Saturday, October 05, 2013

Lack of women in hard sciences

The NY Times has a long article complaining that women are not encouraged enough in science:
Even at the very highest levels, test scores might be irrelevant; apparently, Richard Feynman’s I.Q. was a less-than-remarkable 125.

The most powerful determinant of whether a woman goes on in science might be whether anyone encourages her to go on. ...

As so many studies have demonstrated, success in math and the hard sciences, far from being a matter of gender, is almost entirely dependent on culture — a culture that teaches girls math isn’t cool and no one will date them if they excel in physics; a culture in which professors rarely encourage their female students to continue on for advanced degrees; a culture in which success in graduate school is a matter of isolation, competition and ridiculously long hours in the lab; a culture in which female scientists are hired less frequently than men, earn less money and are allotted fewer resources.
Maybe Feynman tested a 125 on one test, but he tested a whole lot higher on some other tests.

Maybe women only go into science if they are encouraged to do so, but I very much doubt that about men. Our culture also teaches boys that math isn't cool and that no one will date them if they major in physics. Boys go into science because they love the subject.

The complaint about a TV sitcom is especially bizarre. The men are ridiculed much more than the women.

For another view:
Why the differing results? First, because different samples differ. Second, because there were some selection effects in the previous paper which may have accounted for the reduction in the gap. Third, because the male/female ratio always becomes higher the higher you set the level for mathematical achievement, so some of these fluctuating results may depend on how high the bar is set. That last result may tell you all you need to know. Being very, very good at mathematics is a man thing.
As Nature magazine explains, this is one of several related taboo subjects, where scientists avoid the subject or say nonsense.
Here are the four questions in Nature's poll.

Should scientists refrain from studying the genetics of intelligence?
Should scientists refrain from studying the genetics of race?
Should scientists refrain from studying the genetics of violence?
Should scientists refrain from studying the genetics of sexuality?
If these subjects are so taboo, you will have a hard time getting straight answers.

A black law professor Osagie K. Obasogie shows his hostility to these taboos in a SciAm article:
As we consider Edwards’s legacy in light of his recent passing, it is important to think critically about the relationship between Edwards’s development of IVF and his participation in an organization that was dedicated to promoting one of the most dangerous ideas in human history: that science should be used to control human reproduction in order to breed preferred types of people.

Coined by Galton in the late 1800s to mean "well-born," eugenics became a dominant aspect of Western intellectual life and social policy during the first half of the 20th century. It started with the seemingly simple proposition that one's social position is rooted in heritable qualities of character and intellect.
Of course IVF (test-tube baby) technology uses science to improve human reproduction. Would Obasogie prefer that science make people worse?

A recent Freakonomic podcast was about how windfalls from an 1850 Georgia lottery failed to show any noticeable benefit on succeeding generations:
DUBNER: It’s funny, Hoyt, because we actually had a listener write to us recently and say, you know, I really like your show, but god it’s depressing. It’s like you take all this good news out there, and all these good ideas, and good plans, and nice intentions and show how, you know, people game the system, or they don’t work. Now, I disputed this a little bit. I actually think that we’re extremely optimistic and kind of hunting always for ideas that do work well. But I’ll be honest with you, you’ve depressed the crap out of me, Hoyt. Because you’ve taken a very basic idea and belief, which is that poverty is addressable by a very simple intervention, which is giving money to poor people, and you’re saying based on this evidence that’s just not a solid argument, at least when made that narrowly, right?

BLEAKLEY: No, that’s right. There may be something that you can give to them, but money is not that something, at least in this episode.

DUBNER: Alright, let me ask you this, not that this is going to be any less depressing, but it might be a little more entertaining. Have you looked at all on literature on modern lotteries and what happens to people who win them, and whether they do a better job of encouraging human capital acquisition among their offspring?

BLEAKLEY: Oh, no if you want to be depressed you should read either the academic literature or the journalistic accounts of lottery winners because they basically waste it, right, blow through the money very quickly and often times end up worse than how they started, many of them.
So why is this depressing? I would find it depressing if my station in life would somehow be determined by whether my great-grandfather won some stupid lottery.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There was a quote about losing all the physicists to child birth. Isn't that sufficient to explain away the study she cited in the first paragraph? Anyways, women cost more to insure. And it was odd the writer mentioned intelligence as not being important but then later said her adviser thought she would have been brilliant enough to go to graduate school. Scientists discussing their own intelligence is sickening. For that same reason it should be obvious why genetics of intelligence might have a taboo.