Maybe there are some nuggets of wisdom

in this article arguing that women just don’t want to do engineering and so-called “hard science”. But somehow I doubt it when the evidence draws on the “fact” that philosophy has tons of women in it, and when the list of the 5 countries offering women the most financial security and the most family-friendly policies includes the US (nothing says “family friendly” and “financially secure” like a lack of guaranteed health coverage, maternity leave, and childcare). Wow, that’s some nifty science for ya. And some spectacular journalistic fact-checking. (Thanks, Heg!)

15 thoughts on “Maybe there are some nuggets of wisdom

  1. Odd how the article totally misses the point that perhaps women just “self-select” themselves out of careers that they know will face them with years of discrimination and pain… not to mention few other women with which to commiserate.

  2. There is a fascinating discussion from 2005 that I recently stumbled on between two psychologists who actually know what they’re talking about: Steven Pinker and Elizabeth Spelke, both at Harvard. Pinker basically argues that the science says there’s some inherent difference between men and women that can explain the gender gap in sciences. Spelke counters that the research shows that there isn’t any innate difference and that the gender gap is best explained by social force. I felt that Spelke didn’t address some of Pinker’s points (his variability argument and focus on the end points of distribution), so I’d say the science isn’t (quite) conclusive. Although the bulk of the explanatory power is in social forces, aka discrimination, including internalized which drives self-selection.

    And then there’s an interesting editorial at Miller-McCune, which really is more a book review. The editor reviews “Flat Earth News,” which might help explain how crap like the stuff you cited can make it past journalistic fact-checking: There isn’t any fact-checking because most journalists don’t have the time. They end up printing many press releases as they received them without checking anything… Scary!

  3. I accidentally deleted this comment of Richard’s, and I’m restoring it:
    NotFromAroundHere – I thought they acknowledged that point pretty explicitly on the very first page:

    The researchers are not suggesting that sexism and cultural pressures on women don’t play a role, and they don’t yet know why women choose the way they do. One forthcoming paper in the Harvard Business Review, for instance, found that women often leave technical jobs because of rampant sexism in the workplace.

    Note also that the evidence cited on page 2 would seem to get around this problem, at least to some extent:

    Rosenbloom and his colleagues used a standard personality-inventory test to measure people’s preferences for different kinds of work. In general, Rosenbloom’s study found, men and women who enjoyed the explicit manipulation of tools or machines were more likely to choose IT careers – and it was mostly men who scored high in this area. Meanwhile, people who enjoyed working with others were less likely to choose IT careers. Women, on average, were more likely to score high in this arena.

    Personal preference, Rosenbloom and his group concluded, was the single largest determinative factor in whether women went into IT. They calculated that preference accounted for about two-thirds of the gender imbalance in the field. The study was published in November in the Journal of Economic Psychology.

    Granted, it’s still possible that the reason why women tended to enjoy ‘tools or machines’ less was due to socialization and conditioning (i.e. disliking them precisely because they associate those things with discriminating environments and other nastiness). But it’s an interesting result nonetheless, showing that many in the current generation just wouldn’t like IT jobs so much, even if different socialization might lead future generations to have different preferences.

    Jender — it’s odd that all you mention are two peripheral things from late in the article, and even there your complaints aren’t accurate.

    You wrote: “I doubt it when the evidence draws on the “fact” that philosophy has tons of women in it

    What the article actually says: “In humanities or philosophy, for instance, taking a year or two off won’t affect one’s skill set very much. But in quickly evolving technical fields, a similar sabbatical can be a huge career setback.

    I wouldn’t read this as invoking any sociological “facts” about the discipline as “evidence” for any thesis. It’s simply offering an illustration of how different careers are structured, such that taking time off will affect people differently in different careers. If you really want to assess the evidence (rather than clutching at straws that might give you an excuse to dismiss the whole thing), the findings of Rosenbloom quoted above would seem the place to start.

  4. OK, tone’s getting nasty here. Richard– I picked on those bits because they were funny, and obviously wrong. I was pretty damned bored by the rest of it to be honest and couldn’t be bothered especially when I saw how bad those bits clearly were. though you’re right that a full refutation would require dealing with all of it– hence my thought that there might be some nuggets of wisdom. And the philosophy quote, with full context, makes no sense unless philosophy is a field with plenty of women. OK, everyone, remember to BE NICE. I won’t be jumping in again unless it’s a matter of tone.

  5. I sometimes wonder if people want to be discriminated against because they miss the attention of discrimination.

  6. I’m confused about Richard’s point about philosophy and the humanities as well. Wouldn’t the Gricean conversational principles (especially the relevance maxim) be enough to conclude that of course the author meant to imply that there are lots of women in philosophy?

    The author contrasts the hard sciences/math/IT/engineering with philosophy and the humanities in the context of discussing the idea that women choose careers in which they can take time off without hurting their career. Why would the author bother with a contrast case of the humanities/philosophy if not to give a demonstration that there is a correlation between number of women in a discipline/career and how much it hurts one’s career to take time off? (Would it make any sense, for instance, if the author had contrasted science and manual labor and said, “The reason there are so few women in science is because it hurts to take time off in science. But just look at manual labor–it’s much easier to take time off in manual labor without hurting one’s career.” That would make absolutely no sense–mentioning manual labor in that context would actually undermine the point made in the first sentence.)

    In any case, I also thought that comparison was amusing given what the numbers in philosophy actually look like. Perhaps the author (or the authors of the study discussed in that paragraph–whoever brought up philosophy first) is just assuming that philosophy is like most other humanities/social sciences in terms of gender proportion. I recently took part in some workshops with graduate students from other disciplines and many of them seemed absolutely shocked to hear about the very low proportion of women in my dept (about 9% female faculty and 22% female grad students–well within the range noted in the beginning of the Boston Globe article for technical fields).

  7. Echidne of the Snakes has a good take on this article. Favorite line:

    “McArdle’s main thesis is an old one, the second oldest in the “field” of trying to explain the scarcity of women in sciences as innocuous. The oldest argument is that female creatures can’t do numbers. The second oldest is that they don’t want to do numbers.”

  8. One of the social sciences, economics, is about the same as philosophy. Interestingly, in psychology the proportion of women is very high except for cognitive psychology, where it is relatively low. Unlike linguistics, which is packed with women, I understand.

    And, of course, much of engineering is deeply about people, and it can also be about organic stuff too. For example, reverse engineering looks to model natural systems. But engineering is one of the worst areas for women.

    Also, many scientists work in close research groups, so it isn’t the austere individualistic pursuit that history, for example, can be.

    One of the most naive claims in the article was, I thought, this:

    These studies looked at different slices of the working world, but agree that in a world in which men and women both have freedom of choice, they tend to choose differently.

    They have a provocative echo in the conclusions of Susan Pinker, a psychologist and columnist for the Toronto Globe and Mail. In her controversial new book, “The Sexual Paradox: Men, Women, and the Real Gender Gap,” Pinker gathers data from the journal Science and a variety of sources that show that in countries where women have the most freedom to choose their careers, the gender divide is the most pronounced.

    In at least some of the countries with a high proportion of women in science, there is a class element that means that the relatively freer women are choosing science careers.

  9. Philfemgal -the passage might imply that there are more women in philosophy (or at least that we should expect this, all else being equal, due to the relative ease of taking time off), but it’s not stated as a “fact” or “drawn on” as “evidence” for the main claims of the article, contrary to Jender’s representation.

  10. I didn’t see anything about sexual harassment as a factor.

    It is.

    My wife was a computer science major. During the summer, she and I had the same job. I had no CS experience, she was nearly done. She knew much more than I did. Guess who got all the work?

    On the other hand her boss ignored her for months. She didn’t even come in until he woke up one day and emailed her, “where are you?”

    She got a project, and she came up with a nice solution. It was shot down. Then the guys reimplemented the same exact solution and took the credit for it.

    This is one anecdote of many.

    In short, she changed majors, is in accounting and is facing no such double standard.

    I had seen the same thing in computer meetings where the correct solutions given by capable women are routinely ignored. Women do not feel comfortable in these situations.

    If men went into a field and there were only women in it, and the women ignored the new men, how would they feel?

    This happened to me. I went into nursing. The women were quite welcoming to me. The only one who gave me trouble was a fellow student. She changed her tune after watching me deal with some tough patients.

    I love Pinker as he is brilliant. However, he does not know everything. Pinker needs to wear a dress to some of his conferences for his next research project. He’d learn way more than his other methods on this topic.

Comments are closed.