Tuesday, June 08, 2010

It Never Ends

John Tierney, whose claim to being a science writer seems to consist of one-third ego and two-thirds gonads, once again takes on the burning question of whether women should be allowed to be scientists.

I am sure that he would object to that characterization. But that's what it comes down to. The quibbling over the very ends of the distributions for one kind of test. Ignoring all the other characteristics that might go into success. And ignoring the social difficulties laid on women who are talented in science, although John promises us that he will consider such things in another article.

The tone and words are the same that have appeared in such articles since I was a girl. They've left out the objection that we will get married and have children, which clearly will destroy our brains, but all the rest is there.

Dana makes a number of good points, and LizardBreath is succinct, but let me add one more consideration, or maybe two.

There is a great deal of educational literature that shows that encouragement (or discouragement) by teachers has an enormous effect on students' achievement, as does their expectations of the students' capabilities. Those tiny tails, so important to the ego of male professors at Harvard (and male science writers at the NYT?), have nothing to do with how teachers should teach, but repeating over and over again that men will always be better than women at science and mathematics is bound to influence them. The statistics that Tierney cites, that women are achieving outlier status on tests more often, would seem to indicate that improved encouragement of girls in "men's" fields is making a difference. But not enough difference for Tierney!

And, just a simple question. Would Tierney write an article like this about differentials in scores between ethnic groups?


MT said...

I think you're having an allergic response. He's no booster of the new program, but he's not nay-saying it either. Sure, he's questioning the need for it, but he's doing so after the fact of its enactment--which does not ring obstructionist to my ears. They look like answerable questions to me, and he seems open to having them answered for him by a third party with the data. Finally, it's not really an "article," as you call it, in the sense of a "news article." It's his column, or blog, and he's not under the same burden as if he were writing news or something for the front page of the actual paper.

Phila said...

Would Tierney write an article like this about differentials in scores between ethnic groups?

Given his apparent respect for Steve Sailer, I'm gonna say yes, he's probably quite capable of that.

Cheryl Rofer said...

Hm...looks like a full-up article to me. I thought it was bizarre when the NYT selected Tierney as a science writer with no relevant experience beyond typing into a computer.

I'm just tired of this argument. Ooooh lookeee! Women still don't reach the same extremes that men do, even if they're getting closer. There are lots more qualities that make for a good professor or scientist beyond extreme math scores, which is what Tierney is focusing on. As it was what his hero, Summers, focused on.

And those extremes can be framed in a different way: men are so weird, should we really be letting them teach our children? So I'm tired of the whole argument. And particularly the distraction this provides from the importance of helping every student to reach their potential, whatever that may be.

So I'll stick with my contention that Tierney's agenda is that women shouldn't do science. Makes sense, if you're a science writer with very little on the ball in that field.

Anonymous said...

Wow, my wife birthed three children (the most recent a mere two weeks ago) and yet somehow she's still able, despite having a vagina and despite breastfeeding, to work on her nuclear physics doctoral dissertation! Her "secret" was merely decent, education-minded parents along with consistently high expectations from her mentors, teachers and supervisors.