19 April 2017

Stop pussyfooting around the problem of biases in awards

At the Sociobiology blog, Joan Strassman tackles inequality in scientific awards. This topic has been making the round lately because of the National Science Foundation’s Waterman award, which this year went to two men. Again. It looks like the last time the award went to a woman was in 2004, to Kristi Anseth. Weirdly, it looks like the Waterman did a pretty good job of splitting between men and women in the first few years, and then it’s been all men since 2005.

Partially in response to community input, the NSF changed the eligibility criteria for the award. It is basically extending the time frame for eligibility since a person received their Ph.D. (And I will pause to take note that you are still considered a “young” scientist in your late 30s.)

I’m betting you right now that’s not going to fix the problem. And I doubt the measures Strassman suggests, like “Let’s be active in nominating women!” will do it, either. But here’s what will fix the problem. Guaranteed.

You get the award organizers to say, in public, “We’re going to give half these awards to women. Agender individuals are eligible for either.”

And that’s it. Dust off your hands. You’re done.

The NSF gave two awards this year and in 2012. Give two awards every year, one to a man and one to a woman. Or alternate years. It doesn’t matter.

Yes, I know people will jump in and say, “But merit...”,  but I don’t care. This is not a job. Nobody’s livelihood is harmed because they did not receive an award. The question is, “Are you serious about fixing inequality or not? If you are, this fixes it immediately. Everything else just allows the problem to linger.”

I’ve had discussions with people about why the Oscars split their acting into two categories, one for men, one for women. But one good thing about it is that every year, women win awards.

External links

Can we fix inequity in awards for women scientists?
When a series of entirely reasonable decisions leads to biased outcomes: thoughts on the Waterman Award
Let’s nominate folks for NSF’s Waterman award, including womenNSF’s Water Man awardNational Science Foundation modifies Alan T. Waterman Award eligibility criteria

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