The science sex gap
I read Gary Boas’ article (“Understanding the ‘sex gap’ in science and math,” September, p. 45) with interest. I have been interested in science since I was a child. While in middle school, I remember my math instructor teaching probability and statistics using baseball statistics. I had no idea what he was talking about, nor did I care as a young girl to hear about batting averages.
In college, one of my very first physics homework problems involved a “dashpot.” I had to look up the word in the dictionary. It described a shock absorber, so I went to the nearest tire store and took a look at a dissected shock absorber.
I have to admit I gained no insight into how to solve the problem because a modern shock absorber is much more complicated than the simple dashpot that involved my problem.
Girls experience many subtle things throughout their school years. Maybe no single event happens to result in their losing interest in science and/or math, but, accumulatively, the end result is a lack of interest in science and math among the female population. Lucky for me, I’m too stubborn to pass over something I don’t understand.
Your August editorial in support of University of California faculty protesting state budget cuts (“Biting the hand that feeds you”) is misguided. You seem to be listening to just one side of the story – the self-interests of a few public employees who happen to be an asset to the photonics industry – and entirely disregarding the context of California’s financial crisis.
California’s problems go way back, and although this letter cannot adequately describe them in detail, they frequently have made national news. Some contributing factors include domination of the political process by public employee unions, overgenerous subsidies to public education, fashionable rules and restrictions on automobiles and emissions, requirements for certain percentages of public power to be generated from fashionably small or uneconomic power plants – e.g., hydro, wind or solar – bond measures for wasteful projects such as high-speed rail and a state-sponsored stem-cell research program, intrusive and counterproductive regulations on most aspects of life and business, high taxes and broad restrictions on land use.
The state government is entirely the captive of its beneficiaries, who have every incentive to raise taxes and little to control spending. In this year’s crisis, the state again raised taxes and made marginal budget cuts, yet it still could not balance the budget without massive borrowing, adding to the debt burden of the many previous bond issues and compounding future problems. It is no wonder that the state has a falling bond rating, high unemployment and massive business flight to neighboring states, while Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger veers off into nonsense about California doing its part to stop global warming.
In brief, California, its government captive to special interests and delusional zealots, is perennially a financial basket case.
As with all of the other public-sector employees in that pitiable state, the university faculty have been spoiled, living high on the taxpayers for a long time. Being a scientist myself, I would join you in applauding the value of their work. But given the magnitude of the state’s problems, whatever marginal discomfort the state is now imposing on them is relatively trivial, and they do not deserve your full-page sympathy.
Laurence N. Wesson
Broad Axe, Pa.
Fraud, or Not
Speech should be free, and a wide range of opinions in the press is healthy. Having said this, I still am surprised that you published a letter (A solar fraud? Letters, September) on a serious topic, written by someone who, in my opinion, is unqualified. Giving this letter space in a technical magazine reduces your credibility and lowers the tone of our profession.
Orbiting solar power stations have been mooted for decades. The technology and its economics are certainly a subject for open debate, but allowing the uninformed to participate in the debate on your pages does not help clarify the issues.
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