Archive for the Women’s Voices Category

Reviving the Overlooked Voices of the ENIAC Programmers

Posted in Women's Voices on March 7, 2006 by Blog Admin

The recent <a href="">resignation of Lawrence Summers as Harvard President</a> has prompted much discussion in feminist circles.  There is an unfortunate editorial in the March 5, 2006 <em>Boston Sunday Globe </em>by John Silber defending Lawrence Summers' track record.  Silber suggests that creating The Stem Cell Institute, digitizing library holdings, and making curricular reform should override Summers' open bigotry to women and his hostility to <a href="">Cornel West</a>.  I and many women strongly disagree.  The academy cannot tolerate the small-minded bigotry of Lawrence Summers.  Prejudice is a trump card that overrides any accomplishment in the academy.  When this no-tolerance policy is no longer true our society will be lost.  No one expresses better the harm Lawrence Summers has done than <a href="">Jean Bartik</a>, one of the original ENIAC programmers.  I highly recommend you listen to <a href="">her oral history</a>. Enjoy!  Thanks Jean!

Happy Women's History Month

Posted in Women's Voices on March 1, 2006 by Blog Admin

<p>With my first blog entry in March I would like to reflect on the past 12 months.  During that time we have lost at least three icons of feminist and civil-rights activism.  We lost <a href="">Rosa Parks</a>, <a href="">Coretta Scott King</a>, and <a href="">Betty Friedan</a>.  While the world is greatly diminished by their departure, I would like to share some voices that are new to me, and may be new to you as well.</p><p>I am a woman in a traditionally male profession and a feminist, and I recently made a revelation in women's history that greatly moved me. I recognize that women are sorely under-represented in my field (computer science), and consequently always look for affirming information that might encourage women to enter this field.  Despite my interest, I am shocked that I only recently realized this very important piece of women's history.  The first <a href="">ENIAC</a> <a href="">programmers were <strong><font color="#ff0000">all </font></strong>women!</a>  The move to programming was a natural progression for the women who would become the ENIAC programmers, because they had the position of <em>computer</em> prior to that.  You read correctly, these women were computers.  Prior to the existence of computing machinery, people carried-out computational tasks, so one could find large rooms full of (mostly) women calculating things like actuarial tables and missal trajectories.  You may guess that these women were not highly-paid, despite having high skill-levels.  During this time analytical thought (useful for computing professionals) was attributed to the realm of women, and therefore not highly valued.  My how things have changed!  Are you listening grrrrls?  You can do this.  Together let us make this a friendlier field. </p>

Good bye Rosa Parks

Posted in Women's Voices on October 25, 2005 by Blog Admin

The world has lost a voice that has left an indelible mark on the United States.  I am filled with melancholy with the news of <a href="">Rosa Parks</a> death.  Park's refusal to get up from her seat in a Montgomery Alabama bus was not because her feet were tired after a long day's work, but rather because, as a civil rights activist, she was tired of the injustices that she had to endure everyday.  Her subsequent arrest resulted in the <a href="">Montgomery Bus Boycott</a>, and her legal case ended in a Supreme Court ruling that bus desegregation is legal.  We will all miss you.

Evelyn Fox Keller on Nature vs Nurture

Posted in Women's Voices on April 8, 2005 by Blog Admin

<font size="2"><p><a href="">Evelyn Fox Keller</a> delivered a fabulous talk yesterday on the very timely (<a href="">thanks in part to Lawrence Summers</a>) question of &quot;Do innate gender differences between men and women influence their respective cognitive abilities?&quot;. &quot;Thank you&quot; to the <a href="">Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study</a>.</p><p>Evelyn's primary point is that certain traits like cognitive processes are highly complex and most certainly influenced through environment (nurture), like, but not limited to, education. Establishing a definitive connection between innate (genetic) characteristics and complex traits like cognition, where one cannot (yet) clearly characterize the additive nature of environmental forces, is simply not effective science. We do not know enough yet to create an experiment where we can parse out what elements are environmental and which are innate. </p><p>Evelyn gave a number of wonderful clarifying examples and metaphors. I will adapt one of Evelyn's examples here. Let us pick a trait that is far less complicated by environmental forces, like height. My Father grew up during WWII, so due to the malnutrition that he experienced during this time, claims that he did not achieve his height potential. So, even here who can quantify how much of my Father's height is due to his genetic composition and how much is due to environmental (nutrition) factors? </p><p>Finally, the question is why do we feel compelled, given the lack of sufficient scientific criteria, to claim innate differences between men's and women's cognitive potential. Well, this claim has periodically cropped up and been refuted, and the motivation has historically been to create a low-wage labor pool. It is profitable to create a pool of people who feel unworthy of compensation levels that the superior gender, race, nationality, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation receives. Evelyn points out that people attribute political motives to those who critique the &quot;studies&quot; finding innate cognitive differences. Who is really politically motivated here?</p></font>

