« April 2008 | Main | June 2008 »

May 27, 2008

"Films have a certain place in a certain time period. Technology is forever." --Hedy Lamarr

I know I’m supposed to be doing a serious, intellectual blog on the new AAUW report "Where the Girls Are: The Facts About Gender Equity in Education" and response to the report, and I swear I will. But in the meantime, I just gotta tell you about this new off, off, off (ok I have no idea how many offs there are) Broadway show about one of FairerScience heroes, Hedy Lamarr. So why is an actress from the 40’s known primarily for her movies and her beauty (and boy was she beautiful), a FairerScience hero?

Well, duh, because she was a scientist. She and composer George Antheil, developed an idea for a secret communication system using frequency hopping, in 1941. As Wikkipeida says . "This early version of frequency hopping used a piano roll to change between 88 frequencies and was intended to make radio-guided torpedoes harder for enemies to detect or jam." Her work is now recognized as a model for wireless technology.

Since she, along with Lady Ada Lovelace and Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, has been of my top three fun science role models, I'm delighted that Thursday a "multi-media theatrical piece", a dark comedy about LaMarr and Antheil and their work, called Frequency Hopping, is opening.

I'm going to try to see it and if I do I'll write a review; if you see it first, let me know what you think.

May 25, 2008

Lower your visor

Let me start by saying I really, really, really do not believe that violence is the answer to pretty much anything. That said, today in the Indianapolis 500 Ryan Briscoe crashed into Danica Patrick in the pit lane because he was totally violating the pit lane rules and therefore crushed her chances for a win (ok more realistically for a top five finish). Guess he figured she would back off; she didn't.

After the crash, as the 100 lb Danica walked down pit lane toward Ryan Briscoe, his pit crew chief yelled "lower your visor" (so she couldn't punch him). She didn't, everyone is fine and congratulations to Scott Dixon for a fabulous win.

And I know I'm going to get yelled at for this; but you know with all the violence against women, it was kinda nice to have a guy worried about having a woman he had wronged punch him.

May 20, 2008

Data surpression

For those of us concerned with issues of underrepresented groups in the sciences, the National Science Foundation's Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED) has been a hugely important source of data. However in the past months, because of a concern about small cell sizes and confidentiality, the NSF’s Science, Resources Statistics has been suppressing data primarily data related to the numbers of under represented minority women and men PhD recipients although data about women from other ethnic groups are suppressed in some fields as well .

Without these data, the SED loses most, if not all, of it's value for those of us concerned with equity issues. The website says "SRS will be releasing revised tables from the 2006 Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED) for the Summary Report, Race/Ethnicity/Gender (REG) and Baccalaureate-Origin tables released by the survey contractor in previous years." And says they will forward the tables to anyone who requests them.

So please request the tables and agree to be surveyed as to the best ways to present the data. I'm a privacy nut, and I know there are ways that we can not invade anyone's privacy and still get the data we need. Thanks for helping.

Why aren't there more women in science and engineering?: Version 743

Titled "The freedom to say 'no'", this version comes from the Boston Globe. Spoiler alert; the short answer is "girls don't like it". The longer answer: "men,relative to women, prefer to work with inorganic materials.." "...women in general prefer to work with organic or living things." The clincher "an equal-opportunity workforce may look a lot less equal than some had imagined. "

I just don't know where to start; but I know where to finish:

Following up on last December's first-ever female sweep of the Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology, three 17-year-old young women won the top prizes in last week's Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.

The post is a nice analysis of progress toward equity in science in the younger generation. Forget the Boston Globe piece, read this one

May 18, 2008

It's almost a time warp

Sorry folks, this isn't a post about the Rocky Horror Picture Show. But on the other hand it is kind of a horror and pretty rocky (ok sorry for the semi pun-- I heard a pun off on NPR yesterday and it seems to be taken. Ken Walker, if you are reading this, the puns are so your fault). Anyway, "It's almost a time warp" is quote from Sylvia Ann Hewlett about the findings of a new report on, yup, women and science from the Center for Work Life Policy. An article in today's International Herald Tribune covers some of the really depressing, but big sigh, not surprising findings.

For example: "based on data from 2,493 workers (1,493 women and 1,000 men) polled from March 2006 through October 2007 and hundreds more interviewed in focus groups, the report paints a portrait of a macho culture where women are very much outsiders, and where those who do enter are likely to eventually leave."

The article quotes the report as saying 75 percent of women age 25 to 29 being were described as "superb," "excellent" or "outstanding" on their performance reviews, words used for 61 percent of men in the same age group. But an exodus occurred "around age 35 to 40. Fifty-two percent drop out, the report warned, with some leaving for "softer" jobs in the sciences human resources rather than lab bench work, for instance, and others for different work entirely. That is twice the rate of men in the SET industries, and higher than the attrition rate of women in law or investment banking."

And to make it worse "the reasons pinpointed in the report are many, but they all have their roots in what the authors describe as a pervasive macho culture."

