Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Women in Science

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Women in Science

Article excerpt

"Parity as a Goal Sparks Bitter Battle" by Constance Holden, in Science (July 21, 2000), American Assn. for the Advancement of Science, 1200 New York Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005.

Though more and more women have opted for scientific careers in recent decades, they still constitute less than one-fourth of America's 3.3 million scientists and engineers. In physics and engineering, two of the most "hard-core" fields, the proportion is even smaller. Is this really a problem?

Many people committed to the advancement of women in science--including the members of a recent congressionally mandated commission--answer yes. Women are not inherently less capable than men in these fields, they argue, so if America wants to make use of its best scientific minds, it must not neglect the female ones. But lately, reports Holden, a Science staff writer, some dissenting scholars have risen to argue that the relative paucity of women in those fields is mainly a reflection of natural male-female differences, and that efforts to fix this non-problem could have unfortunate consequences.

"The pursuit of sex [parity] in the sciences has turned into an evangelical mission that threatens to undermine science itself," discouraging vigorous exploration of "the reasons for gender differences," contends Judith Kleinfeld, a psychologist at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

To Patti Hausman, an independent social scientist who spoke at a women-in-science symposium at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta last April, the reason more women don't go into engineering is obvious: "Because they don't want to. …

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