Women in Math and Science
Lawrence Summers' provocative public comments suggesting that the underrepresentation of women in math and science may be due to biological differences have gotten him in a lot of trouble. Now, he's set up two task forces to address the problems, but critics still question his qualifications and commitment to the education of women at Harvard. I think the skepticism is warranted.
If Harvard is serious about increasing the number of women who succeed in math and science, they're going about it the wrong way. They shouldn't rely on their economist president of the university or create a task force of faculty to address recruiting and promotion. They should hire a casting director from a sci-fi or horror movie.
I watch a lot of sci-fi and horror movies, and I've learned a lot of things about the world that I wouldn't have learned elsewhere. Like, for instance, just how many female scientists there are in the world, especially gorgeous female scientists in their 20s and 30s.
Just this weekend, Alone in the Dark opened nationwide starring Tara Reid as "a young genius anthropologist with an incredible memory" (as described in the IMDb plot summary.) I didn't see it yet, but the draw of Reid's incredible memory will undoubtedly pull me in eventually. Last night, the Sci-Fi channel showed Jason X, the inevitable space entry in the Friday the 13th series (see Leprechaun in Space, Hellraiser IV, Dracula 3000, etc.) which featured several young research facility personnel who also happened to be hot babes. If you watch the Sci-Fi channel during one of their frequent "giant/swarming insects/animals" monster movie marathon weekends you can usually count on at least one stunningly attractive scientist or technician per film. Also worthy of note, we very rarely encounter homely female scientists or any above the age of 40, and those we do are usually evil.
Of course, we also learn some of the social forces that may be making it difficult for women to succeed in the sciences by watching these movies. In almost every case, the beautiful scientist begins the movie unattached or recovering from a failed relationship. From this evidence we can discern that being an intelligent, charming and well-endowed woman in the sciences with a taste for tight, low-cut tops and disposable skirts or form-fitting slacks makes it difficult to carry on an active social life. Fortunately, the scientist babe usually ends the film with a promising connection to the male lead, so there is hope. My initial study suggests that imperiling the hot scientist and allowing her to be rescued by an age-appropriate, action-oriented male (I suggest a law-enforcement officer or other applied, problem-solving professional) allows a relationship to begin without the ego problems and competitive instincts that doom her other relationships.
Anyway, I think the primary lesson here is that admissions criteria for math and science programs at our top universities should be focusing on the characteristics proven to correlate highly with achievement in the fields: sex appeal. I would also point out the many solutions to contemporary social and political problems that can be found by attending properly to the evidence available in popular culture.