The Sciences

Bias, Bias Everywhere

Cosmic VarianceBy Sean CarrollOct 8, 2012 6:00 PM

Newsletter

Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news
 

Admitting that scientists demonstrate gender bias shouldn't make us forget that other kinds of bias exist, or that people other than scientists exhibit them. In a couple of papers (one, two), Katherine Milkman, Modupe Akinola, and Dolly Chugh have investigated how faculty members responded to email requests from prospective students asking for a meeting. The names of the students were randomly shuffled, and chosen to give some implication that the students were male or female, and also whether they were Caucasian, Black, Hispanic, Indian, or Chinese. And the inquiries most likely to receive positive responses were the ones that came from ... white males! You should pause a minute to collect yourself after hearing this shocking news. Here are the fractions of students who didn't even get a response to their emails, and the fractions who were turned down for a meeting. (Biases aside, can you believe that over half of the prospective students who asked for a meeting were turned down?)

The results pretty much speak for themselves, and help to highlight the kinds of invisible biases that are impossible to detect directly but can end up exerting a large influence on the course of a person's career. As previously noted, the first step to eradicating (or at least lessening) these kinds of distortions is to recognize that they exist. (Although a quick perusal of our comment sections should suffice to convince skeptics that the biases are very real, and oftentimes proudly defended.) Interestingly, the studies didn't only look at scientists, but at academics from a broad variety of disciplines, with dramatically different results.

It's clear that scientists, while biased, are not the worst offenders here; that ignominious distinction belongs to faculty in business, education, and human services. Social scientists and humanities professors weren't that biased at all, and faculty in the fine arts were significantly reversed-biased! Stereotypes are still stereotypes, even when they work in unusual directions -- I maintain that white guys can still have artistic souls, despite the unconscious prejudices lurking within academia.

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!

Subscribe

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Join
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

 
Subscribe
To The Magazine

Save up to 70% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2022 Kalmbach Media Co.