Calling Shenanigans 

I hadn’t realized that I knew some of the journalists who were at the event at which Tim Hunt made his negative-stereotype-strengthening remarks. I trust their opinion and integrity quite a bit, and so I’m glad to hear reports from them about what they witnessed. This includes Deborah Blum, who was speaking in the same session as Hunt that day, and who was at the luncheon. She spoke with Hunt about his views and intentions. Thanks, Deborah for calling shenanigans on the “I was only joking” defense so often used to hide behind the old “political correctness gone mad” trope. Read her article here, and further here.


(Spoof poster imaged is by Jen Golbeck) Click to continue reading this post

STEM Keynote

keynote_at_stem_divide_cvjAs I mentioned, a couple of Saturdays ago I gave the keynote address at a one-day conference designed to introduce STEM Careers to underrepresented students from various neighboring schools. The event* was co-sponsored by the Level Playing Field Institute, but sadly the details of it seem to have vanished from their site now that the event has passed, which is unfortunate. It was good to see a room full of enthusiastic students wanting to learn more about such careers (STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and I tried to give some thoughts about some of the reasons that there’s such poor representation by people of color (the group I was asked to focus on, although I mentioned that many of my remarks also extended to women to some extent) in such fields, and what can be done about it. Much of my focus, as you can guess from the issues I bring up here from time to time, was on battling the Culture: The perception people have of who “belongs” and who does not, and how that perception makes people act, consciously or otherwise, the images we as a society present and perpetuate in our media and in our conversations and conventions throughout everyday life, and so on. I used my own experience as an example at various points, which may or may not have been helpful – I don’t know.

My experience, in part and in brief, is this: I went a long way into being excited […] Click to continue reading this post

Outstanding in Their Fields…

In case you missed it, Maryam Mirzakhani has been awarded the Fields Medal! This is regarded as the most prestigious prize in mathematics. Here’s a Guardian article covering it at a general level, and here is the page on all the award winners, with more detail on each, at the International Mathematical Union website. The reason this is a big deal (and why it is newsworthy) is because it is the first time the prize has been awarded to a woman. In a world where, despite the number of excellent women mathematicians out there, there is still a perception problem in the general populace about who (or more to the point, what gender) is associated with achievement in mathematics, it is important to note and celebrate such landmarks.

I also note that one of the other 2014 awardees, Artur Avila, is from Brazil! While not covered as much in the press as far as I can see, this is another big […] Click to continue reading this post

In Motion…

subway_sketch_5th_august_2014_smallBack in Aspen. I went back to LA for a long weekend, and my travel back to Aspen today gave me a lot of good thinking time. Also, I got a few very quick drawings done, such as the one on the right of a cooperative fellow (looking at his phone) on the subway on my way to Union station to take the LAX Flyaway bus.

I’ve been thinking about two projects, one physics and the other about physics, going back and forth between the one and the other, trying to not let them interfere with each other. The “about physics” one is of course the graphic physics book project. In itself it is in two parts. I’m adding more pages from time to time – drawing, inking, and painting/colouring when I can – and I’m also having the odd conversation with potential publishers from time to time, and sending off proposal packages to appropriate places that accept them… trying to explain the nature of the project to those who are willing to listen to something new and exciting. As I’ve said before, “new and exciting” are not words that most publishers want to […] Click to continue reading this post

Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day

Apparently it was Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day yesterday, so some might say I missed it. But as you know, I think that every day should be Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, so it is not too late! Have a look a website for it I found (here). What can you do? You don’t have to organise a huge event (although feel free to). It can all start small. Maybe for that next gift, consider (if you don’t already) buying your little girl (or someone else’s) a set of LEGO or an electronics kit (or other hands on building toys) instead of the (fill-in-the-blank-standard-girl-toy) everyone else is getting her. Go ahead and make it a pink kit, if you want, since that’s what society seems to want. Who cares what colour it is? Apart from buying, even just chatting a bit with a child about engineering in our lives, and all the people who can (and do) contribute to it would be a great thing to do.

Here’s a short film from our own Viterbi school of engineering:

[…] Click to continue reading this post

Hands On

Did you hear about the “takeover” of Seventeen Magazine’s Manicure Mondays? Hearing about it really made my morning*. I read about it in Slate. Go and look at some of the photos on twitter (you don’t need an account to do so) – It is a great variety of images showing hands (male and female) doing things, including scientific activities from field work to lab work. A rather excellent enhancement of the intended scope of just having nail-art.