Evelyn Fox Keller to Speak at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study

Posted in Women's Voices on April 6, 2005 by Blog Admin

<p>One of my hero's of feminism, <a href="">Evelyn Fox Keller</a> is giving a talk entitled, &quot;Innate Confusions: Nature, Nurture, and All of That&quot; at the <a href="">Radcliffe Institute</a> tomorrow at 4:30.   I plan to be there, and will report back on the talk.  I anticipate that Evelyn will provide a solid rebuttal for <a href="">Lawrence Summers' recent remarks</a> concerning women's innate difficulty with science and math.  </p><p>Evelyn has written extensively about gender and science and the history and philosophy of biology.  I am currently reading her latest work, &quot;Making Sense of Life, Explaining Biological Development with Models, Metaphors, and Machines&quot;.  My favorite work of Evelyn's is the biography of Barbara McClintock, <a href="">&quot;A Feeling for the Organism&quot;.</a></p>

Jane Goodall

Posted in Women's Voices on March 13, 2005 by Blog Admin

<p>Once again in honor of Women's History Month and to offset the damage done by Lawrence Summers, I am focusing on a great woman scientist, the renown primatologist <a href="">Jane Goodall</a>.  Jane Goodall faced many obstacles to her being accepted by the scientific academic community. As Jane initiated her scientific career, she did not have formal scientific training, and went about her data gathering in an unconventional manner.  Some of Jane's strategies included naming the individual chimpanzees that she studied, rather than numbering them, and recording information about chimpanzees' vivid personalities.  It was Jane who shook our understanding of what it is to be human by observing chimps using tools to gather food.  At this time it was assumed only humans used tools.  </p><p>One may ask how a women without (at least initially) formal scientific training could become a world-famous primatologist.  It was the brilliance of <a href="">Louis Leakey</a> to recognize the limitations of formal scientific methodologies.  He intentionally looked for someone with intelligence, but no formal science background.  Jane had been serving as his personal secretary, and the rest is history.  Jane did pursue and receive her PhD, but not before making startling discoveries.  She continues to be a tireless advocate for conservation education through her institutes, the <a href="">Jane Goodall Institutes</a>.  Imagine if this different-thinking woman would have been silenced by a Lawrence Summers of her time!</p>

Barbara McClintock

Posted in Women's Voices on March 5, 2005 by Blog Admin

<p><span style="FONT-SIZE: 9.5pt; COLOR: #333333; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana"><font color="#ffffff">In honor of Women's History Month and as a sort of antidote to recent media support of Lawrence Summers' suggestion that women are innately less suitable to enter scientific and mathematical fields, I would like to remind everyone of </font><a href=""><font color="#ffffff">Barbara McClintock's</font></a><font color="#ffffff"> contributions to science.  Evelyn Fox Keller has </font><a href=""><font color="#ffffff">a fabulous book concerning Barbara</font></a><font color="#ffffff">, called </font></span><strong><span style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: #333333; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana"><font color="#ffffff">A Feeling for the Organism </font></span></strong><b><span style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: #333333; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana"><strong><span style="FONT-FAMILY: Verdana"><font color="#ffffff">The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock.  </font></span></strong></span></b><span style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: #333333; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana"><font color="#ffffff">Barbara McClintock represents an instance of how women's cognition is necessary to accurately express the complexities of scientific phenomenon, that traditional reductionistic approaches cannot adequately express.  Barbara McClintock was a </font><a href=""><font color="#ffffff">cytologist</font></a><font color="#ffffff">  who studied higher-level (more complex) organisms than her male counterparts.  Although she was a renowned researcher well before 1929, she could not get a tenure track position at a University until 1936, and it was an entry-level position.  </font></span><span style="FONT-SIZE: 9.5pt; COLOR: #333333; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana"></span></p><p><font color="#ffffff"></font></p><p><span style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: #333333; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana"><font color="#ffffff">Barbara had a unique ability to recognize complex structural relationships in genetic materials by observation that allowed her to discover sophisticated genetic interrelationships, like &quot;mobile genetic elements&quot;, for which she was granted a </font><a href=""><font color="#ffffff">Nobel prize in 1983</font></a><font color="#ffffff">.  Barbara discovered this phenomenon in the 1940's and yet it took several decades to receive acknowledgment.   It appears that women's interconnected way of thinking actually contributed to Barbara McClintock's brilliance, rather than detracted from it.  What do you think of that Lawrence?!</font></span></p>