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You do science like a boy
May 20, 2009 11:39 AM   Subscribe

The kids girls are alright.
posted by Brandon Blatcher (50 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
In Canada.
posted by delmoi at 11:47 AM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Others say some boys simply lack motivation.

Perhaps it's because we don't trip over ourselves screaming paeans about "boy power." No, don't worry about the boys. Just hand them baseball bats. Or rifles.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:47 AM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


At the science fair, girls dominate the class

This was not about what I was hoping it was about. Not a total bohr, though.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:51 AM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Surely, when girls do science, it's called glience?
posted by Dumsnill at 11:51 AM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I thought it was nice to hear some good news for once.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:52 AM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


The numbers aren't as terrible as the story lets on. The number of boys dropped from 55 percent of participants in the Canada-Wide Science Fair 5 years ago (2004?) to 44 percent this year. It might be worse in some regions, as in Quebec, where girls made up 68 per cent of students at this year's provincial science fair. Also noted in the article: girls are also claiming the lion's share of prize money available each year: Eight of the last nine overall winners have been female.

There have been programs to increase female participation in sciences, which are now being used to get more males into science programs. It sounds like the prior push worked, and now there is a need to give a nudge to the other side.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:52 AM on May 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Well, and obviously if you poor resources into trying to get girls interested in science, it will eventually start to work. Even when I was a kid they had special programs for girls interested in science.
posted by delmoi at 11:55 AM on May 20, 2009


That article was just one huge "Dear God, what about the men?!?!"

I had to shovel through the horror at women excelling in a traditionally male dominated portion of the education system to find the good news: programs built to encourage participation in science fairs have worked. Hooray! If only I could have learned this without the unneeded distress.
posted by Mizu at 12:02 PM on May 20, 2009 [16 favorites]


The first famous person I ever met was a woman scientist: Dr. Roslyn Yalow.
posted by Mister_A at 12:05 PM on May 20, 2009


Oliver Jourmel, 14, suspects his peers... don't know what they're missing. ... "My friends laugh when I say I'm off to the science fair ... 'You're off to nerd fair' or whatever," he said. "When I come back and say I went to the aviation museum and I won $1,000 … then it becomes, 'Oh wow, that's kind of cool.'"

I found this very depressing.
posted by Joe Beese at 12:06 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Awesome. My daughter is doing a science fair this week. Her project: how long does it take to boil water in a solar oven. (she's only 8, so the stuff that requires tracking bears and doing organic chemistry will have to wait.)
posted by vespabelle at 12:10 PM on May 20, 2009


Not much of a surprise. Cut through the stereotypes about what a woman is supposed to do, and instead of dressing up and looking pretty and declaring "math is hard," girls will excel. So now we just need to teach boys that there's more to being a man than sports and drinking, and they'll also get into it.

It really shouldn't be that hard to push them, either. This is build-rockets-and-go-into-space, bioengineer-new-species-of-monster, build-a-god-damn-robot, blow-shit-up business. Science is fucking awesome.
posted by explosion at 12:12 PM on May 20, 2009 [17 favorites]


I always did love the name Beaulieu. "Nice/beautiful place". What a great family name.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:13 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Naturally there are no absolute numbers given, so it's impossible to tell if this is good news (girls increasing) or bad news (total participation, mainly from the boys, decreasing).
posted by DU at 12:14 PM on May 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


obviously if you poor resources into trying to get girls interested in science, it will eventually start to work.

Well, this seems obvious to us now, but I think many people would have said at one time that girls don't want to do science anyway, so it's not going to help.
posted by palliser at 12:16 PM on May 20, 2009


I've noticed this effect at the regional level fairs for some time, girls do dominate the projects, even at a ratio of 2 or 3 to 1 boy. Girls often compete in pairs, boys are more often than not solo. The national fairs I've judged reflect the regional fairs.

