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Why Should More Women Be In Science?
That isn't the question Wendy M. Williams asks. She wants to know, per the title of the book she co-edited, "Why Aren't More Women In Science?" as in, how do we encourage more women to be in science? But, why do we want women in science particularly, or anybody who isn't that interested in it without cajoling and prodding? (Gregg offers, most helpfully: "Because they look hot in lab coats, horn rims a little bit down on their nose, and decolletage?")

Why should we push women to be, say, physicists (to correct some perceived imbalance -- as if the gender of a researcher should matter) if they'd rather be, say, veterinarians? Or...sell advertising space. And, as Steven Pinker asked at the Human Behavior and Evolution Society conference in Austin, Texas, a few years back, if we're pushing women to go into physics, should we also be pushing men to go into talking and helping professions? And finally, if we, on a man-woman level, allow the typical "diversity" push I see in newspapers ("diversity" being code for "only give people who are not white fellowships"), what qualified men are getting pushed aside to make room for the girls?

I'm not saying there aren't successful women in science. I'm friends with a number of them. And I do think we need to ramp up science education in general in this country. But, I'm reminded of the words of a male evolutionary psychologist who planned one of the earlier Human Behavior and Evolution Society conferences. He tried and tried to get a top female ev. psych, ethologist, or anthropologist to do one of the keynote speeches. He found that women just weren't eager to get up in front of the entire group and present. In fact, every one he contacted turned him down. Even though that's generally a way to move forward in one's career. It's my observation that men, in science as in other fields, generally tend to be more self- and work-promotingly roosterish.

There is the argument that perhaps we'll miss out on great discoveries if we don't shove women into science (although I guess a word like "encourage" would be used), and then make allowances so women who want to be mothers as well can leave early to relieve the babysitter. But, what of the men (and women) who choose to skip the babies and the babysitter? How is the affirmative actionish suggestion for tenure by Williams below fair to them?

Am I suggesting (gasp!) women can't have it all? Well...yes.

I spent the entire weekend thinking out and writing a single paragraph for my column, and doing just a bit of other writing (and blogging, of course). It was a tough topic, and that amount of time was just what it took to get it right. I couldn't do this if I were a mother. Which (in addition to the convenient fact that I only like certain children, and only in small quantities) is why I am not one.

Williams sees things somewhat differently. Anna Lena Phillips interviews her via e-mail for American Scientist:

In your conclusion, you mention the importance of framing public presentation of such study in ways that don't discourage young women and their teachers and parents or make differences self-fulfilling. How would you like to see the debate framed in such a way as to produce the greatest positive effects?

The debate should be framed in terms of the choices women make, both willingly due to personal preference (such as choosing veterinary medicine over engineering) and less willingly due to the dilemmas women (as opposed to men) face as a consequence of their biological sex (such as opting out of high-powered 60-hour-per-week jobs because of the desire to have children, which conflicts with tenure or partnership timetables in many cases). There are choices women make that represent choosing freely, and other choices they are compelled to make that men need never face.

...Of the research discussed in the essays in this book, what was the most surprising finding to you?

The single most surprising finding was how much better women in some countries perform on math tests as compared to men in the United States and Canada! For Steve Ceci, the most surprising finding was that countries not known for their egalitarian attitudes toward women (for example, Turkey) produce more women computer scientists than do countries thought to be more modern and egalitarian (for example, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom).

...What would you say to people who persist in believing that women's abilities, talents or interests are more suited for the helping professions than for the sciences?

Some extremely competent women and men may prefer the helping professions. We should not stigmatize these professions, nor should we belittle people who choose them. (For example, many men now teach elementary school, something unusual when I was a child.) On the other hand, these choices should not be forced by perceptions that some professions are too demanding for women. The fact that women now outnumber men 3 to 1 among veterinary medicine graduates suggests that these women like the emphasis on "helping" but have not devalued their abilities—this is an ideal situation. Women are not underrepresented in all fields of science, just the mathematically intensive ones (computer science, engineering, physics, chemistry, mathematics). Women are doing well in biological sciences, medicine, social sciences and law.

Several of these essays criticize the tenure system, which was created in a time when one-earner, one-caretaker households were the norm, for not adapting to the realities of juggling home and work that women face. What is one of the best examples you have seen of institutions using policy to model a balanced career/family workload for men and women?

