« November 2008 | Main | January 2009 »

December 31, 2008

Toward a happier new year

Earlier this month, for my birthday, I received a copy of "The Lowell Offering" (thanks Kathryn, Mort and Seth). As Wikipedia explains The Lowell Offering was a monthly periodical, from 1840-1845 of works of poetry and fiction by the female textile workers (young women [age 15-35] known as the Lowell Mill Girls) of the Lowell, Massachusetts textile mills of the early American industrial revolution.

I've always been interested in the mill girls. The mills provided women with opportunities for more independence and more money than pretty much any other job. But there was a lot of shame involved. My grandmother was a mill girl in Lawrence MA in the early 20th century. She worked there for 13 years, became a "forelady" and only quit when she married my grandfather. She never told me she was a mill girl; indeed knowing of my interest in the mill girls, my mother had to check with her older sister to see it it was ok to tell me, her grown up feminist daughter, that Grandma was a mill girl.

Grandma was a big influence on my feminism. Raising four daughters during the depression- she demanded that they all go on for post secondary education and it was a great disappointment to her that all they could afford was business school, teachers' college or nursing school. While she felt strongly that all of her grandchildren should go to college-- it was the girls she wanted to go to school away from home-- they needed the experience. She married at 29 and thought that was a little young. Well aware of how much women's lives could be constrained by marriage, she wanted her daughters to have lived a life of their own before they married.

Sorry about the tangent, but in many ways it wasn't a tangent. Although Grandma, as 16 year old immigrant from England, went into the mills 60+ years after the original Yankee mill girls, I recognized much of her spirit in the writings in the Lowell Offering, especially as I read the resolutions in "A New Society" from the first volume in 1841. Here's a sample

"1. Resolved, That every father of a family who neglects to give his daughters the same advantages for an education which he gives his sons, shall be expelled from this society, and be considered a heathen."

"3. Resolved, That, as the laborer is worthy of his hire, the price for labor shall be sufficient to enable the working-people to pay a proper attention to scientific and literary pursuits."

"4. Resolved, That the wages of females shall be equal to the wages of males, that they may be enabled to maintain proper independence of character and virtuous deportment."

Alas in the story, it was a dream, and in many ways it is still a dream. My dream is that it becomes a reality in 2009

A happier 2009 to us all

December 28, 2008

Ideas, Doors and The Times Magazine Section

Acmegirl , host of this month's Scientiae Carnival! suggested we write about doors that have opened and closed this year. Doors opening reminded me of my favorite NY Times Magazine -- the annual December issue on ideas.

My favorite idea from the magazine is Positive Deviance.. This is something I've believed in for a long time but didn't know it was a named concept. Positive Deviance is about "solving problems by thinking about how we act, rather than acting upon how we think." I quote:

Jerry Sternin, who ran the Positive Deviance Initiative at Tufts University until his death in December 2008. “There are 30 percent who are not malnourished — same socioeconomic status, same risk, but they're not in trouble. Why?” Understanding precisely what the 30 percent are doing differently, and then encouraging these positive deviants to educate the other 70 percent, can effect significant changes in group behavior.

Last year, Toni Clewell and I wrote a book, Good Schools in Poor Neighborhoods, that built on this concept. We found highly effective schools (defined by student achievement) and matched them with typical schools from the same district in the same neighborhoods serving the same types of kids. Then we looked at what the good schools did that the others didn't and vice versa. Some results reflected existing theory, others didn't.

We should be doing this at college, graduate, post doc and faculty levels. Take the places with larger numbers of women in STEM, match them with other similar institutions that aren't doing so well and see what are the successful institutions are doing differently than the others. Heck we could even compare institutions where women in STEM are, dare I say it, happy and where they aren't. Let's spend more time looking at success and exploring what's behind it rather than always testing strategies to see if they work.

For every door that opens, some days it feels that two doors close. The ideas that depressed me the most from the Times included one I already knew about:

On average, according to “Is the Gap More Than Gender?”, men who say they believe in a traditional role for women earned a stunning $8,549 more per year than men who profess egalitarian values. Egalitarian-minded women earned $1,330 less than their male counterparts, and traditional women earned another $1,495 less.

and a second that, sigh, was new to me:

Michelle Ryan and Alex Haslam do research on “the glass cliff,” which they contend is an invisible form of prejudice. In other words, people will give women a position of power only when there’s a strong chance of failure. Why? “If someone has to be the scapegoat to take the fall, you’re not going to put your best man forward,” Ryan says. Women are thrust into desperate situations precisely because they’re likely to fail, generating “proof” that women can’t handle responsibility.

