Thursday, November 26, 2015

Why not to get more girls into STEM

Shaun Maguire, a Caltech PhD student, wrote one of the hyper-PC texts
How to get more girls into STEM
that simply drive me up the wall. It is marginally understandable when a female feminist – whose broad framework of thinking is in between a clever man and an average ape and who is driven primarily by efforts to increase her own influence – emits this insane ideological junk. But when a man who managed to become a Caltech PhD student and who calls himself an entrepreneur does the same, it's breathtaking.

At the top, Shaun includes a photograph of three young men who sit in a classroom and try to "increase the gender diversity" (a euphemism for the increase of the percentage of females) in STEM fields. Well, the creators of The Big Bang Theory have filmed a scene that is more humorous than the average one but whose overall description of "what happens" during such outreach programs is remarkably accurate:

Almost all the female children are super-bored by the scientifically sounding stuff. They communicate with cell phones all the time. If something makes them alive, it's always the non-scientific insertions about rock stars or the social life that someone happens to add in between. Not even the word "astronaut" sounds intriguing to them in any way. And even aside from their detachment from science, it's very clear that the men who visited the classroom simply don't have and can't have any magic stick that could turn the girls to scientists. Some of their history may look helpful, some of it doesn't. It's always like that. Sheldon summarizes the visit by saying that he didn't know whether girls were actively discouraged from science but the three guys' outreach program surely did so. Efforts to pretend that the reality is something completely different than it is are almost always counterproductive.

The interest of a particular kid in STEM fields is mostly determined by Mother Nature and the part that isn't is mostly cancelling out up to a noise – the social interactions sometimes push a kid closer to and sometimes further away from STEM. Many great male scientists had to fight heavily for their right to do mathematics or physics. Their parents threatened them by disinheriting the kids, and so on. They became top minds, anyway. From this perspective, it looks really shocking what tiny effects are blamed by the feminist ideologues for the women's underrepresentation in STEM.

The percentage of females in the STEM fields is small and the gap ultimately boils down to biological reasons. In fact, it may be rather easily demonstrated that right now, the scientific institutions already include an artificially elevated percentage of women (which is a result of half a century of political correctness and affirmative action). If you look at the men's and women's activity at places related to STEM that are voluntary and open for everyone – like discussions about physics on the Internet forums – you will see that the percentage of women is much lower than it is in the institutions.

As a classic wrote,
Mathematics is a man's game. A gender gap appears early in life, blossoms with the onset of puberty and reaches full bloom by mid-adolescence. It indelibly shapes women's prospects for doing significant mathematics. In this account of cognitive sex differences, Prodigy shows how sex-differentiated ability in 15 year-olds accounts for the exiguous female representation at the highest levels of mathematical research. A female Fields Medalist is predicted to surface once every 103 years.
The average IQ between men and women only differs by 0.12 standard deviations – not far from 2 points or so – and it wouldn't make such a difference. The tiny percentage of female Fields Medalists mostly boils down to the significantly higher standard deviation of the men's IQ distribution. The male/female ratio of standard deviations is 1.1 or so (or 1.2 for variances, if you wish). Men's variance is larger not only for IQ but for lots of other variables, too.

This greater men's variability allows some extraordinarily stupid men and extraordinarily smart men. You need the latter for a Fields Medal work. Because the distributions are nearly Gaussian and the Gaussian curve decreases very quickly, women's narrower shape of the curve reduces the number of shockingly smart women really quickly.

But I want to discuss Shaun's particular comments in some detail. At the beginning, we hear
I wish I could say that I’ve returned w/ emergent spacetime figured out, but alas, I was simply inspired to write about a heady topic that is quite personal to me: how to increase gender diversity in STEM.
It would indeed be more sensible for a guy working on a Caltech PhD to do work and texts on the emergent spacetime instead of extreme feminist agitprops. But the latter is easier, Shaun, isn't it? But maybe John Preskill will guarantee a PhD for you for your political correctness, too. Maybe you and John will successfully defend the thesis "How increasing women in science may crack all mysteries of quantum gravity".

Also, another amazing thing about the quote above is that "women in STEM fields" is a personal topic for him. How it can be personal? How could he be any closer to that topic than pretty much anyone else? I could perhaps claim to be personally close to this topic because I was one of a very small number of people who have been harassed by the feminist bullies because of this issue at Harvard. But what Shaun says about this stuff is the same junk that became highly widespread in the U.S. Academia. In many departments, it's the "official ideology". Is it "personal" for everyone in those departments?
(Maybe the key to understanding quantum gravity is to have more women thinking about these questions?)
One would hope that this is a stupid joke except that with people like Shaun who have abandoned their rational thinking, one can never be sure. Maybe he is genuinely proposing some of the relationships between sex and mathematics or physics that Alan Sokal has mocked in his famous hoax paper. The value of \(\pi\) is a result of the discrimination of women, isn't it?
...a male undergrad asked: “as someone who’s only a student, what can I do to help with this issue?”
You can't do anything just like you can't do anything about the fact that wolves are more likely to eat rabbits than cows.
1. Full stack problem: this isn’t an issue that can be tackled by targeting any specific age range. It especially can’t be tackled by only focusing on recruitment for colleges or STEM jobs. Our current lack of diversity literally starts the day children are born. We have a broad culture of pushing kids away from STEM but these pressures disproportionately target girls.
First, a correction. The significantly different percentages of sexes in STEM and other fields already start to be created when the babies are conceived. And some early months of pregnancy are already very important for the "sex type" of the brain that is being affected by very different levels of testosterone in the male and female embryos. But let me not talk about biology too much.

