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The Fallacy of Fairness

October 17, 2017 - 4:30pm to 6:30pm
Stanford Faculty Club Main Dining Room

Open to all interested Stanford affiliates; registration is required. Register here by October 12 (VPGE website).

"The Fallacy of Fairness," the Fall 2017 WISE Inspirations Network at Stanford (WINS) program features molecular biologist, public servant, and academic leader Jo Handelsman, Director of the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, and Vilas Research Professor and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Dr. Handelsman will speak about research on current limits to excellence and meritocratic practices in academic science, stemming from her experiences and observations as a scientist.

Abstract: Academic science is built on an assumption of meritocracy, but in fact, success and failure are based heavily on human judgments that are colored by preconceived notions. A robust body of research shows that people’s judgments are shaped by unconscious biases—unintended prejudices that influence the definition of quality. As a microbiologist, academic leader, and policymaker, my experiences and observations led me to also to engage in research to understand current limits on excellence and meritocratic practices in academic science. Perceptions of a candidate’s competence are influenced by his or her gender, age, and ethnicity. In a randomized experiment, we found that scientists, like other groups studied previously, favored a male over a female candidate with identical qualifications. We then assessed the impact of videos of fictional narratives on subjects’ application of gender bias in science. In this presentation, I will discuss the implications of this research for policy and practices that could generate a more meritocratic scientific community.

About the Speaker: Dr. Handelsman was appointed by former President Barack Obama as the Associate Director for Science at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) where she served for three years until January 2017. She earned her Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Molecular Biology and has since authored over 100 papers, 30 editorials and 3 books. She is responsible for groundbreaking studies in microbial communication and work in the field of metagenomics. Notably, in 2011, she received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring from President Obama and in 2012, Nature named her one of “ten people who mattered this year” for her research on gender bias in science. 

The WISE Inspirations Network at Stanford (WINS) provides an engaging Stanford network linking women graduate students, postdocs, faculty, and alumnae in science, engineering, and mathematics fields, and their allies and advocates, through quarterly meetings and communications. WINS aims to provide all with an opportunity to learn from stand-out women in these fields about the realities of their lives and work, successes and lessons learned, and to connect individuals with a network of potential mentors, protégés, and other colleagues.

Event Sponsor: 
WISE Ventures, Office of the Vice Provost for Graduate Education, and Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty Development and Diversity
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