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Gender based NHMRC grants

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  • 23 Nov 2022 4:05 PM
    Reply # 12999445 on 12970788

    Thanks for posting this John,

    I thought there were some really inspirational policy suggestions in there that go right to the heart of not just why inequality exists, but how different structural causes can be addressed. I really like how each has a clearly defined measurement strategy to understand if the policies are working, and a time frame for initial implementation.

    Shows a clear commitment to understanding and then addressing the root causes of inequality in order to advance diversity. Great to see!!!

  • 22 Nov 2022 11:36 AM
    Reply # 12997991 on 12970788

    In April the Edinburgh Mathematical Society, the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications, the London Mathematical Society and the Royal Statistical Society wrote to the UK Royal Institution to express their view on the draft UKRI Equality, Diversity and Inclusion strategy.  Those who signed that letter had an expecial concern for steps to be taken

    "to ensure that when reviewers are asked to comment on the quality of the proposal, and to assign a numerical rating to it, they are thinking first about research quality, and not about the researcher’s background or experience"

    They go on:

    "We believe there are further steps that could be taken by UKRI to fully understand the current experiences of researchers in the UK. For-instance, UKRI could share the data that they have collected in a way that would allow the research community to examine the current funding system and interrogate hypotheses that have been proposed to explain the observed inequalities. Our organisations, especially the RSS, have significant expertise in this area and we would be very happy to work with UKRI to take this recommendation forward."

    See further ten recommended actions:

    The letter, and the ten recommended actions, would seem very pertinent to the present discussion.  Has NHMRC's attention been drawn to what strike me as very sensible and broad-ranging proposals?

    Last modified: 24 Nov 2022 5:43 AM | John Maindonald
  • 18 Nov 2022 6:16 AM
    Reply # 12993323 on 12970788

    Equal success percentages for men and women is not cast-iron evidence of a lack of bias in scoring. Given the strong selection on women, it could be that those who apply are actually better scientists on average. In other words, more mediocre men stay in the system. 

  • 17 Nov 2022 1:45 PM
    Reply # 12992438 on 12970788

    Hi John,

    I’m talking too much, but I have to respond to comments that I think are aimed at me, e.g. your comments about legal issues. 

    With respect, the first part of your message is a straw man argument.  Has anyone argued against the reality that women have faced historical discrimination?  Or for the status quo?  Not me, I’m a liberal feminist.  Again, it’s the extreme nature of NHMRC’s solution that’s causing so much controversy, not the fact that they’re attempting a solution.  I would be in favor of NHMRC addressing the real problem, which is too few applications from women (since success rates are equal).  NHMRC should first find out why this is occurring, then take steps to address any barriers.  That approach would be proportionate, targeted and legal. 

    NHMRC have already committed to regularly reviewing their changes, in essentially the way you suggest. 

    I think it’s clearly important to know if NHMRC’s changes are lawful or not.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking the AHRC to make a ruling about that.  Perhaps your comments were more about suing NHMRC.  I only mentioned that in passing, but I think it’s a likely consequence if NHMRC’s changes are deemed by AHRC to be unlawful, given the loss of income involved. 

    OK, I'll try to be quiet now. 

    Best regards,


  • 17 Nov 2022 12:23 PM
    Reply # 12992387 on 12970788

    I normally avoid commenting on the area of funding bodies as I operate in a different environment.  However it does seem that dependence of researchers on a small number of such bodies with low success rates indicates an unhealthy system, albeit one that researchers choose to be part of.

    More importantly, the discussion does raise issues of discrimination that are not easy to resolve.  To simply claim that the proposed NHMRC approach is discrimination ignores the fact that the system - not just funding but academic promotions and tenure etc - have been loaded against females historically.  To argue against that reality is not helpful and can be seen as protecting established positions.  The NHMRC proposal may not be the best way to address the issues, but to argue for the status quo is really a do nothing approach.

    As statisticians we need to emphasise the use of data and to encourage rational decision making.  For this to be possible the NHMRC must ensure transparency and make available full data so that the effect of the changes - that are a trade off between research outcomes and gender equity outcomes - can be evaluated.  As a scientific body, the NHMRC should not argue against this.

