Thursday, April 21, 2016

UC Davis Storer Lecture series - since 1963 87% of speakers are male

I wrote this blog post a while ago but never published it partly out of fear for upsetting some of my colleagues.  I try to be brave about such things, but I guess I just did not quite get up the poxy.  Well, today something came up that stimulated me to write the post.

I got an email announcement for a talk that seems potentially quite interesting. The problem is not the talk.  The problem is with the endowed Lectureship that this talk is connected to.  So here is the post I have worked on on and off over the last year or more.


UC Davis has an endowed lecture series- the Storer Lectureship in the Life Sciences.  It has been running since the 1960s and is a relatively big deal on campus here.  The speakers come in, usually give one or two talks (one for the public and one for researchers).  They usually have a big dinner (I have gone to a few of these) and the speakers get a decent honorarium (a few thousand dollars) and some sort of gift.

Most years I have been here, I have received a request from the organizers for suggested speakers and every once in a while I have made suggestions, some of which have even led to invitations.  Recently, I had suggested a famous colleague who is also a UC Davis alum.  Alas, she could not come.  The organizers asked if I had any other suggestions and I sent them a list of a few candidates who are both very good, well known and do something related to microbes.  The organizers really liked one of the suggestions and asked if I would be willing to invite this person.

So I started drafting a letter.  And as part of drafting a letter I wanted to give examples of past speakers to show how great a set of speakers we had for this series.  So I Googled "Storer" and
UC Davis" or something like that and got to the page:

Storer Lectureship in the Life Sciences

And that is when I got a bit heartbroken.  The speakers have been, well, very male.   I note I spent a while looking at descriptions of each speaker that I did not know to try and determine their gender, looking at their web sites if available, or how they were described (e.g., what pronouns were used).  I am pretty confident in the assignments though I realize this is an error prone approach.  Here is the full list as far as I have put together with the males labelled in yellow and females in green.
 
