Tuesday, December 19, 2006

More on Women in Science

Today's New York Times Science section has a lengthy article on women in science. The article addresses some important issues, such as the difficulty of raising children while maintaining a career in academia; advancing one's career along with that of a spouse who is also a scientist; and latent predjudices that lead to women being judged less competent than their male peers, or too aggressive when they actively pursue advancement.

Still, it irritates me to no end that the New York Times, and apparently the organizers of panels and conferences on this subject, feel the need to dismiss out of hand the possibility of cognitive differences between men and women. One would think that scientists and other highly educated people would be open to all reasonable hypotheses, that they would appreciate the possibility of a single phenomenon having multiple causes, and that they would understand that statistical trends need not have implications for individuals.

Also not addressed is the possibility that affirmative action is one of the causes of the assumption that female scientists are less compentent than males -- in other words, that what is supposed to be a solution has become part of the problem.

On the bright side, the article does offer some anecdotal evidence that attitudes toward women in science have improved significantly over the past few decades. DH also suspects that this is the case. Since it takes many years to reach the top echelons in academia, and since tenured professors tend to keep their jobs for quite some time, there is inevitably a significant lag between changes in attitude and changes in the position of women in the profession. However, I think there is reason to be optimistic.

Previous comments/rants on this subject here, here, and here.


Lawrence said...

The failure to address other hypotheses is disappointing, but not surprising. The history of science is filled with reasonable ideas that were rejected without investigation because they stood in conflict with what was accepted at the time. It's easy to scoff at anyone who thought that heavy objects fall faster than light ones, but in truth we're no smarter than those people were.

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