Friday, October 29, 2004

Women in physics

Several people, including Peter Woit (before me) and Sean Carroll (after me) wrote essays about women in physics, and because I think that this issue is very interesting (and in the American academia, it is also clouded by feminist mist and myths - which is a nice combination of syllables, is it not?), I can't resist to write something about the topic as well.

The male scientists do not have a monopoly in their fields anymore. There are fields in which the women are making more impressive contributions than men.

Also in physics, we are surrounded by many women and girls who are very smart. They can also be smart and beautiful, if you allow me to make another point. They can write papers that are more technical than the papers of their male colleagues, and they can be stronger personalities when they defend an idea. The most cited high-energy physicist in the last 5 years is female, and I am happy that her office is next to mine. The president of the APS is female, too. Marie Curie Sklodowski had received two Nobel prizes for physics and chemistry and Maria Göppert Mayer one physics Nobel prize. Nevertheless, the percentage of women in physics continues to be small. Usually we don't distinguish the physicists according to their gender - and I think that generally we should not distinguish - but sometimes it may be useful or it may be fun.



That's a good point to start. Let me redefine the word "feminism" to denote the ideology based on the assumption that females are being exploited by the males, and radical steps must be done against it. Many of us have lived in a regime based on "marxism-leninism" which is based, among other things, on the idea that the working class is being exploited by the capitalists, and radical steps must be done against it. Well, some steps have unfortunately been taken in the latter case, and many of us have had experienced the consquences.

The formulation of the previous paragraph makes it clear that I am not going to defend this type (and most other types) of feminism. Incidentally, a feminist according to my definition does not have to be female. It can be a male, but then it means that something is not right about him, I think.

Feminists also believe that men and women do not differ in any way (perhaps, some of the most realistic feminists realize that there are at least some differences related to reproductive physiology). They believe all possible types of unscientific ideas. For example, they believe that the only natural state of affairs is when males and females have the same representation (50 percent vs. 50 percent) in every single field of human activity, and anything else proves that there must necessarily be some discrimination going on.

The influence of this ideology at the U.S. academic institutions - namely the policies that try to "protect women that are discriminated" - is discouraging for several groups of people:

  • first of all, the affirmative action is discouraging for the successful and talented females (or other "minorities") who want to be (and can be) equally good or better than their male (and other female) colleagues. The existence of affirmative action tells them: "If you get a job or an award, it's not quite because of your abilities and work. It's partly a bonus for your not having a penis (or for having a different color of your skin than your friend, or whatever else)." I know very many women (and members of other "minorities") who don't need any support of this sort. In fact, I would even say that every time this discussion starts somewhere, the girls who are already in physics confirm that they don't want this "help".
  • the idea that the affirmative action may have been relevant for a decision creates the feeling among many people that the particular women are worse at the end, even though it is often not the case.
  • the propaganda that the girls must have the same good results in physics and maths at the basic schools and the high schools causes unnecessary frustration for many of the "ordinary" girls who are really not interested in math and physics - because this propaganda makes them think that it must be their personal problem if they're not as interested in math and physics as their male classmates which is often the case.
  • the stereotypes about the "abusive emotional relationships" between "senior" male professors and "junior" female graduate students, which is the usual way how the "problem" is being presented, is potentially devastating for many relationships, and it does not reflect reality too well. In general, the assumption that an emotional relationship must be "abusive" by default is just a wrong and counterproductive assumption - an assumption that effectively contradicts the presumption of innocence.

I hope that it is not such a secret - and I can tell you that my diploma thesis advisor in Prague (please don't ask me about the name, to keep it partially confidential) - whom I consider my friend, and we wrote a textbook together - married my classmate. She simply fell in love with him during the first lecture, and finally it worked out, despite the 20+ years age difference.

I personally find it disturbing if someone has the courage to publicly question their relationship just because he was a teacher and she was his student. Such a questioning simply violates what I consider to be a respect to basic human freedoms, and a respect to important relationships between the people - it's a disrespect to love itself. But of course, the "mainstream" approach to such questions depends on the culture and traditions of each country (even though I believe that there is not too much difference between the USA and Czechia at the end).

