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July 30, 2006

Math Curse

Most of us, who spend time with small children, know The Stinky Cheese Man by Jon Sciszka and Lane Smith but until yesterday, I had never heard of Math Curse their very funny and (mostly) mathematically accurate book about the trials and tribulations of a kid whose math teacher (Mrs. Fibonacci ) convinces him that "you can think of almost everything as a math problem." Life does become a series of math problems over which our hero triumphs; but then the science teacher (Mr. Newton of course) says "you can think of almost everything as a science problem."

A funny and fun book about math with an engaging main character who could be either a girl or a boy; now that is a step toward FairerScience.

PS Sorry for the lack of posts; I've been on vacation, which is why I've been reading the Math Curse

July 18, 2006

Drive like a girl and don't sweat the small stuff

How we respond to casual sexism is an important aspect of the fight against it. Often enough, sexist statements are deliberate and carefully crafted. These may come out like Larry Summers outrageously unfounded suggestions on women's aptitude in the higher echelons of science early in 2005. Despite his backpedaling after the fact, it was clear that Summers knew he was opening a can of worms with his comments. Innumerable individuals and organizations critiqued Summers on his comment and the lack of scientific backing, and rightly so.

It is more common, however, to run across sidelong comments that reflect attitudes that people don't think about much. In these cases, it may seem unreasonable to launch a full offensive strike against the speaker. But no one wants to sit back and ignore those comment, either.

Well, Danica Patrick has just the thing. As recently reported in Sports Illustrated, in a recent interview on WGFX-FM in Nashville, Ed Carpenter, one of Patrick's (trailing) competitors commented that "especially if you catch her at the right time of the month," she's an aggressive driver.

Since Carpenter trails Patrick in the competition, one can't help but wonder what's happening the rest of the time, but Patrick isn't letting Carpenter's comments bother her: "That sounds like a good joke to me," she said, brushing off his remarks. "I'm glad he's showing some personality."

Rather than make him a martyr for the cause of thoughtless comments, Patrick takes the pass and lets Carpenter's words go. And why should she sweat it, after all? As the article points out, she leads him by four slots and is exploring her options as her contract ends this season. Carpenter, on the other hand, drives for a team owned by his mother and her husband, Tony George. If anyone's sweating here, it's obviously Carpenter, and Patrick is smart to let him dig his own hole.

July 17, 2006

Gender and power dynamics in scientific settings

Last week I posted about Val Henson and her resources for women on salary negotiation. She also has an interesting and all-too-common story about her mother's experiences with having her ideas stolen and the gender dynamics involved in the relationships where that happened.

Of course, ideas are stolen in any number of contexts, but Henson's take on her run-ins with this unfortunate feature (or, rather, bug) of high-pressure academic and scientific fields is a good example of the kind of barriers that unwary people might encounter along the way.

July 14, 2006

Gender matters in science: The Barres view

"[S]tudies reveal that in many selection processes, the bar is unconsciously raised so high for women and minority candidates that few emerge as winners. For instance, one study found that women applying for a research grant needed to be 2.5 times more productive than men in order to be considered equally competent," writes Ben Barres in Does Gender Matter? in Nature this month, Barres discusses the two sides of the argument from his unique point of view. The full text of his commentary is behind a paywall, but you can read Male Scientist Writes of Life as Female Scientist in the Washington Post and find

July 12, 2006

Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard Foundation: helping women scientists focus on science

In a recent article published in the New York Times, biologist Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard spoke about her eponymous foundation. The foundation's goal is to "support highly qualified women in science who have children to pursue their careers."

Because one of the hurdles most often faced by young women scientists is the work-home balance, the Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard Foundation offers grants to help these scientists pay for household help so they can spend their time working in their trained fields rather than running a household.

We at FairerScience approve! There are many hurdles the women in STEM fields face, and it's great to see organizations coming up with creative approaches to help manage them.

July 10, 2006

Women and salary negotiations

When I was first on the job market, I knew about this "salary negotiation" thing, but I didn't know what was involved. The most bargaining I had ever done was in local produce markets when traveling, and even in those settings, I tended to take the first price offered. After all, paying twice as much for a tomato isn't that big a deal, right?

But when it comes to negotiating a salary and benefits, it is a big deal, not only because it'll impact what you make at that job, but because your current salary informs future salaries. We all know that starting out with a lower salary leads to a reduced lifetime earning.

I didn't negotiate for my first salary because I thought salary negotiations were for people with a lot of experience or accepting prominent positions. I didn't negotiate because I didn't know how to do it or what was reasonable to ask for. I didn't negotiate because the first offer from my new employer was perfectly acceptable. For these and hundreds of other reasons, people don't negotiate, especially right out of college, but also throughout their lives.

Computer engineer Val Henson thinks this is a problem. She has established the Val Henson Women in Computer Book Scholarship to buy Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide for the first 100 women in computing who email her "about themselves and why they will read this book and share it with their friends."

Henson has also written HOWTO negotiate your salary and benefits – for women, which is just what it sounds like.

I'm not looking for a job, but I've ordered Women Don't Ask for myself, because someday I will be!

July 07, 2006

The Truth About Boys and Girls

There has been a lot of buzz about a new report "The Truth About Boys and Girls" from the non partisan group "Education Sector" . The report concludes that while sex differences in academic areas are quite small, racial/ethnic differences in achievement are quite large. Academically middle class boys (and girls), especially those who are white and Asian American are doing quite well. The "boy crises" is about African American and Hispanic boys and boys in poverty. And guess what, African American and Hispanic girls and girls in poverty aren't doing that well either.

It makes us, at FairerScience, wonder why this is posed as a boy problem instead of a problem related to poverty and racism. Seven years ago Susan Bailey and I wrote "Pitting boys against girls in competition for a good education is out of place in today's world. It shortchanges both sexes. The education gender wars must cease." Guess we need to say it again.

July 04, 2006

Parlez vous francais?

Because if you do, the French National Scientific Research Center (CNRS), Europe's largest public research center, has a good website on women and science. It may also be of interest to note that they are currently looking for information on “successful and innovative experiences” from the US and Canada to advance women in science. If you have any nominees you may want to send them to: anne.pepin@cnrs-dir.fr