Oct 5-16, 1963 Ernest W. Caspari University of Rochester
Oct 17-31, 1966 Vincent G. Derhicr Univesity of Pennsylvania
May 7-20, 1967 Ernst Mayr Harvard University
Nov 3-15, 1968 Elizabeth C. Crosby Univesity of Michigan
Jan 3-15, 1969 W.D. Billings Duke University
Apr 13-23, 1969 Frank Fenner Australian National University,
Apr 5-19, 1970 A. Frey-Wyssling Eidgenossiche Tcchnische Hochschule
Nov 11-23, 1970 Carl L. Hubbs Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Feb 1-12, 1971 H.L. KornBerg University of Leicester, England
Nov 22-Dec 3, 1971 Hilary Koprowski University of Pennsylvania
Jan 17-28, 1972 George Beadle University of Chicago
Jan 17-28, 1972 Muriel Beadle University of Chicago
May 1-12, 1972 Sterling Hendricks Agriculture Research Service, U.S.D.A
Oct 16-27, 1972 George Gaylord Simpson The Simroe Foundation
Feb 23-Mar 9, 1973 Sir Alan S. Parkes The Galton Foundation
Apr 9-20, 1973 Peter R. Marler The Rockefeller University
May 7-18, 1973 George C. Cotzias, M.D. Brookhaven National Laboratory
Nov 6-13, 1973 Eugene E. Odum University of Georgia
Nov 12-16, 1973 Peter Alexander Royal Marsden Cancer Hospital
Mar 4-15, 1974 Davis A. Hamburg, MD. Stanford University School of Medicine
Apr 1-15, 1974 Kent V. Flannery University of Michigan
Nov 4-15, 1974 Garrett Hardin University of California, Santa Barbara
Mar 30-Apr 9, 1975 Kenneth J. Carpenter University of Cambridge
Apr 20-May 2, 1975 Murray S. Blum University of Georgia
Oct 20-31, 1975 Bert W. O'Malley, M.D. Baylor College of Medicine,
Apr 12-23, 1976 Sydney Brenner Division of Cell Biology of the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, England
May 17-28, 1976 Peter S. Carlson Michigan State University,
Nov 22-Dec 3, 1976 Roger Y. Stanier Pasteur Institute,
Jan 24-Feb 4, 1977 Peter Albersheim University of Colorado
Feb 22-Mar 4, 1977 *Jere Mead, M.D. Cecil K. and Philip Drinker Harvard University
Apr 11-12, 1977 S. J. Singer University of California, San Diego
Nov 20-30, 1977 James D. Ebert Marine Biological Laboratory
Feb 8-15, 1978 Sir Kenneth Blaxtcr Rowen Research Institute
Apr 5-12, 1978 Eric H. Davidson California Institute of Technology
Oct 9-20, 1978 Jutgen Aschoff Max-Planck Institute for Behavioral Physiology
Feb 20-22, 1979 *Burt L. Vallee, Paul C. Cabot Harvard Medical School
Apr 24-26, 1979 Carl R. Woese University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign
Nov 5-16, 1979 Daphne J. Osborne Oxford University
Februarv 4-15, 1980 John F. Eisenberg Smithsonian Institution.
Apr 16-18, 1980 George E. Palade, M.D. Yale Medical School
May 5-16, 1980 Jerre Levy University of Chicago
Oct 27-30, 1980 Colin Blakemore Oxford University
Jan 21-27, 1980 Pierre Dejours CNRS
Feb 26-Mar 5, 1981 Richard Alexander  University of Michigan
Oct 20-27, 1981 Alfred F. Harper  University of Wisconsin Madison
May 11-19, 1982 Glenn W. Burton USDA-SEA
Oct 11-18, 1982 Richard F. Leakey National Museums of Kenya
Jan 6-11, 1983 Eric R. Kandel, M.D. Columbia University,
Oct 12-18, 1983 Donald S. Farner University of Washington
Feb 13-15, 1984 Daniel Branton Harvard University
Apr 24-26, 1984 J. Michael Bishop University of California, San Francisco
Dec 3-6, 1984 Maurice Fried National Research Council
Apr 3-8, 1985 John Krebs Edward Grey Institute of Field Ornithology
May 8-14, 1985 Geoffrey M. Ole Maloiy University of Nairobi
Oct 8-10, 1985 Michael P. Hassell Imperial College, London
Apr 21-24, 1986 John Maynard Smith University of Sussex.
Dec 1-4, 1986 Aldo Carl Leopold Boyce Thompson Institute
Mar 2A, 1987 Gerald Edelman The Rockefeller University
Nov 10-12, 1987 Jean-Claude Chcrrnann Pasteur Institute, Paris France
Jan 15-20, 1988 Jean-Pierre Changeux Pasteur Institute, Paris France
Apr 11-15, 1988 John I. Harpcr University College of North Wales
Oct 17-21, 1988 Rudiger Wehner University of Zurich
Oct 23-26, 1989 John C. Torrey Harvard University
Feb 26-Mar 2, 1990 Heinz Saedler Max-Planck-Institute
Nov 5-7, 1990 Francis Crick The Salk Institute
Jan 28-31, 1991 Thomas A. McMahon Harvard University
May 28-30, 1991 Lynn Margulis University of Massachusetts
Nov 18-21, 1991 Richard C. Lewontin Harvard University
Feb 4-6, 1992 Philip Leder Harvard Medical School
Apr 13-16, 1992 Patrick Bateson University of Cambridge
Nov 16-19, 1992 Melvin I. Simon California Institute of Technology
Feb 1-5, 1993 Anne McLaren Wellcome/CRC Institute
Apr 13-16, 1993 Judah Folkman Harvard Medical School
Jan 24 -27, 1994 Philippa Marrack National Jewish Center
Feb 28-Mar 3, 1994 Stephen O'Brien National Cancer Institute
Apr 18-21, 1994 Roy M. Anderson University of Oxford
Oct 31-Nov 2, 1994 Michael J. Berridge The Babraham Institute
Feb 6-10, 1995 Hal Hatch CSIRO Division of Plant Industry
May 1-5, 1995 Elaine Fuchs The University of Chicago
Oct 16-19, 1995 Peter Ellison Harvard University
Mar 4-8, 1996 Gottfried SchatzUniversity of Basel, Switzerland
Apr 8-10, 1996 Daniel Hillel University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Feb 3-6, 1997 Peter R. Grant Princeton University
Apr 14-17, 1997 William J. Lennarz State University of New York
May 5-7, 1997 Carolyn W. Slayman Yale University School of Medicine
Apr 20-22, 1998 Floyd Bloom The Scripps Research 1nstitute
May 18-20, 1998 Ian Wilmut Roslin Institute
Jan 11-13, 1999 Leroy E. Hood University of Washington
Apr 26-28, 1999 Patricia Goldman-Rakic Yale University School of Medicine
Jan 30-31, 2001 Charles Arntzen Arizona State University