Certainly institutions are aware of the problem and are struggling to confront it. Solutions take real creativity and a willingness to think outside of the box. Recently I was asked to comment on a practice of allowing some Cornell women scientists to bring their babies to work every day for several months following birth. That is very progressive!

The tenure system as it stands is definitely harsh for women wishing to have children. It represents critical evaluation at precisely the time at which these women must choose to procreate if they ever wish to. These women are expected to have their greatest intellectual productivity contemporaneously with their greatest physical and emotional productivity. Many very talented women opt out. If given somewhat longer to accrue a portfolio at, say, half time, these women might not opt out—if their half-time jobs could segue into full-time tenure-track positions. This is not presently the case, however. Why should we lose these women to science forever because of the special needs of a particular six-year period of time in their lives?

What would an ideal tenure system look like to you?

Big question. One thing an ideal tenure system would contain is more time for women having children to amass the portfolio of work submitted for tenure review. Perhaps women should be able to choose half-time positions for several years, then convert back to full-time. Women should not have to choose between having children and having a career they are well suited and well trained for. Men do not have to make this choice; they simply choose as partners women who are willing to stay home for a period of time and have children, as the data clearly show. Women are far less likely in our society to find male partners willing to make the sacrifice of staying home, and even if they do, it is the women who must undergo the strident physical experiences of childbearing, nursing and so on.

Or, they could just adopt. Or, satisfy themselves with being somebody's "Big Sister" or (non-)godparent. We all have choices to make, and no, it's usually not possible to pick "all of the above."

Posted by aalkon at October 15, 2007 1:55 PM

Comments

The ideal tenure system which would be neutral to men, women, and beneficial to the student....

No tenure system.

Tenure was created to ensure academic freedom right and make sure dissenting voices couldn't be suppressed? Well, with the Internet and CNN and Think Tanks and Industry, how much dissent can be suppressed?

And how many fields that grant tenure really have anything that shocking to say or research? Law? I don't think so. Art? No. What the hell fields need tenure anymore?

From what I've seen in the UC Schools, tenure is handed out as a hiring perk. It's not handed out after ten years, it's essentially given out when the professor is hired and then formally given to them the next year or two. Bleh. What a waste for the taxpayer and what a waste for the professor themselves.

Get rid of it.

That said, if there are barriers that turn girls and young women away from the sciences or engineering, I think it is very valuable to see what those are. I can believe that for a variety of bogus reasons girls are discouraged from math at an early age, so that when they do "naturally turn away from it" a lot of that "naturally" could be the result of lots of systematic, if unintentional, discouragement.

As an engineer for 20 years, I really can see no reason that women cannot do the job as well as a man for any reason, intellectual or family or whatever.

I don't know if women will leave when they have kids and never come back or not, but who cares? Women have kids at all sorts of different ages. And most of the large engineering companies I've worked for are very family friendly. Some will leave, some will work part time, some will come back.

Posted by: jerry at October 15, 2007 12:21 AM

I agree with Gregg. Although I suppose if they chose to be librarians instead, that would be fine.

Posted by: Shawn at October 15, 2007 1:19 AM

Why should more women be in science?

Computer Science is dominated by men. We don't know why. There have been great women computer scientists, but not many. Is the subject itself male-oriented? If so, how? Have we inadvertently set things up to keep women out - a form of constructive sexism? If so, it should be put right. Otherwise lots of women will miss out on a good career opportunity, and we will all miss out on their contributions. It's not that there should be more women in science. There's something odd going on in sex ratios. It's worth investigating, at least.

For what it's worth (not a lot!) I've always found engineering ability in a woman to be most attractive.

Posted by: Norman at October 15, 2007 2:06 AM

Well, gee. No one should be surprised at Turkey having more women in computer science. It doesn't require mixed company, and so for those societies out from under the edge of fundamental Islam it's a win-win for families. There are lots of women in Indian tech-support jobs, too.

But why is this an issue at all? Why is "computer science" singled out? Go down to government offices, and they're packed with women in technical and accounting positions. Have we forgotten the secretary, the underpaid office genius, already? Or are you really talking about research scientists? In my experience, they have no working hours. The research dictates what they do. This almost automatically makes for an awkward social life, not to mention making things like tending children flatly impossible at times. I mean, think about this. The premise suggests the false dilemma that women can be good mothers and computer scientists because men are. Really? How many scientists do you think are "good fathers"?

