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Thread: Women in Science - food for thought

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    Exclamation Women in Science - food for thought

    https://blogs.scientificamerican.com...science-didnt/

    Something worth keeping in mind. Broadly speaking, encouraging ANYONE with talent to do STEM is a gift to the future.
    There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.
    — Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi (1883)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Roger E. Moore View Post
    https://blogs.scientificamerican.com...science-didnt/

    Something worth keeping in mind. Broadly speaking, encouraging ANYONE with talent to do STEM is a gift to the future.
    Exactly true, and, alas, STEM isn't the only field where it's pandemic. The glass ceiling in business is not a myth. My daughter, in banking, has consistently seen less-experienced and less-qualified men moved into positions with much more opportunity for growth.

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    It's true in a lot of fields.
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    "Now everyone was giving her that kind of look UFOlogists get when they suddenly say, 'Hey, if you shade your eyes you can see it is just a flock of geese after all.'"

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    A large photograph of My Wife The Professor has been frowning at me recently, when I walk through the local Life Sciences campus. It's one of a number of photographs of local female scientists of international repute which are being displayed, above their abbreviated CVs, at various points around the campus.

    When we actually have some positive role models (with which my profession is now extensively blessed), we really shouldn't forget to emphasize the positive.

    Grant Hutchison
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    One of my college professors, Dr Lois Graham, was one of the first women to get a degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and one of the first one or two to get an engineering PhD in Illinois. When I had her for thermodynamics, she was probably one of a fewer than a hundred tenured women on engineering faculties.



    I also remember a male co-worker having a temper tantrum -- as in yelling and cursing -- because the woman engineer in the group, who was both more competent and in a different specialty than he, was promoted, not him.

    Information about American English usage here and here. Floating point issues? Please read this before posting.

    How do things fly? This explains it all.

    Actually they can't: "Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible." - Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895.



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    Just to expand on my plea for the use of positive role models, I do worry about the unintended negative consequences of the article linked in the OP. A lot of school-age children with an interest in science read Scientific American, and for a girl considering a career in science, that piece essentially tells her it's all going to be futile and dreadful, with a side-order of bullying and belittling.

    Grant Hutchison
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    https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-45717060

    Comments from British scientists who are women, on the topic of women in science.
    There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.
    — Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi (1883)

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    My Wife The Professor once received an award in recognition of her clinical research (well, more than once, but only once that's of relevance here). There was a dinner in her honour, to which I was also invited, hosted by a prestigious academic organization. When we arrived in the reception hall, already teeming with guests, a greeter said she'd go and tell the president of the organization. We watched her walk across to a guy wearing a chain of office who was deep in conversation at the far side of the room. She spoke to him, and pointed in our direction, and he immediately broke off from what he was doing and came striding across the room towards us. All the way across, he was making eye contact with me, and I was shaking my head and gesturing to my wife. But he marched right up to me, shook my hand, greeted me by my wife's name and title (we have different surnames), congratulated me and assured me how much he'd been looking forward to meeting me. Behind him, I could see the greeter and what turned out to be most of the awards committee literally clutching their heads in horror - one of them even turned away, covering his eyes.

    "Oops," I said, still shaking my head, and watched as the penny dropped - he went so white I thought he was actually going to faint.
    My wife favoured him with a huge smile and enquired brightly, "Would you like to try all that again?"
    "Oh Christ, yes," he said.

    ETA: My wife's take on this is that it functioned as a sort of educational outreach - no-one involved in the horror of that debacle would ever make the same mistake again.

    Grant Hutchison
    Last edited by grant hutchison; 2018-Oct-03 at 03:45 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    Just to expand on my plea for the use of positive role models, I do worry about the unintended negative consequences of the article linked in the OP. A lot of school-age children with an interest in science read Scientific American, and for a girl considering a career in science, that piece essentially tells her it's all going to be futile and dreadful, with a side-order of bullying and belittling.
    I'm curious if your wife has seen the article and has this same view of it. We have three daughters, two with science degrees. My oldest married a guy that discouraged her continuing education. That contributed a little to the decision for the divorce. She got accepted at Cal-Poly and earned her science degree while caring for their child. The day after the graduation ceremony, she married a great guy who encouraged her education and even graduated with her and with the same degree. They both work for the same company and are doing fine. The grandparents are happy.
    We know time flies, we just can't see its wings.

