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Switch to Forum Live View The 20 brightest scientists in America - where are the women?
10 years ago  ::  Nov 21, 2008 - 11:53PM #1
Posts: 1,043
In January 2005 Larry Summers, then president of Harvard, caused a furore when he said that innate differences in scientific and mathematical abilities between men and women MAY underlie the relative dearth of top ranking female scientists. You can read about the controversy here: … draw_fire/

The upshot. Summers was forced to resign.

The latest issue of Discover, a respected popular science magazine, contains an article titled "20 Best Brains Under 40." Two qualifications are in order.

--They mean the best scientific brains; and

--The article is confined to scientists working in the US.

With that out of the way, I counted just 4 women among the top 20 "best brains" in science. A simple binomial test shows that the probability of this happening by chance is less than 1 %.

Note that these are scientist born in are after 1969. I doubt they would have experienced much, if any, gender discrimination against top scientific talent.

Here is a link to the article in Discover. … s-under-40

OK, folks any theories?

What, if anything other than chance, caused the relative dearth of women among Discover Magazine's "20 Best Brains Under 40?"
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10 years ago  ::  Nov 22, 2008 - 4:19AM #2
Posts: 19,669

Ebon wrote:

Well, sexism on the editor's part is an obvious option but there's at least one other possibility: How many women are there working in the sciences? I don't know about recently but certainly when I was at school (only about fifteen years ago), women were still discouraged from making a career in the sciences (for reasons which were, yes, almost entirely about sexism).

it may have more to do with a woman's quest for equality begins with assuring a good living

so that often means law or medicine not the applied sciences-this is true of other minorities in the states

Non Quis, Sed Quid
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10 years ago  ::  Nov 23, 2008 - 11:51AM #3
Posts: 16,967
First, I pretty much agree with Davelaw.

Second, I'm far from an expert on feminism...actually, I have no use for it or just about any other groupish-isms. But I am a phd in analytical inorganic chemistry and about half of my best and brightest high school honors and AP chem students, and about one third of my best and brightest university  graduate students are women. I seriously doubt there was anything at play other than honest statistics. All because some may not like what some facts say does not mean they are not true. As for what the future holds for women in science I think it's very bright and will get lots brighter soon.

BUT...don't even THINK about suggesting anything that smacks of guaranteeing equal outcome. Equal opportunity to advance based on proven merit without regard to gender/race/religion/ethnicity...absolutely YES... but quotas??? No way in hell please!

Libertarian, Conservative, Life member of the NRA and VFW
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10 years ago  ::  Nov 28, 2008 - 3:03AM #4
Posts: 8,301
There is a huge literature out there about why the appearance of a "glass ceiling" prevails, this metaphorical barrier that selectively sorts out women before they reach high levels on the career ladder. You're invited to dig into it. Explanations are manifold, the data pretty much always are as you sketch in the opening post, Steven. Not just in science, also in management, also in politics. It definitely is NOT an issue particular to science, that's something one can be sure of.

My personal take is that women generally face tougher decisions, for "culturally inherited norms and values" reasons. For men, it is seldom "career or family", while for women, it typically is -- often a self-inflicted dilemma, as career women typically won't choose a stay-at-home partner that doesn't deliver any status. For males, it even delivers extra status when he can support a wife and any amount of children. For women, choice of a childcaring softie subtracts from her status. Weird, but this is how our societies operate...
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10 years ago  ::  Nov 28, 2008 - 8:30PM #5
Posts: 669
Charikleia, we women are subject to our biology. Complaining about it accomplishes nothing. I'm a soldier; a regular army field grade officer. I made the decision to become a mother. That meant not being able to perform many of the duties of my MOS (aviation) for a time. Therefore, my advancement understandably, and JUSTIFIABLY has lagged behind those men, AND women who have not become pregnant and new mothers. When we women choose to become mothers, and thanks be to Allah that in this country it is actually our choice, we have to give something else up. My husband may well become a general officer. I hope so. I'll probably top out at Colonel. If I hadn't chosen motherhood maybe I'd have a chance at stars...still might...insh'Allah...who knows.

My own case is only an example but, Charikleia, we women do have to make and live with that choice. There is no getting around it. And choices, and actions, have consequences. I'm happy with my choice. Several of my sister officers have chosen NOT to become mothers, and that is their choice.

I'll steal a line from another member on Beliefnet and simply say, sometimes reality needs to be considered.

And as usual, I agree with what Colonel Ken wrote.


