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July 29, 2008

All the News Fit to Interpret

Last week, Science Magazine published a short, data dense, article "Gender Similarities Characterize Math Performance." (Unfortunately it is behind a paywall.) It's a nice article summarizing the national data and looking at data from those states who report by gender (grumpy side bar: ALL states are required to report their results by gender and by race/ethnicity; but guess what; there are no consequences if you don’t). The article concludes "for grades 2 to 11, the general population no longer shows a gender difference in math skills."

It's a well done piece, as I would expect from work done by Janet Hyde and Marcia Linn; but it's not earth shattering. But it is getting a lot of coverage and the differences in terms of what is covered and how, are, to say the least, interesting:

Here's the Wall Street Journal's headline "Boys' Math Scores Hit Highs and Lows". Did I mention the Science article concluded "for grades 2 to 11, the general population no longer shows a gender difference in math skills?"

The Wall Street Journal goes on to say:

"One measure of a top score is achieving the "99th percentile" -- scoring in the top 1% of all students. Boys were significantly more likely to hit this goal than girls. In Minnesota, for example, 1.85% of white boys in the 11th grade hit the 99th percentile, compared with 0.9% of girls -- meaning there were more than twice as many boys among the top scorers than girls."

Guess they missed that part about slightly more Asian American girls than Asian American boys scoring above the 99th percentile.

The New York Times' headline "Math Scores Show No Gap for Girls, Study Finds" is much better; but check out the first paragraph.

"Three years after the president of Harvard, Lawrence H. Summers, got into trouble for questioning women’s “intrinsic aptitude” for science and engineering — and 16 years after the talking Barbie doll proclaimed that “math class is tough” — a study paid for by the National Science Foundation has found that girls perform as well as boys on standardized math tests."

Ah Larry Summers, will you always be with us?

CNN has, in my biased opinion, has the best headline: "Study: Girls equal to boys in math skills" and the best coverage. While they too lead with Barbie; their lead is oh I don't know, a little more affirmative: "Sixteen years after Barbie dolls declared, "Math class is tough!" girls are proving that, at math, they are just as tough as boys."

Interestingly, stuff about the gender gap on the math section of the SAT and on the ACT is mentioned both by the Times and CNN but that is nowhere to be found in the article. This isn't surprising. The article is meticulously researched, The Times' conclusion that "The SAT is taken primarily by seniors bound for college, and since more girls than boys go to college, about 100,000 more girls than boys take the test, including lower-achieving girls who bring down the girls’ average score." is not.

The next time there is a report out about women and STEM, let's have a contest to see who can predict the type of coverage it will receive in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and CNN. Oh never mind, that's a bad idea—it's too easy.

July 20, 2008

In England They Call It SECT

FairerScience coPI Susan Bailey has been doing some interesting reading this summer:

A new book by Alison Phipps, Women in Science, Engineering and Technology (Trentham Books, UK and USA, 2008), looks at more than three decades of initiatives in the UK on women in science, engineering, construction and technology (SECT). The author looks at 150 programs including classroom research interventions, network development, after school programs and training programs for women returning to the workforce, all designed to increase the participation and success of women and girls in SECT. By taking an historical perspective and using both archival information and personal interviews, this overview provides an interesting starting point for further discussion of the assumptions underlying the programs and the ways in which these assumptions influenced their success. The author argues that too often the assumption is that the problem resides solely in women and girls rather than looking at the co-construction of gender and SECT. She argues for an approach that is more systematic as opposed to “fixing” individual women.

The discussion she calls for implies a wider responsibility, for not just women, but business and government as well must look beyond “…..changing women to fit SECT, {to}… reshaping SECT to be more welcoming to women from all social backgrounds and to men who do not fit the masculine ideal of a SECT worker.” (p.150)

Interesting and thought provoking reading for a summer afternoon!


July 15, 2008

News article vs Op Ed piece

So I'm assuming you all have read the lead story in today's New York Times Science section. If not, you should, or heck maybe you shouldn't; it's hard to know how much of this XXXX one should have to read, (see how discreet I'm being; sorry George Carlin; I so miss you!).

So here is the synopsis

Sex discrimination in the social sciences; heavens no. It's just girls don't like the social sciences (all those numbers and stuff). Oh wait, girls used to not like the social sciences but now they are in the majority of those studying in a variety of social science areas. Well gosh darn I wonder how that happened.

Sex discrimination in the life sciences; heavens no. It's just girls don't like life sciences (all that blood and stuff). Oh wait girls, used to not like the life sciences but now they are at parity in many of the life sciences. Well gosh darn I wonder how that happened.

Sex discrimination in the physical sciences and engineering; heavens no. It's just girls don't like the physical sciences and engineering (all those tools and stuff). No need to go there, obviously it must be genetic.

Yup the reason girls don't go into the physical sciences and engineering must be genetic (unlike those pesky social and life sciences). And if that is your conclusion before you write the article, it is really helpful if you limit your interviewees to those who have already decided "gee girls just don't like science and math" like Camila Benbow, of the theory "gosh darn it's the [mythical] sex linked math gene that made them do, or not do it" and Christina Hoff Sommers of the "poor boys, your problems are just because of those bad girls" fame. (And yes there are no links here; if you want to follow them up I am not going to be an enabler. I assume you have google and know how to use it; if not too bad; don't ask me for help.)

