Letters to the Editors, April/May2008

Women in Science

I was surprised that the design of math and science curricula was not addressed in the article “Sex, Math and Scientific Achievement,” by Diane F. Halpern, Camilla P. Benbow, David C. Geary, Ruben C. Gur, Janet Shibley Hyde and Morton Ann Gernsbacher. Traditionally, instruction in these fields has almost exclusively used a method of thought and communication that appeals more strongly to males than females.

Your article raised the issue of differing visuospatial skills between genders. It may not be the case that male minds more easily grasp the information being disseminated; it is possible that how this information is presented can make a difference in skill sets. Males have dominated the fields of science and math for centuries, and the manner in which they have undertaken research, compiled educational texts and designed curricula has affected how children are taught this information and, therefore, how they respond to it.

Rachel Lindley
Edmonton, Alberta

Sex, Math and Scientific Achievement” was very disappointing in an otherwise enjoyable publication. Your highly unscientific opinion that social psychologists have decided that “the overt sexism that existed decades ago in the U.S. and in many other countries is now rare” is simply laughable. Stating this puts the phenomenon of lower female participation in the sciences squarely on women’s shoulders.

I realize that objectivity is important when reporting scientific data. Nevertheless, in playing it safe with this article, the authors provide readers with little (if any) enlightenment on the topic. And in this regard, they are no better than profoundly misogynist, ignorant and biased individuals such as Larry Summers.

Name withheld
Mountain View, Calif.

Having read more than a few articles by various researchers on the topic of the gender gap in science and math careers, I cannot sit back any longer. These researchers all seem to miss a potentially significant variable—the impact of autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Here is a sex difference for the authors to discuss: autism in general has an approximate 4 to 1 ratio of males to females. At the high-functioning end of the spectrum, such as among those of us with Asperger’s syndrome, the ratio is even greater.

“Normal” people usually have an even spread of abilities, whereas those of us with high-functioning ASD tend to have a very uneven spread of abilities. Our visuospatial skills are usually better than average, whereas our social-verbal skills tend to be worse than average. Often these abilities are much better and much worse, respectively. As such, those of us “Aspies” who succeed tend to be drawn toward deterministic fields of endeavor in which solutions are black-and-white, such as engineering, computers, math and physics—and most of us are men.

Larry D. Moody
via e-mail

I would like to make a recommendation. Women typically handle the family finances and are quite gifted at managing money in hard economic times. Working women, however, are still being paid roughly 77 percent of what men are paid for similar jobs. Given that women are acutely aware of finance, universities might consider offering their science degrees to women at a 23 percent tuition discount. An economic incentive might be the right solution.

Ola Marra Cook
Campbell, Calif.

Family Values

InInside the Terrorist Mind,” Annette Schaefer rightly notes that most terrorists are not mentally ill. I would like to add that there is a common family dynamic found in many individual histories of male terrorists: the authoritarian family, which I discuss in my article “‘I Came with a Sword on Judgment Day’: A Psychoanalytic Look at Terrorist Enactments” (Psycho­analytic Review, Vol. 94, No. 5; October 2007).

This article was originally published with the title "December 2007/January 2008 Issue."

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