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$2 Million Grant To Develop Game That Breaks Bias Against Women In Sciences
$2 Million Grant To Develop Game That Breaks Bias Against Women In Sciences
October 13, 2010 | By Simon Parkin

October 13, 2010 | By Simon Parkin
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    33 comments
More: Console/PC, Serious



A $2 million grant from the National Institute of Health is to fund the develop a video game that aims to break assumptions that keep women and minorities from the sciences.

The game will be developed by researchers and students in conjunction with Molly Carnes, director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Women’s Health Research with the aim of combating implicit, subconscious bias against women and minorities.

"After years of effort, many fields in science, math, engineering and medicine still have trouble attracting and retaining women and minorities, and all find women underrepresented in leadership," said Carnes.

“For 25 years, the research agencies have said, if the U.S. is going to maintain its competitive edge in a global economy that is increasingly knowledge-based, we must invest in the domestic workforce in science, math, engineering and medicine," she continued. "There has been some improvement, but we not taking full advantage of our domestic workforce.”

Carnes believes that the reason for this lies in our subconscious. "There are multiple studies showing that it's these implicit biases that predict our behavior more than our explicit beliefs."

The game will aim to put players in situations that could reveal such bias. For instance a faculty member might be asked by the game to hire a top scientist who requires wheelchair accessibility. Or a resume might have a work experience gap because of child-rearing, with the game asking players to consider their knee-jerk response to such situations.

Carnes argues that bias is like a bad habit in that people want to change but find it a struggle. “If it was easy to get people to change a habit nobody would be smoking” she said. “So we know that giving people information is not enough and we know that the way we are delivering diversity messages to faculty now is not working."

She hopes the game will "involve challenge and invoke curiosity, [and] give enough information, but not too much."

The new grant, called the National Institutes of Health Director’s Pathfinder Award to Promote Diversity in the Scientific Workforce, is funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and administered by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.




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Comments


Tynan Sylvester
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So, does this mean they're going to disburse a 2 million dollar grant to fund a game exploring the bias against men in all liberal arts degrees?



For anyone who isn't sure, the hard sciences are now the only academic field in which men continue to outnumber women. Female students significantly outnumber the males in higher education overall.



Or can we all just cut the activism, accept that different groups of people have different proclivities, and focus on the work for once?

Dmitri Wolf
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It seems that money would be better spent by making it an open contest (see STEM Challenge), but at least it's getting done. It's a terrifically difficult subject to make a game out of.



Tynan wrote "that different groups of people have different proclivities" which is a justification of the sexism of professionals in the sciences which makes it more difficult for women to participate. Tynan himself wrote that "Female students significantly outnumber the males in higher education overall" so why would the sciences be any different except for sexism?



I'm very surprised that the two comments up here so far, from Tynan and Andre, both are from men suggesting that it would be better if nothing were done at all.

Tynan Sylvester
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Dmitri:

The fact the different people have different proclivities is not a justification for sexism. It is a reason why there may be differential sex ratios in different fields, without any sexism being involved.



>"Female students significantly outnumber the males in higher education overall" so why would the sciences be any different except for sexism?



Uh... because (simplifying, simplifying) women are more interested in other academic fields, and men are more interested in hard sciences?



I'm not even going to address the insane idea of using female dominance in all academic fields outside of hard science to justify pushing for female dominance in hard science as well. One sex completely dominating all higher learning is not healthy for a society, regardless of which sex it is.

Dmitri Wolf
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When you say "different people have different proclivities" do you mean women aren't interested in science? It's hard to get any other meaning from that statement in this context. And where do you get this idea about women's 'proclivities'?



"Women are more interested in other academic fields, and men are more interested in hard sciences" is exactly the kind of sexist idea that we are trying to overcome here.

Jonathan Gilmore
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That isn't necessarily a sexist idea-it could very well be that there are no additional barriers to women in the hard sciences than any other field, so the difference in female participation comes entirely from some sort of proclivity.

Now, there may be some reason why women choose not to enter the hard sciences that is problematic, but there may not. Should female particpation in chemistry or engineering be identical to female participation in literature? Is that even a goal we should be aspiring to?

