Woman at computer, thinking about female and male math and science students on either end of a balance scale.

September 04, 2014

A Perfect Storm: Poor Education, Poor Communities and Poor Policing

Sorry folks, this isn’t one of my humorous and informative posts. Well, hopefully, it’s informative. I’ve been thinking about Michael Brown and Ferguson and of all the young Black men who have been killed and about the police officers who have died and the other police officers who have to live with wondering if their decision to shoot and kill was the right one. At the same time I’ve been thinking about contributing factors.

Did you know:

In policing:
• reporting instances of police use of deadly force is voluntary? (BTW in 2012, there were 410 deaths through police use of deadly force voluntarily reported compared to 1 for the United Kingdom.)
• there are no national nor state requirements for police training in the use of deadly force?. Individual departments decide what training officers get or don’t get.
• based on laboratory research, false positives, that is incidents when an officer incorrectly perceives that a suspect has a gun and, hence, responds with deadly force only to find that no gun exists, averages 9%?

In education:
• 17% of eighth-grade Black students in the U.S. are considered "proficient" in reading compared to 46% of white students. For Black 8th grade boys it’s 10%.
• Black and Hispanic students are more likely to receive harsher punishment for the same offenses, especially for minor misbehaviors?
• Black students between the ages of 6 and 21 are 2.86 times more likely to receive special education services for mental retardation, and 2.28 times more likely to receive services for emotional disturbance than same-age students of all other racial/ethnic groups combined?

In wealth and employment:
• a typical Black household has accumulated less than one-tenth of the wealth of a typical white one? And it's only getting worse.
• the poverty rate for Blacks is 27% vs 10% for whites?
• the unemployment rate for Blacks is 11.4% vs 5.3 for whites?

It’s a perfect storm of poorly educated kids in poor communities with few jobs where police may or may not have been trained. So what can we do? Here are some ideas.

In policing:
• Require standardized reports of incidents of officer use of deadly force at state and federal levels.
• With the assistance of groups like the Force Science Institute and the Center for Policing Equity, develop a set of minimum standards for training in the use of deadly force.
• Require all police officers take training in the use of deadly force that meets minimum standards.
• Provide public and private resources to pay for such training.

In education:
• Develop student discipline policies that are consistently applied and do not disproportionately impact students of color, low-income students, or those students with disabilities and rely more heavily on in-school discipline rather than suspension
• View special education as transitional for most students and mainstream special education students whenever possible to increase the ease of transition out of special education.
• Have teachers who feel they are responsible for the learning of their students and have the ability to inspire and motivate diverse students.

In wealth and employment:
• Listen to Warren Buffet about such things as tax rates and minimum wages.

Continue reading "A Perfect Storm: Poor Education, Poor Communities and Poor Policing" »

March 15, 2014

STEM Diversity and 'The Causal Loop'

FairerScience friend Andrew Campbell directs the Initiative to Maximize student Development (IMSD) at Brown University. In their current issue of their newsletter, The View, Andrew wrote:

The greatest threat to STEM workforce expansion through diversity may be our failure to recognize that employing decades old approaches to training can only yield the same outcomes. This is the case of a causal loop.

Causal loops are ‘Predestination paradoxes’* exemplified by the case of an individual who travels back in time to discover the source of a famous fire. While at the site where the fire started, the traveler accidentally knocks over a lamp that causes the fire that inspired him, many years later, to travel back in time. Current efforts to achieve STEM-field trainee and workforce diversity resemble a predestination paradox in that the approaches taken may in fact be contributing to the poor outcomes. As scientists we pride ourselves on ensuring reproducibility by eliminating variables, outliers, and unknowns. While this works well in the test tube and at the bench, it does not work as well in broadening the scientific workforce. In fact, applying such criteria to training is inconsistent with achieving diversity, and it serves only to replicate the past.

