Monthly Archives: June 2015

Salon keeps up the Hunt witch-hunt

As I wrote in my last Newsday column, while Sir Tim Hunt’s “girls in the lab” jokes at a women in science luncheon at a conference in Seoul were tacky and dumb, the savaging to which the British Nobel laureate has been subjected — which includes being forced to resign from the University College of London and from several prestigious science committees, including one he co-founded — is not only absurd but utterly disgraceful. Even The Guardian, which faithfully toes the feminist party line these days and which initially ran a gloating response to Hunt’s resignation, followed up with two sympathetic articles by the paper’s science editor Robin McKie.

But now, along comes Salon, where Scott Eric Kaufman slams evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins for defending Hunt in a letter to the Times in which Dawkins criticizes Hunt’s joke but quite rihtly deplores “the baying witch-hunt that it unleashed among our academic thought police: nothing less than a feeding frenzy of mob-rule self-righteousness.” The headline on Kaufman’s piece refers to Hunt as “misogynistic.” While Kaufman doesn’t use that word in the text, he implies that Hunt actually is in favor of gender-segregated labs and insists on treating Hunt’s clumsy initial attempt to explain his remarks in a comment to BBC Radio 4 as an admission that they reflected his actual views (i.e. that “girls in the lab” are trouble because you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and they cry when you criticize them). Yes, Hunt “admitted” that love in the lab had happened to him and had been disruptive; it sounds like he was more self-deprecating than anything else. (He later told The Guardian that his comment to the BBC was a recorded message after midnight, when he had just found out that his remarks had caused outrage.)

What Kaufman does not to mention is that Dawkins is far from the only scientist to speak up on Hunt’s behalf. His other defenders include prominent female scientists such as Cambridge physicist Dame Athene Donald, who has described him as “immensely supportive” of initiatives to promote gender equality in science; biologist Ottoline Leyser, also of Cambridge, who has said she was quite certain that Hunt was “not a sexist in any way”; and physiologist Dame Nancy Rothwell, who has pointed out that he had “trained and mentored some outstanding female scientists.” Nor does Kaufman see fit to acknowledge that Hunt’s wife and colleague Mary Collins, an immunologist who describes herself as a feminist, has said she is “extremely angry” about the backlash, which has “badly tarnished” her own relationship with University College.

What a dishonest hit piece.

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Do Fathers Have the Edge in Divorce?

This is an article of mine from 1996, from The Detroit News, which I am reposting because it is no longer online at the DN site. It has some interesting information with regard to claims I still see made in various discussions, so I thought it would be useful to have it here.

Do fathers have the edge in divorce?

By Cathy Young

The Detroit News, December 10, 1996

It is a common perception that while women may face bias in some areas, men are on the receiving end of discrimination when it comes to child custody – which goes to fathers, recent data show, only 16 percent of the time. Some feminists like former National Organization for Women President Karen DeCrow embrace equal rights for divorced dads. Yet many others have been loath to acknowledge that there is bias favoring women in anything.

Mostly, these feminists argue, fathers don’t want custody – and when they do, they have the edge: Judges frown on working women who spend less time with the kids than did traditional moms, while working men who spend more time with the kids than did traditional fathers are hailed as great dads; non-working women may be denied custody because they can’t support the children.

In the 1986 book Mothers on Trial, radical feminist psychologist Phyllis Chesler claimed that 70 percent of mothers in custody battles lost. This was based on a very non-random sample of 60 women, mostly referred by feminist lawyers or women’s centers. While even sympathetic reviewers commented on the sloppiness of Chesler’s research, her “finding” that fathers are likely to win contested custody cases was often presented as fact.

Similar numbers have cropped up again, most recently in Karen Winner’s Divorced From Justice: “Contrary to public belief, 70 percent of all litigated custody trials rule in favor of the fathers,” shouts the jacket (italics in the original). A national alert on father’s rights groups issued by the National Organization for Women – urging members to combat proposed laws encouraging joint custody and mediation – also states that “many judges and attorneys are still biased against women. …”

Where do these figures come from? One respectable source is the 1989 Gender Bias Study of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, which reported that when fathers seek custody, they win primary or joint physical custody 70 percent of the time. In The Divorce Revolution, Lenore Weitzman reported two-thirds of fathers asking for custody in California succeeded.

Maybe, some fathers’ advocates say, men only seek custody when they have a chance because there’s something wrong with mom. Explaining why few non-custodial mothers pay child support, the Gender Bias Study notes “women who lose custody often [have] mental, physical, or emotional handicaps” that impair their earning ability.

That aside, the high success rate of men in custody battles is yet another contender for the Phony Statistics Hall of Fame. The figures do not refer to contested cases. Weitzman acknowledged that when fathers got sole custody, it was typically by mutual agreement; of cases that went to trial, two-thirds were won by women. The work from which the Gender Bias Study gathered its numbers did not separate contested and uncontested custody bids, but showed that mothers filing for sole custody received it 75 percent of the time (the rest usually received joint legal/primary physical custody), while the “success rate” for fathers was 44 percent.

A Stanford study of more than 1,000 California couples divorced in the 1980s suggests conventional wisdom is right. If both parents requested sole custody when filing for divorce, it was awarded to mom in 45 percent and to dad in 11 percent of the cases, with joint physical custody for the rest. (When she asked for sole custody and he for joint custody, the odds were 2-1 in her favor.)

Most of the disputes were negotiated. Just five couples went to trial vying for sole custody – and one of these cases resulted in a victory for the father.

The answer is not to help fathers win more custody fights but to have fewer fights. In Michigan, the Legislature is considering a “shared parenting” or joint custody bill – the Senate substitution bill for House Bill 5636 – opposed by the state’s NOW chapter. There’s ample room for discussions of the best way to ensure children of divorce still have two parents. But disinformation shouldn’t be part of the debate.

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