The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Good Article...Bad Illustration

I just read an article on NBC Los Angeles' web site about attempting to persuade more women to enter science and engineering fields. It deals primarily with the observation that women routinely prove the same aptitudes as men in these fields, but choose not to go into them for social reasons. More specifically, the way that science and math are taught in schools gives a distorted view of what they are really about, and teenage girls are often exposed to a variety of social and personal pressures that cause them to reject science and engineering as fields for "weird boys."

The article is a good one, and might give the parents of girls something to think about. However, there is one point in the article where one of the people advocating for more women to become involved in engineering makes a curious statement. She is speaking about the lack of role models for women int he sciences, and says of her niece:

While Lamoreaux’s niece acknowledged the designers who did things like design apps for her iPhone were creative, she didn’t see any female role models. Her niece was able to name five favorite female authors but couldn’t name five female CIOs (Chief Information Officer).

I can't name five female CIOs either. Of course, I also can't name five male CIOs. I can, however, name five male authors, as well as five female authors. The simple fact of the matter is that, unless you are a business insider, you are unlikely to bother learning the names of CIOs of different companies. If you are a reader, however, you are very likely to learn the names of authors who produce work that you like. Comparing the knowledge of author's names to CIO's names is comparing apples and oranges.

The basic thrust of her argument is a good one - that there are more male than female role-models publicly visible in science, and that changing that might change the face of the science workforce. However, this particular way of illustrating that point just seems odd and counter-productive. To be fair, she was being interviewed and had to think on her feet, but it is a useful example to use when honing one's own debate skills. Never use an example that, upon reflection, doesn't actually support your point.

At any rate, read the article, it's a good'un.

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