Finally, no discussion of women and computer science would be complete without mentioning Grace Hopper. Read about her at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grace_Hopper . Now, what's missing in that article?

Posted by: Radwaste at October 15, 2007 2:39 AM

Admiral Hopper was on Letterman about 25 years ago. She was very senior at that point, but still weirdly sexless and nun-like.

Posted by: Crid at October 15, 2007 2:59 AM

> How many scientists do you
> think are "good fathers"?

Word. I wish more people would think clearly about all the costs of excellence.

Posted by: Crid at October 15, 2007 3:04 AM

Sorry for the threefer, but this (a recent ALD link maybe of interest) http://urltea.com/1rei

Posted by: Crid at October 15, 2007 3:12 AM

Sorry for the fourster, but this (a recent ALD link maybe of interest)

http://urltea.com/1rek

Posted by: Crid at October 15, 2007 3:16 AM

I singled out Computer Science because that's where I am. Feel free to comment on your own speciality.

At this university we have more females than males in the undergrad population. But the sex ratio varies from one subject to another. I assume someone has done a chi-squared test against the null hypothesis that the different ratios between subjects are not significant. So it is an observation that intrigues us. Why should it be that Computer Science has a high male proportion, while Biology has a high female proportion? Why should we not want to find out? The answer might be interesting. It might be useful. It might change the way we do things, presumably for the better.

I wondered how long it would be till Grace Hopper came up. Well, she can go back in her box now with the other tokens.

We just need to mention Hitler and the thread will be complete! Oops, damn, sorry about that ...

Posted by: Norman at October 15, 2007 4:20 AM

Aw, c'mon Norman, she gave us frickin' COBOL. We should have more such 'tokens'.

Posted by: Crid at October 15, 2007 4:30 AM

The Sailer link is above (on "perceived imbalance"). I, for one, think the hanging of Larry Summers was wrong. I especially liked this bit from Sailer's piece:

All 23 tenured mathematicians at Harvard are indeed men. Yet, can you name one? Do you know even two living mathematicians? Those who feel the necessity of pursuing mathematics are an odd breed. A mathematician has almost zero chance for celebrity, yet his primary reward, if he discovers something important enough to have it named after him, is fame. It's a strange kind of renown, however, one that the vast majority of humanity will never notice. Among the handful who comprehend, however, his fame will be as undying as Achilles's.

The more meritocratic the field, the more feminists accuse it of discriminating against women. In mathematics, new proofs either quickly fail or are accepted forever. In contrast, women flourish most in notoriously faddish, cliquish domains like the humanities. In Harvard's English department, 20 out of 51 professors are women, and at less exclusive colleges, they often comprise a majority.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 15, 2007 5:14 AM

> The Sailer link is above

And I'm like, Oops. Sorry. It's easier to comment on blog posts than read them.

Favorite passage: "Economics has become a math-crazed subject, which might explain why none of the 55 recipients has been a woman, but it's also highly politicized, although in the opposite direction from the Literature Prize, where being a Communist has been an asset."

Just two more links, OK? First, that passage makes this essay even more interesting, and it already relates to Amy's topic and she hasn't linked it yet: http://urltea.com/1rhh

(A fascinating new reason to hate womyn's studies!)

Also...

Posted by: Crid at October 15, 2007 5:34 AM

Also, that essay explains this, the week's finest youtube clip:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6_qyvU6_7nE

If only Gore could have responded with such dignity

Posted by: Crid at October 15, 2007 5:36 AM

"Have we forgotten the secretary, the underpaid office genius, already?" Rad, loving you for that alone right now. Wanted to be a secretary since I helped out in the guidance office in junior high, been one now for 33 years. So thank you.

Posted by: Donna at October 15, 2007 5:54 AM

Word, Donna. I'm the office manager for a small biotech company, and I think if it weren't for me, more than half of the scientists here would forget all of their appointments, meetings, purchase orders, etc. But again, I think being a secretary/office manager falls under the "helping professions" umbrella.

Posted by: Flynne at October 15, 2007 6:03 AM

Howard Bloom on Doris Lessing:

http://tinyurl.com/29rg9z

"Although Ms. Lessing at the beginning of her writing career had a few admirable qualities, I find her work for the past 15 years quite unreadable ... fourth-rate science fiction," said American literary critic Howard Bloom to The Associated Press. In that article, Bloom dismisses the award as "pure political correctness."

