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Science is an overwhelmingly male field, and despite active efforts, the gender gap refuses to narrow. Many have proposed possible explanations for this, but very little research has tackled the question head-on: Is there sexism in the scientific community? A new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America answers that question with a definitive yes. The authors sent surveys to science faculty members at several leading universities asking them to evaluate how successful a given applicant would be as a lab manager. The catch? The student was the same in all the surveys sent out except for the name, which was given as John half the time and Jennifer the other half. The results? The faculty members, whether male or female, gave higher rankings to the application if John’s name was at the top. The authors of the study note that this is likely unconscious discrimination, but that doesn’t prevent it from having a strong effect on women trying to break into the field.
While not as prestigious as the Nobel Prize, an Ig Nobel Prize is still worthy of honor. The awards, which recognize research that “makes people laugh and think,” were announced this past week, putting some very odd science in the spotlight. Among the highlights were an Acoustics Prize for the SpeechJammer, a gun which fires people’s voices back at them with a slight delay, disorienting them and causing them to shut up, an Anatomy Prize for a study that discovered that chimpanzees could recognize each other by photographs of their posteriors and a Literature Prize for the US Government General Accountability Office, which issued a “report about reports about reports that recommends the preparation of a report about the report about reports about reports.”
Believe you have tough convictions? They may not be as strong as you think. Researchers in Sweden gave participants a questionnaire regarding morality and, through the use of what they refer to as a “magic trick,” changed the questions after the participants responded to make it look as though they answered the exact opposite of what they supposedly believed. When asked about these altered responses, the participants sometimes reverted to their original stance, but in a significant number of cases defended the new position, completely flip-flopping on where they stood initially. The researchers say that these results suggest we should reconsider our faith in questionnaire-based research as well as the confidence we have in our core moral beliefs.
Researchers at the University of Arizona put several climate change models to the test by applying them to old data to determine if they made accurate predictions. The results showed that these models succeeded, but only over continental scales in time frames of 30 years or more; anything more localized or sooner than that resulted in inaccurate predictions. Still, this is both reassuring — in the sense that our scientists are developing good predictive systems — and frightening — in that our current models are anything but optimistic regarding our future climate. Not only do scientists expect a temperature increase of about 4.5 degrees by the end of the 21st century, but they also have good reason to think that they’re correct.
Babies love their pacifiers, but tentative research out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison suggests that these binkies may be doing more harm than good in the long run. Surveys of 6- and 7-year-old boys as well as of college-aged men showed that those who used their pacifiers more as a baby had less developed feelings of empathy as they grew up. The researchers believe this is because the pacifier prevents babies from going through the typical motions of mimicking other people’s facial expressions. Whatever the explanation, however, this phenomenon exclusively affects males — in other words, Maggie Simpson should still grow up to be A-OK.
Printed on Thursday, September 27, 2012 as: Sexism common in workplace