Saturday, February 21, 2009

Are Women Changing the Culture and Practice of Science?

I attended an interesting seminar yesterday about paradigm shifts, education, and creativity. It got me thinking about how the increasing participation by women in science, a traditionally male arena, might be changing the culture and practice of science.

Although it’s been pc to say that there are minimal differences between how males and females solve intellectual problems, some researchers think that our brains are wired differently (due to influence of sex hormones on the developing brain).

Some research indicates that women use both brain hemispheres in problem-solving, whereas men use only one (may be an explanation for why men are poor multi-taskers!). Also, there are supposedly differences in how men and women communicate (and process information). For example, females generally have a greater awareness of visual and verbal cues/nuances--on average.

If we consider the left-brain, right-brain orientation of humans, there are supposed to be gender differences. Left-brained people are verbal, logical, detail-oriented (males), and right-brained people are visual, intuitive, imaginative, “big-picture” oriented (females). I’m not so sure about this gender split relative to brain hemispheres, however. For example, I think females tend to be more verbal (on average) than males.

Although a lot of the left vs. right brain stuff is pop psychology, it’s interesting to consider how science, being dominated until recently by male (left-brain) thinking, might have progressed differently if women had contributed equally to (or even dominated) the sciences in the past.

I’ve added a new poll at the bottom of the page:

Do you think the greater participation of women in science is altering the culture and practice of science?

Image Credit: modified photo from Argonne National Laboratories,

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