Friday, September 28, 2012

RSS Feed Readers: Could You Do Me A Favor?

I'd love to know how many regular RSS feed readers I have, for planning purposes.  If you regard yourself one, could you be kind enough to leave a short comment to this post? 

Polling Conspiracies

I once wrote a bad poem about Conspiracy Theories.  It began like this:

There are five fat men in a secret  cave somewhere.
They are naked.  They are bald.  They live in a wave of purified air.
They read the Playboy and the Joy of Cooking.
They have grown obese and sated from just looking.

They can feel us.  They can see us.
They know our petty schemes.
They have planned us.  They have manned us.
They compute our secret dreams.

And they caused it to be thus:
Nothing that we do is quite as it seems.
Dreadful, isn't it?  But also fun.

I bet you have heard about those polling conspiracies  if you live in the US.  It all started with this site, run by one Dean Chambers (whose favorite sites include Rush Limbaugh).   He argues that almost all political polls are biased in favor of the Democrats and against the Republicans because they ask too many Democrats and too few Republicans for their opinions.

In order to fix that bias, Chambers takes all those polls and then applies the method one pollster, Rasmussen, uses to estimate party membership numbers.  Because Rasmussen's method often produces more Republicans than Democrats than the methods of other pollsters*, Rasmussen's polls are the ones most likely to find  that Republicans, in general, do better.

Chambers doesn't interpret his "corrections"** just as deciding to apply the Rasmussen figures (not necessarily applicable to other polls, in any case) to everything in sight.  Nope.  He states that all the other polls are skewed or biased!  Because they are frequently carried out by that evil imaginary monster:  the leftish mainstream media.  That Fox News' own polls fail Chambers' test for unbiasedness doesn't matter.  Everybody must do as Dean says, pretty much.

This mess has at least two central tangles.  One has to do with the statistical questions, the other with the conspiracy theories.    The statistical tangle is created by the goal of the polls: to predict behavior in next November's elections while asking people about their views today. 

To get from the latter to the former requires not only careful sampling to get a representative group of American adults but also some way of predicting which of those adults are not going to vote and which are.  It is the views of those who are most likely to vote in the future that the pollsters want to tap, and it is in the way the polls arrive at that group and the variables which determine its choices that we find the disagreements.***

Those disagreements are fine and useful.  Dean Chambers is not interested in them, because he has already decided that only one poll is unskewed and the rest of them horribly biased.  And the reason?

Chambers said he suspects that big polling shops are intentionally over-sampling Democrats to help get the President re-elected.
"This year, they've been more skewed than in the past. Any poll that says NBC, CBS, or ABC is going to be skewed and invested in trying to get this President re-elected," he said.
But while Chambers' methods may appeal to conservatives, other pollsters say their samples reflect reality — not wishful thinking — and that the higher Democratic numbers are similar to those in the most recent presidential election.

Conspiracy!  I love it.  Fox News joined in right away:

It’s clear that Fox & Friends has a tricky relationship with data. But on the show Thursday morning, the hosts took that relationship to a whole new level.
After a raft of new polls showed Obama opening up leads in swing states, the Friends flew in to full-blown conspiracy mode about what’s really behind the data.
Parroting the latest Republican meme that national polls oversample Democrats, host Steve Doocy threw in to the mix the possibility that pollsters are using voter turnout from 2008 to guide who they should be asking. And why would the “left-based mainstream media” do this? Doocy had an answer.
“Well, two reasons,” he said. “One, perhaps, to keep Mitt Romney’s donors from coughing up more cash. And two, to keep people from doing early voting.”

Of course conspiracy theories can be created in reverse:  Perhaps Rasmussen stands out so much because it's a water-carrier for the extreme conservatives in this country?

I don't mean that seriously.  But anyone who believes that the owners of media outlets in this country, other than Fox News,  are overwhelmingly some sort of extreme left-wingers is seriously deluded.