We're drowning in the urine of affirmative action and ideological rants like Shaun's so the pushing kids away from STEM disproportionately targets boys these days – because there are tons of people who will tell you it's "not right" when you do it to girls but boys don't have this protection.

It is terrible that the general culture drives people away from STEM but this anti-STEM bias ultimately boils down to the average people's genuinely negative attitude to science and mathematics. A great majority of the people just aren't into these things. Those who like STEM are exceptions and a big majority of them are inevitably male.

What's needed is to protect the freedom and dignity of these people and their opportunities to grow – and promote arrangements in the society that do so. But attempts to make almost everyone sincerely like STEM are as misguided as attempts to increase the "gender diversity". The laws of Nature just don't allow such a thing.
2. Implicit biases: one of the most damaging and least spoken about mechanisms through which this happens are implicit biases. Very few people understand the depth of this issue and as an extension how guilty WE ALL ARE. Implicit biases are pervasive and they are pushing girls out of STEM. Here are examples from my own childhood which highlight how subtle the issue is.
As I have already mentioned, the belief that "implicit biases" matter is totally analogous to the belief in homeopathy. One can find some extremely weak effects everywhere but who starts to believe that the whole world is controlled by such weak effects is crazy.

But this is not just a scientific question – the belief in the importance of the weak effects is hopelessly unscientific. It is also an ethical question. You may believe in homeopathy but once you start to accuse perfectly and demonstrably innocent men who have never done any significant harm and demand that they feel guilty, you become a dangerous jerk.
I have a younger sister who has basically the same brain as myself (truly, we can read each others minds.) I became a theoretical physicist and entrepreneur and she’s a lawyer. This is obviously a worthy profession but how did we choose these paths? For years I’ve been looking back and trying to answer this question. Upon reflection, I was astonished by the strength of my implicit biases.
The fact that you like your sister or understand her emotions (and she can understand yours) has absolutely nothing to do with the talents of the two brains. Obviously, if she became a lawyer and you went to Caltech, the evidence suggests that your brains are very different.

Very analogously, my younger half-sister has a college degree in teaching and languages. We may perhaps "read our minds" in some contexts but it is spectacularly clear that our attitudes to science are totally hyper-different. She believes that the number of supernatural phenomena that we don't understand and perhaps can't understand vastly exceeds the things that science has understood or will ever understand.

We have views about that which basically haven't changed since the time we were 10. At least since that time, I "knew" (I use the quotation marks only because I know that the verb would be disputed) that and why supernatural effects didn't exist and all of phenomena in Nature may basically be described by some laws of physics that we have "approximately" identified and we have a chance to discover in their full glory. She's always been convinced that science only governs at most a tiny percentage of the world, science isn't united at all, physics has no implications for chemistry and biology, tarot cards work etc. etc. – if I say it openly, she has always been 100% scientifically illiterate and wanted this fact to remain the case.

This is a phrasing I can hopefully afford on my blog but be sure that I can't afford it in the everyday life. In that context, I am the ultimate heretic. Like in the medieval societies, it's a heresy to suggest that science just works here or there especially if I also say that I understand what it says. ;-)

The correlation between the sex and such beliefs isn't perfect but it is strong. You may see that the two examples of brother-sister showed the same asymmetry. The laws of mathematics and the laws of Nature are rigid, cold, impersonal, and stubborn and those adjectives are more compatible with the men's reasoning. Women generally prefer to think in the social, emotionally, soft, flexible, ill-defined, variable way.
a. An Uncle helped me build a computer when I was seven. No one did the same for my sister. I spent most of the ages of 7-16 hacking around on computers which provided the foundation for many of the things that I’ve done in my adult life. This gesture by my Uncle was easily one of the most impactful things that anyone has ever done for me.
The uncle helped you to do such things because you displayed a clear interest in such things and your sister didn't. Again, I can think of my half-sister – or many other women – to recall quite some details about their relationship to computers and things like that. The way how these machines work is something they aren't interested in and they are not able or willing to keep their attention focused on such things even for thirty seconds. I have no good reason to think that Shaun's sister is too different in that respect. For almost all women, computers are just tools to achieve other things (especially social communication) and women just don't want to have anything to do with computers' inner guts or computers per se.

