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A Subtle Bias

Academic scientists show subtle bias against female students, a new report in PNAS from Yale University researchers says. The researchers, led by Jo Handelsman, examined whether faculty members perceived or treated equally qualified male and female students differently by presenting 127 biology, chemistry, and physics professors with an application from an undergraduate seeking a laboratory manager position. The application was randomly assigned a male or female name. "Both male and female faculty judged a female student to be less competent and less worthy of being hired than an identical male student, and also offered her a smaller starting salary and less career mentoring," the researchers write. They add that "academic policies and mentoring interventions targeting undergraduate advisors could contribute to reducing the gender disparity."

At Cosmic Variance, physicist Sean Carroll writes that the results aren't that surprising, though he notes that "it's good to accumulate new evidence," especially as the bias appears to have real-world implications in salary offers. "I have no reason to think that scientists are more sexist than people in other professions in the US, but this is my profession, and I'd like to see it do better. Admitting that the problem exists is a good start," he adds.