Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Absurd Study about Star Trek and Women in STEM

Let's face it. The world of video games, science, math, and computers tends to be dominated by men. But that doesn't mean that women aren't there. We can be just at boisterous, outspoken, and nerdy. And when the culture shifts to the realization that "hey, there are chicks here too," the realm evolves into a more welcoming environment.

Women are not in STEM careers and studies because of the culture around them. This I will not disagree with. I have my own stories and struggles with the reality of the male-centric ideology behind STEM that caused me to drop out of computer science. But the root of the cause has nothing to do with pop culture, as a study published in the American Psychological Association claims.

According to Sapna Cheryan (Associate Professor at the University of Washington) and Sianna Ziegler (an EMC research analyst), women are not joining STEM because of 'Star Trek' and 'Dungeons & Dragons.'

Let that statement soak in for a moment at it's utter absurdity. I'm pretty sure there are strong, female role-models in both 'Star Trek' and DnD who are actively part of the story. A lot of women like the TV shows, movies, and the games. They actively participate in the geeky/nerdy culture associated with 'Star Trek.' So where did Cheryan and Ziegler come up with this theory?

They reviewed over 1,000 research articles to determine what distinguishes the gender-based fields. The conclusion drawn at the end of the review was that fields in STEM were focused on cultures. Male-oriented stereotypes favor them in computer fields. And according to "work in [their] lab," when women entered the space and saw 'Star Trek' posters on the wall and men talking about DnD, they were more likely to leave and drop out of the course.

They also claim that college women who have a two-minute interaction with a male STEM student wearing a 'Mystery Science Theater 3000' shirt and doing the "stereotypical nerdy, loner guy" routine, those women are less likely to sign up for STEM courses. However if that same man was wearing normal clothes (because an MST3K t-shirt isn't normal?) and is more interested in 'The Office,' then women are more encouraged to attend STEM classes.

Can we take a moment to review the borderline insanity of this research?

When you read the summary posted by Cheryan and Ziegler on, you can't help but feel there is an inherit bias. The article starts out with one of them lamenting about how they were isolated in high school by the DnD crowd in their computer classes. They claim that teachers called on the "DnD nerds" first, they had their homework done earlier, and they performed better in the class. All because of DnD? Yeah. We are not buying that. The students that did better in that computer class were attentive and studied. They were called on because they knew the answer. If Cheryan and Ziegler raised their hand first, they would have been called on. It had nothing to do with DnD. That's similar to stating that 'all criminals wear shoes.' Well...hell! Nearly every person in the world wears shoes so does that make us all criminals? No. And just because you like DnD does not make you a computer genius. Cheryan and Ziegler disproved their entire theory within the first paragraph of their overview!

Studies like these don't promote progress in STEM. They hold it back. Girls and women, study STEM because you want to. Don't conform to the supposed stereotypes, because guess what? Most of them are not true. Yes the fields are male dominated. Yes it sucks because there is a longstanding pressure from professors and those who have been in the realm for decades to keep it male-centric. A number of men in the millennial generation don't want it this way. They have grown up to understand inclusion and the benefits of having diverse people in their fields. If you like Star Trek, awesome! It's not going to play a role in whether or not you move forward in your STEM career. And if you don't, that's cool too! Do the work. Do your homework. Study. That is what will move your forward, not your knowledge of DnD trivia. The culture that needs to change is the idea that only men can handle STEM fields. Inclusion, not exclusions. Star Trek and nerdy things are not the barrier.


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