Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Ann Nelson's embarrassing essay about "minorities" in physics

Ann Nelson is a physics professor in Seattle. I think that she is a very good particle physicist and when I was visiting their place, I wasn't forced to abandon the implicit assumption that she was basically a sensible person. Well, like so many women in physics, she became a part-time feminist activist. In the May issue of Physics Today, she "enriched" us with the following diatribe:
Commentary: Diversity in physics: Are you part of the problem?
What an amazing pile of junk, Ann. She complains that she doesn't have a black colleague at the University of Washington's physics faculty. If this particular comment were meant to be a tool to hire a smart black guy whom I knew as a Harvard graduate student, it's a very painful way to push the pendulum in similar questions.

After a few sentences about shame, forced guilt, and self-celebration of this self-anointed pioneer of the female penetration to physics departments, Nelson writes:
I often get asked, “Why are there so few women in physics?” That anyone would ask that question shows how oblivious many people are to the sexism and bias that permeate our society and physics culture.
If you often get asked why there are few women in physics, it's pretty painful that you have made no progress in understanding the answer – even though it's so simple. The average women's IQ is only smaller by 2-3 points than men's and wouldn't make a big impact. What's more important is that the IQ distribution (much like distributions of many other quantities) is wider among men, by about 10%, relatively to the women. And this makes the number of men above the (math-related) IQ score of 140 greater than the number of women by almost one order of magnitude. See e.g. this article by La Griffe du Lion for some simple numbers extracted from the normal distribution.

Instead, Nelson tells her male colleagues that they're the "culprits" responsible for the small percentage of women among physicists – or small percentage of physicists among women. Every male is guilty even if he claims to be innocent.

You know, I think that we have rather standardized libel laws in Europe. If Ann Nelson or someone else accused me of a characteristic feminazi absurdity, e.g. for being responsible for Einstein's "failure" to be female, I would find some lawyers, sue her, and make sure that she won't have a penny left. This outrageous feminist garbage has become normal because no one has ever gone after the neck of the lying feminists who were spreading these falsehoods in increasingly offensive ways.

Also, we hear:
I may not be able to fully answer the question, but I can tell you why there are women like me in physics. Because we love math and nature.
Except that if Ann Nelson were neither a dishonest ideologue nor a Fachidiot detached from reality, she would have noticed that the percentage of women who have the same attitude to math and nature as she has is tiny. If she doesn't know that a girl or a woman is far less likely than a boy or a man to visit a science museum, read an extra technical book about physics at home, start to write a physics blog, use a computer for activities that aren't social in character, or anything of the sort, it means that she must have lived in a bubble. Or, and it is probably more likely, she is simply lying to the world and to herself because she wants to use these lies to make her look more important than she is.

Similar comments apply not only to women but also to nations, races, and other groups that produce a small number of physicists or mathematicians. The most important causes of the different percentages are biological in character. Some of them may be social or cultural but when it comes to the practical implications, it doesn't really matter whether the underrepresentation of women, blacks, Hispanics, or even (perhaps to a somewhat lesser extent) Czechs among top theoretical physicists is due to the DNA or centuries of habits that have been transferred from a generation to another. What's important is that those things won't change quickly – because they are a part of the definition of these groups. And even if the reasons are social, the groups (e.g. nations) don't even want to change.
Even when they do read studies addressing gender issues, white men typically devalue them.
You can't further devalue something that is already worthless. And every text claiming that in 2017, groups – women, nations, races – have a smaller representation among physicists and mathematicians because of some guilt of the "white men" is just spectacularly self-evident garbage. At least for 50 years or so, almost all the biases went exactly in the opposite direction. Two full generations of scholars have aged whose lives were lived in this fascist-style hysterical institutionalized fight against the white men.
My impression is that many physicists think the issue is complicated, is “not my fault,” and likely has nothing to do with them.
The issue isn't complicated. At the end, the number of top female physicists is small more or less because a woman is very unlikely to have a brain of a sufficient size. Size isn't the only thing that matters but it matters. But even if one defines the quantity that matters more accurately than just the "size", it's simply much more likely to be high enough for a random man than for a random woman. It's absolutely dishonest to pretend that there's something "complicated" about this very fact.

