Posts Tagged ‘Debates’

If You’re a Researcher It’s Better to Be Called John than Jennifer

January 28th, 2015 1 Comment
Working in Lab (MSA)

Working in Lab (MSA)

John and Jennifer are Yale University Biology graduates. Their CVs are identical and both have been appointed for equal positions as laboratory technicians. Now their credentials must be reviewed by 127 lecturers in Biology, Chemistry and Physics who, on the basis of their documents, must decide their salary. What they don’t know is that John and Jennifer are characters invented by the university for an experiment on gender differences. Researchers have created a situation in order to gauge the extent of gender bias. The conclusion is clear: with the same qualifications, it is better to be called John than Jennifer. The gross annual salary suggested for Jennifer is 3,720 dollars less than that proposed for John. The study, published in 2012 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was headed by a woman, Jo Handelsman, who is presently Associate Director for Science at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and, as such, President Obama’s adviser on the implications of science for the nation.

Few women rise to such heights because, despite advances, science is still sexist. With the same talent as male colleagues women are frequently paid less, have more difficulties prospering in their careers, obtain fewer grants and are more likely to leave their jobs. This is a world-wide trend. Women who head research groups are still in a minority. There are only three female vice-chancellors in Spain’s 48 public universities. In order to occupy this position one must first be a professor and, in Spain, only 15% of university chairs are occupied by woman.

Women are also neglected in terms of public recognition of their work. Of the 457 Nobel Prizes conceded since 1901, only eleven have gone to women, although many women have played a major role in teams where male colleagues have received the award. One of the better known historical cases is that of Rosalind Franklyn, a biophysicist and crystallographer at the University of Cambridge (an institution which didn’t admit women to full membership until 1948 and, even then, the annual quota was 10% for years thereafter). As a researcher, Franklin made a major contribution when she discovered the structure of DNA in one of her experiments yet, after she had naively shown Francis Crick and James Watson the images she had obtained, the two men went ahead and published the results in Nature and, accordingly, were hailed by the international scientific community and awarded the Nobel Prize. They are still publically recognised as the discoverers of the molecular structure of DNA when, in fact, it was Rosalind Franklyn who should be hailed as the women who opened up a new era in medical science.

Florida State College for Women students experimenting in the chemical lab

Florida State College for Women students experimenting in the chemical lab

This tiny presence of women in the scientific elite contrasts with the number of women graduates and PhD holders. While women students are still a minority in some types of engineering, in other areas such as the life sciences they represent some 75% of graduates and more than 60% of PhD holders. The percentages dwindle after women turn thirty, an age when the majority start thinking about having children. At this point statistical graphs, which had previously shown two lines (one for women and one for men) of more or less parallel paths, now form a cross when the women’s line intersects the men’s line to give a scissor-shaped picture in which the lower blade, the women’s line, now drops sharply. There are exceptions but there is no denying that maternity and an absence of measures to help reconcile work and family duties are major obstacles to high-level performance, to an extent that is so discouraging that some women give up their careers. Apart from prejudice, science is demanding: one must publish, attend congresses, present projects for grants when calls for submissions won’t wait, travel… Without support, there is little chance of success even for the most devoted mothers who spend hours at the computer writing up projects and breastfeeding at the same time.

The fait accompli that men constitute the majority in the scientific elite is so internalised that many women who become leaders, or who publish in the most prestigious magazines are frequently confronted with stereotypes. It is not infrequent that, before knowing a woman scientist’s identity, people assume that this privileged mind working in top-level scientific studies belongs to a man. Some eminent women scientists say that they have been invited to speak at congresses only to find that they are presented in the programme as Mr. X instead of Ms. X.

Astronaut Mae Jemison Working in Spacelab-J

Astronaut Mae Jemison Working in Spacelab-J

Breaking through the glass ceiling which acts as a barrier to the advancement of women scientists entails putting an end to many deeply entrenched forms of inertia in our society. To begin with, the bias is not exclusive to the scientific world. Difficulties in reconciling work and family life are present in all professions which entail a certain degree of competitiveness and commitment, ranging from science through journalism and music to business leadership. A mother is 79% less likely to be contracted than a childless woman, and will also be paid less, according to an article published in a special issue of Nature devoted to women. This contrasts with the fact that a man who has children enjoys a professional advantage.

