Report: Gender in AAS Talks

Today I'm proud to announce that my AAS 223 Hack Day project is finally finished! Our "paper" (really an informal report) on the study of gender in AAS talks has hit astro-ph:

This all started about 6 months ago when I was attending a different astronomy conference. I observed that the gender ratio for speakers seemed well balanced, as did the audience. Both were perhaps 60%/40% (Men/Women). However, the questions mostly seemed to be asked by men!

So I decided to organize a volunteer effort to study this. We collected data using a simple web-form (that Morgan Fouesneau graciously helped me make), and asked conference attendees to record the gender of every speaker and every question asker for talks they attended.

We got over 300 submissions! I was going to be happy with 100, and figured I'd have to beg a few friends to participate. This was enough data to make some interesting plots... and also just enough data to know that we need more data!

Here are a few highlights from the study:

1. Men ask disproportionally more questions than women in talks.

FS FQ = Female Speaker, Female Questions,
FS MQ = Female Speaker Male Questions, etc

We were very glad to see that the gender ratio of all the speakers matched that of the conference participants. This also closely matches the gender ratio of astronomers under the age of ~40 as reported in the AAS Demographics survey recently.

2. Women are asked slightly more questions per talk than men

Blue is talks by men, green is talks by women
The significance of this result is debatable, but it's the first time I've seen data like this. I wonder how this varies with sub-field of the talks...

3. The gender of the session chair has a strong impact on the gender ratio of the questioners.

FC FQ = Female Chair, Female Questions,
FC MQ = Female Chair Male Questions, etc
This result shocked me, and begs to be studied further. The session chair seems to greatly impacts the gender ratio of the questions being asked. What does this mean?! Are male session chairs preferentially selecting male questions? Are women less likely to speak up when an additional man is standing in front?

We need data on the format of the session to understand the origin of this result, and to make actionable suggestions/best-practices for future conferences!

The Future:

I want to conduct a more controlled follow up study! It's clear to me that there's more to learn, and maybe ways we can improve how our conferences are conducted.

But I'll need help doing it!

The upcoming AAS 225 in Seattle (Jan 2015) would be a perfect time to do a follow-up study. We need to gather more detailed data from every talk. A big volunteer effort might get us there, but if the AAS is interested in helping that could be a huge shot in the arm. We did this project with $0 spent and only social media / friends to help advertise. With the AAS's help we could get this data and help make our annual meetings even better!

Lastly, a huge thanks to the wonderful volunteers who sent us data, the organizers and sponsors of AAS Hack Day, and [Morgan, Erin, Alex, Katja, Laura] for making the analysis/writing happen!

Update: this appears to be my 100th blog post on If We Assume! 
Here's a sweet badge I awarded myself...

24 Hours of King County Metro


24 Hours of King County Metro from James Davenport on Vimeo.

A couple weeks ago a colleague approached me, asking if I would be interested in making some kind of data visualization to help raise awareness of an important issue: funding for the local bus system.

I ride the bus almost every day in Seattle, and all my fellow graduate students depend on it. Seattle is a fairly large, dense, and hilly city, with many water and land barriers. The only practical way to get around the city is often via bus.

While our region is in the process of upgrading and building new infrastructure, we must maintain and fund the existing mass transit systems we have. How can our local economy survive if people can't get around the city?!

I mused about the challenge of finding a data visualization to capture the emotion and gravity of this issue. Rather than produce some big infographic or series of detailed graphs, I decided to make an animation. This traces every bus through every stop, for one entire weekday.  Note how our entire city, every major landmark and neighborhood, is traced by just plotting the bus stops. The buses thread the city like ants in a colony, connecting everyone and everywhere.

Here's one cool other figure: the total number of bus stops per minute for an entire day. You can clearly see the AM and PM rush "hours", and the long tail in the evening.

King County Metro has done a fantastic job of making their data for routes, timetables, stops, etc all available online. Playing with and reforming this data was a real delight, and I think you're likely to see other examples of metro data on this website in the near future
(Alex Parker, I'm serious about collaborating on something man!)

Please register to vote, and if you're passionate about transportation in our region (or just cool visualizations!) help keep the buses running!