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    Quote Originally Posted by George View Post
    I'm curious if your wife has seen the article and has this same view of it.
    Her view is very negative, with regard to both the message and some of the narrative choices.

    The effect of unrelenting negativity is certainly more than a theoretical problem. A woman I know is currently going through what she describes as a "perfect MeToo storm" with her teenage daughters - both bright, and up to now friendly and outgoing kids, from her account. The older daughter followed the #MeToo story with keen attention, and has presumably shared a lot of detail with her younger sister. The younger sister (12 or 13 years old) has now asked if she can be moved to an all-girls school, because she's frightened when the boys in her class speak to her. And the older sister has announced that she has abandoned her plans to study languages at university, because "it's all rape culture". Now, these kids have a mother who enjoyed a happy time at school and university and who has risen to the top of her profession, and who has a loving, stable marriage with a good man - but they're really struggling to get a moderating message across to their panicked daughters.

    Grant Hutchison
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    This looked relevant... not particularly good news.


    https://arxiv.org/abs/1810.01511

    The Leaky Pipeline for Postdocs: A study of the time between receiving a PhD and securing a faculty job for male and female astronomers

    Kevin Flaherty (Submitted on 2 Oct 2018)

    The transition between receiving a PhD and securing a tenure track faculty position is challenging for nearly every astronomer interested in working in academia. Here we use a publicly available database of recently hired faculty (the Astrophysics Job Rumor Mill) to examine the amount of time astronomers typically spend in this transitory state. ... (continued at link)
    Last edited by Jim; 2018-Oct-04 at 03:58 PM. Reason: Edited. Post summary, not all
    There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.
    — Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi (1883)

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    I don't really think sheltering girls from the knowledge that these things happen is the right answer.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gillianren View Post
    I don't really think sheltering girls from the knowledge that these things happen is the right answer.
    Dear god, of course it isn't! What they need is an awareness of the problems, combined with a realistic survival kit in their mental toolboxes, and at least a hint that something worthwhile and fulfilling can be achievable.
    Hence my enthusiasm for positive role models - in medicine, we have at least twenty years of research showing that they do make a real difference to career choices, and to people sticking with a chosen career even when it all goes a bit crap for a while.

    Grant Hutchison
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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    Dear god, of course it isn't! What they need is an awareness of the problems, combined with a realistic survival kit in their mental toolboxes, and at least a hint that something worthwhile and fulfilling can be achievable.
    Hence my enthusiasm for positive role models - in medicine, we have at least twenty years of research showing that they do make a real difference to career choices, and to people sticking with a chosen career even when it all goes a bit crap for a while.

    Grant Hutchison
    IOW no bad news without mixing it with good news?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    IOW no bad news without mixing it with good news?
    Only if there is good news, of course. Sometimes there isn't.
    But yes, when talking to kids about all the negative things in life, we generally try to bundle that narrative together with stuff they can do to avoid or mitigate these bad things, or with good things that (at least potentially) make enduring the bad worthwhile. It's a package. And if it's delivered by someone who has been there, done that and is still cheerful, all the better.

    Grant Hutchison
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    During life, we all develop attitudes and strategies to make our interactions with others more pleasant and useful. If I mention mine here, those comments can apply only to myself, my experiences and my situation. Such remarks cannot and should not be construed as dismissing, denigrating, devaluing or criticizing any different attitudes and strategies that other people have evolved as a result of their different situation and different experiences.

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    OK folks; this is supposed to be a thread on women in science, not women's self-defense. I'm going to try to split off those posts to a thread in OTB. I'll return with that link.

    PS - I've moved those posts to HERE.

    Let's keep this thread on the specific topic.
    Last edited by Swift; 2018-Oct-08 at 04:57 PM.
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    Back on track. The NYT recently ran an article on Margaret Kivelson who led the magnetometer team that concluded there was a subsurface ocean on Jupiter's moon Europa. Her story is similar to many others of women fighting for, first, access to education, and then to be heard within a discipline. And she is still working, contributing to the planned NASA Clipper probe to Europa.

    She graduated [high school] and was accepted to Harvard [in 1946], which formally excluded women, consigning them officially to Radcliffe College — a separate school without a faculty. Harvard professors would walk across the commons to repeat their lectures to women. “Women were not invited into the Harvard classrooms,” she said.

