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March 27, 2008

Feeling foolish

Pat asked me if I wanted to write FairerScience’s contribution to this month’s Scientiae Carnival – which features the April 1st appropriate topic of Fools & Foolishness. At first I was a little stuck on the topic and kept rereading Peggy’s description: “You can use the theme to take an introspective look at something foolish in your own past or write about the foolishness of others.” Finally an idea bubbled up – feeling foolish about science.

As I mentioned in one of my earliest blog posts at FairerScience, I’ve never been a big science person. And yet the universe seems to be conspiring to make me one, or at the very least make me more of one. First, I met and then married a scientist - an analytical chemist to be more specific (that was quite the clash of cultures as we met while I was thoroughly enjoying my summer session class on qualitative research methods). In another happy turn of events, he and his closest friends from graduate school all wound up living in the Boston area so there’s a lot of fun socializing. When everyone gets together I’m generally the only non-scientist among a group of six or seven PhD scientists. And now I am working with Pat on lots of science-related projects and blogging at FairerScience. So, science keeps becoming an increasingly greater part of my life, right down to the salt and pepper shakers in our kitchen.

So, how does this relate to April’s theme of Fools & Foolishness? Well, as someone who struggled mightily in high school science classes and now lives with a scientist, socializes with scientists, and works on lots of science-related projects, I spend some of my time feeling and sounding foolish. I’m going to spare myself the embarrassment of retelling some of my more egregious scientifically foolish statements (although with enough enticement my husband Gary may tell a tale or two). Here’s where I throw a little introspection in – it’s ok that I sometimes make a fool out of myself. I don’t need to know everything about everything and I think between the two of us, Gary & I have enough knowledge about different topics to cover all of the pie pieces in a Trivial Pursuit game . I also like to think that the work I’m doing with FairerScience and Campbell-Kibler helps reduce the amount of scientific foolishness in the world along with making me feel a little less foolish about science everyday.

March 24, 2008

Being at the table

Let me quote from Bora over at A Blog Around The Clock:

Being a white man, I took some things for granted that I shouldn't. Reading feminist blogs taught me some things. As Pat said in a comment: "I thought his was a good post but that, unlike you, he didn't understand that when a group hasn't been at the table, sometimes it takes more than an invitation to get them there." Exactly - an open invitation is not perceived as an open invitation by groups that historically were not invited. Just issuing an invitation is not enough. Women, non-Whites (in academia: undergraduates) and other minority groups have seen many invitations that were really by and for white men. When we say 'open invitation' we mean it, today, but it was not always like this and the people in groups that remember this will not conclude that they are really welcome. Even when the invitation is very specific, as in job ads that state "women and minorities are encouraged to apply", this not usually seen as a true invitation but as ass-covering legalese language. Thus, if you really want to see diversity, you have to make an effort to demonstrate that you Really mean it - you talk to the representatives of those communities directly and issue direct invitations, not just circular letters.

I love what he wrote (and, of course, appreciated his quoting me). I said in a comment on the post, this is NOT just about women, this is about any group who has been marginalized. I recently sent the following to a funder who was commenting on the difficulty in getting reviewers with experience in Native American issues:

What I've found from working with Tribal Colleges is that just sending an invitation, or in my case suggesting they volunteer or let me recommend them, doesn't work for a variety of reasons including: work load (you can not believe how many courses these folks teach a semester), difficulty of travel (let's just say tribal colleges aren't centrally located), distrust, folks' ideas of where they fit in the existing status levels, those high in the existing status levels ideas of members of marginalized groups and just not knowing the process.

So let's see if we can get some discussion going on strategies to have more diverse groups of folks "at the table". I tend to start with people I know, asking them personally by phone (if not in person), finding out their concerns, pleading and bribing with cookies. It works but it has a tragic flaw- I'm limited to the people I know. What do you do?

March 20, 2008

Happy Spring; Go Soxs!

Even though there is ice on the lake and snow on the ground; it is officially spring!. In honor of spring I have a happy baseball story; of course it's a Red Sox story, what else would you expect?

As the news story says:

The controversy started when manager Terry Francona found out that the teams' players and managers will be paid an extra $40,000 for the trip to the Far East, but the coaching staffs from both Boston and Oakland would not receive the appearance fee.

The teams response was to vote unanimously to boycott the game against the Toronto Blue Jays and their planned trip to Japan unless Major League Baseball agreed to compensate coaches for the season-opener overseas. And guess what, Major League Baseball now says "Everyone connected with the trip will be fairly compensated."

This might not be FairerScience but it sure is FairerBaseball


March 18, 2008

It's not about politics, it's about race

Since we at FairerScience are partially funded by the National Science Foundation, we do our very best not to be political. This is not a political post, I am not telling you for whom I think you should or should not vote (catch the good grammar—no dangling prepositions here).

