Sunday, February 28, 2016

Think of the children

Frequently when groups oppose LGTB rights, they invoke the children as an argument. This is something we have seen in the US, where organizations like NOM (National Organization for Marriage), and something which could be seen during last year's referendum on same sex marriage in Ireland.

There are generally two types of arguments:

  1. That children that doesn't grow up in wholesome classic heterosexual families, will suffer one way or the other.
  2. That by granting rights to LGTBs, it teaches the children that it is alright to be LGTB.
The first argument is usually the most common, since many people since to have a idealized view of married heterosexual couples - especially in the US, where there still seems to be a taboo around the concept of unmarried people getting children. Elsewhere, like in my native Denmark, there isn't the same taboo about getting children without getting children, and I know many people who has lived together for many years, raising their children, without getting married.

Unsurprisingly, to anyone who has been paying attention, there is no evidence that children raised by a heterosexual married couple are any better of than children raised by a homosexual couple (see e.g. Children of same-sex couples are happier and healthier than peers, research shows) or even single parents. Rather it depends on how stable the household is, and other socio-economic factors.  

For a nice overview of the state of research on the area, including the flaws of the few studies that anti-LGTB groups tend to reference, I can recommend What does the scholarly research say about the wellbeing of children with gay or lesbian parents? on Columbia Law School's public policy research portal What We Know.

The second argument, that being accepting of LGTB means that children learn it is alright to be LGTB, is not often stated explicitly, as the groups opposed to LGTBs generally realize that this sounds bigoted. Of course, this only holds for groups that are trying to pretend that they aren't so - religious groups which uses religion as a foundation for their bigotry, doesn't seem to have the same resistance to demonstrate it.

I think it hardly goes without saying that such an attitude can be harmful towards children who fall within the LGTB spectrum. 

Acceptance of LGTB, both in general and in the specific case of a child being LGTB, is a much more healthy environment for LGTB youth to grow up in.

This has been demonstrated again and again, and latest through a study of the well-being of openly transgendered children: Study: Transgender children allowed to live openly fare well

The study looks into the well-being of children who are transgender, and whose parents have accepted them. The result is that these children fare about equally to other children.

There are some flaws in the study, which the researchers also acknowledge in the article, but it shows the benefits of parents accepting their children as they are, and that the psychological well-being of transgendered children can be as good as other children, which is not something that is part of the common discourse when it comes to these issues. As the article states:

The findings are “truly stunning,” given previous studies showing high rates of mental health problems including suicidal behavior in transgender children, Dr. Ilana Sherer, a Dublin, Calif., pediatrician, wrote in a Pediatrics editorial. Most previous research is in children who haven’t come out, Olson said.
So, when bigots try to use the well-being of children as their arguments, they are not only using an argument that has been shown to be untrue, they are also using an argument which has been shown to be harmful to children.

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Thursday, February 18, 2016

Gender bias when evaluating people

Wonkblog reports on a new study on gendered bias: The remarkably different answers men and women give when asked who’s the smartest in the class

Anthropologist Dan Grunspan was studying the habits of undergraduates when he noticed a persistent trend: Male students assumed their male classmates knew more about course material than female students — even if the young women earned better grades. 
“The pattern just screamed at me,” he said. 
So, Grunspan and his colleagues at the University of Washington and elsewhere decided to quantify the degree of this gender bias in the classroom. 
After surveying roughly 1,700 students across three biology courses, they found young men consistently gave each other more credit than they awarded to their just-as-savvy female classmates. 
Men over-ranked their peers by three-quarters of a GPA point, according to the study, published this month in the journal PLOS ONE. In other words, if Johnny and Susie both had A's, they’d receive equal applause from female students — but Susie would register as a B student in the eyes of her male peers, and Johnny would look like a rock star.
It is a pretty good article, and well worth the read - as is the actual paper in PLOS One

Males Under-Estimate Academic Performance of Their Female Peers in Undergraduate Biology Classrooms

