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31 July 2010

TAM, Day One: Women in Skepticism Panel

This is the fifth in a series of posts discussing The Amaz!ng Meeting 8, which took place at South Point Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, 8–11 July 2010. You can find the previous post here. You can find the next post here.

Here we have a panel discussion. All of the text in a given paragraph that follows a person's name (and a colon) is meant to paraphrase the points made by that person, with direct quotations marked where they occur.

Women in Skepticism Panel
Rebecca Watson (Moderator), Carol Tavris, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Pamela Gay, Ginger Campbell, Harriet Hall

Rebecca Watson runs Skepchick and is a member of the SGU panel.

Carol Tavris is a social psychologist dedicated to "run[ning] after pop psychology and stomping it to death".

Jennifer Michael Hecht wrote The End of the Soul, The Happiness Myth, and several books of poetry.

Pamela Gay writes the Star Stryder blog and cohosts the AstronomyCast blog.

Ginger Campbell is an ER physician who podcasts at the Brain Science podcast.

Harriet Hall is a retired air force colonel and a family physician.

Rebecca: Are men more skeptical than women?

Carol: "No."

Laughter. There is a show of hands, demonstrating that nearly half of the audience is female.

Carol: "The question has always been: 'Are men this and are women that?'" What we should be asking is: "'What are the circumstances in men['s] and women's lives that welcome them into a profession?'" The sciences haven't traditionally been welcoming to women; let's not confuse the environment with something inherent.

Rebecca: We do hear a lot that women populate the psychic conventions—but don't men populate the Bigfoot conventions? Why would women be interested in being here?

Jennifer: There's a community here.

Jennifer Michael Hecht goes on to make some comparisons to poetry conventions that went back and forth and that I honestly couldn't follow very well. (My apologies.)

Harriet: "The skeptic movement is open to everyone."

Pamela: You look at the skeptical cruises and it's all white men. "We need role models in our field." Why is the skeptic movement so slow to change? We need the old boys to die off.

Ginger: "I remember bring in medical school and having very few women to look up to." I was at a dinner with a bunch of guys and they were talking football. I made a comment about football, and it was not even acknowledged.

Harriet: I had this experience over and over again. A woman would say something and everyone would ignore her. A man would make the same suggestion and suddenly it was a great idea.

Carol: When you're the only x in a given group, anything you say will be attributed to that difference. You need to reach roughly a 30% market penetration before your individual talents are appreciated.

Jennifer: I recommend Annie Laurie Gaylor's book Women Without Superstition. And if you've read the Bible, you'll know that Job's wife as a striking voice of reason in that story.

Rebecca: What do we have to gain by increasing diversity?

Jennifer: People will listen to you if you are like them. By making this group more inclusive and diverse we can make skepticism in America reach a more diverse audience.

Carol: What do I gain by wanting to join a skeptical organisation? Feminism was inherently skeptical.

At this point, the panel begins taking questions from the audience.

Question: Has anyone ever discouraged you from being a scientist because you were a woman?

Jennifer: I was given a C by my high school physics teacher to prevent me from attending a good university.

Question: Could you elaborate more on the nature versus nurture of skepticism?

Carol: What you want more than a role model is a mentor. Your role model doesn't have to be your colour, your gender, your age. They just need to be doing something that you want to do.

Pamela: There was a study done in the physical sciences, recently. It found that women were publishing fewer, longer articles each year. Women put out three papers each year that got an average of ten citations each, while men put out ten papers each year that got three citations each. Women had fewer publications, but equal impact. We've changed how we judge these things as a result. The differences in how we do research leads to innovation in the field.

Pamela Gay is given the last word.

Pamela: "Find a woman. Drag her here."

For more discussion on women and feminism at TAM, I recommend reading Jen McCreight's take on the subject.

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