The idea that Shaun's uncle could have transformed Shaun's sister to a new Steve Jobs if he helped to shape her is absolutely irrational.
b. When my sister had computer problems I would treat her like she’s stupid and simply fix the problem for her (these words are overly dramatic but I’m trying to make a point.) Whereas when my male cousin had issues I would sit next to him and patiently explain the underlying issue and teach him how to fix his problem. That teaching a man to fish metaphor is a thing.
You tried to minimize the amount of technical work she has to learn or do because by some experience, you have figured out that this was the more effective way of doing so. We almost immediately try to teach something useful to the people whom we're helping with computers because we usually don't get paid and the repeated requests may become time-consuming. But in many cases – of male as well as as female users but mostly the latter – we simply give up. It is easier to repeatedly fix some problems etc. than to teach the subject how to fix them – because that would need to teach how things inside work or how to think scientifically (or like engineers) about the world around us which is a harder (pedagogic) task than to update Windows or erase a cache or whatever "somewhat straightforward but not quite self-evident" problem you could think of.

It's simply not true that people like us – who help others with computers etc. – don't exploit the "computer know-how" potential of the people whom we help. When you explain something to another guy, it's because you saw that he basically thinks in a similar way as you do – or as you did at some moment – so it seems likely enough that with some patience, you will explain something to him. When you give up – and it's the case of almost all of our sisters etc. – it's because you don't see a significant chance.

My sister has learned tons of things with the computers – perhaps everything at the level of a secretary or something like that. But she just won't ever go into some truly technical things or programming. It's hard to say whether she could learn how to code. I don't know for sure. But she's surely disgusted by that idea. She's seen enough to know what it approximately means to code so her negative attitude is clearly her free choice. Coding is an activity done mostly in solitude, the kind of work that women are mostly terrified by. The idea that this attitude of hers is due to some "social pressures trying to discourage her from STEM" is a hardcore conspiracy theory on par with the staged Moonlanding.

Maybe you have indeed never tried hard to patiently bring your sister closer to the STEM fields or the exact way of reasoning about the world. But I have and I assure you that it is a Sisyphean task. Incidentally, the metaphor says
Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a life time.
The proverb says that teaching and learning may be a great investment that will be repaid for a very long time. It talks about men because our ancestors believed that teaching to fish seems a good investment only or mostly when the future fisher is male. This is obviously not accurately true. But in the case of fishing just like coding, it is close to the truth. The percentages of female coders as well as female holders of a fisher license remain very low. (A random article says that there were 12% of women among fishers somewhere. The global numbers will almost certainly be "qualitatively the same".)
c. When people gave us presents they would give me Legos and my sister art supplies or clothes. Gifts didn’t always fall into these categories (obviously) but they almost always had a similar gender-specific split.
People pick these gifts sort of mindlessly but even if girls and boys were equally tempted to play with both kinds of toys – which they are not – it wouldn't matter for the kids' attitude to mathematics and physics, anyway. Note that the "clothes" and "LEGO" agree with the previously mentioned pattern "male-rigid" and "female-soft-and-flexible".

But there are all the famous stories. Larry Summers, brainwashed by feminism, bought trucks to his twin daughters to educate them in a gender-neutral way. And one of the girls placed a truck on top of another truck, saying to the other girl: "Look, the daddy truck carries the baby truck!"

The mirror of this situation is way too familiar, too. You give a doll to a boy and he starts to check how it works, how you can dismantle it etc. Just like the Summers girls treated the trucks as if they were dolls (and other baby girls kiss their trucks), boys generally treat dolls as if they were trucks. Who has never observed this kind of behavior shouldn't participate in a discussion about the "gender and toys" because he or she simply doesn't have the tiniest clue about the topic.

Boys are still a wonderful idea for doll ads, like this new one. I guess that the girls want to see some boys in the ads!

The point is that you may have the same toys but the children will still do different things with them. Boys and girls generally look at clothes and LEGOs and everything from statistically different perspectives. They will focus on different aspects of these objects and all other objects. The separation to "girls" and "boys" obviously isn't rigid but the correlations between the behavior and the sex are strong and it is absolutely insane to deny or overlook this correlation when we do something – e.g. buying toys or picking the right college.

Scientific research tells us tons of details about the girl-boy playing differences that go well beyond the basic binary difference. This 1992 paper by two women (over 450 citations now) showed that girls exposed to androgen around the time of the birth played with toys similar to boys while the elevated effect of androgen didn't affect boys. A 2002 paper with 150+ cits showed that the more androgen, the more masculinized behavior results. A 2005 paper with 150+ cits showed that the androgen level defeated any efforts by the parents to "encourage". A 1969 research led by a woman (over 500 cits) observed more exploratory or violent behavior of 1-year-old boys than with girls, and mothers reinforced that difference. This 1975 paper (over 90 cits) established the sex differences in toys and excluded the hypothesis that the difference boiled down to the familiarity with the toys. This 1982 paper with almost 90 cits showed that already 3-4-year-old kids tend to assign toys to other kids partly depending to sex "stereotypes" but they always choose toys for themselves according to what the toys do which really means that already the kids don't care about the "stereotypes" when it comes to their own choices.