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10 years ago  ::  Nov 29, 2008 - 6:34PM #6
Posts: 8,301
Hi Aisha!

Yes, choosing motherhood can be a choice against career.
But it needn't.
There are a few examples out there where children and career go hand in hand.
Heck, even Sarah Palin could be called into court to prove that.
But typically this is all about finding somebody else to care for the children.

If you aren't as well-off to afford a nanny or a stay at home husband,
things get more difficult. Then it's good to have a welfare net to rely on:
A guarantee not to lose your job when you get back to work within 3 months after birth,
and cheap quality day care. That's what I made use of, over here. It works :)

Society is what we make it. Equality of chances can be chosen for, or against.
I wouldn't want to live in a society where you're forced to opt out of job success
as soon as you're poor and "choose life"...
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10 years ago  ::  Dec 06, 2008 - 3:30PM #7
Posts: 1,640
back in the late 1950s my mother had to quit her job when she became pregnant with me because she had a government job and back then evidently women weren't allowed to work AND be mothers at least not if the state was your employer.  go figure.  she managed to hide her pregnancy until the seventh month though!  she was/is small... 

i found out in my 30s that my IQ is up there, but my education (if you pardon the vulgarity) sucks.  I experienced sexual assault and bullying/harrassment when i was a teen which didn't help.  My dad disappeared when I was young also.  Mom raised her four kids alone and paid off the house.  (She got another government job walking distance from home...her brother in law was an elected official there - I am sure that helped.)  Anyway, I realize now I probably could have/should have taken Intergrated Chemistry Physics in high school, but that was considered a 'boys class' back then.  Feminism seemed like it was more about bra burning back then.  I did take an Electronics class in which I was the only girl. 

Still, because of the harrassment, missing dad, working mom, etc. I nearly dropped out of school a year before graduation even though I was basically an A student (my grades did suffer a bit from the garbage I was going through).  It was easy to not be noticed as I slipped, too, because there were 600 in my graduating class.  I had hoped to attend a smaller religious high school but I was told no - probably because it was 10 miles away and really I don't think my mom could afford it...but I wasn't told that then.  I think my life would be totally different if I had gone there though.

After high school and a year of vo-tech I worked in radio.  I was one of a handful of female announcers back then.  I don't know what happened to the one female announcer who was on the air in my area back in those days.  That business wasn't the friendliest most ideal environment for women back then.  The pay wasn't the greatest (!) either. 

anyway, it seems that there are roadblocks for women all along the way.  i assume there are some for men, too, but i don't know them the way i know my own.  I believe sexism is a factor.  Ageism too.  Being older and female (not as good of "eye candy" and/or not as easily pushed around or willing to put up with injustice/insults) is two strikes in some eyes.  I don't know what the percentage is, but many men and some women still don't think a woman should be working 'outside the home'.  Taliban itis?  I say, if I shouldn't work then what do you suggest I do?  Mooch off my retired, widowed mother?  I am not married and don't have kids.  Get on 'welfare'?  Oh that's a great idea - if it even existed for singles who aren't disabled enough to not work.  Because around here it doesn't. 

lately i wonder if there is a way to fly over this wall or do i have to scale wings are a bit battered.  At least the Red Hat Ladies/Society is within reach now.  (I wasn't sure I would make it to 30 to tell you the truth - I was in a terrible freak car accident when I was 29 that I am blessed to have survived.)

Anyway, this brain didn't get scholarships as she might have due to socioeconomic factors?  Chronic pain/fatigue contribute to doing something about that now.  I did go back to school for 2 years and had hoped to finish another 2, but that got sidetracked as well.  The job market is rather awful right now, too, so building up some capital and starting a business or two isn't happening.  Don't ask about credit - that's been in a hole for years although it was decent for quite a while. 

Back to the drawing board? 

Thanks for listening.  This is one example of how potential gets derailed/sidetracked/delayed. 

Did I hear that Harvard is allowing low income folks to attend free?
Risen Lord Jesus' Peace!
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10 years ago  ::  Dec 06, 2008 - 4:24PM #8
Posts: 1,043
Some evidence that the reasons for the relative paucity among women in the higher echelons of science is probably NOT gender discrimination comes from a report issued by the policy forum at Washington University.


"….By comparing funding rates of women and men for early-career grants, they found "that funding success rates for nearly all grants were essentially equal for men and women, regardless of degree" and say that the data suggest that women are CHOOSING to leave the NIH-funded career path…" (Emphasis added)

The report goes on to express the hope that the NIH and others will develop strategies to retain women.
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