You’re supposed to celebrate the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and math today. Some of you women out there will be doing science today, some of you will read about it, and some of you will be doing like I’m doing: teaching it to women (and men!). At the very least, try to tell a girl that she can grow up to be anything she wants — and that includes being a mathematician, an engineer, or a scientist.

1. says

So funny: yesterday my teenage nieces were trying on shoes at Macy’s on 34th Street, and a 3rd grade girl struck up a conversation with me while her mom browsed. She told me she was worried about upcoming state tests because she hadn’t done well on the practice tests, especially in math. I told her she seemed pretty smart to me, and I was sure she could learn it.

Then she whispered to me that she cheated. “Only on one question.”

I said, “That’s a shame, because I think it’s better to learn than to cheat, don’t you?” She nodded sheepishly. “And I really think you can learn it.”

Immediately she launched into an explanation of various things she knows about math, e.g. “If you know that 2 + 4 = 6, you can add 200 + 400 and get 600. You just have to keep track of the zeroes. It works for thousands, too.”

“Wow, that is very impressive!” I said. She smiled ear to ear. It made me wonder how much encouragement she gets. We chatted for a while, and she told me that her class size was huge, “Because they took two second grade classes and put them together to make one third grade class.” If she’s getting any encouragement at all, it probably isn’t at school.

But that was yesterday. Does Ada Lovelace Day mean I have to go back to Macy’s shoe department again today and find some other little girl to encourage? Because (a) that seems kinda creepy, and (b) OMFG Macy’s shoe department. Nooooooooo!

2. says

Yes, I’m afraid it does. The true meaning of Ada Lovelace Day is that we must all hunt down little girls and give them lessons in mathematics, whether they like it or not.

3. rumleech says

Well, here’s to my daughter who is marking Ada Lovelace day by studying hard for her maths degree.

4. echidna says

What little girl doesn’t like mathematics?

5. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

Sometimes I wish I could be a scientist. I have done some original research, albeit with serious methodological problems due primarily to the nature of the populations with whom I was working. Unfortunately, due to my inexperience I took no measures to mitigate the nature of those problems, however. It’s better to have basic data with no proof of generalizability, of course, than no data at all. And, frankly, even 15 years later I’ve no concrete ideas how to answer my original research questions in a way that is methodologically robust.

So that’s the closest I’ll likely ever come to doing science…unless someday my dream comes true and – upon attaining enough stable income to retire – I go back to school to get degrees in marine biology so that I can spend my twilight years diving on reefs to study cephalopods.

I’ll have to settle for reading science as often as I am able, and for using the critical thinking learned from science and rationalism to try to create a bit more justice in the world.

Actually, that’s not a bad outcome, you know. Science gets a bad rap for “inventing” ethical problems when it makes possible new weapons, say, or technologies that scale up pollution with production. But the ethical problems really exist regardless of the individual implementations. “What is self-defense, and what level of force can I use, with what level of risk of harm (or level of harm) to others in attempts to preserve my own life? My own property?” were questions of justice long before we had bombs whose harms can only be represented as statistics. Yet statistics also give us the tools to quantify the harms, the standards of empirical observation give us the tools to qualify those harms. And without that information, how would we answer the question whether we’re talking about carelessness with a hunting bow, catapulting plague rats, or launching ICBMs?

So, while I engage in science mostly out of curiosity and wonder, it’s entirely likely that lessons underlying the topic of research make me a better thinker in ways that are necessary to create a more just world than we now have. That will have to be my gift back to you who create the wealth of knowledge on which I rely.

6. says

The true meaning of Ada Lovelace Day is that we must all hunt down little girls and give them lessons in mathematics, whether they like it or not.

That’s what I was afraid of. *sigh* Next year I’ll be sure to mark my calendar so I won’t have to do this two days in a row. Macy’s shoe department is exhausting.

7. says

Crip Dyke #5:

I’ll have to settle for reading science as often as I am able, and for using the critical thinking learned from science and rationalism to try to create a bit more justice in the world.

Sounds like you’re settling for something pretty awesome. It’s not just a gift back to knowledge creators but to everyone, including future generations.

8. awakeinmo says

When i was a little girl I was good at math. I mean really good. I mean letters-from-my-senator and national competitions good.
Then it was all ruined by one teacher who bowed to parental pressure and gave away spots on math teams I had earned because some boys wanted to look smarter. Thanks, unnamed gradeschool math teacher. You did a swell job of disillusioning another young girl.

I’m not bitter at all.

9. rumleech says

No. 10 – awakeinmo

You have my sympathies. That stinks and sucks at the same time.

10. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

What little girl doesn’t like mathematics?

Mandatory BLO propaganda.

11. Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

PZ

The true meaning of Ada Lovelace Day is that we must all hunt down little girls and give them lessons in mathematics, whether they like it or not.

Damn, I wasted the day and didn’t fulfill my obligation (a shame, especially since I am a female mathematician, so I guess the obligation doubles).

12. rnilsson says

What better place to propagate Ada Lovelace Day than a shoe shop? Laces galore! What’s not to love? (OK, maybe loathers and punts and scandals.)

13. katybe says

And for people who quite reasonably prefer not to click on YouTube links without knowing what they are – Rosalind Franklin vs Watson & Crick – Science History Rap Battle! Sorry, I should have named it originally!

14. awakeinmo says

rumleech @11

You have my sympathies. That stinks and sucks at the same time.

Thank you. It does indeed. Like a skunk with a straw. Or some other forced metaphor.

15. echidna says

awakeinmo,

My sympathies also. That’s a nasty betrayal of trust on the part of the teacher.