The gender gap in science

Okay, first things first, take the Pew Science Knowledge Quiz.

Yes, damn straight I got 12/12 (94th percentile).  Of course, I was worried I’d blow something and suffer a blow to my highly-science-literate self concept.

Now, that you’ve taken the quiz, you can see how the rest of America did (based on Pew’s national random sample) and check out the cool report.

Probably the most distressing thing I noticed was the rather substantial gender gap.  Here it is in chart form.

College Graduates and Postgraduates Most Knowledgeable About These Science Topics

This is not just because there are more male scientists/science majors, etc., this is the case at every level of education.

Men Score Higher on Science Questions at All Educational Levels, on Average

So, short version– we’re doing something wrong!  I honestly find it pretty preposterous on its face to suggest that there is something biological which makes the female brain less suited to retain basic science knowledge.  Thus, our culture is clearly doing a pretty crappy job in somehow steering boys more towards and women away from science.  There’s nothing inherently male about science except that most scientists are males.  I don’t expect that we’re going to have 50% women astronomers and micro-biologists in the near future, but, damn, it seems that if we cannot even have women and men without college degrees performing pretty equivalently in science knowledge we got to really re-think how we are doing things at a basic level.

Okay, time for me to go home and watch the Science Channel (instead of Spongebob) with my daughter.


Photo of the day

From an Atlantic gallery of Olympics week 2:

Nico Walther, Kevin Kuske, Christian Poser, and Eric Franke of Germany train for the men’s four-man bobsleigh event at the Olympic Sliding Center on February 21, 2018. 

Arnd Wiegmann / Reuters

I want my, I want my GMO

Apparently there’s been a thorough meta-analysis of research on GMO corn and the result is– it’s all good.  Nice summary in

Now, a new report published in “Nature” has the potential to help put a categorical end to these worries. The report compiles the entire body of science that previously examined the impact of genetically modified corn—over 6,000(!) published articles—and distills the essential findings of that massive research. The conclusion of the report is clear cut. It is a dramatic account of how big the benefit and small the risk is from GMO crops…

The societal effects of GMO crops, and especially corn, have attracted enormous public and scientific attention, not least because such crops dominate the food we eat. Almost all the science in the area has consistently produced a reassuring message, but until now it continued to be received with skepticism in some circles. To persuade the skeptics, the new report examines the results only of those prior scientific investigations that performed large field experiments and that compared GM and conventional corn crops grown under identical conditions. Here are the results:

First, genetic modification increases corn yields, by a lot…

Genetic modification addresses these two sources of loss, and thus crops resistant to either pest or weeds yield on average 10% more grain, and crops resistant to both deliver a 25% increase in grain yield. Consider the global importance of such an effect: the world could use one-fifth less farm land to produce its food. This means less deforestation. It also means less greenhouse gas emissions, by as much as  one-eighth of the annual emissions from automobiles. There is no other policy that a true environmentalist should support more vigorously than the transition of the rest of the world to GMO-based agriculture. [emphasis mine]

Second, genetically modified crops are not only richer, but also better. In GMO fields, there is an average 60% reduction in damaged crops (84% reduction if counting only the most advanced GMOs). None of the nutritious composition of corn is reduced. On the contrary: GMO corn was found to have one third less “mycotoxins”—poisonous chemicals introduced into the crops by insect attacks. This reduction in the contamination of grain is particularly large in developing countries, where the illnesses such contaminations cause have significant economic costs…

Finally, there is a prevailing concern that GMO agriculture uses chemicals that cause unintended environmental harms. The meta-report shows that the concern is misguided. Of all the species living in the cornfield ecology, only one family of parasitic wasps is negatively affected. Overall, there is no substantial effect on insect biodiversity. And other studies have found a dramatic reduction in the use of herbicides and insecticides…

Why are consumers oblivious to the scientific reality? The blame, in part, falls on anti-GMO propaganda. Advocacy groups that ordinarily preach for the supremacy of scientific evidence in informing public policy (climate change? gun control?) remain unshakeable by the mountains of scientific proof in this context. There is a dogmatic, almost religious, fervor in the conviction that “frankenfoods” are immoral. It seems that no quantum of evidence can budge this belief.

Consumers are also misled by opportunistic non-GMO campaigns launched by companies that know the underlying science. It is ironic that in the epicenters of such consumer demand—in elite stores that purport to sell environmentally responsible foods—there is an ongoing concerted effort to breed, rather than uproot, these irrational and harmful fears.

To be fair, this is just from a study of corn, but corn is a huge portion of the GMO food we consume.  And, basically, it’s a win-win-win proposition.  And, yes, it is absolutely ridiculous that across the kitchen I can see my “GMO free” baking soda (ummm, okay) and my GMO-free wheat-based cereal (there is basically no GMO wheat).

Of course there are all sorts of legitimate concerns and cautions with GMO food.  Then again, there’s all sorts of concerns and cautions with all large-scale commercial agriculture.  And, in an interesting footnote, it appears that Russian trolls really don’t want you eating GMO.  Seriously.

Turning out the youth

Nice post from Charles Franklin on age and voter turnout.  Young people always disproportionately drop-off in midterm elections and a key hope for a 2018 Democratic wave– and most importantly, actual accountability for the Trump administration– substantially rest on young people not dropping off so much this year.

As you can see in this chart from Franklin, the midterm vs presidential gap is much larger for younger ages.

In a presidential year, the youngest voters, 18–29, turn out at a 47–65 percent rate, while those in their 60s exceed an 80 percent turnout rate. In midterms, those under 30 turn out at 17–35 percent while those in their 60s vote at a 70 percent rate. (These are self-reported rates among U.S. citizens. See note at bottom for more details on the data.)

That sharp rise with age, which is also very regular in its increase with each year of age, means that those under 30 are always underrepresented among the voting populationwhile those older than about 45 are over represented.

The gap between presidential and midterm elections is particularly notable as we approach the 2018 midterm. Relative to presidential years, the younger a person is the lower their likelihood of voting in a midterm compared to a presidential election. To the extent the young are underrepresented in presidential years, they are even more underrepresented in midterm electorates.

The tipping point of representation comes at about 36 years old, when share of population and share of voters becomes about equal. After 45, the share of voters exceeds share of population. (I use 2016 data only here to avoid changes in the age distribution.)

So, come November 2018, get all those damn young people you know voting.  And, heck, if you are a young person reading this (hello, firstborn son), I’m pretty sure you’ll know what to do.

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