Back in the early 2000s, evolution deniers were fond of publishing lists of scientists who doubted Charles Darwin's discovery. Hey, you can always find a few dozen Ph.D.s who, like the Scarecrow at the end of The Wizard of Oz, have a diploma instead of an education. So in 2003 the National Center for Science Education, which champions evolution instruction in public schools, published a statement with its own list of 220 Ph.D.s who accept evolution—all named Steve.
You see, with only about 1 percent of Americans named Steve, the 220 signatories thus represented more than 20,000 scientists. And the number who have signed on to what's called Project Steve, partly to honor evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould, continues to grow. As of late 2015, the Steves had reached 1,382, including Nobel laureates Steven Chu and Steve Weinberg. (I would gladly be a signatory were I allowed, but I'm ineligible. Because I don't have a doctorate. Not because of some false fealty to journalistic objectivity that would require me to claim no position regarding reality. That stance would make me this Stevie skeevy.)
Now comes a new effort to illustrate a point by pitting apples against a tiny subset of oranges: researchers compared the number of women in leadership positions in American medical academia with the number of men with mustaches in those roles. The study was in the infamous Christmas issue, which always features lippy research, of the BMJ (known in a less hurried age as the British Medical Journal). (And hence, both American mustaches and British moustaches to come.)
You can see where we're going here, but I'll tweeze out some details. The researchers looked at the heads of more than 1,000 departments of 50 top U.S. medical schools. “For each department leader we determined the URL of their institutional website and identified medical specialty, institution, name, and sex,” the investigators wrote. Then they looked at the heads of the heads: “To be included, leaders had to have a photo available on the webpage so we could check the presence and type of facial hair.”
To properly count mustaches, they established classification parameters: “We defined a moustache as the visible presence of hair on the upper cutaneous lip and included both stand alone moustaches (for example, Copstash Standard, Pencil, Handlebar, Dali, Supermario) as well as moustaches in combination with other facial hair (for example, Van Dyke, Balbo, the Zappa). Department leaders with facial hairstyles that did not include hair on the upper lip (for example, Mutton Chops, Chin Curtain) were considered not to have a moustache.” The journal article included a helpful chart with 33 different furry faces that could also be posted at barbershops for patrons to point at and say, “I wanna look like that guy.” And because assumptions can poison the well of scientific investigation, the researchers declared: “We evaluated each leader for the presence of facial hair regardless of sex.”
The authors noted that for the past 15 years women have made up almost half of all U.S. medical students, and their best estimate was that fewer than 15 percent of all men, whatever their job, wear mustaches. Nevertheless, they found that medical school departments were significantly more likely to be run by a mustachioed individual, who was almost certainly a man, than by a woman.
The research team also established an “overall moustache index,” which has nothing to do with med school bigwigs who wear both mustaches and overalls. By the way, that combo is not as nutty as it might sound—I knew a big, bearded biophysicist at one of the institutions included in this study who almost always wore a pair of overalls to the lab. Denim, if memory serves.
No, the overall mustache index is in fact a ratio of women to mustaches. And the study found its value to be 0.72. “We believe,” the researchers said, “that every department and institution should strive for a moustache index [of at least] 1. There are two ways to achieve this goal: by increasing the number of women or by asking leaders to shave their moustaches.” After weighing those choices, they said that the only real option for deans was “to hire, retain, and promote more women.” In fact, anything less should make us all bristle.