Haven't read her. What do those of you who have think?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 15, 2007 6:12 AM

""Economics has become a math-crazed subject, which might explain why none of the 55 recipients has been a woman,"

Only about 8 out of 40 were women in my major in college.

Many econ programss across the country are theory based - w/ little practical application during the learning process. I have a natural hatred towards math, most likely b/c it doesn't come easily to me and requires a lot of effort to keep up. That said, the most rewarding classes I took in college were the more advanced stats and econometrics classes. The econ major at my school was an anomaly and was research/practical application oriented.

Never have I been more challenged. I learned not only the calc behind it all but had to master SAS (a computer program - and I use "master" loosely).

Never have I been more satisfied with myself after finishing a 4-5 month long project that required tedious research and the conquering of statistics/econometrics... when I was able to get the betas in my regression to be significant I did an ass-shaking, beer swigging dance around the dining room table. I had fucking done it. I had created an equation that actually explained something and could (kind of) make predictions.

It was a crude equation (even though I manipulated it for months and pillaged every bit of historical data on European countries) and my analysis was rough but it was AMAZING. Everyone deserves to experience something like that. It doesn't have to be math or science but it has to be challenging, it has to be exciting and it HAS to incite a passion w/in which you didn't quite know existed.

Maybe I can't "have it all" but I can find a man who would be willing to split it all 50/50. If he won't help me raise the kids (while we BOTH work) I won't have kids w/ him. I love myself enough not to compromise my "soul" - I'll be a better partner and mother if I am satisfied intellectually and able to bring home some of the bacon. If a woman decides to stay at home *b/c that is what satisfies her most* and her husband likes being the sole earner then power to them!!

Posted by: Gretchen at October 15, 2007 6:19 AM

Some men do do that. I'm pretty sure Glenn Sacks -- http://glennsacks.com/ -- is the stay-at-home parent.

But, I think Rad brought up a really good point: How many scientists do you think are "good fathers"? Science isn't for 9-5 sissies (or 10-4 sissies) -- of either sex.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 15, 2007 6:24 AM

Crid - We should have more such 'tokens'.

We do - but they're all men.

No-one's mentioned Ada Lovelace yet. One memorable woman a century's not too much, I guess.

If we are doing something that causes this imbalance, we should stop doing it.

Secretaries: under-valued; confused with typists, receptionists and tea-ladies. Not for nothing was the General Secretary of the Party the most powerful person in USSR - a man, of course.

Posted by: Norman at October 15, 2007 6:32 AM

But, I'm reminded of the words of a male evolutionary psychologist who planned one of the earlier Human Behavior and Evolution Society conferences. He tried and tried to get a top female ev. psych, ethologist, or anthropologist to do one of the keynote speeches. He found that women just weren't eager to get up in front of the entire group and present. In fact, every one he contacted turned him down.

That's beyond appalling. And reinforces my belief that every grade school student who has access to speech and debate/communications classes should be strongly encouraged to take them, and that access to such education should be expanded. Many people aren't geniuses at communicating what they want to say, especially in front of a crowd - speech/debate/communications instruction really does help, especially at an early age. I am very much a girl and enjoy talking in front of crowds.

I'm not a fan of what was done to Summers, either. That having been said, after speaking with some of my friends in the sciences, I do think investigating whether women are turned away from the sciences and math at key points is worthwhile, because my friends aren't the type to see discrimination where there is none, and several of them did tell me that they think women do get turned away/actively discouraged.

Posted by: marion at October 15, 2007 6:32 AM

I, too, enjoy public speaking...okay, I love it. But, despite the boobs and all, some would look at my fingers -- high 2D/4D ratio -- and ask if I have high testosterone. In fact, Terry Burnham, an evolutionary economist, met me at a conference at University College of London, and instead of saying "hi," said, "You have high testosterone!"

My response: "Fuck you!" (And then I laughed and asked him to explain, which he did.)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digit_ratio

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 15, 2007 6:36 AM

Amy,

I find it a bit rum that your male Ev. Psych chum concluded (hardly scientifically!)that women were lousy at self-boostering public speaking based on his trouble finding a senior woman speaker at a conference!

Conferences suck up a huge amount of time away from the bench and/or running a lab. The fact they are not at all child-friendly either is a more obvious disincentive than female shyness, surely, for the embattled women scientist?

I imagine Susan Hockfield, for example - the current President of MIT, turns down more conferences simply because she is too busy than because she blushes when handed a microphone!

