Sunday, October 11, 2015

The New York Times' Really Stupid, Really Predictable Essay On Tech Diversity

I expect it would shock absolutely no one to learn that the New York Times is in the bag with the rest of the tech industry press in pearl-clutching about the lack of women in STEM careers, while stumping for the same old dogmatic causes. This stuff is going to be with us a long while, I expect, so might as well get used to "What Really Keeps Women Out Of Tech": you see, it's just too darn male:
Over and over, Dr. Cheryan and her colleagues have found that female students are more interested in enrolling in a computer class if they are shown a classroom (whether virtual or real) decorated not with “Star Wars” posters, science-fiction books, computer parts and tech magazines, but with a more neutral d├ęcor — art and nature posters, coffee makers, plants and general-interest magazines.
It's all the movies' fault:
The percentage of women studying computer science actually has fallen since the 1980s. Dr. Cheryan theorizes that this decline might be partly attributable to the rise of pop-culture portrayals of scientists as white or Asian male geeks in movies and TV shows like “Revenge of the Nerds” and “The Big Bang Theory.” The media’s intense focus on start-up culture and male geniuses such as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates might also have inspired more young men than women to enter the field.
It's almost as if just being around nerdy men is enough to frighten these delicate flowers away from the field!
... I wonder how many young men would choose to major in computer science if they suspected they might need to carry out their coding while sitting in a pink cubicle decorated with posters of “Sex and the City,” with copies of Vogue and Cosmo scattered around the lunchroom. In fact, Dr. Cheryan’s research shows that young men tend not to major in English for the same reasons women don’t pick computer science: They compare their notions of who they are to their stereotypes of English majors and decide they won’t fit in.
Since I can't find Dr. Cheryan's supporting paper on the subject, it's hard to know how good it is, i.e. do they actually ask men why they chose the major they did? A more realistic version of events, one that covers virtually every good coder I know, is that
  1. They actually like the work itself (the act of writing software, e.g., is an intrinsic reward), and
  2. The pay is pretty good compared to other jobs. (Which, by the way, chicks dig men with a stable job and good pay. Just so's you know.)
What I do not get, time and time again, is why so many people have such determination to force people who show no inclination or ability into fields where they will ultimately be uncomfortable at best. I have no problem at all with women being in STEM fields, and know many. But to look at the relative paucity of women and declare this is a problem is utter nonsense. This is something we should probably expect from a professor of creative writing at the University of Michigan, one who apparently has a chip on her shoulder for her career not turning out the way she wanted it to. Her book on the subject, The Only Woman In The Room, is "frankly personal and ... reflects on women’s experiences in a way that simple data can’t" — i.e., like all feminist screeds, it is anti-empirical. That is a deeply wrong approach for someone claiming to be a scientist.

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