Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Pipeline Problem (V): Dear Patriarchy, Pull Up A Chair

Dear Patriarchy,

Pull up a chair.

I just finished reading Why Women Earn Less: Just Two Factors Explain Post-PhD Pay Gap by Helen Shen in Nature. It's based on a recent study by Catherine Buffington et al (2016) that examines data obtained from the UMETRICS project at the University of Michigan. Both Buffington et al (2016), Nature, and a similar commentary in Science do a serious disservice to the human race and academia by publishing and commenting on the study in its present form.

Firstly, it has been known for many years that the pipeline problem for women in STEM, of which the pay gap is a component, is the result of a gradual accumulation of negative effects (Valian, 1998). Studies such as Buffington et al (2016) that examine too short a time-frame are likely to seriously distort the influences of factors that contribute. Although both Mason and Weinberg mention problems with time frame durations, even five to ten years is not long enough. She Figures 2015 (European Commission, 2015; Figure 6.1), as one example, shows that predominant effects of gender occur over a more prolonged time window.

Secondly, let's examine data selection and statistics. Buffington et al (2016) lump together variables that have intersectional effects such as race and age, and omit categories with potential for insight such as single mothers or fathers with childcare responsibilities. There are other variables not scored in the original data sets such as sexual orientation and couples that chose not to declare their relationship status.

The authors also appear to disregard graduate students that for reasons of insufficient support, harassment, locational restrictions, or otherwise not fitting the traditional academic mold, dropped out during their graduate years in spite of substantial investment in training. In addition, the study neglects undergraduate students that failed to be admitted to graduate programs due to financial and location-specific stressors, or merit-based, ivory tower biases (Goldrick-Rab & Kendall, 2016). These longitudinal biases reflect societal stressors associated with race, gender, class, disability, age and veteran status that result in substantial downward spirals over time. Thus, even though Buffington et al (2016) include some key variables in their study, their inclusion in this short time frame without regard for interactions is nothing short of misrepresentation.

Another problem of data selection and representation concerns the numbers for gender. Many studies, including the European Commission Report, have indicated that the numbers of PhDs granted to women and men are nearly equal in recent years. The fact that there are more than double the number of men in Buffington et al (2016) calls the UMETRICS and Census Bureau's Protected Identification Key (PIK) data into serious question. Numbers for other variables such as race are not reported — the percentages mentioned in the Methods show Black and Hispanic populations are negligiblely accounted for. Because least squares regression aims to minimize the overall variation, the numbers representing variables such as gender and race will affect the results.

Third, I would like to point to an effect that goes unnoticed by Buffington et al (2016), perhaps unsurprisingly given the normalization of sexist bias in societies across the world; namely, women consistently shoulder the burden and blame for motherhood, or lack thereof. Quoting Buffington et al, "Nineteen percent of females and 24 percent of males had children at the time of the 2010 census." A five percent difference in parental status is, in the words of Buffington regarding other observations, a robust effect. More importantly, the observation suggests more men 'get pregnant' than women. Considering the effect of motherhood on women's careers, the finding could further be taken to imply that men are conditioned by capitalist patriarchal expectations to neglect their wives and children. It's beyond time capitalist patriarchy acknowledge and accept responsibility for its share of care.

Finally, Buffington et al (2016) claim that the large majority of the pay gap in their study is accounted for by choice of STEM field. However, they neglect to mention other studies (see Miller, 2016; Slaughter, 2015; and Short Takes on Slaughter in Signs, 2016 ) showing the devaluation of fields as more women are accepted and vice versa.

The titles and recognition resulting from the Nature and Science commentaries also will undoubtly contribute to the longevity of the interpretation and citational rankings. It's likely to cause a serious waste of research dollars, result in unnecessary delays, and negatively affect the lives of dedicated women researchers in STEM all over the world. What a shame.

