or infringing freedom of speech. That would be entirely counterproductive. It’s happened by calling out sexism and misogyny when we see it. And via debate and argument.

“But, but, but… Hunt banned…witch hunt riding through…fascists…caused his downfall…freedom of speech. Those feminazis aren’t interested in debate.”

OK, OK. Calm down. Remember the trigger warning.

First, let me direct you back up the page to my tweet in response to Mr. Yiannopoulos blocking me. More importantly, let me repeat that context is everything. Hunt was entirely free to say what he did. And he did. And he was criticised for it. I’ll let the wonderful xkcd explain:

Of course, this would mean that Milo Yiannopoulos, by blocking me, considers me to be an asshole.

You know what? I’m rather proud of that.

What’s wrong with being sexy? Discuss.

Author: Philip Moriarty

Physicist. Rush fan. Father of three. (Not Rush fans. Yet.) Rants not restricted to the key of E minor...

27 thoughts on “Sex(ism). Murder. Art. And Science.”

  1. I love this post! A BBC4 science documentary, a scene from Spinal Tap, and an XKCD comic strip. What more does a post need? Ah yes, a well-written, cogent argument, with some important conclusions that are relevant to scientists in every field. Perfect! (But now I don’t wanna go back to work; I wanna see the rest of Spinal Tap!)


  2. There is a lot of new information on this. It would be fair to at least comment on it. In particular, the “facts” have changed, the primary witness appears to have lied about her CV (think “Mark Brake”), respectable people are defending Tim Hunt. You are making the same mistake as Phil Plait: criticizing an otherwise despicable Hunt supporter and implying that Hunt is supported only by nitwits. Do you really have to stoop that low?

    What was originally reported as a several-minute-long sexist rant now turns out to have been a joke. As every comedian knows, sometimes jokes don’t work. But that is a far cry from the picture which has been painted of Hunt.

    He didn’t say this at some other conference in a private, off-the-record statement after a few beers; he said it as part of his presentation where he was invited to a conference about women in science. Do you really think he is that stupid?

    See my comments on Phil Plait’s Slate post on this topic.

    The big problem I see is confirmation bias. If there is a claim you are sceptical of, you investigate it in detail before forming an opinion. But if, for whatever reason, you want to believe it, you don’t check out the facts, claim that only nitwits support the other side, etc.


    1. Sorry, Phillip, but many of us are well aware of what Tim said, including the “Now seriously,…” proviso.

      Moreover, if it was only a joke, how do you explain the “But I was only being honest” comment here?:

      He didn’t say this at some other conference in a private, off-the-record statement after a few beers; he said it as part of his presentation where he was invited to a conference about women in science. Do you really think he is that stupid?

      This is exactly the point, Phillip. He said it a conference about women in science. Who in their right mind would start off a conference presentation on women in science with such a buttock-clenchingly awful opening statement?! I’m Admissions Tutor here and I’ve made the comparison with the open day talks I gave to applicants and parents last weekend. See this comment:



      1. “I did mean the part about having trouble with girls,” he said.

        “It is true that people – I have fallen in love with people in the lab and people in the lab have fallen in love with me and it’s very disruptive to the science because it’s terribly important that in a lab people are on a level playing field.

        “I found that these emotional entanglements made life very difficult.

        “I’m really, really sorry I caused any offence, that’s awful. I certainly didn’t mean that. I just meant to be honest, actually.”

        I’m capable of revising my opinion in light of additional evidence, like that above. The fact remains, though, that it was originally reported, by someone who seems to be about as reliable as the Daily Mail, as a several-minute-long rant with no hint of a (perhaps ill-executed) joke. The decision to boot Hunt out was made before his clarification, but also before it turned out that the original report was not completely true. People were 100 per cent sure that booting him out was correct essentially as soon as the tweet hit cyberspace. Shouldn’t “facts” be checked before acting on them? Even if the statement above confirms the original knee-jerk decision, that is a bad precedent.

        While I don’t agree with the quote above, it seems to me a) that he is talking about his own experience, b) that it is more or less symmetric (i.e. the girls have the same trouble with him as vice versa), and c) that he is not claiming that women are worse, but rather that co-ed science is not good. I don’t agree with that either, but it is a different claim than “women are stupid”, which is along the lines of “white men can’t play the blues”.

