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Web Letter

I applaud Elinor Ostrom's Nobel Prize award, and I support the recognition of women for their contributions to science and economics as I do their contributions to literature and the arts. However, to lament the dearth of awards to women in the traditionally male-dominated fields such as physics and economics is as misguided as my lamenting that more men don't win awards from the American Sewing Guild. Obviously, there are not many women winning Nobel prizes in physics or economics, because there are not many women working in these fields.

I am a physicist, and I assure you I have always welcomed the idea of seeing more women entering my field, and most of my colleagues no doubt feel the same way. In fact, I would argue that women entering my field receive more support and encouragement than males. The fact behind the apparent problem is that most women are simply not inclined to enter these fields. Their brains are just different. I see it in my daughter. I have always encouraged her to develop a healthy interest in science, and my wife, an engineer, has done the same. Despite our efforts, our daughter is more interested in literature, clothes and cosmetics than in differential equations. That is the way she is made.

Woman like Ostrom, the Curies (mother and daughter), Rosalind Franklin and many others deserved and deserve the highest accolades, and it is a crime when they are denied their proper recognition. However, these women are no more typical of their gender than a man who happens to be a needlepoint prodigy is typical of his gender. The best we can do is to nourish the talent of those very unusual (yes, very unusual) women who are naturally inclined to work in the hard sciences.

For many in physics, their profession is a calling, not just a job. It is this sense of truly realizing “who you are” that draws people into this challenging field. The notable desire to increase the representation of one’s gender or race in a field like physics is not sufficient to light the flame of passion that keeps a person on such a treacherous career path. Until women have male brains, we will never see as many women as men achieve excellence in such fields as economics or physics, no matter how much encouragement and recognition our society provides.

Robert Austin

Seminole, FL

Oct 16 2009 - 2:20pm