Are there more prizes for girls? Maybe a few, but it's not a huge number more. Most students only really care about how they placed overall. There are many obscure prizes (like the spectroscopy or the forestry ones) that a lot of students don't know about, and are often rather confused by: try explaining to a ten-year-old that they've just won the SETAC prize for environmental toxicology, for a "which bean grew faster?" project. Environmental whatimology? I don't think the special interest prizes, while nice, are strong motivating factors for competition, though there are the sharpers who enter projects like "The environmental effects of tree-pulp reinforced concrete on small mammals with big eyes" to clean-up on all of the obscure prize money.

Is there a difference between girls' and boys' projects? I don't know. It would be interesting to study. My gut feeling is that the boys' projects tend to be messier, less organized, but strongly motivated, while girls' projects are often well-presented and rehearsed, but I often get the feeling that they really don't give a damn about the subject. There are exceptions both ways, however. Is this real or just my bias? I don't know, but I'm always delighted to find a student that is truly interested in their work and not just going through the motions for a good grade in class.
posted by bonehead at 12:19 PM on May 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


teach boys that there's more to being a man than sports and drinking

Your right sports are only... WHOA... and drinking? What do you mean and drinking. Are you some sort of god-damned communist or something?
posted by tkchrist at 12:23 PM on May 20, 2009 [8 favorites]


Nature has a good book review about women in science and the "leaky pipeline" of career drop-outs. It turns out that having kids doesn't affect career outcomes...
posted by anthill at 12:24 PM on May 20, 2009


It turns out that having kids doesn't affect career outcomes...

I dunno. It certainly effect career income.
posted by tkchrist at 12:27 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


One of the real puzzles here is this: if girls do outnumber the boys in the school grades, why don't they go on to science in university? In Canada, only 25% of physical science and engineering graduates are female (there are more women than men in health and life sciences).

Why, if the girls out number the boys in grade school science, do women not choose science as a career?
posted by bonehead at 12:37 PM on May 20, 2009


This is primarily about a 5-year trend, bonehead. They aren't old enough. We don't know, yet, how this will translate into higher education and professional choices. We can only hope that it will.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:42 PM on May 20, 2009


This is primarily about a 5-year trend

But in the more general case, I've seen a lot of discussion online about how sexism inherent in the Western system continues to discourage equal participation in the engineering and physical sciences. Don't have time to look it up, but I'm pretty sure we've had this discussion on MetaFilter at some point, too. A search here might turn up some potential answers.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:51 PM on May 20, 2009


That article was just one huge "Dear God, what about the men?!?!"

I didn't read it that way. There's definitely a tone of concern, but there's also some portions of the article where people are pleased with the increased female participation, there's some where they discuss these numbers may not account for gender distribution within different sciences, and there's even some "it'll all sort itself out."

But even if the article reads as you describe, why would somehow be wrong to worry about men's performance in any educational field (assuming there's a legitimate case that they're falling behind)? To suggest that it's OK to worry about women in a similar circumstance but that there's something wrong when the shoe is on the other foot ... that's pretty much inimical the general idea of equitability in society, and that kind of stuff generally comes back to bite you in the end. If you stop being able to ask "What about the men?" -- whether personally or as a society -- you've let identity politics override general human concern, as surely as you have if you can't address the question "What about the women?"
posted by namespan at 12:54 PM on May 20, 2009 [8 favorites]


I've been judging (Canadian) science fairs since the early 90s. For much of the 90s, I also taught at the university level, in chemistry. Even now, I have a lot of contact with undergrads though work-term hiring programs and in sponsoring grad school students.