Tynan Sylvester
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>"Women are more interested in other academic fields, and men are more interested in hard sciences" is exactly the kind of sexist idea that we are trying to overcome here.



No, it is not. This is not a program to get women interested in science. It is a program to "break the bias against women in sciences". Bias against women != women not interested.

Christopher Wragg
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No Tynan, he has it right, that's exactly the sort of sexist idea this is meant to try and combat. To say that each such statement stands alone is ignorant of the fundamentals of sexism. If you did a little research, you'd also find that your original statement, is part of a rote argument, used to prevent or hinder open discussion about how the current status quo negatively affects both men AND women. It's basically the "what about the menz?!" argument.



Such biases and attitudes are exactly what the game promoted intends to combat. Will it work, or could the concept be applied better in a different way? Are reasonable things to talk about. Declaring that 2 million spent on gender equality is a poor thing, is not a good start to showing a balanced attitude.

Mark Harris
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Let's also totally ignore the research suggesting men and women are, in fact, different (both anecdotal and scientific).



We should not take into account a woman's scientifically proven superiority in emotional handling and intuitiveness or their natural motherly, protective, nurturing instincts and then logically connect that to the overwhelming majority of women in fields of study relating to education and the social sciences.



We should then ignore a man's scientifically proven tendency toward analytical thought processes and practicality and then logically connect that with a large majority of men in fields relating to science and math.



What we SHOULD do is use social engineering to force people to act according to how government officials believe they should act.



By all means, fight sexism where it exists, but don't just create a problem and then throw money at it until it is deemed to be "solved".





- I should note that I am also taking into account one current fed gov administrator who says she is “promising to litigate, regulate, and legislate the nation’s universities until women obtain half of all academic degrees in science and technology and hold half the faculty positions in those areas.”

Maurício Gomes
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I agree mostly with Tynan, to me this research is rather pointless.



I watched once a argument between a feminist, and a anti-feminist, in the end the feminist ended being not feminist anymore (really).



Plainly; The feminist mentioned the "bias" against females that receive lower salaries in average (comparing with everyone working), and get less in some jobs, and etc...



The anti-feminist (a female, btw...), went and said: "Ok, there are data that shows that when a male and a female have the exact same job, actually females get more in average... But ignoring that, let me ask you: The highest paying jobs involve in being extended periods out of home, or are highly dangerous, in fact my best friend have a salary way higher than mine, being a window cleaner, he climb 200 meters above the ground, and a single hope hold him there, while he rapels in the windy and smoky city cleaning the window. Would YOU take that job?"



The feminist: "Hum... it is that... ok, no... But hey, why then there are less females physicist then, this is not dangerous!"



Anti-feminist: "When the NASA robots in Mars got stuck, the scientists would spend the entire day in NASA, trying to fix it, without going home. Is that a acceptable job to you?"



Feminist: "Of course not, I have to take care of children, my husband suck at taking care of them!"



Anti-feminist: "There is your answer"

Megan Fox
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So rather than awarding the grant to those experienced with game development, or as a contest open to game developers, etc, they awarded it to... a university with no real experience or skill in making games? That's a heck of a gamble.



I have a hard time believing that this would have the same kind of impact as, say, funding 10 social game startups to the tune of $50k apiece, then funding 2 larger downloadable titles to the tune of $250k apiece, etc, all tasked with creating games to enhance social awareness, and without having to spend half to three quarters of their budget just learning the basics of the craft.



Couldn't they have tried following I4's example for educational games funding? Or at least how Canadian game dev grant funding goes? Yeesh.

Adam Bishop
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I'm curious how many of the people criticising this grant have ever actually talked to a woman who is or was taking a hard sciences degree. I know multiple women who started out working on a degree in hard sciences (in which I include things like computer science) but left because of the sexism they faced from both classmates and, at times, professors. The idea that there is no sexism here to be overcome is not only silly, it's objectively wrong.

Dmitri Wolf
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I've had similar experiences, Adam. I have heard that women often impose a few 'rules' on themselves to get taken seriously by men in the field:

1) Wear glasses. Even if you don't need them and they are clear glass.

2) Never wear a skirt. Slacks only.

