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Hooke on Dec 5, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite

I was bullied as a kid for being a science nerd and now I am lectured for the "privilege" of having had those experiences by the same crowd of people who perpetrated them. I get it, now I have the "privilege" of being bullied as an adult for being a "white" "male." That's life, I guess.

So, the piece in question talks about the history of racism and sexism in popular science, then goes into a brief discussion of what sort of personality traits scientists have, both as children and adults, and the subjective experience of doing science.

The author of this piece is bullying you for being white and male? And they're the same sort of person that bullied you as a kid for your interest in science?

Girls didn't want to pursue science because it has had a severe social stigma attached to it. This created a self-fulfilling prophesy that ensured only social outcasts with no social standing to lose would consider being interested in it. Boys have much greater range of higher ceilings and lower floors than girls did in the past (and still today, just less so), so the people at the bottom are overwhelmingly male.

The door has been just as open to women as in any other field - the difference with science/tech is that (according to perception) only social outcasts are on the other side.

Even in 2015 GE was running those ads that make engineers looks like effeminate men who can't work with "real" tools, and that was from a someone trying to make their tech look good!

The elephant in the corner of the room is: there is no shortage of scientists. The great universities of the West churn out far, far more PhDs than there are post-doc positions for, let alone tenure-track. This has been true for decades at least. I probably know a few dozen PhD holders personally, and I can count on one hand the number actually working in academia...

Maybe what's really happening is that boys are impulsive enough to let their love of a subject overwhelm their better judgement, and girls take an objective look at long-term career prospects, then sign up for law or med school, both of which have very high female participation.

It would be interesting to know how IQ distribution relates to the distribution of males and females among those with PhDs and other advanced degrees, perhaps across various fields. Male IQs tend to aggregate at the lower and higher ends of the scale while female IQs tend to aggregate around the average. If IQ is a deciding factor in who lands a job in academia, I would expect the male to female ratio to be exaggerated in favor of males the more selective things get, at least in an idealized case. In practice, other factors may dampen that effect or exaggerate that effect further (e.g., females outperform males in school, fewer women may pursue academic jobs than men, etc).

I'm in this boat now: engineering PhD 5 years ago, well-published at the end of my PhD (sufficient for a faculty application) but instead created a startup to commercialize cancer surgery tech I invented, startup folded beginning of this year and I'm still unemployed after sending out several hundred applications. For each 100 targeted applications in industry/gov't I've sent out, I get around 6 responses, and 1 interview. It's soul-crushing. There just aren't many jobs out there that require a PhD, and for the jobs that don't require a PhD there's a stigma associated with having one.

I enjoyed the work leading to my PhD and the time spent at the startup was educational, but I have to conclude that pursuing the PhD was overall a mistake. I like the idea of the diversity of the sciences better reflecting the population at large, but I'm very angry that expensive education for a career with lousy prospects is being advocated. Considering the career outlook, poor pay relative to demands, and the disproportionate burden of child-rearing placed upon them, I see avoiding a career in the sciences as a rational choice for anyone, especially women.

Strictly from the point of the people who have acquired a STEM degree ( and perhaps have not found a job, or feel they are under-compensated), but only a small percentage of those who spend their career in research will have the skill needed to discover awesome stuff. And the more who go into research the better chance society as a whole has.

And the more who go into research the better chance society as a whole has.

That's very easy to say but where are the jobs for these people? http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110420/full/472276a.html

We would be better off identifying areas where there truly is a shortage of people (if any) and directing talented people there instead (and no, programming is not one of them).

  >> The great universities of the West churn out far, 
    far more PhDs than there are post-doc positions for, 
    let alone tenure-track. 
In steady state, each professor, on average, can only produce one student who goes on to be a professor.

And how many more to work in industry or government?

They are not professors... And in many if not most cases are doing work that could be done by anyone with a good Bachelors or Masters degree.

Any work, including being a professor, could be done by someone with a good Bachelors or Masters degree. Or no degree at all, but self-taught diligently.

The PhD is just one road to learning, which still has value for those who choose to pursue it.

I read the case of the child mentioned in the article and afaict, he didn't do anything even remotely interesting. The school response to him bringing the "clock" in was an overreaction, but the boy also didn't do anything interesting, and it came at the expense of other kids who are actually making novel things.

> In September of 2015, 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed showed up to his high school with a clock he’d made himself


More like he took apart a walmart alarm clock and glued the parts to a mini suitcase (Described by the media as a "pencil case")

Since this gets discussed to death, I think it's worth pointing out that it's relevance to the article is not what he did but the public reaction that young science/engineering/math interests ought to be encouraged in anyone with the interest. Whether his clock was worthy of that attention is independent of that, and it's kinda a shame the article starts with a highly distracting controversial example.

I seem to remember something about his sister claiming the entire thing was a PR stunt- that they purposefully make headlines look like "brown child brings in sketchy electronic device, racists call him terrorist" to get on the news. Anyone know what became of them? Last I heard they moved to Saudi Arabia.

