As science gets tough, the girls get going … to some other career?

January 21, 2013 at 12:09 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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The graph shows that courses with fewer women students rank more highly on a rating of scientific difficulty

The x-axis of this boxplot shows the percentage of female students accepted onto 73 higher education science courses in the UK in 2011 (latest available data, from the official UK source, UCAS).

The y-axis shows how the course subjects rank on an index of scientific rigour (Fanelli, 2011), with ‘harder’ sciences like physics having a higher ranking (nearer 1) and ‘softer’ sciences like psychology a lower ranking (the lowest being 20).

The boxes show where most of the courses cluster, and the top-and-tailing lines show how widely the data are spread.

(I’ll say more below about those three little outlying numbers in the top right-hand corner: they don’t fit the pattern. For more detail on the making of this graph, see this background information PDF, Fanelli_background.)

The graph seems to suggest that tougher courses have fewer women students, while softer sciences attract more girls.

This is not a new idea. In 2005, the President of Harvard University caused a ruckus by suggesting that ‘one reason there are relatively few women in top positions in science may be “issues of intrinsic aptitude”’.  (The quote is from Inside Higher Ed; the link to the transcript of Larry Summers’ speech is, alas, broken).

So, the UCAS data support this controversial claim, yes?


Here are some reasons why not. Continue Reading As science gets tough, the girls get going … to some other career?…

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