What is it With Women and the Maths and Sciences?

by Intern Chrislande


Apparently no one really knows why women seem to have a harder time getting into the mathematical and scientific fields– but University of Missouri researcher David Geary and his University of Leeds colleague Gijsbert Stoet want to find out. The University of Missouri reports that they’re trying to get to understand the gender gap– and correct it for the future.

In 1999, a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology stated that women did poorly in math because of their belief in the stereotype that they were bad at math– a phenomenon referred to by psychologists as stereotype threat. This theory was the basis for many programs designed thereafter to help women make gains in math and science.

Geary and Stoet say that someone messed up in 1999, though, claiming that: 
1. The study had methodological flaws.
2. Improper statistical techniques were used.
3. Some studies did not even do the scientific work to prove the existence of this stereotype.

Geary, who did 20 replications of the stereotype theory study, asserts that researchers did not make the men participate in the same experimental exercises as the women. So he adjusted his study to apply the stereotype threat on men, i.e., telling them they would do badly on the test before they took it, among other statistical variations; his findings showed that the stereotype theory just didn’t hold up.

So what’s the bottom line of this complex formula? Geary says, “The fact is, there are still a disproportionate number of men in top levels of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. We need more women to succeed in these fields for our economy and for our future.”

This, of course, leaves even us non-researchers perplexed; if stereotypes about women are not what cause them to avoid math and science, what’s behind the disconnect? If the original research for the stereotype theory was messed up, can we be sure Geary’s study will make a real breakthrough?  We’ve seen how science tries to help women embrace science, but what do you think? How can society help women gain confidence in their math and science abilities?

“Women Worse at Math than Men” Explanation Scientifically Incorrect, MU Researchers Say [University of Missouri]

[Image Credit: madscientistintraining.files.wordpress.com]

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