The culture in astronomy, and in science more broadly, needs a major reboot following revelations early this year of another case of harassment against women by a senior male academic.
The journal Science revealed earlier this month that the latest case involved Christian Ott, a professor of theoretical astrophysics at Caltech university, in the United States.
Frustrated that Ott was not fired and only placed on unpaid leave for a year, the two female students who raised the allegations took their story to the popular online news outlet Buzzfeed.
Also this month, US Congresswoman Jackie Speier raised the case of Professor Tim Slater, who had been investigated for various sexual harassment incidents that began after he was hired by the University of Arizona in August 2001. Slater went on to the University of Wyoming.
Slater spoke to the news website Mashable and said he had received sexual harassment training as an outcome of the investigation.
But Congresswoman Speier questioned why the investigation into Slater’s sexual harassment was sealed “while he went on with his career”, even though women who were victims lost years of study and career progress due to his conduct.
This article was first published in DiverseScholar, on 20 April, 2015.
In my previous DiverseScholar article, I showed why the study behind The New York Times Op Ed (claiming the end of sexism) was methodologically flawed and ideologically biased [Zevallos 2014]. I showed that a focus on an individual choice narrative to explain why women are disadvantaged in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) is fundamentally unsound when understood alongside the long-standing empirical evidence from the social sciences. Here, I will review several science controversies related to the editorial and institutional decisions within STEM. These patterns show that everyday interactions contribute to gender inequality, from the use of images, to dress, to the way distinguished women scientists are described in the media. I start with a selected timeline of events highlighting gender inequality in STEM.
Sexism Timeline in STEM
In March 2014, the Journal of Proteomics published a “graphical abstract” for a study about proteomics that involved a virtually topless woman holding coconuts over her breasts [D’Amato 2012]. Scientists took to social media to complain on the sexist imagery [STEM Women 2014]. Two of the study’s authors were also on the editorial board of the journal and refused to apologize, saying it was a bit of light-hearted science fun. Notably, Ceci and Williams are also on the editorial board of the journal where they published their study. There is a lesson here about objectivity and peer review.
In June 2014, ScienceAlert published a headless photo focused on a woman’s breasts for a story about a caffeine shaker, which they presented as a science story [Science Alert 2014]. It was not science. The scientific merit of the article was not only lacking but the science moderation on their social media was abysmal [Zevallos 2014e]. Sexist comments focused on the woman’s chest and questions about the science of the product went unanswered.
In July 2014, Science Magazine ran a special on HIV and AIDS; and, for their magazine cover, used the headless photo of transgender sex workers [Science 2014]. This editorial choice dehumanized both transgender women and sex workers, as well as evoking transphobic fear, by linking AIDS to transgender women in an exploitative way [Flox 2014]. The negative reaction online was swift [Roca 2014b]
In September 2014, Richard Dawkins launched a series of sexist tirades targeting women, downplaying the experience of rape and decrying the existence of “radical feminism” [Lee 2014] (a term that is about 30 years out of date). While this is not the first time Dawkins has been unabashedly sexist, the frequency of his rants have escalated. Not coincidentally, Dawkins is one of several high-profile academics and leaders of the atheist movement who advocate a sexist agenda against feminists within the movement [Oppenheimer 2014].
Over the past couple of months, I have been using sociology to show how everyday experiences of sexism and racism feed into the educational and career trajectories of women and minorities in various disciplines within Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Here I include summaries of my writing from recent times, which show how social policy can dramatically impact on women’s educational outcomes. I’ve also covered how childhood socialisation impacts on girls’ transition from school to university. Experiences in higher education are also gendered, that is, culture shapes how women and men think about what happens to them at university. We see this clearly in relationships with thesis supervisors and informal socialising, as well as in more formal processes in administration. I’ve also highlighted some progress in diversity, namely the appointment of a lesbian technology expert, Megan Smith, who now holds a key role with the American government. Despite this achievement, various controversies in STEM related to social media use by scientists, research on women and high profile science events signify that despite strides forward, women and minorities are still the targets of inequality and marginalisation.
