Skepchick Quickies 7.23

  • Why so few women in science? What’s not being said – From phlebas.
  • Humans glow in visible light -  “The human body literally glows, emitting a visible light in extremely small quantities at levels that rise and fall with the day, scientists now reveal.” From MathMike and Kaylia.
  • HIV’s “missing link” found in ailing chimps – “Scientists believe they have found a “missing link” in the evolution of the virus that causes AIDS. It bridges the gap between the infection that does no harm to most monkeys and the one that kills millions of people.” From tmarie.
  • Mapping drug use by testing sewer water – From Ryan who says, “Sociologists send you surveys. Anthropologists go through your trash. One of those data sources won’t lie,” in a clear effort to pander to my love for anthropology.
  • Call for Papers on Skepticism and Culture – Dr Shelley Rees is attempting to get a skepticism panel added to the Southwest Texas Popular Culture/American Culture Association meeting. Give her a hand by submitting a paper on a skeptical topic.


Amanda works in healthcare, is a loudmouthed feminist, and proud supporter of the Oxford comma.

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  1. The article on women in science, engineering, and math was interesting, but I disagree somewhat with the author about the reason women don’t get into ‘the pipeline’. I was not worried about tenure track positions and my child bearing years when I was in eighth and ninth grade, which are approximately the years most kids start leaning towards the science and math courses. I have sons and may be all wet, but I don’t think girls at that age are thinking along those lines.

    I didn’t plan to be an engineer at that age, I just took every class that looked to be the hardest, every year, because I was otherwise bored. (I also checked out library books based on the number of pages – the longer, the better. I was the only name on the library card for “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich”)

    The nerdiness of the boys, the geekiness of the few girls, none of that had anything to do with my decisions. They were based solely on my interests. By the time I was a senior in high school, the only classes I took with more than a couple of girls were fourth-year French and AP English. In those classes, the girls said math and physics were boring. They also bitterly complained that their straight A, 4.0 average in English and social sciences wasn’t viewed as being as much of an accomplishment as high grades in those science classes, whereas I took French and English to become more rounded as well as bolster my GPA dominated by average performance in differential equations.

    In college, I found that nearly all of my fellow women in the chemical and petroleum engineering departments had role models at home: except for me, all of their fathers were engineers or scientists. I used to regularly drag the teen daughters of my friends out to the processing plants or pipeline projects to inspire them, especially the ones that had 1400+ SAT scores. I got very few recruits, as a typical comment was “eww, you LIKE doing this stuff?”


  2. @Eliza: I’ll 2nd the COTW.
    And I’m going to suggest a waste water test to my friend who takes her classes just upstream from the municipal water intake to gather samples.

  3. @Eliza:

    My first thought, too. Especially because they took pictures of young men in their 20’s, shirtless.

    This is gonna be like when Spielberg made the Velociraptors huge for “Jurassic Park”, paleo-geeks complained about how no Dromaeosuars had ever been that large, and then, obligingly, the Utahraptor paper was published.

    Stephenie Meyer is going to look prescient, dammit – it cannot be borne.

  4. People glow? Like, with auras? Now I have to go apologize to all those psychic nut jobs… er, um, I mean prescient geniuses.

  5. @geek goddess:

    You have some good points. I always intended to go into the sciences, but the reason I specifically chose engineering id my older brother did it. However, it wasn’t necessarily that he was a role model; I actually didn’t know what engineering was until he did it.

    Personally, I’d like to see more kids of both sexes be interested in STEM fields. I think our country has a strong anti-intellectual streak, and I think that will hinder our country’s future. We need to find ways to make science seem cool to kids, which could easily be done if we do it right.

  6. On the role of women in science….I disagree with the article. Baby plans may effect a woman once she’s started her career, but I don’t think it has an affect on trying to start a career in science in the first place. I think society does discourage women.

    My main interests have always been Computer Science and Psychology. I have a BS in Computer Science and, when I can fit it in, hope to return to school to study Psychology.

    My path has been a difficult one. I’ve met all sorts of roadblocks along the way that had nothing to do with me eventually having a child. When I was in high school and making decisions about what I wanted to do with my life, getting married and having kids was not in the plan.

    However, when I told people about being interested in Computer Science, the response I got was “Are you sure? Computers are really hard.”

    My history teacher actually told me that he didn’t think I was cutout for a career in computer science. Really? Is a history teacher the best judge of who should work with computers?

