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STATUS

June 2005

Contents

Page 1: Interview with Margaret Kivelson

Page 6: Poster Project

Page 7: Raise Your Hand If You're A Woman in Science, by Virginia Valian

Page 9: I'm Wired for Science, by Shannon McClintock

Page 10: Dimished by Discrimination We Scarcely See, by Meg Urry

Page 12: Invisible Bias, by Chris Berdik

Page 15: Applying to Grad School II, by Fran Bagenal

 

From The Editor, by Fran Bagenal

In the January issue of STATUS we commented on brewing issues of gender inequity at Harvard with
“Watch this space for further developments on the gender gap at Harvard. But don’t hold your breath.” Well, we did not need to wait long. On January 14th Larry Summers made his infamous statements(1)

“There are three broad hypotheses about the sources of the very substantial disparities that this conference’s papers document and have been documented before with respect to the presence of women in high-end scientific professions. One is what I would call the highpowered job hypothesis. The second is what I
would call different availability of aptitude at the high end, and the third is what I would call different socialization and patterns of discrimination in a search. And in my own view, their importance probably ranks in exactly the order that I just described.”

…and then the whole subject of women in science erupted. The incident might not have been so noticeable had Nancy Hopkins (Professor of Biology and author of the 1996 study of women at MIT) not walked out of his talk and gone to the press. The hubbub stirred by his comments is not just confined to the halls of academia or “high-brow” papers, but also hit the front cover of TIME(2) (circulation 27 million) and articles appeared in mass circulation magazines such as Parade(3) (circulation ~36 million). If you Google “Summers women science” for the past six months you get back half a million references.

This “Summers explosion” propelled the issue of the under-representation of women in science into
unprecedented limelight. But it has not been just sensationalism. I have seen three articles on the front
page of the New York times in the past four months, all well-researched and thoughtful. The three issues
Summers mentioned in his talk are analyzed in depth. Three university presidents (of Stanford, MIT
and Princeton) released a joint statement(4) emphasizing the importance of the issue of under-representation
of women in science, quoting numbers that point to progress and urging attention to the future (rather
than debates that “may rejuvenate old myths and reinforce negative stereotypes and biases”). I also recommend reading a speech made by Shirley Tilghman, President of Princeton, at the launch of the ADVANCE program at Columbia University(5).

For those of us at the University of Colorado, the debate about Summers’ speech was interesting to compare with the simultaneous debate about Ward Churchill (a professor of ethnic studies who called the 9/11 victims “little Eichmanns”) that raged in our local newspapers. Both Summers and Churchill are faculty who are entitled to have opinions and should be free to express them, offensive though such opinions are to many people. The “crime” both these academics made was to be shoddy in their research and sloppy in articulating their thoughts, each very serious blunders in academia, for which each person
is eventually likely to pay dearly.

It is inevitable that the“Summers explosion” dominate this issue of STATUS. We have collected some of the best articles that have appeared in the press. The first of Summers’ hypotheses— that women do not want or cannot handle highpowered jobs—is not belabored in these articles, perhaps because the contrary is self-evident from exemplary performance of several high-powered women in academia (e.g. Susan Hockfield and Shirley Tilghman, both scientists and presidents of MIT and Princeton respectively). Addressing the second issue, of gender and “innate aptitude” we include Natalie Angier and Kenneth Chang’s article on brain research from the New York Times. An excellent, longer article also appeared in TIME(2). We include articles by Virginia Valian and Meg Urry that discuss Summers’ third issue of socialization and discrimination. A related topic, people’s unconscious biases is studied by Harvard psychology professor Mahzarin Banaji and had been causing a stir well before Summers’ speech. I was sent Chris Berdik’s Boston Globe article by Mary Rowe, the woman who has been successfully improving the climate for women students at MIT for the past 30 years. For a longer article on Banaji’s work see Shankar Vedantam’s Washington Post article(6). More than all these carefully-researched and articulated articles, young scientist awardee Shannon McClintock says it best in“I’m Wired for Science”.

The big question remains, however, whether the explosion has delivered sufficient momentum to change minds and institutions.

REFERECES

(1) Transcript Remarks at NBER Conference on Diversifying the Science & Engineering Workforce. (2005, January 14). Lawrence H. Summers. Cambridge, MA, from http://www.president.harvard.edu/speeches/2005/nber.html
(2) Ripley A. and Masters C. (2005, March 7). See Who Says a Woman Can’t be Einstein? Time Magazine.
(3) McClintock S. (2005, March 27). I’m Wired for Science. Parade Magazine.
(4) See page 21. Hennessey J., Hockfield S., and Tilghman S. Women and Science: The Real Issue. Retrieved February 12, 2005, from http://www.princeton.edu/pr/news/05/q1/0211-womensci.htm
(5) Changing the Demographics: Recruiting, Retaining, and Advancing Women Scientists in Academia. Speech by Shirley Tilghman, President of Princeton University, at Columbia University, from http://www.earthinstitute.columbia.edu/advance/events_past.html
(6) Vedantam, S. (2005, January 23). See No Bias, The Washington Post.

 

Edited by Fran Bagenal (University of Colorado)
bagenal@colorado.edu

Associate Editors
Joannah Hinz (University of Arizona)
jhinz@as.arizona.edu
Patricia Knezek (WIYN Observatory)
knezek@noao.edu

Contributing Editor Meg Urry (Yale University)
meg.urry@yale.edu

Design by Krista Wildt (STScI)
wildt@stsci.edu

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