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at October 15, 2007 6:39 AM

He's a scientist, so he didn't make any sort of conclusion based on his very small sample..nor did I say he did. He simply remarked on how hard it was to get a woman to accept what should be an honor and is probably a career boost: speaking in front of top peers in the field at an annual international conference.

Women in the field go to these annual conferences -- it's different than being an administrator who's too busy...so franky, that's not a very good example, your Ms. MIT.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 15, 2007 6:50 AM

I am a female physicist and a mother. And I agree with Amy that you can't "have it all." My husband and I have made many choices to make our life work.

We both (he is also a PhD physicist) left academia - both because we got tired of being expected to coddle students and we wanted to make more money. We're in the free market now, where hard work and talent is rewarded. My husband is finishing business school and fielding very generous job offers to use his modeling skills in finance. I work in industry, where my research results in patents and contracts rather than just published papers.

We make this work by giving each other a lot of freedom. He went to his top choice school on the East coast and I'm in the Midwest at my lab. We spend time together on our own terms.

And we have one child. We will not have more - we can do this with one, but not two. He spends his days in a top quality daycare. Because he is "part of the team," rather than the center of the universe for us, he's learned a lot of independence. At 2 years old, he helps with the chores and knows his please and thank you. Our goal is to raise a competent and independent adult, especially important to us after teaching university and dealing with "young adults" who expected to be constantly catered to.

Not everyone should expect to be a scientist because they want to - you need the right type of brain. I have an extremely mathematical mind (dressed in a Brooks Brothers suit, fabulous heels, and horn rim glasses and my husband loves it - and I do often wear a lab coat) and that is a trait I was born with. I certainly would not expect to be welcomed into say, acting, because I completely lack any ability in that area.


Posted by: physicist at October 15, 2007 6:51 AM

"But, despite the boobs and all, some would look at my fingers -- high 2D/4D ratio -- and ask if I have high testosterone."

And - all together now from "My Fair Lady" with Amy and the lovely Rex Harrison...

"Why can't a woman be more like a man?
Men are so honest, so thoroughly square;
Eternally noble, historic'ly fair;
Who, when you win, will always give your back a pat.
Well, why can't a woman be like that?
Why does ev'ryone do what the others do?
Can't a woman learn to use her head?
Why do they do ev'rything their mothers do?
Why don't they grow up- well, like their father instead?...
"

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at October 15, 2007 6:52 AM

Thanks, physicist -- interesting to hear how you make this work, also your realism.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 15, 2007 6:54 AM

> One memorable woman a century's
> not too much, I guess

Awright, whatever: Meg Whitman, Carly Fiorina, Ann Winblad. They're the ones who come to mind quickly, there may be others. There's no "imbalance" as long as you're a ferocious business beast anyway. But you've got to be ferocious to compete in that business.

So yesterday afternoon I went down to the pier and chatted up a guy who was carrying an Iphone. He'd retired from Intel a few years ago, and he told a few stories about Andy Grove (Time's Man of the Year, 199x). He said nothing but good things, which is not what we read in the biographies. And walking home it occurred to me that the three biggest figures in the PC revolution --Gates, Jobs and Grove-- are all known as guys capable of devastating emotional manipulation. If you go into a meeting unprepared, they'll cut your balls off. They might cut your balls off anyway, just to make sure they have your attention. But would you expect any less from the the most exciting industry in our lifetime?

Posted by: Crid at October 15, 2007 7:00 AM

And the finger ratio/testosterone link Amy mentioned? My ring finger is much longer than my index finger - which bolsters my belief that my math and physics talents are fairly inborn.

It's also a good reason for my son to be with his preschool teachers during the week. He spends time with women who have chosen to make caring for others their work - with more stereotypically "feminine" brains and temperaments than mine.

Posted by: physicist at October 15, 2007 7:01 AM

"...it was to get a woman to accept what should be an honor and is probably a career boost: speaking in front of top peers in the field at an annual international conference."

Up to a point, that's true.

But conferences were a lot more essential to your career when they were the only way to communicate with far flung scientist peers. (Which is why today's incredibly competitive science conference organizers always look for gorgeously desirable venues as an added come-on.)

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at October 15, 2007 7:05 AM

Amy,

I owe you half an apology.

On rereading, I see your scientist friend only semi-provocatively concluded women "just weren't eager to get up in front of the entire group and present" at conferences.

