Implicit bias and academic decisions

17 01 2014

Screen shot 2013-12-22 at 7.15.26 PMOur ‘Philosophy Bites‘ podcast this week featured the philosopher Jennifer Saul, on how biases we are often totally unaware of shape the confidence we have in people and sources of knowledge. Click here for the podcast, and here for more about her work. Much of the information on this re-emphases the depressing obstacles that women are faced with: their CVs, for example, are judged weaker than identical CVs with a mens’ names on. Professor Saul’s interest in this was first fuelled by the way philosophy is so very male-dominated, something the guest-list of Philosophy Bites illustrates well (though this made us discuss whether minorities in fields are always minorities because of exclusion: could other factors be at work, like self-selection?). That we are white and straight (and some of us male) cheered us up somewhat, until we heard that another stumbling block to fairness is where you come from: long-published academic papers from prestigious universities that are resubmitted with fictitious authors from lowlier universities are suspiciously likely to be rejected. This made all of us go a bit quiet. (I do miss the way saying “I’m from Oxford” was like donning – no pun intended – a suit of armour). Fairness aside, what’s troubling about such findings is that they suggest that the best people, and the best work, may not always be promoted, which holds simply everyone back.

To lighten the gloom, I promised to Do Something. I’m going to ask the editors of Animal Welfare and Applied Animal Behaviour Science if they’ll shift to double blind peer review. It’s about time. So, that’s on my things-to do list for next week.