Date: Sun, 14 Dec 1997 12:41:19 -0800 To: Editors of the Math Forum Internet Newsletter From: Ray Olszewski Subject: Re: Newsletter: Math Forum Internet News No. 2.50 (Dec. 15) Cc: Cynthia Lanius The following report was interesting enough to prompt me to connect to the URL right away. At 10:56 PM 12/13/97 -0500, you wrote: Although the numbers of women in most areas of science and mathematics are increasing, the number of women choosing computer science as a career is actually decreasing. Cynthia Lanius offers a page of tips for "Getting Girls Interested in Computers," with links to sites on gender equity in technology: http://math.rice.edu/~lanius/club/girls.html Although this is a fair paraphrase of what Ms. Lanius says on her Web page, it is not a very good summary of the research she is actually citing. Her page provides a link to the underlying research (URL http://www.nsf.gov/sbe/srs/databrf/sdb97326.htm), and the results there are reported quite differently. The actual numbers are in a gif-image table, but the text describes them (accurately) as follows: However, awards in mathematics and computer science declined among both men and women during the entire period. The declines in mathematics among women were not as great as those among men. The percentage decline in computer science was much larger among women (51 percent) than among men (28 percent) from 1985 to 1995. Note three differences between your summary and the actual data: 1. The data are for BA degrees, not career choice. They are not the same, and the computer industry in particular has a long tradition of employing people with degrees in areas far from computer science. 2. There is a substantial decline in degrees awarded to men as well as to women. Although the decline among women is greater, both numbers are large enough to cause me to think first about what is causing the overall decline and only second about the source of the difference between the sexes. 3. There is a parallel decline in mathematics degrees for both sexes (albeit a smaller one). Although the data are too sketchy to be sure, my first guess is that we are seeing mainly a change in how people prepare for careers in computer software development. As the field has grown (quite rapidly over the decade spanned by the observations, I'd imagine), I believe that computer science has diminished as a training path, at least at the undergraduate level, in favor of other degrees loosely grouped under the heading "software engineering." Women may or may not be participating as much as men, but the number cited in the underlying research do not really help us answer that question. In looking at the overall data, I would be considerably more concerned by the extraordinarily low number of women receiving physics degrees, and by the declines in degrees for both sexes combined in physics, chemistry, mathematics, and engineering. In fact, only biological sciences, psychology, and "social sciences" show substantial growth. In making these comments, I don't want to imply an indifference to the preparation of women to participate in the sciences. I share the concern of many that women need both equal opportunity and equal preparation for careers in science, mathematics, and computer-related fields. (Though I do have some concern about steering women in this direction at the same time that men's participation is dropping; given the traditionally greater career orientation of men, I fear their behavior is a signal that these professions have become increasingly unrewarding career choices. But that is another, and bigger, issue.) Most of the concrete suggestions Ms Lanius offer on her Web page are good, practical suggestions for increasing the involvement of girls with computers in productive ways. But when advocates of better preparation use data carelessly, they undermine their own efforts. I think this is such a case. ------------------------------------"Never tell me the odds!"--- Ray Olszewski -- Han Solo 762 Garland Drive Palo Alto, CA 94303-3603 650.321.3561 voice 650.322.1209 fax http://www.comarre.com/ray.html ----------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Sun, 14 Dec 1997 15:37:27 -0600 (CST) To: Ray Olszewski, Editors of the Math Forum Internet Newsletter From: Cynthia Lanius Subject: Re: Newsletter: Math Forum Internet News No. 2.50 (Dec. 15) I agree with the writer that there are many reasons for much grave concern in the report that I referenced, but I quote below the opening statement from NSF on their report, "A record number of science and engineering (S&E) bachelor's degrees were awarded to women in 1995. Women accounted for 47 percent of S&E bachelor's degrees awarded in that year. The number of women graduating in S&E was 47 thousand higher in 1995 than in 1985 while the number of men graduating in S&E was similar in both years (but with a decline in 1990). Over this period, the greatest growth in S&E bachelor's degree awards to women occurred from 1990 to 1995 (table 1)." I quote from Table 2 Bachelor's Degree Awards in S/E fields, by sex: 1985, 1990, and 1995, citing the 1990 and 1995 figures for women: S/E Fields 90 95 Astronomy 43 52 Physics 679 675 Chemistry 3324 4233 Other Phys Sci. 273 332 Earth, Atmospheric Sci. 775 1524 Mathematics 6811 6491 Computer Sci. 8374 7063 Engineering 9973 10950 Agricul. Sci 2992 5637 Biological Sci. 19402 29918 Psychology 38619 52963 Social Sci. 48740 56093 So my statement that "the numbers of women in most areas of science and mathematics are increasing," seems accurate from this table. I do not mean to imply that the problem is solved. He is right that I should add to my paper that the figures are for bachelor degrees awarded. He is also right that other significant questions need to be addressed. I was especially interested in addressing the drop in computer science. Since 1985, it actually dropped from over 14 thousand to the 7,000 figure. I would certainly appreciate further correspondence if you still believe that I've used the data carelessly. Thanks, Cynthia Lanius
Date: Sun, 14 Dec 1997 14:21:52 -0800 To: Cynthia Lanius From: Ray Olszewski Subject: Re: Newsletter: Math Forum Internet News No. 2.50 (Dec. 15) Cc: Editors of the Math Forum Internet Newsletter Thanks for copying me on your reply. As to further correspondence, I would only note that you do not say anything about two of the three concerns I raised, namely: -- with regard to computer science, you cite the drop in women's degrees but ignore the substantial (though smaller) 28% drop in men's CS degrees. I think this omission encourages a reader to draw an incorrect inference from the presentation, namely that the drop in CS degrees is specific to women. -- women (and men) also show a decline in mathematics. So while it is true that women's numbers show growth in science, lumping together science (up) and mathematics (down) obscures the result for mathematics taken alone. This is important in context because, at least traditionally, Computer Science degrees are basically applied math, and the CS declines mirror similar, though smaller, declines in math. Mixing in science (particularly a definition of science that includes psychology and social science) obscures thise parallel in the data. Thanks again for your reply, especially for such a quick reply on a Sunday.
Date: Mon, 15 Dec 1997 04:49:38 -0600 (CST) To: Ray Olszewski, Editors of the Math Forum Internet Newsletter From: Cynthia Lanius Subject: Re: Newsletter: Math Forum Internet News No. 2.50 (Dec. 15) Hello, I have re-written the opening of the report - adding the point that the number of men's cs degrees also decreased. (Although I still believe that is not the issue, especially since they decreased in so much smaller number.) But I certainly want to paint an accurate picture. Thank you, Cynthia Lanius
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