        There are also several people who claim that the best way to improve the situation of women in science is to have segregated science classes in schools. I don’t agree with that either, but I would expect it to be criticized as sharply as Hunt has been.

        Suppose that someone in the future actually detects primordial gravitational waves. It would be stupid for the BICEP2 people to say “we told you so”, because their announcement was premature, even if their original claim turns out to be true (if not in the way they stated). So I still maintain that it is not good when such far-reaching decisions are made on the basis of a tweet, even if they turn out to be right, because next time they might not turn out to be right.

        I am not trying to defend Hunt. What I want to criticize is the fact that many in the blogosphere are properly sceptical about claims they don’t like, but too quick to accept, on flimsy evidence, claims they do like.


  3. Thanks, Phillip, for your comment.

    I am not trying to defend Hunt. What I want to criticize is the fact that many in the blogosphere are properly sceptical about claims they don’t like, but too quick to accept, on flimsy evidence, claims they do like.

    Yes, but this isn’t just a blogosphere/social media/internet (or even recent) phenomenon. We’re all guilty, to a greater or less extent, of some degree of confirmation bias. It’s something we have to always guard against in science, and it’s difficult.


  4. I’m one more on the side of Tim Hunt – like Milo he has an open mind about sex differences getting revealed in a clear way in the proportions of men/women at the top of hard sciences. MY’s ‘the science is very much out’ and TH’s ‘I think people are really good at selecting good scientists but I must admit the inequalities in the outcomes, especially at the higher end, are quite staggering’

    That’s a good attitude for a scientist isn’t it? keep oopen to alternative hypotheses?

    & although new to MY’s other role in gamergate, I’m satisfied Anita Sarkeesian is not a reliable source of data.

    I think the camaraderie & standards of a set of journalists is a problem – have you actually seen CstL’s writing?

    It may be that the wrong people are getting to the top in science (having read some of David Colq’s article) – the charming, the unscrupulous, the Jim Watsons.. but hitting TH is not going to change that.


    1. I find it very difficult to believe you actually read the post above before you commented. Or watched the video of the debate between Yiannopoulos and Grossman.

      My point – and I can’t see how I could have expressed this more clearly above — was very simple. If Yiannopoulos was indeed keeping an open mind then, yes, of course, that would be a perfectly valid response. But he’s not. Watch the video. He explicitly states, on the basis of no evidence at all — and if you are going to argue otherwise, please provide citations to that evidence — that women “actually don’t want to go into the sciences on the whole”.

      In what sense is this “keeping an open mind”?

      And note what Yiannipoulos says *before* he says “the science is out”. He made an entirely unjustified claim about “innate” gender differences.

      The following quote has apocryphally been credited to Dawkins (I believe the original source may have been Carl Sagan): “It’s important to have an open mind. But not so open that your brain falls out”.


  5. well ‘women actually don’t want to go into the sciences on the whole”’ wasn’t a statement given under full rules of scientific rigour – it was made in a rapid fire tv debate.
    i just spent a half hour looking for some online backup for his statement that outcomes don’t converge even as opportunities do… the best i can find is which is a document relentlessly assuming that equality of outcomes is a good thing, and that equality of desires would be a good thing – eg desire to spend a lot of time with the children.
    hence TH’s comments about ‘is it bad for science, is it bad for society?’

    ‘entirely unjustified claim about “innate” gender differences’ ..why the scare quotes around innate?


    1. “well ‘women actually don’t want to go into the sciences on the whole”’ wasn’t a statement given under full rules of scientific rigour – it was made in a rapid fire tv debate.”

      So if we’re involved in a “rapidfire tv debate” we should be given carte blanche to say whatever we like?! No matter if it’s entirely unjustified.


      I regularly act as a judge for “Debating Matters”, a debating competition for A-level students. If any of them had presented entirely groundless arguments like Yiannopoulos let’s just say that they would not score so well. It turns out that the vast majority are rather better (and certainly much more honest) in debating than Yiannopulous.