3) If you have long hair, tie it back or up. Don't wear it down.

These are the things that women have to do to be taken seriously. Of course their credentials also need to be top notch. High grades, high honors. And they have expressed that it is dangerous to disagree with a man even if you can show he's wrong, and especially in front of other men. It's pretty bad.

Brittany Aubert
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Male or female, how you dress or do your hair should have no merit on whether or not you're taken seriously. That should come directly from your individual performance.



I'm sorry, but even if you wear glasses, only wear slacks, and tie your hair back, if you suck at your job, I'm not going to take you seriously.

Mark Harris
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Objectively wrong in your experience, but not in mine. While attending college back in the ultra sexist days a decade ago I didn't come across any of these situations. I'm not saying that you are wrong, just that our experiences differ. Almost every female I talked to in the general student population about comp sci couldn't have cared less about it. They didn't like it, or thought it was nerdy, or whatever happened to be the case. As expected the few girls in my math and comp sci classes were completely different. They liked and enjoyed comp sci and/or math and so that's the route they went. None, and I mean zero, had experienced sexism as a function of their course of study, and yes, I specifically asked that question in various ways. I didn't even get the whole "boys club" or "that's for guys" argument from some of the non comp sci girls, which I fully expected to hear at some point. Thinking back, I spent way too many hours trying to convince hot girls to take comp sci with me.... but I digress.



Even if we just agree to say "sexism exists, and cases of sexism have occurred in such a way to discourage some women from pursuing study in math or science", does that make it right to spend $2 million of tax payer money to make a game about it? I would argue that no, it does not.



We can agree to disagree if you'd like.

Tynan Sylvester
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I have a comp. sci degree. My classes were 85% male. I had many female friends at the university, and several female professors. None of them ever reported discrimination like this.



I am a game designer. Have have female game designers in my department. No discrimination reported or seen. It's a total non-issue. In fact, I'd LOVE to have more women in my company. The problem is, they're just not showing up.



The reason women leave these fields is because a successful career in the hard sciences require long hours away from home.



When they have kids, women tend to sacrifice work to have time to spend with the kids more so than men. This has nothing to do with workplace discrimination and everything to do with personal choices and priorities, which are highly differential between the sexes.



There is more than one way to get a differential sex ratio in a professional field.

Mark Baxter
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Tynan: in reference to discrimination against women, are you saying "it's a total non-issue" in your company, or in the games industry at large?



Having witnessed plenty of discrimination against women at multiple companies over my 10 years in the industry, I don't believe it is a "total non-issue". Also, last year I spoke on a couple of panels at a Women in Games Leadership Forum at Casual Connect, and there were plenty of women who candidly discussed issues relating to gender discrimination, and gave advice to women in the audience regarding how to deal with it.



I won't try to represent my views and experiences as being representative of the entire industry, but I will say that I've seen plenty of women suffer from gender discrimination, and I do believe there is still work to be done in this area. How to best approach these kind of issues is certainly a topic worth discussing.

Christopher Wragg
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@ Mark Harris

"Almost every female I talked to in the general student population about comp sci couldn't have cared less about it. They didn't like it, or thought it was nerdy, or whatever happened to be the case"



Gnnnnngh......this makes me seethe with rage, in more sexist times, women worked within the system (many still do), trying to secure the most advantageous place within a male dominated society. This means putting down other women (Slut bashing for instance) for activities commonly considered to be "male" and thus not "feminine" and thus not desirable.



Sexism is more insidious than you seem to believe, it's an entirely ingrained system of biases made to maintain the status quo. See look, here's another example of a blatantly sexist line of thought, "The reason women leave these fields is because a successful career in the hard sciences require long hours away from home.", this one was courtesy of Tynan.

Bart Stewart
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This is the latest outbreak of the very old difference in viewpoints between equality of opportunity and equality of outcome.



