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The Flaws in MIT’s Gender Study

In “Twenty Irrelevant Pages,” Susan Buchman critiques my study, “MIT Tarnishes Its Reputation with Junk Gender Science” .

Buchman asks a fair question: Why does the MIT study “fall below the most elementary standards for scientific evidence”?

Here is the way a study of gender discrimination at MIT should have been conducted following elementary standards for evidence in the social sciences:

1. An independent research firm should have been engaged to do the study.

The chair of the MIT committee evaluating the charge of gender discrimination was Professor Hopkins herself, the chief complainant. Two-thirds of the committee members were other senior women in the School of Science, interested parties who would personally profit from a finding of gender discrimination and, in fact, did profit.

The senior women at MIT were thus judge and jury of their own complaints.

2. The independent research firm would have developed a clear conceptualization of discrimination and operationalized that definition with specific measures, e.g. unequal pay, unequal laboratory space, not listened to in meetings, not appointed to prestigious committees, a sense of disrespect.

3. A comparative study of male and female faculty at MIT would be conducted to see if female faculty differ significantly from male faculty in such resources and feelings. Male faculty may have comparable perceptions of marginalization but lack a socially acceptable label like “gender discrimination” to discuss the problem.

4. The data would be coded by researchers who have received training in the category system and who have reached at least an 80 percent level of agreement in coding accuracy. Subtle personal experiences (qualitative data) can be coded scientifically, not only quantitative data, when concepts are clear.

5. The study methods and results would be published for review and critique by the scientific community. If sex differences were found in laboratory space, for example, were differences in seniority taken into account?

For MIT to argue that “confidentiality” is required on such matters as sex differences in square feet of laboratory feet is just plain absurd. Confidentiality means you do not identify individuals, not that you do not publish tables.

This is how social science is done. A secret study is how politics is done.

Judith Kleinfeld
Professor of Psychology
University of Alaska Fairbanks