Shaun and other feminists basically deny all the scientific knowledge we have about the sex differences in playing and choice of toys.

To conclude, the kids quickly express what they actually want, anyway, and their own interest is a force you won't be able to persistently defeat. If a small girl also wants a truck, she will make it clear and she will almost always get it. But statistically, there will always be huge differences in the ways how girls and boys play.
d. When I was the first to finish my multiplication tables in 3rd grade, my teacher encouraged me to read science books. When my sister finished she was encouraged to draw. This teacher was female.
I don't believe that the sex of Shaun and his sister was the only piece of information that directed the teacher's recommendations, but let's assume that it was, for the sake of the argument.

This kind of "stereotypical" encouragement is rational because according to the experience, it's a way to get more of the children statistically. However, at the end, this whole issue of "encouragement" is overrated by many orders of magnitude. I've never read science books because I was "encouraged" to do so. I've seen them somewhere and they looked fascinating. This is not about me. The broader point is that kids rather quickly encounter all kinds of things and it may be decided rather quickly whether they fall in love with something or not. Both boys and girls see a science book somewhere at some point and boys are just more likely to fall in love with that! When the kid makes its mind, the "encouragement" is nothing else than pushing the kid somewhere and arguing with the kid. You may succeed or not but once the kid becomes a free person, it will be able to escape all this pressure, anyway.
e. These are only a few examples of implicit biases. I wasn’t aware of the potential cause-and-effect of my actions while making them. Only after years of reflection and seeing how amplified the problem becomes by making it to the tip of the funnel was I able to connect these personal dots. These biases are so deeply engrained that addressing them requires societal-scale reprogramming — but it starts with enhanced self-awareness. I obviously feel some level of guilt for being oblivious to these actions as a kid. And I’d be delusional to think I’m beyond having similar biases today.
Up to some extent, every event influences all events in its future light cone – which basically means all events in the future. But that doesn't mean that all of the influences are important – almost all of them are negligible – and it doesn't mean that one should be afraid of doing everything and anything. People's acts have all kinds of consequences. Shaun's desire to see some "evil biases against women" everywhere is a form of religion – it's very similar to the religion that all of our pleasures "cause climate change" or something of the sort.

But it's still sensible for the people not to try to spend time and energy by encouraging or pushing other people to do things that they demonstrably don't have a close relationship with.
3. Explicit/systematic biases: there’s much broader awareness of these category of biases so I’m mainly going to explain by linking to some recent headlines. The short of it is that on their path to STEM, women have to put up with many more hurdles than men. From hiring biases to sexual harassment. These biases disproportionately adversely affect women. Here’s a tiny sample of some of the most glaring recent headlines:
For at least 30 years, women have been artificially "helped" in the hiring process in STEM. One needs an unbelievable amount of arrogance to claim just the opposite. I could tell you many examples of that bias from my experience.

One that remains among the most shocking ones in my memory was the Harvard graduate student admission process sometime in 2005 or so. I was serving on the admission committee twice. It's a lot of work, 400 folders etc. When the work was completed and the letters "You were admitted to Harvard" were sent out, a group of feminists in the department announced that they forgot to apply the "affirmative action correction" to the results.

These women had the stomach to revise the results and send the "erratum letters" to the boys who were eliminated by the girls now "above the threshold" thanks to the "affirmative action correction". I still remember a guy who got this "disacceptance letter". "Sorry, guy, we made a mistake, ignore the previous letter that you were accepted to Harvard and just f*ck off" is what a guy in Canada – with various letters saying that it was the best guy that Canada produced in a decade etc. – had to read.

I believe that what the feminists did is illegal and I would fully support the guy if he decided to get a million-of-dollars compensations from the bitches.

Incidentally, the claim that "women are disproportionately negatively affected by sexual harassment" (and it's therefore a hurdle selectively for women) is nonsense, too. Both men and women feel sexual desires and to a large extent, their relationship is symmetric (e.g. both men and women know that they may be in an asymmetric emotional relationship; but they may also enjoy it). Both men and women may find it unpleasant for the other sex to have a crush on them. But because the "sexual harassment" regulations are mostly used to regulate men's behavior, it's clearly mostly a hurdle for the men, not for women.

Moreover, even if women were significantly affected by "sexual harassment", it wouldn't contribute anything to the "pressure driving them away from STEM" because sexual harassment obviously exists pretty much uniformly in STEM and all other occupations, too. You may switch from astrophysics to banking or law but your boss or the judge may have some excessive uncontrolled testosterone as well, can't he? So even if they were more likely to be victims of such relationships, which they are not, it would have nothing to do with the low percentage of women in STEM.
a. “Geoff Marcy was a serial harasser for at least twenty years” — Gizmodo.
Geoff Marcy has a weakness for beautiful women. I've checked them and it seems that all of them deserve this label. He's been in a yellow cab with one, gave a ride and a neck message to another through the shirt, and may have touched the thigh of another one but that's disputed.

