Here is the U.S., especially, we love to think the ivory tower is a meritocracy, and that the tribe of science is objective in all things — including how it treats its members. A nice little pile of data runs counter to this picture, however. A quick roundup:
- At Majikthise, Lindsay Beyerstein points us to the Nature profile of Ben Barres (subscription required). Barres had gender reassignment surgery (at age 42) in the middle of his career as a scientist — so he has some first hand knowledge of what it’s like to be a female scientist vs. what it’s like to be a male scientist. Lindsay also includes a link to a (free) Washington Post article about Barres, and this choice quote:
“By far,” Barres wrote, “the main difference I have noticed is that people who don’t know I am transgendered treat me with much more respect” than when he was a woman. “I can even complete a whole sentence without being interrupted by a man.”
- At Pandagon, Amanda Marcotte comments on the same Nature profile of Ben Barres, and connects it to the Great Algebra Flunking of 1990, a story that will make you want to build a time machine to go back and punch Amanda’s 7th grade math teacher for insisting that girls keep tidy, decorated notebooks to pass a freakig math class while boys just had to demonstrate that they could do math.
- While we’re on the subject of teachers who could use a thrashing, Leslie Madsen Brooks relates her tale of being the girl at the back of a physics class whose teacher had basically given up on the whole class. But, the student triumphs in this story (and her father gets extra points for a special dance at back-to-school-night). I think there’s a lesson here about students and parents having the courage to call shenanigans on teachers who are making lazy assumption about their students, whether they’re based on assumptions about gender or ethnicity or native ability or whatever else.
- Back to the Pandagon post, there is a beautiful comment that goes right to the question of how cultural assumptions make us think about the burden of proof in discussions of whether boys might be innately better at math and science than girls. Commenter Nancy writes:
I had an exchange of emails with Pinker over the Summers issue over a year ago.
He stopped writing back after I sent this:
“I noted that girls have increased their test scores relative to boys, in a time frame that would seem to exclude evolutionary affect. I speculated that you might then try to explain the test score improvements through nurture. I thought it was obvious why this was an example of having things both ways, but maybe not, so I’ll be more explicit – if the test scores changed in a faster-than-evolutionary time frame, why would you assume that it was nurture ameliorating the effects of nature, rather than the other way around – that the errors of nurture were fading away to allow nature to be revealed? Why is it nature when girls are failing, but nurture when they succeed? That’s what I mean by having it both ways. …”
I’ve added the bold emphasis. Good stuff.
- Sciencewoman provides a number of other good women-in-science links that are worth your attention, as she regularly does.
Deeply entrenched societal assumptions are a dumb reason to lose scientific talent, and every effort ought to be made to turn students on to math and science, even the students who are going to go on to do other things with their lives. Let’s get with the program here!