Last week I enjoyed two TV interview programs. One was Larry
King’s session on CNN with actor Sidney Poitier, who rarely
grants an interview. Poitier told of his childhood as the son of a
tomato farmer on a Caribbean island, of his experiences as a
dishwasher in New York and of his first attempt to become an
actor. Barely able to read, he saw an item in a newspaper about a
black actors group and promptly marched down to the address in
the paper, announcing to the person there that he was an actor.
The dubious fellow gave Poitier a script and put him on a stage
to read the part. Poitier apparently didn’t even know what a
script was! He read the script, slowly coming up with each word
and was kicked out of the studio with the admonition that he
should become a dishwasher! Thanks in part to those
interminable commercials on the King shows, I was left wishing
there had been more time to listen to Poitier. Needless to say, his
eloquent command of the English language contrasts sharply
with his reading of that first script.
Thanks to the luxury of no commercials on C-span, Brian Lamb
had a full hour with Justice Antonin Scalia on the show Q&A. I
feel reasonably sure that Scalia’s conservative political views are
in stark contrast to Poitier’s. Scalia was born here in New Jersey
while it seems that Poitier was born prematurely on a boat
headed for Miami from the Bahamas. In the King interview,
Scalia made one remark that intrigued me, coming from a
member of the Supreme Court. At one point he said that too
many people are going into the law and that more should be
“doing something useful”. Engineering and, presumably, science
are fields which Scalia considers “useful” fields of endeavor.
I don’t know the figures but I would be surprised if the law is not
a male-dominated profession. The Supreme Court is, currently
constituted 8 to 1 in favor of the males. What about the “useful”
fields of science and engineering? The subject is treatred in an
article by Michael Heylin in the March 10, 2008 issue of
Chemical and Engineering News (C&EN). Heylin cites
numerous compilations of statistics based on the National
Science Board’s 2008 “Science and Engineering Indicators”
The report compares data for the years 1985 and 2005. Let’s just
look at the number of doctoral degrees granted in science and
engineering in the U.S. over this span of two decades. In those
20 years, the number of doctoral degrees jumped from 19,663 to
29,712, a gain of about 10 thousand degrees. If we stick to only
U.S. citizens, however, a major trend shows up. In 1985, the
number of males getting their doctorates was 9,312 while in 2005
this number dropped by almost 700 down to 8,624. Contrast this
with the figures for females, for whom the numbers went from
4,379 to 7,492, a gain of over 3,000 women. American women
are on the move in science and engineering!
The statistics also reinforce something that is clear to anyone
who visits a graduate school campus, such as the one at Rutgers,
where I’ve spent time over nearly two decades. This is the large
number of non-U.S. citizens engaged in graduate work. In
science and engineering the number of non-U.S. citizens
receiving doctoral degrees went from 30 to 46 percent over the
period from 1985 to 2005. The number of foreign postdocs went
from 8,900 (40%) to 27,000 (55%) in that period. Incidentally,
the fact that first university degree graduates as of 2004 rose to
672,000 in China, compared to 456,000 in the U.S., is worthy of
Finally, I just realized that the C&EN article contains some data
on the law, which I presumed to be male-dominated. Things are
changing in that field as well. In 1985 and 2005, the numbers of
men receiving law degrees remained roughly the same at about
23,000. However, the number of women getting law degrees
moved up from 14,400 to 21,100 in that period. Women seem
headed towards taking dominance in the legal field as well!
Which reminds me that I neglected to mention something about
the female-dominated hyena society I discussed last week.
Royalty has been in the news recently with coverage of the
Princess Diana inquest and the visits of William and Harry to
fields of battle. Royalty is passed down from generation to
generation with the sons or daughters of reigning monarchs in
line to take up the crown when their parents pass away. I was
surprised that something akin to that happens with hyenas.
Kay Holekamp and her coworkers have found that the offspring
of the dominant females in a hyena clan have a distinct
advantage over offspring of the lesser females in a clan and that
this advantage starts in the womb. Late in the pregnancy, the
dominant females release a flood of testosterone and other
hormones that makes the developing hyena cubs more aggressive
and more likely to dominate other cubs after birth. The lower
ranking females also release testosterone and the other hormones,
but in significantly reduced quantities.
If the dominant female has a litter of three, there’s another
feature of the female’s anatomy that helps ensure that her
offspring will continue to dominate. She only has two nipples
and the least aggressive of the three cubs will likely be pushed
aside by the other two cubs and will end up starving to death.
Talk about survival of the fittest!
Well, enough about female dominance. Oh, you’re right. We
still don’t know whether it’s going to be Hillary or Obama.
Allen F. Bortrum