He has never hurt any woman. I think it is fair to compare the witch hunt against him to the pogroms organized by the Nazis in the 1930s. I can't have any respect for the people who participated in this anti-Marcy campaign as for human beings. They just suck.

Equally importantly, by de facto eliminating Marcy from science, astronomy was arguably hurt more intensely than if all women were outlawed as astronomers in California. But the feminist ideologues don't care about science so terrorizing the best scientists in various disciplines is not a problem for them. Their higher priority is the propagation of the ludicrously obvious lie that women would be equally good in STEM if they weren't discriminated against.
b. “Why women are poor at science, by Harvard president (Larry Summers)” — Guardian headline. Granted, his comments were more nuanced than the media portrayed. But in any case, extremely damaging and evidence of an outmoded way of thinking.
There is nothing "outmoded" about Larry's comments and the way of thinking. Some of it is about the results of a relatively recent research; most of it is common sense.
c. “Could it be that researchers find a hiring bias that favors women?” — NPR. I wanted to include this example to highlight that sometimes systematic biases (this isn’t exactly an explicit bias) go the other direction. But of course if we search hard enough we will be able to find specific instances in the stack where the bias favors women. My personal interpretation of this headline is: “the fearless women that have braved decades of doubt may have a minuscule advantage when competing for STEM jobs, but only after they have been disproportionately filtered out of the applicant pool on a massive scale.” Here are some statistics which show why this headline is only scratching the surface: NGCP and Techbridge.
In other words, Shaun doesn't give a damn about the research and demonstrable facts. The important fact is that if the biases exist, they have the opposite sign than what all of his rants suggest. Whenever Shaun's whole ideology is proven to be a lie, he invents an even more ambitious slogan and bigger lie – like the slogan about the "fearless" heroes – that hasn't been explicitly proven to be a lie yet. The whole "methodology" of Shaun and similar people is to produce ever greater lies and to be increasingly fanatically and loudly defending them.
If we acknowledge that this is a problem that literally starts the day children are born, then what can we, as individuals, do about it?
The problem with our society is that we tolerate all these bullies like Shaun and their bullying. If John Preskill had some respect for the meritocratic character of Caltech, he would insist that Shaun does some work on emergent geometry before he writes a rant trying to bully people in the Academia by ideological proclamations. If Shaun failed to do what he is actually supposed to do at Caltech, he should get the letter that "he is no longer in good standing at the graduate school".

But people like John Preskill are unfortunately a part of the big problem. They more or less openly encourage the transformation of the graduate schools to hotbeds of left-wing activism. On his "Quantum Frontiers" blog, Preskill himself writes mostly about science but the percentage of politically activist articles by his junior collaborators is very large.
1. Constantly run a mental loop to check your implicit biases. I’m hoping we can compile a list of examples in the comments that can serve as a check-list of things NOT TO DO! E.g. When you ask: “what do you want to be when you grow-up?” Don’t answer before kids can get back to you with something like: “be a princess?” or “be a baseball player?” Those kids might want to be mathematicians! Maryam Mirzakhani or Terry Tao!
Shaun openly urges everyone to censor his thinking 24 hours a day. Was the last thought I had 4 seconds ago sufficiently politically correct? He even proposes a checklist of forbidden thoughts. I would normally think that it's just an exaggeration if someone paints these feminists as Orwellian thought policemen. But this particular Shaun openly admits that he wants an Orwellian world in which no one can think or talk freely.

Sorry, Shaun, but the free thought is a cornerstone of science and the Western civilization as well. People who have been thinking freely without checklists as well as the people who fought for the freedoms have contributed more to the civilization than all feminists and women of the history combined. You have no credentials to "ban" certain ideas or words.

His description of the conversation with the kid is ludicrous, too. Kids may only want to be something they have heard of and they ultimately know what they want, anyway. Sometimes they don't know what they want so they parrot what they hear somewhere. A greater number of girls want to be a princess rather than a mathematician. Shaun must have have missed it but despite this bias, the number of girls who become a princess is even smaller than the number of girls that become mathematicians. Clearly, this childhood conversation isn't as important for the outcomes as Shaun pretends, is it?
2. Provide encouragement to young girls without being over the top or condescending. Here’s a simple example from the past week. A.K. is ~8 years old and she visited Caltech recently (yes, I got permission from her mother to use this example.) This girl is a rockstar.