      I say in the post above that Yiannopoulos’ arguments were appallingly poor. He has no justification for that statement, nor for his preceding and initial assertion about gender differences with regard to the capability of women to do science.

      My stance on this is very simple. Show me strong, credible evidence — that takes account of all of the variables, including environmental “externalities” such as stereotypes about male and female abilities in STEM subjects at all ages — that women are intellectually less capable of doing science than men.

      I ask time and time again – in various fora — for credible references which show this, and time and time again I don’t get the relevant citations.


      1. “I ask time and time again – in various fora — for credible references which show this, and time and time again I don’t get the relevant citations.”

        Actually, it shouldn’t matter. Equal opportunity should be the goal. If that is the case, then perhaps some jobs will have a 50/50 male/female split, perhaps some won’t. But if equal opportunity is there, the result doesn’t matter. I think it is a strong assumption to assume that all gender differences in all professions are due to discrimination etc. Also a strong assumption to say “I don’t know about the others, but it is in my profession”. It’s not just science. Look at rock musicians, criminals, famous chefs, politicians, dustmen (is “dustwoman” even a word): all are male-dominated. Is it always due to discrimination? And, of course, female porn actors earn much more than their male, errm, counterparts. Presumably in a world without discrimination we would have equal pay here.


    1. Right. I’ve read that Psychology Today article now.

      First, anyone who lazily trots out the old “It’s not rocket science” cliche is someone who clearly doesn’t think too deeply about either their writing or their stance on something.

      What we’re debating is an exceptionally complicated, multi-parameter, non-linear (possibly chaotic?!) sociologically-influenced process with large sensitivity to small differences in the input parameters and the practical impossibility of accounting for all variables and the history of the system as a whole. It makes much of rocket science look like a walk in the park. (If you’ll excuse another lazy cliche 🙂 )

      What the author betrays by writing “It’s not rocket science” is that they have a naively simplistic view of the problem and can’t quite grasp that others might want to look beyond the stereotypes.

      “To the general public, Williams and Ceci’s data simply confirms the obvious”

      Too much of what is thought to be “obvious” is, on closer inspection, rather more nuanced than was first thought. I posted this yesterday: Those are obviously hydrogen bonds in those images, right? It’s obvious — they’re right where we’d expect them. 😉

      A key paper to which the author of that Psychology Today article refers is this: [4] Williams, W. M., & Ceci, S. J. (2015). National hiring experiments reveal 2: 1 faculty preference for women on STEM tenure track. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 201418878.

      That paper has been critiqued in depth because of a number of central flaws in the methodology. I’m not a psychologist or a sociologist (although I’ve collaborated with the latter) and even I can spot the problems from a mile away!

      Here’s one discussion of the flaws in that study:

      There’s a pithy summary of the key issue with Ceci and Williams’ work half-way down that post:

      Here’s the thing; we don’t hire scientists based on short narratives.

      The methodology of that Ceci and Williams study really is poor, even by the standards in the field.

      From that PT article, this is a remarkable piece of flawed reasoning:

      Williams’ and Ceci’s analysis posits that early socialization – combined with the biological and emotional realities of motherhood – probably play a larger role in constraining women’s career trajectories than sexism. Yet their hypotheses are just that – hypotheses. It is plausible that social engineering will not produce anymore female physicists and computer scientists than what we already have. Why is it plausible? Evidence regarding occupational preferences has found very large sex differences. While women in the aggregate tend to prefer social and creative work, men tend to prefer theoretical or mechanical work[12]. (This does not mean that women or men are any less capable in these areas, but simply that they are less interested in them).

      So socialization influences career trajectories. And what’s a major part of socialization? Stereotypical attitudes towards what women “should” do and what men “should” do. (For example, boys in a Home Economics class were a rarity in my days at school…)

      The author first clearly admits that socialization plays a major role. Then she states at the end that women or men are not any less capable in these areas — which, errmm, backs up the point I’ve been making all along — but that they are “less interested in them”.

      Just why might they be less interested in them…?


