I intend to write a long piece next week about a new study finding that academic science is not systematically or significantly sexist in some ways, and its New York Times writeup, this coming week. I have some ideas, some criticism, and some praise. Before that, I would just like to ask: please, please, please, read the study before you get angry about it. The study is available here (PDF). I recognize that it’s long, but it’s not at all difficult to read or to parse. In particular, I think it is essential to understand the research questions it’s asking, and isn’t asking, and the claims it’s making, and isn’t making. The research attempts to discern how men and women in the sciences fare, compared to each other, in certain aspects that are essential to building a successful academic career. The research primarily concerns whether there are significant and systematic differences in how women fare relative to men at equivalent stages of their careers, in aspects of hiring, tenure, salary, promotion, and similar.
When the Times story comes out, and mere minutes later, Twitter is filled with angry tweets denouncing the piece, sent by people who could not possibly have had time to read that piece carefully, let alone read the study itself, that plays into stereotypes about progressive critiques of gender inequality, and is destructive to our efforts to understand and challenge sexism in the academy. When people respond to a particular kind of data-driven argument with anecdotal responses, without having made an effort to explain why those anecdotal responses are appropriate, that is destructive to our efforts to understand and challenge sexism in the academy. When people misrepresent the research questions, claims, and evidence of an academic study in the course of critiquing that study, that is destructive to our efforts to understand and challenge sexism in the academy. Once again, I offer this advice not because I think there is no sexism in academia or no need to fight it, but precisely because I do think there is sexism in academia and we have a responsibility to fight it. So please, let’s do it from a position of strength, and read the thing first.