Monday, December 29, 2008

Another for the Map Archive

An interesting prediction. Clearly the most suspect part of his prediction is that the boundaries would be along state lines. Oh, and that Kentucky and Tennessee would be grouped with the northeast. And well, really, all of it.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Women in Computer Science Worldwide

Updated 12/24/08: I've updated the map to reflect the anecdotal and cited information from the comments. Also, I changed the coloring scheme to be one from ColorBrewer, so hopefully the distinctions are clearer. Thanks all!

Percentage of Computer Science Undergraduates that are Women
Dark blue: < 15% Medium blue: 15% to 30% Light blue: 30% to 45% Purple: 45% to 55%

D. Eppstein pointed out, as a comment to the previous post on sex vs. gender, that the percentage of women in computer science varies greatly by country, and that "any argument that the correlation between gender and CS skill is sex-based would have to take account of that." I've heard lots of anecdotal evidence that this is true, but was curious about the numbers. The most comprehensive resource I could find was a summary of women in computer science by country from the Anita Borg Institute. Sadly, it was rather brief and didn't have the same information about each country (understandably). I took the information from that file to make the map above based on the percentage of women undergraduates in computer science (or math/computer science, or whatever the file had info on). I'm sure that information exists for many more countries than I've labelled, and I'd love to know what it is. If you know, please leave a comment with your source and I'll add it to the map.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sex vs. Gender

Recently I've been thinking a lot about the difference between sex and gender. And it makes me wonder, "is this one of the subtleties that causes confusion about the women in cs issue?" But first, I suppose I should explain what I see as the difference between the two words/ideas, which understandably cause much confusion and are frequently used in the definition of each other. Sex is the biological condition of being male or female. (Already this is more complicated than I'm saying, since of course there are people who don't fix nicely into those categories based on their bodies or their chromosomes.) Gender refers to the set of characteristics that are associated with sex groups. So, "liking dolls" is a quality that is thought of as being gendered female. It does NOT mean that all women like dolls, or that all doll-liking people are all women. I like to think of it as a statistical correlation. And it does not and should not imply causation. Being a woman does not cause you to like dolls. (Believe me.)

And this is where Larry Summers went wrong. (You knew I'd get to him eventually.) He looked at the low numbers of women in the sciences and decided that it must imply that women (sex) do not have the intrinsic aptitude for the field. In other words, the smaller number of men who like dolls (or admit it) implies that men can't like dolls. They just don't have the intrinsic ability to like dolls (or the color pink, or cooking, or English literature, or...). Which is obviously ridiculous. Computer science is currently gendered male. There's a (strong) statistical correlation between being in computer science and being male. But gender is a socially constructed concept. So don't tell me that women (sex) just aren't as good at computer science as men or pretend that the current gendered norm means anything about a more permanent biological state.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Better Reality

There's a new ad out about clean coal, and it makes me happy every time I see it. The ad consists mostly of a guy who says he's showing you around a clean coal plant, but he's standing in the middle of an empty field. Because of course, there's no such thing as clean coal. To paraphrase the TV show The West Wing, clean coal is just something that pollsters came up with because it sounds better than regular coal. Yet it was all over the presidential debates from both candidates. But hopefully now that the election is over this problem can actually be examined.

Perhaps it'll be examined by the new energy secretary, Physics Nobel laureate Steven Chu. It's thrilling that there will be smart people in office who are actually interested in doing something about climate change. (A nice NY Times blog post about Chu.)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Day Without a Gay

Continuing the Join the Impact campaign against California's Prop. 8 and for gay marriage and gay rights, tomorrow is Day Without a Gay*. The organizers urge everyone, not just gay people, to "call in gay" to work and instead donate your time to local service organizations in need of volunteers. They also suggest not consuming for a day. The goal is visibility for gay issues. As I've mentioned earlier, it's part of a larger movement which frames these issues in terms of civil rights.

I'll be participating, though I admit it feels rather like it won't have a big impact. After all, it'll just be another day when I don't go to campus and stay at home to work. Though I will be avoiding my neighborhood coffee shop at which I have "regular" status.

* Here, "gay" is being used as an umbrella term. In fact, that's usually the way I use it. If you prefer, whenever I say "gay" you can replace it in your head with "LGBTQ" or "queer" (for the more social theory academically minded among you).

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Adjuncts, Adjuncts Everywhere

A report was released today by the American Federation of Teachers (see also the Inside Higher Ed article) which details the large numbers of adjunct teachers who now teach a large percentage of courses at all types of colleges in all disciplines. (Note that this includes graduate students who have full control for a class, but does not include TAs in classes run by a tenure-track faculty member.)

Across public colleges and universities, the report finds that full-time, tenured or tenure-track faculty members make up only 41 percent of instructional staff, while full-time non-tenure-track make up 20 percent, part-time faculty members off the tenure track make up 20 percent, and graduate employees are another 19 percent.

This has been flying under the radar for awhile now, and I'm glad that it's getting some press due to this report. It's clearly a problem for students and faculty alike, yet I doubt that this trend will change anytime soon, especially given the economy.

The Inside Higher Ed article also gives a table showing the breakdown by discipline. Computer Science/Engineering fares well - we have some of the lowest numbers of contingent instructors. In fact, the numbers seem to mirror the discipline gender breakdowns I discussed recently, with "male" disciplines having lower numbers of contingent instructors. My guess is that this is due to money - "male" disciplines are more highly valued -> get more money -> can afford to hire tenure-track faculty -> have fewer contingent instructors. So, for example, 54% of undergraduate courses in Human services at research universities are taught by contingent instructors while in Engineering/Computer Science that number is 29.6%.

More to the point, at 29.6% it's amazing we're at the low end of the spectrum. The high end is for undergraduate Education classes at community colleges - 77% of classes are taught by contingent instructors. I can only imagine what a mess that creates of department community and resources.