      1. one more reply before I leave it – i’m not a scientist & I can’t defend experimental methods any better than an applied sociologist with a paid interest in gender equality can criticise them. 😉

        But. Are you not getting into the weeds with attempts to isolate or eradicate every trace of gender-specific socialisation etc? After a certain point you will find that you’re introducing effects as big as you’re removing – like the watchmaker trying to correct some small flaw while introducing extra grease and dust into the mechanism. It’s the same beef which people are having with SJW microagressions – surely there are worse problems out there? Same issue with going for TH, for a mild joke delivered on the other side of the world. What is this ungendered social order they’re aiming at? Will it work? You have to think about where to stop. We are sexually dimorphic – as unnatural as society is, evolved differences will out.

        Also i don’t agree with your student-debater-rules: if sticking to them, they would get exactly no arguments out in the 30 seconds alloted on a tv news debate.

        Down with the feminazis!


  6. @PhillipHelbig

    I agree wholeheartedly about equal opportunity. The problem is that Yiannopoulos and his ilk make the claim that women are somehow innately less “cut out” and/or less interested in careers in science, on the basis of no evidence at all.

    I am not suggesting that I think that all gender differences are due to discrimination. Not at all. However, we simply do not know the extent to which social factors — at all levels — influence the choices of not only those who are making the decisions on who to hire, but the applicants themselves.


    1. I agree. Also, because we don’t know the extent to which social factors and, perhaps, other factors have an influence is why the claim “if there are differences, it must be due to discrimination” is not a good strategy. Yes, Max Planck did tell Lise Meitner that she couldn’t work at the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut because there were no women’s toilets, and there certainly has been discrimination. But things have improved and if people claim discrimination when it does not exist, or if there is reverse discrimination, then the motivation to further improve things dwindles. Equal opportunity should be the prime goal (not only with respect to men/women) and then everything will take care of itself.

      If someone claims that the only practical solution is some sort of quota,then a) it should be 50 per cent (not at least 30 per cent or whatever), should apply equally to men and women (and, if one wants to extend it to other groups, then the corresponding percentage in the population should be reflected in the quota), and should apply to all professions and, indeed, to all areas without exception.

      People tend to point to one area where there is imbalance and claim that it must be due to discrimination. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. But if this is a problem, surely one should be concerned about all areas. Also, there is a tendency to concentrate on areas which one personally finds desirable, and mourn discrimination, or lack of equality, there, but not worry about others. Yes, there might be more men in some branches of science. But there is also a huge lack of heterosexual men in the world of fashion design. Most soldiers are men. Most teachers are women. And so on. Also, there are many more men who are mentally retarded or otherwise handicapped, and the basis for this is almost certainly at least in part genetic. Is the lack of women chess players because of the macho culture in the chess world?


  7. @chris (July 6th 2015, 3:42 pm)

    “I can’t defend experimental methods any better than an applied sociologist with a paid interest in gender equality can criticise them”

    You may not be a scientist but I’m betting that you can spot an ad hominem argumentative fallacy when you see it! Address the entirely valid criticisms, don’t attack the person.

    But. Are you not getting into the weeds with attempts to isolate or eradicate every trace of gender-specific socialisation etc…as unnatural as society is, evolved differences will out..

    You’re not addressing the point I made. Time and time again. (But then you’re not alone in this — I’ve lost count of the number of Gish gallops I’ve encountered.). My point is very simple indeed. You and others have claimed that genetic dimorphism can account for gender differences in interest/ability in science. I have asked for evidence for this which takes robust account of environmental factors. And I’ve not been given that evidence.

    Simple as that.

    Also i don’t agree with your student-debater-rules: if sticking to them, they would get exactly no arguments out in the 30 seconds alloted on a tv news debate.

    So you think it’s absolutely fine for an uninformed pundit like Yiannopoulos to trot out incorrect and misleading arguments and not be challenged on them?

    I’ve said it before…



  8. @Phillip Helbig (July 7th 2015 at 6:43 am)

    We agree that there is a major disparity in female participation in physics (and it gets worse the further up the career ladder we progress). My point is very simple and no-one — despite a lot of huffing and puffing from many quarters — has yet addressed it. Where is the evidence that this disparity can be accounted for by genetic factors? How can one ever credibly deconvolve out environmental factors?

