It’s repeated so often that it has entered the cellular structure of women both in and out of science: women are underrepresented in engineering and science, and so we need special programs to attract and retain women in technology fields. Yesterday’s article in the New York Times is no exception, with female scientists jumping on the arrival of Barack Obama to seek redress for these wrongs:
With the inauguration of an administration avowedly committed to Science as the grand elixir for the nation’s economic, environmental and psycho-reputational woes, a number of scientists say that now is the time to tackle a chronic conundrum of their beloved enterprise: how to attract more women into the fold, and keep them once they are there.
Well, I say bunk. Bunk, bunk, bunk.
What sends me into such a foul-mouthed rant? It’s this ==>
You see what I mean? Americans are in patriotic blue, and furriners are in maroon. Men are dashed, women are solid. So look at American men, who are the dashed blue line at the top. Yup, over the last 10 years of the figure, American men had a 30% reduction in engineering and hard science PhDs. In the meantime American women increased a bit, to the point that:
- American men and women now receive an equal number of PhDs in the hard sciences and engineering.
The real problem is that American men are dropping out of engineering and science, to the point that we’re now awarding PhDs to almost as many foreign students as Americans. That’s not diversity – that’s a failure of the American educational and economic system.
Still not convinced? Then let’s look at the percentages of women graduating with hard science/engineering degrees. In the graph below, you can see that American women get half the PhDs awarded to Americans, but only 1 out of 5 foreigners are women. This brings the overall stats down so that it appears that men get twice as many PhDs as women.
Obviously this is not an American chauvinism problem, nor something that improved outreach and educational programs can remedy. This is an imported problem that can be fixed only by setting quotas to increase the number of foreign women admitted to PhD programs.
And as scientists, the women quoted in the article should know this. But maybe my expectations are too high. After all, one of the women said this:
“People say, oh, we shouldn’t have quotas, but diversity is a form of excellence, and there are plenty of outstanding women out there,” Jo Handelsman, president of the Franklin society and a microbiologist at the University of Wisconsin, said in an interview.
“Diversity is a form of excellence?” I guess I do think we need an educational outreach program, but not the type envisioned by people like her.