Thursday, December 7, 2017

Peeing Contests Make Boys Better Suited For Physics, Researchers Claim.

THIS IS A REAL QUOTE FROM A RECENT ACADEMIC ARTICLE: “Playful urination practices…may give boys an advantage over girls when it comes to physics.” In other words, boys are naturally more gifted at physics because they can shoot a leak.  

In an article penned for the Times Educational Supplement, researchers from Abertay University in Dundee claim that “pissing contests” can give little boys a leg up on understanding projectile motion. Assuming they pee 5 times a day – they can rack up 10,000 hours of “experimenting” with Newton’s physics of motion by the age of 14.

Hmmm, so much to unpack here.

My most pressing question: if 14-year-old boys are veritable Gladwellian masters of pee projectiles, why does my little brother always leave pee drops on the toilet seat?

All jokes aside, the idea that men have some advantage in physics because they spend their childhood playing with pee projectiles is clearly illogical, and has been staunchly refuted by education experts. For example, Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said recently: 

"The academics have put their finger on an important problem – there are too few women in the sciences and engineering. But their explanation is frankly ridiculous. Where is the evidence? Males are more attracted to the physical sciences, maths and engineering because on average they have higher spatial and numerical abilities than do females."

Phew! I almost thought that the blatant sexism behind the peeing theory was a just fringe incident. Good to know it's still pervasive among mainstream thought-leaders. 

In Evelyn Fox Keller’s book, Reflections on Gender in Science, she claims that science can never be gender-free until we acknowledge the current gender divisions which pervade it (Keller, 1985). Her contemporary, Genevieve Lloyd, goes one step further to argue that reason itself has been gendered male, and if women want to be perceived as participants in ‘reason,’ they must conform to the masculine norms of scientific thought; they must give up/distance themselves from some vital aspect of their “femaleness.”

Both Keller and Lloyd agree that the first step is to acknowledge the issue, so here it is: today, only 11.1% of physicists and astronomers are women ( If it isn’t pee projectiles or 'natural disposition,' what is it?

There’s no easy answer to that question, but I believe a key piece of the puzzle lies in the way that we teach science. Research shows that when we explain the context of an equation, little girls are much more likely to engage. After all, physics is the study of our universe and beyond, not just some arcane idea trapped inside a textbook...or a toilet bowl.

What do you think? Should mainstream STEM education change in order to address the gender gap?


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