Anne (netmouse) wrote,

erg, I say, erg.

Over on a discussion about Scalzi's "Big Idea" Guest post by Vox Day, Pretty Lady responded to a post I made about how it is in fact true that few women (incl. authors) are trained in physics, and I didn't think Vox was necessarily saying women SF authors don't write as much hard SF because they can't because they're women, but that they don't tend to, and maybe that's related to the whole not knowing physics and not wanting people to attack their writing for inaccuracies thing.

Comments seem to be closed over there, but I wanted to respond to this.

    I'd said:
    I don't think he was saying "women by the gender can't hack physics," I think he was saying "here's a pattern I see."

    Pretty Lady wrote:
    Absolutely. My personal opinion is that we are perfectly capable of hacking the physics; we just don't want to.

    There is a new book out which supports my assertions that women's minds work more holistically and less linearly than men's, which tends to mean that we focus more on relational activities than hard science or highly driven career paths. This is not, in my view, a weakness, so much as a genuine difference which has very good reasons for existing, and which we attempt to ignore at our peril.

So as a scientist, I feel maybe someone should point this out:

There is a ton of holistic and non-linear thinking in science.
Hard science.
Oh yes.

Even if women do tend more toward that sort of thinking, that is no reason for them not to go into the sciences. Interestingly enough, tons of women do go into several hard sciences (have you ever tackled microbiology? Not easy, I tell ya. Science? Oh yes.) The fact that fewer women go into theoretical and experimental physics I think has more to do with social influences and perceptions of the field that are inaccurate. Such as the one above.

One of my favorite nonlinear thinkers is also one of my favorite scientists - Richard Feynman. And one of my favorite books as a kid was about the "Aha"! experience when you suddenly see a different way around a hard mathematical problem - not necessarily through linear thinking. It's called Aha! Insight, by Martin Gardner.

In experimental science, a lot of the process is "what about this? oh! did you think of that?"; when an experiment fails, linear thinking will lead you to do it again the same way you planned in the first place. It is the less linear leaps of logic, combined with the willingness to investigate and try something that might not work, that makes up science. We often demonstrate something experimentally based on a holistic observation, and *then* tackle the process of coming up with theory (also holistic!) to explain it that will satisfy the linear logic approach. Thus we get many shaky theories that are disproved later. But that's okay! That's science.

Personally, I think part of the reason fewer women go into this sort of science is that we are (for multiple reasons) socialized to be shyer about risk-taking; perhaps we take it more personally when something doesn't work. For instance, research indicates that in junior high girls of a same above-average ability as boys in math will be less likely to think that they are good at it, whereas boys are more likely to think they are good at it but that the subject is hard; girls take the challenge as more reflective on their own abilities than on the subject.

In engineering, failure is part of the process. My dad's an engineer and always tried to press into me that you learn more from your failures than you do from your successes. Or, as Edison allegedly said about developing his version of the light bulb, "I have not failed 700 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work."

There are other misperceptions of the field, such as that physics is done in lonely towers and underground laboratories by bachelors who are more interested in books and subatomic particles than they are interested in people and you have to be asocial and averse to sunlight and healthy living to even want to go that way. That is, uh, also untrue. Happily.

I do have to admit that in many grade schools non-linear thinking in math is punished by the system. "Show your work!" and "That's not the right way to do the problem" are sayings that plagued many of us in school, where teachers have one way to do things in their textbook and are uncomfortable with kids who think faster or differently than they do. There was a front page newspaper article in Ontario while I was in school there about a girl who seemed to have discovered a new method for factoring polynomial equations. Well, it wasn't new, it just isn't taught(that was pointed out a few days later). Because sometimes, in some ways, school sucks. And teaching kids there is only one way to solve certain types of problems is one of those ways.
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