*I was unable to find information on what the Rasmussen method consists of, other than some kind of sampling with something else.
** Chambers seems to just re-weight all the "skewed" polls with his own preferred party membership figures.  Because he believes there should have been more Republicans he adjusts all the findings to give Republican views a greater weight, one based on Rasmussen's calculations.
**For more discussions about what the underlying debate is all about, see here, here and  here.  

Today's Funny Picture. Also Educational.

Via HJ, from the I f***ing love science site:

Does this remind you of the many evolutionary psychology critiques on this site, especially of those studies  which use that particular type of evolutionary psychology Satori Kanazawa is infamous for?   They certainly apply fixed ideas, selectively choose which studies to discuss and react to criticism pretty much as politically motivated or simply illogical.


There are several definitions of pseudoscience.  The one I find most useful is Popper's falsifiability concept:

Karl Popper stated it is insufficient to distinguish science from pseudoscience, or from metaphysics, by the criterion of rigorous adherence to the empirical method, which is essentially inductive, based on observation or experimentation.[33] He proposed a method to distinguish between genuine empirical, nonempirical or even pseudoempirical methods. The latter case was exemplified by astrology, which appeals to observation and experimentation. While it had astonishing empirical evidence based on observation, on horoscopes and biographies, it crucially failed to adhere to acceptable scientific standards.[33] Popper proposed falsifiability as an important criterion in distinguishing science from pseudoscience.
To demonstrate this point, Popper[33] gave two cases of human behavior and typical explanations from Freud and Adler's theories: "that of a man who pushes a child into the water with the intention of drowning it; and that of a man who sacrifices his life in an attempt to save the child."[33] From Freud's perspective, the first man would have suffered from psychological repression, probably originating from an Oedipus complex, whereas the second had attained sublimation. From Adler's perspective, the first and second man suffered from feelings of inferiority and had to prove himself which drove him to commit the crime or, in the second case, rescue the child. Popper was not able to find any counterexamples of human behavior in which the behavior could not be explained in the terms of Adler's or Freud's theory. Popper argued[33] it was that the observation always fitted or confirmed the theory which, rather than being its strength, was actually its weakness.
In contrast, Popper[33] gave the example of Einstein's gravitational theory, which predicted "light must be attracted by heavy bodies (such as the sun), precisely as material bodies were attracted."[33] Following from this, stars closer to the sun would appear to have moved a small distance away from the sun, and away from each other. This prediction was particularly striking to Popper because it involved considerable risk. The brightness of the sun prevented this effect from being observed under normal circumstances, so photographs had to be taken during an eclipse and compared to photographs taken at night. Popper states, "If observation shows that the predicted effect is definitely absent, then the theory is simply refuted."[33] Popper summed up his criterion for the scientific status of a theory as depending on its falsifiability, refutability, or testability.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Who Do The Moochers Vote For? That 47%?

I almost couldn't sleep because my earlier post about Romney's views of the 47% (or 46%) of Americans failed to state that of course Romney glibly assumes that the moochers and leeches he describes are also identical with those who would vote for Obama:

ROMNEY: There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what.

But we don't know how that group of Americans vote or if they vote at all.   They might even -- gasp! -- vote for Romney!

Catherine Rampell has a neat piece on the various possibilities.  I encourage you to read it through.  The elderly often qualify for that moocher-group, and they tend to vote Republican, for example.  The poorest earners are less likely to vote, in general, but even among that group a sizable minority votes Republican.

Rampell also makes a necessary clarification:

Mr. Romney also said that this “47 percent” of people who don’t pay federal income taxes are the same people who are “dependent” on government services:
All right, there are 47 percent … who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.
...the nonpayers can’t be conflated with the service receivers; people of all incomes and tax liabilities receive government services, not just those who have no federal income tax liability.

See how much more complicated reality is..