University of Oxford
Mar 4-6, 2002 Jan H. Hoeijmakcrs  Erasmus University
Apr 11-12, 2002 Fred H. Gage The Salk Institute
May 6-7, 2002 Phillip A. Sharp Center for Cancer Research, MIT
Jan 13-15, 2003 George M. Martin, M.D. University of Washington
Mar 10-11, 2003 Kim A. Nasmyth Vienna Biocenter
Apr 28-29, 2003 Tim Flannery Director of the South Australian Museum
Dec 1-2, 2003 William Greenough University of Illinois
Feb 18-19, 2004 Bruce Ames Children's Hospital, Oakland Research Institute
Nov 29-30, 2004 Hans Herren International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology
Apr 26-27, 2005 H. Robert Horvitz Massachusetts Institute of Technology
May 9-10, 2005 Steven Chu Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Jan 24-25, 2006 Cynthia Kenyon University of California, San Francisco
Mar 14-15, 2006 Thomas D. Pollard Yale University
Oct 23-24, 2006 Mimi Koehl University of California, Berkeley
Dec 4-5, 2006 Simon A. Levin Princeton University
Apr 5-6, 2007 Sir Peter Crane, FRS University of Chicago
Apr 23-24, 2007 Stephen Quake Stanford University
May 14-15, 2007 Pasko Rakic Yale University
Mar 23-24, 2009 Sean Carroll University of Wisconsin
Apr 20-21, 2009 H. Allen Orr University of Rochester
May 19-20, 2009 John Doebley University of Wisconsin
Mar 11-12, 2010 Elliot Meyerowitz California Institute of Technology
May 17-18, 2010 Robert Langer Massachusetts Institute of Technology
May 11-12, 2011 Nina Federoff Pennsylvania State University
Jan 11-12, 2012 Jane Lubchenco NOAA
Apr 24-25, 2012 Ilkka Hanski University of Helsinki
May 30-31, 2012 Loren Rieseberg University of British Columbia
Oct 2-3, 2012 Ed Delong MIT
Nov 15, 2012 Jordi Bascompte Estación Biológica de Doñana
Nov 19, 2012 Simon Boulton London Research Institute
Jan 16, 2013 Ary Hoffman University of Melbourne
Jan 31, 2013 Jonathan Losos Harvard
Mar 18, 2013 Gloria Coruzzi NYU
Apr 10-11 2013 Peter Agre Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute
May 6, 2013 Richard Wrangham Harvard
May 16, 2013 Sue Carter RTI International
May 28, 2013 Larry Gold CU Boulder
June 4, 2013 Eric Schadt Mount Sinai
June 05, 2013 Nancy Moran Yale
Oct 28-29, 2013 Walter Bodmer University of Oxford
Dec 4-5, 2013 Ronald Kaback UCLA
Feb 24, 2014 Patricia Wright Stony Brook
Mar 5-6, 2014 Steve Carpenter University of Wisconsin
Apr 9-10, 2014 Jerry Coyne University of Chicago
May 20-21, 2014 May Berenbaum University of Illinois
May 28-29, 2014 Joel Cohen Rockefeller University
Oct 28-29, 2014 Charles Rice The Rockefeller University
Nov 19-20, 2014 Rolf Zinkernagel University of Zurich
Apr 15-16, 2015 Tim Clutton Block University of Cambridge
Oct 7-8, 2015 Richard Lenski Michigan State
April 22, 2016 Steve Nowicki Duke University

The total numbers come to 19 females out of 142 speakers or ~13% female and 87% male.  Ugh.

And the person I had suggested to invite was male.  So I wrote back to the organizers and I wrote:

From: Jonathan Eisen 
Sent: Thursday, June 11, 2015 11:34 AM 
To: XXXCc: XXX 
Subject: Abyssmal gender ratio of speakers in the Storer Lectureship series 
XXX and XXXX 
With sincere apologies but ... 
In preparing a letter of invitation for XXX I decided to include some examples of previous Storer Lecturers. And therein lies the problem On the web sitehttp://www.dbs.ucdavis.edu/seminars_and_events/storer_lecture_list.htmlfrom my count, there are 121 past speakers listed. Of these, 15 appear to be female (from my estimate). That comes to 12%. That is embarassaingly low. I hope my calculations here are wrong. 
Can you tell me if the Storer Lectureship has any policies regarding diversity of speakers? If yes, can you provide me with those details.