...A more formal rebuttal will be submitted after I'm finished with my move.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

On Intersectionality: Life and Death Matters

What is intersectionality? Intersectionality is when two or more biases or prejudices interact in such a way that an individual is marginalized or omitted from consideration of the effects of either.

The harmful effects of intersectionality are most obvious for the combination of gender and race. Due to Crenshaw's (1989) examination of United States anti-discrimination law and, more importantly, the frequency and potential extensiveness of harm and marginalization, black feminism has a unique claim to intersectionality. The reason should be obvious. In terms of bias, the effects of race and gender operate instantaneously based on appearance. I include all women of color: Black, Asian, Latina, Indian and Aboriginal women in the westernized world and colonized countries; though the intersectional effects of gender and race are location-specific and, therefore, also apply to Nepalese and Asian women in the Middle East and Rohingya in Myanmar to name a few non-western examples.

I grew increasingly aware of the intersectional effects of race and gender while reading and signing petitions, though initially I hadn't read enough of the current work in feminism to have a term for it. One petition was for a black college professor that had been manhandled, thrown down on the asphalt, and arrested for trying to avoid sidewalk construction on university grounds after dark. I observed all of her hard work disappear in the blink of an eye. Since then I've read more stories than I can count. Black women arrested for failing to signal a turn. Black women arrested for bringing a child along for a job interview given on short notice, in spite of being hired. Black women arrested for self protection. It took more than six months for the energy of #BlackLivesMatter to include women with the addition of #SayHerName. It took years for the disappearance, assault and murder of indigenous women to raise an eyebrow (Elwood, 2016; Huntley, 2015; Chief Elk-Young Bear, 2015). The intersection of different legal jurisdictions and the effect of race and class assumptions on data collection and statistical analysis are particularly relevant for considering the potential for harm and the complexity of issues that must be taken into account. For women of color, intersectionality is readily observed by the instantaneous transformation of seemingly trivial circumstances into matters of life and death.

It is not that intersectionality does not operate elsewhere, in a variety of circumstances. Implicit and explicit biases and their intersectional effects are part of how minds work. Death and imprisonment are very visible results. Death and imprisonment are easily obtainable statistics. Yet intersectionality is a process that can render attributes legally non-functional in determination of underlying causes (Crenshaw, 1989; Elwood, 2016). Moreover, in the current age of big data and data science, proprietary black-boxed algorithms could easily hard-wire discriminatory practices based on race and gender (Executive Office of the President, 2016). The attentional delay or omission in investigation of matters of women is particularly worrisome.

Marginalization due to intersecting bias is constantly happening and has long term cumulative effects that remain invisible to many of those operating within the bounds of "white" capitalist patriarchal institutions. As noted by Ahmed (2014), "Patriarchy: it’s quite a system. It works. Whiteness too: it works...Whiteness is invisible to those who inhabit it. For those who don’t inhabit it, whiteness appears as a solid" Or as "bricks" that accumulate to build "walls" that require extra affective and physical labor that not only goes unnoticed and uncredited, but for which individuals are further penalized.

There are a number of characteristics that can operate intersectionally with gender besides race. Characteristics that are instantaneously "visible" and have gender-specific intersectional effects are age and disability. There also are characteristics about which a person can, to some extent, choose to be "visible": class, sexual orientation, religion, weight and language. These characteristics are not necessarily instantaneously identifiable in the same way as race. These are characteristics about which individuals are claimed to have a 'choice'. Muslim women might choose to wear a hijab because of their religion and/or for a sense of safety and belonging to their community. By wearing the hijab they are doing their best to create their equivalent of a "white" space, at least within their community. What safety and community can the western world provide that would overcome racial bias?

For Caucasian women in the west, bricks and walls are realized more gradually since their operation has been normalized by society and within communities and institutions. Bricks and walls can masquerade as 'choices.' For white women navigating the boundaries of white patriarchy deleterious effects can go unnoticed or disregarded for quite some time, if recognized at all. Sexism, abuse and motherhood are examples. The citation practices discussed by Ahmed are another*.

