Women. Science. Deal with it, already! September 29, 2006Posted by gordonwatts in physics life, politics, science.
Tierney had a column in the NYTimes on women and science on the 26th. The column is a response to a recent National Academy of the Sciences report, “Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering“. The report lists the usual things that are plaguing us: loosing women at each degree transition, discrimination, social biases, etc. Take a look at the report summary if you aren’t familiar with this. Tierney’s column was just so wrong when compared to my own experience that I really didn’t give it much thought. And he throws out a few lines that seemed designed to piss off people. For example:
The report says that women are discouraged from going into science because of social pressure and “unintentional” and “unconscious” biases — which may well exist.
May well exist!? Sheesh. We all hold biases and use them everyday without noticing. I’m sure I do (too scared to ask my wife); and then there are the really blatant ones. I remember a physics prof at UT, since retired, reducing a fellow student to tears by telling her she would never make it in physics (despite the fact she was #1 in the class).
My wife asks: “Did he miss the whole Larwence Summers thing??” 🙂
But he then brings up the old saw of basic differences between women and men mean that the hard sciences will always be more manly.
I just don’t buy it. I’ve met too many good scientists – women – to believe that crap any longer. Some people, in a response to a statement like this, will try to tell me they aren’t real women – a code word, I think, for them not being feminine. Sorry. The nerd factor for men and women seems to be about the same; just as there are plenty of men you’d never recognize for a physicist in a bar, there are so too plenty of women. Whomever these arguments are coming from they need to realize that any differences that do exist just don’t seem to matter!
But. I’m tired and old. I read the article and rolled my eyes and wasn’t planning on giving it another thought. I wouldn’t even be writing this except for a letter that appeared in response to his column today. Arti, after mentioning she had experienced some of this discrimination and sexism herself, concludes with:
Institutionalized barriers and discriminatory attitudes are real and must be included in discussions of why scientifically inclined women choose alternative careers.
She is totally right. And good for her writing it in too. Sexism and bias aren’t going to explain everything, but they are too big a factor to write off as Tierney seems to suggest.
Arti is a graduate student. She was at UW and transferred to Harvard, and is back finishing up her thesis. ’nuff said.
UPDATE: Fixed wording error, clarified.