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Sep 15, 2008

Quotas for Women in Science

  • The use of title IX—or title 9 for nonlawyers—the law forbidding sexual discrimination in education, has been limited. One lesser known effect was the forced parity of men's and women's sports teams in institutions of higher education.

    But now, under pressure from Congress, several universities are being questioned. And guess what, it's the engineering and physics departments. At schools like MIT, Columbia, or Wisconsin, federal investigators are interviewing faculty and staff in a search for gender bias—conscious or subconscious.

    So far, these Title IX compliance reviews haven’t had much impact on campuses beyond inspiring a few complaints from faculty members. (The journal Science quoted Amber Miller, a physicist at Columbia, as calling her interview “a complete waste of time” in 2007).

    I firmly believe any kind of quota system would seriously hurt scientific research and do more harm than good. In this debate, neither side doubts that women can excel in all fields of science. In fact, their growing presence in former male bastions of science is a chief argument against the need for federal intervention.

    An interesting read on that subject is the book “The Sexual Paradox” by psychologist Susan Pinker of Canada, which argues that the campaign for gender parity infantilizes women by assuming they don’t know what they want. Essentially women complained of being pushed so hard to be scientists and engineers that they ended up in jobs they didn’t enjoy.

    Whether or not quotas are ever imposed, some of the most productive science and engineering departments in America are busy filling out new federal paperwork in order not to get their funding cut.

    How is this good for science again?


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