Unlike predestination paradoxes, training practices can be changed. Doing so requires ‘outside of the box’ thinking and incorporating methods that move away from the prescriptive and top-down approaches to program design and practice. Many of the current training program practices are thought experiments, which presuppose that the STEM trainers’ decades old experiences still have merit in training today’s trainees. As scientists we use the experimental tools of 2014. The same should be done to train the next generation of scientists–minimizing the training modalities used 25 years ago. Today’s trainees process information and interface with the world differently than we did a quarter of a century ago.

As FairerScience’s Tom Kibler often points out, “yesterday’s solutions are today’s problems”. We need to look at the strengths, weaknesses and needs of today’s students, in all their diversity. Only then can we well serve students.

March 08, 2014

Here we go again, but this time with a twist

You know the drill, an older, white, male, engineering professor, who has daughters (and in this case granddaughters and great granddaughters), based on personal experience, "knows" that young or old, females and males are most certainly different. In this case, based on "anecdotal" observation, he decides that more creativity and less emphasis on tools, like Chemistry and Physics, is what we need to get more women in engineering.

We've all heard/read many variations of this over the years so you ask, why am I writing about it now? The answers is because FairerScience friend Jen Thurber has written an awesome response and given me permission to share it with you.

"I am extremely disappointed in the level of condescension in this article. Every female engineer can contemplate without being “good” at math, physics, or chemistry: 'What will the diaper look like 10 years from now?' Are you kidding?

As one of the "females" in the engineering field, technical ability is not the primary reason women leave. It's constant comments like this that say we are different, less capable, less interested in participating. It's not only the college environment- it's the workplace especially. How many times have I been passed over for field work because it's assumed I don't want to "get dirty" (read: experience), spoken to differently (read: inclusion), and been told that I am somehow more special than other women for embarking on, and staying in, an industry that interested me, despite these managerial offenses.

Creativity is always a welcome commodity in any engineering field, but curiosity is better. In either case, don't ever pretend that science can be replaced, and don't weaken the field by allowing graduates who do not excel in these areas. Would you employ a firefighter even if she couldn't carry the equipment? Of course not. But you would if she was able to carry you out of that burning building. The question is, would she stay if she was treated as "other"? The answer to women remaining in engineering as much about engaging them early in their schooling as it is about treating them fairly and equally in the workplace. Success means asking them and requiring them to participate, showing students what is possible and employees what is required. It means listening to their ideas with the same level of intention as their male counterparts. It means not fearing that they'll take their anager to HR if they interact more than once a week.

One very nice aspect of math and science is that equations and equipment don't care what gender or culture you are. One unfortunate aspect of people is that some of them care very much, and write articles like this. So don't pretend women don't continue in engineering because they can't. Do not confuse can't and won't. "

Thank you Jen. I hope everyone reads this and hears what you are saying.

February 10, 2014

Disseration award for first generation PhD students working in gender areas

The National Council for Research on Women has launched the Mariam K. Chamberlain Dissertation Award and announced the inaugural call for submissions. Established through a $100,000 matching grant from the Ford Foundation, the Award honors and extends the vision of the Council's first President, Dr. Mariam K. Chamberlain. The Award enables the Council to continue Mariam's support of high-level scholarship.

The student’s dissertation must be related to the Council’s mission to end gender inequity, its annual theme (in 2014, the Modern Family) and its three program focus areas: Identity (social construction of gender, including intersections of race, class, sexual orientation, sexual identity, ability, geography, etc., as well as discrimination based on gender); Economic well-being (issues of economic justice, work fairness and business leadership); and Thriving environments (from personal safety, e.g., sexual assault, to community and global, e.g., climate change and civic leadership, concerns).

Annually, a first-generation college graduate will be awarded $8,500 to continue work on a dissertation under the close supervision of a senior dissertation advisor, who will receive $1,500 for continued mentorship. The Award is open to any first-generation college graduate currently pursuing a PhD (must be ABD by August 2014) at an accredited university in the U.S. Applications must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. (EST) on March 10, 2014. The awardee and mentor duo will be announced during the Council's annual conference in May 2014.