Yes, they are currently suing a large number of people in the US. I cannot say whether the who thing was a PR stunt or not but the limited stuff I read in the press seemed to suggest he was pushing the issue harder than justified.

> I seem to remember something about his sister claiming the entire thing was a PR stunt

Do you have a link?

Right, no-one thought he had a bomb (proof: they didn't evacuate). They thought he had made a Hollywood-style imitation bomb for reasons of a prank. And that is not an appropriate prank to play in a school in the current climate.

No you missed my point! It doesn't matter what happened that day, all that matters is that it became a national phenomenon to praise the ideal of a child scientist.

It was a political statement not a scientific one. Ironically, and most likely lost on that family, is how important politics and marketing is to modern science.

That's a lot of saltiness over a kid who took apart a clock and re-assembled it without breaking it, following in the steps of Richard Feynman.

The saltiness isn't over what he did, but that he claimed to do something he didn't do. He did not build a clock as he claimed. He moved a commercially available alarm clock from one case to another. If he designed the logic and built it out of logic gates/a PLD or even built a kit, he could have legitimately claimed he built a clock. But he didn't.

Why are you so upset by the project of a 14 year old? It wasn't as complex as a child thought it was, who cares?

You must be completely ignoring the context and the media response that followed. Even President Obama cared enough about it invite him to White House.

Because he got handcuffed. Not because the project itself was worthy of attention from the President.

He got invited to the White House to provide counterbalance to the social idea that brown-skinned kids with beeping electronics are criminals that should have the cops called on them.

The simplicity of the project makes the reaction of the school worse not better.

> Because he got handcuffed.

He actually asked them to handcuff him and then take his picture because he said it would look cool. Look at the picture, the police officers are smiling in the background. He played them.

None of this is true. He didn't ask them to handcuff him and no one is smiling in the picture:



He was arrested and taken off school grounds. Next time please do your own research.

The police should not have been there at all, since the device is so obviously not dangerous.

The context is about whether race influenced police to deny his rights. How does the complexity of his wiring project matter at all?

I believe the people above are arguing that his intent was to create a prank more so than to create a clock by moving a clock from its original case to a suitcase which is how bombs look often on TV. Along with that argument, people would often argue that Steve Wozniak spent a night in jail for building a fake bomb around the same age. They would also often argue that Wozniak is a white male & therefore would argue against race having anything to do with this; especially in the current tense climate in regards to bombs compared to the climate when Wozniak was in school.

I can't speak for the others, but I don't care about whether or not his intent was to come up with a hoax device. I saw the pictures, immediately recognized it as something that was commercially produced, and then saw Obama praise his ingenuity, MIT invite him to campus, and all sorts of companies send him free stuff, all based on the lie that he actually built something.

There's nothing wrong with taking things apart to figure out how they work. I did the same thing at his age. But I wasn't pretending I built them. And we shouldn't hold his actions up as something to emulate.

That isn't to say I'm not concerned with the overreaction teachers, administrators and police had to the device. As far as I'm aware, the only reaction that they should have had—hey, that device has exposed mains!—didn't happen.

People of color didn't become scientists because somebody made a chemistry kit in 1937 featuring an Egyptian slave. Girls didn't become scientists because some companies science competition described them as caring and nurturing during WWII.

I've also heard different versions of the clock story.

Not saying everybody has an equal start - for sure not everybody is or was encouraged to become a scientist to the same degree. But it is not really an external force (or patriarchy and white supremacy) that is the culprit...

Pity, it would actually be interesting to discuss how to encourage kids into science, without the leading victim narrative.

This is a painfully restrictive way to view the world. What's the harm in looking at this problem as a complex system that we can work on until we reach a solution? There are without a doubt societal pressure on women and people of color not to pursue careers in STEM. All you have to do is open your eyes a little bit and it's obvious.

As the stereotypical white-cis-male-scientist, this sort of statement has always bugged me. I was pushed from science at every turn- multiple teachers said I would be no good, wasn't allowed to take advanced courses in HS, was seen as a wannabe by friends and peers, but at every step I also saw a concerted effort to get women and minorities into my field of choice (physics). Support groups, gender or race only clubs (never white or male), even banners celebrating women in science. In social settings, women & girls were always praised highly when they decided to pursue maths- whereas guys got the "what are you, a show off?" treatment.

What are these societal pressures that exist "without a doubt"? Every time I've tried to dig into the subject, I can only find ephemera and anecdotal testimony. Pressures echo from generations gone by, I know, but to what extent? And I know I haven't lived the life of someone systematically oppressed, but at least in the area I group up in, it seemed the exact opposite was true- systematic uplifting.

I'm not trying to say that they don't face any hardships, though I may not be privy to them, but rather that this whole problem could be rephrased without the women/minority angle. "People are discouraged from going in to science." is a better way to look at it, imo.