    As you’re a fan of In The Dark , let’s think of it in terms of a Bayesian approach. What’s my prior, in the absence of credible evidence either way, for there being a gender difference in terms of intellectual capacity for/interest in physics? Doesn’t it make sense to adopt the position that, in the absence of compelling evidence one way or the other (because we cannot definitively deconvolve out the contribution of “nurture”) , we adopt the “null hypothesis” — there is no difference? Then, as we get credible evidence one way or another, we adjust our position? Except we’re in a bit of a catch-22 with regard to getting that evidence…


    1. You seem to think that I believe that there is some innate (genetic) advantage for men in science (and perhaps for women and gay men in fashion design). That is not the case. My main point in this thread is that one shouldn’t automatically attribute all inequality to discrimination.

      Even if there were some innate difference, what does it matter? It is a problem only if it is used to discriminate against someone on grounds other than the relevant ability. (Again, equal opportunity is the main goal.) Most men are taller than most women, but some women are taller than most men. Clearly, claiming that a 2-meter woman can’t be as tall as she is because most women are not that tall is just stupid.

      Again, don’t concentrate on just science. Almost no field of human endeavour has a 50-50 male-female split. If you are interested in gender differences, it might be more fruitful to look for a common explanation.

      I once heard a conversation where someone asked someone else who was working in Italy why there are more women in astronomy in Italy than in some other places, even though Italy has a sort of macho image. The answer: because astronomy jobs are not well paid in Italy. As a result, it is difficult for a man to feed a family with an astronomy job, so many of them are taken up by women, often after they have had children while young, where the extra income is nice but not essential. So, macho patterns of behaviour mean more women in astronomy. Life is complicated.

      A devil’s advocate could ask if there is any sort of evidence which you would accept as indicating an innate gender difference. In other words, is your theory falsifiable? One could also take the opposite point of view: since men and women are different in almost all respects, why should they not differ in science? (Again, this is not my position, I’m merely asking how you could, in some scientific sense, disprove this position.)


      1. “A devil’s advocate could ask if there is any sort of evidence which you would accept as indicating an innate gender difference. In other words, is your theory falsifiable?”

        That’s a great point, Phillip, and I’ve been waiting for quite some time for someone to raise it. So thank you!

        First, my apologies for associating your comments with the “innate gender difference” issue. I know that this is not your stance but I’ve been embroiled in a number of debates where that certainly was the position.

        As regards your devil’s advocate comment, I wouldn’t say that I am expounding a theory. I am just taking the most appropriate stance in the absence of credible evidence one way or the other. The issue of falsifiability is indeed fascinating. Can we actually “extract” out the environmental component? How would we ever do that in any credible way?

        A couple of interesting/irritating anecdotes I heard from colleagues in the last few days are of relevance here. In one case, my colleague’s daughter (she’s 5) came home from school with a picture of a princess she’d coloured in but told her dad that she’d wanted to colour in a picture of a dinosaur instead. She was told that the dinosaur pictures were only for the boys.

        I also heard from another colleague that her daughter had been told by a teacher that “She coded really well. For a girl”.

        How do we account for these subtle and not-so-subtle biases?

        I agree with you — falsifiability is indeed a moot point here. But that cuts both ways!


      2. “In one case, my colleague’s daughter (she’s 5) came home from school with a picture of a princess she’d coloured in but told her dad that she’d wanted to colour in a picture of a dinosaur instead. She was told that the dinosaur pictures were only for the boys.

        I also heard from another colleague that her daughter had been told by a teacher that “She coded really well. For a girl”.”

        Obvious bullshit, of course. On the other hand, I don’t think that boys should be discouraged from drawing dinosaurs, or girls from princesses. It should be the job of the teachers to try to prevent children from ridiculing other children for making a certain choice.

        Most examples concentrate on girls who couldn’t draw dinosaurs, or play with cars, not on the bloke who is learning to be a midwife (yes, male midwives do exist, even though a proper term for them doesn’t). Telescoper recently posted about men in skirts. In practice, a bloke in a skirt (except, perhaps, in Scotland) would probably face more challenges than a woman who wants to be an academic in a STEM subject. Women in trousers, on the other hand, are now commonplace. (In general, society usually allows women much greater freedom with respect to dress, hairstyle, fashion etc than it does men.)