Even in the mid 90s there was a roughly even ratio of girls to boys in the shows, at least by my unquantified guestimation. There's been a generation now of girls like this, but still the male:female ratio in the physical sciences (a choice which happens in second year in Canada) skews male. The opposite is true in the life and particularly health sciences. I really don't get it, but seems (in Canada at least) like there is some huge disconnect that happens between girls/women and the physical sciences that happens around the time that they're 18 or so.
posted by bonehead at 12:54 PM on May 20, 2009


yeah, it's the same reason you don't see a lot of women in chemical engineering faculties (at least in the schools I'm familiar with) when the classes are over 50% female. There's a pretty long lag in getting those undergrads into actual teaching positions. In 5-10 years you'll see the science enrollment numbers change hopefully.

Also, it could be that the girls are smart enough to know that research science is a pretty crummy job in terms of pay and maybe they all go into accounting instead.

Also, margin of error? I mean, it's 65% boys one year, it's 65% girls this year, maybe next year it's 75% boys. An interesting article, but the numbers hardly constitute a statistically reliable study.

"My friends laugh when I say I'm off to the science fair ... When I come back and say I went to the aviation museum and I won $1,000 … then it becomes, 'Oh wow, that's kind of cool.'"

I found this very depressing.

14 year-old have limited ability to predict the future, make rash impulsive decisions. FILM AT 11.
posted by GuyZero at 12:57 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I thought it was nice to hear some good news for once.

If the trend is coming from boys not being motivated, this is hardly a blow to inequality. Girls are meeting standards, boys are falling below them.

Also, LOLLARRYSUMMERS
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 1:01 PM on May 20, 2009


Here's a data point for you: in my final year of high school, when the time came for me to select a major I would pursue at University, I was dithering between engineering and music. Music was my first love, but I'd taken math all the way through high school, found it an enjoyable challenge, and figured engineering would forvide a more stable and easier-to-find job when I graduated. When I told people about the choice I was trying to make, the reaction was very strongly towards "Engineering?!? What the hell are you thinking?? Apply to Music school!"

Wierd, isn't it?
posted by LN at 1:02 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Here's one of the recent Sexism in the Sciences MeFi threads I was thinking about. Plenty there to digest on the subject of why early interest doesn't always survive.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:03 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


One of the real puzzles here is this: if girls do outnumber the boys in the school grades, why don't they go on to science in university?

Well, this is an American-biased perspective, but:
"Adjusted for IQ, quantitative skills, and working hours, jobs in science are the lowest paid in the United States.

"This article explores [a] possible explanation for the dearth of women in science: They found better jobs."
It's really one of many Greenspun screeds about the relative value our society seems to place on people doing work in science more than a trove of gender-related insights, but I think he's on to something. We tend to talk a lot about how important the sciences are in the educational system, and wring our hands when fewer men or women go into the sciences, and I think we even have a cultural memory of a time when scientists were well-paid and respected compared to other professionals... but when you get to the career end of things, it does seem to be clear that nowadays, the return on investment is simply less justified.
posted by weston at 1:06 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


provide a more stable job. Geez.
posted by LN at 1:07 PM on May 20, 2009


...it's the same reason you don't see a lot of women in chemical engineering faculties (at least in the schools I'm familiar with) when the classes are over 50% female. There's a pretty long lag in getting those undergrads into actual teaching positions. In 5-10 years you'll see the science enrollment numbers change hopefully.

With all due respect, I don't think this will wash. People have been saying this for most of my adult life. It hasn't happened. Of the kids in my grad school cohort (1990-95), many, if not most of the males now have research careers of some sort, while most of the females ones have moved on to other careers (most of them good careers, just not in science). Only two, that I can think of, have stayed in the academic system.
posted by bonehead at 1:14 PM on May 20, 2009


Also, LOLLARRYSUMMERS

Not really. Summers's point was that girls tend to do just as well as boys on average, but that boys tend to disproportionately fill out the very tippy-top, and very bottom, of science performance, meaning that they also fill out faculty positions at top research universities. The fact that girls do well at grade-school regional science fairs doesn't say anything for or against his point.
posted by palliser at 1:24 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is there something wrong about women congregating in the health and life sciences? Given DNA research, and better understanding of the complexity and power of ecosystems, there is obviously huge potential there.

