Science

Scientists: If we lower math requirements, maybe we’ll have more lady scientists

One of the world’s most prestigious science publications, Nature, is out with a new op-ed arguing that top-notch PhD programs should lower their math requirements to admit more women.

Only 26 percent of women score above a 700 on the GRE’s Quantitative section, excluding them from the nation’s elite STEM grad programs.

“In simple terms, the GRE is a better indicator of sex and skin color than of ability and ultimate success,” argue professors Casey Miller and Keivan Stassun [PDF].

As an alternative, the University of South Florida prioritized more soft skills in the application process, including measures of motivation and “service to community,” resulting in higher graduation rates (81 percent) and significantly more underrepresented groups.

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The op-ed presents a rather conflicted argument. It plays into all the stereotypes of women’s inferior math ability and superior soft skills, while promoting more inclusive policies.

There is a disturbing gender gap on all sorts of standardized test scores, including a 33-point gap on the SAT (though its narrowing). There are various theories about what causes the gap, from confidence issues [PDF] to sociological explanations. I asked Stassun his theory.

“I don’t know. I’m an astrophysicist, not a psychologist, and I don’t particularly care,” he wrote to me.

“We have identified better ways of identifying capable and promising students in ways that are not biased against women and minorities.”

Likewise, Miller admitted, “I don’t really know the underlying origin.” Either way, both writers wanted to make the gap “irrelevant to success.”

Regardless of the reason women perform worse on standardized math tests, the authors believe the scores don’t accurately reflect women’s and minorities’ true scientific aptitude.

“Yes, scientists do better than non-scientists on the quantitative part, on average. But when you start comparing scientists to scientists, the utility of the GRE becomes extremely tenuous,” wrote Miller.

The two authors tell me they want to avoid playing into female stereotypes, but it’s going to be difficult without a full-fledged solution to the problem.

Unfortunately, they don’t quite yet have a polished solution for big-name universities. Thirty-minute interviews may work for the University of South Florida and Fisk-Vanderbilt in Nashville, but many household name schools are inundated with applicants.

In 2011, Stanford’s Computer Science program had 692 applicants. In initial interviews alone, that translates into about 350 hours of work. Unlike undergrad programs, faculty members are the ones making the decisions, and it’s hard enough to get faculty to focus on teaching, let alone admissions.

The op-ed is optimistic about new tools from the Education Testing Service (ETS) that can automatically score personal attributes. Potentially, there is a technological solution to the admissions problem.

You can read the full article in the newest issue of Nature, or read it here [PDF].

37 comments
tom sagret
tom sagret

Boys are failing in schools: they are getting the lowest grades, especially in reading.


Meanwhile, we continue to fund and support programs only for girls and women in SMET.


And we ignore the reading levels of boys.


Maybe if we spent as much money helping boys in reading, the humanities and the arts, fewer would take up space in engineering and science programs and that would open spots for girls?


The selfish shortsighted arrogance of contemporary feminism is mind-boggling.

Craig Gordon
Craig Gordon

 I don't know if I am reading this differently than most, but I'm lost as to why this is so offensive. It looks like they are saying that there is clear and measurable difference in the mathematics achievement scores that we use now to determine competence and appropriateness for inclusion in science programs (for whatever reasons). They acknowledge that such a system is too narrow a criteria set and is biased, acknowledging that this one area is not necessarily a sole indicator of success. They postulate that if programs were to lower the importance of a straight math score, then competent people who have otherwise not been given a chance will be able to enter and succeed. 


I think the people who direct these programs are exploring the idea that there are other skills and traits that go into being successful at science. The idea of lowering a math score requirement won't help to identify these people on it's own, but would need to be combined with a system for determining these other traits (as was also talked about). 


It sounds like an acknowledgement of a problem and discussion on how to correct it, which to me is a good thing. I really don't think that the people interviewed have said, "Women and minorities are stupid, so we need to lower the bar to give them a chance". It sounds  to me like the title/author is trying to stir things up to sell an article.

Tom Vu
Tom Vu

Maybe we'd have more female scientists if we actually fired sexist teachers and professors who turn them off from these fields. There's nothing in the world hotter than a smart woman.

Mikey Charles
Mikey Charles

What a dumb question. I might just have to unlike VentureBeat ...

Janet Nicholas
Janet Nicholas

Universities need to look at their own undergraduate programs. Making mathematical competence a requirement for even a BA would have a far greater impact on enlarging the talent pool! The authors recommended conclusion is a insult to competent women scientists!

mike tullock
mike tullock

Idiology trumps reality. Outcome predictable. Science declines like USA government.

Oliver Antonio Fajardo
Oliver Antonio Fajardo

That is like saying women are innately inferior at math so we should lower the standards. We want a more progressive society that is able to stand on it's own ground against other countries and their educational systems. I believe that will only happen once the math is not 'cool' factor dissipates from society. This notion starts and is still present in the earliest parts of our educational system i.e. grade school. That needs to change as we definitely need more people getting into STEM.

Nicholas M. Cummings
Nicholas M. Cummings

Condescending, hard to know where the pipeline is broken — sexist views of women in kitchen making sandwiches, girls given submissive role models, "bossy" type feedback, lame math curriculum driven by standards not engagement, bad math teachers who focus on theory and fail to make it interesting, teachers not giving students a chance for trial and error like Time just published, lack of female role models in industry, in upper-level STEM classes... All these things work against female STEM engagement

Dallas Literal Johnston
Dallas Literal Johnston

The fact that the male/female data skews higher than the overall average also indicates the vast majority of test takers are Asian and White. This is for more interesting to me than the gap in scores between genders.

Jay See
Jay See

insult to women.... let's just lower standards for everything .. everyone who wants to b a doctor attend med school, no need to study math or physics to study engineering, no math needed to be accountants, fly planes if u like....

Michael Clarke
Michael Clarke

this could be one of the most silly proposals I have seen in a long time

Ÿwän Exotically
Ÿwän Exotically

But a scientist does need Math. If females can't do it then leave it out to the males.

Eric Everson
Eric Everson

WTF!!! How about we quit telling girls that they aren't good at math instead. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy for many. Lowering requirements would only produce half-assed scientists.

Andrew Padilla
Andrew Padilla

My experience stems from attending a "top" university and was related solely to the score required for admission was no different for men or women. Note the period between sentences that is meant to separate thoughts.

Adam Dizes
Adam Dizes

This is the dumbest thing I've ever heard. Everybody wants a hand out because of 'inequality'... When in all reality, the only isolation created is when a scenario like this is approved. I'm sure there would be more male 'scientists' and 'engineers', too if we lowered math requirements across the board... Then again, the point of being in either of those positions is because you accel at the topic, not because you got the pitty rule.

Tri Tran
Tri Tran

I thought this was an Onion post.

Ray Cone
Ray Cone

Please...would someone explain the correlation between gender and mathematics? Why did they even post such trite nonsense?

Mario Chaves
Mario Chaves

Why not take away the requirements altogether and have even more 'scientists'!

Dennis Bolgov
Dennis Bolgov

"University of South Florida prioritized more soft skills in the application process, including measures of motivation and “service to community,” resulting in higher graduation rates (81 percent) and significantly more underrepresented groups." - recipe for disaster. There was something like this in USSR when scientists were qualified by their "service to community" measure, nothing good came out of it.

Andreas Mitschke
Andreas Mitschke

still you never learned that "experience" is always subjective and inferior to objective data.

Sandra Muñoz
Sandra Muñoz

Oh please. Want more women in science? Respect them.

Eric Chan
Eric Chan

Hire based on merits, not out of pity. Besides, maybe the cause of this discrepancy is because women are not encouraged to learn math as much as men? We should not look at stats in isolation.

Andrew Padilla
Andrew Padilla

That is ridiculous. I can speak from experience that if you want to get into a "top" school in engineering you will need a perfect score (at the lowest a 780 with a 4.0GPA). That being said, I went to grad school and currently work with some very talented women. I am sure they would be insulted.

George Tsifrikas
George Tsifrikas

ok yes lower the requirements and we'll have a lot of "scientists"

Sarvesh Mahesh
Sarvesh Mahesh

Lower the science requirement and then there will be even more

oguns iron
oguns iron

@tom sagret 

For more and more women and men things go like this:

When men do better in some field of endeavor then the average human, it's because the men basically cheated and kept women out, consciously or not. Male achievement is intrinsically suspect.

Hence the ubiquitous articles about the terrible, terrible problem of male overrepresentation in physics, programming, etc.

When men do worse in some field than the average human, on the other hand, no one has any problem with accepting that males in those cases are being treated fairly. Males fill the prisons worldwide. It seems obvious to everyone that with a few exceptions, male underachievement in the field of law abindingness rightfully results in higher incarceration rates for males than for humans in general.

Why can we accept that males get what they deserve when they do worse than average and yet we can't accept that males get what they deserve when they do better than average ? Why are male outcomes only suspect when they are desirable and better than average ? 

Do feminists , male and female, really think that males are basically good at nothing in particular except evil? 

oguns iron
oguns iron

Those males poisoning everything.

It's obvious that males have been poisoning physics forever. Imagine how much farther along we would be in our understanding of the universe had all those testosterone damaged freaks been content to "sit down and STFU" and let women and minorities do the work.

It's like all that male leadership poisoning a company like Apple. 

Poor Apple. They could be such a successful company if there weren't all those dudebros at the helm.

Male overachievement in any desirable field = proof of male mischief, because by their very nature those testosterone poisoned beasts can't achieve anything worthwile and any field would benefit from less input from those beats and more input from women and minorities (well, minority women).


Repeat after me : Apparent male overachievement in any desirable field is prima facie evidence of somethng sinister going on.



 


Vladimir Rodionov
Vladimir Rodionov

Non-sense and rubbish, my friend. Scientists in USSR have never been qualified by service to community - only by service to communist party. I am kidding, actually.  Many universities in USSR had a special quotas for  minorities and women. Affirmative action has been invented in USSR back in 1920th.   

oguns iron
oguns iron

They should also lower the math requirements for math grad school.