Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Courses of least resistance …

… Study: Women Now Leaving STEM Fields To Pursue ‘Social Justice’ Degrees | Trending.


  1. Jeff Mauvais12:30 AM

    I think that my daughter, who will receive her MD next spring and plans on specializing in pediatric oncology, would be surprised to hear that her profession does not involve “helping” and “caring”.

    1. Yes, that does sound as though it would involve helping and caring, Jeff.

  2. I did not bother to purchase the article this refers to--$50 for 24 hours is a bit steep. However, I did read the abstract, and would note that

    1. The article does not concern STEM as a whole, but only engineering.

    2. The abstract makes no mention of "social justice": it does speak of "social responsibility.

    3. It is clear from the abstract and from Professor Rulifson's faculty page that the authors' proposed answer to this attrition is not "good riddance" but "show how engineering improves lives".

  3. But if you have to prove that to a prospective engineering student, maybe engineering isn't the profession for said student. I remember Van Wyck Brooks objecting to the notion that some New Critical advocate had advanced to the effect that he preferred poetry to engineering because poetry had the finer structures. Brooks pointed out that no one would die if a poem's structure was imperfect. But someone might if a bridge's structure was.

  4. Jeff Mauvais12:14 PM


    Aren’t you alarmed that students must be “taught” that engineering can improve lives? With thirty seconds thought, I created this list of technologies introduced through biomedical engineering alone during my lifetime: ultrasonography, CAT, MRI, laparoscopic surgery, robot-assisted brain surgery, joint replacement, dozens of game-changing drugs invented or produced through biotechnology.

    The young woman who left engineering to become an environmental policy lawyer could have remained and made a genuine and lasting contribution to her cause by working on the development of a cheap, high-capacity battery. Without the ability to store it, clean energy will remain largely a pipe dream.

    And the student who switched to “international development” should spend a few weeks wandering around Kenya as I did several years ago. She would find that, since the country achieved independence 50+ years ago, nothing has improved the lives of ordinary Kenyans more than the arrival of the cell phone. Landline access was always very limited, but cellular coverage is now greater than 90% and almost everyone has a mobile phone. Herders in remote areas are no longer forced to accept prices offered by local cattle brokers because they can now solicit several bids using their phones. City dwellers send remittances to relatives in distant villages using the mobile phone-based M-pesa money transfer system. Previously, they had to rely on bus drivers or the chronically inefficient postal system. (Incidentally, the M-pesa system was developed in 2007, and is only now being emulated in the US by apps like Zelle). I’m convinced that technology is far more important to Third World development than the arrival of yet one more clueless “international development” do-gooder.

  5. Frank: Van Wyck Brooks was correct about the demands of engineering. But he didn't study or teach engineering, did he? Should we impute motives there?

    Jeff: There has always been attrition in the STEM fields between freshman and junior years. During the great postwar expansion and through at least the early 1970s, one heard of "flunk-out physics" (or chemistry, or ...), which would take in hundreds of prospective science majors in September, and reach December with most of them considering majors in the liberal arts or business. Was or is the attrition greater among women? I don't know. The linked study covered a very few cases, and the abstract made no reference to outcomes among men.

    I object to the tone in which PJ Media presented the story, as if the reason for sex imbalance in STEM is that young women are recruited away to be social justice warriors. The piece was aimed at giving its readership a laugh or a sneer at the millenial snowflakes, and judging from the comment or two I bothered to read, it succeeded in its aim.

  6. Well, Brooks clearly had a motive: He wanted more sensible commentary about poetry.