Why Are There Still So Few Women in Science?

Hint: The answer has more to do with “The Big Bang Theory” than with longstanding theories about men’s so-called natural aptitude.
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Stephen Hsu has said that Feynman had an IQ of 125.


Hsu says that Feynman himself reported that score, although I cannot find an online source for the quote.

0 2018-05-27 02:58:08 - HT

Good point. I think there is a bit of whining here. I am male and was told in high school not to take math classes, and ended up getting a degree in math and a masters in physics. I got the masters degree after a hiatus and was told by several arrogant professors that I was too old to get a degree in that field. I just ignored their attitudes.

4 2018-03-01 00:45:23 - Dave

wow, I guess I'm one of the lucky ones...In MIT in the early 80's there was a HUGE photo in the Infinite Corridor of alum Shirley Jackson (now President of RPI) and a big writeup about what she'd done and where she was working as a physicist (Bell Labs)...my undergrad advisor, Mark Wrighton (later was Chancellor at Washington University for many years), helped me get a fabulous summer job (HE PICKED UP THE PHONE AND CALLED PEOPLE FOR ME). By no means was I the brightest student or woman. But coming from a failing steel-mill town, as a first generation college student, I think I figured I would just go for broke as I wouldn't get anything without asking...He encouraged me to go to grad school, and so did my emeritis recitation instructor.
So MIT might have been awful for faculty women at that time but from my experience and those of the women I lived with, MIT faculty was incredibly supportive of its women students...not all warm and fuzzy (none of this mentoring business, there was no time for that) but short and direct and immensely helpful.

0 2017-10-26 03:31:48 - Margaret

Thanks for posting this. As you point out, a mediocre male is tolerated in the STEM (broadly, at any professional level), but a woman who fumbles even slightly is tagged right away as 'not to the mark'. I am so glad some conscientious men are starting to realize this too.

1 2017-09-01 10:40:12 - NS

As a mechanical engineer graduating in 1979 (one of 2 in my class), I experienced the same type of response from engineering professors. I also worked alone while the guys team worked on the numerous problems. I had an athletic scholarship, a job part time, and engineering. I felt the environment was so negative in college, I chose to go into sales engineering on the advice of my communications professor. The engineering professors total ignored me and refused to assist me in any way when I explored with them my choice to choose this path after getting my engineering degree. NO encouragement for going onto graduate school. Kudos to you for teaching yourself and staying positive.

2 2017-08-10 04:24:54 - WendySoucie

I think things are starting to change, at least in geology and biology fields. It helps that there are more STEM scholarships for females. Unfortunately more women are doomed to be in the middle of the bell curve, instead of at the "genius end". However, us women do have a better chance of not being at the lower end of the bell curve.

0 2017-08-01 21:57:19 - Rebecca LaBarca
In my experience, college is where the damage is done. As a teen, I represented the USA in major math competitions and won national and international recognition for a pair of proofs I discovered. This is what I did for fun; it's how my brain works. My high school, a public school, encouraged me. (It's true that there were gender disparities in my AP calculus and physics classes, but I did not notice them at the time.) I went to a top research university to study physics, a passion. My freshman record suggests great success: A+ in a mechanics course, A in an upper-level seminar on relativity, A's in various math classes, and a GPA above 4.0. One of my TA's got me a position working in his fluid dynamics lab.

Yet qualitatively, I thought I was flailing. Two instances stand out. My lab director brought me to a conference, but refused to let me present my work even as he encouraged all other (male) collaborators to do so. When I asked about it, he said that one had to be "really bright" to present. When I later visited a linear algebra professor enthused about a problem, he said explicitly that I didn't have what it took to go on in mathematics. I knew my grades were good, but didn't know the average grades for the class and I (not unreasonably) believed him. In retrospect, he surely had no idea who I was.

In judging my own chances in the field, I leaned on those who were best placed to tell me how I was doing. They suggested I was average at best. I did not go on in physics.
22 2017-07-22 01:42:53 - Sally

I am a biologist at the midpoint of my career and I also have 4 children. I agree with most of what the article says but not all.
I do not entirely agree with her point of view as far as families. Yes- a career in research is much more flexible than some careers. This flexibility allows my husband and I to stay home with sick children without disrupting our work too much- one of us takes the first half of the day and one of us takes the second. But there is the biological fact that women will be pregnant and breastfeed. This takes time away from career.

0 2017-07-12 17:55:16 - klur

Perhaps the stereotypical social awkwardness that many who excel at math and science posess also impeeds their ability in communicating with the oposite sex. Just a theory! Ask the lax playing frat guys to equate physics, many cannot do it. Ask the math geek to party and charm the ladies, many cannot do it.

0 2017-06-25 03:57:48 - mike

Anecdotes go along with scientific evidence to make a good journalistic article, which is what this is. The author provided plenty of examples of studies along side the stories she told to make this a rich account that has science backing it up.

And the lack of men in primary school teaching is also a result of misogyny, just in a different way. Since teaching elementary schoolers is considered a "woman's job," it is thus less desirable and many men don't want to do it. And since women are raised to believe that they need to be taken care of by a man, they may shy away from kindergarten teachers as a partner.

