Men in Science Would Rather Not Believe There Is a Gender-Bias Problem in Science

Photo: H. Armstrong Roberts/Corbis

Men who work in science would really rather not believe there is any sort of gender-bias problem in science, even when confronted with evidence in support of said problem’s existence, according to a recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

As David Miller, a doctoral student in psychology at Northwestern University, reports for the Conversation, this new research is a follow-up of sorts to a Princeton study published back in 2012, which found that faculty in the STEM fields tend to choose men over women when hiring for laboratory managers — even when those men and women have the exact same qualifications. For this new study, researchers took the abstract for that study and showed it to about 200 laypeople and about 200 people on tenure-track at Montana State University, asking them to rate the study’s quality.

Here’s a portion of that abstract, which Miller excerpted in his post:

In a randomized double-blind study (n = 127), science faculty from research-intensive universities rated the application materials of a student — who was randomly assigned either a male or female name — for a laboratory manager position. Faculty participants rated the male applicant as significantly more competent and hireable than the (identical) female applicant.

Their findings showed that men tended to be more skeptical of these claims than women, and that this “gender gap was especially large for STEM faculty, potentially suggesting that evidence of gender bias might threaten men in STEM seeking to retain their status,” Miller writes.

Interestingly, however, another experiment in the study showed that women, of course, are biased in their own right. When the researchers asked people to read descriptions of studies that either found a bias in favor of men or no bias at all, women tended to prefer the studies that found the gender bias, rating these as higher quality than the ones that found no bias.

So we all have our own biases, and they tend to be rather self-focused; this is not exactly a groundbreaking finding. But women in the STEM fields really do face problems on the job that their male peers don’t — for example, one recent study found that male scientists tend to receive twice as much in start-up funding as female scientists do. And is it really a coincidence, incidentally, that the acronym for the journal that published this current study — PNAS kind of sort of sounds like the male sexual organ when you pronounce it phonetically out loud and really fast? Makes you think.

Men Are Skeptical of Gender Bias in Science