Jason Bittel, who wrote the Slate piece, says at one point: […] Click to continue reading this post


I noticed that over on Backreaction, Bee talks about a letter she wrote to Time Magazine to respond to a spectacularly uninformed remark by Jeffrey Kluger about women in physics. It was made in one of the “Person of the Year” runner-up articles surrounding a description of Fabiola Gianotti, one of the physicists who presented the Higgs particle discovery announcement at CERN last year. The spectacularly uninformed remark? Here it is:

Physics is a male-dominated field, and the assumption is that a woman has to overcome hurdles and face down biases that men don’t.

But that just isn’t so. Women in physics are familiar with this misconception and acknowledge it mostly with jokes.

I should say that it is nice to see an article about physics in this context (Time, person of the year, etc) since it gets the general public interested, but it is dismaying to see such a hugely important issue brushed over. I don’t think it helps the younger people trying to get into the field, and it certainly is frustrating and unhelpful for people already in the field who are having to deal with all the preconceptions and […] Click to continue reading this post

Valerie Weiss on Women, Science, and Film

You’ll recall me mentioning filmmaker Valerie Weiss from earlier posts this year about her debut feature film “Losing Control”. Well, she wrote a guest post* for the website Women and Hollywood this week. It was about a recent film made for the European Commission to encourage girls to go into science. Apparently it was awful. (I’d heard about it from someone else too, but did not get to see it.) Valerie shares some thoughts […] Click to continue reading this post

She Blinded Me With Science…

The funny video below* is good for a bit of nostalgia for the time of the Thomas Dolby song, the song itself, and perhaps for the X-Files TV show (but not for me, I saw only a few episodes). Scully fans will love this, and although I never regularly watched the show, I did appreciate her character. Strong skepticism, insistence on using the scientific method, etc. Excellent. Good character overall, and broke a lot of ground as a female lead with these characteristics too.

chloe_obrian_24Now here’s an idea. Would someone please do such a video for 24’s Chloe O’Brian? (Pictured left.) She’s definitely one of my favourite technical expert engineer/scientist types on a major show, and Mary Lynn Rajskub does an excellent job giving her life, depth and likeability even though she’s fighting against all the geek/nerd stereotype characteristics they’ve endowed her with. In essence, she does it by embracing them. Her attention to detail regularly saves the day (world, city, state, whatever), and the lives of her colleagues, and in the last episode they even had her supposedly determining that light in a video was daylight by […] Click to continue reading this post

Why So Few?

I’d like to pass on a link (sent to me in email*) to the New York Times article about the new NSF-sponsored study and report (links to it are within) on the under-representation of Women in science and mathematics. Reporter Tamar Levin summarizes it there and quotes a number of interviewees. Sample extract:

The report found ample evidence of continuing cultural bias. One study of postdoctoral applicants, for example, found that women had to publish 3 more papers in prestigious journals, or 20 more in less-known publications, to be judged as productive as male applicants.

Making judgments about an individual’s abilities based on his or her sex is a classic form of discrimination, said Nancy Hopkins, an M.I.T. biology professor who created an academic stir in the 1990s by documenting pervasive, but largely unintentional, discrimination against women at the university.

Have a look.

I note that an email in my inbox just half an hour after the one telling me about the above link was news […] Click to continue reading this post


Not a big surprise, but a notable event nonetheless – the top Siemens Mathematics, Science and Technology annual prizes were all taken by girls this year. From the New York Times*:

Janelle Schlossberger and Amanda Marinoff, both 17 and seniors at Plainview-Old Bethpage John F. Kennedy High School on Long Island, split the first prize — a $100,000 scholarship — in the team category for creating a molecule that helps block the reproduction of drug-resistant tuberculosis bacteria.

Isha Himani Jain, 16, a senior at Freedom High School in Bethlehem, Pa., placed first in the individual category for her studies of bone growth in zebra fish, whose tail fins grow in spurts, similar to the way children’s bones do. She will get a $100,000 scholarship.

Congratulations to them – and all the winners and finalists, male or female – for their achievements!!

On another note, I was reading the project descriptions of the rather well-resourced […] Click to continue reading this post