The Gender of Science

In the FCL Lab, we are all interested in learning about how people learn science.  Often, we approach this process by looking at how they currently interact with scientific exhibits and other people in those exhibits.  What they say, what they do, and how they then reflect on the experience gives us social scientists information about how the information is being processed.  I am interested in this work because the processing of information by an individual is very telling.  But often, we aren’t aware of the impacts that our home culture, gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status play in how we perceive the world, let alone science.  So for my first FCL blog, I want to bring this question to the forefront: How has gender played a role in how we see science?

In today’s postmodern, feminist, gender-blending world, the idea of gender can be sometimes seen as a negative four-letter word.  I am sure that there have been situations where you looked at someone and wanted to ask, “Is that a man or woman,” but know it is not PC to do so.  As social scientists, we don’t often ask questions in relation to gender unless we feel they are important to the study.  But listening to a This American Life podcast made me rethink whether we should research the role gender plays in learning science.  Here is a link to the podcast. http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/220/testosterone

In Act Two of the podcast, you meet Griffin Hansbury, who was born a woman but has since transitioned into man.  He speaks about how increasing testosterone has changed his life – not only in the way he sees the world and himself in the world, but even in his interests.  At one point, he mentions that after taking testosterone he finds that he is more interested in science.  The interviewer remarks that with that comment, he has set our society back 100 years.  But is there some truth in what Griffin said?  If we look at the science field, it is dominated by males (many of whom are white – but that is another blog post).  Is it because the way science is done now speaks to a male, testosterone-fueled mind? Would it be different if science was propelled by female, estrogen-fueled minds?

In Star Trek’s Next Generation episode, Angel One, the crew encounters a society woman-dominated culture.  On this planet, women not only hold the positions of power, but are also the ones that do the science.  Men on this planet are considered “emotional” and incapable of doing anything in leadership or science.  As a work of science fiction, this episode not only points out the inaccuracies with this form of thinking, but also serves as a social commentary on our society.  Could it be that somehow this still holds true in our modern day, despite supposed advancements in gender equality?  If we move further into the World of Geek and equate how women are viewed in science with how they are viewed in gaming, maybe the video Nothing To Prove can give us an inkling of what is happening today.

You be the judge.


Why make such a big deal about Make? (By Jen Wyld)

It is probably not a mystery to anyone who knows me, but I have a complicated relationship with the Make movement.  Make is, in my opinion, an fascinating form of free choice learning. It grew out of the (computer) Hacker movement and has evolved to include all kinds of do it your self kind of projects- from building your own 3-D printer at home to keeping bees.  If you have ever seen any old “Popular Mechanics” magazines, full of projects to do at home, you will have a sense of Make Magazine, which has been in publication since 2005.  From this beginning, as well as a very interactive and content rich website, a whole community has sprouted up around the world, with local Maker Spaces for regular meet-ups as well as annual Maker Faire events that have the subtitle “the greatest Show and Tell on Earth”. What Make realized, from their start with the magazine and website, is that people wanted more than a “Do it Yourself” (DIY) lifestyle- they wanted to come together in community and share skills and tools and a communal space to work on larger and group projects- more of a “Do it with Others” (DIWO) style. Currently, there are hundreds of MakerSpaces around the world and more Maker Faire events happening in places from New York to Eugene to Tokyo.

In the last few years, they have also started reaching out more deliberately to youth, with the MakerEd initiative (yes, they do work the “Make” thing a bit too much, even for my taste!).  Realizing that most young people do not have access to Make experiences or much in the way of hands on learning, they have taken this on, creating a system of mentor training, a summer Maker Camp offered through the Google Plus/Hangout platform with new projects every day for a month, as well as organizing Maker Faires to be family friendly events.  I think it is one of the most exciting things happening in learning right now.

So, back to my opening comment- why is my relationship with Make a complicated one? Well, in all honesty, I am not really a Maker- I just don’t have much of a desire to get in there and build things or interact with computers any more than I have to, so I sometimes feel like a poser.  I do knit and crochet, so can work the craft angle, and am getting more into the homestead lifestyle as I get older and my priorities shift around. But, I am a Make enthusiast! I have spoken about it, or presented posters at 4 conferences and counting and try to let people know about it whenever appropriate. A telling comment was at the AAPT conference this summer, when someone asked me what my relationship or role is with Make, and the first answer that came to me was, “well, I am a Make evangelist”.  I do want to get the word out and get people excited and involved in helping create these experiences for learners of all ages.

Thus, while I might never pick up a soldering gun, you will find me helping build this community in as many ways as I can. Keep your eyes open- there is Making happening everywhere!

Peace, Jen


Thinking Or Routine

Thinking and communicating – how many levels do we actively do these activities on a regular basis. How many activities do we “go through” every day without even thinking or communicating. For example in my house there are two adults, one of which is up and gone from the house before the rest of us (total of 4 more) are even awake. I have always been very impressed with the activities of this person in the morning as I am not a morning person. It has been generally accepted that Jon is a morning person. Recently this has changed. A good bit of time I am up during this time. Although I am not a morning person, I has tried to engage in conversation – this has not gone over well. It is not that Jon is not agreeable to conversation, it is just that when I am up, the routine is broken and things are forgotten, things that are NEVER forgotten – lunch, keys, brief case … Once we even lost track to time and he was almost late – I say almost as he is always early.
Me on the other hand I have three other people up when I am up all of us trying to get ready to get out the door – one of which I need to help a great deal. I have communication thrust at me whether I am ready for it or not. Sometimes I am good about it, sometimes not so good and ask if I can talk to them in a few minutes. It is also that I do not ever forget anything, but it is rarer then when I am up with Jon in the morning.

I bring these things up as we are people of routine. How many things in our days are routine and how many things are actual thinking things. I have come to realize I am growing up their chronologically that I need some “peace” in the routines of certain things, but crave the opportunities to think actively. Over the years this has evolved from learning new facts in school or at out of school events to reading research to conducting research – even to evaluating other peoples’ research. This kind of thinking stimulates me in a very good way.

What types of activities stimulate you out of the routine of the everyday? Can you add communication to the routine activities and still “perform” them at an acceptable level? When you are using your higher order thinking skills, are you able to communicate to others at the same time? Does this communication hinder or help you in the thinking process?


“…and a redneck nonetheless”

I’ve been working a little on the multi-touch table project with Mark and Jenny. The mechanical details are still being worked out, but the game will basically model the discourse around climate change—values, attitudes and beliefs amid the social factors that influence them. The current iteration would have players dropping colored dots onto a map of the US. These dots would have a localized social effect, rippling out to influence other dots.

The game could really be about anything, as high-quality general models exist to represent social decision-making in a large population. Mark showed me one they were thinking of using, and I can’t say I understood it. It’s spooky to think that humans are that predictable, but it’s not really surprising. The social sciences are sciences, folks.

But what could these arbitrary dots say about our beliefs? Does the model represent the reasons for our behavior? That’s something the social space of the touch table, along with the game project itself, will address. I’m looking forward to eavesdropping.

We’re all odd concretions of disparate identities. There are no molds cranking out factory-perfect “hippies” and “rednecks.” In my experience, these and other designations often fall apart quickly with even idle conversation. The human—or, I think, any—mind is more complex than its verbal and gestural expressions. These are the things that continually bring us to the table—multi-touch or otherwise.