Friday, May 05, 2006

Women and maths don’t add up

No, I’m not talking about the fact that they can’t do maths. (Just joking, most of the maths teachers I work with are women and they are excellent mathematicians. Not only that, the male maths teachers are big girls.) I’m talking about the following statement made in an article in today’s Australian - Workplaces wasting our women: Bishop:

High attrition rates by women in law and medicine contrast with their domination of undergraduate courses.

Without any numbers to back that up, I’d believe it. However, statistics would make the point more convincing. The next paragraph has them for us:

Sixty per cent of law students studying at Monash University in 2004 were female, as were more than 70 per cent of medical students. But a Royal Australasian College of Surgeons study found in 1998 that 16 per cent of basic surgical trainees and 13 per cent of advanced surgical trainees were women.

Umm, surely to argue the first point, the stats you’d need are the percentages in an undergraduate course in year X, followed by a follow-up survey of the same women in the occupation for which the course trains them a few year later, year X + 5 (say); not the other way around? These stats tell us nothing of the fates of the undergraduate students from 2004 – surely we need this information to form a conclusion apropos to attrition rates? For all we know, from these stats, it could now (in 2006) be that all these women are working somewhere as basic surgical trainees and advanced surgical trainees - no attrition.

Extremely unlikely I know. As I said, I’d wager that it is still a very low percentage, but please, don’t Misuse Statistics, even if your point is right. If it is right after all, you should have some relevant stats, somewhere, to back you up.

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