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September 26, 2006

Alien and Other Women In Science

As is the case with most other woman of a certain age, I love Sigourney Weaver
(aka Ripley from the Alien movies) but who knew that she is a “serious science junkie?” I know because I've started reading and listening to FairerScience friend Glen Busby's new radio series Powerful Signals: Women in Science

The series includes ten free downloadable programs on projects to increase the numbers of girls and young women participating in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and careers and three audio diaries which follow the day to day lives of young women in STEM. Teachers and others concerned about increasing girls' interest in science and engineering may want to check it out.

September 22, 2006

A Eureka in St. Paul

"A national scientific panel has just concluded that women are indeed capable of holding down high-echelon jobs in science and engineering. No doubt this came as a huge relief to Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper , the St. Paul native, who, at the time this report made news, just happened to be orbiting the Earth on board the space shuttle Atlantis."

So starts a lovely, informative, and ok let's say it, snarky, column from Laura Billings of the Pioneer Press

Billings' point that while the pundits pun, women are doing exciting things in science is so important. When columnists conclude, as New York Time's David Brooks did Sunday, that chemistry "validates ancient stereotypes about the sexes" we need to be particularly vigilant in reminding girls (and their parents, teachers, boyfriends and everyone else) that women are doing wonderful things in science and so can they.

So click here to read her whole column. Do it soon. I'm not sure how long it will be available for free and it is well worth reading.

PS Sorry but to read the Brooks column, you need to go to the library or be a New York Times subscriber.

September 21, 2006

Wikipedia: a growing resource for information dissemination

One of the goals of FairerScience.org is to increase the communication between researchers and the media around topics relating to women in science. One of the issues facing researchers in disseminating their results is not only finding venues in which to do so but also conveying accurate and comprehensible information about what their research says (and doesn't say).

In the past, this has typically meant talking to a journalist who would then write about the research for her or his publication. One of the exciting features about newer forms of information sharing, primarily those found on the web, is that there are opportunities for researchers to "speak" directly to the public, without going through the media. Of course, the challenge here is how to find an audience.

One of the most dynamic informational web sites available is Wikipedia, and we see this as a major opportunity for researchers to disseminate their results in a forum that gets a lot of traffic and has a low threshold for participation. Are you conducting research on girls' and boys' attitudes toward science? You can write a wiki article and post it on Wikipedia, linking to your own and other related research. You can also edit existing articles, adding information and removing disinformation.

Wikipedia is a true community resource, and as such, all articles can be edited by anyone, which can be both a strength and a weakness, as it allows new information to be added to an article, but it also means that what you write can be changed. Here is a summary of the strengths and weaknesses of Wikipedia.

We see Wikipedia as a great way to spread the word on research topics, and we hope to see more articles on women in science in coming months. (Currently, the first five results on a search on "women science" returns only one article on women in science, and four articles on women in science fiction.)

September 19, 2006

FairerScience.org in IEEE Women in Engineering Newsletter

I just got back from a long vacation (ahh, Greece!), and my welcome home gift was to have my earlier post Current affairs: not inevitable (aka, the Pink and Blue post) published in the IEEE's Women in Engineering newsletter!

September 15, 2006

Little Things Can Mean A Lot

Looking through the September 1 Science Magazine I came across an article called "Reducing the Racial Achievement Gap: A Social-Psychological Intervention"

While the title isn't very exciting, the results are. Researchers assigned seventh graders to two groups. Group A selected values that were important to them and wrote a paragraph about why the values were important to them. Group B selected values that were NOT important to them and wrote a paragraph as to why those values might be important to others. Being in group A or in group B had no impact on white students' achievement. But did it ever have an impact on African American students' achievement. Not only did African American students in group A significantly improve their grades compared to African American students in group B, they reduced the racial achievement gap by about 40%! The authors say "These results suggest that the racial achievement gap, a major social concern in the United States, could be ameliorated by the use of timely and targeted social-psychological interventions." We at FairerScience agree and are very excited about this new evidence that the "stereotype threat" that effects many girls in mathematics and many African Americans in a variety of academic areas can be overcome.

PS For those readers who are researchers, it was a double blind study with random assignment.

September 12, 2006

May, Could and the 'Male Warrior Effect'

The conclusions from way too many research studies, especially studies of gender, are so far removed from the results that you might start to wonder what substances these people have been ingesting. The latest example comes from the University of Kent in England. Researchers gave college students small sums of money which the students could either keep or invest in a common fund that would be doubled and equally divided. When the groups were told they were competing against other universities, the males were more eager to invest while the number of women investing remained the same.

So what did the researchers conclude from this? Well author Mark van Vugt said that this finding "could explain why war is almost exclusively a male business." Huh—what did I miss here? Well whatever I missed CNN didn't; they picked up the story, put it in the (big sigh on my part) science section and titled it Researchers identify 'male warrior effect'

And then the other night, I heard on the national news that "girls' 11 point average advantage over boys on the new SAT writing test may be because girls' brains are hard wired that way." Yes it may be an explanation and then again it may not be.

FairerScience readers could do well to watch out for conclusions using the words "may" or "could". They "may" be correct or they "could" be wrong. Who knows? Not the researchers and certainly not the reader.

September 09, 2006

Lessons Learned

Rosa, Tom (who doesn't blog but who keeps FairerScience and everything else running) and I have just finished an evaluation of the GE Foundation's Math Excellence Initiative and have lessons learned to share with all of those concerned with FairerScience. They are short, interesting and hopefully useful. The titles pretty much describe them:

"Does It Work?"
"Making It Better"
"Adding Courses: Increasing Options"
"Reaching Out: Increasing Diversity"
"Making Change: Sustaining Math Excellence"
"Exploring Teacher Change"

They can also be downloaded from our partners

and The GE Foundation

September 08, 2006

You too can be a best selling author

Ok I love detective stories. I particularly like those that feature women scientists like forensic geologist Em Hansen written by real geologist "Sarah Andrews" . So imagine my pleasure at finding out that to get more girls and young women interested in science, "The Feminist Press" and "the National Science Foundation" have teamed up to publish scientific detective stories based on the life, research, and discoveries of real women scientists. So come on all you budding authors, we all need more detective stories about cool women in science. You have until October 31, 2006 to submit a proposal.

I couldn't find how to submit on the Feminist Press website so here is the information you need:

"Electronic submission (word doc) to fhowe@gc.cuny.edu with the subject line "Girls and Science." Please include in the body of your email your address, phone number, email address and a short bio. Please also attach a brief sample of your writing (about five pages), and a resume that includes information about publications."

September 05, 2006

Honoring Each Other

Each year, during women's history month, the National Women's History Project honors a group of women for their work and their lives. This year's theme is "Generations of Women Moving History Forward." Nominations are due September 15th. As I've been working on the nomination letter for my friend Joan Schine, who has been moving history forward, for over fifty years, I started thinking about all the other women and men I want to honor for what they have done to make this country a better, more equitable place. There are so many people who have done so much and they rarely get thanked. So while I love what the "National Women's History Project" does, I'm going to go further and start my own award. Effective immediately I'm giving out the "Pat Thinks You're Wonderful" award that comes with cookies (homemade chocolate chip cookies of course), and a card. Can I talk anyone else out there into setting up their own award? We need to start honoring each other.

September 01, 2006

Women in Science: a new issue?

Larry Summers's comments on almost two years ago set off a storm of controversy around the question of women in the sciences. The new involvement of women in scientific endeavors has brought this issue to a head... or has it?

Is it really new for women to be involved in the sciences, to be making discoveries and innovations that impact scientific attitudes and thinking?

4000 Years of Women in Science has a little something to say to that point.