If no, I recommend you implement one as soon as possible. Either way, I refuse to have my name affiliated with this series, and will not invite anyone to talk in it, without further information and without some serious attempt to figure out how to do a better job representing the diversity of biologists who could give such talks. 
Jonathan
They wrote back with a very detailed response and were very supportive of the concept of increasing diversity of speakers.  And they explained some of the efforts they had made in this regard.  And they really seem to be trying in some ways.  But in the end, their main justification for the lack of diversity was that they were trying to invite already recognized, in essence famous, biologists.  People who had won a Nobel or were in the National Academy of Sciences or were HHMI investigators.  And this pool, that they had chosen, was skewed in gender balance.

So I wrote back to them June 18:

All
Thanks very much for the response.

I understand you have some constraints and greatly appreciate that you are committed to trying to improve the diversity of speakers.  However, the end result is truly not acceptible in my mind and therefore I believe more needs to be done, urgently, to improve the situation.

What are some possible ways to improve the situation?

Well, the number one recommendation I would make would be to not constrain the pool to honorific groups that themselves have severe skews.  No we cannot solve those skews and there are many causes for them.  But I believe it is a major mistake to use the diversity of those groups (NAS, Nobel, HHMI) as a target.  Either invite people to represent diversity well even from a constrained pool, or, open up to a broader pool (there are plenty of incredible scientists who have not gotten HHMI, NAS, or Nobels).

In addition to opening up the pool and not aiming at such a low bar, there are many things one can do to improve the diversity of speakers.  I have written about this extensively as have many others.  I can point the committee to some of these articles if interested.

In the end, whatever the reasons are, the Storer series has ended up with extremely biased gender ratio of speakers.  I think it is up to the committee to fix this with a combination of actions.  But the first thing I would recommend is to not use the diversity of a set of pools you have chosen as an excuse.  We can and should do better and if the pools are the reason, the pools from which you sample need to be changed.

Jonathan

They wrote back, saying they were really committed to achieving better gender balance in the future writing "we are totally committed to the same goals as you in terms of gender balance now and in the future." And they also wrote that they expected "the final lineup to reflect at least 30 percent or more female" as long as one additional woman (the person I had originally recommended) would come (though I had told them she said she could not).  And then they asked if I would reconsider inviting the man who I had been about to invite that had started this whole discussion.

So I wrote back again July 14:
Thanks again for the response. And though I do not want to continue beating a dead horse, I am not convinced we are doing enough in this area. For example, what explains the "at least 30 percent" and how close to 30% will that be. This is important as, for example, the National Science Foundation will not support their people attending meetings if female speakers are at < 33%. I think 30% is, to be honest, just not acceptable in biology. So beofre contributing any more to this series I need to know exactly what is meant by "we are totally committed to the same goals as you in terms of gender balance now and in the future."

For example, here are some questions I would like to know the answers to:
  • Are you committed to achieving gender balance in the speaker series or just saying you are being more even than before?
  • Are you committed to researching and using diverse options to ensure diversity of speakers beyond just focusing on who is invited?
  • Are you interested in understanding why the series has been so undiverse in the past and addressing this directly or just moving forward?
  • Are you willing to address the lack of diversity in the past publicly and also discuss efforts to improve the diversity? 
I would very much like to know more detail about how serious you are to having a diverse series and what you plan to do to achieve this. 
With apologies, but in regard to inviting XXX or XXX. I am sorry but given the past record of this series, which as I said is among the worst I have seen anywhere, I am just not willing to be involved in any way until I see a stronger and more public committment to diversity. 
I am happy to help with the series and to help improve the diversity of speakers. But this should be done openly and publicly and forcefully. And without evidence of this, I am unable and unwilling to be involved.
And, well, I have not heard from them again.  So, I am writing this.  For many reasons.  But a key one is, I think we need to be more public about such issues.  And we just need to fix things that are broken.

So today I decided to make the post live.  I wish I had done this earlier.




Some responses

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