    Talk of legal action seems particularly unhelpful.  It may relieve some frustrations but anyone with experience of legal matters will say it should be a last resort and outcomes can be highly unpredictable.  

  • 17 Nov 2022 10:25 AM
    Reply # 12992286 on 12970788

    Here's some more public commentary on this issue:

    I generally disagree with the host, but I know her guest -- Georgia is an extremely well-respected medical researcher.  

  • 17 Nov 2022 6:46 AM
    Reply # 12992047 on 12970788

    Oh Ben... As already mentioned, suing NHMRC is probably not possible unless AHRC rules that NHMRC’s policy is discriminatory.  So you seem to be saying that a policy determined by AHRC as being discriminatory and therefore unlawful should be reviewed and adjusted, rather than being immediately revoked.  I’d be surprised if any organisation would follow that suggestion. 

    By the way, it’s the extreme nature of NHMRC’s solution that’s causing controversy, not the fact that they’re attempting a solution. 

    Last modified: 17 Nov 2022 6:48 AM | James Dowty
  • 16 Nov 2022 4:16 PM
    Reply # 12991108 on 12970788

    Given the overarching goal of this initiative is to make the funding scheme  more equitable, do we really think the appropriate response is to consider how we might sue the NHMRC to prevent it from going forward? What message does that send? Rather than not doing anything because we can't design the perfect solution to the problem (hint: there is no perfect solution, given everyone has their own opinions), is it not better to start doing something, review how it is working, and adjust?

    I think Teresa's original comment in this discussion provides a nicely nuanced perspective on this.

  • 16 Nov 2022 7:02 AM
    Reply # 12990446 on 12970788

    It’s interesting to see the different arguments about the morality of NHMRC’s changes.  I gave a liberal feminist critique of the changes, while many of the arguments in favour seem to be old radical feminist ideas.  However, questions of morality aside, are NHMRC’s changes legal? 

    NHMRC claim their changes are “special measures” under the commonwealth sex discrimination act (SDA).  These are measures that might appear to be discriminatory but are to aimed at achieving “substantive equality”, e.g. a program to encourage high school girls to apply for university engineering courses (see these guidelines ).  However, just because NHMRC claim their changes are special measures under the SDA doesn’t make it so, and their changes might well be unlawful discrimination.  I think the only way to know is to complain to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) about the changes, though unfortunately I think this can’t happen until someone has been adversely affected by the changes (I might be wrong about this).  Also, NHMRC's changes would have to be lawful according to each state's SDA in order to be lawful.  And possibly NHMRC could also be sued in a class action if their changes are found to be discriminatory.  

    I think the definition of “special measures” is open to interpretation and has varied quite a lot over the years.  For example, these old guidelines ( ) make a distinction between quotas and special measures, but the more current guidelines give quotas as an example of special measures.  Presumably NHMRC discussed their changes with AHRC first, though AHRC's policy is to not give guarantees about an organisation's changes in advance (i.e. to not say whether or not the changes count as special measures under the SDA until the changes are challenged in a complaint).  

  • 15 Nov 2022 10:12 AM
    Reply # 12989056 on 12970788

    Here are a few reasons why I am incensed, all to do with the way I was brought up.

    • Discrimination is bad. Your sex, skin colour or age should not affect your treatment. Decades ago in an outback bar where aborigines were barred, I got myself into a bit of trouble over this belief and was lucky to escape in one piece.
    • Truth is important. Women already have much higher success rates at NHMRC (see HERE) a fact that everyone is happy to ignore. Performative assertions about implicit bias and white male privilege are not supported by any evidence. On a professional website, this is unacceptable.
    • Abuse of power. NHMRC did not brook any dissent. The whole process was pre-determined. They distorted the evidence – see link above. There is no discrimination against women at all and they know it. They have an agenda and the power to enforce it. They still have not responded to several critical articles …. because they don’t need to. It will just blow over and there enough partisan supporters who do not care about principle of facts.

    I guess I should just get a life and stop caring about discrimination, truth and abuse of power.

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