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Context and Variation


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My response to the Guardian pseudoscience on girls and science

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Just wanted to give a quick heads up to those of you who follow on the blog but not on Twitter or Facebook (personal, blog) that Chris Chambers and I have a piece in the Guardian today responding to the recent pseudoscience on why more girls don’t pursue science in places like the US and UK:

Pseudoscience and stereotyping won’t solve gender inequality in science.”

Many thanks to Ed Yong for hooking up Chris and me, and to Chris for graciously inviting me to write with him. Check it out!

Kate Clancy About the Author: Dr. Kate Clancy is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Illinois. She studies the evolutionary medicine of women’s reproductive physiology, and blogs about her field, the evolution of human behavior and issues for women in science. Find her comment policy here. Follow on Twitter @KateClancy.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. Pauli 12:13 am 02/9/2013

    The gist of this article is that because we haven’t achieved “social equality,” whatever that means, parents shouldn’t encourage girls to be scientists. Until we combat all the inequality in our social system by giving out more free government goodies it is useless to try to encourage girls. And we should point to the wage gap, women ON AVERAGE make less than men. But if we say that women and girls ON AVERAGE, are more likely to enjoy cooking, it’s bigotry. And we have solid scientific proof that women not being scientists is all nurture and no nature. We are so sure of it we don’t even need to site it. It shouldn’t be the parent’s job to raise and teach their children. It should be the state’s. Parents, like the little snoot-hairs themselves, can do no wrong.

    Link to this
  2. 2. Kate Clancy in reply to Kate Clancy 7:30 am 02/9/2013

    Pauli, this is great. I’ll show it to my students as an example of how not to do a close reading. You really nailed the intentional misreading! I bet your eyes glazed over on all those sentences where we described the importance of both agency and institution, and how encouraging young scientists, while important, shouldn’t be in an authoritarian way unless we want it to backfire. Really well done!

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  3. 3. CChambers 7:54 am 02/9/2013

    @Pauli – Full points for completely misrepresenting everything our article says and stands for. Rarely does one encounter such a remarkable density of straw men, red herrings and non-sequiturs – all wrapped up in a neat little bundle of sexism and political bias.
    Bravo, sir. Bravo.

    Link to this
  4. 4. Pauli 9:38 pm 02/9/2013

    The authors should explain what “their article stands for.” I thought I did a fairly good job, but apparently my comment was a “straw-man.” Here are some of the conclusions I reached from reading the article:
    -”Gender conformism” is bad.
    -”Structural inequality” is the major problem that needs to be “identified and addressed.” Whenever I hear people who use words like you use and write in the guardian and talk about “structural inequality,” the solution is usually “giving out more free government goodies.”
    -We have no proof that boys don’t find “domestic scenario[s]” interesting more than girls.
    -If you wonder about biological differences and how they influence behavior, you’re a sexist.
    -Political bias is bad, and we guardian writers don’t have it.
    -Girls by the time they hit middle school do not consider themselves “science people” because of the “glass ceiling.”
    -We shouldn’t tell parents that they are doing anything wrong.

    Link to this
  5. 5. Pauli 9:59 pm 02/9/2013

    I read the stuff about “authoritarian parenting” in the link and it seems like a load of pseudoscience. The authors create, out of thin air, the idea of an “authoritarian parenting style.” It is essentially about being “strict and stern.” How does one even begin to measure this? These “studies” are based mostly on what the parents and children say about themselves. The bias here would be obvious. Parents who say that they “yell at their children often” might be more likely to have children who misbehave a lot, and thus score poorly in school. The researchers make the assumption that parental behavior influences the child’s behavior and never the other way around. Children who say that their parents would often “withhold love” to them might be more likely to despise their parents whereas kids who experienced “love withheld” as a child but amounted to something in life would be likely to report their parents as loving. And what about morality? At the end of the link one of the most stunningly illogical conclusions I have ever seen stated that children from authoritarian households are ” less advanced when it comes to moral reasoning” because they are less likely to go to their parents with moral conundrums. Can you believe it? A boy is less likely to ask his parent about whether to screw that chick if his parent makes it clear that that behavior isn’t acceptable! It’s not whether he actually screws the chick(for some reason the data isn’t available for this), it’s whether he asks mommy if it’s okay first!

    Link to this
  6. 6. novema 1:03 pm 02/10/2013

    Thank you so much for this article. My sister and I both grew up outside the US (in Thailand) and are currently pursuing careers in STEM in the US. One of my female cousins is planning to study engineer in university as well. For us, being in the STEM fields means more career opportunities and the chance to solve interesting problems, which I think would be equally appealing to girls and boys. The attempts to make STEM appeal specifically to girls in the US and UK are both hilarious and horrifying to watch. It’s like that old SNL skit about chess for girls (http://www.hulu.com/watch/282881), except that this time, the marketers seem to be entirely sincere.

    Link to this
  7. 7. Pauli 7:41 pm 02/10/2013

    @novena, I really enjoyed that skit. Based on a lifetime of both playing chess and being around girls I can say that that is mostly and accurate and true representation of American society. In my high-school chess club we had about 25 people, not a single girl. I competed in chess tournaments, and I remember that they were at least 95% male. The teacher for our chess club wanted girls to join, so he prodded us to invite them. When I told girls about it, they responded with either “that’s boring” or “why would I want to go hang out around a bunch of nerds!” Chess, like puzzles, video games, and computer programming, seems to repel most girls, who enjoy more social activities.. This may be cultural. The ironic thing is that those who control the culture are mostly Hollywood liberals. But I suspect that the difference goes deeper than that. Evolution didn’t stop at the neck.

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