Let me start with full disclosure, in 1970 I went to Mississippi to register African American voters (yup I'm old, get a grip, move on…). Actually as one of life's ironies, since I knew how to write proposals, I never did get to register voters. I ended up writing proposals for Head Start Centers in rural Mississippi and checking software programs that tallied votes for inaccuracies and bias (yes we did have software in the 70's and yes there were problems with the tallys). Never let it be said that I am not eclectic. And since then, I've been doing the best I can to work for racial equality.

And further full disclosure, I've given money to several presidential candidates this cycle and none of them were to Barack Obama (wait did I just blow the grammar thing here?).

This morning when I listened to Barack Obama's speech about race, I cried. I never expected in my lifetime to hear such an honest public discussion about race in America (ok I know it wasn't a discussion; it was a speech but …) If you want the full speech it is here

Here is just one of the things that touched me:

"But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now… The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we’ve never really worked through – a part of our union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American. Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. As William Faulkner once wrote, “The past isn’t dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past.” We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow. Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven’t fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today’s black and white students."

If we are going to start talking truth; then I'm feeling more hopeful today about race in America than I have for a long, long time

March 15, 2008

Free Tools for Communicating Science

Now there are several things we really like here at FairerScience and "communicating science" and "free" are two of them!. So thanks to AAAS for combining them.

AAAS is doing a bunch of free things to improve the ways we all communicate science including:

two webinars (I so hate that word, does anyone have a better one?)

Media Interview Basics: A Guide for Scientists and Engineers
Developing Your Message: A Guide for Scientists and Engineers

a series of tips that are almost as good as our KISI and KICI (not that I am biased or anything)

and a workshop at North Carolina State University in Raleigh on April 3rd. A Blog Around The Clock has a lot more details about the workshop than does the AAAS website (why am I not surprised?).

March 13, 2008

I'm reading as fast as I can

The Final Report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel was released today. I'm reading it as fast as I can, and will report on the full report soon. I have to confess the first thing I did when I downloaded it was to search for the word "girls"

There was only one entry:

Average gender differences are small or nonexistent, and our society’s focus on them has diverted attention from the essential task of raising the scores of both boys and girls.

So then I searched on gender

There were three entries, the one above and:

The effectiveness of such salary schemes is affected by the amount of differential in pay, the gender and experience of the teacher, and whether the bonus is a one-time signing bonus or a permanently higher salary, as well as other factors.
More research is needed on test item design features and how they influence the measurement of the knowledge, skills, and abilities that students use when solving mathematics problems on achievement tests. These design features might have differential impacts across various groups (e.g., gender, race, English language learners).

Oh my isn't this interesting?. I'm off to read the rest of the report. Am thinking I may not be happy at the end.

March 08, 2008

It's International Women's Day

Happy International Women's Day .

The website says that there are 621 events being conducted in 52 different countries to celebrate. Among these, according to Sue Katz, are:

In Saudi Arabia, they’re holding a two-day workshop on integrating women into the economy. A domestic violence group in Albania offers an event they call a Manifestation. Likewise, Tanzania’s having a mother-daughter fundraiser for their domestic violence organization, while the funder in Fiji goes towards building a scholarship fund for “young women studying Automotive and Electrical Engineering at the Fiji Institute of Technology” –- the event has the charming name of Women in Celebration of You. In Lebanon they’ll be looking at women’s health. Icelanders are planning to talk about women’s world-wide friendships and about children’s rights, while the Kenyan’s are having a musical festival and handing out prestigious awards.

March 07, 2008

I love Mechanical Engineers

While there are so many reasons, the latest is because the mechanical engineering faculty at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo's protested, in a 15-3 vote, the institution’s plan to start an engineering department in Saudi Arabia. According the LA Times, staff and students, including the vast majority of the Mechanical Engineering faculty, “contend that the university -- which prides itself on the number of female engineers it graduates -- should steer clear of a kingdom where women's rights are restricted and a fledgling engineering program would be open only to men."

March 05, 2008

I thought March was Women’s History Month, not Women are Stupid Month

I’m not a big fan of February. Last February was terrible – I was trying to finish my dissertation and had the double whammy of a pipe bursting in our house and the discovery that my beloved cat Pierre had cancer. This February there were no floods or feline fatalities but the pall of last year’s February seemed to be hanging over me. So I was thrilled when the dreary month was over. Yesterday morning I jumped out of bed and was a whirlwind of personal and professional productivity. However, my good mood started to evaporate when I began my daily routine of procrastinating online getting informed about the world and learned that I can’t do math and I'm stupid. I thought briefly about going back to bed and waking up again when March was over but I thought Pat might have a problem with that plan.

The Washington Post piece by Charlotte Allen is the main target of my outrage and I am not alone . There’s one report that Allen’s piece was intended to be “tongue in cheek” but I find that excuse both weak and missing the point. One of my favorite responses was from a contributor at the Daily Kos - it moves beyond addressing the ridiculous content in the piece and looks at the larger context of how The Washington Post could think it was ok to publish something so hateful.

