Sexist Bias in HST Proposal Reviews

A study carried out by the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore has found that men are more likely to have a proposal accepted than women led teams on the Hubble Space Telescope. This bias exists even though a good representation of women are on the review panel.

It is not only the most recent cycle of calls for proposals either that display this trend and it exists as a systematic bias throughout all 11 cycles which have taken place since the HST began operations.

Since the research was conducted steps have been taken to try and minimise what appears to be a subconscious biasing by both men and women on the panel. Rather than having the principal investigators name on the front of the proposal it is now included with the rest of the team on the second page and only initials are used. This however has unfortunately appeared to make no difference to the outcome of the latest cycle.

This bias is small in most cases but consistent and something which needs to be amended. However some scientists are skeptical and think that the trend could just be because of other factors such as reputation and science being proposed leading to this trend which is only a statistical anomaly.

In any case sex inequality has always been a thing which has plagued the physics community. In a recent article by the Telegraph, which compared the gender gap in the 2014 A level results, although the entries for physics A level for girls rose by ~5% this year there is still a 4:1 ratio between boys to girls.

This is staggering and it is important that this gender gap in the discipline is removed. So is the inequality in the HST proposal review panel just a random but systematic bias or is it a subconscious bias produced from the overall gender gap seen in the education of physics in 2014.

Source: Nature

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