Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Sex, Computing and Achievement

So, I came across this article in Scientific American entitled, "Sex, Math and Scientific Achievement," with the subtitle, "Why do men dominate the fields of science, engineering and mathematics?"

First, I am glad to have been directed to the article by the ACM TechNews Service (that I wish would direct other computing professionals to SIGCSE 2008 -- hint, hint :-). Second, I am happy that the topic does directly address the Symposium theme regarding both diversity and accessibility, as well as (cap)abilities in the larger sense. And finally, I am glad they used "Sex" in the title so I could use it with some cover, and hopefully get more attention to the Symposium ;-). Not controversial enough -- sorry :-(.

I plan to re-read this substantive article, but the quick/incomplete summary goes like this:
  • women talk gooder and are better at ... I think it's something about remembering
  • men are better with what they can see, move and measure (perhaps a diagram would help, see right)
  • intervention studies are still in their infancy but suggest both sexes can benefit from targeted training to improve their skill set
This final observation pertains most directly to the goals of the Symposium.

It seems that the motivation for this work involved a certain former Harvard president and his comments in 2005 at a small conference on economics. One of my favorites quotes from the article talked about the belief that differences between the skill sets for each sex are "mutable," and thus education matters:

Indeed, if training and experience did not make a difference in the development of our academic skills, universities such as Harvard would be accepting tuition from students under false pretenses.

There are some interesting observations about girls and boys where they are equally skilled on average but not "equally distributed" (my quotes) in mathematical ability. There are many other observations, including my other favorite quote:

Of course, even if you’re smart, you might not want to be a scientist.

Please note that I am pulling some items that caught my eye, but there are very many important points to discuss; for example, stereotypical bias in hiring and evaluation. I urge all SIGCSE 2008 attendees to find time to review, and I invite you to a conversation at one of the few coffee shops in Portland, my schedule permitting -- I am sure Susan Rodger will cover for me ....

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