Wednesday, October 28, 2009

More evidence men more interested than women in non-biological science

Upon finding out that two of the three winners of this year's Nobel prize in physiology or medicine are women, Steve Sailer points out what he sees as encouraging sex trends in accomplishment:
This announcement reflects an on-going trend in which the top female scientific talent is concentrating in the life sciences and leaving the lifeless sciences, physics and chemistry, to the boys. ...

This strikes me as healthy: women specializing in what they (and I, as a beneficiary of medical science) find most important. Of course, in the wake of the 2005 Larry Summers brouhaha, vast amounts of money are being spent to lure women scientists away from the life sciences and into the inanimate sciences in the name of diversity. Will all that money spent make humanity better off?
Results from an interactive quiz from the Pew Research Center show that this trend doesn't just exist in the upper echelons of the scientific research establishment. It is evident at far more modest levels of involvement. Pew's 12-question quiz (which you must take before being able to view overall performance) assesses test-takers' basic scientific knowledge. None of the questions are difficult enough that only someone in a scientific field should be expected to know the correct answers to them. Consequently, they serve as good indicators of levels of personal interest--lay people motivated enough to acquire a basic understanding of modern science will answer the questions correctly without any specialized education or formal training.

The following nine questions were more frequently answered correctly by men than they were by women:

- According to most astronomers, which of the following is no longer considered a planet?
- Which of the following may cause a tsunami?
- The global positioning system, or GPS, relies on which of these to work?
- What gas do most scientists believe causes temperatures in the atmosphere to rise?
- What have scientists recently discovered on Mars?
- The continents on which we live have been moving their location for millions of years and will continue to move in the future. (T/F)
- Lasers work by focusing sound waves. (T/F)
- Electrons are smaller than atoms. (T/F)
- All radioactivity is man-made. (T/F)

In contrast, women did better than men did on the following three questions:

- Which OTC drug do doctors recommend that people take to help prevent heart attacks?
- How are stem cells different from other cells?
- Antibiotics kill viruses as well as bacteria. (T/F)

Although the public faces of outrage over sex differences in scientific accomplishment are those of feminist academics, I suspect most women are indifferent or even a bit annoyed by the push for them to pursue avenues of study they are largely uninterested in, just as I'd be irked at encouragement to become skilled in the fields of interior decorating or primary education.

Parenthetically, Agnostic has shown similar evidence for a relative lack of interest in non-biological science among women using GSS data.

2 comments:

silly girl said...

I have to agree women are generally more interested in the biological/life sciences. Most of my friends are women and it seems pretty true. I wonder if this is as true for Asian women. Of course this is a matter of percentages. A few women more are interested in chemistry, physics, math, than in biological sciences. I think it may also vary in degree. I like physics and chemistry more than the life sciences but that just means I am less likely to read a life science blog than Matt Springer or Swans on Tea. I am not going to spend my life doing experiments or theory, but I like to read what others are doing or inventing etc.

The thing I always hated in biology was the uncontrolled variables. I couldn't tolerate the ambiguity.

Anonymous said...

All the Female Asians such as Indians I know are as interested in mathy fields as the males (although I don't know about performance).