Don't get me wrong: I can imagine that there are abusive relationships, and something should be done with many of them. But it's just wrong to assume that a relationship must be like that, and it also wrong to assume that the abusing person always has the same gender and job, which is a different gender and job from the abused person.

It's also very unbalanced to create a false stereotype in which the teachers are trying to date their students, and not the other way around. I know more examples of the second category that is claimed to be virtually absent in the USA. It's very hard to believe it. Also, it is not too natural to think that it is always the males who become the abusing ones.

The myths about discrimination as the universal explanation

Now, let me say that it does not sound realistic that the girls are currently discriminated at many places if they want to become physicists. Moreover, I claim that all of us who understand how the universities work must know that no visible discrimination exists. The average girls simply do not like physics as much as many boys do, even if they are supported. It's not something that is guaranteed to be the case forever, but today it is simply an observable fact, regardless of its explanation. Most of my female classmates at the basic school and the high school openly declared that they hated math and physics, despite the attempts of the teachers to make them like the subjects. Of course, such observations have their exceptions, but I've met a sufficient number of people to claim that my statistical ensemble is large enough to start to make realistic conclusions. I am sure that most people must agree that it is true - that the girls usually hate math and physics - and the people who claim that it is not the case had to be brought up in the vacuum.

Genders have played slightly different roles in the society for centuries and millenia - but even if they did not, there are just so many biological (and biochemical) differences that a different "typical" focus of the two genders just could not be surprising.

Another factor is - and this paragraph was added later - that the boys typically have higher fluctuations from the average which implies a higher concentration at both ends of the "linear spectrum of abilities", whatever this simplified construct exactly means. This fact that the males have larger fluctuations (in their aptitude etc.) has an evolutionary explanation - the number of children that a female has is more uniform which discourages Nature from making too many experiments with the females - while, on the other hand, males can have very many (or no) children which means that "better survivors" may be generated if Nature allows the men to fluctuate a little bit more.

The male and female brain work differently in details and hundreds of differences are known. The average male brane has 20 percent more neurons than the average female brain (23 vs. 19 billion of cells, according to a certain "normalization"). The latter has more connections between the neurons than the male brain, but I can't tell you any numbers. When thinking about language, one can show (by EEG) that both female hemispheres, but only one male hemisphere, is active. The hormones influence the brain in many different ways, and so forth.

Also, one of these two brains is dominated by gray matter while the other is predominantly run by white matter. This sentence was also added later.

The expansion of the cortex has been a critical stage in the evolution of the humans. No doubt, the human cortex is much more developed than the cortex of chimps and gorillas. A related fact is that the chimps and gorillas have less than 10 billion neurons; the rats only have 65 million neural cells or so. If we talk about biology of mammals, the size of the brain does matter, and only very silly (or strongly ideologically blinded) people may argue that the size is completely irrelevant for the functioning of all brains in general.

Various other differences (hundreds of differences) between the male and female brains are known (they are related to hormone, genes, anatomy, physiology, and the early evolution of the embryos), and it seems that ordinary people know them better than many of my colleagues scientists. See, for example, the following pages:

Let me point out that it may be a waste of time to talk to those people who simply believe that the sexual organs are "the only difference between the men and women" because these people have not fully adopted a scientific way of thinking. They obviously can't observe the world around, and they are unable to click at the five links above and learn the elementary stuff.

On the other hand, the number of neurons is certainly not the only factor that influences the way how a person (or an animal) thinks and how capable is she or he to perform different types of mental activity. Let me emphasize that the possible conclusions about the correlations between anatomy and mental abilities should not affect the decisions about any particular individual; we can learn much more about anyone if we talk to him or her than if we measure some physical parameters. On the other hand, these possible correlations are the necessary considerations that we must make when we try to explain some statistical data, which is necessary for rational policymaking.

Physical weakness as an explanation?

Concerning the female "weakness", I just don't buy it. The females can be equally or more powerful - sometimes even physically - as the males. I would guess that my colleague in the department who can be the toughest one in her criticism of string theorists, for example, is female. ;-) And there are other examples like that. Sometimes it is not the case, and a certain amount of aggressivity is a necessary assumption for many jobs (and unlike others, I don't think that physics is the totally best example). This will be discussed in the next section.

