January 30th, 2009


Science needs chicks: a rebuttal

Heather MacDonald: The Times's Weak-Willed Women

The evidence to date suggests that the highest-level math skills—those required for research physics—aren’t evenly distributed among men and women. Men greatly outnumber women at the very highest and lowest ends of the mathematics aptitude curve. As Christina Hoff Sommers has documented, men also show greater interest in abstract, non-empathetic careers than women. Of course, the conflicting demands of raising a family and pursuing pure science undoubtedly influence women’s career paths as well. If scientific pursuit can be made more family-friendly without in any way damaging its essential strengths, such changes should be contemplated. But the fertility clock and women’s greater involvement with their babies are not chauvinist plots; they are biological realities.

My own take is that the academic lifestyle is not particularly remunerative, and the numbers-oriented women can do a lot better in business. Come to the dark side, my pretties!

I can see a problem with having a faculty that is too unbalanced, with regards to many respects. I've seen the groupthink that occurs, and it's not just a matter of men v. women. The people who do well by the system have no interest in questioning the system. Why should the gold standard be tenure, and why should tenure be determined as it is? I think much of the research, even in the sciences, is superfluous, and driven by a need to clear the pre-set hurdles. Teaching hasn't been valued in a long time; professors who teach well have been doing so in spite of the incentives in the academic system. One of the results here are the loads of crappy textbooks, as there is no reward for organizing what's already out there and making a cogent whole of it.

Anyway, something for me to think about as I think of how to constitute my school.

I'm getting old

I spent 2 hours of leisurely shoveling snow.... no, I didn't do it too energetically, and I took some breaks. But my shoulders and neck are killing me.


I'm thoroughly tired of winter at this point. I'd like a little bit of mid-40s weather with rain, to clear some of this crap away.