Diversity has been an ongoing theme of my research, since I conducted my Honours and PhD theses and my subsequent research on migration, intercultural communication and how gender affects industrial practices. Lately I’ve been working on diversity issues in science and business. This includes how social science can be used to improve management of multicultural workplaces, and how gender diversity is important to the Internet. There is a lack of diversity in sociology that also needs attention. Our traditions still privilege the knowledge of White researchers from Europe and North America (more on this another time), but we also have a narrow academic vision of what it means to practice sociology. Similarly other sciences are structured around the skills and knowledge of White middle class men. Here’s an overview of my recent writing on these issues.
I had always planned to use this website to collate my various writing and social media, to have them all in one place. I’ll now bring you a weekly update on my current writing as well as a look at past posts from my different blogs and communities. I’ll organise the articles based on themes. This week is focused on my sociological writing about women’s issues. First, an overview on what I’ve been writing lately.
Over on my research blog, The Other Sociologist, I’ve written about How Media Hype Hurts Public Knowledge of Science. I discuss how scientists can better support public education by critiquing poor science reporting in the news. A recent example involved the media reporting that most people think that astrology is a science. This “factoid” came from a large study by the American National Science Foundation, but the results were quoted out of context and needed scientific critique. The broader study actually shows that the public do not really understand what scientists do, how our research is funded and the outputs of our work. This lack of knowledge undermines the public’s general understanding and trust in science. I argued that more scientists can get involved in diverse outreach activities to support public learning. This is part of a long-standing series I’ve been writing on how to improve public science education. Read more my blog.
On Sociology at Work, I talked about How Sociology Class Discussions Benefit Your Career. I used this post to highlight how the group work we do during an undergraduate degree trains students for the types of activities they’ll carry out as applied researchers outside academia. This includes dealing with clients, running community consultations and thinking critically on our feet. Learn more.
International students represent a large economic and international relations investment for Australia. Australian universities are increasingly relying upon overseas students for their revenue, but these institutions are not adequately addressing the special learning, linguistic, cultural and religious needs of these students. Despite their Australian education, international students experience various difficulties in finding work in their field of study after they graduate. Poor English-language, communication and problem-solving skills are the biggest obstacles to securing ongoing and satisfying jobs. Employer biases regarding international students are equally a problem. This paper provides a demographic context of the international student population in Australia and it also addresses the gaps impeding their full social participation in Australian educational institutions. This paper argues that a stronger focus on the socialisation of international students is likely to increase their educational and career satisfaction. Educational providers would better serve international students by focusing on practical learning, career-planning and reinforcing the social and cultural skills valued by Australian employers.
Los estudiantes internacionales representan una gran inversión económica así como de relaciones internacionales para Australia. Las universidades Australianas dependen financieramente cada vez mas del ingreso de estudiantes de ultramar, sin embargo no responden adecuadamente a las necesidades culturales, lingüísticas y religiosas de estos estudiantes. No obstante su formación universitaria, los estudiantes internacionales encuentran barreras para la obtención de empleo en su campo profesional luego de su graduación en universidades australianas. Este artículo presenta el contexto demográfico general de la población estudiantil internacional en Australia e identifica las barreras para su integración social. El argumento central en el presente artículo es que una mayor atención a la organización social de estos estudiantes puede no solamente mejorar su satisfacción educacional sino también profesional. Las instituciones educativas Australianas podrían ofrecer mejores servicios a los estudiantes internacionales si avocaran recursos para el entrenamiento de habilidades prácticas que ayudaran a estos estudiantes a planear su carrera y mejorar sus capacidades sociales y culturales.
Keywords: international students; intercultural learning; employment; Australian labour market; graduate career planning.
Co-authored by Lauren Tolsma and Zuleyka Zevallos This report was first published in 2009 by the Swinburne Institute for Social Research. I republish the summary and one of the findings chapter. The study can be read free and in its entirety via the link below.
This report provides a sociological analysis of the settlement and support services available to Muslim migrants living in the suburbs of Greater Adelaide, in the state of South Australia. In particular, we seek to learn how existing Muslim organisations address the collective needs of Muslim migrants in Adelaide. We present a critical analysis of the literature on community development with specific focus on the provision of services that aid economic development.