There may be parents who are discouraging their daughters from becoming physicists. At the end, I don't believe that most parents would become upset if their daughter is a successful physicist or engineer, for example. But even in those cases, the parents simply have the right to try to influence their daughters (and sons) within the mantinels defined by the law. Being a parent of someone is not something that you can just ignore. And the daughters and the sons have the opportunity to disagree and revolt. And many do.

Arrogance, aggressiveness, competitiveness

Some people try to argue that it is not a real discrimination but rather the atmosphere of competitiveness, arrogance, and aggressiveness that discourages young women from becoming physicists. Well, the following comments come to mind:

  • physics is certainly not viewed as the most aggressive, arrogant, and competitive field by the general public. In fact, just the contrary is closer to the truth. The mathematicians (and physicists, for that matter) are viewed as "sissy". No doubt, politics, wrestling, and other sports are examples of human activities that are viewed as much more aggressive and competitive.
  • there is no hard evidence that the women would be more discouraged by these three things than the men. Many women are attracted by aggressivity, and so forth.
  • on the other hand, these three things, at least in some concentration, are often important for the development of the field, and it is certainly not only true about physics. One can eliminate competitiveness, for example, but this is more or less guaranteed to reduce the efficiency. Is the balanced percentage of different groups more important than whether we will be able to find the truth? I don't think so.
  • physicists, especially the theoretical physicists, often use big words to explain the role of their field in the scheme of things. The main role of theoretical high-energy physics, for example, is to reveal the most fundamental rules that underlie all phenomena (or at least, as many as possible) in the Universe and their mathematical encapsulation - and this quest is obviously more intellectually demanding and important than feminist studies, for example. Alan Sokal has shown that whole fields in social science are pure rubbish, and a physicist who knows why he chose his or her field will agree.
  • if someone does not like this description of hierarchy in science because it is "arrogant", he or she should not have chosen theoretical physics. If the understanding of the role of theoretical physics as above is how "arrogance" is defined, then "arrogance" is an important feature for a theoretical physicist, I think. We study the field because we think that it is important and it excites us, and if someone finds it unimportant, she or he should choose a different field. Why? It's not just because she or he can contribute more in the other field, but she or he will also feel more satisfied with her or his own work.
  • yes, this feeling of the importance of our field and our work is analogous to other feelings in other fields (including wrestling, and the number of push-ups, and other examples by Sean), but this means no problem for the society that "smears out" these different viewpoints. Also, it is important that some people are able to argue and decide which activities are important - otherwise there would be no tools to decide how various fields should be funded, for example.
  • I see the exactly opposite problem than the "problem" described by Sean, for example. Current string theorists and physicists in general are just too "nice", and this atmosphere is correlated with the reduced amount of progress that we're doing (whichever is the cause vs. the effect). I know that Nima Arkani-Hamed agrees with me, for example, and the people who say the opposite statement seem to be disconnected from reality.

Summary

The affirmative action - or the positive discrimination, as we call it in the EU - is not right. It does not really help, and it is not fair. Its goals are based on scientifically unjustified, arbitrary assumptions. It creates bad feelings, stereotypes, and havoc in many decisions. Women have had the same rights (in almost all aspects of life where it's possible) as men for quite some time. Talented female mathematicians and physicists, such as Emmy Noether, have already been able to succeed 100 years ago. In Noether's case, it is David Hilbert, not the feminist movement, who can be credited for making sure that all conceivable prejudices were irrelevant already in 1907.

There will always be some differences between the genders, I think and I hope, and it's time to stop inventing ghosts that are supposed to be hurting the women behind the scenes - because the real consequence are antighosts that are hurting the actual women in reality, and the only difference between a ghost and an antighost is the sign of the ghost number.

Note added later: If you want to see a reaction of an actual self-identified feminist, click here. Obviously, there exist different opinions about this issue.

The author argued that Sean Carroll has beautifully explained that the physicists are - let me paraphrase it - arrogant white male assholes (congratulations, Sean!), and she calls for a cultural revolution in physics. Also, she effectively admires her feminist movement for having discovered the localized gravity and warped geometry.

Also, she argues that Lisa Randall is definitely too old and she definitely could not study at a good university. If she used the internet search engines, she could have found out the Lisa is not that old and that she received her PhD as well as BS from Harvard which is not such a bad school.

