Thursday, November 13, 2008

Title IX applied to science?

In the October issue of Touchstone, Phillip Johnson warns about the application of Title IX gender regulations to the field of science-- citing John Tierney with the NYT.

Title IX forbids gender discrimination in institutions receiving federal funds and has been mostly applied to athletics.

The fact that gender disparity exists in science became widely known in 2005, when Lawrence Summers, then president of Harvard, impoliticly tried to answer a question about why relatively few women professors at Harvard are in fields like physics, chemistry, and engineering. Summers attributed the disparity to personal choice based on disposition. His words were reasonable, but feminists at Harvard interpreted (or distorted) his comments to imply that women lack aptitude for science. The resulting uproar ultimately caused Summers to be replaced...

Reviewing how Title IX investigations work shows why scientists are right to worry that applying Title IX to science will lead to quotas. Perhaps a better way to put the point is that social engineering is the very purpose of invoking Title IX. The scientists’ defense to the charge of discrimination is likely to be that women are relatively scarce in the hard sciences and engineering because qualified women tend to choose other fields, especially social science, medicine, and law....

This defense is similar to the defense that athletic directors offered when they were first accused of violating Title IX by having fewer sports teams for women than for men. These administrators said that the disparity reflected the fact that fewer women than men were interested in competing in sports. The complainants countered that the low turnout of women was itself the product of discrimination. The administrators may have assumed that women were less inclined to compete in sports than men, and provided fewer resources because of that stereotypical assumption. Until the stereotype about women’s preferences ceased to exist, the institutions were responsible for the pattern of student choices that the stereotype influenced, and hence were guilty of discrimination.

There is every reason to suppose that the regulators will apply similar logic to male-dominated science departments that say that women are freely choosing other disciplines. The regulators think they know what women would be choosing, absent discrimination. So, if women make different choices, the cause must be implicit institutional discrimination, such as not enough role models or a sexist atmosphere. There may be no proof that such problems are more prevalent in engineering departments than in fields in which women are plentiful, but none is needed. The statistical disparity—plus the presumption of discrimination—is all that the Title IX enforcers need....

John Tierney recommends Susan Pinker’s book The Sexual Paradox for those who are skeptical about whether gender disparity in science is an oppression against which all the government’s regulatory firepower should be directed, or an ordinary outcome of free choices made by free people....

I wonder if institutional science will muster all its resources to defend itself, or whether the scientists will remember what happened to Larry Summers, and seek a plea bargain.


At November 17, 2008 at 10:52 PM , Blogger William Lang said...

Currently, about 30% of new PhDs in mathematics in this country are awarded to women.

An extremely interesting research article on women in mathematics was just published in the American Mathematical Society Notices: Cross-Cultural Analysis of Students with Exceptional Talent in Mathematical
Problem Solving

From the article:

In summary, some Eastern European and Asian countries frequently produce girls with profound ability in mathematical problem solving; most other countries, including the USA, do not. Children, including girls, of immigrants to the USA and Canada from some of the countries that excel in the IMO are overrepresented among students
identified as profoundly gifted in mathematics; USA-born girls from all other ethnic/racial backgrounds, including white, are very highly underrepresented. There exist many girls with profound intrinsic aptitude for mathematics; however, they are rarely identified due to socio-cultural, educational, or other environmental factors.

They give six recommendations to change the attitudes of the public towards math and to strengthen mathematics education at the secondary level for gifted students.

At November 17, 2008 at 11:53 PM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

Very interesting! I can imagine some cultural influences-- as well as the unsurprising problems emanating from monopoly provision of a good or service.

Another angle would be to insist on reverse-Title IX in fields dominated by women-- e.g., elementary education.


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