Broadly, we use the term ‘community development’ to refer to the process of organising, educating and encouraging the participation and collaboration of local residents and stakeholders in order to improve their collective outcomes and objectives. Stakeholders might include practitioners who work in the social welfare sector, community leaders, businesses and government agencies who work with Muslim communities. These stakeholders are able to provide funds, or exchange their skills, services, prestige or other forms of support in order to achieve social change. As a pilot case study of community development, we incorporate previously unpublished data on South Australian Muslim community organisations. This includes interviews with service providers, representatives and religious leaders, as well as field notes during visits to organisations and the public events that these groups hosted around Adelaide in 2008.
Our report considers different forms of social capital in relation to Muslim community development and service provision. Social capital refers to the norms, knowledge and status enacted by social actors through their participation in social networks in order to become more socially mobile, particularly by tapping into the resources and capacities of other groups who are better off. This concept is used to examine the power dynamics in negotiations of social and economic exchange among different Muslim organisations and other groups, including mainstream service providers and government officials.
Our study finds that many newly arrived Muslim migrants do not understand the breadth of government-sponsored services available to them, and so they largely rely on a couple of the smaller and widely trusted Muslim community organisations for all of their needs, rather than approaching mainstream organisations for specialised services. In this connection, because some Muslim organisations have stronger visibility among new arrivals, some groups are struggling to manage their members’ requirements, especially given their limited resources. Consequently, a small number of over-worked volunteers deliver targeted assistance for which they have no formal training or qualifications. This includes crisis counselling, occupational assistance and educational advice.
We suggest that an asset-based community development (ABCD) approach would strengthen the social network ties and resources both within and external to the Muslim organisations studied. The ABCD framework is an evaluation methodology which first identifies the social and material capacities that presently exist within particular organisations. This information is used to establish practical ways in which those resources might be used to enhance their service delivery. In order to mobilise the existing assets of Muslim organisations around South Australia, the report proposes the establishment of a South Australian Muslim Community Corporation (SAMCC) which would consist of Muslim community service providers, volunteers and their Muslim clients from around South Australia. We propose a number of recommendations regarding the SAMCC including:
Assisting equitable decision making among Muslim organisations via the SAMCC.
Rather than solely privileging religious leaders, the SAMCC is set up to encourage the inclusion of a broader range of Muslim ‘voices’ that would contribute to community development activities;
Recruiting a SAMCC media liaison to help disseminate important information via a multi-lingual, regularly updated Muslim community newsletter and website. This includes promoting non-Muslim participation in community events, focusing on secular activities, and making available a list of culturally sensitive, mainstream service providers to Muslim community groups;
Restructuring the existing grants scheme of community funding. This is with a view to supporting the long-term self-sustainability of a wider range of ‘grassroots’ Muslim community organisations;
Funding training and hiring professional staff. This would ease the burden of Muslim organisations that are widely used and trusted but currently overextended, while still allowing them to continue providing specialised services for Muslim migrants.
The idea of the SAMCC is to provide sustainability for the Muslim community groups currently in operation, by pooling together and taking better advantage of their existing resources. In this way, it complements the asset-based approach to community development, by mobilising existing social networks and the value that those networks have for ordinary Muslims living in South Australia.
The next section presents our findings from Chapter 5 of our report.
This study examines the ethnic identities of 50 second-generation migrant-Australian women aged 17–28 years. Twenty-five women were from Turkish backgrounds and 25 women were from South and Central American (or ‘Latin’) backgrounds. The overwhelming majority of the women interviewed for this study had travelled extensively to their families’ countries of origin, and their experiences growing up in Australia alongside their ongoing overseas visits shed light on transnational ties and the negotiation of ethnicity and belonging in the Australian multicultural context.
A typology of the women’s migrant-Australian identities highlights the differences and similarities of experiences among the women in both groups, and reveals the role of social context in shaping identity. Islam was a primary source of identification for most of the Turkish women, as a form of pan-ethnic identity. Participants exhibited a good deal of agency in their identity choices, and this was specifically connected to their transnational positioning. However, while most of the women took on a transnational identity to some degree, their experiences of racism and social exclusion reproduced an ambivalent sense of belonging to Australia. Their sense of being allowed to belong ‘where they are at’ remained salient to the ways in which they constructed their identities.
