What Happens When You Double Blind Astronomers?


Most of you probably know about the famous test of blind auditioning for symphony orchestras, in which every candidate performs behind a curtain: after it was adopted, suddenly a whole lot more women got hired. The folks running the auditions—almost all men—had previously made up endless excuses for choosing men over women: their style was “more muscular,” they “presented themselves” better, etc. But it all turned out to be plain old gender bias. Behind a curtain, the women magically all sounded just as muscular as the men.

Needless to say, the same thing happens in other fields. Take astronomy. Every year hundreds of researchers submit proposals for time on the Hubble Telescope, and every year proposals from men get accepted at a higher rate than proposals from women. Finally, last year, the Telescope Allocation Committee decided the only solution was genuine double-blind reviewing: neither the applicants nor the reviewing committees know each other’s names, and proposals have to follow a style that hides the identity of the proposer. Guess what?

Statistically, 138 of the 489 submitted proposals (28%) were led by female PIs—as a comparison, in Cycle 25, female PIs led 46 of 167 Medium and Large proposals (27.5%). Twelve of the 40 proposals selected for execution are led by female PIs, a success rate of 8.7% (12/138); for male PIs, the success rate is 8.0% (28/351). This reverses the trend seen in the past 15 cycles. Specifically, in Cycle 25, 13% (6/46) of Medium and Large proposals submitted by female PIs were approved while 24% (29/121) of proposals submitted by male PIs were successful. Given the special circumstances involved in the Cycle 26 ΔTAC it would be premature to draw broad conclusions, but the results are encouraging.

How about that?