Ms Michelle Simmons is a physics professor in New South Wales, Australia focusing on quantum computation – which isn't a soft science, I assure you – and surrounding fields and boasting physics/chemistry degrees, 360 publications including 27 in PRL, and \(h=40\), among other things.
She's spent some time in a leading Cambridge, UK lab and is doing well in the land of the kangaroos, too. Her lab has a nontrivial chance to become the first group that actually constructs the quantum computer, whether it's based on quantum dots or a few more approaches she's involved with. You may find lots of her talks at YouTube.
The Australian, a top daily, dared to publish the views of this British-born lady on the deterioration of the physics education in Australia five hours ago:
‘Feminised’ physics a formula for failure, says Michelle SimmonsThe text starts with a rather incredible comparison of some exam questions in 1998 on one side and 2001-2006 on the other side:
Also: Australia Day Address orator Michelle Simmons horrified at 'feminised' physics curriculum (SMH)
Also: 'What a disaster': Leading scientist says high school physics is being 'feminised' - with difficult equations taken out of exams to make the subject more appealing to girls (Daily Mail)
In 1998, the students were given a diagram with wires and dimensions and were expected to compute magnetic fluxes and determine directions etc. In the newer type of exams, they were supposed to write essays about the "impact of electronics on the society" and speculate whether electronics will keep on getting cheaper and more powerful.
One must worry how much cherry-picking was made – or how representatives the questions have been.
But if they were representative enough, one must say: Wow. It's quite a remarkable change for such a short period of time.
You may see the exam questions in the new millennium – the education of physics was clearly f*cked up. The Australian daily has coined a great euphemism for "f*cked up" – namely "feminized". To get 2 points, please write an essay attempting to explain why these two adjectives could be expected to be synonymous. Is there some reason we overlook why being female is equivalent to being f*cked up? ;-)
The main objection by Ms Simmons – which explains the problem and also tells you why the adjectives are synonymous in this particular context – may be summarized by this sentence:
“In other words, to make it more appealing to girls, our curriculum’s designers substituted formulae with essays! What a disaster,’’ she said.OK, Dr Simmons has warned against dumbing things down. Instead, they should "set the bar high" for the students to excel.
Now, it's obviously a slight oversimplification that the standards have been lowered exactly because of girls. There are some girls who would prefer a higher bar – perhaps the rare younger counterparts of Dr Simmons – and there is almost certainly a much larger number of boys who prefer things to be dumbed down in the girly way, too.
No, the EU, science is not about the lipstick and it is not a girl thing. It's predominantly a boys' game and the average girls must think a bit harder to join it. An appropriately talented and hard-working girl may excel just like an appropriately talented and hard-working boy – and both of them end up doing "qualitatively similar activities" as the predominantly male scientists who have gotten science where it is now. If a girl is doing something fundamentally different – e.g. "much more female" – then it's probably not good science.
It's not hard to see why the "essays instead of calculations" paradigm has spread. A subset of students – girls are overrepresented in the subset – just find it rather easy to write and write essays. But they find it very hard and sometimes impossible to learn genuine physics. To simplify their lives and make them feel good and equal – which they are obviously not, as far as physics goes – the whole education of physics is dumbed down to something they have already learned rather well: to write essays.
With this adjustment, the girls – and the corresponding boys – have an easier life but it comes at a big price. The whole physics education is turning into a ludicrous farce, a waste of money, and the society is increasingly losing the class of the people who should be good at these things.
The introduction of "essays instead of calculations" to schools is a trick to mask the failure of those students who aren't really the important ones. As I mentioned, the price is that the whole high schools are turned into failures. Even this fact is being masked, as the article mentions: the requirements for college students at the universities are being lowered, too, in order to make the failure of the high schools look normal.
And this chain reaction may continue and pretty much unavoidably does continue. The whole universities may be failing, the professor jobs and whole departments may turn into farces, and the whole nations or the mankind may be failing, too – just because someone wanted some physics-illiterate girls feel equal in physics.
Dr Simmons was attracted by some openness in Australia etc. but became a citizen in 2007 – which, as you may see, was after the high school exams were already "feminized". She has described some anecdotal evidence about students' being poorly prepared for the college thanks to the "essays" culture.
At the top, the essays about the importance of electronics and the future of Moore's law were mentioned. Dr Simmons' favorite example of an essay was even juicier, however:
Professor Simmons used the example of final-year students being asked to write essays about the environmental impact of a nuclear power plant, rather than using maths to describe the physics of how the power was generated. “Physics is about looking at equations, it’s deriving things, it’s understanding things from a mathematical viewpoint as well as a descriptive viewpoint,” she said. “An example I’ve heard of is to describe how a nuclear power plant works and its impact on the environment, and I do really think that within that you need to have some equations which would get them to address the physical structure of how energy is transferred, so you have that critical thinking that physics normally demands.”The environmental impact of a nuclear power plant is a very subtle topic whose basics don't really belong to the education of physics at all. What do you want to say at the high school level? Properly designed and maintained nuclear power plants are safe and clean. They produce some radiation that also exists naturally. Anti-nuclear activists are full of šit.