29 comments:

  1. Lubos,

    Curious - have you ever done anything other than physics? I used to be in such an ivory tower myself. I've learned a lot by getting out of it. This theoretical stuff about "affirmative action discouraging talented women, etc." is all fine and good, but it can be true only ***after*** companies or universities stop having a policy of not considering women for jobs. Maybe physics doesn't need such a policy - on the other hand, Caltech did not admit women undergraduates till the mid-70s; presumably some women undergrads from that time might have been senior Professors by now.

    -Arun

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  2. Let's not forget that the most highly cited theorist of the last five years is a woman :)

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  3. I just wanted to add the last-five-years citation comment. ;-)

    Arun: the question what was happening in the 1970s is exactly the type of pseudoargument that should not affect the way how women are treated today. BTW, most schools did not follow Caltech.

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  4. Lubos:

    Women **should** be treated no differently from men, today. Kind of obvious. We're having this discussion because they were not, and perhaps are not. That is why what happened in the 1970s or affirmative action is not a pseudo-argument.

    -Arun

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  5. Hi Arun!

    Do I understand well that you agree with my basic thesis that affirmative action should not exist? A.A. = positive discrimination *is* about the rules to treat women differently.

    Best
    Lubos

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  6. Dear Lubos,

    Consider going to a standard biology textbook and looking up the debate on "Nature vs Nurture". And then come back and tell me whether you think women are genetically programmed to be less interested in math/physics or whether there might, perhaps, be an enviromental component to their disinterest.

    Samantha

    p.s. Given that women's brains are, on average, smaller (which they are, they are), how relevant do you think the absolute number of neurons is?

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  7. Hello Samantha!

    Yes, this debate is - and always has been - a Nature vs. Nurture type of debate. Let me start with the comment that if you find these scientific questions too sensitive, you should not be reading my blog because this blog is not meant to distribute incorrect theories whose only purpose is to satisfy someone! This is real stuff. ;-)

    If you think that this question Nature vs. Nurture has been given a universal answer "one of them only" which is moreover included in the standard biology textbooks, you must have read these textbooks incorrectly. Or perhaps, you confused a biology textbook with a crappy ideological book.

    No doubt, both Nature and Nurture are relevant under various contexts. This does not preclude the existence of contexts in which one of them only is relevant, and the other is negligible.

    If you only believe females who say that :-), I can give you the following reference to an article by Kimberly Powell (that says that both of them are relevant)

    http://genealogy.about.com/cs/geneticgenealogy/a/nature_nurture.htm

    There may be environmental components of female disinterest in math and physics, but there may also be an artificial environmental components of their interest. ;-) I just don't know how you want to twist the answer in one specific way, without making any experiments. That's a mere guessing.

    You want me to say how important the number of neurons is. The brain is an extremely complex system. It's pretty clear that there exists some minimal number of neurons that is necessary for nontrivial reasoning of the human type. It's equally clear that we can't exactly say how much it is.

    One evolutionary comment. It is relatively obvious that one of the evolutionary steps that we had to make since the time we were monkeys was a growth of the brain, especially some portions of it, I forgot how they're called. Just compare the size of our brains with the brains of the chimps. If you care, chimps and gorillas have 7-8 billion neurons only, while a rat has 65 MILLION only. Yes, size is not everything but it seems that size mattered indeed...

    I certainly don't think that we can show that 19 billion is not enough ;-), if you want me to be specific. We have experimental input that shows that 18 billion can be more than enough. Of course that this rough number is sufficient for advanced human intellectual activities. On the other hand, the people who study these questions would be able to tell you various correlations between different anatomical and biochemical parameters of a brain and different physiological and behavioral properties. These links and relations between different things are never perfect linear relations, but it would be very unreasonable to think that there are no correlations.

    It's difficult to teach general relativity to a chimp, and the explanation of this fact is a complex question. But would you doubt that the explanation is related to the fact that some parts of the chimp's brain are less developed than the human brain?

    All the best
    Lubos

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  8. Could you answer my question? Do you believe that women are genetically programmed to be disinterested in math, or not?

