Since there's nothing we all love more than an internet throwdown (wait, no?) grab your ringside seats for a Battle Royale between Isis at ScienceBlogs and, um, some scientists quoted in the Globe and Mail.

Isis was angry to read the following:

As female students increasingly dominate in science competitions across the country, educators are facing a conundrum that requires more social analysis than hard science: Boys are not just getting beaten by girls — they're not even showing up..."We're beginning to have concerns," said Reni Barlow, executive director of Youth Science Canada, a national organization that oversees the national and regional science fairs in its mandate to foster Canada's future generation of scientists. Educators are searching for new tools to lure more boys back into the fold. In Quebec, where girls made up 68 per cent of students at this year's provincial science fair, regional organizers recently created a program focused on technology and robotics — deliberately promoting fields where boys have traditionally shown the most interest. Youth Science Canada recently launched a mentorship program that it hopes will inspire more boys to continue in the footsteps of Canada's top male researchers.

Responds Isis,

The same is true for many women in science and academia. White male members of these spheres may think they've plugged the holes, but they lack the reference to appreciate cultural differences that put pressure on women to leave professional careers. I'll never forget being 20 years old and in college, going home to meet the parents of a boy I was dating. After dinner, the boy's father leaned over, pinched my hip, and told his son, "¡Qué bueno, hijo! Ella tiene cintura perfecta para estar embarazada."...I am so pleased that young girls are becoming better represented in science and I certainly hate to think that young boys are not pursuing science. However, to conflate this with the success of women in science is short-sighted and fails to appreciate the complexity of the factors that keep women from transitioning from trainee to career scientist.

She does a superb job of outlining the obvious responses to this line of reasoning, and as a working scientist and a teacher, she's in a good position to do so. And as a commenter points out, these very encouraging statistics about girls in science don't take the longer view, with its social and societal pressures into account: a girl who loves science may well not make it her field of study or her eventual career.


And at the end of the day, isn't this really two issues? As Isis points out, it's very possible to be thrilled by such gains for women and still be distressed to see boys losing interest in science, or any other field of study. To 'blame' boys' disinterest on girls' success does a disservice to both. Why must this become a source of resentment and defensiveness, perceived as success at the expense of others - isn't it this attitude as much as anything causing the polarity? Sure, we may not live in a vacuum, a utopia of equality, but it's a privilege of childhood that for a few years, kids can believe they do. Writes one commenter on the ScienceBlog post, "Those mean old girls are outcompeting the poor widdle boys in science fair. EMERGENCY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" And yeah, that's probably how most of us feel, this level of hyperbole at what should be celebrated and cheered in a world where men have the upper hand. But these kids are also individuals, and whatever the larger social truths of their advantages and privilege, their losing interest in science is an emergency. But in the acrimonious world of "boys versus girls" it seems like sometimes "kids" gets lost, and that's a shame. 68% smart women at a science fair, the fact that the three top winners at this year's Intel Science Competition are girls, is wonderful, a triumph for women, but also for scientists and smart people - an example, ideally, to all kids rather than a source of divisiveness to adults.
There Are Too Many Girls in Science! Let the Boys Back In! [ScienceBlog]

At the science fair, girls dominate the class [Globe and Mail]
Three Young Women Win Top Honors at World's Largest Pre-College Science Competition [DDJ]