Due to years of concerted effort shared by women and feminists world-wide (including some men), the western world is beginning -- only beginning and in ways dependent on race and socio-economic status -- not to disadvantage women for the care-work of parenting. Slaughter's (2015) Unfinished Business discusses the undervaluing of care work typical in society. The critiques that follow in Signs and Dissent highlight some of the serious differences as a function of class. But nowhere, nowhere, do I see mention of the fact that a woman of color can be arrested for bringing her child along for a job interview, a "choice" that was the best that could managed under the circumstances. (Few people would argue that paid employment at a living wage wouldn't substantially improve quality of care over the long term.) Nowhere, nowhere, do I see mention that officials of Detroit saw fit to remove children from their parents care because of water shutoffs due to the failure to pay a $100-$200 bill, when corporations in the area owed hundreds of thousands. At the same time that middle- and upper-class parenting is beginning to receive some consideration, black and indigenous women and families are criminalized for short falls in the care of governments, society, and white patriarchal systems (Jaffe, et al, 2014; Banchiri, 2016). Welfare-to-Work and Right-to-Work programs aren't a living wage -- especially with children and the tearing apart of families and support systems by the additional criminalization of black and indigenous fathers. Worse yet, the end cost to society in terms of child care, foster care, psychiatry, lawyer fees and the prison industrial complex is much greater than the cost of a living wage or Universal Basic Income for every child born would be.

Today I am not a mother and all the community and conversation that represents. Yet by whose choice? If you've read my pipeline posts, your answer might not be as immediate.

*Although a writer in the humanities might be able to choose to cite only women, that choice is not available for women in STEM, especially given the multi-authorship of so many papers under the competitive pressures for multi-disciplinarity in increasingly corporatized academia and funding agencies.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Democracy Is Failing: A Novice Revisiting of Nonviolent Communication

Democracy is failing. Some scholars and politicians suggest that democracy remains in name only as the stresses and strains of economic, political and environmental upheavals intensify. Democracy is dead. The necessary conversations either aren't taking place or fail to take the views and needs of the most vulnerable and marginalized into account. Problems resulting from inequality have a way of percolating up because they deny dignity of life (Al-Rodhan, 2015). As seen with ISIS, and police departments and BlackLivesMatter, extremism takes root and recruits when long-standing inequality and resentment are allowed to flourish. The long term harm and cost to society that result from fixity of view, blaming, and exclusion are incalculable.

For the last year I have been exploring alternative pathways for communication and negotiation -- pathways in which sociological concerns can be expressed distinct from the racial, religious and partisan politics that often infuse debate. Media have a polarizing effect and increase, rather than dismantle, affective resistance and bias so that cognitive positions become more extreme (Mock & Homer-Dixon, 2015). Especially in the absence of mechanisms creating a sense of citizenship and community. As a result, borders and biases are buttressed to reinforce partisan, institutional and system identities. The situation and debate over the state of the European Union is one current example. In addition, because media depend on market and attentional value, resistive posturing often shifts focus away from actual needs. More resources are often spent in maintaining brand and image than in redress for those without resources and most at risk. Institutions, think tanks and corporations have been created -- and many a publication and book written -- in avoidance of actual conversation and negotiation. The most recent trend towards algorithmic decision-making based on Big Data (Pasquale, 2015) threatens to devoid human agency of responsibility and enforce an artificial consensus based on habitual tendencies abstracted from their context rather than provide for equality of opportunity and cultural diversity.

Boundaries that have proved particularly problematic in public discourse concern (a) the divide between government and academic institutions and (b) the divide between academic institutions and the public (Macilwain, 2011; 2016). The rise in reactionary populist nationalism deepens these schisms by reinforcing racial, religious and partisan bias. Relying on populist movements to motivate change emphasizes polarization across race, gender, and the religions and institutions on which society depends. Populist emphasis of ideological biases in public discourse increases political instability since it reinforces exclusionary processes.