I made an assumption - based on your observation immediately following his - why he thought they "weren't eager".

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at October 15, 2007 7:20 AM

But conferences were a lot more essential to your career when they were the only way to communicate with far flung scientist peers.

People in the sciences are specialists, more than ever, and sometimes will be exposed to a particular person's work in a different area through their speaking at a conference. It probably doesn't hurt one's career (unless you reveal yourself to be a total idiot when speaking), and probably helps quite a bit.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 15, 2007 7:27 AM

"People in the sciences are specialists, more than ever, and sometimes will be exposed to a particular person's work in a different area through their speaking at a conference."

Again, partly right.

And I'm sounding no death knell for the time-honored conference.

But specialist hard science conferences are increasingly offering streamed sessions to scientists not physically present (with embargoed abstracts obviously provided in advance).

Just like publishing, scientific conferences are adapting to all web resources.

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at October 15, 2007 7:56 AM

To clarify my comment about Glenn Sacks, he's now a "work-at-home dad," but still his kids' "primary caregiver."

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 15, 2007 8:43 AM

But, despite the boobs and all, some would look at my fingers -- high 2D/4D ratio -- and ask if I have high testosterone.

Ah, good point. I actually just measured my hands to see, and my ring fingers are slightly longer than my index fingers. Alas, I do not have the incredible inborn levels of math/science ability that, say, physicist has, but mine do seem to be higher than average.

That having been said, I know an awful lot of men who loathe public speaking...but you're right that, presented with an opportunity to do, men are more likely to take it, in my experience, if doing so will boost their career. I do think, though, that having some basic knowledge about how public speaking *works* is an enormous help to speakers and to the audience. Knowing, for example, that we all tend to speak more quickly than we think we do can improve the ability of a speaker to be understood.

We both (he is also a PhD physicist) left academia - both because we got tired of being expected to coddle students and we wanted to make more money. We're in the free market now, where hard work and talent is rewarded.

I wonder how much of a factor this is, too. Because, if I did have a high inborn level of math and science ability (as several of my female friends do), I wouldn't stay in academia - I'd head where the money is. Also, if you're in a setting where the demand for talented mathematicians/scientists is higher than the supply, and you want to go part-time for a few years in order to have kids, you would seem (to me, anyway) to have more leeway than if you were on a long-term tenure track.

Posted by: marion at October 15, 2007 8:55 AM

"Haven't read her. What do those of you who have think?"

Amy,

If you want to start with a shorter Lessing, try "The Fifth Child".

Synopsis - giving away little more than the title already does - why you should never, ever, ever have "just one more" kid.

Brutally readable.

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at October 15, 2007 9:14 AM

There is another piece to this.

I was in a mid-level math department. Most of our female students for a few years happened to be from Eastern Europe and were unusually well prepared for the higher level classes due to their selection and training back in their home country.

On a grade level, they had the highest scores on the tests and maintained the highest GPAs. They were very talented. They were a joy to be around.

But, and this is a but, their lesser well prepared US male students would often get the problems the ladies could not solve. The guys would stay up until 4 am to work on the proof or would carry it around in their mind for a week to crack it.

Once the basic material in a class was covered and then the problems got specialized with lots of opportunities for false starts and with many pieces, I found that the male students would begin to be able to participate in the discussion in a meaningful manner. Whereas the ladies would dominate the first half of the classes, the men began to erode their monopoly near the end.

Why?

None of these male students were especially talented compared to the female students, they were just totally focused on wrestling with the problem to the exclusion of other optional activities.

Desire and will to win are important attributes in a person that often transcend pure talent.

These qualities are learned or are inborn in other pursuits and are then tranferred into the task at hand. Most of these men had been or were also in competitive sports.

Something to think about.


Posted by: austin at October 15, 2007 10:19 AM

Few more thoughts from me, then I'll get back to work . . .

what makes it possible for me to live the life I do is excellent child care. The caregivers at my son's center are extremely good. I chose the center because they had small classes and the workers are treated well - they make a real wage, have health insurance and all have degrees in early education. They are serious about what they do and it shows. Those skills are extremely valuable (but expensive, another reason to only have one child!) there is no way I could what they do all day, and anyone in a helping profession should be treated with respect.

