Sexism is not humanly, ethologically, culturally, economically, civilizationally, emotionally, poetically, romantically and scientifically correct. Moreover it flows and then encourages, a general mood of violence, abuse, exploitation against all and any human being. It also rests on many a stupidity, thus foster stupidity. But, as we will see, there is worse.
Thanks to Sean Carrol for an excellent essay condemning abusive harassment of women in science: “We Suck (but we can be better)”. A reminder: sexist research found, decades ago, that the brains of women and men were different. Many powers jumped on that result to claim the poor results of women in science, or the intellect in general, were thus justified.
However, upon closer examination, that was simply not true. Unsurprisingly, it was found female and male brains are not quite the same, except that one could not tell, and some of the differences are the opposite of what’s expected: most brains are a haphazard mosaic of female and male features.
In the end, therefore, human beings are not just bisexual, but multisexual. To boot, the varying influence of some hormones rule, haphazardly, while having nothing to do with pure intellectual performance.
The reason for the intellectual equality between human sexes is obvious: prehistoric life required women to be pluripotent, because they had to replace men. When men were far away hunting big game, patrolling territory, or at war, women had to be able to replace them completely, even for defense and hunting. More recently, Roman legionnaires were very surprised when they discovered that German women wielding swords turned out be what prevented German men to retreat.
The reason for having a non-sexist society is that we double the number of brains, thus increase considerably the number of ideas. It was obvious all along that females could perform at the very highest mental level: Emilie du Chatelet, after all, discovered the concept of energy, ½ mv^2 (Newton confused energy and momentum, apparently). She also discovered a few other things, such as infrared radiation, although she died in childbirth.
So sexism is a form of abuse, and, ultimately, not just a form of abuse of particular individuals, but of society itself, as it deprives society of half of its best elements.
And that is the connection with the violence made to graduate students. The American fundamental research system depends upon 120 institutions. However, many of the most prestigious universities, in their most prestigious departments depend upon a system of exploitation, or even abuse, of their students.
It works this way, even in public universities: the graduate students make all the necessary work (be it basic research or basic undergraduate teaching, or both). However some of these university departments have ridiculously low rates of attribution of the PhD. Say 10%. This means they use to teach, or do research students who, statistically, have no probability to get what they are after.
I personally witness ultimate violence in some of the world’s most famous universities. All the way to murder (I may give more details in a further version of this essay).
In 1998, Jason Altom, a graduate student in chemistry at Harvard, took his own life. Renowned among his contemporaries as both an extraordinarily talented scientist and a meticulous personality, he left behind a pointed note:
“This event could have been avoided,” the note began. “Professors here have too much power over the lives of their grad students.” The letter recommended adoption of a three-member faculty committee to monitor each graduate student’s progress and “provide protection for graduate students from abusive research advisers. If I had such a committee now I know things would be different.” It was the first time, a columnist for The Crimson observed later, that a suicide note took the form of a policy memo.
It seems clear in the behavior of Harvard’s (Nobel Prize) Corey. By telling his star student who committed suicide that, after five years, he had made “no intellectual contribution”, Corey was actually committing a crime. OK, the law does not strike this sort of abuse yet for what they are: potentially lethal abuse. Why? Because this is so typical of what happen in so many graduate department in the USA. It’s a bit as when there were slaves everywhere in the USA: it was legal, and it felt normal.
It is important to remedy this. How? Notice science was not as cut-throat in the 1960s: young professors could afford to buy a house next to a prestigious university (it’s not the case anymore). Young professors were typically on tenure track, graduate student were treated decently, etc.
Then things changed: American man had landed on the moon, science was not needed anymore. Investment in science went down, culminating with Congress yanking out the super collider. Society decided to do science and intellect on the cheap. Cut-throat academia came into being.
Treating women students well enough to have as many of them as men will improve quality, it will also force society to realize that research cannot depend upon abuse and exploitation of people, but its exact opposite: the fragile blossoming of ideas rejects relations brimming with the grossest powers.
Rejecting violence, exploitation and abuse will force society to put more (relative) resources into (fundamental) research, the way it used to be, not so long ago. Instead of treating graduate students as modern slaves, universities will have to recognize their humanity, dignity, hence foster their responsibility and independent judgment, producing higher quality thinking. Ultimately thinking blossoms from the debate of many minds, and not just the celebrity cult. Cutting throats does not help.
However, a cut-throat establishment may want research to be in its image, abusive and exploitative, to justify its own mood. Hence the present plutocratic university system is not here by accident, engaging into satanic behavior, just because bad things happen. Far from it. To teach celebritism, oligarchism, and even abuse, exploitation, sadism, and inhuman behavior is entirely what the present educational system sees, secretly, as its mission.