More information, including additional requirements, frequently asked questions and the complete application, can be found here

Hat tip to Sue Klein for letting us know about it.

December 05, 2013


Each December 6th, along with many other science blogs, we at FairerScience remember the 14 women engineering students at the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal, Quebec who were killed because they were women in engineering. It's been 24 years and it is still important to remember.

A couple of years ago Alice Pawley posted this tribute

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

This year Alice has posted an event on Facebook. "We remember the Montreal Massacre". I joined it and that you will as well.

You should know that December 7, 1989 my then 12 year old daughter went to her junior high school with the names of those 14 women with an "in memoriam" pinned to her shirt. I cried when I saw what she was doing-- both for the women and for her courage. Each year I think of my daughter and of those women and so hope that we have the courage to fight to make sure this will never happen again .

December 01, 2013

Rosa Parks: More than a tired seamstress

Today is the 48th anniversary of the day Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus, starting the Montgomery Bus Boycott and galvanizing the civil rights movement. She was an amazing woman who has been trivialized as a seamstress who was too tired to give up her seat. I got yet another e-mail telling me that same tired story today.

It is so far from the truth. Rosa Parks was a civil rights activist for many years, successfully registering to vote in Alabama in the early 1940s and joining the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) in 1943. She served as secretary of the Montgomery NAACP and was trained in grassroots organizing and movement building at the Highlander Center prior to her refusing to give up her seat on the bus. The NAACP had been planning for a while to challenge the "move to the back of the bus" rule in Montgomery. Mrs. Parks, a trained activist and a woman who was "respectable and respected" was a good choice.

Rosa Parks was a seamstress, but more importantly she was a skilled, talented and courageous civil rights leader. She was tired, but as she said in her autobiography:

People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.

Presenting Rosa Parks as a "tired seamstress" does her, the women who were and are such an integral part of the civil rights movement, and women in general, an injustice.

PS Gee can we think of any women in science whose contributions have been trivialized as "being in the right place at the right time"?

November 18, 2013

PBS has Albert Enstein trying to rape Maire Curie noooooooo

Up date: PBS took down "A Very Special Thanksgiving Special. Guess they got enough complaints that they now realize that most people feel having a bobblehead Albert Einstein sexually assault a bobblehead Marie Curie is not a joke, even though the creator thought it was.

Congratulations to PBS (yes the PBS I'm talking about is Public Broadcasting Service), in a five minute clip they manage to sabotaged efforts to:
improved attitudes toward science;
increase diversity in the sciences; and
reduce instances of sexual harassment and rape!

How did PBS do this? Believe or not, with a video, kinda sweetly titled "A Very Special Thanksgiving Special/It's Okay to be Smart." It starts with the host, a real man (white of course) having dinner with a number of bobblehead dolls representing famous scientists (white of course and, with the exception of Marie Curie, male of course). Now that doesn't make me happy but I can handle it.

For the first minute all is fine and then bobblehead Enstein makes an unwelcome sexual advance to bobblehead Curie- she rejects it. Fast forward and you find bobblehead Enstein is now NAKED, and telling bobblehead Curie that “nothing is more important than love”- she gasps. For the closing, the naked Einstein falls on Curie who makes a strangled noise

Do any of the other bobbleheads, or the host for that matter, try to stop Einstein or help Curie- oh course not. Now isn't this "A Very Special Thanksgiving Special" you would like to share with your family? Aren't these just the messages we want to give to girls and boys about having control of your bodies, getting involved when others are being hurt and how great scientists are?

I have no idea what PBS was thinking, perhaps you could ask them- http://www.pbs.org/ombudsman/feedback.html

PS Nope I didn't include a link- if you want to see this one you're going to have to find it yourself).


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