Hmmmmm maybe I'll post on happier things tomorrow.

December 24, 2008

Tracking Santa

Seth and I are tracking Santa . Currently he is in Multan Pakistan. Thanks to NORAD's Santa Cam we can see Santa has been and where he is going- with pictures, video clips, science, geography, math and a lot of ho ho hos.

Thanks NORAD and a Merry Christmas to all; ho ho ho

December 23, 2008

Fun with Maps

Remember how Pat was checking e-mail from the Main Street Cafe because she had no internet access? Well, she's back at the Cafe (and cursing out the cable company since her internet and cable are out again). So, it's two posts in a row from me!

My geek cred was established early on here at FairerScience but just in case it was ever in doubt, I present my latest evidence of geekdom: I think maps are really cool. Something about them appeals to my inherent love of order and being able to figure things out. About ten years ago, I moved from Massachusetts to New York and for about two weeks I was actually splitting my time between my old job at Curry College and my new job at Barnard College. I spent a lot of time of the train and I have vivid memories of sitting and studying my trusty, laminated map of Manhattan. The map helped me make sense of my new city and a new appreciation for maps was born.

So, I was naturally interested when I read about Worldmapper, a website connected with the new book, The Atlas of the Real World.

You could spend hours on this site, it features 366 maps, or more specifically, cartograms:

“The maps presented on this website are equal area cartograms, otherwise known as density-equalising maps. The cartogram re-sizes each territory according to the variable being mapped.”

The maps are fascinating and in some cases, pretty depressing.

For example, here’s a map showing the world based on the number of illiterate young women.

This map shows growth in scientific research:

They even provide code for you to work on making your own map. So go ahead, geek out with the maps.

December 17, 2008

Held back by physics

Although Pat got hit with some serious winter weather last week my town hasn't really seen any - until today. I woke up to see the first real snow of the season. Seeing snow again reminded me of a snowboarding article I read a while back.

FairerScience has done some sports related posts before but I think Alexis Roland might be the youngest athlete we’ve ever featured. Alexis is a 8 year-old snowboarder – she starting snowboarding when she was 5 and is already sponsored by Burton. She soundly rejects “princess names” and has beaten 25 year-olds in regional competitions. My favorite part of the New York Times article about her? When they point out that one of her “obstacles” is physics:

“At a little over four feet tall and 55 pounds, she just doesn’t have the mass to generate enough speed to get big air, or what snowboarders call amplitude.”

Rock on, Alexis.

December 14, 2008


No that kind, the electric kind. While the ice storm was beautiful; 48 hours without heat, water, and power with a tree and wires blocking the road wasn't fun. We got the power back last night but no web until?????

Many thanks to the great guys from area power companies for getting us back to the world of the warm and to the Main Street Cafe in Groton for sharing their wireless! If you are in the area stop by. Good bagels and scones and, as I mentioned, free wireless.

December 11, 2008

Jenn's Chemistry Corner

Being married to a chemist means that I often find scientific publications scattered around the house. Every week we get a new issue of Chemical and Engineering News. They’ve been stacking up lately so I thought I would flip through them and see what jumped out at me. So, without further ado, I present Jennifer’s Chemistry Corner.

*First up, is a cover story called “Unraveling Breast Milk”. I confess I didn’t read the article but I thought it was a great cover photo - I can’t get an exact link to it but if you click here and scroll down to the issue from September 29, 2008, Vol. 86, issue 39 you can see the cover photo. Considering just two years ago, a photo of a breastfeeding mother on a magazine about parenting irritated readers I was pretty pleased with the people at Chemical and Engineering news. I checked out the subsequent issues and not only were there no complaints from outraged scientists, there were lots of compliments.

*Here’s another “first woman” story to add to the mix: Ellen Kullman, the new CEO of Dupont, is the first woman to lead a major public U.S. chemical firm. I know that people sometimes get tired of “first woman to do X” stories but I still dig them.

