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December 26, 2006

Happy Holidays

FairerScience has been off enjoying the holidays and hopes that you have been too. We will be back with regular posts before (and after) the new year.

Happy New Year

December 16, 2006

She's Such a Geek: You Gotta Read It

FairerScience friend Annalee Newitz has a new book She's Such a Geek: Women Write About, Science Technology and Other Nerdy Stuff . It's really good. Describing it to a group involved in broadening participation in computing, I sounded like a 1950's movie trailer "I laughed, I cried, I thought." (Oh wait that last one is rarely part of a movie trailer). And I did all three.

I got a little worried reading the first essay-- thinking "ah I've heard this story so often" but as I continued to read--wow. Even the titles are great. I especially liked "suzy the computer versus dr.sexy" by Zuska (aka Suzanne Frank). And even though I'm not a gamer, or maybe because of that, I found the games section fascinating.

When people ask me about encouraging girls in science and engineering I've already started quoting Nina Simone Dudnik.

"And then there was the high school physics teacher who made a big show of encouraging the girls in our advanced placement class. If he really believed we were just as good as the boys, would he have made such grandiose gestures of praise?... One by one girls dropped out of that physics class. I couldn't help noticing that many of them stuck around for AP Chemistry where the teacher made no mention of anyone's gender in the lab."

The sad part is so many of the women faced such strong resistance they left their professions; but even those who left are claiming, or in some cases reclaiming, their "geekiness" as a powerful force. The women who are no longer "professional geeks" remain personal geeks.

That started me thinking about differences between personal and professional identify and about what that might mean for strategies for FairerScience. It certainly lends support to the idea that we should stop trying to change women, and focus instead on changing environments that cause so many cool women to leave.

PS Not only is there a book, there is a blog.

December 10, 2006

Girls and boys: what's the difference, here?

Joanne Jacobs, guest blogging over at The Volokh Conspiracy, wrote last week,

On The Quick and the Ed, Sara Mead reviews a 1993 Washington Post Magazine article on the problem of "smart girls" who are "hesitant to speak up out of fear that they'll look foolish if they're wrong." Newsweek's boy-crisis story raised the same point:

Middle-school boys will do almost anything to avoid admitting that they're overwhelmed. "Boys measure everything they do or say by a single yardstick: does this make me look weak?" says Thompson. "And if it does, he isn't going to do it."

Mead asks:

(Would it be too radical if I suggest that everybody, regardless of gender, really dislikes and tries to avoid appearing wrong, foolish or weak?)

This is a great example of what I was talking about last month with regards to people looking for difference because it's more interesting. There seems to be a sense that it's more meaningful to say, for example, that girls don't want to look foolish, or that boys don't want to be made to look weak. Who, after all, regardless of sex or gender, wants to feel stupid? Is this a gender difference? That seems unlikely to me, but many researchers can't resist framing it in those terms, because they think they'll get more press.

And the sad part is that they're probably right.

December 02, 2006

Contagious misinformation from "Wait Wait… Don't Tell Me". Oh say it isn't so

As a great "Wait Wait… Don't Tell Me" fan, I was, of course, listening to today's program. Imagine my distress when they did a whole unquestioning riff on the ideas of Louann Brizendine author of The Female Brain. I have to call them ideas rather than conclusions because she doesn't have data.

The Daily Mail reported, based on Brizendine's ideas, that women talk almost three times as much as men and that men think about sex every 52 seconds, while women think about sex once a day. Brizendine didn't do research in these areas and the references she quoted don't support her ideas. That didn't seem to slow down the Daily Mail and now thanks to "Wait Wait… Don't Tell Me" even more people think that these things are true.

Ok maybe it isn't realistic to expect "Wait Wait… Don't Tell Me" to read a study before writing questions about it, but they could at least read The Language Log on Contagious Misinformation.

By the way do you think Brizendine's pretend conclusions would have gotten the attention they did if they countered rather than supported stereotypes?

Gotta go think about sex.