Women who start college in one of the natural or physical sciences leave in greater proportions than their male peers. The reasons for this difference are complex, and one possible contributing factor is the social environment women experience in the classroom. Using social network analysis, we explore how gender influences the confidence that college-level biology students have in each other’s mastery of biology. Results reveal that males are more likely than females to be named by peers as being knowledgeable about the course content. This effect increases as the term progresses, and persists even after controlling for class performance and outspokenness. The bias in nominations is specifically due to males over-nominating their male peers relative to their performance. The over-nomination of male peers is commensurate with an overestimation of male grades by 0.57 points on a 4 point grade scale, indicating a strong male bias among males when assessing their classmates. Females, in contrast, nominated equitably based on student performance rather than gender, suggesting they lacked gender biases in filling out these surveys. These trends persist across eleven surveys taken in three different iterations of the same Biology course. In every class, the most renowned students are always male. This favoring of males by peers could influence student self-confidence, and thus persistence in this STEM discipline.
The paper doesn't really tell anything new - it is well documented that there is a gender-bias against women when evaluating performance and skills, especially in science - see e.g. Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students

Despite efforts to recruit and retain more women, a stark gender disparity persists within academic science. Abundant research has demonstrated gender bias in many demographic groups, but has yet to experimentally investigate whether science faculty exhibit a bias against female students that could contribute to the gender disparity in academic science. In a randomized double-blind study (n = 127), science faculty from research-intensive universities rated the application materials of a student—who was randomly assigned either a male or female name—for a laboratory manager position. 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. The gender of the faculty participants did not affect responses, such that female and male faculty were equally likely to exhibit bias against the female student. Mediation analyses indicated that the female student was less likely to be hired because she was viewed as less competent. We also assessed faculty participants’ preexisting subtle bias against women using a standard instrument and found that preexisting subtle bias against women played a moderating role, such that subtle bias against women was associated with less support for the female student, but was unrelated to reactions to the male student. These results suggest that interventions addressing faculty gender bias might advance the goal of increasing the participation of women in science.
Or How stereotypes impair women’s careers in science
 Women outnumber men in undergraduate enrollments, but they are much less likely than men to major in mathematics or science or to choose a profession in these fields. This outcome often is attributed to the effects of negative sex-based stereotypes. We studied the effect of such stereotypes in an experimental market, where subjects were hired to perform an arithmetic task that, on average, both genders perform equally well. We find that without any information other than a candidate’s appearance (which makes sex clear), both male and female subjects are twice more likely to hire a man than a woman. The discrimination survives if performance on the arithmetic task is self-reported, because men tend to boast about their performance, whereas women generally underreport it. The discrimination is reduced, but not eliminated, by providing full information about previous performance on the task. By using the Implicit Association Test, we show that implicit stereotypes are responsible for the initial average bias in sex-related beliefs and for a bias in updating expectations when performance information is self-reported. That is, employers biased against women are less likely to take into account the fact that men, on average, boast more than women about their future performance, leading to suboptimal hiring choices that remain biased in favor of men.
What I find interesting with the newest study, however, is that it seems like it mostly affects men, while women tend to be better at giving a correct evaluation of the skills of their peers.

If this tendency continues after leaving the classroom (and other studies strongly indicate that this is so), this means that men are more likely to hire less qualified men than the more qualified women, while believing that they are hiring the most qualified person.

Women on the other hand, is more likely to hire the most qualified person, regardless of gender.

When people argue against quotas and other measures to create a level playing field on the job market, they usually argue that the most qualified person should be hired to a given job - well, this study clearly shows that in order for this to happen, there has to be more women involved in the hiring, since otherwise the less qualified men will get hired. 

In other words, in order for people to really get hired on the basis of their merits, we have to break the cycle of hiring based on biases.

So, maybe quotas and other measures are the real way of ensuring people getting hired on the basis of their merit?

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