So I'm thinking my letter to "All the news fit to print; gray lady to whom I actually do have a print subscription, New York Times" might say some things like :

You want to write an op ed piece; great. I may or may not agree; but that is fine. But if you want to write a news article, especially one in the, oh yes, science section; perhaps you should, oh I don't know, apply a little science and if you aren't willing to do that you might want at least speak to researchers like Donna Nelson and Shirley Malcom or heck even to all those women in science, about whom you reported earlier, who are leaving because the discrimination is just too great.

In the mean time dear New York Times, I'm going to the Colbert Report for my news; he seems to be a lot more honest and, if not, at least he's funny.

July 14, 2008

No More Parking Karma

Ok I know this has nothing to do with FairerScience but it so tickled me, I couldn't resist posting about it. According to the New York Times, you aren't going to need parking karma in San Fransisco any more.

This fall San Francisco "will test 6,000 of its 24,000 metered parking spaces" for a "wireless sensor network that will announce which of the spaces are free." The parking meters at the empty spaces will announce their availability to drivers "looking at maps on screens of their smartphones" or at "displays on street signs".

I wonder what San Franciscans, and those of us who visit San Francisco a lot, will do with all that time we used to spend circling blocks pleading for good parking karma. I have some ideas as to what I'm going to do!

July 13, 2008

Better late than never

I know this was from Thursday but on the other hand, since it took the AMA over 110 years to apologize for its racially biased policies, it should be ok for me to take three days to post about it. Good for you AMA and even better for you for your "attempts to increase the number of African-Americans who enter medical school, recruiting African-Americans and minorities for AMA membership, and addressing racial disparities in health care. " (Do not grammar police me here; that was a direct quote. Yell at the AMA or CNN if you must.)

The advocate in me is really happy that the AMA is doing this and the researcher/evaluator in me wants to learn what, if any, effects their efforts have had.

July 09, 2008

It's a jungle out there

We at FairerScience do our best to help folks get their message out to the world and we have lots of thoughtful advice. After reading much of what has been going on lately, I've been thinking our advice is too subtle (yes those of you who know me, I actually can be too subtle and I'm dealing with it, ok?). So folks here is the not very subtle advice:

JUST SHUT UP. If you're not really clear about what your message is or is not; just shut up and don't speak to any media folks until you are very clear what you want to say. No comment is not a swear word

REMEMBER THE MIKE IS ALWAYS ON. Whenever you are in a public setting, always assume the mike is on; you probably will be right. If it isn't on, then no problem; it if is on and you didn't realize it, your boss, grandmother, great aunt, former boyfriend, whomever are going to be so upset. Hey let's face it, as scientists, we need to remember that in this case, it is soooooo much better to be a false positive than to be a false negative.

UNDERSTAND THERE IS NO LAW THAT SAYS OFF THE RECORD ACTUALLY IS. I've known some wonderful journalists who totally respected the concept of "off the record", I've known others who, well let's just say, didn't. If you aren't totally sure that a journalist will abide by off the record, they probably won't and when they quote you saying all those things that you thought you said in private it will be your problem not theirs.

It's a jungle out there; be careful.

July 08, 2008

Calender Geeks

Last month I posted that Nerd Girls and Geek Girls Are Everywhere. Well I left something out; Calender Geeks. Now we don't advertise or endorse products here at FairerScience but you have to read what these folks say about themselves.

Bikinis and rose petals are all well and good, but those who like girls who can use their brains may prefer our perspective on the year 2009. None of the models in this calendar are just posing; they're all real geeks who are passionate about the themes of their pictures. In addition to the photos, the twelve-month calendar features geeky holidays such as Pi Day, sci-fi cons, birthdays of notable geeks like Albert Einstein and Ada Lovelace, and the Unix timestamp 1234567890.

Sadly the chemistry geek died a few weeks after her photo was taken. Her portion of the proceeds is being donated to a scholarship fund her mother is organizing in her memory.

July 03, 2008

Want to be heard?

The latest Scientiae Carnival is up at PodBlack Blog . I know that each month I say something to the effect of "wow this is good" and each month I am right. Well guess what, I'm right again. This one is good!

July 02, 2008

Being Heard

This month's Scientiae Carnival's theme is an interesting one "A voice in the crowd". Kylie over at PodBlack Blog asks "Are you heard? How are you heard? Are you one of a team that works as a choir or does discordance rule the roost?"

As I was thinking about what to write, a story came to mind—hey it's Carnival by now you gotta expect that means stories from me.

The first evaluation I ever did was quite well done (since I'm writing this I can get to say that and actually it was pretty good). I didn't recommend that the principal investigator (PI) be indicted; but I did come close. Not only did he get funded for the following year; he asked me to continue on as the evaluator. Yes indeed, this made me think that NO ONE had read the report.

The second year the PI did do a better job, not great or even good but better. In the second year report I wrote "If anyone is reading this report, please call 315 555 5555 (sorry I don't remember what my number was then) and claim a free drink." NO ONE EVER CALLED

That long ago event (it was so long ago that I told people they should call collect) made it very clear to me that I'm not willing to do the work unless someone, or hopefully many "someones", hear what I am saying. For me the implications of this have been great and include:

I won't do written reports without doing oral ones as well.
I drive journal editors crazy, until they give me permission to distribute my articles on line.
I write multiple versions of the work I do- one for participants, one for the general public, one for the interested public, one for academics and one for any other group someone tells me I should write for.
I keep track of the reporters who contact me and if I think I have something interesting for them I send it on.
I do radio, TV whatever if it will get the message out
I do FairerScience.