    Samantha

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  9. I am not sure why I am bothering ... but if you want to educate yourself on "facts of about the brain" with references, Lubos, try:

    http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/facts.html

    Said she wearily: the numbers that you are referring to are, in fact, the numbers of neurons in the neocortex (which, to be fair, is thought to be the centre of deductive reasoning) . We are supposed to have on the order of 100 billion neurons all in all, so maybe I'm only 3.5% stupider than you, Lubos, although I am 15% less logical. To those who can't be bothered to check the site, octopi brains have 300 billion. But then some of them can change colour.

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  10. Samantha, you could have asked the question more precisely and more carefully - your question implicitly contains the statement that "all women are the same", and so forth, which is of course not true.

    If you asked me whether I believe that after a (hypothetical) eliminating or subtracting all "nurture" and the cultural/environmental influences, the average of a large ensemble of the real women (those that live today) will be less interested in math and physics (and perhaps more interested in some other fields), my answer would be "Probably yes."

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  11. Octopi are cool, but the physiology is so much different from the humans that a simple comparison of the number does not yield too much useful information about their intelligence.

    On the other hand, we share more than 98% of the DNA code, whatever this figure means, with the chimps, and many things can be compared quite meaningfully.

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  12. I'm with Samantha, in thinking that it probably isn't worth arguing, but I cannot resist making a few points.
    First of all, the clearest reason to allow "Affirmative Action", as far as it concerns females in physics, is that it is the only way in which to change the culture of the field. You are right in saying that equal opportunities for women have existed for quite a while. And, in most academic fields, we have seen the fruits of our feminist labor: applications to medical school and law school have both become 50% female. Yet, in physics, we continue to see terrible numbers. Why is it that women are able to excel in other fields traditionally considered "logic based", but not in physics? There must be something specifically cultural about physics itself. Exactly what that cultural aspect is can be debated. The one thing we do know, is that the ONLY way we will be able to change this culture is to encourage women to enter the field, even those who have been hurt by this culture. Men sitting around the table talking about the problem won't make it go away (although it can certainly help).

    Second of all, on a purely semantic level, your definition of the word "feminist" as incorrect as it is misleading. In the true sense of the word, "feminism" is (according to the Oxford English Dictionary), "Advocacy of the rights of women, based on the theory of equality of the sexes." Hence, a feminist is someone who believes in the equality of the sexes; not someone who believes that men are exploiting women. These are quite different beliefs: in the theory of equality, men are not worse than women, they are equal. When people use the word feminism incorrectly, and insist that it involves a belief much more radical than equality, it makes "feminism" a dirty word. And let's not forget that the very reason why there are female physicists sitting in the office next to yours (and presumably getting paid, unlike Nobel Laureate Goeppert-Mayer) is because of the work of a great many feminists who faught for gender equality.

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  13. Come on, Maire, what you wrote is sort of disturbing.

    Which "change of culture" do you exactly want? What do you exactly find wrong about "culture" in physics? Physics is a hard science, not just some generic combination of cultures. Incidentally, my comment comparing feminism to leninism - and their plans to make a "revolution" - was a sort of hyperbola. I did not expect someone to advocate something comparably far-reaching... ;-)

    Why do we continue to see the numbers very different from 50 percent in physics? Well, I think that it is about the right time for you to start to consider different explanations because your universal ones do not really sound terribly convincing anymore.

    However, your last sentence is even less acceptable. You know, Lisa Randall may have some inclinations to feminism, but my guess is that she would agree with me on this point. The overwhelmingly primary reason why she has these positions is the fact that she is an exceptional and highly original physicist, who proposed, among many other things, the most popular paradigm - at least in the last five years - for future particle physics phenomenology, but also many other insights in related and unrelated subfields of particle physics. And if she were not an A* class excellent physicist, all these awards and positions would be less justified.

    Mayer has done a great contribution to physics, too - moreover physics that has already been verified very well. She showed that the nuclear shell model works very well if you add a spin-orbital interaction. Haxel, Suess, and Jensen did it independently, and only one of them (Jensen) shared half of that Nobel prize. Your comments about the zero salary of Mayer is a twisted - one could even say demagogy - because there have been many excellent male scientists (many of them became heroes later) who were not paid right before they made their most important contributions.

