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word choice (was getting women to use...)

Shan Duncan duncan at loris.cisab.indiana.edu
Tue Dec 8 22:56:45 EST 1992

  As someone who studies the behavior of non-human animals the subject
of this word choice has particular relevance.  For example I pointed out
the use of:  


was an interesting choice by dan...   Why?

To someone who studies animal behavior, male-dominated has a very
specific meaning. Dominate means to *control*.  I did not think that
was what dan really meant but that is what was said.  Words *do* have
specific meanings.  If clear communication is important than why use a
poor choice, poor as in ambiguous, when a better one would do?  

Therefore, I found, of all the alternative words or phrases available
for use, it was indeed "interesting" that those were the ones used.

I did not mean this as a personal attack on Dan, 

I do not agree that this is bickering about words,

Dan's statement was not clear. 

Word choice is *not* trivial.  

1) An important part of science is the clear, concise, communication
of ideas across culture barriers.  Take a history of science course
(western in this case).  This was obvious then as it is now.

2) Word choices can reflect an inherent bias in our thinking, often as
a product of our social upbringing.  Awareness of this potential bias
is important or should be *very* important when discussing such
topics as gender (biological) differences.

3) Incorrect word usage depends on a common understanding or shared
background to enable the *implied* message to be decoded properly.
Remember, the internet is international in scope.

This is what prompted me to post.

Ok back to <getting women to use computers in science>

I have been managing a computer cluster for about a year, and I
have not found any differences in aversion to computer use according
to gender here BUT I am dealing with students who are seeking an
advanced degree.  So I have a biased sample.  

However, when I taught a non-major introductory biology lecture with
600+ students, and we used computers in the lab - both male and female
TA's had the same difficulty in learning to use the computer as a

For the students, interest in the material was a more important
criteria.  The students were not interested in the computer *as a
computer* but rather as a device that could do something for them in
an easier manner. 

I mentioned to keep in mind that the computer should be thought of as
a tool and not as a concept.  As it becomes an essential tool in more
area's of science you will see it being used by a greater diversity of
groups.  By extension the same will be true of the internet.

I would not be surprised to find that women *are* using both computers
in general and the internet in particular in greater numbers over the

If anyone really cared they could generate statistics on this.  After
all the messages posted to many newsgroups are archived and it would
not be too dificult for someone to write a program that would scan the
headers and count obvious male and female names.  But *I* will not do
it, mainly because I do not feel this *problem* of getting *women* to
use computers exists.  I feel it is more important to educate *people*
how to correctly use computers in research.  My experience supports
the idea that if women need to use a computer... they learn to use it.


Now strategies to avoid learning... that is different and various
tactics can and are used.  But this is clearly a cultural difference
not a biological one.


Dr Shan Duncan                                duncan at loris.cisab.indiana.edu
CISAB- Indiana University                     sdduncan at indiana.edu
402 N. Park Ave
Bloomington,  IN.  47405
(812) 855-5895         (812) 855-9663 (main office)    (812) 855-0411 (FAX)

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