And call it what you will, but my daughters (12 and 9) and their friends, girl cousins, etc. are simply fascinated with animals and gardening in a way that my brothers and I never were.
posted by msalt at 1:25 PM on May 20, 2009


Peg Tyre's book is a "Oh my God, what about the boys??" piece, but she has some research to back up her passion (she's emotionally invested as a mother of two boys).

Naturally there are no absolute numbers given, so it's impossible to tell if this is good news (girls increasing) or bad news (total participation, mainly from the boys, decreasing).
As for the absolute numbers question, here is one education think-tank's interpretation.

How about we just encourage intellectual curiosity and provide challenging academics to all of our children, regardless of gender?? I'm a woman's college grad and stand by that experience, but overall I think identity politics born out of 70s Women's Lib has run its course and served its usefulness.
posted by njbradburn at 1:33 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


And before any of the Seven Sisters mefites pounce, I noticed too late the typo: Women's College ;>
posted by njbradburn at 1:35 PM on May 20, 2009


Cut through the stereotypes about what a woman is supposed to do, and instead of dressing up and looking pretty and declaring "math is hard," girls will excel.

You know, they can dress up, look pretty and excel...
posted by mr_roboto at 1:45 PM on May 20, 2009


namespan: why would somehow be wrong to worry about men's performance in any educational field (assuming there's a legitimate case that they're falling behind)

The issue that many people have with the recent spate of "But what about the boys?" articles is that recent research has shown that the "boy crisis" in education is actually a myth based on flawed research, and that race and class play a much larger part than gender in determining academic success.

Panic-inducing "boys are falling behind" rhetoric provides an opportunity for people to push for regressive educational policies. Caryl Rivers and Rosalind Barnett write about it succinctly and articulately in this article.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:01 PM on May 20, 2009 [5 favorites]


I blame this woman.
posted by maudlin at 2:01 PM on May 20, 2009


boy panic, boy PANIC, BOY PANIC!!!111!

I just wanted to type that. Seriously, this is good news, but a way small statistical sample. Barriers to all academic disciplines, and many others, for women tend to boil down to: penalties for having a family. Given that about 85% of women will eventually have at least one child, that's a large and ugly barrier. More so now that men are taking more of a parenting role, and experiencing some similar penalties.

Work/life balance, yadda yadda, subsidized daycare, yadda, inflexible corporate and academic structures for advancement, yadda.

Of course I would be completely thrilled if my son grew up to be a science nerd, who married another science nerd, and gave me little nerd grandchildren.
posted by emjaybee at 2:18 PM on May 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


I look at this and I'm glad that we can all cheer on women entering into the sciences. But, there's a part of this - and the push for women's science movement (which I do view as a very very good thing) - that as an unintended consequence, we've treated boys as the criminals in the Stanford Prison Experiment. By focusing our praise and emphasis on one group we have shunted another's growth in extrememly detrimental ways.

Maybe I'm just starting to adopt a view on this in sort of a similar way that Alan Keyes views affirmative action. Yes, there have been historical boundaries which have limited the push for women to be in science, but over the past thirty years a great number of those boundaries have been nullified. In terms of fostering additional growth opportunities for young women, we should now be targeting everyone - young women and young men. Yes, additional emphasis does need to be placed on post-academic equality, but I do view the new baseline (read educational system) as being potenially toxic to men in science.

Ugh... yuck... I've cited Alan Keyes as a way of my mind relating to the world... Please note, in general I view him as close to batshitinsane...
posted by Nanukthedog at 2:49 PM on May 20, 2009


> So now we just need to teach boys that there's more to being a man than sports and drinking

Hey, now. Nerds can drink, too. See: any university engineering program.
posted by you just lost the game at 3:16 PM on May 20, 2009


Only two, that I can think of, have stayed in the academic system.

