No Physicist Left Behind

Here’s a potential explanation for the plea for more students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. From Heather Mac Donald at City Journal:

Identity politics has engulfed the humanities and social sciences on American campuses; now it is taking over the hard sciences. The STEM fields—science, technology, engineering, and math—are under attack for being insufficiently “diverse.” The pressure to increase the representation of females, blacks, and Hispanics comes from the federal government, university administrators, and scientific societies themselves. That pressure is changing how science is taught and how scientific qualifications are evaluated. The results will be disastrous for scientific innovation and for American competitiveness.

A scientist at UCLA reports: “All across the country the big question now in STEM is: how can we promote more women and minorities by ‘changing’ (i.e., lowering) the requirements we had previously set for graduate level study?” Mathematical problem-solving is being deemphasized in favor of more qualitative group projects; the pace of undergraduate physics education is being slowed down so that no one gets left behind.

Apparently, having absorbed the humanities, diversity advocates wept because there were no more worlds to conquer.

Actually, it makes perfect sense. When you believe that everything including the laws of physics are social constructs, you’ll want to push engineering and the sciences in your own preferred direction.

Scientists and engineers are no more immune to prejudices, preferences, priorities, and agendas than any other human being. The challenge for engineering and the sciences is less in capitalizing on these differing points of view than in subordinating them through the vigorous and vigilant application of the scientific method. Objectivity is not impossible; it is difficult.

Here’s a question for you. Is the movie Hidden Figures about how racism and sexism suppressed black women capable of making great contributions to the space program? Or is it a parable of how concentrating on good work let those women make their contributions? Is it more important to do the work or get the credit?

8 comments… add one
  • Andy Link

    I know a lot of women scientists and STEM professionals, and these are the kinds of articles I forward them to get their reaction. Most are skeptical about these social science/diversity theories (implicit bias, intersectionality) while maintaining there is a lot of sexism and discrimination within these fields.

    ” Is it more important to do the work or get the credit?”

    My female STEM friends say both especially since “getting the credit” includes financial compensation and future career opportunities. For most of the women I know, that is the biggest issue for them, followed by workplace discrimination/harassment.

  • PD Shaw Link

    Happen to have some ACT-data on STEM Field Interest and Readiness:

    In the universe of ACT-test takers:

    18% of women are STEM – ready
    24% of mean are STEM – ready

    22% of women have expressed an interest in a STEM field
    31% of men have expressed an interest in a STEM field

    Whether the differences are significant probably depends on where you stand, but it stands out to me that men have a greater disconnect between their interest in STEM than their readiness. So lowering the bar would probably not increase the proportion of women, it might do the opposite.

  • steve Link

    ” Is it more important to do the work or get the credit?”

    Both, like Andy said. If you don’t get the credit you don’t get the pay or the promotions. Kind of surprised you would even ask that.


  • If your primary interest is the money and credit, you should forget the STEM and get an MBA. It’s the managers, supervisors, and administrators who’ll get the credit.

  • CuriousOnlooker Link

    One question, which definition of STEM is it talking about — does it include the medical sciences (research doctors, clinical doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses?)

  • steve Link

    If your primary interest is the BIG money, you are partially correct, though in the STEM fields it is not unusual for someone with a STEM degree to be the administrator. But even within your working area, you are still going to have promotions and raises. Maybe you won’t get a raise from $80,000 to $1 million w/o going into admin, but a raise to $90,000 for being the senior researcher wouldnt be bad.


  • I don’t really know what it’s like now but historically engineers had high starting salaries which maxed out rapidly.

  • steve Link

    Looks like there is a lot of difference between starting salary and top 10%. If getting into the top 10% is dependent upon (perceived) performance, then getting credit matters a lot. If you get there just based upon seniority, then not so much.


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