    But all these feminist explanations of various sociological facts about physics should have been applied 100 years ago or so. Today they are pretty obsolete. You know, many people have been very cautious about possible discrimination of women already 100 years ago. Your idea that all men fought against women is a ridiculous one. For example, one of the most talented mathematicians and mathematical physicists of the early 20th century was Emmy Noether.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emmy_Noether

    Already when she was 25, she became a world-wide scientific celebrity, right after her PhD, simply because she was very good, and although the university did not have female professors' restroooms, David Hilbert made it sure that she could have become a "Privatdozent", and her career continued smoothly in the USA after Hitler expelled all the Jews. Virtually all women in physics have had strong (and not just female - in fact, usually male) advocates, and some of these women were proved brilliant.

    David Hilbert was no feminist, and it is him who must be credited for beating possible prejudices that some people could have had around but there were not terribly important even 100 years ago. You say that I am wrong if I say that feminism involves a belief much more radical than equality. But you proved it yourself: you're calling for a "culture change" (or culture revolution?) in physics - something like Mao Tse Tung?

    Feminism, as it continues today, is one of the pitiful matters that hurts most intelligent women because they are confused with this painful movement.

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  14. By the way, you can find a complete list of female Nobel laureates here:

    http://www.almaz.com/nobel/women.html

    Marie Curie got it both for chemistry and physics. Mayer is the only other physics winner, while there are two more chemistry winners. Seven women got it for physiology and medicine. Peace and literature have a more significant fraction of women, although it is still less than 10 percent.

    There is no female winner for chemistry.

    Although the percentage is lowest in economy and then in physics, it is very far from 50 percent in other sciences, too. The reason I am listing this data is to kill your idea that something wrong is happening exactly and only with physics - and you should start with your cultural revolution elsewhere, Maire. ;-)

    If you looked at computer science and engineering fields, you may see even more disappointing figures.

    Let me describe your wrong goal differently. Women are not *obliged* to get the same fractions everywhere. They are better in giving the birth, milking, perhaps also diplomacy ;-), but also various things related to language and so forth. By expecting women to have the same representation and achievements in every single field, you are putting many of them into a very frustrating situation - especially those who are already working in some fields and they realize very strongly that there is no discrimination around.

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  15. The sentence "there is no winner for chemistry" should say "...economy".

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  16. Lubos, I agree with absolutely everything you are saying on this issue.

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  17. Hi, thanks a lot! It would be even more pleasing for all of us if you wrote at least your initials and city/state, because otherwise some people will think that I am writing such support for myself. ;-) But please free to ignore this wish, i am grateful for our harmony anyway.

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  18. Well then they are cynical.
    Again, Lubos, I agree with absolutely everything you are saying on this issue!

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  19. Dear David, thanks, I sort of knew it was you! :-)

    The word "cynical" is very funny exactly in this context - Sean Carroll just wrote an article "blogosphere is cynical" at his blog:

    http://preposterousuniverse.blogspot.com/

    Why does he think that the blogosphere is cynical? Because no one writes about the "obvious fingerprint" of George Bush's team on the latest Osama's video. Would not you kick him to his buttocks? :-)

    David G(r)oss finally gained time and sent individual answers to the congratulators, by the way.

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  20. Hi,
    I just wanted to let you know that I have discussed some of this on my own blog:
    http://cptmoll.blogspot.com/

    ~Maire

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  21. Yea the feminist myth that the hard sciences (including math) is in anyway biased against women in this day and age, clashes with reason, and frankly makes them look removed from reality.

    Speaking as a physics postdoc, I would absolutely love having more females around me, both for whatever results they might bring to the table and for a better social scene outside of class. -shrug-

    Unfortunately here is the fallacy (seen for instance in one of the previous posts). The observation that there is a lack of females in the field, therefore there must be a sociological reason driving things. Bzzt! Hasty conclusion. There could be genetic reasons... Maybe, although I imagine that would be hard to show. But more importantly, and perhaps more obviously, it could be sociological reasons *long* before high school or college.

    Which is why I think affirmative action, and feminisism based in the context of college and grad school is ridiculous. If you want to target inequality, look at the early developmental years, b/c afterwards, meritocracy is really the *only* thing that reigns supreme... And thats a good thing, its what keeps our field functional and not stuck in a rut like some of the social sciences and humanities are in. If you don't know what you are doing, you simply won't last six months in physics. There is hopelessly little room for BS in fields where you can be disproven by an experiment or by mathematical logic.

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  22. Btw Lubos,

    You might want to be a little bit careful in these discussions. As your career progresses these sorts of things can come back and haunt you. All it takes is for some zealous feminist to track down some of these blogs and make a huge political fuss about that sort of thing. While I think that what you said is perfectly rational, and the thinking of the silent majority in our field, I would point out that there is significant and *active* forces at work against that view. I don't think you would want to be cast as the anti feminist male pig by a huge group of political activists protesting outside the physics department, b/c thats the sort of thing they are capable of doing (see for instance Richard Feynman).

    Btw in english.. we don't say 'is not it', but rather 'is it not'. =)

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  23. Thanks for correcting my incorrect "IS NOT IT". ;-)

    That's a cool idea. Is there some way to speed up the feminist protests? I can't wait! You know, for me, the basic values of science and its methodology are at least as important as the feminist rubbish is for the feminist activists. ;-) It would be great to show how powerful these people have become, and I guess that others would be also interested to see it.

    Otherwise, I guess that you realize that I don't intend to restrict my basic human rights by "being careful". The people like me who could keep their opinions under the communism, the system that has killed tens of millions of people, be sure, won't care about a few hundreds of stupid feminists in front of our department. ;-)

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  24. I've erased a very obscene advertisement for a certain type of websites that have really nothing to do with intelligent discussions.

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  25. I've deleted another anonymous comment signed by "Sarah" that contained new unsubstantiated personal attacks against me, some old well-known feminist propaganda - nothing beyond what's explained in my article - and a lot of the same old misunderstanding what "science" means and how it should work. I've deleted it because it seems that this text had no positive value for my readers. I hope that most of you understand that the discussion on this blog should be moderated in order to protect the common sense and rational reasoning as the main forces driving the discussion. It's not surprising that there may exist people who disagree with me, but nevertheless the contributions like those of Sarah are not welcome on motls.blogspot.com, and I am sure that the authors of these texts can find millions of other places on the web that will be grateful for their contributions.

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  26. From the "Professional Conduct" section of Harvard's "Information for Faculty in Arts and Sciences":

    Fair Treatment of All Students Students should be treated even-handedly. Equity is not necessarily achieved, however, by treating all students in precisely the same way. For example, some students respond positively to hearty, well-intoned criticism while others are discouraged by it. Some students welcome public comments about their work, while others are embarrassed by them. Genuinely even-handed treatment of students depends upon making a conscientious attempt to recognize and appreciate such differences. Teachers (and students) should guard particularly against ethnic, religious, sexual, and other discriminatory stereotyping.

    Sexual stereotyping much?

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  27. Hi Mariangela!

    Thanks for your comment with your identification.

    I think the text that you quotes is pretty good, and it's easy to agree with it. Most of us try to follow all these rules - and others.

    Incidentally, it seems that at Harvard, the students of all races and genders are very good. More specifically, the female physics students (in average) are more or less equally good as the male physics students. Well, yes, a comment that must be added is that the percentage of female students is lower.

    It seems reasonable to expect that if we artificially increased the fraction of the female students, the last paragraph would no longer hold by the basic laws of differential calculus.

    All the best
    Lubos

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  28. I'm trying to think of what to say. I don't entirely disagree with you, although my experience rather differs from yours. I've just graduated from high school, and my experience was the following: out of the nine girls in my class, six showed a keen interest in science. Four of them intend to pursue careers in science. Of those four young women, three intend to study physics. It is difficult to compare these numbers to the male students in my class, since females outnumber males nine to four. I will mention that two of the four boys in my class were interested in science (both in physics), while two were completely bored by the sciences.

    I would describe myself as a feminist, though certainly not by your definition. My position on affirmative action is undecided, because I can easily see both sides of the issue.

    I stumbled across this article because I was curious to research potential discrimination against women in my field of interest, theoretical physics. The results I have found are discouraging. It seemes that there are very few women in physics, and that women tend to be paid less for doing the same work as their male counterparts.

    In any case, I found your entry interesting and well-written. I suppose I will find out if women are discriminated against in physics when I get there.

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  29. I forgot to mention, both of the male students who were interested in physics received grades far poorer than their female counterparts. Then again, with such small numbers, that isn't necessarily significant.

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