Nov 25, 2010

Queen of Sciences?

Yes, it is Mathematics. I am pretty sure that to the astute reader of this blog, this mathematically  knotty question of 'What is' the 'queen of sciences' is a no-brainer. How about 'whosaidit'. That's Gauss. That wasn't bumpy either. And now field this - Why did this great German mathematician call it the 'Queen' but not the 'King' of Sciences? Or why not 'