In Brief

Women in science and mathematics fields can achieve as much as men, said scientists, educators and U.S. representatives at a May congressional briefing co-sponsored by APA and spurred by controversial comments Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers made earlier this year on sex differences in math and science achievement.

In particular, said developmental psychologist Nora Newcombe, PhD, of Temple University in Philadelphia, the broad and controversial body of findings on cognitive differences between men and women does not suggest that women are less qualified than men for high-level science work.

Even though some research indicates that men are better at spatial thinking, with possible biological underpinnings, according to some researchers, everyone can improve on their spatial thinking and other cognitive processes through practice and education, Newcombe said at the briefing, which was co-sponsored by groups including the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues and the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Education Caucus.

Educators should encourage women and girls to learn math and science in grade school, and to complete related doctoral degrees, Newcombe said. "We as a society have not applied the 'everyone can learn to read' principle to the thought that everyone can learn math," she said. "The truth is everyone can improve."

Further, women excel at flexibility and leadership, which matter in high-level research, Newcombe said.

Other scientists and researchers--including Anne Kinney, PhD, director of NASA's Universe Division and Shirley Malcom, PhD, head of the American Association for the Advancement of Science's Directorate for Education and Human Resources Programs--echoed Newcombe's comments and discussed the challenges they faced as women in academia.

U.S. Reps. Ginny Brown-Waite (R-Fla.), Hilda L. Solis (D-Calif.), Vern Ehlers (R-Mich.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) also sponsored the event.