Humility in intellectual discourse is the opposite of reactionary populist nationalism. Nonviolent communication, developed by Marshall Rosenberg (Rosenberg, 2003), is a good example that allows for agonistic pluralism as well as cultural diversity (Mouffe, 1999) while overcoming biases that can falsely frame perceptions of needs and solutions.

Nonviolent Communication is but one of several negotiation methods that differs from the western mode of election and governance. Indeed, the African Indaba Process was used during the recent Paris climate talks (Rathi, 2015). It can take years of practice to master the methods of Nonviolent Communication unilaterally and, in cases of persistent inequality, it can be difficult to persuade individuals to follow the process, which depends on identifying emotions, followed by linking emotions to basic needs. Identifying underlying needs increases the possible range of pragmatic solutions. People in positions of power often fail see the positive benefits of a nonviolent communication process that goes beyond the assignment of blame and/or dismissal due to ignorance. Moreover, giving voice to emotions is full of risk since emotions can be weaponized.

Neither politicians or corporations, and not even academics, have an accurate view of the various dimensions of any given problem in our society. All voices need to be invited and heard in finding dignified solutions to the multi-dimensional problems of our time. The largest oversight in negotiation, design and planning is that rarely are all affected peoples included at the table -- an oversight that typically results in partial solutions that exclude the concerns and needs of the most vulnerable. As observed by Cynthia Enloe and Annick Wibben the individuals most often omitted from negotiation processes, and whose perspectives therefore go unrecognized, are women. Inclusion of women more fully informs diversity in viewpoint and the range of possible solutions.

Al-Rodhan, N. (2015) Proposal of a Dignity Scale for Sustainable Governance, Journal of Public Policy (Blog), 29 November http://isnblog.ethz.ch/politics/proposal-of-a-dignity-scale-for-sustainable-governance

Enloe, C. (2014) Bananas, Beaches, and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angles, CA

Macilwain, C. (2011) Science’s attitudes must reflect a world in crisis. Nature News 479, 447. http://www.nature.com/news/science-s-attitudes-must-reflect-a-world-in-crisis-1.9419

Macilwain, C. (2016) The elephant in the room we can’t ignore. Nature News 531, 277. http://www.nature.com/news/the-elephant-in-the-room-we-can-t-ignore-1.19561

Mock, S. & Homer-Dixon, T. (2015) The Ideological Conflict Project: Theoretical and Methodological Foundations, CIGI Papers, v74.

Mouffe, C. (1999) Deliberative Democracy or Agonistic Pluralism? Social Research, 66(3), 745-758.

Pasquale, F. (2015) The Black Box Society: The Secret Algorithms That Control Money and Information. Harvard University Press; Cambridge, MA

Rathi, A. (2015) This simple negotiation tactic brought 195 countries to consensus. Quartz (Blog), 12 December http://qz.com/572623/this-simple-negotiation-tactic-brought-195-countries-to-consensus-in-the-paris-climate-talks/

Rosenberg, M.B. (2003) Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. PuddleDancer Press; Encinitas, CA

Wibben, A.T.R. (2011) Feminist Security Studies: A Narrative Approach. Routledge - Taylor & Francis Group, New York, NY

Friday, March 25, 2016

Über for Cat Sitting

Most of my Sangha has been gone for the week, attending a retreat at Rochester Zen Center, which means there have only been informal sittings here in the morning.

So this morning after coffee, I thought I'd check out the new Cat Cafe that recently opened:

The hours are a little odd, but perhaps I'll have chance to visit later...

I'm a little ambivalent about the Cat Cafe for a number of reasons: a) I wonder where the cats are from, b) I wonder where the cats are kept for the hours the cafe is closed, whether they'll get premium cat food and what will happen to cats if they get sick given veterinarian fees these days, c) I wonder what will happen to the cats if the start-up is one of the overwhelming majority that don't quite make it off the ground, and, finally, d) it won't be the same as if they were my cats or a friend's cats. A part of me thinks of the Cafe, as my mother might have said, as Tierquälerei on a small scale, since it seems somewhat like a petting zoo for grown ups.

