Bay Area Newspaper Group goes trolling for outrage

March 20, 2013

By Chris Reed

H1B-visa-holders-stay-usaThe publications that are part of the Bay Area Newspaper Group are giving big play to a story that suggests broad sexism in the granting of H-1B visas:

“As Congress negotiates its biggest immigration overhaul in decades, new numbers obtained by this newspaper reveal a stunning imbalance in a program that admits highly skilled immigrants to the United States, often for Silicon Valley jobs: More than 70 percent of those special visa holders who entered the country in 2011 were men.

“The long-overlooked disparity is beginning to attract attention on Capitol Hill, where activists demanded Monday that the federal government take a closer look at whether U.S. visa policy discriminates against women.”

Incredibly, reporter Matt O’Brien never makes the explicit point that this is happening because men are far more likely to have the sort of engineering and specialized science degrees for which the H-1B program is designed. There is no “stunning imbalance” once this context is understood. Instead, O’Brien offers up this misleading factoid to provide context: In the U.S., “women hold 51.5 percent of professional and management jobs, according to annual visa statistics and the Department of Labor.”

Trolling for outrage instead of supplying context and nuance

trollThis is trolling for outrage, not honest reporting. The numbers showing male dominance in fields that win people H-1B visas are easily available.

That is an interesting story about persistent and, to some, troubling patterns of gender interest in certain professions — and I’m not talking about the Larry Summers controversy from 2005. A 2009 Cornell study made many juicy, arresting points:

“Women tend to choose non-math-intensive fields for their careers — not because they lack mathematical ability, but because they want flexibility to raise children or prefer less math-intensive fields of science, reports a new Cornell study.

“‘A major reason explaining why women are underrepresented not only in math-intensive fields but also in senior leadership positions in most fields is that many women choose to have children, and the timing of child rearing coincides with the most demanding periods of their career, such as trying to get tenure or working exorbitant hours to get promoted,’ said lead author Stephen J. Ceci, professor of human development at Cornell.

“Women with advanced math abilities choose non-math fields more often than men with similar abilities, he added.

“Women also tend to drop out of scientific fields — especially math and physical sciences — at higher rates than do men, particularly as they advance, because of their need for greater flexibility and the demands of parenting and caregiving, said co-author Wendy M. Williams, Cornell professor of human development.

“‘These are choices that all women, but almost no men, are forced to make,’ she said.

“The study, published in the March issue of the American Psychological Association’s Psychological Bulletin (135:2), is an integrative analysis of 35 years of research on sex differences in math. Ceci and his Cornell co-authors reviewed more than 400 articles and book chapters to better understand why women are underrepresented in such math-intensive science careers as computer science, physics, technology, engineering, chemistry and higher mathematics.”

This is genuinely interesting, as opposed to puerile and provocative.

But instead of anything remotely reflecting the nuance and insight of the Cornell study, the Bay Area Newspaper Group would rather hype a slanted story that pretends the granting of H-1B visas is driven by bias against women. Great, just great. WTG.


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