    It was there that she found physics, which allowed her to use math in such a way that answers had to make physical sense.

    “I had the good fortune of starting my studies at a time when physics was regarded as the most exciting field. This was right after World War II,” she said. “Physicists had saved the world with the atom bomb and radar. And suddenly people noticed that physics was not only a wonderfully fundamental discipline, but that it was also useful.”

    By her sophomore year, there were no separate classes. In the wonderland of the atomic age, physics professors no longer had time to repeat their lectures. “It was ridiculous to lecture to 10 women for one hour and then to 400 men the next,” she said.

    Not that the situation suddenly improved for Harvard women. When she entered the physics graduate program, she was often the only woman in her classes.

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    Someone else's take on this issue.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/19/s...versities.html

    ‘Enough Is Enough’: Science, Too, Has a Problem With Harassment
    Many women in science thought that meritocracy was the antidote to sexism. Now some have decided on a more direct approach.

    By Amy Harmon | Nov. 19, 2018

    It is 2018, and the director of the National Science Foundation, France Córdova, is tired of learning that male scientists whose research she supports with public funds have sexually harassed their female students, staff and colleagues. At 71, she still remembers an unwanted sexual remark from a graduate-school professor she had sought out for advice on her astrophysics research. And over the last few years, she has listened to stories — so many stories — shared by younger scientists at conferences for geologists and astronomers.

    So last month, Dr. Córdova enacted the kind of structural change experts say is a prerequisite to increasing the ranks of women scientists, who hold only about 30 percent of senior faculty positions in colleges in the United States. Institutions that accept an N.S.F grant must now notify the agency of any finding related to harassment by the leading scientists working on it — and face the possibility of losing the coveted funds. Individuals may also report harassment directly to the agency, which may then conduct its own investigation. That, too, may result in the suspension of funding.
    There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.
    — Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi (1883)

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    https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/fema...200725425.html

    It seems everyone wants to pick a side and fight over it, but perhaps there's good reason to do so. The guy was kind of rude.

    Moral: don't pick at other people in an internet age. They might byte.

    There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.
    — Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi (1883)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Roger E. Moore View Post
    Many women in science thought that meritocracy was the antidote to sexism. Now some have decided on a more direct approach.
    The problem with meritocracy is that the existing Powers That Be decide who and what has merit, and judge if you've met those standards.
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

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    Don't forget Emmy Noether and her contribution to the conceptual structures of the mathematics in modern physics. Nina Byers goes into this in detail in her paper "E. Noether’s Discovery of the Deep Connection Between Symmetries and Conservation Laws" in 1998.

    https://arxiv.org/abs/physics/9807044v2
    Though the general theory of relativity was completed in 1915, there remained unresolved problems. In particular, the principle of local energy conservation was a vexing issue. In the general theory, energy is not conserved locally as it is in classical field theories - Newtonian gravity, electromagnetism, hydrodynamics, etc.. Energy conservation in the general theory has been perplexing many people for decades. In the early days, Hilbert wrote about this problem as ‘the failure of the energy theorem’. In a correspondence with Klein [3], he asserted that this ‘failure’ is a characteristic feature of the general theory, and that instead of ‘proper energy theorems’ one had ‘improper energy theorems’ in such a theory. This conjecture was clarified, quantified and proved correct by Emmy Noether.
    Food for thought.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    The problem with meritocracy is that the existing Powers That Be decide who and what has merit, and judge if you've met those standards.
    I'm sorry but I'm afraid you've gotten a bit over my head there. I work in what is essentially a meritocracy, and I have been involved in hiring several people. And when I made the decisions, I did it on benchmarks such as writing skills, communication skills, my perception of the person's ability to be a good team member, etc., but there was never any "powers that be" that influenced those decisions. In fact, the "powers that be" basically told me, "look, you choose the person who is right for your team, and we're happy with that." So I don't think that is the problem. I think the problem is really (and I could be guilty of this myself) that people think they are making decisions based purely on merit, but are influenced (sometimes unconsciously) by biases that they have. So I think the issue with a meritocracy is that people can claim that everything was fair but that in fact they had unconscious biases that made them make an unfair decision.
    As above, so below

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    Studies have routinely shown that things so simple as taking names off resumes makes a difference.
    _____________________________________________
    Gillian

    "Now everyone was giving her that kind of look UFOlogists get when they suddenly say, 'Hey, if you shade your eyes you can see it is just a flock of geese after all.'"

