Thursday, September 28, 2006

Women in pseudoscience

I should add an explanatory note to the argument presented as “option 1” in “A zircon that predates the universe”. I mentioned that in order to be taken seriously by the scientific community, it is necessary to explain previously existing data, as well as one’s own.

The alternative, which I will designate 1a, is to ignore the judgment of the scientific community by joining the lunatic fringe.

The issues and challenges surrounding a career in quackology are no different than those of any other profession. I do not intend to discuss them all, so for this post I will focus on a relatively basic problem: gender representation.

Why are there so few women pseudoscientists?

There are numerous blogs devoted to the issues of women representation in mainstream science. Whether you are looking for a witty, reasoned, or angry approach, this topic is extensively discussed online. Not so with women in the fringe. Despite career prospects that in some cases may rival that of academic scientists, this remains a male dominated profession. So at the very least, a quick review of some possible explanations is in order.

1. Pipeline problem. This hypothesis suggests that there are few women shysters because they never take the basic high school training that is required. Women who take college preparatory courses and do independent research are in danger of missing the opportunities created by spending one’s afternoons selling used cars, real estate, and standards-approved laboratory equipment.

2. Hostile work environment. There is no doubt that extreme nut jobs can create a difficult work environment. The social acclimation of people who belive the face on Mars is watching them can be marginal, at best. The cultivation of cults, harems, cloned teenage heartthrobs, and blockheaded arguments can also dissuade women from a career in quackery.

3. Systemic bias. In my travels as a wild youth, I met several women who had a basic misunderstanding of the Earth sciences. However, they do not seem to have ever made the career jump from uninformed housewife to corporate shill. A widespread, subconscious reluctance to give female applicants the same benefit of the doubt (even where the doubt is a fiction designed to distract and deceive) as males could potentially be an explanation.

4. Biological differences. Some people, including Harvard administrators, may suggest that there is an innate biological difference that makes fakery easier for men than for women. The unspoken corollary to this law is that there is no point trying to recruit women into the pseudoscientific disciplines, because they have neither the inclination nor the ability to succeed there. I suspect that the proponents of this particular hypothesis have all led sheltered, ivory tower lives that have never involved being wrapped around the finger of one of these professional manipulators. That, or they’re too up themselves to admit it.

Anyway, there are a few important take-home points here. First of all, this is a completely theoretical exercise. There is no possible relationship between the factors that govern bias science and pseudoscience. The reason for this is obvious. Selection committees in the sciences are immune to charisma, charm, the hard sell, the flashy diversion, or any other pseudoscientific techniques. They only consider quantitative, verifiable factors when filling appointments. Always.


Anonymous said...

Well, I'm definitely seeing evidence for men in pseudoblogs.

Dr. Shellie said...


Lab Lemming said...

Oops! I lost the last paragraph- which contains the concluding remarks. It is now fixed.

Thanks, Dr. Shellie.

And Anon, what is a pseudoblog? IS that like the walmart shills? If so, who do you think is pulling my strings? And what do they have to gain?

Anonymous said...

You're right that most producers of pseudoscience are men, but their followers are mostly women if we include New Age and alternative medicine among the pseudosciences. It's simply gendered behaviour, just like most active skeptics are men.

Most of us, like myself, just follow the crowd. The real free thinkers are female skeptics and New Age men. (-;

Martin Rundkvist

Lab Lemming said...

While your response seems to indicate a bias in the promotianal process, your logic is flawed.

Even if we accept your stereotypical data set of women as alternative medicine junkies, that does not necessarily mean that they are less scientific than men. Such a point would only be made if the men sought out scientifically rigorous helthcare in the instances where women opted for quackery.

Unfortunately, in stereotype-land, the men don't seek out treatment at all, they just suck up the pain and ignor their ailiments. So no comparison can be made.