Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Today's Research Granola: On Beefy Facial Features, Women's Odds of Becoming Principal Investigators in STEM Fields Etc.

1.  Here's a fun study summary for you about the reason why our male ancestors had such very strong jaws that nobody ever would have wanted to hit them in the jaw while, say, boxing:
A new theory suggests that our male ancestors evolved beefy facial features as a defence against fist fights.
The bones most commonly broken in human punch-ups also gained the most strength in early "hominin" evolution.
They are also the bones that show most divergence between males and females.
Don't worry about that seeming illogicality of both arguing that beefy facial features evolved as a defense against fist fights AND that the bones most commonly broken in human punch-ups are those same strengthened ones.  This is because the argument is not about today's humans but about early hominins.  Human males today no longer have that "protective buttressing," at least to the same extent.  According to the study authors, this is because it's no longer needed, probably because fist fights are something from ancient history.

I have nothing against their hypothesis, except that it's impossible to test.  For example, we have no way of knowing if ancient hominins engaged in fist fights or if they fought by using some other tools.  But I really wonder about this argument:

Furthermore, these are the bones that show the most differences between men and women, as well as between our male and female forebears. That is how you would expect defensive armour to evolve, Prof Carrier points out.
"In humans and in great apes in general... it's males that are most likely to get into fights, and it's also males that are most likely to get injured," he told BBC News.

Do the large apes use their fists in fighting?  Perhaps they do.  But the idea that the hominin females wouldn't have been subject to any intra-species violence or wouldn't have needed to develop "protective buttressing" against it seems suspect to me.

2.  This is an interesting read about the connections between a certain type of pseudo-evolutionary-psychology and the PUAs (pickup artists, a group in the Manosphere).

3.  A computer model, created to predict academic success in the STEM fields, implies that

Female biologists are less likely to become principal investigators than are male biologists with comparable publication records, a statistical model found.
The mantra 'publish or perish' is drilled into every early-career scientist — and for good reason, a computer model suggests. The most important predictor of success for a young biomedical scientist is the number of first-author papers published in journals with high impact factors early in a researcher's career, according to the formula.
If two researchers had identical publication records but one of them was female and one male, the latter would have a seven percent higher odds of becoming a principal investigator, one of the creators of the computer model tells us.

To try to understand the reasons for that finding would require the kind of work I cannot undertake:  studying the model in detail to see what other variables might be relevant and to check whether they are included or not.   This is because the finding, if correct, can be caused by direct discrimination (probably subconscious) against women but it can also be caused in more roundabout ways.

For instance, as long as women are culturally regarded as the ones responsible for children and the care and maintenance of the home,  it might matter whether a researcher has children or not and it might matter whether a researcher is married or not.  This is because both the possibility that women spend more time on things other than research once they have children and/or are married and  because the expectation that this could happen can create statistical discrimination against women.

So it would be important to know if the computer model uses variables relating to the number of children and marital status etc.

An interesting read on the model and how it was used by one female scientist is here.  She makes a point I tend to agree with:  It's not likely that female Einsteins get treated horribly because of their gender (though they did in the past).  It's the middle-of-the-pack where gender might matter.  As Bella Abzug stated:

“Our struggle today is not to have a female Einstein get appointed as an assistant professor. It is for a woman schlemiel to get as quickly promoted as a male schlemiel.”