Some people want immediate solutions to perceived problems, which leads them to favor equality of outcomes. This is the origin of quotas, which try to break past assumed barriers to rapidly achieve representation in some organization based on group identity -- so many of this sex, X percentage of that ethnicity, and so on. (The University of Wisconsin at Madison is notable for this particular bias among its faculty. http://wpri.org/WIInterest/Vol19No2/Blaska19.2.html )



Others assert that individual desires and effort matter, and that the wisest approach is to try to create equality of opportunity -- opening the door so that anyone can walk through it if they freely choose to do so and if they work hard enough to do so. Not everyone will want to (as others in this thread have properly pointed out), and not all of those who want to will have the ability to succeed. So you're never going to get perfect statistical representation (even if such perfect proportionality could be agreed on by everyone). But it's right, and beneficial generally, to make sure that opportunity is there for everyone who wants it and who's capable of developing the skills required to use it.



You'd think that outreach programs would be something that both sides could agree on as a good idea. Honestly and effectively applied, outreach programs help individuals build bridges to advanced employment for their communities. Equalizing access to these work opportunities benefits everyone -- individuals, communities, and employers. But because they don't lead to statistically equal numbers quickly, outreach programs often are rejected by those for whom (for whatever reason) immediate equality of outcome is the only acceptable action.



I'm sorry to say this allocation of "stimulus" money to the U-Wis-Mad group looks like it will only perpetuate the latter all-or-nothing mentality that prevents real (if incremental) progress from being made in helping people who actually need a hand up.

Maurício Gomes
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You got it :)



I must say that I am not a egalitarian, not because I believe someone is better than other person, but because I believe that everyone is unique, with their own needs and choices.



I believe that everyone should have the same rights, and that is it, we should not force things.



In Brazil, the government invented racial quota for universities, citing that only 5% of the university population was black.



But a survey in the population, showed that also only 5% of the population considered themselves black...



But to the government, the second part does not matter. So they invented racial quotas (with the expected backlash and shitstorm)

dana mcdonald
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And here is another reason why our nation is trillions of dollars in debt. Without even getting into the issue of people being forced to pay taxes for something that they don't even agree with. The fact of the matter is that nobody is going to even play the game. So even if you agree that there is a problem, and you think that playing this game could help solve the problem, you would then have to convince tens of millions of people to invest significant time into the game for it to have the desired effect.

What is going to happen is that they will spend a couple of years and burn through the 2 million dollars to make a game that is destined to be boring because it's number 1 rule of design will not be to make a compelling game. If they are lucky they will get a few hundred people at their university to spend more than 10 minutes in it, and the only other people who will ever bother playing it are people who are pushing the same agenda that it is, and they are the audience who doesn't need it.

Meanwhile that 2 million dollars pushes our debt up that much further, and after decades of paying interest on it, this wonderful game will probably end up costing us 6 or 8 million.



Brilliant!

Adam Bishop
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The Department of Defence has a budget for the 2010 fiscal year of $663.8 billion. Wikipedia has Medicare spending at about the same. Future historians surely will write of the fall of the United States as a world power, and how that fall was brought about not by a military budget that dwarfed any other country on Earth or by a health care system with out of control costs, but by the infrequent efforts of a few people in the civil service to try to increase the gender balance in the work force.

Jonathan Gilmore
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Will that fall be fast enough to please Adam Bishop though, that is the real question.



Did Cuba fall because Castro planted strawberry patches? No, but it certainly was emblematic of wrongheaded policy.

Tynan Sylvester
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You're arguing a bit of a strawman there, Adam.



Dana isn't saying that this single program will destroy the country's finances, but that a thousand - or ten thousand - wrongheaded programs like it will.

dana mcdonald
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Obviously this 2 million is a drop in the bucket, but I'm sure we could find thousands of projects that are every bit as short-sighted as this one, and that adds up, especially when those projects are only putting us further in debt. I agree that both military and healthcare spending are out of control, but together they only make up a little over 30% of government spending. It's the bad spending practices that I have the real problem with.

Also as far as the 2 million goes, what I have issue with is not the amount, but the idea that the government is forcefully taking money from me to fund something that I think is unnecessary, AND would fail even if there was a problem.

Patrick Coan
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I'm all for promoting intelligent and capable people in the sciences. Could it be that the past 65 million years has seen men as the driving force of technology, and women the driving force of nurture/family. A relationship known as survival. Now that technology has allowed women to get out of the house and pursue science, there are undeniable traces of our past that we call sexism.



