Friday, October 17, 2008

The Candidates on Women in STEM Fields

Obama and McCain have answered questions on how they would address the issue of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields if they became president. These are, of course, high-level answers which don't answer important questions about implementation and enforcement, but still give some insight into the candidates' underlying thinking (or lack thereof) on these issues.

Title IX is discussed in a few of the questions (and was previously discussed on this blog). One question asks directly how they would ensure that Title IX is enforced in academia outside of athletics. Obama gives a strong (though extremely vague) statement in favor of enforcing Title IX in STEM disciplines, pointing out that Title IX has worked wonders in athletics and has the potential to similarly impact these fields. McCain agrees that Title IX should be enforced in academic disciplines, but in his answer to this direct question veers off into a discussion of athletics which implies that he doesn't believe that women and men's sports should necessarily get equal funding since some of men's sports might cost more.

Affirmative action also comes up subtly and not so subtly. Obama supports it for women in the sciences while also encouraging programs to help low-income disadvantaged students. McCain opposes affirmative action and says that he will cut any NSF programs which give preference on the basis of sex.

For those of you who are more money focused, here's what Obama has to say about general STEM funding: "Joe Biden and I, however, are strongly committed to doubling basic research budgets over ten years at federal agencies that include the NSF, the Office of Science in the Department of Energy, and the National Institute of Science and Technology." McCain has no equivalent statement.

Perhaps this is my own bias based on my preference for president, but overall Obama's answers were much more thoughtful and thorough. They addressed the issues in a measured and nuanced way, while McCain's answers sidestepped the questions. Even if there were no other issues on the table, and despite the vagueness of many of both of their answers, I'd support Obama after reading this.


Katie said...

Interesting thing to note. As I skimmed I noticed the words Joe Biden kept coming up. And Sarah Palin? No mentions. Perhaps McCain has gotten wise to the idea that Palin just doesn't have the appeal to STEM women as she does to others... Or perhaps I'm reading to deeply into it. I just thought it was odd.

Katie said...

Oh and thanks for posting this. I probably wouldn't have seen it otherwise.

Anonymous said...

I've just read kd-PhD's post. In Iran, where I got my Bachelors in CS, out of 35 students in our class, 28 were female. This might be both because of university being one of few places where women feel more freedom in Iran, or lack of opportunity for men (since they can attend exam at most twice before going to military service for two years, after which they seldom go to university). But the thing is although average female is doing better than average male student, best student are male (also worst ones), i.e. mean of female students is higher but variance of males are much higher. And from my personal experience, although 3 out of 5 top students in our class were female, they were not as exited about cs as male students, even those at the bottom of the class. Take your own post below about the female special event. You are yourself saying that you prefer talking about thing outside CS. This can show that CS is not as exciting for females as it is for males.