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I am discussing with friends the meaning of the following sentence:

"while some people agree that there are less women in science because they don't have the skills, others will argue that it is just because science is a strongly sexist field"

  • Does it mean that the writer also shares this view?
  • Is it right to use the verb 'agree' for an opinion that is held only by a small group?
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    The writer may or may not share the point of view; the statement itself is non-committal either way. That said, the initial "while" in the sentence foreshadows a coming "but". The word "agree" is simply factual and can be applied to any group having two or more people. – Dan Bron Nov 14 '14 at 12:55
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    Your example is not a complete sentence. It seems the writer is going to contrast the opinion in the rest of the sentence (because of the initial while) but it is difficult to know without having more context. What is the complete sentence? – Always Asking Nov 14 '14 at 12:56
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    To answer your second question, you can use agree for the opinion of a small group. – Always Asking Nov 14 '14 at 12:58
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    Note that if you are taking an English examination, you may be marked down for writing 'less women'. Use less before uncountable nouns and fewer before plural nouns. – tunny Nov 14 '14 at 14:12
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    What it tells you is that the writer is being wishy-washy. – Hot Licks Jan 13 '15 at 19:16
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It depends on the context.

I believe that agree refers to the first group agreeing with a previously described opinion. So you need to look earlier in the paper to see who was stated as having that opinion -- some people agree with them.

If the author just meant to say that there were some people who share an opinion amongst themselves, he would have said while some people believe that .... There's no need to say agree, because by definition people with the same belief agree.

There are contexts where agree could be used to refer to a specific, possibly small, group. 4 out of 5 dentists agree that .....

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No. It does not give any information about the writer's view.

This kind of phrase can sometimes follow information about a person's or group's opinion, but it often simply means "some people think that...."

Yes. If only two people have the same opinion, they agree on it.

The verb can sometimes, however, imply that all, or most, or a given fraction of a group agree. If this is the case, then that more specific meaning is taken from context. For example: "At the committee meeting, it was agreed that...."

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Barmar's answer rightly emphasizes the point that the author's use of agree in the quoted sentence would be most appropriate if, prior to that sentence, the text cited a person making the same general argument that the "some people" in the quoted sentence agree with. In journalistic English, however, it is not terribly unusual to encounter a sentence like the quoted one even when there is no mention earlier in the article of the view that "some people agree" with.

This situation raises a couple of problems regarding authorial intent. First it leaves the group of "some people" essentially agreeing with each other—in which case we may reasonably ask why their agreement isn't expressed more simply as "say" or "assert":

While some people assert that there are fewer women in science because they don't have the skills, others argue that it [the gender imbalance] is just because science is a strongly sexist field.

Second, if it is important to describe the first batch of "some people" as agreeing with each other, why isn't it equally important to describe the second batch—the "others"—as agreeing among themselves, too? That is, why not put it this way:

While some people agree [among themselves] that there are fewer women in science because they don't have the skills, others agree [among themselves] that it is just because science is a strongly sexist field.

In situations where "agree" simply means "share among themselves the view," I don't see it as a very useful word choice—particularly as it may lead readers to wonder why (in this case) one party to a controversy is described as "agreeing" while the other side is characterized as "arguing." If the reporter means to act as a genuinely neutral observer and recorder of the controversy, it probably makes more sense to dispense with differential word choice and use "say" for both sides:

While some people say that relatively few women are in science because women as a group tend to lack the necessary skills, others say that the disproportionate numbers reflect the deeply engrained sexism of the field.

When a writer uses different verbs to characterize how opposing groups present their views, readers are justified in wondering whether the difference in word choice reflects the writer's own preferences on the issue. In other words, a suspicious reader may wonder whether "While some people agree that..." isn't implicitly saying "While some people agree [with me] that..." Such doubts do not bolster the author's credibility.

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This is a pet hate of mine. I am a woman and I have a BSC hons and I work in science. I have taken part in gender equality studies so if you are doing research at the moment, it is really good that you are getting the opinion of a female here - one of you readers could potentially be annoyed here. If it is being judged by female academics, they may not view it kindly.

I have written academically and I know I would have been crucified on the first part of your sentence. I don't know how you know some people agree - its probably from the literature?

This is a start that needs improvement "while some people agree that there are less women in science because they don't have the skills"

  • I think you could be accused of showing bias here, and the argument should be balanced showing both the positive and the negative. To be fair, I have not seen the entire context of this sentence, but as it stands it seems to be making a statement in favour of the male sex.

If you are writing from a research, academic and unbiased point of view, this sentence should start with "it could be argued that"

...there is a gender inequality balance in science, owing to a shortage of scientific knowledge by the female gender. [explain how females have the lack of scientific knowledge here] and balance it with a positive statement to neutralise the argument - On the other hand, there are some females who have recently excelled at science.

I think review the ending of your sentence below. The word sexist is controversial. Consider male dominated and find some stats to back it up. There are loads out there. if you leave the word sexist in - this will only annoy people, show potential bias and therefore decrease the credibility of your good work.

others will argue that it is just because science is a strongly sexist field.

Hope this helps. I decided to give you my honest opinion here in the hope that it really helps you. If you want to review I can have a further look at it to see if it reads better. But if you want to argue, I learned the very good trick of starting a sentence with it could be argued. It impresses.... And leave out the strong statements.

Best of luck:)

  • On my reading, it is hard to see your answer (the wood) for your personal commentary (the trees). I think it would be a stronger answer if your personal commentary was removed to comments, leaving a clearer answer. Just my 2 cents worth. – andy256 Jan 14 '15 at 1:44

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