Todd Akin And The Girlz

Todd Akin, the Republican representative from Missouri, has an interesting relationship with his sexism.  He just can't stop picking at it, the way a teenager picks at a zit.  As background, he's the guy who told us that women's bodies have a way of shutting down the whole conceiving business in the case of rape.

Now he has criticized his opponent in the Senate race, Claire MCCaskill, for being insufficiently ladylike:

“I think we have a very clear path to victory, and, apparently, Claire McCaskill thinks we do, too, because she was very aggressive at the debate, which was quite different than it was when she ran against Jim Talent,” Akin told the Kansas City Star on Thursday. “She had a confidence and was much more ladylike [in 2006], but in the debate on Friday she came out swinging, and I think that’s because she feels threatened.”

Akin might well be the choice of Missouri voters, which makes me weep a little, in a very ladylike fashion.

Never mind.   The more important point is that the "traditional" gender norms really make it hard for a woman in politics.  If she is ladylike and demure she comes across as weak.  If she "comes out swinging" she is emotional.   There's always a way to criticize her performance.

Religious Liberty Vs. Contraception Coverage

Kathryn Jean Lopez in the right-wing National Review is among those who believe that my religious liberty can infringe on your life.  Or rather, that employers should be able to decide which medical treatments the health insurance policy they offer their employees covers:

Friday morning, the U.S. District court in Detroit will hear a plea from the Weingartz Supply Company, a Michigan-based, family-owned business, and Legatus, a professional association of Catholic business leaders, for a preliminary injunction to protect them from the HHS mandate requiring employers to pay for insurance covering contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs.

If they asked to be protected by some horrible forced feeding of contraceptives to themselves I'd have some sympathy.  But what they ask is to have the right to determine which services their workers' health insurance policies may cover, and that choice, they believe, should be  based not  on medical or economic concerns but on the private beliefs of the owners.

I'm waiting eagerly for a Christian Scientist firm to make a plea for the right to offer only health insurance policies which cover prayer and that's it.  The logic is identical, after all.

The gist of all this is an odd confusion about the rights to practice one's religion and the "rights" to force its consequences on people who may follow a completely different religion or none.  At the same time, religious scruples are privileged over other types of values.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

More Housekeeping

I think Disqus will now allow commenting.   The old comments are still absent but I'm working on that..

Warning: Roadwork

I've been forced (finally!) to work on the blog's template and to get a new commenting system.  Some things seem to be working, lots of stuff is right now lost.  When the comments will become fully functional is unclear right now.

But they now use Disqus (yeah, I know), and the current comments should work*.

I hope that all the missing elements can be slowly added back and so on.

My apologies for that.  Fines will be doubled in the work zone.


*Added later:  I spoke too soon.  The comments aren't working at all right now.   Sigh...

Mothers vs Parents

Mitt Romney has told us how very important having a parent at home with small children is, in his opinion:

At NBC News’ Education Nation Summit on Tuesday, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said it was preferable for one parent stay home when kids are young.

I guess even a Republican presidential candidate must say "parent" now instead of "mother."  But it's mothers, of course, that these opinions apply to.  Even the quoted item continues:

In 2011, 63.9 percent of the mothers with children under 6 years old held jobs outside the home, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  
What about fathers of children under 6 years old?  They are not mentioned.

 All this reminded me of something from a long-ago era,  year 2000, to be specific, when Anne Case and Christina Paxson (now the president of Brown University) came up with an article about the effect of various family types on children's health. 

