Women are underrepresented in science, tech, engineering, and math (STEM), and two years ago a study offered a counterintuitive explanation as to why. The authors pointed out that countries with more gender equality, like Finland, tended to have fewer women earning degrees in those fields.
But more women studied science and tech in countries with less gender-progressive policies, such as Algeria, reported the researchers, who called this phenomenon the “gender-equality paradox” in STEM education.
The 2018 finding drew widespread attention from mainstream media outlets, like the Atlantic and Ars Technica, as well as from conservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute and Jordan Peterson, the controversial psychologist most famous for his YouTube videos addressing what he’s called the “crisis of masculinity.” Peterson and others cited the study to argue that, free from societal constraints, women choose to stay away from technical fields — a choice they make because of an innate lack of interest, not because of the patriarchy.
But outside researchers questioned that conclusion after they tried, and failed, to replicate the original study. Sarah Richardson, a science historian at Harvard University, told BuzzFeed News that the study authors used a “very selective set of data” to produce a “contrived and distorted picture of the global distribution of women in STEM achievement.”
In December 2019, a lengthy 1,113-word correction was added to the paper, clarifying how the researchers had arrived at their conclusions and correcting several sentences and misleading figures. In a separate article and series of blog posts on Tuesday, Richardson and her colleagues at Harvard’s GenderSci Lab laid out what they saw as the significant problems with the study’s methodology, including the researchers’ calculations for determining the percentage of women STEM graduates and the metrics they used to assess gender equity in each country.
And they called into question the study’s fundamental premise: that the correlation the authors apparently found between national gender equity and women in STEM means the former directly affects the latter.
“When we looked under the surface, this appears to be a case of massaging one’s data — selecting for different countries, particular gender measures, particular women-in-STEM measures — to produce the narrative that you want to see,” Richardson said.
“In the end, we do not think that there is a ‘gender-equality paradox.’”
But one of the study’s authors, Gijsbert Stoet of the University of Essex, stands behind the correlation they found and argued that it remains even when using Richardson’s preferred calculations. The problem with the critique, he said by email, “is that they cannot explain the phenomenon we reported.”.........