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Another Study on What Women Really Want No comments yet

First, we had the guy from Harvard try to explain that women aren’t interested in science because there is an intrinsic aptitude for things scientific based on gender. Guess which gender is deemed as more scientific?

Now, we have a new observation brought to us by Wray Herbert (

According to Miami University psychological scientist Amanda Dickman, there is a new explanation citing a difference in worthiness or values rather than ability. It seems, according to the new theory, that women reject science, engineering, and math because they view the these fields as too ego and power driven for their tastes.

The unambiguous results for the study found that young women did see science and engineering careers as isolated and individualistic–and what’s more, as obstacles to finding meaning in their lives.

The article goes on to state that it seems to be a perception thing. I would agree that it could very well be the perception thing, but there I think there is a little more to it than that.

A Little Background

My higher education endeavors began with a trip down the road that would merit approval from the study group quoted above. I got an undergraduate degree in Social and Behavioral Sciences and was just a few hours away from a graduate degree when I discovered I was bored to death. Something was missing. There was no challenge.

I tried the MBA path. Nothing doing.

I had taken an intro to computers course as part of my undergraduate course work and a ton of statistics courses but neither appealed. It wasn’t until I ran into my first “micro-computer” (as they were then known), that I realized this little machine was really going to change things. I even got a Heath kit catalog, ordered the H-89 kit, and put it together.

The closest decree to a computer science degree my university offered was a degree in mathematical sciences. I signed up for that.

Believe me, it wasn’t easy. I had already gotten the required courses out of the way, so for three semesters every class I had was either math or computer science. But it was interesting and definitely challenging.

Group Members

The isolated and individualistic scientist, engineer, computer scientist as cited by the study does not exist in the real world.

My first post graduation gig was at the Health Services Division of a major aerospace company as a compiler developer. I was part of the Systems Enhancements and Extensions Group. From there, I transferred to the aircraft company in that same corporation. I was part of the Flight Test Research and Development Group. I went to another aircraft company and the Instrumentation Group. And so on. You were always a member of a group. A group that together designed, developed, and produced things – computer software, digital data acquisition systems, aircraft manufacturing scheduling systems, etc.

When I moved over to biotechnology, it was the same – you were a member of a group. A lab group, a bioinformatics group developing LIMS systems, sequence analysis and imaging recognition software, and so on.

However, I did find that scientists more that engineers were more power/ego driven. I think this is because of funding issues. Although both areas receive the majority of their funds from the government, the basis of the awards is different.

The individual scientist, as P.I., applies for the grant, writes the proposal and receives the funding – almost a personal assessment of that scientist’s capabilities. Furthermore, I feel that the letters - “PhD”, carries a lot of baggage.

For most engineers, the company applies for the grant, writes the proposal (after the engineers have okayed the design), and receives the funding. The engineer is associated with the program for which that proposal was submitted. The engineer isn’t as personally involved.

What I’ve Encountered

In the military industrial complex I encountered bored ex-military who used weekly status reports to declare war on some other part of the division . These attacks were mostly diversions and never amounted to much. These could be construed as power plays, but I list them as “play” period.

Believe me, there were some good ones – stopping just short of an exchange of blows. It’s also amazing how far echoes carry in an aircraft hanger.

The following examples are situations I encountered along the way. They are mostly examples of misdirected intentions, but a few border on outright criminality.

There were approximately 8 databases that all held the same information but for 8 different divisions. The electronics parts – transducers, potentiometers, strain gauges, resistors etc, in each of the databases were exactly the same. However, the nomenclature varied by division. We tried to standardize on one database system with one naming standard, but ran straight into a brick wall. Not one division was willing to cede to another. It was only after word came down from on high that additional funding would not be forthcoming, that everybody finally sat down to talk.

Insane Budgeting Exercises

One division needed to get a new system but was offered an old barely breathing system with exorbitant maintenance costs. The division was instructed to budget for and use the old system for the current fiscal year. For the he next budget cycle, the department was to state that a new system (the one originally requested) would save X amount of dollars over last year’s budget. The new system was then be given the green light.

A director was undercutting his yearly budget to emphasize cost savings. Consequently, his budget was always cut to that amount for the next year. It was pointed out that he should over run this year’s budget by the amount he wanted for next year. Then he would (and did) get the additional funding.

