Not enough women in computing?

Cultural attitudes, gender discrimination, and educational opportunities are serious subjects but beware misleading reporting

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"Geeks drive girls out of computer science", reads the headline of a recent article MSNBC published in its "Science" section.

Don't believe it--at least, not uncritically. I smell something--OK, a lot of things--out of place. I don't think "gender issues in computing" is important enough to merit the attention it gets, and I'm certain that I've already given MSNBC more weight than it deserves. Rather than fully investigate everything I suspect is wrong with this piece, I'll just recite what I know from my own experience:

  • To my own astonishment, I've already felt compelled to write on this subject a couple of times for Smart Development. Read the examples of how thinking on this topic goes off-course.
  • MSNBC articles use hyperlinks to pop up advertisements, but not meaningful content. Think about that for a while. In the form I currently see, the article has a link from "computer" in "computer scientists" to printer deals, but not to the abstract of the article on which the MSNBC piece is based. MSNBC's purpose is to sell stuff its advertisers want you to buy; it is not for you, as a reader, to understand things. Articles exist to attract attention, not to reach toward truth.
  • While a reporter has a byline for the MSNBC article, and one of the four co-authors of the academic piece is mentioned, we really know very little about who said what. What the reporter wrote likely was rewritten by at least one editor. The reporter might never have read the academic article, nor talked to even one researcher; much--in my experience, a majority--of transmission of scientific research to mass media goes by way of college publicity departments. There's essentially no connection between the headlines on news outlets and the research to which they claim to refer. There's good reporting, and even good science reporting, but it's always in the minority.
  • To the extent that the MSNBC article communicates anything, it's at best tendentious. The claims are based on experiments "with more than 250 students ..." Presumably these were at US universities; judge for yourself how far you want to generalize any conclusions.
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