Co-authored: Z. Zevallos and N. Kontoleon This article was first published in 2008 as part of the refereed proceedings of The Australian Sociological Association Conference.
This paper explores the process of how sociological knowledge can be usefully applied in the development of a mathematical model of social phenomena. Specifically, it explores issues of translating sociological theory for the purposes of modelling and establishing the conceptual links necessary to achieve interdisciplinary understanding of political violence. The paper begins by describing the literature on violence in the Southern Philippines, focusing on Eric Gutierrez’s (2000) typology of violence. Second, it discusses social modelling as an interdisciplinary practice, including our reinterpretation of Gutierrez’ work into a conceptual scheme and how sociological theory might contribute to the development of a mathematical model based on this scheme. The paper concludes by discussing sociology’s contribution to interdisciplinary social modelling.
The discussion of interdisciplinary collaboration exemplifies how applied sociological knowledge can be appropriated for different audiences and in a variety of working contexts. This paper argues that social models which integrate sociological theories and concepts present an opportunity for people who are not social scientists to better understand the structural processes that might influence political violence.
Keywords: sociology as a discipline, crime and governance, economic, science and technology, power and inequality.
This article was first published in 2007 by Nexus. It makes reference to a previous job to which I am no longer affiliated.*
Postgraduates are often reminded that ‘Nobody ever reads your PhD, except for your examiners’. My PhD examined the identities of second-generation migrant-Australian women living in Melbourne. I chose to investigate this area out of a deep and personal sense of passion for the topics of migration, ethnicity and multiculturalism. These three interconnected topics remain perennially important in Australian society, but when I decided to steer my career outside of academia, I wondered how I might apply my skills in new research areas to maximise my knowledge. My job hunting adventures saw me cheekily applying for every job that tickled even my slightest fancy, but never did I imagine that one day I would be working for the Defence civilian research centre [within the Australian public service],* especially given that, on multiple occasions, I have marched in anti-war protests. How did my travels out of the ethnicity studies/academic track begin?
One day, as I diligently read through The Australian Sociological Association (TASA) elist email, as all good little TASA members do, I saw a position advertised for a ‘social scientist’ for Defence research. I can still hear myself laughing incredulously over this advert: ‘A sociologist in Defence? Surely an oxymoron’, I thought to myself. ‘What could they possibly want with us?’ At first I dismissed this anomaly in my job searching horizon, but my sociological imagination had been spiked (‘Yeah, what do they want with us?’). The position description was typically obscure, and it revealed very little about what the job actually entailed. So I did the only thing I could do in order to satisfy my curiosity: I decided to apply for the job and get myself an interview in order to find out more. (Plus, it meant a free trip to Adelaide and I had never before ventured to the beautiful festival state – or the ‘city of churches’, as my friends still prefer to call it.)
This job interview was by far the most fun of all the jobs that I had applied for – the interviewers would later become my bosses, and I walked out thinking, ‘I could work with these people’. They were serious about employing sociologists to inform their work, and, more broadly, they have been attempting to challenge the existing defence culture by employing sociologists – this was encouraging to see. Peter Berger, however, may disagree. He once likened sociologists who work outside academia to a tragic pawn used by some scheming Machiavellian figure:
This paper explores issues of religion and identity among tertiary-educated Muslim women, and the role of education in negotiating social inclusion. Data was derived from 25 qualitative interviews with second-generation Turkish-Australian women aged 18 to 26 years. Sixteen women were attending Australian universities at the time of their interviews, and the other nine women had completed tertiary degrees. The paper examines the adoption of the hijab in the ‘presentation of self’ in the Australian context. The participants communicated an overwhelming support for the hijab as a rewarding religious practice that came with specific social duties given Australia’s status as a multicultural nation. The women likened the hijab to a ‘flag for Islam’, and so they advocated the view that Muslim women who wore the hijab literally embodied certain Islamic responsibilities, including the roles of spokesperson and educator on behalf of Islam. While they felt a sense of marginalisation from the Australian mainstream, these participants ultimately believed that the hijab provided them with an opportunity to bridge the communication gap between Muslims and non-Muslim Australians.