At the end, the existence of the "gap" is as transparent as the fact that the thermonuclear reactions are running in a smaller percentage of moons than the stars. Different, inequivalent groups of objects or humans simply have different statistical distributions and properties extracted from them.

Ann Nelson's male colleagues are telling Ann that the issue is "complicated" but I think that this pronouncement is already a sign of a "balance" between honesty and political correctness that these male colleagues have decided to defend. They are afraid to say that the issue is really simple and obvious because they're afraid of the staunch feminists such as Ann Nelson who are "actually" in charge of the political atmosphere of the department – in the very same sense in which fascists or communists were in charge of some departments in the most notorious totalitarian regimes in history. They are šitting into their pants so they prefer to tell her that the reasons why girls and boys or women and men have statistically different mathematical and physics abilities are "complicated". They know that there's nothing "complicated" about the difference. In principle, the difference is as simple and self-evident as the difference between a penis and a vagina.
The underrepresentation is even more egregious for African American, Native American, and Latina women. We physicists love data, and the numbers are shocking.
The fact that totally different groups have totally different values of certain quantities may only be "shocking" to someone who has never understood a single problem of that kind in her or his life.

Several insufferable paragraphs are added. Nelson defends aggressive administrators who place the ideological criteria and the interest of privileged groups over meritocracy. She also blames Albert Einstein as an anti-racist activist who was still a "part of the problem". Great. Instead of spitting at everybody who has at least some common sense about these matters, why don't you consider the hypothesis that it is you, Ann, and not the men, whose skull is completely full of feces? It's so unbelievably obvious. There is nothing "subtle" about it.

There are some comments in Nelson's article where you simply have to laugh because her text sounds like a parody. For example:
Slightly more ambiguous instances, such as being mistaken for a secretary, a janitor, or a criminal, are even more numerous.
Well, secretaries and janitors in Seattle should be careful: Prof Ann Nelson considers them to be on par with criminals.

This complaint is completely missing the point and the point is that a random woman in a physics department is more likely to be a secretary than a physics professor because the number of female secretaries exceeds the number of female physics professors whether you like this fact or not. In the same way, a random Hispanic man in a physics department is more likely to be a janitor than a physics professor because the number of Hispanic janitors in the average U.S. physics department exceeds the number of the Hispanic physics professors in the same department. And if someone looks like Lorand Matory, he's more likely to be a criminal than a professor. Well, Lorand Matory really is a criminal – his environment just failed to place and keep him in jail.

If you aren't capable of understanding and using this simple argument and logic, then you don't deserve your PhD, Ann. The people are guessing completely rationally. In the same way, a youngish physics professor will often be guessed to be a student by someone who isn't familiar with this professor. It has happened many times to many young physics professors. Famously, it has happened to Feynman, too. Whether or not this confusion was pleasant, the reason why it sometimes happens is absolutely comprehensible and the guesses leaning towards secretaries, janitors, criminals, or students are rational. When someone – and it's a secretary herself who is likely to guess the people's occupations by these superficial criteria – learns about someone's being a physics professor, she should be able to take this fact into account and "beat" the superficial criteria such as races, sex, and age.

There are only 5 comments under this feminist rant so far. Three comments are sort of pro-feminist and Ashley defended the janitors and secretaries, in the way I just sketched. The most reasonable and elaborate comment was written by physics professor named Prof_K3. I want to believe that he or she is a theoretical physicist who is very good with the K3 manifolds. If that's the case, I am pretty sure that I know him or her in person. ;-) Prof_K3 explains why Nelson's text is very biased, uses double standards in various situations, and fails to consider the most obvious and probably correct hypotheses that actually explain the data. Prof_K3 also mentions that the sex gap develops at young age and the probabilities of getting through the process are almost the same for men and women – which proves that there is no significant anti-women bias in the process.

But it's sad that authors of outrageous fascist-style garbage like Ann Nelson proudly sign themselves while those who have some clue what's going on feel the need to hide themselves behind nicknames. Trump may have become the president but in the analogy between feminism and Nazism, we are still waiting for May 1945.

No comments:

Post a Comment