In the special issue of Nature, several authors present options for remedying this situation which is so deep-rooted in our society. What should be done about professions in which, apart from working conditions (which don’t help either), competitiveness means there is no respite? What instruments might redress the scissor effect? Application of quotas is controversial and, in particular, fails to rectify underlying problems such as an absence of measures adapted for a scientific career in order to help women reconcile work and family life. Brigitte Mühlenbruch, president of the European Platform of Women Scientists in Brussels, and Maren A. Jochimsen, director of Essen College of Gender Studies in Germany, have brought together in this special issue of Nature a number of possible solutions. First of all, although it is recognised that the EU Research and Innovation programme Horizon 2020 incorporates gender as an issue to be taken into account for researchers preparing proposals, they also decry the fact that the committees that determine who will receive the grants mostly consist of men. So, too, do the panels of scientific advisers who decide whether an article is to be published or not. Mühlenbruch and Jochimsen suggest that such committees and panels should be comprised by at least 40% women.

They also recommend that there should be greater flexibility for women with children who are presenting projects for funding, that measures should be taken to help the family when a job entails mobility and, moreover, that the fact of a woman’s having children and thus needing time off work should be seen as yet another merit rather than as a negative factor.

«Women and Science» debates took place at CCCB on feburary 2015. Available online the videos of  the round tables ‘Women and science: the view from institutions of quality research‘ and ‘In first person: the voice of women researchers‘. 


Someone Else’s Shoes and the Words of Politics

January 20th, 2015 No Comments

In recent times we have witnessed a two-way movement. On the one hand, words that had apparently been tucked away in the folds of history have made a forceful reappearance in public discourse. This, for example, is the case of “class”, which seems to have had its explanatory power restored, or “common” and “community”, which have not only recovered their original senses but have opened up a whole array of new meanings. On the other hand, some of the words we have traditionally used to describe and explain the world seem incapable now of accounting for the radical changes we are all experiencing. When we use them, we have the feeling of putting on someone else’s shoe: it is the perfect container for a foot which clearly isn’t ours.

The world we know has undergone far-reaching changes over the past few decades. Traditional ways of doing politics and the democratic institutions are suspect today and floundering in the midst of an unprecedented crisis of legitimacy. The situation is further complicated by the changes in scale, speed and perspective of a globalised world, and new, disconcerting relationships between identity, power, state and market. The decisive exposé in the form of the international financial crisis with its revelations concerning the conditions of neoliberal capitalism and depth of technological change have extended and, in some cases, forced the limits and possibilities of customary words and categories. In this regard, what is happening with the ideas of “equality”, “freedom”, “sovereignty”, “citizenship”, “state”, “work”, “capitalism” and “party”? In their standard formulation do they still help in making the world we share intelligible, and articulating and coordinating the sense of our actions? Which aspects of our experience and our surroundings remain hidden and which are illuminated when we use them? Which new senses and perspectives must we incorporate into our political present in order to re-focus, re-interpret and re-formulate it?


The Barcelona Debate is back

January 9th, 2015 2 Comments

Torna el Debat de Barcelona

Barcelona Debate the CCCB’s longest-running lecture series is about to begin once more to reflect, as it has done every other year, on some key aspect of contemporary life from a philosophical standpoint. Over the years, hundreds of philosophers, sociologists and writers have visited Barcelona to participate in the Debate, among them Zygmunt Bauman, Tzvetan Todorov, Judith Butler, Lydia Cacho, Claudio Magris and the recently deceased Ulrich Beck.

In recent times the Debate has pondered the meaning of life and the sense of existence in the contemporary world (with lectures series like The Human Condition (2008) and Virtues (2012)) and the cultural consequences of globalisation (in Borders (2004) and Thinking the Future (2010)). Speakers have also discussed the future of Europe, the economic crisis, the open city and life in common.

This year, Barcelona Debate will be revisiting some of the great concepts of political thought in the present context of multiple crises by way of questioning the sense of such important notions pertaining to collective life as “freedom”, “equality”, “community” and “citizenship”. With the title “Wield the Word”, the Debate also aims to uphold the value of words, bring them up to date, endow them with new senses and invite citizens to appropriate them.

This year’s Debate will be opened by Axel Honneth, director of the Institute for Social Research at Frankfurt University. Other speakers will include such outstanding present-day thinkers as Saskia Sassen, Luc Boltanski and Seyla Benhabib. among others.

For the complete programme, click here.

(Català) 7 nous BREUS per acabar l’any

December 23rd, 2014 No Comments

(Català) John Urry i la fi de la cultura del cotxe

November 11th, 2014 No Comments