    It seemed even worse when I said I wanted to study psychology. They didn’t diminish my ability to be a psychologist, but the value of the field was looked down upon. For example, my dad told me “Psychologists come a dime a dozen.”

    While I was trying to get my foot in the door in the computer field, I interviewed for a temp job onsite at NASA/JSC. It sounded like an easy job just loading OSs on to PCs…something I could easily do and even though it was only a temp job, I figured it would be good experience and it would be cool to work at NASA.

    I know this is supposed to be illegal, but the two women who were interviewing me did everything they could to discourage me from working with computers. They actually asked me if I planned on having kids.

    I was very young, wasn’t married and hadn’t even thought of having kids…plus this was a 6 month temp job…if I had gotten pregnant the day of the interview, I wouldn’t have had the baby till after the job was over…if you forget about the legality of using a woman’s pregnancy status to make a hiring decision…it still didn’t make sense…what the hell did me having a baby have to do with the job I was interviewing for?

    One of the women proceeded to explain to me that she chose not to have children because she felt her career was more important, but that a lot of women are unable to do that. The way she said it gave me the impression that she believed that I was one of those women who couldn’t handle putting a career before kids.

    She further went on to explain that men treat women in the computer industry really badly. Actually, she said something to the effect of “Are you sure you want to do this? Men in the computer field are pretty rough on the women they work with.”

    Needless to say, I didn’t get the job and was shocked that women would be so discouraging to a young woman just trying to get an easy temp job.

    It also didn’t help that when I did get my first technical support job, I was hazed. I don’t know if this is something specific to the company I worked for at the time or if it’s common to entry level technical support positions, but it was like working in a locker room. I didn’t complain and I didn’t feel like I was being “discriminated” against. Mostly because they did the exact same crap to both men and women…they were equal opportunity offenders, but it was sure annoying. Most women would be put off by those antics and, if I hadn’t been paying attention to the fact that the men were hazing everyone…not just me, it would have added credance to the comment the woman made in the interview that men are rough on the women. I stuck it out, but I could easily see how that crap could be discouraging to someone.

    Now, I’ve found out that my company is closing the office that I work out of and I’ll be laid off in a couple of months.

    I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do at this point, but I’ve been really discouraged while talking to my family about options.

    I don’t know if it’s economically feasible for me to go back to school right now, but I have been toying with the idea of using this layoff as an opportunity to go back to school and study psychology. I’m not getting a positive reaction from my family on this. Again, I’m hearing that the field isn’t valuable and that I wouldn’t be able to make a career out of it.

    Now, I don’t want my comment to be all doom and gloom because there have been positive role models in my life. My high school physics teacher (a male) was awesome. Unfortunately, I wasn’t interested in a career in physics, but that man tried very, very hard to get the girls involved and he complained that there weren’t enough women in science. He was a very nice man and I don’t recall him ever saying anything discouraging to me.

    One of the girls in my class did end up taking his Advance Physics II course. She went on to go to MIT and became a particle physicist. I don’t know if our physics teacher was the reason she took that path, but he certainly was a positive influence.

    My husband has also been very supportive. He says that I’m smarter than him all the time and that he’d be happy if I went back to school and did anything I want to do.

    I guess the frustrating thing is that even though there are people who are fully supportive of women in science, they are outnumbered.

  7. I’m surprised humans emitting visible light is news at all. Humans are black body emitters, and therefore (theoretically) emit across the entire electromagnetic spectrum. We peak in the infrared wavelengths, which is why we use heat sensors and so forth in security/military applications.

    The peak emission of a black body depends on the temperature of the object. The article says that the visible light is emitted as a byproduct of the biochemical reactions in our bodies, claiming that it is different than the infrared radiated by our body heat. This seems an odd statement to me because we have body heat as a byproduct of the biochemical reactions in our bodies.

    I would be more accepting of the article if there were a clearer explanation of the mechanisms behind this supposed new discovery.

  8. @AustinL: I had the same thought as well, and the article touches on the point only in a very naive way, but I expect the scientists knew what they were doing. If you look at the images in visible light and compare with the one showing IR, you can see that the areas with the most visible light don’t correspond directly with the most IR, which would be the case if they only registered the visible part of our black body radiation.

    I’d like some more details to be really sure though, and I’d like some rocks to throw at some of the commenters. “Could this be what makes and aura?” Here, have a rock! *thwock*

  9. On my deep and sincere beliefs in deities, there was no ‘d’ in “an aura” when I pressed submit. It’s all gremlins I tell ya.

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