Is the feminist mafia controlling science funding?

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Bettina Arndt

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Bettina Arndt

19 December 2022

4:00 AM

Melbourne University research fellow Dr Anna Kosovac is a civil engineer and an expert in water policy. Last year she wrote an article for The Conversation entitled Boys and their toys: how overt masculinity dominates Australia’s relationship with water. Sounds crazy? Believe me, this one is a ripper.

Kosovac’s article is based on a research paper addressing ‘how masculine cultures pervade our relationship with water’. She claims ‘a reliance on technological and infrastructure “fixes” to solve problems is linked to masculine ideas of power… Under this way of thinking, water is to be controlled, re-purposed, and rerouted as needed’. Kosovac believes we must ‘reassess these old methods’.

Kosovac argues ‘toxic masculinity’ is the basis for ‘the dominant “technocracy” approach to water management, in which infrastructure and technology is relied on to solve problems’.

So, engineers’ proclivity for using technology to solve problems is now frowned upon. Hmm, presumably that includes ‘boys’ toys’ such as flush-toilets?

In her article, Dr Kosovac doesn’t explain in detail how we would cope without water infrastructure but does note with approval that in 2017 ‘the New Zealand government passed legislation that recognised the Whanganui River catchment as a legal person’.

Anthropomorphism of water sounds barking mad… Yet this rhetoric is coming from one of the new science elite, the SAGE Athena Swan team, which is advancing women in science. As I will explain later, this appears to be evidence that the feminist mafia are now firmly in control of our science institutions. We are currently witnessing a massive remake of science where traditional considerations of merit and rigor are being trampled by demands for ‘gender equity’.

Of course, there are many brilliant, hard-working, and rational female scientists who have achieved success on the basis of their brain power and dedication to their work. But some of these women are adding their voices to the growing public discontent about how science is being hijacked by ideology.

Just look what’s happened to our major source of funding for medical research – the National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC). This important body is easily the main source of funding for medical research in Australia with a budget of over $1 billion.

It was the appointment of immunology professor Anne Kelso in 2015 as CEO of the NHMRC which turbocharged the ongoing push to get more women into top positions in science. The result, whether intentional or accidental, has been systematic discrimination against male scientists, starving them of funding.

In Kelso’s first year she introduced regular monitoring of all science institutions to make sure they have policies in place to advantage women over men. Next, in 2017, she brought in Structural Priority Funding, which divided grant money into two parts, one for the best research proposals and the other for women whose proposals weren’t good enough to make that cut. By 2021, reviewers of grant proposals assessing candidates’ work histories were required to treat time mothers spend out of the workforce as if that had been devoted to producing high-quality research.

Then came the big one, the push for equal grants for women. Last year the public propaganda exercise began, with compliant media dutifully making the case for an ‘equitable research landscape’. Articles appeared whinging about how unfair it was that men still won more grants, particularly at senior levels. Naturally, the ABC hopped on board, followed by The Conversation, and many others. A petition popped up asking for the NHMRC to ‘allocate the same amount of funding to each gender’, and the organisation released a discussion paper presenting various options designed to give women funding from the critical Investigator Grant Scheme, which awards around $370 million in research funding each year.

The NHRMC’s initial preference, option 3, involved separating applications based on gender and allocating an equal number of grants to each gender. But then it emerged that while this approach would be highly effective at discriminating against more senior male researchers, it actually discriminated against early career men less than the existing system. That’s because feminist tinkering is already doing such a terrific job tilting grants in the junior ranks to favour women.

Naturally, the NHMRC decided to keep the existing discriminatory system for early career researchers and introduce option 3 for senior researchers. By October this year, it was announced that this had become policy.

Now, here’s the twist. On very same day the new policy was announced, the NHMRC released data showing that it actually wasn’t true that men received most of the Investigator Grants – women already received 52.9 per cent. Existing discriminatory measures are biting hard, more women are being pushed through from lower research levels and they already comprise the bulk of the people receiving these valuable grants.