The tragic reality is that A.K. is going to spend her next decade being pushed away from STEM. Don’t get me wrong, she’s lucky to have encouraging parents who are preempting this push, but they will be competing with the sway of the media and her peers.
Why should she be "pushed away from STEM" if she has "encouraging parents"? Shaun's reasoning just doesn't make any sense. Also, some rockstar status at this very early age may be rather weakly correlated with the future successes, especially if the kids are celebrated for "too versatile or diluted" interests and achievements.
Small gestures, such as @Caltechedu reposting the above photo on Instagram provides a powerful dosage of motivation. The way I think about it is this: kids, but especially girls, are going to face a persistent push away from STEM. They are going to get teased for being “too smart” + “not girly enough” + “weird” + “nerdy” + etc.
There are all kinds of such pressures on men and women but there's no significant overall pressure that would try to make females stupider than men. School teachers at least want the girls to have good grades and not bad grades. Average parents at least want the girls to have a good job. Some men may prefer stupider women but others are fascinated by the smart or smartest ones. I surely belong to the latter group.

Some interactions with other people are pleasant, some are unpleasant, some are going to be seen as helpful ones, some are going to be seen as harmful ones. But there's no basis for Shaun's hysterical screams that the future life of A.K. is going to be a mess.
3. Make a conscious effort to share your passion + enthusiasm for STEM. Our culture does an abysmal job of motivating and promoting the beauty + wonder of science.
This is largely unrelated to the discussion about feminism. But the problem with Shaun's statement is that the promotion of the beauty and wonder of science is ultimately not done by a "culture". It's done by humans – especially in a free society where the people are ultimately in charge. And the job in promoting the beauty and wonder and science is lousy simply because most people just don't understand the beauty and the wonder.

For this reason, even his call to "make an effort" is useless because many people who don't really understand the beauty well will sell "something else" under this name.
In it he contrasts the way that we teach mathematics compared to how we teach painting and music. Imagine if before letting kids see a finished masterwork or picking up a brush and playing around, we forced them to learn: color theory, the history of art, how to hold a brush, etc!
Well, at least in the case of color theory, I surely think that it would be a huge improvement if children were actually taught color theory. I don't know and I don't care whether it should be in the "painting" or "science" classes but this is one of the topic that isn't really taught – even though it's beautiful – and the absence of this topic at school is a characteristic symptom of the bad relationship of the education system to science!

There's a lot of room for personal creativity and experiments. Children may mix their colors – by inks or glasses etc. There are lots of playful activities of this kind that would be equally fun for kids as just "drawing shapes". And I think that color theory ultimately contains "more science" than just drawing.

But ultimately, mathematics and science do require some discipline that is less widespread among artists. Artists may drink a lot, have many sexual partners etc. and this common lifestyle of artists may look cooler. But scientists' being different is a part of their occupation – science. Scientists simply have to "suffer" and learn some background before they attack a problem. Many of them still think and have sex and behave much like artists when they're at home. And Einstein had smoked hundreds of cigarettes in the two weeks before he presented the final equations of GR exactly 100 years ago, too. But you can't ever make the scientists' lifestyle and attitude identical to that of the artists and if someone totally hates everything about the scientists' lifestyle or discipline or focus or solitude etc., then he or she probably doesn't want to be a scientist.
If you’re at Caltech then invite kids to the SURF seminar day or to interesting public lectures. Go give a talk at a local school and explain via examples that science is a work in progress — there’s an infinite amount that we still don’t know!
I don't think that this ideological proclamation is a good way to bring people closer to science. Instead, I think that it's pretty much identical to the claims by those who don't like science. And the dramatic claim that "there is an infinite amount" that we don't know is clearly a controversial, quantitatively ill-defined, ideologically driven exaggeration. First of all, in de Sitter space, there can't ever be an infinite amount of information – the information is bounded by the Hawking-Bekenstein entropy \(10^{120}\) bits or so – so science won't grow indefinitely. More seriously, if you assign weights to scientific insights, it's very likely that in many disciplines, we already know a majority or an overwhelming majority of the things or interesting things that may be known. Many subdisciplines of physics and mathematics etc. have been "completely solved and closed", so to say, and even in particle physics, people have been frustrated for decades because they have a theory that explains everything they may observe at the colliders, even the most powerful ones. The claim that "almost everything is in front of us" is misleading.

Don't get me wrong, a person close to science must understand that science is a work in progress. But she must also understand that there's already been some scientific progress in the past and it has consequences for our current knowledge or beliefs. The consequences are why the research has been done in the first place! And every kid starts to love science because he or she falls love with an insight or insights that have already been made in the past. You just can't fall in love with something that isn't already out there. So we live at some point of the history and mostly understand everything that was known in the past – and are ignorant about the things that will be understood in the future (perhaps also by many people who are kids today). But we may only build on insights or ideas that "already exist" and ideas and theories may only be supported by the evidence that "already exists", too.

I think that most of these philosophical "big statements" similar to "almost everything is waiting to be understood" are ultimately spread by people whose reasoning is not really scientific in character. Science is about the particular observations, patterns, regularities, laws, theories – including color theory – the kind of stuff that even Shaun declared to be repulsive. But for scientific minds – kids and adults – they are just cool and irresistible. Speculations about the far future and essays about the demographics of the scientific communities can't replace science.
For example, a brilliant non-physicist hacker friend asked me yesterday if the Casimir effect is temperature dependent? The answer is yes, but this is still barely understood theoretically.
This guy must have been clever. (Shaun over-loves hacking; he wanted to hack the laws of physics, too.) But one can surely construct millions of questions that aren't easy to be answered. Except that an expert may answer most of them. And even if they can't be answered, many such questions are not too fundamental or important. (I think that this "adding temperature" to the Casimir effect isn't particularly clean because you have to consider the thermal effects in the conductor etc. at the same moment and there's no truly canonical separation of the total force to the purely Casimir force and the radiation pressure from the black body radiation etc. So it looks like another messy problem to me.) There's no objective way to measure the importance or the fundamental content of a question or an idea. But a human point is that people who care about science have some feelings about all these questions, too!

A question or an idea is ultimately "important" because a person finds it important. But again, not all opinions (about the truth, the importance, or something else) are created equal. Science isn't a collection of all possible opinions. Science is the process – plus its outcome – of carefully separating ideas that work from those that don't work, and refining the former to produce new candidate ideas. This elimination and falsification may look cruel or inhuman to many people – but those who like science simply have to be in love with this kind of "cruelty".
At what temperature will a gecko’s stick stop working? Questions like this are engaging. It will only take a few hours of your time to emphasize to dozens of kids how exciting science is. Outreach is usually asymmetric.
LOL, outreach could involve people who are trying to answer kids' questions about geckos and such meetings could be both fun and insightful for both sides. Children who can direct such an interaction with an adult are probably feeling happier. But happiness is something else than their being led to science. I suspect that the best adults who could answer kids' science-related questions – and yes, I think that children could often be interested in geckos (or whether feces burn) – could ultimately be some very practical people who know what happens with heated geckos because they have been hungry in a trip to the jungle and they know whether feces burn because they ran out of coal in the winter. ;-)

But is science a collection of answers to such questions about geckos and feces? I don't think so. Science isn't just a collection to assorted question about particular objects. Science is mainly the system that increasingly tightly organizes these objects and effects and answers. The more tightly the insights are organized, the further the rigid structure of science allows us to predict (or calculate – in most cases, the word "predict" sounds more uncertain than it should) things we haven't observed yet. The relationships between different objects and effects or the unification of ideas is something that must come first for a kid to start to think as a scientist. Animals eat different things and share some life processes. Some rules of ecology are at play for all animal species. The perspective of a scientifically oriented kid is broader – it just isn't focused on a gecko.

So don't get me wrong. I was always happier as a "target of teaching" etc. when I could have been active – and I think that this is true for almost all children. On the other hand, if a kid is supposed to learn something that depends on the expertise, a huge amount of leadership – and, in this sense, asymmetry in the interaction between the "instructor" and the "student" – is needed. If the kid didn't need the leadership, it wouldn't need the leader (teacher), either.

Shaun was doing a fun outreach in India while driving on a scooter. Nice.
4. There is literally nothing more rewarding than mentoring hyper talented kids and then watching them succeed. This is also incredibly asymmetric. Two hours of your time will provide direction and motivation for months. Do not discount the power of giving kids confidence and a small amount of direction.
I agree with that. But whether you're male or female, you should get used to the fact that it's far more likely that if the topic is related to STEM, the talented kid will be a boy.
In this post, I ignored some very important parts of the problem and also opportunities for addressing it in an attempt to focus on aspects that I think are under appreciated. Specifically how pervasive implicit biases are and how asymmetric outreach is.
Implicit biases may be "pervasive" – if the "pervasiveness" is defined in a certain way – but they are also 1) often or mostly rationally justified, and 2) largely inconsequential for the aggregate numbers, anyway. The outreach is asymmetric but the asymmetry has usually extremely good reasons. Even though these facts – the justification for "biases or stereotypes" or for the "asymmetry of outreach" – are totally critical, people like Shaun don't even dare to consider them. No wonder that they are stuck in a complete misunderstanding of how science, the human society, and psychology work.
Increasing diversity in STEM is a societal scale problem that isn’t going to be fixed overnight.
Efforts to artificially increase the percentage of women in STEM is a deeply misguided social-engineering movement that is analogous to the social-engineering efforts in the totalitarian regimes of the history and that is harming the human society – in this case, especially science and its moral purity and efficiency.
However, I believe it’s possible to make huge progress over the next two decades.
I am afraid that if the increasingly widespread people like Shaun aren't kicked from the graduate schools etc. in time, the ideological contamination and intimidation of the scientific community will be even worse in 20 years than it is today. People in 2035 may be victims of long checklists of forbidden thoughts that Shaun wants to write down. People at all schools may be demanded to be as intellectually degenerated and ideologically radicalized as he is. Whether this nightmare will become the reality depends on the acts of many people, including "us".
We’re in the process of taking our first step, which is global-awareness of the problem.
We're aware that Shaun et al. want to undermine the meritocratic character of science and the freedom of scientists' thought and speech and they have already partially succeeded in this highly pernicious program.
And now we need to take the next step which is broad self-awareness about the impacts of our individual actions and implicit biases. It seems to me like wildly increasing our talent pool is a useful endeavor.
I am humbly realizing that the impact of my individual actions is extremely limited. If things worked well, a few examples of the terrifying behavior of the feminist activists would be enough for everyone to wake up and make sure that Shauns of the world's institutes no longer intimidate honest scientists. But they still do and it's getting worse.