    "You can't erase icing."

    "I can't believe it doesn't work! I found it on the internet, man!"

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    I'm surprised no one has brought up the 1st Workshop on High Energy Theory and Gender, which explained its unusual approach thusly:
    "In addition to talks on nuclear and string theory, SM and BSM phenomenology, lattice field theory and cosmology, each day talks and panel discussions will be dedicated to research on gender in academia, with an aim to further the development and implementation of action plans to support women and other minorities in physics."

    Now, while the intentions of treating both these issues simultaneously are certainly well-intentioned, I would have thought that anyone organizing a conference with that plan would be aware of the problem of mixing skill sets involving theoretical astrophysics with skill sets involving social research. But apparently they just kind of trusted that people who know a lot about elementary particles would automatically also be experts in gender issues, and could handle both matters seamlessly. The myth of the meritocracy I suppose. Sadly, this oversight meant that this conference will mostly be remembered for one infamous talk, given by Alessandro Strumia, in which he claimed (at a meeting with this stated intention, unbelievably) that men, not women, are discriminated against in science. The reaction did not go well for Strumia (https://physicsworld.com/a/thousands...a-gender-talk/).

    Now, of course there are some men who come up against institutions that are inopportunely at that time trying to increase female role models that half the population can better identify with, and these men find their chances of being hired are reduced (or eliminated) by being men. These cases are so blatant that they tend to stand out, but they are still far less numerous than the more normal case, where both men and women are being recruited, and the women face the kinds of unconscious (and conscious, as per Alessandro) bias this thread has mentioned. So to see what happens when this unconscious bias in the so-called "meritocracy" is exposed in a much more conscious way, imagine a large group of promising budding women scientists sitting in a room to hear about the new perspectives in high energy physics and the role women might play in propelling these theories forward, and they hear some old guard male telling them, and I quote, "physics was invented and built by men," and when you look at the papers getting the most citations, the "top authors are man, man...man."

    You might think Struvia's intention was to lead into bemoaning how female authors don't receive the same attention that male authors do, or that they face the problem of having to break into a field that was traditionally male and which points to essentially all-male role models in its historical development. That would certainly be the natural conclusion to the data he was presenting, and might be appropriate (though awkwardly constructed) at a conference with the stated objectives of this one. But no. Strumia used the data as an argument that women essentially do not belong in high energy physics. To an audience of women. How someone intelligent enough to understand elementary particle theory can be that dumb about the real world completely boggles the mind. But in any event, he did get suspended from his job at CERN, because of how deeply he harmed their public image, and how unconscionable it was to use his position to make personal attacks on women who he was arguing were unqualified for their positions. But there are still other men in positions of authority who have that same perspective, they merely have the good sense to keep it quiet. In a public response, Struvia defended his argument, and claimed that his only enemy here is US-based political correctness, not the basic truth of how gender bias works and how hard it is to be a trailblazer in a field of encrusted bias sprinkled with closedminded thinkers like himself. The irony of depicting political correctness as the institutional bias, not someone who can't tell the difference between historical precedent and a forward-looking meritocracy. Impossibly, Struvia seems to actually believe that scientific aptitude is locked up in the Y chromosome. I wonder if he thinks arrogance also comes from that chromosome.

    So there is clearly still a problem here, and I completely agree with Grant that stories like this are most valuable when coupled with information about how to combat the problem. Examples of influential women can be included, rather than just saying how awful it is that woman are discriminated against (as the latter can actually serve to assist Struvia's agenda of trying to uninvite women at the table of science, as they were uninvited for so long before). A great example of what could be is that Struvia recounted a personal anecdote about how he was passed over for a job by a woman with fewer citations, who was of course therefore less qualified (never mind that in openly describing this incident, he exposed himself as obviously unqualified for any position of authority in science-- whoever passed him over for that job is definitely breathing a sigh of relief now). Struvia would have known the woman in question was in the audience, as were many people who knew who and what he was talking about, so the article might have taken the opportunity to talk a little bit about the scientific accomplishments of that woman, and how she rose to that prominent position, rather than leaving the readers to think that perhaps Struvia really was the victim here (mindful of the self-critical "impostor" phenomenon that women tend to face more often than men). Instead, it was chosen to keep her identity secret, but I wouldn't be surprised if she would have consented to being identified if it came with a bit about her accomplishments and why she was deserving of that position. Especially if Struvia was the main competition, and good judgement was part of the job description! But the articles on this affair generally do mention the response of the scientific community, which was broadly against the flaws in Struvia's logic, so hopefully budding women scientists can take some comfort in that and not be too discouraged.
    Last edited by Ken G; 2018-Dec-02 at 04:13 PM.