Their study concerned the question whether stepmothers are good substitutes for birth mothers as parents, and they argued that it was not the case.  Yup.  One summary of the study:

"Children living with stepmothers are significantly less likely to have routine doctor and dentist visits or to receive regular medical care, are less likely to wear seatbelts."
Roughly half of all children in the United States grow up with at least one of their birth parents absent. Research has shown that these children tend to have more behavioral, academic, and social problems than other children. In Mothers and Others: Who Invests in Children's Health? (NBER Working Paper No. 7691), NBER Research Associates Anne Case and Christina Paxson investigate whether part of the reason these children face poorer outcomes is because parents invest less in them. They find that children living with stepmothers are significantly less likely to have routine doctor and dentist visits or to receive regular medical care, are less likely to wear seatbelts, and are significantly more likely to be living with a cigarette smoker in the household than other children.
The authors use data from the 1988 Child Health Supplement to the National Health Interview Survey to analyze family composition and investments in children's healthcare. Children living with foster or adoptive mothers generally have similar experiences in these areas to children living with birth mothers. Also, the nature of the relationship of the child to the father has little effect on the health care investments made in the children. As a rule, fathers appear to know very little about their children's health or health investments.
Bolds are mine.  As an even shorter summary, the researchers state:

We cannot reject that investments for children living with birth fathers and step mothers are the same as those made by birth fathers living alone with their children. 

In other words, by marrying or partnering again the birth fathers appear not to have hired  a substitute mother for their children!   Hmm.   It looks like the stepmothers are acting pretty much the same way as stepfathers would in the reverse type of a mixed family.

I write about this old study because it was one of the first cases which set me on my way of studying how research is popularized when it's about women or about gender roles.  

Newspapers wrote it up starting with the evil stepmothers of Snow-White and Cinderella, and none of the write-ups had anything about the role of the fathers.  Even the idea that custodial fathers should probably be the ones who know about their children's health care decisions (given that they are the custodial parents) went unmentioned. 

Instead, the focus was on which kind of mothers were good and which kind were bad, and the implicit assumption all this was based on was that women are to take care of children.

Traditional Conservatism: The Emperor Wears No Clothes.

In the fairy tale "The Emperor's New Clothes" the emperor was actually naked,  but since his subjects knew that telling the truth would get them beheaded  they eagerly cheered those nonexistent new clothes.

David Brooks is like that emperor in his most recent column.  Even several liberals and progressives think he may have a point.  The guy's vest shimmers!

That's because he reintroduces "traditional conservatism" as something which sounds almost exactly like a nature-lover's egalitarian dream.  Just check out for yourself:

When I joined the staff of National Review as a lowly associate in 1984, the magazine, and the conservative movement itself, was a fusion of two different mentalities. 
On the one side, there were the economic conservatives. These were people that anybody following contemporary Republican politics would be familiar with. They spent a lot of time worrying about the way government intrudes upon economic liberty. They upheld freedom as their highest political value. They admired risk-takers. They worried that excessive government would create a sclerotic nation with a dependent populace. 
But there was another sort of conservative, who would be less familiar now. This was the traditional conservative, intellectual heir to Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk, Clinton Rossiter and Catholic social teaching. This sort of conservative didn’t see society as a battleground between government and the private sector. Instead, the traditionalist wanted to preserve a society that functioned as a harmonious ecosystem, in which the different layers were nestled upon each other: individual, family, company, neighborhood, religion, city government and national government. 
Because they were conservative, they tended to believe that power should be devolved down to the lower levels of this chain. They believed that people should lead disciplined, orderly lives, but doubted that individuals have the ability to do this alone, unaided by social custom and by God. So they were intensely interested in creating the sort of social, economic and political order that would encourage people to work hard, finish school and postpone childbearing until marriage.

I bolded the bit about the "harmonious ecosystem."  It could mean several different things, and that's the nifty little trick in Brooks' language.  Liberals might think he's saying this:

With that background in mind, when I consider the concept of harmony in the context of humans, their societies, and the environment I have a particular understanding of the concept. It refers to all people living together peacefully without exploitation of one person by another, each able to reach his or her full human potential, in a society in which everyone has their basic material and nonmaterial needs satisfied, feels secure, safe, happy, and fulfilled as human beings. In addition, the concept also implies harmony between people, the environment, and the other species we share the planet with. People need fully to understand, and act in such ways that indicate, that they are embedded in nature and dependent upon it—not just to obtain natural resources needed for human life, but also that their lives are made richer and protected by biodiversity and the smooth and efficient functioning of the many cycles of nature such as the water and nutrient cycles.