Aside #2: when I was in academia, I was the token female physicist sucked into an outreach project to get middle school girls interested in science. It was painful. Everyone should have competency in math and science, just like everyone should be able to read, but these girls just didn't care all that much. And we were trying to dress it up and make it exciting, and all I could think is: this is not what I do all day. I loved programming computers as a kid; nobody had to convince me to like it. Anyone who shows a natural interest in a subject should be encouraged, but it should be okay not to like it, too.

thanks for the soapbox - back to my work now

Posted by: physicist at October 15, 2007 12:20 PM

Anyone remember that episode of Familly Guy when Peter was forced to spend time with feminists?

He took his wife to a dinner party and the head feminist dispariged Lois for being a stay at home mom

Lois asked wasnt the point of feminism to give women options, and the feminist replied
"What is the point in having options if you choose the wrong one?"


Seems to me that is the case here - if women truly feel they are being disrciminated against why are they not trying to get jobs in these feilds. And if they are not in these feilds for the simple reason that they dont want to be is that really a problem.

Perhaps its time for the driving forces behind feminism to stop punishing women for living their lives and go out an get a real job - maybe one of the ones the feel so stongly that women deserve

Posted by: lujlp at October 15, 2007 12:31 PM

To give women extra time for tenure is just ridiculous. My hubby is a Ph.D. student and will be a research scientist when he's done. We had our first child earlier this year. There is not one day that goes by that he doesn't want to be home with us or that he'd rather go into the lab. His work there is fulfilling and he enjoys it, but if he could hang out with his baby boy all the time and still make a living, he would.

So to give women preferential treatment just because they happen to be the female parent to the child is like saying the dad doesn't care as much. It's not easier for him to leave that baby every day.

Posted by: Starfox5253 at October 15, 2007 1:12 PM

Just like publishing, scientific conferences are adapting to all web resources.

Sure, but you can't schmooze and booze via the web. It's not just the learning and the exchanging of ideas - conferences are a great vehicle for making connections, seeing old friends, hearing about projects before they begin, torturing people with tough questions, and getting drunk. All of these are tough things to accomplish virtually. COnferences don't matter like good publications matter, but they're far from irrelevant and they can't be replaced by the web.

Posted by: justin case at October 15, 2007 2:06 PM

Anyone who shows a natural interest in a subject should be encouraged, but it should be okay not to like it, too.

Yeah, but we should also push children to try a little of everything (academics, art, music, sports), even if they don't know that they'll like it. This will help more people find their talents, which are often found in unsuspected places.

Posted by: justin case at October 15, 2007 2:13 PM

"one memorable woman"...

Well, dang me for not mentioning other, and non-computer-scientist women of uncommon ability and drive. Mary Gaffney, Eileen Brown, Jacqueline Cochran, Sally Ride, Patty Wagstaff, Elena Myers, Judy Resnik, Susan Johnson, Terri Jones, a host of performers both divine and obscure and others I can't recall easily...

And Mom, long gone. Business owner when women didn't do that, certified English teacher, mother of five, political activist, and late in life appalled that all the people her age wanted to talk about their snot-nosed grandbrats and nothing else.

Posted by: Radwaste at October 15, 2007 3:05 PM

Yeah, but we should also push children to try a little of everything (academics, art, music, sports), even if they don't know that they'll like it. This will help more people find their talents, which are often found in unsuspected places.

Indeed. In fact, one of my objections to this "we must do everything we can to attract more WOMEN to the sciences" is that it doesn't go far enough. A boy who's the seventh of nine children of a crack-addicted mother who goes to a dangerous school that can't teach anything is going to have far less opportunity in regards to the sciences than, say, the only daughter of well-off parents attending the top-ranked school in her state. Scientific/mathematical talent can be found in the most unlikely areas, but in order for it to amount to anything, those with talent need access to training. I'd prefer a more general effort designed to ensure that everyone is exposed to science and, if they show a certain level of ability/interest, can receive the training that will let them use their talents to the best of their ability.

(And in case you think I'm being altruistic - hah! Science has benefited my life enormously. The thought that an intellect that could one day, say, invent a treatment that would let me eat chocolate cake without worrying about the calories could be stuck in a dysfunctional classroom somewhere makes me seriously depressed.)

Posted by: marion at October 15, 2007 3:05 PM

"Recently I was asked to comment on a practice of allowing some Cornell women scientists to bring their babies to work every day for several months following birth. That is very progressive!"

Yuck. Remind me never to work at Cornell - like I want to be around their little monsters all day!

