Why blog?

The first time starting a blog crossed my mind was when I was applying for the NSF Graduate Fellowship last fall.  Applicants have to sell reviewers on their research and themselves as scientists.  Reviewers are told to assess how well applicants fulfill two criteria, Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts, to decide who should get an award.  Intellectual Merit is just what it sounds like: is the applicant a capable student and researcher?  Broader Impacts is a bit more vague; the NSF concisely defines it as “the potential to benefit society and contribute to the achievement of specific, desired societal outcomes.”

This got me thinking, what social outcomes do I desire?  How can I work towards them?

Make statistics transparent

Bad statistics show up in the news all the time.  It seems like every day I see a percentage pulled out of thin air, with no notion of power or confidence attached to it.  People cherry pick results, make bad graphics, and report one-liners instead of presenting the full picture.  I’d like to incite some skepticism in readers.

Reduce fear of statistics

People hate math.

Statistics is so much more than math, but many people don’t even realize because they avoid the topic altogether.  A big issue is the way statistics is presented.  Even Wikipedia can be hard to discern.  Either writing about statistics is far too technical for the layperson to read, or it is so dumbed down that it becomes useless.  I’d like to write about science, particularly science that involves some statistical component, in a way that is accessible for the average person to read.

Especially in this new era of “big data”, I think it’s increasingly important that people become familiar, if not comfortable, with statistics.

Gender equality

Okay, this is a lofty goal.  But it is probably the most important one of all.

There is a dearth of female role models in academia, especially in the sciences (more on this in another post).  Universities are making policy changes to be more hospitable to female faculty, but changes in attitude are slow.

Just last week, an article came out about the gender problem at UCLA’s Anderson School of Business.  Specifically, there are far fewer women in tenure-track positions than men, and many of these women report feeling dissatisfied and short-changed in their work.  The crux of the article:

Eight years and one female dean later, another review finds that basically, nothing has changed.

The root of the problem stares us in the face.

On a visit to Anderson last month, we asked Dylan Stafford, assistant dean of the Fully Employed MBA Programs, what types of students his program takes risks on by admitting them. “Women,” he replied. “Their quant skills aren’t good, and the applicant pool is lower.”

The people in charge say things that perpetuate the very discrimination they claim they want to fix.  This attitude is harmful to women of all ages and stages of their careers.

Why blog?

This blog is the “how” to achieve my “desired social outcomes”.  A blog is only a tiny step towards massive social change, but it is my small contribution.

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