By William. | Although no evidence exists, the media, politics and large parts of the public still create the story of the numerous career obstacles that women are exposed to at Canadian universities. The hardest proof of this is the continued dominance of men among professors: According to Statistics Canada, the proportion of men in all professorships nationwide was 59 percent in 2018.
A Swedish study published this year, methodologically extremely careful and using very deliberate arguments, has now tackled the problem of the alleged disadvantage of women in academic careers. This topic does not meet with approval everywhere. At the end of their article, the authors point out that their study could only be published with a significant delay because six scientific journals had rejected publication – five of them gave no reasons, but simply declared that they did not wish to be responsible for the content (i.e. they were afraid of the inevitable backlash that would occur when “science” is used). In the past, such a repeatedly rejected study would only have been handled with a pair of pincers. Today, in times of political correctness and cancel culture, on the other hand, this can correspond to an accolade, as in the present case.
On the basis of a supposedly systematic disadvantage of female scientists through a patriarchal and male-dominated environment, the two psychologists from the University of Umeå examined the following hypothesis, which was empirically either not at all or only very weakly proven or, for methodological reasons, eluded experimental examination but was nevertheless repeatedly brought into the fore: if it is actually the case that the path to a professorship is more difficult and rocky for women, those who achieve the goal should have more scientific credibility than their male colleagues.
Of course, the question arises as to how scientific performance can be measured sensibly and as objectively as possible. Three ways: the number of publications as first author in scientific journals, the impact factor of the publications (the quality of these journals), and finally the frequency with which the individual publications have been cited by other scientists. These three parameters were determined for those who managed to become professors at one of Sweden’s six largest universities over a six-year period. The results do not support the research hypothesis – on the contrary: The women appointed had significantly fewer publications to show in both medicine and the social sciences and were also cited significantly less often, which indicates that their research results are less relevant.
The research situation is quite clear
In fact, it was easier for the female applicants to get a professorship. In the opinion of the two Swedish authors, these results fit in well with the relevant, albeit mostly ignored, state of research. For example, a German study four years ago was able to show that women who had obtained a lifetime professorship in sociology had 23 to 44 percent fewer publications than men. But that’s not all: Despite this lower academic productivity, female applicants also had a 1.4 times higher chance of getting one of the coveted professorships.
Another research result, which suggests a systematic preference for women, is the bonus, especially in male-dominated disciplines, that is clearly granted for the performance of female exam candidates. This bonus for women disappears if the judges do not know the gender of the candidate.
In addition, it could be shown that women are also preferred in salary negotiations, the granting of research funds and the assessment of manuscripts submitted for publication. And what about the male university scientists? They are simply characterized by a higher scientific productivity, which has been proven in several studies, but this does not always benefit them. It would certainly be interesting to investigate the reasons for this better performance by men – but this is not our topic.
The performance principle has lost its importance
The old and proven performance principle of promoting the best and most capable applicants regardless of gender, race and political convictions has obviously lost its importance at universities. Nowadays the two topics women and political conviction can be separated – but only marginally.
The Swedish authors discuss three possible explanations for the systematic preference given to female applicants when appointing professorships. Firstly, a conscious or unconscious preference by those who have to decide in the appointment process, since they – contrary to the overwhelming scientific evidence – consider women to be disadvantaged in the scientific community.
Second, through a policy of “gender equality” that favors women with equal qualifications. There are inevitably systematic distortions in favor of women, since the qualification for a specific professorship cannot be measured precisely and objectively. This effect would be significantly increased if, thirdly – which was the case in Sweden from 2017 to 2019 – politicians called for an increase in the proportion of female professors and possibly also rewarded this.
Like almost all regulatory interventions, the systematic preference given to women when appointing professorships is associated with relevant side effects. If the principle of selecting the most capable and best applicants is abandoned in favor of a systematic preference for women, this is accompanied by a clear and measurable loss of quality – as the results of the Swedish study and other findings clearly indicate. Not in every individual case, of course, but on average. Not to mention the disadvantage that this entails for male scientists.
But there is another problem. The longer the practice favoring women is maintained, the more difficult it becomes to leave this wrong path. On the one hand, the warriors of social justice in and outside the universities will try to prevent this by all means. On the other hand, there is a risk that female professorial under-performers will establish a culture in a number of subjects and universities in which scientific excellence tends to be seen as a threat that needs to be fought off.
Canada at the forefront
It goes without saying that Canada and its universities are leading the way in this shredding of tried and tested quality standards. The press office of the Canadian Policy Centre reported, in the style of a communist central committee, that “the proportion of women in new appointments must rise to 49 percent in 2019.” The ideals of “Equal Opportunity” and “Gender Equity” are to be continued to reach parity with men. Lucy Ngambo, an activist with the Soros-linked organization Leadnow agreed that gender parity was the way forward: “That is the only way we can have social justice.”
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