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Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Thy name is discrimination

Different upbringing, different nurturing, different brain matter, different job status.

An article called Gray Matter and Sexes: A Gray Area Scientifically published in the New York Times Monday, explored the research that has been done on the physical differences in the brains of men and women, the test score differences on male and female teenagers in more than 40 countries, and the cultural stigma of hiring women versus hiring men.

I found the most interesting part of the article pointed out that negative perceptions continue to hinder women in science in a big way.
Dr. (C. Megan) Urry (a professor of physics and astronomy at Yale) cited a 1983 study in which 360 people - half men, half women - rated mathematics papers on a five-point scale. On average, the men rated them a full point higher when the author was "John T. McKay" than when the author was "Joan T. McKay." There was a similar, but smaller disparity in the scores the women gave.

Dr. (Elizabeth) Spelke, of Harvard, said, "It's hard for me to get excited about small differences in biology when the evidence shows that women in science are still discriminated against every stage of the way."

A recent experiment showed that when Princeton students were asked to evaluate two highly qualified candidates for an engineering job - one with more education, the other with more work experience - they picked the more educated candidate 75 percent of the time. But when the candidates were designated as male or female, and the educated candidate bore a female name, suddenly she was preferred only 48 percent of the time.

The debate is sure to go on.

Sandra F. Witelson, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, said biology might yet be found to play some role in women's careers in the sciences.

"People have to have an open mind," Dr. Witelson said.
I don't know if there will be any less discrimination against women as a result of all this news coverage. And we may not like the way Harvard President Lawrence Summers started this debate. But at least there's dialog. And isn't that what he was hoping for in the first place?

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