This seems like a fun project to be a part of, as it is aimed at promoting a paradigm shift. Although, from the description, it seems like it's actually promoting ideals in concepts like affirmative action, which, historically, have had marginal results.



How about actually promoting woman and minorities by creating a game which:

First, assesses their interest in the hard sciences

Second, assesses their cognitive abilities and personality type,

then compares these results to standardized results proven to have an aptitude for the type of work in order to determine if the subjects are actually appropriate for the game.

Then,

Creates scenarios which encourage activities typical of scientific research and application and provides feedback about the player's realistic abilities and career paths.



You know, like the sort of process that a person experiences from Kindergarten through Graduate School and into the work-place. Isn't the reason that woman and minorities are less involved due to their lack of interest coupled with social reinforcement?

Mark Harris
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This is more in line with what Bart describes above as an outreach program, and yes, I think it would be more effective.



Getting more underrepresented people interested in math and science is a much more effective route then harping at people who may or may not be sexist, if only because it encourages organic growth/shift instead of forcing people into a contrived environment.

Ian Uniacke
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Wow! Yet again the comments prove the inherant bias against women in our society. Congrats everyone on making her point very clear. :)

Mark Baxter
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Well said. :)



For those of us that do perceive a bias against women, and care to participate in its resolution, there's plenty of work to be done...



As I mentioned in a previous comment, I am heartened to see organizations like Women in Games that exist in part to further this cause.

Dmitri Wolf
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Yes, I agree with you Ian and Mark. Also, I'm not going to argue this here any more because there is so much resistance against the mere idea that there is bias against women, coming from so many men who seem to have some interest in believing the opposite.

Mark Harris
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@ Ian : How so? If you're going to make sweeping statements you might as well back them up with some kind of argument.



@ Mark : the argument isn't that there is no bias against women ever, it is that A) for many of us there is not a perceived bias against women in hard sciences academia and B) throwing $2 million at a project with very little chance of making an impact is stupid.



If the government really just needs to spend a few million dollars that it doesn't have they could at least do it productively through programs that try to provide access to training in the hard sciences for those women and minorities that are interested.



Perhaps that's better than telling all those lazy, stupid, white males who teach and research the hard sciences that they are bigots and if they play this game it will magically heal them of their inherent evil. I'm sure they will see the light.

Lorelei Evans
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^above^

These comments about how this is a waste of tax payer money do not make me, as a woman, feel biased. I actually agree with them. So.. I am biased against my own sex now?

I think men and women telling me what major I should belong to when I'm working my butt off in school for another one is more biased against my sex then not wanting to throw $2 mil at these people.

Jacqueline Urick
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For those of you who think the government shouldn't be involved in economics or industry (or think they aren't): if you work in the game industry in Canada or any several US States such as Minnesota, Wisconsin, Texas, Massachusetts, California, Louisiana and others, the government is subsidizing your industry already. Canada has some really significant tax incentives for the game industry. Texas does as well. I can tell you that the various tax incentives cost you as tax payers far more than 2 million a year. It's not free market out there, folks. But its cool, you have job right?



The problem is that by 2018, if current trends continue, the US will have more high tech/ IT jobs than they can possibly fill. Overall for both men and women, interest in IT degrees has been decreasing. While women make up over 50% of college graduates now, they are still only about 18% in STEM fields. It used to be much higher, closer to 40% in the mid-1980s.



This means businesses will have to draw a lot more talent from elsewhere. The more we outsource means more potential for innovation in the countries we're outsourcing to, instead of innovation at home. If we could draw more women into IT, it has the potential effect of making the whole industry appealing to more people in general. US women are growing in prominence as household "CFO"s. There's a lot of money to be made if more products were geared to these women with higher disposable income.



There have been plenty of studies about how diverse teams perform better in the workplace in addition to having better retention overall. But for whatever reason the IT industry in particular has a difficult time with diversity. If you're interested in reading more about women in IT (including some of the challenges women face in IT), I'd suggest this PDF: http://www.ncwit.org/pdf/NCWIT_TheFacts_rev2010.pdf

Lorelei Evans
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Thank you. This is the best argument for this grant that I have read.


none
 
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