No Women in Physics? No Bias

The dearth of women in the science professions has been very well documented.

Only 28 percent of full-time science and engineering faculty positions are held by women. What’s more, it turns out that more than a third of American physics departments have no women at all.

According to new report by the American Institute of Physics, however, there’s no evidence of discrimination:

The sex composition of a physics department is the result of a multitude of events, some recent and some that go back many years. Based on these simulation results, though, we should not accept the absence of women among professorial-rank faculty in a single department to be prima facie evidence of a bias against women.

The bigger problem, the report suggests, is simply that there just aren’t that many female physics PhDs. Even physics departments that have women generally don’t have too many of them. A whole lot of the two-thirds of departments with female physicists likely have only one of them.

In addition, as the report points out, the number of women in physics departments has increased in the last few decades, so much so that that there are now a higher percentage of female physics faculty than there are women among recent PhD graduates. This is “further evidence that there is no systematic bias against hiring women.”

Well yes, though it still doesn’t indicate that the profession is exactly welcoming to women, or that there’s no problem in how physics departments work. Gender equity advocates would likely argue that the lack of women in any profession is a problem for women, no matter how the profession hires new staff.

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Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer