Saturday, February 10, 2007

Virtual Women: Rochelle Dreyfuss

Keynote address: Rochelle Dreyfuss, NYU Law School, Girls Just Want to Have Fun: What Can Feminist Theory Tell Us About Incentives?

Dreyfuss started out as a scientist, and has seen many things that help explain the relative absence of women in science, including discrimination, a clash between reproductive and career interests, the two-body problem of scientists marrying other scientists, lack of mentorship (in her days at Berkeley, many men flatly refused to take female graduate students, and others did very little for them, and her reading of the literature indicates the problem persists).

There’s gender stratification in academic collaborations with commercial ventures – men and women work on patentable tech at equal levels, but men are disproportionately offered consulting, venture capital, board membership, etc. – women aren’t offered the entrepreneurial resources or education they need. Invisibility: Women are less likely to be recognized as principal investigators, and thus are less likely to enter the commercial pipeline. Female scientists often feel resistant to feminism because of pressure to be “macho” and thus have difficulty organizing for change.

Why do women stay? The pay is lousy, conditions like lab space are inferior, and women and men do appear to differ in some innate abilities. Most men who are good in science have a quantitative tilt, but women who are good in science tend to be good at other things too so they have alternatives. If we understood why women stay despite the absence of money, prestige, and power, we’d understand the determinants of creative progress better – when incentives are needed. If we paid attention to why women leave, we’d learn how to better encourage and maintain creative communities.

Studies of innovation communities, like fashion, extreme sports, and French chefs, show that copyright’s incentives are not always necessary. Indeed, copying is critical to the maintenance of the community and to the incentive to generate new ideas – what have you done for me lately? Reputation is a key factor. It’s not all sunshine and daisies, but competition to win benefits – just through non-IP ways, where innovators benefit from revealing information; reputation has economic rewards and brings people the benefit of others’ revealed information.

Many of these communities are male-heavy (top chefs, extreme sports, computer programmers). What would female communities look like? Women may not equate acting rationally with acting in one’s own self-interest. Looking at it from a feminist perspective might find some non-economic incentives and even non-reputational incentives: Quilting and knitting circles; women suffragists’ publishing houses; literary clubs; anthropological studies of women’s roles; cookery (as opposed to cuisine) and cookbooks created by civic groups and individual women; fan fiction. Studying women in science, which has denied women traditional rewards, would be a great addition to that literature.

One thing: the sheer joy and satisfaction that women derive from living a creative life. Girls just want to have fun. With literary societies, women read books, read their own poetry, performed plays, etc. Women’s cookbooks included elaborate illustrations and other creative flourishes – these weren’t intended for distribution, but they still cared about expressing themselves, writing themselves into culture. Fan fiction: women write it because they love it and love talking with other women about it. Female scientists also experience this joy.

Some studies also suggest that relationship-building is a key factor in creative incentives – cookbooks are made for friends, daughters, etc. to maintain social ties and cultural traditions. In traditional communities, women perceive themselves as developers and transmitters of knowledge – shared journeys (also fan fiction). And many female scientists find deep rewards in collaborating with colleagues and mentoring students. There are reciprocal forms of altruism in these practices too – literary societies that engaged in suffragist activities. Still, other-regarding creativity is important. Women’s altruism was genuine and not based on the expectation of reciprocal benefits.

Protectionist rhetoric needs to be viewed skeptically. Creative production doesn’t need external incentives in all cases. We need to think about how IP affects such non-economic creative practices. A true revealer won’t have IP rights of her own to use against an IP claimant. Genuine altruism may be genuine, but it also may be bounded: it may be highly disruptive to commercialize freely offered output. Thompson was willing to work on Rent for a nominal fee and was happy it was doing well, until she found out that the Larson estate was making millions and she was making nothing. The same thing happens when freely shared knitting patterns are compiled into copyrighted books. Likewise with Kevin Greene’s presentation on African-American music. We need to learn more about the limits of altruism.

We also need a strategy to make sure that materials stay in the public domain where they were put. Creative Commons requires creators to anticipate problems and be proactive, but as LaFrance pointed out, some situations make that type of pre-assertion unlikely. We need some strategies to keep people from having to join the IP regime – as Thompson ultimately did in claiming that a dramaturg’s role contributed copyrightable expression – or losing out entirely.

Dreyfuss doesn’t want to suggest that freedom and no-IP are always the right solutions. The interest of innovation communities might not be aligned with the public interest. Do we need as much innovation in fashion as the current system produces? Perhaps barring copying would improve public welfare by slowing innovation. Also, some innovation communities work by subordinating certain members; IP might help them. Women in science are a good example, because when there is a breakdown in the system, it’s often women who lose out. If “sharing” means that information is shared but material benefits aren’t, that’s a wrong that needs correction. Patenting has been extremely important to the women who did it, even though women haven’t used it as much as men.

Question: Single-sex education?

Dreyfuss went to Wellesley and had a number of single-sex classes in high school, and it left her more willing to ask questions than many other women – she expected to be part of the discussion. The issue is whether the opportunities will really be equal; if they are, it may be a good idea to do girl-only math and science classes.

Question from Eileen Kane: Sometimes women resist becoming the primary investigators because they feel they’ll have to leave real science for administration.

A: That’s a version of the “joy in science” issue – many women don’t want the power/rewards enough to give up time spent investigating.

Bartow: Does effort to get credit trade off with openness?

A: Various instances of fraud in science have created interest in accountability, and journals have started requiring people to say which part of the work they did. The NIH is also getting into the game with rules about claiming credit, and schools have been following their lead. The side benefit is credit where credit is due, even though the concern was more fraud-specific. The situation is much worse in copyright and outside of science.

No comments: