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STATUS

Contents

January 2000

Page 1: Glass Ceilings and Ivory Towers, by Margaret Burbidge

Page 4: Views from an Affirmative Activist, by Howard Georgi

Page 13: Young Astronomers' Views: Employment and Affirmative Action, by Lynne Hillenbrand

Page 15: Young Astronomers' Views: Gender Bias Perceptions, by Lynne Hillenbrand

Page 17: Women and Science at Yale, by David Gelernter

Page 19: A Softer Soccer Coach, by John Powers

Page 20: Science Has No Gender, by Sethanne Howard

Page 22: Ruby Payne-Scott, by Kristy Dyer

Page 23: Sofia Krukovsky, by Michelle Thaller

Editors’ Note
By Meg Urry and Lisa Frattare

MARGARET BURBIDGE led the way for women, in an era when the words “affirmative action” had not even been coined. This issue of STATUS tackles this volatile hot-button topic, which means quite different
things to different people. Here are four articles describing distinct views, three from the world of science and a fourth (surprisingly relevant) story from the sports pages.

Harvard physics professor Howard Georgi describes what makes a successful physicist, or rather, how admissions committees tend to focus on a few, easily measured skills that are at best not the whole story and at worst lead to less than optimal results. He concludes that affirmative action, which he defines
as evaluating scientists appropriately and improving the climate in which we all work, is essential to increasing the number of women and to reinvigorating American science.

Caltech postdoc Lynne Hillenbrand surveys young men and women astronomers about their views on gender issues in astronomy. She explains her own opposition to affirmative action, which she defines as giving preferences based on gender in order to right past wrongs. She finds near universal agreement that
there are instances of gender bias against women and simultaneous concerns among the men about
reverse discrimination. Interestingly, the statistics for astronomy do not show gross disparities in hiring
rates for postdocs moving to assistant faculty positions. If women are being given preference in
hiring, does it perhaps exactly balance any gender biases against them?

Professor David Gelernter takes the more extreme view that affirmative action dominates our college campuses and is pushing women into scientific and technical areas for which they are ill suited and in which they are not interested. Making an analogy to (American) football, he suggests that, for philosophical consistency, colleges should add women to their football squads, never mind whether they are smaller or weaker.

By coincidence we follow with an article on coaching the brilliant USA Women's soccer team (European football, neatly enough), winners of the 1999 Women's World Cup. Coach Tony DiCicco describes how he changed his style upon learning how differently his female players approached teamwork and personal responsibility compared with male players. Despite the vast gulf between physics and soccer, the analogies to teaching seem right on point.

We hope this issue of STATUS is the beginning of a dialog on these topics. If this helps readers at
least realize that the words “affirmative action” connote a very wide range of possibilities, it will
already have been progress. Taking a critical look at the statistics of the profession (reported at the
January 2000 AAS Special Session on Women in Astronomy in Atlanta and in the June 2000 STATUS),
we should be able to raise the discussion beyond an argument for or against vague “affirmative
action” bogeymen, to a clearer idea of what actions are needed and justified. Only then will we
transcend the divisive nature of those words and begin to coalesce around common goals.

 

Edited by Meg Urry and Lisa Frattare Space Telescope Science Institute
cmu@stsci.edu frattare@stsci.edu

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