I had the good fortune of seeing Australian guitar sensation Tommy Emmanuel perform in Berkeley last night. As if that weren't enough, I was sitting next to Karen Stollznow a tireless Australian skeptic, author, and linguist (and creator of the pope-tart).
We had a chance to chat here and there, and I cringed when she recounted her high school physics horror story. Not because I hadn't hear such accounts before. I am well aware of the harsh treatment of girls and women in physics courses in high school and college. I wrote my master's thesis on the gender imbalance in physics education. So the novelty of hearing about the mistreatment, alienation, and marginalization of girls in high school physics classes is gone. OK, the stories still make me cringe because of the stupidity and shortsightedness of the teachers involved.
I cringed at this story because my Australian skeptic friend was not old enough to have been in high school physics in the 1950s or 60s when a girl in a physics class was a rarity. She was young enough to let me know this kind of damaging BS is still going on. Will these backward geezers never retire? Or at least realize that the 50s are over?
Anyway, my gender imbalance sensibilities were no-doubt heightened by the recent re-examination of the 2003 American Council of Education regarding gender imbalance on the college campus. In 2003, the council found that men were lagging behind women in terms of college enrollment. The re-examination finds the gap isn't quite what it was originally thought to be.
Women certainly don't outpace men in the physics and engineering programs. And while we would like to believe that male bias in physics education is a thing of the past, a 1998 study tells a different tale. In it, the authors concluded that males had a better sense of simple ciruits than females. The evidence? When males incorrectly wired a battery and bulb circuit, they created a short circuit. When females incorrectly wired a battery and bulb circuit, they created an open circuit. Of course, neither circuit was successful in lighting the bulb. But the males' short circuit succeeded in destroying the battery, and was deemed the superior incorrect solution.
So there you have it: the smoking gun! Larry Summers was right all along! I don't know why girls even sign up for physics...