Posted by: Pirate Jo at October 15, 2007 3:10 PM

Wasn't your mom also a pilot, Rad?

A boy who's the seventh of nine children of a crack-addicted mother who goes to a dangerous school that can't teach anything is going to have far less opportunity in regards to the sciences than, say, the only daughter of well-off parents attending the top-ranked school in her state.

Absolutely.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 15, 2007 3:21 PM

Unless a woman (or a man) plans to climb to the peaks of the academic or technical world, taking some years off for kids just isn’t that big a deal anymore. Both I and my wife are engineers, and she stayed home for several years after our twins were born. Rather than watch Oprah in the slow moments, she went to school part-time and finished a diploma in database admin, then when the kids started school, she went back to work part-time. That worked out well, so she went back full-time a couple of years ago. We missed her earnings during the toddler years, but I’ll bet within a couple more years her salary will be where it would’ve been had we not had kids at all. This is partly due to female engineers being in demand because, rightly or wrongly, the push is on for a “diverse” workplace (if the fuel tank leaks, is there a “female” solution to the problem? tampon? But that’s another discussion.). Neither of us will ever make VP, her taking five years off and me not being interested in working 60 hr weeks pretty much settles that, but we live well and have time to enjoy life with the kids.

So far as the bigger issue of women in science, I suspect it’s similar to the shortage of “the cool kids” who major in particle physics or Jewish guys in pro basketball. It doesn’t necessarily mean there is some sort of invidious discrimination going on, just that different people have different interests. Because .019% of the population is left-handed Inuits doesn’t mean that .019% of neurosurgeons must therefore be left-handed Inuits. My wife is very capable in math and science, but she recognizes she is in a small minority of women who can say that they have much interest in those subjects (nowhere near a majority of men, either). Her sister (a hair stylist) has no interest in it whatsoever, so home and school environment doesn’t explain why. In fact, if the money was the same, I think my wife would rather be a hair stylist. Maybe as noted above, expose kids to a little of everything and see what catches their interests, and don’t worry if they choose what appeals to them rather than what makes the numbers come out even for every sub-group in the population.


Posted by: Chuck at October 15, 2007 3:22 PM

Yep, you've got to let them find their own good and evil. I know people who went into CS at the height of the tech boom for the money and today they're the most bitter fucking burnouts you'd ever have the misfortune of buying a drink; one non-gender-specific person's Heaven is another non-gender-specific person's Hell. Not to mention, living in an age where we increasingly put our lives and livelihoods into into the hands of the tech Leviathan, I don't want some half-assed engineering to take my head off just because somebody's doing a job that they don't have the obsessive passion to do right. Not to kiss anyone's ass, but I want Howard Roarke building my buildings.

Yeah, Norman, I was going to mention Ada Byron but I knew you were waiting for it.

I never met Andy Grove when I was at Intel, but Craig Barrett did teach my last "executive perspectives" Intel U class, and boy that guy scared the piss out of me.

Posted by: Paul Hrissikopoulos at October 15, 2007 3:31 PM

Yuck. Remind me never to work at Cornell - like I want to be around their little monsters all day!

I second that!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 15, 2007 3:36 PM

if the fuel tank leaks, is there a “female” solution to the problem? tampon?

hee hee hee

ranks with "how many feminists does it take to change a light bulb? - THAT'S NOT FUNNY!" in another thread.

Posted by: Norman at October 15, 2007 3:38 PM

"Wasn't your mom also a pilot, Rad?"

Boy, was I dumb. I named all those other pilots... three of whom are/were "99s". Thank you!

Posted by: Radwaste at October 15, 2007 6:44 PM

Recently I was asked to comment on a practice of allowing some Cornell women scientists to bring their babies to work every day for several months following birth. That is very progressive!

Whoo. It's also somewhere I wouldn't work. (Unless of course, they had a company nursery to bring them to or something, but then why stop after several months?) Just plop a crying kid down next to the receptionist for a few months; great idea.

Posted by: lurker1 at October 16, 2007 5:29 AM

And the finger ratio/testosterone link Amy mentioned? My ring finger is much longer than my index finger - which bolsters my belief that my math and physics talents are fairly inborn.

My middle fingers are the longest by far. Does this mean I was born to drive?

Posted by: lurker1 at October 16, 2007 5:44 AM

Certainly in Los Angeles!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 16, 2007 5:48 AM

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