What else should be written in the essay? One may know much more about the impacts – and about the different safety systems or nuclear accidents – but then he is turning into a specialist. This technical knowledge is in no way a body of foundational insights that may be built upon when one is starting to learn modern physics.
The real problem is, of course, that my remarks about nuclear energy's being safe and clean is not even what is actually expected – and what is being written. The girls – and feminized boys – are almost certainly mostly writing anti-nuclear junk themselves. Nuclear energy is dangerous and it may destroy all of us like it did in Hiroshima. This is the kind of the lame, absolute, ideologically driven crap that is gradually replacing the calculations of the magnetic fluxes. Many instructors (a set that includes all competent instructors) know that it is crap but they are afraid of failing the students who write this crap because the environmentalist (and even anti-nuclear) ideology has become "politically correct" and has accumulated enormous power over the education system and the Academia.
Like in so many other cases, to write an essay full of politically correct clichés and falsehoods is an easy and universal exercise that may effectively replace any hard work at school, any genuine demonstration of one's physics skills (or almost any other meaningful skills). It's scary to realize the details how it works in individual cases. For example, many students asked to write an essay about the environmental effects of nuclear energy Google search for essay about the environmental impact of nuclear energy and the first hit they get is this garbage – specifically prepared for students to cheat – which they either copy or write in their words. The author of the essay I linked to should be failed himself but reality, even the students who plagiarize this junk are allowed to pass.
Needless to say, but Dr Simmons did say that, the physical essence of nuclear energy is something entirely and completely different than a sermon about the alleged dangers of nuclear energy. In fission/uranium nuclear power plants, a heavy nucleus is split into smaller ones (and neutrons). The total rest mass (or latent energy) of the products is smaller than that of the original heavy nucleus which means – thanks to the mass/energy conservation – that the total kinetic energy (total minus latent energy) of the products is greater and their speeds (and therefore temperatures) are therefore higher. In average, the decay of the nucleon generates a certain number of neutrons (more than one) each of which may dismantle another heavy nucleus.
In an infinite environment of the uranium, the number of reactions would grow exponentially. However, the neutrons eventually reach the surface and the number of reactions that such neutrons near the surface cause is therefore smaller. The reaction starts to fade away. To avoid that disappearance of the reaction, one needs a big enough chunk of the uranium – the critical mass. One also needs to control some shape so that the reaction rate stays pretty much constant. It normally wants to exponentially increase or decrease instead.
This is the kind of the physics picture which the students should learn with some details, pictures, simple calculations. But essays full of clichés, mostly untrue clichés, warning against the Armageddon caused by a nuclear power plant simply don't help to educate any nuclear physicists at all. They help to educate members of Greenpeace, worthless and universally incompetent whackos who try to hurt the mankind instead of advancing its wisdom and technologies.
Several paragraphs explain some obvious facts why the low-quality education lowers the expectations as well and why it's harmful. Some official says that since 2019, the exams will be more quantitative and less revolving around sociology and history. A mathematician, Geoff Prince, also complains that the amount of mathematical methods and content in the science education has always been way too low.
My Mathematics. The teacher wants the girls to know the maths as well. At least Matthew is in her class, otherwise she would go nuts, however.
The article also says that the number of girls has actually decreased when the exams were "feminized". I don't have a prediction whether it should be the case. The girls may typically dislike physics even at the level of essays about physics. So by the decrease, the girls were collectively shouting "we really dislike physics in any form, do you already hear us?". But the whole effort to social-engineer a particular high percentage of girls is just totally misguided and is guaranteed to lead to similar harmful policies. The percentage should be left to be whatever it wants to be. Dr Simmons is surely an achieved quantum computation expert for reasons that totally differ from some quotas imposed somewhere.
All these counterproductive changes of physics education didn't emerge as isolated accidents. Most of them are being introduced by the same people – and whole institutions – whose very main reason of existence and sometimes whose job description is to "feminize" i.e. f*ck up the physics education. They need to be loved... by the big metallic sticks. These pests finally need to be treated as pests and their influence on the education system has to be eradicated.
Michelle Simmons is one of those who may be more efficient in achieving these goals or at least pushing the education in the right direction – because it's harder to accuse her of being a male chauvinist or sexist.