Women in physics: Why there’s a problem and how we can solve it
The title above and the excerpt below show that people with nothing better to do are still chewing away at this old issue -- even though all the attempted "solutions" have failed -- as they admit below.
But the first issue is surely why it matters. There are many women in physics so clearly those who are inclined towards a physics career can have one if they give it priority. There is certainly a lot of official encouragement of it. So the issue is not whether women can contribute to physics. Many can and do. What is at issue is the PROPORTION of women in physics. So why does THAT matter? The proportion of women in physics is low but what is lost by that?
Feminists claim glibly that many valuable potential contributions to physics by women are not being made and see that as the loss to us all. But where is the evidence for that? Given that there are large numbers of women already in physics could it not be that those women who have a serious avocation for physics are already there? It certainly seems possible so the feminist claim seems nothing more than an unproven assertion. Some proof would be nice -- but I am not holding my breath.
But feminists are routinely uninterested in proof for their various assertions so my call for proof in this matter will cause eye-rolling only.
So the real motivation for concern would appear to be the old falsehood that all men are equal -- and women are just as equal. If that were true it would make some sense to expect equal representation of women in all occupations whatsoever. But it isn't true. All men are different, not equal and men and women are systematically different too. The fact that different proportions of men and women are found in almost all occupations is ample evidence of that. When do we let the evidence count?
And the relevant difference between men and women in physics is plain to see. Physics is math-intensive and women are woefully outnumbered in the top tiers of mathematical ability. The leptokurtic distribution of female IQ -- and mathematical ability in particular -- makes the small average difference between male and female mathematical ability translate into a large difference in absolute numbers at the top of the range. Some women have made and will continue to make significant contributions to physical knowledge and understanding but they will ALWAYS be a small minority in physics. Given the different abilities between men and women on average, it cannot be otherwise. Attempts to "solve" the difference are flailing at the wind. Flailing will continue to go on but it will be just as unsuccessful in the future as it has been in the past.
Finally, I must say something about the specific article below. They mention the paper by the terminally incorrect Alessandro Strumia. But in all the condemnations of his wickedness that I have seen (e.g. here), nobody mentions the powerful statistical evidence he presented. They content themselves with emotional reactions -- which is one of the things Strumia accused them of! Below is one of his graphs, showing how much more the work of male physicists is cited compared to the work of female physicists
Citations are the normal criterion of excellence throughout academe. You can get a less extreme difference by including arXiv articles, as Hossenfelder does, but such articles are not not peer-reviewed so that one has to resort to them to elevate the work of women is in itself something of a defeat. Given their unknown quality, it seems likely that they are most often cited only to rebut them.
So how do the authors below reply to Strumia's careful research? By mentioning that only three woman had received the Nobel prize in physics in the 117-year history of that prize. I would have thought that that fact rather supported Strumia! But in any case, thinking that selected instances can invalidate an average is a profoundly unmathematical way of thinking so is in itself surely an example of why women rarely do well in physics. With friends like that ....
Women are still wildly under-represented in physics – but it doesn't have to be like that. Our special report looks at the steps we can take to improve things
WHEN we were 16 years old, my friend Karen and I were interviewed for an educational video. With our hair thick with styling mousse, pale blue eyeliner and misplaced teen swagger, we explained why we had chosen to study physics. We were the only two girls in our school that year who had. Our video was going to inspire other girls to do the same. We were going to change the world.
Thirty years on, it is safe to say our ambition failed. In 2016, no girls studied A level physics in almost half of the schools in England that admit girls. In the same year, just one-third of schools had two or more girls taking the subject. It is a similar picture across much of the world. Despite all the initiatives to attract more girls into physics, the proportion remains stubbornly low.
Physics and sexism has been thrust into the spotlight in recent weeks by the incendiary comments made by theoretical physicist Alessandro Strumia. At a workshop on gender in physics, of all places, at CERN near Geneva in Switzerland, he claimed that women were less capable than men at physics research. The day after he was suspended by CERN, Donna Strickland became only the third woman to receive the Nobel prize in physics in its 117-year history, sharing this year’s award for her pioneering work on lasers.
All this paints a picture of physics as a career that is unwelcoming to women to start with and isolating for many of those who do make it. But why is this still the case?