But he is not.  For this is how Brooks continues:

This kind of conservative cherishes custom, believing that the individual is foolish but the species is wise. It is usually best to be guided by precedent.

And of course he earlier stated that

They believed that people should lead disciplined, orderly lives, but doubted that individuals have the ability to do this alone, unaided by social custom and by God.

In other words, religion and social customs should rule.  Thus,  Saudi Arabia is a harmonious human ecosystem.  Indeed, any hierarchical system could qualify as harmonious in Brooks' view.

All this is quite sneaky.  Consider what his rules would mean for women's rights.  Religions usually give women fairly limited rights and traditional social customs do no better.  That's the kind of traditional conservatism David Brooks supports, my dears, because he thinks it could get the Latino population excited about the Republican Party.

It's the so-called social conservatism that Brooks models for us in his fashion show, except that there is no "there" there. 

And neither are these nonexistent new clothes really new.  Haven't we fought the so-called culture wars to an exhaustion?  Don't we still debate whether women's place should be in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant, and whether gays should have stayed in their closets?  From where I sit, this branch of Republicanism is well and alive and certainly quite familiar to all of us once we realize that Brooks is deceiving us with all his talk about "harmonious ecosystems" and the very odd idea that non-conservatives don't want people to work hard or to get educated or to not have children until they are ready for them.

That's three criticisms of the conservative emperor's new clothes, by the way: 

1.  Brooks uses misleading communitarian terms about something which might better be described as a Confucian view of the society as inherently ordered and ranked by religion and social norms.   There's a Straussian flavor to all this.*

2.  He chooses to omit any reference to the forced-birthers, anti-gays and anti-immigrant forces among today's Republicans.  They don't exist!  Instead, once there was a golden age of bigotry which we should return to.

3.  He creates straw-people which he then demolishes.  Liberals are not opposed to hard work or stable families or an educated populace and liberal policies do not result in large numbers of people not finishing school or getting divorced.   For example, Massachusetts has the lowest divorce rate in the nation, despite being viewed as today's Sodom among the social conservatives (who do not exist, according to Brooks).
*The Wikipedia article on Strauss sounds to me a bit one-sided.  What I refer to here is the idea that religions are necessary to keep the masses (not the conservative leaders or thinkers) under control, whether one believes in them or not.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Post About Me

I fell down the stairs a few days ago,  carrying a tray loaded with china.  My bare feet slipped and the heels decided to fly instead of obeying gravity.

My martial arts falling skills came in handy!  I managed to land myself half-way down the tumble, and all that was hurt was one elbow, one spot on my back which took most of the impact and my palms which slapped down hard.  Weird how I had my head raised without even thinking about it!

One never knows which expenses turn out the most profitable...

For the kind-hearted among you, I'm fine.  The china?  Not so fine.

What was fascinating about that mishap was the ability many of us have of very clear thinking in a very short amount of time.   I become a computer in emergencies.  Time to shake afterwards!

Monday, September 24, 2012

What's In A Name? Science Faculties Prefer John To Jennifer.

Kathleen Geier discusses a recent study about possibly unacknowledged gender bias among science faculty in the United States.  The study is important because it comes out at a time when the general discussion argues that all the bias against women in the mathematical and science fields is inside their own heads or based on their own choices to focus on children and housekeeping duties and so on.

The basic idea behind the study (pdf) is not new but it's still pretty neat:  Make up information about a potential job applicant, make sure that the information looks realistic to insiders in the field, and then send it out to several evaluators, half of which get it with a female first name for the applicant, half with a male first name.  The important point is that ALL the other information in the package is identical.

Thus, what the study really tests is the hidden information or stereotypes the female and male first names elicit in the judges. 

Why is this neat, in my opinion?  Because these studies control for all the possible real differences between potential female and male applicants.  Any average differences that the study finds must therefore be attributable to the gender views of the judges, whether acknowledged or unacknowledged.

This particular study, called "Science Faculty's Subtle Gender Biases Favor Male Students", by an interdisciplinary team of researchers at Yale University,  had this basic setup:

Here’s the study’s methodology: a group of researchers from Yale submitted applications for a lab manager position to faculty members in the biology, chemistry, and physics departments at a number of research universities. The application materials were identical, except that half were assigned a female name, and the other half assigned a male name. Science faculty were asked to evaluate the applicants’ competence, hireability, and mentoring potential (how deserving they were of mentoring), and also to recommend a starting salary.
The results were dismaying, to say the least: the researcher report that

Faculty participants rated the male applicant as significantly more competent and hireable than the (identical) female applicant. These participants also selected a higher starting salary and offered more career mentoring to the male applicant

What's especially neat about the setup is that the research team made the fictitious recent undergraduate student applicant something less than an obvious genius.  For instance, though "Jennifer/John" had good grades, the information also pointed out that her/his GPA wasn't quite stellar and that she/he had withdrawn from one course.  In short, the evaluators were offered a type of an average academic applicant, not a clear female or male Einstein clone.   It is in these "borderline" cases where mentoring, for instance, matters greatly.

The fictitious resumes were sent to the faculty in appropriate departments in six large research-oriented universities, picked from various parts of the US.  The final study used the answers from 127 participants with these characteristics (pdf):

Of participants, 74% were male and 81% were White (specific ethnic backgrounds were reported as follows: 81% White, 6% East-Asian, 4% South- Asian, 2% Hispanic, 2% African-American, 2% multiracial, and 1% each for Southeast-Asian, Middle-Eastern, and other), with a mean age of 50.34 (SD = 12.60, range 29–78). Of importance, these demographics are representative of both the averages for the 23 sampled departments (demographic characteristics for the sampled departments were 78% male and 81% White, corresponding closely with the demographics of those who elected to participate), as well as national averages (9). Additionally, 18% of participants were Assistant Professors, 22% were Associate Professors, and 60% were full professors, with 40% Biologists, 32% Physicists, and 28% Chemists. No demographic variables were associated with participants’ substantive responses (all P > 0.53). As expected when using random assignment, participants’ demographic conditions did not vary across experimental conditions. Because there were 15 female and 48 male participants in the male student condition, and 18 female and 45 male participants in the female student condition, we obtained sufficient power to test our hypotheses (10).
Each participant got the fictitious resume only once, 63 from John and 64 from Jennifer.  Thus, the study does not (and cannot) measure any one particular faculty member's gender bias but the average bias that might appear when all the evaluations are judged together.

The respondents were asked to rate the competence and likability of Jennifer/John, to state whether she/he is worth hiring, to suggest a suitable starting salary and to indicate whether they themselves would be willing to mentor Jennifer/John.  The study supplement states that the participants were told Jennifer/John is a real person and that the evaluations would be sent to her/him.

What are the findings?

OOPS.  Here's a table from the study itself (pdf):

And here is a table (pdf) with information on how female and male faculty members judged the applicant:

In words, the same fictitious resume was judged to belong to a more competent applicant when the only change in it was from "Jennifer" to "John."  Jennifer was judged less worthy of hiring or mentoring and she would have been offered a lower starting salary.

The study also argues that "Jennifer" was judged more likable than "John."  But what seems to drive the results is the competence variable.  Being called "Jennifer" rather than "John" makes the applicant less competent!

Fascinating stuff.  But most people aren't fascinated by that most astonishing finding of all:  The Power In A Name.  Based on the comments attached to Geier's post on the study, many start immediately digging for reasons why the name difference should be powerful:  Women are more likely to bugger off because of pregnancies and gendered family duties, women are less likely to want to work 80-hour weeks and so on.

Of course all of that is statistical discrimination.  The two applicants give identical data and the judges then add their own views about women to the stew.  But what remains is still discriminatory, given that nobody knows if Jennifer/John would act according to the presumed averages or stereotypes of her/his gender.

Some have commented on the finding that female faculty members exhibit the same (possibly unacknowledged biases) as male faculty members.  I guess the idea is to point out that it's not really gender discrimination if women do it, too*?  Not sure, but of course we are all taught the same general views in the society and it would be extremely unlikely that women would have some sort of a general immunity to those views.

Or put in other terms, IF the perhaps unacknowledged biases are created in this case from, say, what one observes inside the science professions, then both female and male faculty members would notice that there are fewer women than men in the profession, that there are fewer women in the top ranks and that more women than men are lost in the pipeline.  The theory of statistical discrimination would then suggest that such "incomplete" data as the applicant's resume must be corrected downwards for Jennifer by the general likelihood that a randomly drawn woman (as opposed to a randomly drawn man) would succeed in the occupation, given that men seem to be doing better, as a group.  "John" doesn't require the same correction.  Indeed, in theory he might benefit from his group membership in the team "men."

Nevertheless, I found the mentoring results a bit discouraging.  Suppose that most of this bias indeed IS unacknowledged, meaning that the judges are unaware of anything sexist going on.  I would still have expected that female faculty members would have been more aware of the importance of mentoring women in their professions.  On the other hand, perhaps the judges answered the questions on the basis of "what's-in-it-for-me."  From that point of view the prediction that "Jennifer" would do less well than "John" means that mentoring the former would not "pay" for the faculty member the same way that mentoring the latter would.

I combed the study and the supporting material for a while yesterday,  in an attempt to find something to criticize in its methodology and so on.  It's possible that I missed stuff but mostly the research seems pretty good.  The one thing I would have liked to see is an analysis of the interaction terms between faculty member's gender and professorial level variable.

The supplementary material (pdf) notes that the researchers could not analyze the possible effects the institutions themselves might have on the results because doing so would have removed the privacy of the answers. But given that only six universities were included, it's not impossible that the faculty members discussed the study among themselves.  It's hard to know how something like that might have affected the findings.  The double-blind frame of the study could have been violated if two participants, say, found out that they had the same data but one had Jennifer and the other one had John.   On the other hand, if both of them happened to have a "John" or a "Jennifer", the discussion could have made their judgments more similar.

All that is trivial, I suspect.  The main take-home message from this study is that Names Matter in the science fields, or that there appears to exist a general statistical downwards correction, applied only to female applicants.  This takes the form of lower judged  competency and might affect starting salaries, getting hired and later mentoring.  Virginia Valian's drip-drip theory of discrimination then suggests that these minor differences in, say, starting salaries and the amount of mentoring might ultimately pile up into large cumulative differences in career successes.

None of this is intended to negate the role of alternative explanations for the dearth of women in the mathematics and science fields.  But the study does suggest that plain prejudice still bites.

*This needs a little more explanation:  The idea is that because female faculty members are women, too, they cannot be subtly biased about the class "women."  But humans are really good at viewing themselves differently from other people.  An example:  My children, the neighbors' brats.   And traditionally one way for ambitious women to cope with the gender bias is to assume the role of the exceptional or the role of the "honorary man."  When that role is assumed, being a rarity might, in fact, be a positive characteristic because it seems to validate how exceptional one is.

I didn't realize how common such thinking was before I began blogging and reading comments attached to various newspaper articles about gender.  Of course some of those misogynistic comments attributed to female nyms might not be by women.  But some probably are.  In short, we are all like the fish who think water has no taste because they live in it.  Similarly, we pretty much inherit the biases of our cultures, and, yes many of them swim below the surface thinking.