In an interview in November, Anne Kelso evaded a question about the current gender balance of grant recipients and said of the discrimination ‘as soon as it’s achieved its goal, we’ll stop’. Perhaps gender warriors are unaware of the most recent statistics showing that their goals are already in the rear-view mirror.

It’s worth considering some of the other factual flaws in the feminist argument:

  • Applications from women are already more likely to be receive funding. In 2022, 13.9 per cent of applications from men were funded versus 17.9 per cent for women. For the most sought-after senior level grants, 42 per cent of women were funded versus only 23 per cent of men. And this isn’t new – even in the 1990s women’s applications were looked upon more favourably.
  • The greater success rate for applications from women is not due to their superiority. On the contrary, NHMRC admits that ‘scores are more likely to be lower for women than for men’. The greater funding rate for women is due to the very effective discriminatory process being used to award grants.
  • At the most senior level there are roughly four times more male than female applicants simply because there are so many more men than women in the senior ranks of health and medical researchers – it wasn’t long ago that science fields were almost entirely dominated by men. But that’s shifting rapidly as more women are pushed through the ranks. Now that senior women are to be given equal numbers of grants, it will mean a submission with a woman’s name attached will be twice as likely to be successful.

Male academics normally have the good sense to keep quiet about the discrimination taking place in their ranks. Yet this latest outrage saw many come out of the woodwork, like emeritus professor Anthony Jorm, who argued that ‘Australia’s unnecessary new NHMRC policy will lead to a decline in scientific quality’. The famous American scientist Lawrence Kraus wrote that the NHMRC ‘breaks new ground for anti-male bias’.

Only a few current academics took the risk of speaking out, like Melbourne University professor of statistics Chris Lloyd and neurobiologist Thomas Burne. A few brave senior women also stuck their necks out – Professor Georgia Trench on Sky News Australia stated that: ‘Australia should be funding female scientists on merit not gender quotas.’ There’s also a group of academics planning to write to the main professional bodies demanding they come to a coherent position on affirmative action in science.

Most scientists are too nervous to give voice, but a number were prepared to speak to me anonymously about the brave new world of Australian science, where many job selection panels now require a 50-50 shortlist, even in areas where male applicants outnumber females 4 or 5 to 1.

This is a world where there’s a steady stream of female-only positions, and female-only awards including the ‘Superstars of STEM’. This federal government initiative is a neat little boondoggle which works very effectively to get more women into top science jobs. A senior scientist explained: ‘It’s a ruse to justify subsequent preferential appointments (especially to tenured positions), by padding the CV of female applicants.’

As an example, he reports a typical conversation at a job selection panel. ‘Yes, Mr XY has published twice as many refereed papers as Ms XX… BUT… she is a Superstar of STEM and she is regularly interviewed by the ABC. Hiring an SoS would enhance the reputation of our department, her research will get much more coverage on The Conversation, she will be a better role model, and above all, the appointment of an SoS would give our university additional points next year to earn an Athena-Swan silver medal! So, she gets the job.’

What is this mysterious Athena Swan medal? ‘It’s a mafia system,’ he explains, describing how it works very effectively to push universities to compete using women-only jobs and perks, increasing the number of female scientists in order to gain the prestigious Athena Swan medals for their institution: ‘Such-and-such university already has an Athena Silver, and we are only Athena Bronze… You don’t want our university to lag behind them, Comrade, do you?’

And the payoff for the key players? ‘Every STEM institute has an Athena committee of a few female research fellows whose producer reports stating that their institute must hire more tenured women or else they cannot get recommended for an award. So, guess what? At the next hiring round, University A will offer a tenured job to the Athena coordinator of University B, University B will offer a tenured job to the Athena coordinator of University C, and University C will offer a tenured job to the Athena coordinator of University A.’ Neat, eh?

The NHMRC really didn’t need to impose this latest outrage. The system is already sewn up – a very good reason for all competent male scientists to pack their bags and head overseas. Asia, here they come….

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Published by Nelle

I am interested in writing short stories for my pleasure and my family's but although I have published four family books I will not go down that path again but still want what I write out there so I will see how this goes

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