A Simple Name Change can Work Wonders

it was ascertained that for less that the amount the department was paying IT for storage of design data, a new system, software, and personnel could be purchased and hired. Department was notified that requesting a “computer system” would not meet with budgeting approval Only after the system was termed a “data multiplexer” to be administered by “data design personnel” was department able to proceed with system purchase.

One Size Does Not Fit All

IT sends down list of “acceptable” software. So-called software was specifically IT oriented and would not work in an engineering environment. Division engineers take up collection and purchase needed software themselves.

Almost Criminal

Vast amounts of money, time, manpower were spent developing a manufacturing scheduling system for aircraft manufacture. System rated manufacturing personnel in terms of ability. System was deemed a major success – avoiding bottlenecks, completion times, etc. System was never deployed due to union demands that manufacturing personnel could not be rated in terms of ability.

Decode system purchased for data acquisition decode and analysis ($150K) was purchased without installed hard drive for data storage ($15K). It was determined system could use in-house data farm to store data. Decode system required confirmation that contiguous data storage space was available to go ahead and store data.

Transfer mechanism did not provide this info, so decode system would not store data on data farm. Contractor told department officials that the system software on the decode system and in-house data farm were incompatible. Contractor sold department customized software for $750K to replace decode system.

A Meaningful Life

I’ve never considered my career in engineering and biotechnology as isolated and individualistic. Sure, you have individual work, but it is as part of a team.

As far as letting the ego and power driven become obstacles, I have to admit that my behavioral sciences background provided one of the most important career tools I have yet to encounter. My “Advanced Abnormal Psychology” course taught me how to observe and analyze people.

To find meaning in one’s life entails one heck of a lot more than a career. Perhaps by observing and analyzing one’s misconceptions about one area will enhance our conceptions of life in general.

Science Communication No comments yet

A Commentary piece, “Science Communication Revisited”, in the June, 2009, issue of Nature Biotechnology discusses increasing public involvement in science issues and decision-making.

Concerns are raised about the state of science education and scientific literacy more generally.

If only the public were more knowledgeable about things scientific, the article states, they would see things through the eyes of the expert.


I was fortunate enough to have attended private schools from elementary through high school. Very few children are so lucky.

My biology teacher was a Catholic nun. She introduced us to Teilhard de Chardin (

Teilhard was a Jesuit priest who was trained as a paleontologist and geologist and took part in the discovery of Peking Man. He also studied botany and zoology. His book, The Phenomenon of Man, talks about the unfolding of the material cosmos towards the Omega Point, a maximum level of consciousness, that is pulling all creation towards it. Evolution, according to Teilhard, was the process of matter becoming aware of itself.

Therefore, I was able to receive a fairly sound exposure to evolution. On the other hand, the chapters on male and female biology and the reproductive process was ripped out of my text book.

(I know, because we found an unaltered book and read that forbidden text.)

At any rate, I grew up in an agricultural environment and knew what it was all about.

If you’re interested in the state of scientific education or education in public schools in Texas, I recommend the Texas Freedom Network ( ).


Concerning experts, I remember my section chief telling me, “You have to forgive Bryan, he still believes in experts.” Brian was our lead engineer.

As far as experts go, you have to be able to separate the good from the bad.

I recommend this article, Crap Detection 101 ( and the CRAP Test (

The CRAP test is a way to evaluate an internet source based on the following criteria: Currency, Reliability, Authority and Purpose/Point of View.

The article and test’s main focus is the internet — how to tell real from bogus. It’s not too hard to extrapolate the points they make to everyday life.

Scientific Literacy

Science and technology are changing so rapidly, that many people have simply given up on trying to keep up. Their scientific literacy consists of newspaper articles or blurbs on the TV news.

A lot of what is presented as science on network television is implausible (not to mention the technology used on these shows).

I think to really succeed, real scientists must pay attention to what is presented to the general public and critique it through publications, such as letters to the editor, blogs, appearances, etc. as much as possible.

Scientists should also by of an open mind as to the intelligence of your audience.

We have way too many people with 200 point IQ levels digging ditches in this country. We spend an inordinate amount of funds and interest on educating special children. We should be spending just as much time and funds (if not more) identifying and encouraging the geniuses among us who find education boring and quickly loose interest.

The interest in science is out there, but scientists must take an interest in how what passs for science is disseminated, validate or invalidate that science, identify the appropriate target audience, and address that audience level to really open up the forum on true scientific communication.

Salon, an e-zine, has a really good article. Why America is flunking science ( that is worth the read.

Here’s another link where the author lists current “myths” surrounding scientists engaging with the media.

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