Young US women in STEM

Depressing slide from Margaret Eisenhart and Carrie Allen’s paper at the AAA2015 (American Anthropological Association meeting) in Denver.


Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

being (a girl) in physics

Just stumbled across this lovely blogpost. Marion Erpelding, a professional physicist who, after a three year postdoc, left academia to devote herself to science communication ( and other more fun pursuits, talks about gender segregation in schools, and of the segregation of sciences from humanities on university campuses. This made me think of how important the physical landscape of science is. It also reminded me of my anger the other day when reading once again about gender stereotypes in science: these stereotypes which Marion’s post so nicely links to the physical landscape of a university campus. (And which are just as contingent, and hard, yet not impossible, to shift and rebuild!)

Brief and evocatively written!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Girls, math, and bullshit

After 9 years in the UK, I’ve reconciled myself to the realisation that I will always remain a foreigner. When I’m stressed, like when speaking to my bank on the phone today, my spoken expression and listening comprehension skills in English go out of the window. If someone woke me up at night, I’d speak to them in Bulgarian (my native language), but if I were really fast asleep, it would be Russian (my mother’s tongue which I learnt first).  But what is especially hard for a social scientist is that I am unable to overcome some taken-for-granted ideas that I had before coming here, and get used to their opposites which should be obvious to me. This evening I’m reminded of one: women and maths. This stuff is doing my head in. Each time I read about it, I get a headache. You know that peculiar blackout feeling when you hear something that is either blatantly, in-your-face, unjust or untrue, or something whose premises are so flawed that it’s not even wrong. I get that each time I encounter the obvious, common knowledge that women and math don’t mix. I just found an article about Shirley Conran’s new project aiming to make maths attractive to girls by convincing them that it will help them manage their personal finances. The article had the awesome title “Math is a feminist issue”, and it linked to what must be a very interesting and useful new report on women and the fear of mathematics. I’m sure it’s a very useful report. I must read it for my research. But I am stuck with the pdf like a horse in front of a river. I can’t read it because just reading the chapter titles makes me wince:

“1 Why maths and maths ability for women matter 13

2 Why confidence about maths ability matters 19

3 How do we know that women fear maths? 25

4 Why is maths perceived to be innately male? 29

5 Being female 37

6 Women’s education in history and the place of maths within it 47

7 Attacking the Maths Myth that drives the Fear Factor”

Clearly, I must have grown up with a different Myth. I grew up with the conviction, supported by empirical observations, that girls are better at all subjects. I don’t know why. And because I never had a reason to question this belief at the time I was at school or university, now I’m finding it really hard to accept that things are so obviously not the case. I don’t even know if my belief was justified about Bulgaria in general, or about Bulgarian “elite” primary and secondary schools. I may not be. Maybe I grew up in a bubble (a bubble in which all but one of my maths teachers were women, like almost all my other teachers; and in which schoolkids who were good at maths were equally likely to be girls or boys, and those who weren’t were more likely to be boys).

But I like having grown up in a bubble. I like the fact that the obviousness of “girls don’t like math, girls are no good at math” pisses me off. The really painful thing is that with each new item of information on the “women and maths” subject, doubt and desperation trickle in. I fear the thought that, if I had heard of this at a younger age, this belief might have turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy, and would have made me worse at maths – and worse at believing in my own capabilities, talents and worth. I hate the thought that there are young people out there growing up right now who entertain the freaking insane belief that interest and talent in various parts of human culture may have anything to do with their genitals.

Even less rationally, reading stuff which generalises a whole gender into one box according to a negative criterion, such as lack of ability or fear, makes me uncontrollably angry. When you, as a woman, read something like this, you just can’t win. If you happen to be bad at maths or hate it, well, there, there, little darling, we said it first, women suck at math. If you happen to be good at maths or like it, then you are not a woman, you’re an honorary man. &%£$@£$&?{}$£% Rage is not a good companion to research. Imagine, my research isn’t even about gender, actually, it’s about all mathematicians regardless of their gender. Imagine how angry I’d be if I were actually studying gender.