Efforts to selectively encourage girls and increase their percentage – while expelling some boys – will unquestionably reduce the talent pool.
In the spirit of this blog, unlocking this hidden potential might even be the key to making progress with quantum gravity.
Maybe he really does mean it seriously. Just to be sure. Quantum gravity – like other topics in physics – has no special relationship to the female sex or gender. But just like the rest of physics, it requires a certain kind of thinking that is more widespread among men. To some extent, women have these abilities and thoughts, too, and some of them are great. But it's ludicrous that you could distill a "female essence" that would be helpful in cracking the secrets of quantum gravity – or anything else in physics.
And definitely towards making progress on an innumerable number of other science and engineering goals.

And, hey S, sorry for not teaching you more about computers.
You can still teach her about computers now, can't you? But you know that you don't actually care about her computer skills, do you? You write this self-criticizing junk – which is also a malicious insult of all male computer folks who know very well why they don't try to do things that are very unlikely to succeed – because the atmosphere in California's Academia is so bad that writing politically correct things may replace your genuine scientific work as a PhD student, can't it?
Now some shameless on-topic plugs to promote my friends:

One of my roommates, Jason Porath, makes Rejected Princesses. This is a great site that all young girls should be aware of. Think badass women meet Disney glorification from a feminist perspective.
It's surely fun to have friends with different backgrounds but readers of "Quantum Frontiers" will probably be surprised why "rejected princesses" are advertised. But one comment about the rejected princesses: Why don't you stop insulting and accusing physicists of wrongdoing, Shaun, and focus your infinite feminist anger e.g. on Prince Charles who doesn't allow the millions of girls to fulfill their dreams of becoming princesses even though he could help them?

The last four paragraphs of Shaun's text reveal that not just him but all of his friends and roommates are involved with feminist activism or women in STEM or something like that. And he has the chutzpah to claim that there still isn't enough of this affirmative action around us. Sorry, the number of people like Shaun in the university system must start to be regulated for the situation to start to improve.

And that's the memo.

P.S.: T. Letavizu wrote us about a report from a talk where the lecturer was assaulted by a high school female mob. Already at the high school (and not just during Yale Halloween costume racial anger), girls are being brainwashed by these Shaun-style victimhood conspiracy theories, reshaped into feminist warriors, and this totally unsubstantiated and unproductive fight between sexes is therefore artificially engineered. In the lecturer's poll, 10% of girls but 80% of boys said that they felt censored. Similar gaps existed for the whites and Republicans, of course. When the kids were this directly explained that they are actually building a tyrannical environment where only privileged groups have human rights, the discussion became civil and all groups have participated. Needless to say, the happy end could only emerge because there was a wise guy – either non-left-wing or favoring "viewpoint diversity" – who had some authority for a while. The schools normally have nothing of the sort. He advocated the explicit inclusion of the "viewpoint diversity" among the diversities that need to be nurtured. It's not clear whether boys or right-wingers etc. would be willing to identify themselves as victims – the pride may make it impossible – but even if they were willing to, I guess that the SJWs wouldn't allow for the diversity to be redefined in this way. They are evil people who want to control everyone else and they probably need to be defeated by harsh tools.

BTW if you missed the story at Yale, some colored student activists at Yale forced the officials at the school to send letters that warned the students against dressing as folks of different races (a segregation of a sort, by the way). Prof Erika Christakis, a child care specialist, wrote the only email that disagreed with this restriction on the freedom of expression. The college students should know how to dress, they have the right to be provocative at some points, they have to solve their minor problems themselves, and dressing as someone else is a key point of the Halloween, anyway. There exists no objective threshold to separate acceptable and unacceptable behavior of this kind so any restriction on the dresses is a slippery slope towards the end of freedom.

Well, while the spoiler young SJWs reacted to her letter in a hostile way, her husband agreed with her as well. The video embedded above shows how the student activists dealt with him – a master of a house. Don't you find it terrible? The hysterical aggressive young lady surely doesn't belong to a college. Her shouting was not only unfair, malicious, and undiplomatic. More seriously, it was incoherent and reflected her complete lack of a balanced judgement. The poor man had to suffer through that because individuals like the shouting bitch are "actually" in charge of the system. Her "step down" isn't just a silly shouting by an obnoxious irrelevant individuals. Individuals like that often decide who steps down, indeed.

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