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    I always say things are they way they are because it works. Things were the way they were because it worked. Societal evolution is in its infancy, so expect a lot of changes, but don't try to change things, it is too complicated to figure out what is better. It has to be an evolution of society.
    The moment an instant lasted forever, we were destined for the leading edge of eternity.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Copernicus View Post
    I always say things are they way they are because it works. Things were the way they were because it worked. Societal evolution is in its infancy, so expect a lot of changes, but don't try to change things, it is too complicated to figure out what is better. It has to be an evolution of society.
    Glad that Enlightenment thinkers didn't agree with you. We might still be burning "witches". Or the abolitionists that fought to end slavery. Or the civil rights activists who thought it was crazy that skin color was a factor in how you were treated. Or . . .
    Calm down, have some dip. - George Carlin

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken G View Post
    I'm surprised no one has brought up the 1st Workshop on High Energy Theory and Gender, which explained its unusual approach thusly:
    "In addition to talks on nuclear and string theory, SM and BSM phenomenology, lattice field theory and cosmology, each day talks and panel discussions will be dedicated to research on gender in academia, with an aim to further the development and implementation of action plans to support women and other minorities in physics."
    It's no surprise that I didn't bring it up, considering that I had never heard of it.
    As above, so below

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    That may be because that event comes more under the heading of "women in physics" than "women in science," but it is arguable that physics is the science where women are the farthest behind. So much so that many physicists still think women are fundamentally less able to do physics, rather than that our society is built to disfavor women in physics more highly than any other scientific discipline (fewest role models, highest demands, worst tendency to have an "impostor" feeling, greatest disfavor from other kids, hardest career to maintain during child-bearing years, etc.). But it really shows the mentality that is out there in physics, and Struvia's claims raise the key question: why are men still doing most of the physics, and why are they getting more citations when they do? Is physics still an "old boy" science, even after so many other sciences have shaken that yoke? And does this mean women should seek out other sciences instead of physics, maintaining the self-fulfilling prophecy forevermore? Ironically, it is Struvia's own fate that offers some promise this may not necessarily be the case.
    Last edited by Ken G; 2018-Dec-04 at 01:55 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Copernicus View Post
    I always say things are they way they are because it works. Things were the way they were because it worked. Societal evolution is in its infancy, so expect a lot of changes, but don't try to change things, it is too complicated to figure out what is better. It has to be an evolution of society.
    Things are the way they are because bad habits are hard to break. And no, they don't work very well at all, for most people in the world.
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

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    I believe we can interpret Copernicus' remark as not being "change would not be good" (a la Struvia!), but rather, "change will be difficult because it is up against what has worked in the past." But perhaps the issue of "how things are" can be thought of in terms of the concept of a "local minimum" in some kind of high-dimensional, highly nonlinear function. It's true that when there is stability in "how things are", it must be because small perturbations tend to get shepherded back toward the locally stable "minimum." But the claim that this minimum is "what works" tends to sound like a claim that the local minimum is also some kind of global minimum, and must await a change in the function itself to cause that global minimum to move somewhere else, gradually or suddenly. This approach to the problem overlooks several other possibilities, including:
    1) there may be many locally stable minimum, with a global minimum somewhere else that can only be found by a concerted effort to actually find it
    2) the function with these minima might not be a "merit" function that measures the greatest good, but rather some other type of function (such as a "human foible function") that cannot be characterized in a blanket way as "what works" but rather "what persists" (in the evolutionary sense).
    3) the "merit" elements of the function might not include everyone, only people with the power to affect outcomes, such that the local minimum is only a measure of "what works" for those people, the people who choose to assert their power over outcomes.

    In the case of any of those three possibilities, some degree of activism can lead to finding "what works" for a larger number of people. This is the reason that interested parties in science (i.e., women, but also, the larger society that benefits from a true meritocracy in science) are interested in being active in looking for better versions of what works.
    Last edited by Ken G; 2018-Dec-04 at 02:11 PM.

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