Tuesday Talk: National Academies Of (Social) Science Has The Answer

A study conducted under the auspices of the National Academies of Science carries a great deal of weight, and for good reason. But then, that’s largely based on the “science” piece, not that it appears to have given rise to any sense of constraint this time.

The 311-page document is the national academies’ first report addressing sexual harassment, a problem that has long simmered in labs and classrooms, and some people predicted it could help spur meaningful change.

“Reports from the National Academy carry substantial weight,” said Dr. Carol Bates, associate dean for faculty affairs at Harvard Medical School and a co-author of a recent article calling for “zero tolerance for sexual harassment in academic medicine.”

It would appear that the only “science” aspect to this study is that it deals with people involved in science, whether in their jobs or education. The subjects are science-y, but the methodology of the study is about as well-grounded as a campus atmosphere survey. Is this an exaggeration?

Academic workplaces are second only to the military in the rate of sexual harassment, with 58 percent of academic employees indicating they had such experiences, according to one study cited in the report. Among the data involving students in scientific fields, the report cited a 2017 survey by the University of Texas system, which found that about 20 percent of female science students, more than 25 percent of female engineering students and more than 40 percent of female medical students experienced sexual harassment from faculty or staff members.

Note how the first sentence asserts a conclusion based not upon anything remotely scientific, but upon the firm foundation of an empirical study of the feelings of students at UT. How could anything be more conclusive than that? Hence, the conclusion:

The committee identified three types of sexual harassment: sexual coercion, unwanted sexual attention and gender harassment. It said gender harassment, “verbal and nonverbal behaviors that convey hostility, objectification, exclusion or second-class status,” was by far the most common type women experienced.

Not physical touching. Not sexual coercion. These are objective wrongs, often criminal and, provided they’re not false and the victims address the offense committed, are things the legal system is capable of addressing. But “by far the most common” problem is the ““verbal and nonverbal behaviors that convey hostility, objectification, exclusion or second-class status.”

Do men give women the stink eye? And it’s not just the mean coworkers.

The committee said gender harassment was more pervasive in medicine than in the other sciences, partly because harassment can come from patients, as well as colleagues.

And it’s not just the poor victims of nonverbal behaviors.

It “undermines work and well-being in a whole host of ways,” triggering symptoms like depression, sleep disruption, cardiac stress, and post-traumatic stress disorder, said Lilia Cortina, a panel member and professor of psychology and women’s studies at the University of Michigan. She said experiences can be worse for women of color and lesbian, bisexual or transgender women. But they also affect witnesses to the behavior, further impeding the scientific work.

Does witnessing the traumatic event of a nonverbal behavior conveying second-class status on a lesbian doctor cause PTSD? Because of the severity of this problem, and the fact that the report has to be purchased, they made a video of how horrifying and exhausting gender harassment is.

This is what purports to be science these days, and it comes not from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, but the NAS. The study says don’t harass, and it’s science so it has to be true.

29 comments on “Tuesday Talk: National Academies Of (Social) Science Has The Answer

    1. SHG Post author

      So are you calling an empirical study by the National Academies of Science complete, unadulterated unscientific feelz horseshit?!? Are you not moved by the video? Where is your humanity?!?

  1. Sgt. Schultz

    There is one inexorable conclusion to be drawn from this highly scientific study: men are too crude and offensive to be around women, and women are too weak and fragile to be around men. Since there is no possible way to define conduct that offends based not on the conduct itself, but the reaction to it by the person to whom it’s directed or anyone who happens to learn of it, there is no possible cure.

    Accordingly, the solution seems clear: pink and blue classrooms and labs. Female patients for female physicians, male microbes for male biologists, and never the twain shall meet.

    The only drawback will be if the outcomes fail to align with the presumptions of equality, but there is still time to come up with new excuses should that be the case. On the other hand, women can wear sweatpants to work without fear of being castigated for the attire. Or maybe just the opposite.

    1. PseudonymousKid

      Your solution isn’t drastic enough. Either the genders have to merge, or all men have to die. That’s before we eliminate lookism by uploading everyone’s mind into the cloud so that we can download ourselves into identical corporeal forms. We won’t be human anymore, but oh well. Humans are the problem.

        1. Skink

          I’ve been thinking of that lately. I’m gonna see if I can get my new part a couple inches below my belly button. That would be perfect. Whenever threatened, I could just curl up in a corner and screw myself.

          But I’m thinking this already happens for some.

            1. Skink

              I will not trust you. It requires putting stuff in my head that will hurt. Besides, you’ve never been curled in a corner. Corners are where the legal fight is the best–it’s where we have the most fun and where we make people piss themselves. They get screwed; not you.

    2. Gregory Smith

      Microbes do not have a gender (that’s what makes them microbes!). But do they experience asexual harassment? No doubt science has yet to determine if microbes have feelings, but that shouldn’t prevent the NAS from deciding they have been hurt.

  2. kushiro

    Hey, so it turns out that every time my thesis advisor, or a postdoc student, or even a lab tech criticized my interpretations of results, pointed out the stupid and potentially hazardous mistakes I made in the lab, or told me to clean up/mix solutions/go to the chem supply office, I was being harassed. Who knew?

  3. JR

    If you want to see how researchers in the field of of workplace harassment measure things, then look up the NAQ-R set of survey questions by Einarsen and Hoel.

    1. SHG Post author

      Wouldn’t it be more useful if your comment offered some idea, whether good or bad, about the survey questions rather than this utterly pointless reference?

  4. Austin

    The acronym for the journal the National Academy of Sciences produces is PNAS.

    In the physical sciences, it’s oft explained as Papers Not Accepted by Science.

    (The P in PNAS is for Proceedings, and the Science they aren’t accepted by refers to the journal Science)

  5. Laches

    I’m old enough to remember when folks would say things like “they’ll punish you for looking at someone the wrong way” as hyperbole.

    In 2018 we’re told that’s the correct approach, because science tells us that being looked at the wrong way is traumatic and exhausting for the victim.

  6. Dan

    “Not physical touching. Not sexual coercion. These are objective wrongs, often criminal…”

    Touching, sure. But coercion? “If you really loved me, you’d…”?

  7. Kay

    Aren’t most STEM fields staffed by—nerdy shy types? (Is that stereotyping? Bigoted?) Maybe the alleged harassers were guilty of clumsy attempts of camaraderie. I don’t know–this seems much ado about nothing. No GDP is coming out of these silly debates. China will kick our ass if we don’t get back to being productive.

    ” survey by the University of Texas system, which found that about 20 percent of female science students, more than 25 percent of female engineering students and more than 40 percent of female medical students experienced sexual harassment from faculty or staff members.”

  8. John Rew

    Woah! people who are marinated in propaganda that tells them they will experience discrimination in certain areas actually often report they have experienced discrimination similar to the propaganda. Causation? Nah!


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