Skulls in the Stars

A one-act play about a study in hiring practices in STEM


Scene: A table at Starbucks

Man #1, a wealthy benefactor
Man #2, an enlightened guy

Man #1: Let me ask you a hypothetical question: given the choice, would you rather have world peace or a billion dollars?

Man #2: Oh, world peace, of course!  It would end the suffering of so many.

Man #1: Well, it turns out that I have a billion dollars on hand.  I can either give it to you, or I can spend that billion on world peace initiatives.  What do you think?

Man #2: Hmm… give me the money.  I trust myself to make better “world peace” decisions than you would.



A recent study, published in PNAS, suggests that sexism in science and engineering hiring is over, or even reversed, with women favored over men.  From the abstract:

National randomized experiments and validation studies were conducted on 873 tenure-track faculty (439 male, 434 female) from biology, engineering, economics, and psychology at 371 universities/colleges from 50 US states and the District of Columbia. In the main experiment, 363 faculty members evaluated narrative summaries describing hypothetical female and male applicants for tenure-track assistant professorships who shared the same lifestyle (e.g., single without children, married with children).

The problem, for me: if you question people on their hypothetical preferences for hiring, it seems obvious to me that you’ll get very different answers than what you’d get in an actual hiring process.  Hence the one-act play above.

In a hypothetical, a person can give whatever answer makes them or others perceive them in the best light, since there are no real-world consequences for the choice.

A nice detailed discussion of perceived problems with this study is given at Other Sociologist.