        1. It is indeed “obvious bullshit”, Phillip. But the problem is that it is socially ingrained bullshit — whichever way the stereotypes run. Just because there’s an absence of male primary school teachers does not absolve us of trying to fix anti-female bias. It’s a question of, as you’ve pointed out, ensuring equal opportunities.


      3. I don’t think that we could agree more. It is certainly wrong to weigh one injustice against another—especially if different people or even different generations are involved. What happens in practice, though, sometimes throws the baby out with the bathwater. I once objected to “female and handicapped applicants are especially encouraged to apply” because it sounded too much like “female and other handicapped applicants”. 😐

        I think the only way forward is to support equal opportunity as strongly as possible. I would even define progress in civilization in general as increase in equal opportunity. Affirmative-action programs can backfire: even if some group has been disadvantaged in the past, is hiring a less qualified candidate from such a group the way to remedy the situation? Or does it create more problems than it solves? This is especially problematic if the individual hired has not experienced any disadvantages—maybe quite the opposite. And in any case will have to live with “hired not for ability, but because of a quota”, whether or not it is true in an individual case.

        Many people complain that jobs where there are more women are generally not as well paid. But are they badly paid because women work in them, or do women work in them because they are badly paid, or is there a common cause for both? Certainly one aspect of this is that many men opt for a better paid job even if they would rather do something else since it increases their chances of finding a female partner. An outdated concept, many will say. However, one reason that is persists is that many women do not want a husband who earns less than they do, whereas most men probably wouldn’t object to their wives earning more. The male chief surgeon often marries a female nurse. How often does a female chief surgeon (and many exist; at least in many countries, the medical profession is one where there are at least as many women as men, including higher-level positions) marry a male nurse? And if it doesn’t happen, why not? Because the male nurse doesn’t want such a relationship? Or because the female chief surgeon—there is even a word for it—doesn’t want to “date down”? (I’m not speaking from personal experience here. I was quite poor when I met my current wife (a few months left on a short-term research contract), still student when I met my first wife, and have had girlfriends who earned more than I did (or, in one case, was so rich that she didn’t have to work at all, and didn’t while we were together.)

        Some people complain that men earn more than women even in the same job. Does this necessarily imply discrimination? Or does it perhaps indicate that men are forced to negotiate a higher salary, because the family can’t survive otherwise, whereas a woman with a husband earning even more (see above) doesn’t have this pressure, and might even choose to work in a more rewarding but worse paid job? Sure, take away the expected roles and the pressures will change, but as long as they exist, I don’t think that one can fault blokes for negotiating harder. (Salaries are either determined by some pay scale, in which there is no difference between men and women, or are negotiated. I certainly don’t think that, in those areas where salaries are negotiable, which is usually where profit maximization is the goal, that someone gets a bonus just for being male. That is something an employer can’t afford.)

        To sum up, in practice the details are complicated, and in any individual case, it is difficult to determine the reason for an injustice, if indeed there is one. Equal opportunity is much easier to strive for in practice, and once that is achieved, whatever gender balance in any field results is the optimum. Claiming that gender imbalance is due to discrimination in every case is not only making a claim which is not true (I’m not accusing you of this, but it is a common argument), but is contraproductive in practice. Even worse is trying to remedy it by some sort of affirmative-action programme.


  9. Milo blocked you? He would usually just try to rile someone up a bit. (he literally calls himself a professional troll and people somehow continue letting him do it on national tv and the like)

    Please do continue to wade into this whole feminist/anti-feminist internetosphere, You don’t yet know how deep it goes but I really do look forward to what you make of it from the other side of the mirror.


    1. Really sorry for only now rescuing your comment from the (over-zealous) WordPress spam filter.

      Thanks for the kind and supportive words. I appreciate it.

      It was Milo that got very riled indeed. Interesting how he and his ilk are so supportive of free speech and open evidence-based debate, until they’re challenged on their vacuous nonsense and they fold. Here’s another example:


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