The question does get raised enough, though, by people who have thought very deeply about it, that I often get to read and ponder what they are saying. Usually I'm directed to an article via a tweet by Eric Mazur, such as this recent blog post from American Thinker which argues that science academics are at risk of becoming "PC" (politically correct) to the detriment of this country's science and technology pursuits.
You don't have to dig too far to figure out which way the editorial staff of American Thinker leans, but I was interested in the blog post they linked to (and quoted from) on the Washington Post's website written by Christina Hoff Sommers. In her post, Sommers recapitulates the main thesis of a book she edited for the American Enterprise Institute, The Science of Women in Science, which says that institutional bias is not mainly to blame for the gender imbalance in science.
Sommers was also replying to a criticism of her book from an article in Nature, which she linked to. I don't agree with either "side" since I believe that the answer is too complex to be boiled down to a soundbite or quote in an article or blog post. (This blog included.)
The Nature article discussed one of the essays from Sommers book which cited psychological and behavioral studies of children and the toys that boys and girls seem to prefer. I wonder what the authors would think of this comic which a friend of mine linked to recently:
It's funny, for sure, and it makes you think. Anecdotally though, I know of at least one couple who are self described liberals who decided when they had their first child to make sure that their daughter was raised without any gender bias. And they saw that by the time the daughter was old enough to start choosing her own toys, she went right to the pink section of the toy store.
Of course, as Mazur would say, the plural of anecdote is not data. As more often than not is the case, I have to let experts who have done rigorous studies guide my thinking. So while I might not agree with any of the opinions in the articles I linked to, at least there was a lot to read for me to think about. I would hope that everyone would agree with one thing that Sommers said in her piece:
Scientific preeminence is one of America's greatest national resources. President Obama and NSF officials should be doing all they can to preserve it. That means finding creative and effective ways to encourage gifted students of both sexes to pursue careers in science and technology.You can read the rest of the article to see if you agree with anything else she said.
Finally, it is not only this country which has an issue with gender imbalance in science. In an effort to recruit 20 top-notch scientists and engineers for a $200 million dollar program, Canada found 19 qualified applicants, all male.