*Next time we visit my family in the Philadelphia area we’ll have to check out the Chemical Heritage Foundation , described as a “library, museum, and center for scholars.” They have all sorts of neat exhibits and events and it looks like a previous exhibit on Women in Chemisty, called Her Lab in Your Life is being redesigned for the museum .

December 06, 2008


Taken from today's ScienceWomen:

"On December 6, 1989, an armed gunman named Marc Lepine entered an engineering classroom at Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal, Quebec. He demanded all 48 men in the class leave the room, lined up all 9 women against a wall, and, shouting "You are all a bunch of [expletive] feminists!", proceeded to shoot them. He went into the hall and shot 18 more people, mostly at random. He finally shot himself.

He had killed 14 women all together, and injured 9 more women and 4 men.

The women who died could have been anyone. They could have been your friends, your mothers, your sisters, your lovers, your daughters, your neighbors, your students, your teachers, maybe even you.

They were killed because they were women."

Remember those who died in the Montreal Massacre:

Genevieve Bergeron, 21, was a 2nd year scholarship student in civil engineering.
Helene Colgan, 23, was in her final year of mechanical engineering and planned to take her master's degree.
Nathalie Croteau, 23, was in her final year of mechanical engineering.
Barbara Daigneault, 22, was in her final year of mechanical engineering and held a teaching assistantship.
Anne-Marie Edward, 21, was a first year student in chemical engineering.
Maud Haviernick, 29, was a 2nd year student in engineering materials, and a graduate in environmental design.
Barbara Maria Klucznik, 31, was a 2nd year engineering student specializing in engineering materials.
Maryse Laganiere, 25, worked in the budget department of the Polytechnique.
Maryse Leclair, 23, was a 4th year student in engineering materials.
Anne-Marie Lemay, 27, was a 4th year student in mechanical engineering.
Sonia Pelletier, 28, was to graduate the next day in mechanical engineering. She was awarded a degree posthumously.
Michele Richard, 21, was a 2nd year student in engineering materials.
Annie St-Arneault, 23, was a mechanical engineering student.
Annie Turcotte, 21, was a first year student in engineering materials.

Please honour the white ribbon as a symbol of the fight against violence against women."

Today is, in Canada, the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. Ceremonies are held all across the country and flags on all federal buildings are lowered to half-mast as a reminder of the need to end violence against women."

Thank you Alice for helping make sure that we always remember.

December 02, 2008

DIY Holiday Presents - The FairerScience Way

I know, you are all shocked that I am doing another post on crafts and science . But I’m considering this to be a public service now. One of the trends in news articles lately seems to be the increasing popularity of handmade holiday gifts in tough economic times.

Now, I know people are busy and this won’t appeal to everyone (*cough*Pat*cough*) but here are some handmade gift ideas that might be of interested to FairerScience readers.

Looking for some pretty baubles? Here are two options: Moebius Strip Earrings
or Stellated Tetrahedron Earrings.

Not into jewelry? How about a Test Tube Vase?

Here’s the perfect Botany-related gift – a downloadable calendar of carnivorous plants.

Now, I can’t knit to save my life, but if you’re more coordinated than me you might want to check out these links to knitting projects related to science and math:

Sarah-Marie's mathematical knitting pages
The Redhead Genome Project Scarf
Penrose Diagram Scarf

Happy Science-Related Crafting and be sure to let us know if you make any of these projects for presents (or just for fun).

December 01, 2008

My Science is hotter than Dr. Isis's Naughty Monkeys

The theme for this month's Scientiae is: My Science is Hotter than Dr. Isis's Naughty Monkeys Because... (really)
BTW how many of you clicked on Naughty Monkeys even before getting to the because?

So here we go: FairerScience is hotter than Dr. Isis's Naughty Monkeys because...
• most of the time doing it doesn't hurt your feet.
• it goes with almost all colors (although sometimes there are issues with pink and blue)
• you can get the results for free from Campbell-Kibler.com and FairerScience.com.

PS Isis while I do like your shoes, the few times I get out of Merrills and Tevas, I'm more of an open toed strappy high heeled kind of girl (as long as I can dance in them)