Stereotypical childhood toys, gender stereotypes that widely persist despite the efforts of the people making those "women in science" banners and starting those clubs, the standard difficulties of entering a group or field where nobody looks like you, very widespread reports from women of discrimination and harassment, several studies where professors are less likely to respond to emails from people with minority-sounding names, etc.

You really don't see any of these stereotypes in your daily life? Why are physics departments 80% men [1]? Just random chance?

[1] https://www.aps.org/programs/women/resources/statistics.cfm

A lot of that is anecdotes, like the harassment reports. You assume that all men are automatically welcomed into the high ranks of science, which is untrue. But they can't spin a story of "they rejected me because I was a man".

The toys might simply reflect preferences, why would companies be interested in pushing gender stereotypes? Yes, maybe more boys got a home computer for Christmas than girls - but how many girls had that home computer on their wish list?

Entering fields were nobody looks like you: maybe the women from Harvard is more similar to the man from Harvard than another man from community college, though? It's feminist theory to claim the difference between men and women is such a huge separator.

Some studies have some merit, like the response rate according to names, but it is not really enough to chalk it all up to discrimination.

As for the 80%, no it is not random chance - men and women are different.

My not-validated theory to explain it: maths is hard, let's go shopping! (Translation: women have other options).

> You assume that all men are automatically welcomed into the high ranks of science, which is untrue.

No I don't.

> Yes, maybe more boys got a home computer for Christmas than girls - but how many girls had that home computer on their wish list?

Exactly, I'm glad you see the problem. Everyone unconsciously adopts stereotypes based on how people around them act, and what they see in the world. Children are especially susceptible.

> Entering fields were nobody looks like you: maybe the women from Harvard is more similar to the man from Harvard than another man from community college, though?

Good point, class and upbringing are diversity issues too. You do see a lot of efforts to introduce computing and sciences to low-income schools and neighborhoods, which is great.

> Some studies have some merit, like the response rate according to names, but it is not really enough to chalk it all up to discrimination.

Nothing is 100% discrimination, but where it's a problem, it should be addressed.

> As for the 80%, no it is not random chance - men and women are different.

> My not-validated theory to explain it: maths is hard, let's go shopping! (Translation: women have other options).

Oh, I see. Should have read your whole comment before I started writing a response.

https://mobile.twitter.com/DanBeale1/status/8058790825966592... Head ups, a twitter account for some reason has a link to your comment, probably to manipulate up or down votes. I dont know what official policy is about that.

The harm done is in pushing the wrong explanations, which makes it difficult to find the right solutions.

Then what exactly is it you're doing? Because to me it looks like you're trying to somehow excuse the way society is structured that keeps women and POC out of STEM, and push the wrong explanation that it's somehow their fault for not choosing STEM in the first place. This isn't a productive vantage point to look at this problem from.

Obviously things have been changing slowly, but my point is that if you have ever talked to a woman or person of color about their experience in this career path, there would be mountains of really disturbing stories and examples of pressure/patronizing behavior/flat out harassment that keeps them from feeling welcome in the career they've been studying for sometimes decades. Not to mention all the subconscious biases we have related to the fact that girls never really had the social support to keep pursuing their interest in tech from a young age, while boys did.

I really encourage you to talk to some people around you and ask about their experiences, not because I'm blaming you personally, or all white men personally, for causing these issues. But because as a society we need to be much more aware of the larger forces at play in how our world is structured, and take part of the responsibility of fixing them.

"without a doubt"? Well I have doubts. It all depends on the time, of course - but even in former times it might have not been so much discrimination (a ka the thought "women are too stupid or belong into the kitchen") as the idea being so far fetched as to not be considered. This in turn might be an artifact of times when it really wasn't a sensible choice - for example if women were at high risk of childbirth (or missing out productive years because of maternity) so investing in their education would have a lower return (which became less of an issue with improved economic situation).

I especially doubt the common advertising narrative. I think it is much more likely that companies simply advertised what they thought would sell best (as in maybe boys being more likely to buy Chemistry kits), rather than them having a budget for pushing the patriarchy.

I think you are strawmanning the article. The point about the Ethiopian (not Egyptian) slave is that it is indicative of the fact that no black would be in a position to purchase that chemistry set. It is a historical fact that blacks were discriminated against and chemistry sets not being marketed to them is just one consequence of it. Don't know why you are so bent on denying history in favor of pushing your victimhood narrative.

My guess would be that the Egyptian slave thing stems from another time where it was exotic to travel and only adventurers would go to foreign lands and bring back people from there (slave or apprentice - would like to see the original kit). And there was a lot of mysticism around exotic countries, so having such a person on your mystery show (alchemy) would simply increase the effect. Yes, it sounds stupid today, but we are talking about a time before the invention of Google, antibiotics or routine international flights.

I'm sure other than that PoCs generally had less access to chemistry kits, probably mostly because they couldn't afford them. But I don't think that Chemistry kit was the issue.

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