People who don’t know what bias is: NIH, Nature Publishing

Let’s get something out of the way quick here:

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So, when someone notes that I only hire people whose last names start with a letter from the first half of the alphabet, that is in and of itself not evidence of bias. Maybe I’ve received far more applications from that group, maybe the population is not evenly distributed between the two halves, maybe I’ve only hired 3 people, so sampling bias is likely.

Maybe I have an aversion (conscious or not) to all the latter letters because of a humiliating pants-wetting event in kindergarten when I was scolded, laughed at, or beaten by a nun because I thought ellemenoppy was one letter.

One of these is bias on my part (you can figure out the answer at home). In science, studies have shown strong evidence for the following:

– There is bias against under-represented minorities at the NIH in awarding grants. That does not mean simply that they are less likely to win grants. It means that ALL THINGS BEING EQUAL with regard to the applications, being a minority (and in particular being black) gets you judged more harshly by NIH reviewers. (Ginther et al.)

– There is bias against females in scientific assessment. The most recent example of this I can think of is the finding that a CV with a male name on it is judged more favorably by scientists (male or female) than the same CV with a female name on it.  (Moss-Racusin et al.)

So it is somewhat astounding that almost every way the NIH can think of to address bias against URM applicants is to try to tell them how to write better applications. The jaw-dropping arrogance and cluelessness and lack of accountability in this position blows my mind. Details and discussion at http://scientopia.org/blogs/drugmonkey/2014/01/16/nih-blames-the-victim/

Then, there is this absurd Lukas Koube guy. Who is he? My best Googling guess is that he is an accountant with no scientific or academic credentials*. He is of the opinion that we should “only focus on quality,” and continues in the idiotic vein of pretending bias doesn’t exist. He sent this opinion to Nature, who…. wait for it… published it. So here is some random non-scientist donut huffer from Texas who has no idea what bias even is chiming in on how scientific journals should use “quality” as their publishing criterion.

I am fairly confident Nature regularly gets “Opinion” letters from Creationists about evolution or nano-brain implants from people living in shacks in Montana. Why aren’t these published? Because they are the same thing: someone who just doesn’t get reality and whos opinion is worthless. It’s like we’re having a discussion about national unemployment levels and someone chimes in with “I saw a hiring sign at Starbucks today.”

I have a theory: someone at Nature isn’t really sure what bias is either, and therefore thought this MRA idiocy occupied a legitimate position within this discussion. That is a total embarrassment for a journal that is clearly striving to at least appear responsive to their own problems with gender skew.

* I don’t think you need these credentials to have an opinion, but we are talking about an opinion piece about scientific publication in a scientific journal.

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