Fair point, but again, it may be that women are sufficiently smarter to realize that engineering academic probably pays less in the short term versus work in industry. There is, last I checked, no shortage of chem eng jobs out there and extremely well-paying ones at that.

Anecdotally I expect the number of women in the 10 most dangerous jobs is pretty low but I don't hear anyone complaining about how few women their are in timber-cutting or roofing. It is entirely possible that we should take an absence of women as an indication that the job in question stinks as opposed to there being barriers to entry. Maybe lab science is about as desirable as long-haul trucking, degree requirements notwithstanding.

(note: this is not to say there are no gender-based barriers to entry in some professions. certainly there are)
posted by GuyZero at 3:53 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


"traditionally female dominated subjects, like English and public speaking"

Public speaking? Is that really a subject somewhere?
posted by unknowncommand at 4:03 PM on May 20, 2009


I think they usually call it "rhetoric".
posted by GuyZero at 4:13 PM on May 20, 2009


Reading the comments attached to that article it's a wonder any of us in Canada are able to breed children smart enough to enter a science fair, male or female, oy.
posted by zarah at 4:15 PM on May 20, 2009


This is [...] blow-shit-up business. Science is fucking awesome.
posted by explosion at 9:12 PM on May 20

Heh.
posted by _dario at 5:13 PM on May 20, 2009


One of the real puzzles here is this: if girls do outnumber the boys in the school grades, why don't they go on to science in university? In Canada, only 25% of physical science and engineering graduates are female (there are more women than men in health and life sciences).

Why, if the girls out number the boys in grade school science, do women not choose science as a career?


I don't have citations on me, but I remember someone mentioning that 80% of the undergraduates in Science faculty at my alma-mater in Singapore is female. Apparently, the guys all head over to Engineering or Business Admin.

Anecdotally though, very few women remain in Science for their careers, but I think that's more of a reflection of how Singapore's job-market is structured. Until the Lehman collapse, banks were sucking up all fresh grads in like a giant vacuum cleaner; why toil in a bio lab when you can toil in the downtown area for twice the amount with a lot more glam?
posted by the cydonian at 7:56 PM on May 20, 2009


Is there something wrong about women congregating in the health and life sciences? Given DNA research, and better understanding of the complexity and power of ecosystems, there is obviously huge potential there.

And call it what you will, but my daughters (12 and 9) and their friends, girl cousins, etc. are simply fascinated with animals and gardening in a way that my brothers and I never were.


I wonder if there is a natural drive that pushes women to biology while men are more interested in physics
posted by delmoi at 11:55 PM on May 20, 2009


I wonder if there is a natural drive that pushes women to biology while men are more interested in physics

Well sure. Physics is from Mars, biology is from Venus. Everyone knows that.
posted by emjaybee at 7:09 AM on May 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


I wonder if there is a natural drive that pushes women to biology while men are more interested in physics.

I'm going to say no, beyond the cultural issues. There are just about equal numbers of men and women in both the astronomy and chemistry programs at my university these days, and fifteen years ago someone probably put forward the same argument about those fields. Physics is an unfortunate hold-out in the gender disparity business, but I don't think it's due to any sort of inherent bias. With some exceptions, studying life sciences today isn't any more "nurturing" or "warm" (or whatever other traits one might think would make them girl-friendly) than physics. You're doing essentially the same lab work either way. And it's not the math, either, because the ratio of women going into that subject is rapidly increasing too.

Still, I suspect that the trend of women overwhelming the biological sciences has to do with the fact that medicine has recently become more woman-friendly, and you have to take lots of chemistry and bio as a pre-med. It makes sense to me that if you have lots of girls committed to doing exceptionally well in their life science classes, some of them will actually consider going to grad school for it, and other girls who are just interested in the subject won't feel so alone in their classes. It's sort of a self-perpetuating cycle once you get over the gender ratio hurdle.
posted by you're a kitty! at 10:58 AM on May 21, 2009


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