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June 30, 2006

Cross dressing medic gets medal back

Got that straight? Let me explain:
Mary E. Walker, a 1855 graduate of Syracuse Medical College, tried to join the Union Army as a medic and was rejected. So she volunteered as a nurse and then as a surgeon. She was captured and released and in 1866 was awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor. After the war, she lectured on women's rights, wearing full male evening dress--wing collar, bow tie and top hat--and that medal. In 1917 the government requested she return her medal. They said it was because she had never officially been in the military but many believed it was really the clothing that did it. Seventy years later President Jimmy Carter restored her award!
Go to Women's E News for the full story.

June 27, 2006

Denice D. Denton

We at FairerScience, were very sorry to hear of the death of Denice D. Denton, Chancellor at the University of California, Santa Cruz. As Diane Matt, WEPAN's executive director wrote: Dr. Denton was a remarkable leader and a tireless advocate for diversity in engineering and science. Dr. Denton earned multiple engineering degrees from MIT, and became the first tenured female faculty member in engineering at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. She went on to lead the engineering college at the University of Washington. Dr. Denton was recently named the 2006 winner of the Maria Mitchell award for her contributions to women in science. We will remember Dr. Denton for her leadership in advocating for women in engineering and science.

Dr. Denton’s UCSC home page is being transformed into a memorial page: If you wish to share your comments on her many achievements or her enduing legacy, please send your remembrance (along with your name, position and relationship to Denice) to Elizabeth Irwin at

June 24, 2006

She Figures 2006

We all know how easy it is to get wrapped up in looking at trends in the US and forget about what might be happening in the rest of the world. Lucky for us, the rest of the world occasionally talks about what they`re doing, and we can use the magic of modern communications to find out too.

The European Union recently released more statistics than you can shake a stick at on the status of women in the sciences in member countries. For this data geek, the most interesting part was “Setting the scientific agenda.”

What did I learn? For one thing, it turns out that in nine of the 26 countries included, women researchers had higher success rates than did men; okay, this means they have lower success rates in the other 17 countries but, hey, nine`s a start.

In a surprising tidbit, I also discovered that Hungary, Estonia and Slovenia had the most equitable rates of funding. Who knew?

June 21, 2006

Media Reports Media Bias in Reporting

As you know, one of's most prominent goals is to improve communication between researchers, advocates and news media. I don't think anyone would disagree that this is a worthy goal, but in the last month, two major reports have come out emphasizing just how important it is:

Women's eNews reported today on the International Symposium on Women and News, which took place in Dresden, Germany last week. According to the article, Someday, With Help, News Media May Get It, the primary question under discussion was, "Why are fresh ideas about reporting on women resisted so consistently by editors and publishers around the world?"

As the Global Media Monitoring Project found in a recent study of news media, few media outlets are turning to women to report the news or to serve as experts on breaking stories or continuing coverage. In an earlier piece, Women's eNews reported that women are not seen as experts in any major field. In fact,

Women are most likely to be included as sources if the story being reported is a "lifestyle" piece, as opposed to hard news, business or sports, or if the reporter is female


A woman is least likely to be cited as a source if the news program is on a cable network or PBS' "NewsHour" or if the story is about sports.

Women are also least likely to be quoted in stories about foreign affairs, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism, a research institute affiliated with the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York.

Given these existing trends, it is important for researchers to be proactive about finding outlets for their findings and for advocates to pursue opportunities to share their stories and, especially, their expertise.

We at would like to help you all change these trends in media and reporting. Maybe our tools KISI and KICI can help.

June 19, 2006

Math on The Simpsons: Not Just for Nerds

I hope many of you had the chance to see the April 30 episode of The Simpsons. In Girls Just Want to Have Sums, Lisa Simpson sneaks into the boys' side of the newly sex-segregated Springfield Elementary School in order to have access to rigorous math classes. (On the girls' side, math class opens with, "How do numbers make you feel?")

We here at managed to miss this episode when it first aired, but we've since caught up with it and if you can find a friend who recorded it, it's worth a look! It addresses questions of inherent ability, sex differences, and the political climate around these topics.

It may further interest you to check out Simpsons math, a web page focused on math in various episodes of The Simpsons. As reported in Science News Online, mathematical references are frequent and far-ranging in Simpsons episodes, and Simpsons math provides a guide to math on the show as well as providing math activities for kids.

June 16, 2006

Why Don`t They Hear What I Say?

Did others see David Brooks`s The Gender Gap at School in the Sunday Times? I know friend Jo Sanders did, because I read her response in Wednesday`s paper. For those who missed it, Brooks`s column alerts us to the "problem" that "in most classrooms boys and girls are taught the same books in the same ways." He proposes this as the reason that girls are performing more strongly as readers than boys are.

"Young boys are compelled to sit still in schools that have sacrificed recess for test prep. Many are told in a thousand subtle ways they are not really good students. They are sent home with these new-wave young adult problem novels, which all seem to be about introspectively morose young women whose parents are either suicidal drug addicts or fatally ill manic depressives."

Besides being a vast overgeneralization and oversimplification, Brooks also forgot to bring in good science in favor for sensationalizing rhetoric, i.e., "boys are compelled to sit still".

My first thought was to replay the Frustrating Adventures of Dr. X!. You know: write yet another letter explaining yet again that the differences between individual girls and between individual boys is much, much greater than differences between the average girl and the average boy. I was going to remind people (yet again) that making decisions about individual kids based on the average kid is just stupid (and bad for the kid).

We know that there are differences between genders, just as we know that the concept of an "average" person is a statistical construction and doesn`t mean that every man you meet will match the average male, nor every woman match the average female. We also know that the differences that exist are caused by a multiplicity of factors, from genetics to other biological factors to cultural influences. For those of you interested in a more complete critique of Brooks`s piece, check out David Brooks, Cognitive Neuroscientist at Language Log.

I`d like to send Brooks a copy of Why Don`t they hear what I say? But I wonder: Would he be unable to connect because the main character is a woman? And would the subtleties of the plot, also lacking violence, bore him too much?

So Maybe Danica`s Weight Did Have An Impact

In an article related to the comments of two FairerScience readers, the New York Times Wednesday pointed out that NASCAR drivers are watching their nutrition and their weight. As the Times says “At 190 MPH, Who Needs a Spare Tire?”

June 14, 2006

Where better to start our engines than car racing...

Women have been driving race cars in the Indianapolis 500 since Janet Guthrie broke through to compete in the Indianapolis 500 in 1977. Almost 30 years later, NASCAR king Richard Petty still doesn’t think that women belong on the race track. "I just don't think it's a sport for women," Petty said in an interview with The Associated Press.

While King Richard doesn’t want women on the race track, he does want them on his crew-- his team, Petty Enterprises, was one of the first teams in the NASCAR garage to employ female engineers and mechanics. Maybe he thinks women's "natural" attention to detail and precision work makes them more suited for this high-end work?

And while, it may be too late for Richard, his son Kyle, who actually runs the team, says he would never rule out having a woman driver. This is progress- sort of

Go Danica!