Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Title IX Expanding?

by Andrew Gillen

Those who care about the future of science should go read John Tierney's piece A New Frontier for Title IX: Science in the New York Times. He points out that the powers that be are in the beginning stages of implementing Title IX requirements to fields in the hard sciences.

Those opposed to the move have a strong case:
"there is far better research showing that on average, women’s interest in some fields isn’t the same as men’s."
“The freedom to act on one’s preferences can create a more exaggerated gender split in some fields.”
“Colleges already practice affirmative action for women in science, but now they’ll be so intimidated by the Title IX legal hammer that they may institute quota systems... In sports, they had to eliminate a lot of male teams to achieve Title IX parity. It’ll be devastating to American science if every male-dominated field has to be calibrated to women’s level of interest.”

In other words, no one doubts that women can do science just as well as men, but for some reason**, women tend to choose to go into other fields instead. Since the imbalance appears to be caused by choice, to impose numerical parity would decimate the number of scientists (The number of women would not increase since they would still tend to choose not to go into the sciences, but the number of men allowed would be reduced so as to equalize the numbers of males and females.)

** Discrimination is an unlikely reason. Females now outnumber males in college, so to argue that discrimination is the reason for their scarcity in the sciences, one would have to argue that colleges in general are not discriminating, but that just about every science and engineering department in the country is.


capeman said...

For once I find myself in the position of accusing the blogger here of being too politically correct:

"no one doubts that women can do science just as well as men"

Oh really? You think women can really at the top levels in mathematics or theoretical physics? Have you ever hung around a high-powered math or physics department?

And if women have different aspirations, is it such a stretch that they might have different abilities?

Lisa said...


From what I've read, research into men's and women's different intellectual capabilities is inconclusive. Personal choice is probably the reason there are more men in math and hard sciences. I predict that will change within the next twenty years as gender roles and expectations continue to shift. I don't think it's necessary to expand Title IX to hurry it along.

And since you were unclear in your post, I'll use my ("naturally" superior female) creative skills to interpret:

"You think women can really stand all the chauvinism at the top levels in mathematics or theoretical physics? Have you ever hung around a high-powered math or physics department?"

capeman said...

lisa, you needn't apply your supposed creative skills, by mistake I left out the word "compete".

You are saying the same things that were being said 30 years ago, if only there were opportunities, if only men weren't so chauvinistic ... the red carpet was rolled out back then, there have been special fellowships, professorships, etc etc the whole panoply of group preferences. And you know what? It's hardly made a dent at the top levels. And there is nothing, nothing at all, holding back female performance.

Can you imagine an Einstein or a Chandrasekhar or a C.N. Yang being restrained by predudice against "Jewish physics" or Asians? And they lived back in a time when they really did face discrimination, bitter discrimination, in the case of Einstein it helped keep him from getting a job and eventually he had to run for his life.

If anything, women were more prominent a century or so ago, back in the time of Emmie Noether and Lise Meitner and Marie Curie.

Perhaps something will change in the next 20 years, but I don't see any reason at all to think so.

By all means, pursue science or math if you like, like all of us, do the best you can, but don't be too disappointed if like most of us you don't make it to the top of the heap, if you turn out not to be an Einstein or even a Feynman.