April 13, 2011
Despite decades of progress for women in science (and some arguments that no more is needed), the playing field still isn’t level. But do all the advantages men get result in them thinking more highly of their expertise than female scientists do? Three researchers, including D. Carolina Useche at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, dubbed this hypothesis the “Homer Simpson Effect” in honor of that cartoon dad who has an overrated opinion of his own intellectual power. And then they set about to discover whether there is such an effect among scientists in their own field, the ecology and evolutionary biology of the tropics. (Their study appears in the journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution.)
They surveyed scientific experts at research sites in protected forests in Asia, Africa and the Americas, asking them for their gender and the number of years since they first visited their research site and to rate their level of knowledge about their study area. The men outnumbered the women and also had a bit more experience, but there was no difference in how the men and women perceived their level of expertise.
“Our analyses suggest that, at least among tropical researchers, men and women rank professional expertise similarly given comparable levels of field experience,” the scientists write.
When my colleague Laura saw this study, she commented, “could be progress, or could be that field biologists just rock.”
I hope the former is true, but given the name of this hypothesis, the latter definitely is.
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