On the plus side, the Cat Cafe might prevent local university students from getting their own cats and then abandoning them once they graduate, though it could have the opposite effect and encourage more cat ownership as well. For the adults that pay the entry fee, it might provide a few minutes of relaxation and calm in the hectic world we have today, though I'm not sure whether the effect will be more or less effective on customer's health compared to meditation and mindfulness. According to WebMD research has shown the benefits of pets on health, though obviously the circumstances of a cafe versus a home are different.

Getting back to sitting, I've been wondering if any members of my in real life Sangha read my last post and took offense -- a possibility that might be suggested by the content of the Dharma Talk that followed. The content suggested that Zen practice isn't meant to be a social practice. For a Zen Center without live-in, work-together sangha, I actually think the sangha does pretty well. In fact, things are much better than they used be, since the addition of monthly breakfasts and movie nights. There still isn't a book club like was suggested several years ago, but I don't think a small group needs to try to sustain a greater strain on their other obligations and responsibilities. Plus, I can find plenty of suggestions for reading online. 

My last post was a comment on the fact that I can't afford to stay retired and nor do I want to. I envisioned retirement as temporary -- with the economy going the way it is I can't afford volunteer work for an extended time since that won't help with actual retirement (in 14 or 15 years or so). My last post also was a recognition of my own failings in not investing a lot of time locally since I was hoping to find a research area more in keeping with my interests and to relocate.

I do wish I felt more encouragement for conversation over Sangha concerns when they arise. On the other hand, for this Zen Sangha, most all communication on serious issues is indirect. Unfortunately, I think that has been true especially for me due my choice many years ago to study the Shobogenzo.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Summer Office

This morning I decided to visit the Twitter web application settings page -- something I don't do very often since I don't have wireless. I wanted to adjust the new timeline settings and to shut down the automatic play of videos. I was also pleased to find a setting for sensitive images -- much like what I requested in my prior post. Thanks to Twitter. 

I'm grateful, though, as most people realize, not seeing a problem doesn't make it go away. And not seeing a problem isn't the same as resolving underlying conditions that create it: namely, societies that don't pay a living wage and that don't question the ethics of treating people as commodities and property. Those underlying conditions are a source of numerous difficulties throughout the world today.


In other news the lakes have thawed and my summer office is open suggesting a window for writing is approaching.

I've thought a lot on the subject of writing in the interim and realized that, although I don't mind thinking of blogging as a contribution, I do mind feeling as though none of my efforts are meaningfully directed towards improving conditions in the world. As such my blogging not only feels like a waste of time, it feels counterproductive. Speaking for myself, writing has typically been a byproduct of a different role or purpose. Writing for the sake of writing seems to require an energy that dies out when I'm as isolated as I am -- and will continue to be until I've figured out where I'm going and made a start.

So it goes.

In the meantime, try 'Get Along with your Co-workers' gum while you can:

Sunday, December 27, 2015

One Kind of Change

Yesterday I wrote my first petition for Change.org instead of just signing them. It's a request to invest effort to reduce conditions that result in reactivity and seed distrust and suspicion in people and conversations online and off. To make the online environment of Twitter a kinder, safer place to be for all ages.

I wish the suggested changes would eliminate online reactivity altogether. I know they won't, though it would be a welcome addition to recent policy revisions in response to complaints. For example, see Online sexism is so out of control that we can no longer ignore it by Yvette Cooper in the Guardian. It remains to be seen how Twitter will enforce the new policy.

Consider signing my petition. If people can design drones, driverless cars and send spaceships to the moon, the minds that created Twitter should be able to find a way. For #HumanRights. For the sake of each individual on the planet.