Here’s hoping the rest of Women’s History Month will be a lot lighter on the misogyny.

p.s. I just learned that Charlotte Allen "will come online for a special chat to answer readers' questions about her article and the public's reactions and rebuttals to it.". You can submit questions or comments here. Let us know if your comment or question gets addressed!

March 03, 2008

Teaching Boys and Girls Separately

The boys like being on their own, they say, because girls don’t appreciate their jokes and think boys are too messy, and are also scared of snakes. The walls of the boys’ classroom are painted blue, the light bulbs emit a cool white light and the thermostat is set to 69 degrees. In the girls’ room, by contrast, the walls are yellow, the light bulbs emit a warm yellow light and the temperature is kept six degrees warmer, as per the instructions of Leonard Sax.

Other than to swear that I did not make this up; (it is from the New York Times) I’ll just let the above paragraph stand (or fall) on it’s own.

Still some interesting things came out of the article—

Be careful what you wish for

Researcher Rosemary Salomone helped to revise the Title IX regulations to make it easier to have single sex schools and classes. As the Times explains, “She thought they would usher in a flurry of schools of the T.Y.W.L.S. [read feminist]— not the Sax — variety. She was wrong. 'As one of the people who let the horse out the barn, I’m now feeling like I really need to watch that horse,' Salomone told me over lunch near her home in Rye, N.Y., last month. 'Every time I hear of school officials selling single-sex programs to parents based on brain research, my heart sinks.'”

Also sinking, I suspect, are the hearts of folks who care about boys’ emotional health. The article quotes Sax speaking about an educator telling a boy, whose his father had left the family, that his father would be even less likely to return if all his mother had to report was the boy misbehaving in school. Sax saw it as an effective technique for helping to focus the boy. I think it was a filthy thing to do to a kid! And no I don't care if the kid's grades or behavior improved. Somewhere, I distinctly remember hearing the end does NOT justify the means.

Words matter

Leonard Sax says “Baby boys prefer to stare at mobiles; baby girls at faces. Boys solve maze puzzles using the hippocampus; girls use the cerebral cortex. Boys covet risk; girls shy away. Boys perform better under moderate stress; girls perform worse.” Michael Younger says “certain aspects of Sax’s work suggest an essentialism about boys and girls which is not borne out by reality as exposed in our own research.”

So, as the reader, what ideas are most accessible to you? Whose words are you going to remember? Yup words matter.

Language Log rocks

We, at FairerScience, are big fans of the Language Log and have posted several times about Mark Liberman’s debunking of conclusions based on inappropriate or dubious research. I quote the New York Times quoting Mark Liberman "The “disproportion between the reported facts and Sax’s interpretation is spectacular,” Liberman wrote on his blog, Language Log. “Dr. Sax isn’t summarizing scientific research; he’s making a political argument,” he wrote in an e-mail message. “The political conclusion comes first, and the scientific evidence — often unrepresentative or misrepresented — is selected to support it.” Did I mention Language Log rocks?

The effectiveness, or ineffectiveness of single sex schools isn't clear

As the Times says, "Education scholarship has contributed surprisingly little to the debate over single-sex public education." Yet the article spends a great deal of time talking about good, or exemplary, single sex schools. You know the schools sound great; effective principals, caring teachers, concerned parents… Gee that sounds a lot like what Toni Clewell and I found in our recent book, Good Schools In Poor Neighborhoods: Defining Demographics, Achieving Success. Oh wait those schools were coed. They were also schools serving poor, African American and Hispanic kids.

And you know what? Things are real tough for poor Black and Hispanic boys but they aren't much better for poor Black and Hispanic girls. We know what makes schools effective: principals who are instructional leaders, good teachers who know the content and who take responsibility for student learning, school environments that welcome parents and work with them, fair disciplinary policies that are consistently applied, a safe school with high expectations for students.

Once I wrote:
"Would you prefer kids go to a good coed school or a not so good single sex school?"
"Would you prefer kids go to a good single sex school or a not so good coed school?"

That's what I thought you would say.

Yes I am task avoiding

I swear I will post on the Sunday Time's magazine article Teaching Boys and Girls Separately tonight, I just have to gird my loins, collect my energy, stay focused, stop swearing...-- you know how it is.

While you are waiting I have a favor. FairerScience friend Mia Ong has a project to do something that has been badly needed for a long time! She is working to systematically identify and synthesize literature on women of color in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). She is asking all of us for help in finding potential resources—be they quantitative or qualitative studies, narratives, or biographies. They are doing an electronic database search (and knowing Mia it will be through) but are hoping we may have some "hidden gems" to pass on. If you have anything, please let Mia know at insidethedoublebind@gmail.com or 617-547-0430.

I sent her a copy of an ASEE paper we did last year, “Changes In PhDs Awarded And In New Enrollees In Stem Graduate Programs By Gender And Race/Ethnicity” aka “All Tables All The Time” If you do send something on, let me know, I would like to read it too.