Incidentally, most of the female professional mathematicians I have talked to say that they were never aware of a negative gender stereotype in relation to maths when they were little. When they did realise it (often upon arriving to university), it was not a pleasant realisation.Some say that they were aware, but consciously rebelled or ignored it.

Perhaps we ought to not just combat the stereotype, but also shield from it those young kids who are lucky to don’t know about it yet…at least until they are old enough to be brave and rebellious rather than conformist?

P.S. Upon rereading, this sounds like an unusually personal and non-rational research-related blogpost. Unprofessional pubic expressions of unpolished thoughts, tut-tut. But it will have not been in vain, if it helps me at least read that report which, I’m sure, has lots of interesting and depressing data…

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

The mathematics of global warming

“The climate fact no one will admit: 2 °C warming is inevitable”


Here are some recent mathematicians who work on related questions:

The work of mathematician Guillaume Jouvet (Free University Berlin) and glaciologist Martin Funk of ETH in Zürich is somewhat spooky but awesome. They use computer model of glaciers and data gathered from the slow under-ice motion of the bodies of alpinists who died in a glacier over a number of years.

And Noemi Petra’s new work is on inferring base slip conditions for Antarctic glacial flows

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Semantic Scholar: the AI which, knows your field better than you (and a Short Rant to Science Policy-makers)

“What if a cure for an intractable cancer is hidden within the tedious reports on thousands of clinical studies? In 20 years’ time, AI will be able to read — and more importantly, understand — scientific text. These AI readers will be able to connect the dots between disparate studies to identify novel hypotheses and to suggest experiments which would otherwise be missed.

AI-based discovery engines will help find the answers to science’s thorniest problems.”

— Oren Etzioni

“Semantic Scholar” is a better idea than the REF. But wait, what do they have in common? Here’s what.  Semantic scholar looks through existing scholarship and lets you use it and build up on it. It may uncover an article which no one has read many years after it was published, and let a new researcher learn something. It helps cut through the bullshit – perhaps not in the best possible way, but AIs are work in progress and will surely evolve into cleverer versions. The REF, conversely, fosters the production of bullshit. Its existence scares scientists into producing more crap (sorry, dear colleagues) because that’s the way in which we, and our university departments, are assessed. We all know it’s a game, and some refuse to play it, but people in their early careers have more incentive to play along than to protest by producing fewer, better pieces of work – even though it actually is in our long-term interests, we are fooled by fear. And so we write, and publish, instead of thinking and publishing less, better stuff.

If I were a science policy-maker, I’d put my money on tools that facilitate tedious, or downright impossible, tasks such as sifting, navigating and organising existing knowledge and debates.  And I would leave scientists with a bit more freedom to actually think, be curious, produce ideas, hypotheses and sometimes even knowledge, and – very importantly – also to make mistakes in the process. Oh, and having access to jobs that last longer than a year or two before having to move continent with or without your significant other, or instead of deciding to have children, would help. But that’s another rant, perhaps for a future post entitled “If I were a science policy-maker”.

For more about Semantic Scholar, see:

Tagged , , , ,

Conference: Association for the Philosophy of Mathematical Practice

There’s a very interesting conference in Paris right now. Such a pity I’m not there. In fact, this post only appears now, because I only just found out about it. Looking forward to reading the papers.

3rd Congress of the Association for the Philosophy of Mathematical Practice (APMP) Paris, Institut Henri Poincaré, 2-4 November 2015


Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

George Boole’s was born 200 years ago todaythe

Today is the 200th anniversary of George Boole‘s birth.  Boole (1815-1864), born in Lincoln, England, was a self-taught mathematician. In 1849 he became the first Professor of Mathematics at University of Cork, Ireland where he wrote his most important work, An Investigation of the Laws of Thought. But I didn’t know much about him.  I remember being taught about булева логика in year 5 of school by my favourite maths and computer science teacher (and being amused ten years later that this term was the same in English, “boolean logic”). Now I know a bit more! So thanks Google for this random mathematical history fact!


Tagged , , , ,

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 22,140 other followers

%d bloggers like this: