Ring a Bell? Charles Murray and the Resurgence of Scientific Racism

My latest article is now on The Humanist (first published 15 May 2017). Below is an excerpt.

In his latest podcast episode titled “Forbidden Knowledge,” atheist author Sam Harris guides political scientist Charles Murray through an extensive defence of Murray’s widely debunked body of work, focusing mostly on The Bell Curve. Co-authored with psychologist Richard Herrnstein (who died around the time it was published in 1994), the book was universally critiqued as an example of modern-day scientific racism.

The Bell Curve was founded on a flawed premise that inferred a correlation between intelligence, socio-economic achievement, and genetics, without accounting for the effects of discrimination. The research was funded by the eugenics-promoting Pioneer Fund, while academics like Stephen Jay Gould showed that The Bell Curve obscured data.

Time has proven the book to be scientifically “reckless.” It enjoys a resurgence in 2017, the era of Trump, specifically because it is read as proof that White people are superior to racial minorities, especially Black and Latin people. […]

Harris’s characterizations of Murray’s critics are a projection of the push back he feels he’s unfairly faced. “You were one of the canaries in the coal mines,” Harris tells Murray. Having previously dismissed Murray, Harris now feels an affinity due to facing rebuke for racism (while continuing to espouse similar views).

The atheist movement has changed. Once the almost-exclusive domain of White men, calls for equality have challenged conversations, as diverse groups of women and minorities seek a more inclusive vision for atheism. It is telling that aggrieved White men feel more comfortable hosting uncritical discussions on scientific racism than engaging in anti-racism practices to reform the movement.

Read more on The Humanist.

We must fight the doctrine of The Bell Curve both because it is wrong and because it will, if activated, cut off all possibility of proper nurturance for everyone's intelligence. Prof Stephen Jay Gould
We must fight the doctrine of The Bell Curve. – Prof Stephen Jay Gould

Science Inequality in the News: Avoiding Dangerous Gender Narratives in STEM

Two women and one man in a pharmacy

This article was first published in DiverseScholar, on 31 December 2014.

Throughout 2014, there were a couple of notable media controversies involving the reporting of social science research on gender. There have also been a range of other science publishing problems that have demonstrated the gender problems within science. These two trends are linked to media narratives and public confusion about issues of gender and science. One of the most recent media wrangles arises from The New York Times Op-Ed by psychologists Professor Wendy Williams and Professor Stephen Ceci (Williams & Ceci 2014). I have covered the methodological flaws of the study on which the Op-Ed was based (Zevallos 2014a). The study is headed by Ceci and, in addition to Williams, their research team also includes two economists. In this three-part series of articles for DiverseScholar, I provide supplementary analysis challenging the gender assumptions of their study. Specifically, I show how the study’s conclusions conflict with broader social science research on inequality within Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).

In this first article, I will show how social science research can be used to serve an agenda that undermines gender diversity. I use sociology to show the issues arising when the media and some researchers, such as Ceci and William’s team, draw on an individual narrative to explain gender inequality. In the second article, I will discuss why the media and the public enjoy discussing studies on “sex differences,” and how the appetite for simplistic explanations of gender entrench pre-existing gender biases. In the final article, I discuss why social scientists have to be extra careful when we write about gender in popular press, and how we can better support gender diversity in science.

I am focusing my analysis on cultural discussions of cisgender, as this was the (problematic) de facto focus of Ceci and colleagues, given that they only talked about “men” and “women.” Cisgender describes men and women whose gender identity aligns with their ascribed sex (the biology and bodies they were born into). This means I am not predominantly writing about transgender, intersex and other genders; but, I signal here that this is a narrow conception of gender.

The concept of sex is distinct from gender. Sex describes biological differences between men and women; but, gender looks at how culture influences the myriad of ways that these differences are perceived. Gender is more fluid than two binary categories of male and female (Zevallos 2014b). Explanations that draw on sex rather than gender, such as Ceci and colleagues’ study, implicitly rely on a biological narrative, by saying girls and boys are “naturally” attracted to different tasks and that they make different choices because they’re male or female. Herein lays the biggest problem with the communication of gender to the masses, especially via the media. Simplistic explanations win out, while the complexity of gender inequality is swept under a narrative of individual women’s choices. Let’s explore these issues by delving deeper into the biases in the study by Ceci and his team.

Continue reading at DiverseScholar.

Woman scientist using microscope

 

Sociology of Gender and Diversity in Science

Sociology for Gender and Diversity in Science by Zuleyka Zevallos

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.

Sociology for Gender and Diversity in Science

Continue reading Sociology of Gender and Diversity in Science