Why Female Academics Don’t Appear on Op-Ed Pages

Tyler Cowen, in conversation with Wil Wilkinson, says that most people massively overestimate the probability that their beliefs are true. Robin Hanson provides a transcript:

Take whatever your political beliefs happen to be. Obviously the view you hold you think is most likely to be true, but I think you should give that something like 60-40, whereas in reality most people will give it 95 to 5 or 99 to 1 in terms of probability that it is correct. Or if you ask people what is the chance this view of yours is wrong, very few people are willing to assign it any number at all. Or if you ask people who believe in God or are atheists, what’s the chance you’re wrong – I’ve asked atheists what’s the chance you’re wrong and they’ll say something like a trillion to one, and that to me is absurd, that even if you think all of the strongest arguments for atheism are correct, your estimate that atheism is in fact the correct point of view shouldn’t be that high, maybe you know 90-10 or 95 to 5, at most. So that maybe is my most absurd view. Most things are much more up for grabs than we like to say they are.

But here’s a question: what would happen if Tyler is right, but he’s much more right about men than he is about women? What if women are more likely to be rationally accepting of the idea that their own beliefs might not be true, while men barge headlong into irrational certitude? If that were the case, might it not explain results like this?

Men wrote 78 percent of the academics’ opinion pieces in The Star-Ledger, 82 percent in The [New York] Times, and 97 percent in The [Wall Street] Journal. “Of all our analyses,” the authors wrote, “this is perhaps the most astonishing.”

Op-ed pieces are, after all, chosen for being provocative and opinionated: an essay saying "X" is much more likely to appear than one saying "I think X but I might well be wrong", even if that would be a more sensible and considered approach.

And what if men were just simply more interested in having opinions on things than women in the first place? I see this a lot in the blogosphere, which is very male-dominated, and where many of the best female-edited blogs (Gothamist, Lifehacker) are notable for their lack of controversial opinions. Recently I got this email from one prominent female econoblogger, who has nothing but disdain for the arguments which get batted around the blogosphere:

I like reading other blogs but the whole echo chamber around those arguments is like teenage girls squealing "ohmigod, what are you going to wear tomorow?? Omg me too!" The clique is just not interesting to people outside of it.

Personally, I love that kind of debate, but then again I often involve myself in it, and I’m also the kind of person prone to writing blog entries saying that technical analysis is no more reliable than astrology. I believe that strongly-expressed (if not strongly-held) opinion is a good and fun and interesting thing, and that belief is pretty much the driving force behind any decent op-ed page. But it’s entirely probable that if you’re looking for strongly-expressed opinion, you’re more likely to find it from men than from women.

The process of getting an op-ed into the NYT or the WSJ is quite a long one: it involves pitching ideas and talking to editors and often writing pieces on spec. It’s entirely sensible not to do that; the only people who go through it all, for little if any pay, are people who feel very strongly about their opinions and who feel a great need to get them out to as many people as possible. And it seems to me that those people are simply more likely to be men than women.

So no, the reason why male academics are so overrepresented on op-ed pages isn’t sexism, and it isn’t that there are more male academics than female academics. It’s probably much simpler than that: maybe female academics are just more rational and more sensible than their male counterparts.

This entry was posted in Media. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Why Female Academics Don’t Appear on Op-Ed Pages

  1. Pingback: Maria Popova’s blogonomics, part 2 | Felix Salmon

  2. Pingback: Hot Links: Reagan 2.0 | The Reformed Broker

Comments are closed.