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Letters to the Editor

Photonics Spectra
Dec 2009
On another planet?

Kevin Bolam’s letter in the October issue of Photonics Spectra has left me (almost) speechless.

Women are not making breakthroughs in science? Women have passion toward family but not their careers?

In what era is Mr. Bolam living?

Although many women (and men) do prioritize family over career, that does not mean they are not successful, dedicated or passionate!

Perhaps more women are not applying to these positions because they are tired of fighting the ridiculous perceptions and attitudes to which outdated men such as Mr. Bolam continue to adhere.

Emily Kubacki
Director of Sales and Marketing
Precision Photonics Corp.
Boulder, Colo.

Outdated thinking

Gary Boas’ article “Understanding the ‘sex gap’ in science and math” (September 2009 Photonics Spectra, page 45) about Brian Nosek’s research on gender stereotypes caught my attention because Nosek’s work seems so dated, so “’60s.” The obsession with stereotypes seems entirely to have missed a whole generation of research that renders it quite obsolete.

Dr. Leonard Sax has written a fascinating survey of the recent research on innate gender differences, most particularly in the ways boys and girls learn, titled Why Gender Matters (Doubleday, 2005). The best way for me to describe modern findings in a few words is to quote from the book: “Are boys and girls really that different? Twenty years ago, doctors and researchers didn’t think so. Back then, most experts believed that differences in how girls and boys behave were due mainly to differences in how they were treated by their parents, teachers and friends. It’s hard to cling to that belief today. An avalanche of research over the past 20 years has shown that sex differences are more significant and profound than anybody guessed. Sex differences are real, biologically programmed and important to how children are raised, disciplined and educated.” Having read Sax’s book, I would have to add that the sex differences are very important.

Letters.jpgI think the belief motivating Nosek – that boys and girls pursue subjects like math and physics because of gender stereotypes – is not just mistaking the symptom for the disease but directing attention and resources to misguided and counterproductive work. One need only observe that females already outnumber males in many sciences, most notably chemistry and biology, to deduce that their upbringing in no way discouraged them from pursuing science in general.

As Sax shows, girls can be highly motivated in any field, given pedagogy that is appropriate to their ways of learning and behaving. Women’s schools and colleges are excellent exhibits, where females pursue and excel in traditionally “male” fields like math and physics in large numbers. Where low female enrollments may be perceived as a problem, it is due mainly to natural behavior in the co-educational and gender-neutral educational environment that Nosek is so anxious to promote, not to stereotypes. Gender stereotypes are a false and misleading issue; proper pedagogy that recognizes and takes advantage of the differences between the sexes is where attention is needed.

By the way, somebody needs to speak up for proper English usage, Dr. Sax. “Gender” describes the categories of words in languages like French, German and Latin: feminine, masculine and neuter. The difference between boys and girls is sex, not gender.

Laurence N. Wesson
Broad Axe, Pa.

Basic ScienceLetters

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