Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Well isn't this interesting

via Physics Today, the magazine of the American Physics Society, I learn that there must have been a rash of mutant spiders or cosmic rays or some kind of DNA-changing event, because high school physics students are now nearly half female. I thought we weren't supposed to be interested or capable of science, because of this thing called a "brain." Evidently ours (assuming we have them) are so different there is no point in asking why there are so few women in the higher reaches of science, and it would certainly be a waste of time to, you know, encourage them. They'll be demanding the vote next.

Yes, I'm referring to (former) Harvard president Larry Sommers, and he was an idiot for several reasons for making his remarks. For one thing, any senior academic with connections with science would know you can't hire people who aren't there. The problem (known as the pipeline issue) is well known. Except to Larry Sommers. You have to have a certain number of high school girls taking math and science to survive college and grad school to even begin to have a reasonable number of candidates to select from for professor gigs. (Note that the same is true for black scientists of either gender, but nobody is claiming race means lack of mental ability. And yet black scientists are even more rare than female ones.)

My contention, as a female scientist, is that you have to increase the number of girls at the OTHER end of the pipeline. According to this study, the numbers started increasing about ten years ago. Seems that a combination of increased science graduation requirements and higher standards of colleges provided the needed impetus. I don't think it will shock anyone that teenagers like to do the minimum amount of work required for a particular outcome. Perhaps when more of them are "forced" to take and do well in science courses, some will actually like it. And want to do more. It could take years, but then we are trying to change a cultural meme that has been around for millennia. I hope so, anyway.


Blogger Barb said...

Of course, not all of us want to read "Physics Today", either ;-)

Aren't you being way too logical? Doesn't that make your brain hurt??

6:42 AM, March 15, 2007  

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