The text of the petition:

Petitioning Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey

Request Twitter Clean Up its Problem with Pornography

There are real men, women and children behind Twitter accounts. Twitter's environment should be safe for all ages. Yet, as already was noted by Mashable in 2009, Twitter has a porn problem. Porn bots and pornographic photos can appear unbidden out of nowhere and subvert conversations and reputations. In view of the increasing ways Internet users are monitored by the National Security Agency and corporations, we do not have reasonable navigational control over what we and our children encounter.

Relying on users to block accounts with explicit pornographic material only corrects the problem after harm has been done, especially in the case of children. Even for adults the prevalence and haphazard encounters with pornography can be anxiety-inducing, cause blaming of and incite volatile reactivity among a variety of groups, including women (whether feminist or not), men's right advocates, and men and women of other countries with different moral boundaries.

Either block pornography altogether or make changes to allow for user preferences. Child-safety locks and account preference settings, similar to movie ratings, needn't interfere with free speech and could easily be factored into search results, along with context specific interpretation of hashtags, and preference settings for accessibility to other accounts to reduce or avoid unexpected encounters with sexually explicit material.

It's time for Twitter to make an effort to fall in line with common sense standards instead of risking our children's mental stability, increasing the potential for misogyny, and increasing the risk for, if not silencing, women.

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Road to Paris and COP21

There's only one point.

There's only one point is the nineteenth of fifty-nine mind training slogans -- the Dalai Lama trained and practiced with these slogans most of his life. The honorable Garchen Rinpoche practiced and taught these slogans to fellow prisoners in a labor camp in China.

There is only one point. I was reminded of Garchen Rinpoche's story as I was reviewing the first chapter of Rosenberg's Nonviolent Communication, which opens with quote from Etty Hillesum, a Jewish woman from Holland that died at Auschwitz. Her writings have been compared to Rilke and her practice, like that of Garchen Rinpoche, was one of understanding and compassion until the time of her death.

Disturbed life: Monument for Etty Hillesum

There is only one point. Like many passages in the Bible and Koran, the slogan has passed through centuries of Buddhist tradition.

It's so easy. So straightforward. So simple, it's almost too easy to forget. The primary message of the slogan is one of a shared reality. A world we all share — whatever we're experiencing and whatever our individual stories are. All the other slogans can be rolled into There is only one point.

View from the top of the Musée d'Orsay.

Right now, the reality we share threatens the extinction of many lives and life forms, including ours. There is only one point: Right now, the point is global warming and the approaching talks in Paris.

Without doubt, horrid things are happening in our world and in my own country. Many have been neglected and need immediate attention. People have every right to be impatient and angry because economic giants and politicians of our world haven't listened: Inattention and a lack of compassion and empathy are replicated from one circumstance to the next as efficiently as genes.

To the politicians of our world: Is bombing a country that already has been demolished listening? Does further bombing represent a change of heart? How is it that "When all we have is love" gets translated into more bombing?

Are those that remain in Syria and Iraq able to continue life with integrity, caring for their families as a normal person would? President Francois Hollande is horrified at the attacks on Paris, as am I. But our countries have treated those countries, these people no different than you or I, to the same destruction thousands and thousands of times over. What choice do they have? Whether it's refugees from Syria or the Daesh, our world can only expect more of the same shock-and-awe. The same in droves, as the conditions of our world deteriorate: There is only one point.

When I traveled to Paris the trip I took was 'Paris by alone'. Paris by alone, with hundreds of stories as my companion. In some ways, much like the Daesh, Paris with all its stories represented a life I wanted but never had. My days in Paris were a sadness. Beautiful Paris, beautiful sadness for days and chances that had passed through my life without my knowing.

There is only one point. If empathy exists, if compassion exists, take that sadness, that beauty, that desire we all have for belonging, that love for friends, family and country, and reach agreement on carbon emissions.

There is only one point: When all we have is love.