Swear, swear, swear (that was how my daughter suggested I replace &#@* or all those words that NSF might not like me to type). If you get a chance to read the article do so and as soon as the report is out, we will blog on it.

In the meantime I'm going out for a bike ride. I badly need the endorphins.

May 13, 2008

Hurt Girls

Ok I know that Hurt Girls was the cover story on Sunday's NY Times Magazine and I should have blogged on it days ago; but I'm also in the middle of a series of site visits with programs for young adults who have left/been pushed out of school with reading levels below 8th grade and no science at all, who are trying to get a GED (General Equivalence Diploma). So I may be a little bitter right now as I watch and document the struggles that these young people go through.

However, that said, I still think I have a right to be bitter about the New York Times Magazine story. The cover says "Hurt Girls what sports are doing to young women is not pretty". While the article's actual title is "The Uneven Playing Field", it appears on the title page in a small red font. Dominating the title page is the following quote, all capital letters in a huge bold black font:


And oh yes, the featured quote on the second page, also in capital letters, red this time, begins, "I'M AFRAID FOR HER AND FOR ALL THESE GIRLS". Being the New York Times, after they have scared readers to death (or at least toward discouraging their daughters from playing sports), they go on to say:

Comprehensive statistics on total sports injuries are in short supply. The N.C.A.A. compiles the best numbers, but even these are based on just a sampling of colleges and universities. For younger athletes, the numbers are less specific and less reliable. Some studies have measured sports injuries by emergency-room visits, which usually follow traumatic events like broken bones. A.C.L. and other soft-tissue injuries often do not lead to an E.R. visit; the initial examination typically occurs at the office of a pediatrician or an orthopedic surgeon. Studies of U.S. high-school athletics indicate that, when it comes to raw numbers, boys suffer more sports injuries. But the picture is complicated by football and the fact that boys still represent a greater percentage of high-school athletes.
Even more importantly they report:
Shultz and other researchers say that A.C.L. research and the training programs spawned by it may end up protecting women from a range of injuries — all of them stemming from poor form and underdeveloped muscle. “Just because a kid is good at a sport does not mean she has the foundational strength or movement patterns to stand up to constant play,” she says. “What I’d like to be able to say is: ‘Before you engage in a sport, I am going to teach you how to move. And I am going to give you strength.’ ”

That makes a lot of sense to me. So New York Times Magazine, why the fear mongering?

May 08, 2008

May Scientiae Carnival is Up!

So surf over to Ficka Mawa's and read a variety of fascinating posts on career paths, perspective, and changing self-image. I've only read about half of them so far, but ladies I think there is a book in here.

This hasn't been an easy time for Flicka Mawa. I'm in awe about what she has been able to do.


May 07, 2008

I love Salk and Sabin

When I was a little kid, everyone feared polio and they were right to. Polio is highly infectious and mainly effects young children. Here in the US we no longert worry so much about polio thanks to the discovery of a vaccine by Jonas Salk and it's improvement by Albert Sabin.

Now why do you care? Well two reasons-- the first is that at the age of 5 I was the first kid in my county to get the vaccine and my picture was all over the local papers. I felt I was very brave and famous and, oh yes, obnoxiously proud of myself. My older sister was furious!. She had been in the clinical trial and she got the placebo. Not only did she not get her picture in the paper, she had to to get a second series of shots-- this time with the real stuff. It took her years and years to forgive me.

But, once again, I've been digressing. The real reason I'm writing this is because yesterday, the Sabin Vaccine Institute gave out two awards to two really interesting women.

They gave their 16th Gold Medal in Vaccinology to the "Dr. Ruth of Malaria" Dr. Ruth Nussenzweig. While we are a little grumpy that it took them so long to give the award to a woman, we're impressed it was her. Her work has paved the way for the development of several new malaria vaccines. Their 1st Young Investigator Award went to Dr. Katherine O’Brien who leads the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health’s Infectious Disease Group.

Congratulations to all!

May 03, 2008

I want to be an astronaut

Well actually I don't want to be an astronaut, I want to be like one-- especially if that astronaut is Pam Melroy. Thursday evening Tom and I went to a dinner at the Boston Museum of Science hosted by our FairerScience partner Wellesley Centers for Research on Women .

Pam, a member of the Wellesley College Board of Trustees, was the speaker. We got a chance to speak with her before the dinner and she was fabulous-- interesting, thoughtful and very, very smart. Tom asked her an intelligent question about any concerns she might have about using the Russian Soyuz to travel back and forth to the space station after the shuttle was retired. I, on the other hand, asked her what the coolest things were about being in space.

She said there were many things including feeling like a little kid whose dream has come true because you can fly. She spoke of the importance of having music while she was in space and about the differences between her first, second and third missions (she was the commander of the third). During her after dinner speech she showed home movies from space and spoke about leadership and how to establish the culture she wanted for the crew (spoiler alter-- it included taking the crew on a 10 day kayak where they kayaked many miles each day).

The food was good, the company was better and we got an autographed picture and some astronaut ice cream-- hey it doesn't get much better than that!