1 2017-06-05 12:59:47 - Melissa

I was surprised to learn about the strong cultural differences that are reported here. In this context, I must say that having studied physics in a country with no scientific tradition (Chile) was probably something favorable for all my brilliant female classmates, most of whom still continue their careers in science. After all, we were all a bunch of misfits wanting to pursue a career in science against a society that--at large--saw the study of science as an impossible to profit waste of time that nobody should pursue. Studying science was discouraged, for men and women, and we supported each other.

6 2017-05-11 00:15:06 - Cesar A. Hidalgo

Perfect case study of the effects described by other commenters here.

Perhaps if you were a man, hearing you were average at best, you would have soldiered on. And probably many who seem average-at-best at the college level turn out to be great researchers from the perspective of a life-long career. But you have to try in the first place, to get to that point.

Not that you didn't make the right choice by taking into account quality of life!

0 2017-05-08 20:19:49 - Josie

I wish I could find a comfortable ideology like feminism, Marxism, or some conservative religion that answered every complex question in the world with the same laughably stupid response. Must make life a lot less messy.

Eileen Pollack might have done well to study some biology along with her physics and math.

3 2017-05-04 09:52:53 - Michel Ange Zola

"Creative writing? Need more be said?"

Well, yes, more should be said. What are you saying, that writing is something less demanding, significant, meaningful than science? What nonsense; the two activities might appear on the surface to be very different, but both are essential for meaningful life on this planet, both require tremendous skill and application, and both are profoundly creative.

I can't imagine life without both.

2 2017-04-28 05:46:44 - Cam

I suspect that they are choosing to have children. It's very very hard to be a top notch anything and still be a Mom. Our First Lady has her mother in residence in the White House so there will be a consistent loving and beloved adult there for her daughters when she must be elsewhere.
Queen Elizabeth II has had lots of household help.

1 2017-04-12 07:05:54 - memosyne

I think the bigger question is "Why are there still so few women in politics, as heads of corporations, as school superintendents, and in so many other leadership roles?" Unfortunately, the lack of women in science is no exception--it seems to be the norm in so many aspects of American society.

10 2017-04-08 09:48:23 - Susan M

My sister-in-law during her first pregnancy came up with the idea that the baby should be given an ambiguous name - one that was not readily identified as male or female. She thought it could be an advantage in life. Baby (now 25) was a girl. She and her sister both got that type of name. The studies cited here seem to validate SIL's theory.

3 2017-03-29 13:06:23 - carol goldstein

I sent this posting to a friend of mine, who has a doctorate in math, and the author of several books. But not being able to find a job teaching math he is teaching in another field.

He wrote to me, "The thought police will get you."

But I am in my late 70's and I wrote back that the thought police would have to stand in line behind the grim reaper.

I know what happened to Summers, he was fired for saying what he thought.

But some of us have to be willing to take the risk and speak out.

And ahem, I have advised a number of female students in Math and computer science, and almost all of them are now professors or post-docs. I have seen no sign that they encountered discrimination.

I don't want to claim that discrimination against women does not exist at all. But I do think that a lack of interest in most women is the major cause. I myself am less interested in math as time passes and find people more interesting.

I see nothing wrong in the fact that most women discover earlier what it took me many years to see that the proper study of mankind is man. And women do seem to be much better at it.

Read Deborah Tannen!

2 2017-03-28 06:50:52 - R36

Frankly, I would love to see an expose of the 'best and brightest' from a math aptitude perspective comparing the current thought leaders in the physical sciences v those in the environmental sciences. A simple cross table showing their SAT scores on the Math portion of the exam and any GRE scores for Mathematics or Chemistry might be illustrative. Postulate - the best and brightest are not going to the environmental sciences. Those that have been 'weeded' from chemistry and physics tracks are showing up in the softer field.

3 2017-03-25 11:03:43 - John

I believe the main reason that more men are pursuing degrees in math and science is that women are genetically hard wired for the social sciences because they bear children. It isn't that woman aren't smart enough, but that most of them prefer jobs that have them interacting with humans during the day. Those woman that have the innate wiring where they are interested in biology, math, and physics will still go into those careers. Most doctors, nurses, sociologists, and teachers, are woman. I don't understand why society doesn't accept the different biological natures of men and women as woman are the ones with periods, bear children, and nurse them, so they are genetically hard wired different than men.. I was one of those women that was gifted at math early on, and ended up having a job in New York before the age of computers crunching numbers without even using a calculator doing it all in my head. I liked the outdoors, so when I got married, I took to raising all of our food and doing all the cooking, but was still the one who paid all the bills, borrowed money, and did the taxes every year. The social sciences (sociology and psychology) are very different in that humans are emotional and unpredictable, unlike numbers and viruses, which are predictable which most men prefer, or if you were the oldest, and no boys in the family and wired for math, you took to math like me. Much of all science is observation and thinking, so women and men are now both going there.

1 2017-03-24 23:38:22 - Mary Kay Klassen

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