Preposterous Universe

Tuesday, May 17, 2005
Women in Science Symposium

Everyone talks about the status of women in science, nobody ever does anything about it. But this Friday, May 20th, here at the University of Chicago, we are going to -- well, okay, we're going to talk about it. But maybe some action will come out of it, who knows?

We're having a brief symposium entitled Why So Few Women in Science? Defining the Problem and Taking Action. It's just for the afternoon, starting at 1:00 and stretching to about 6:00, in the Biological Sciences Learning Center auditorium. We've assembled a topflight crew of experts to talk about different issues: Rachel Ivie from the American Institute of Physics to give an overview of the current situation (at least in physics and astronomy), Kimberlee Shauman from UC Davis to talk about how things have been changing through time, Londa Schiebinger from Stanford to talk about issues of bias facing women scientists, and Tim McKay (see, we believe in diversity) from the University of Michigan to talk about the particular steps that have been taken at UM to address the problems. We'll finish up with a panel discussion, after which the road to greater progress will undoubtedly be perfectly clear. Thanks to Evalyn Gates for taking the initiative to actually do something.

If you're interested in this sort of thing (and who isn't?), there's an interesting debate at Edge.org on "The Science of Gender and Science," between Steven Pinker and Elizabeth Spelke. Unfortunately, they focus on the annoyingly irresistible issue of innate gender differences, rather than discussing the broader forces affecting the status of women in science. But, given that, they are both well-informed, sensible, and entertaining, and give strong arguments for their respective positions -- Pinker that innate differences are crucial in understanding the underrepresentation of women in science, Spelke that social forces are essentially to blame. You can read them and draw your own conclusions. (Having said that, I can't resist mentioning that Pinker engages in some truly dazzling instances of circular reasoning and question-begging. I mean, the math SAT's must be good measurements of ability because most of the people who go on to successful science careers did well on them? Hmmm....)

Ideas on culture, science, politics.
Sean Carroll

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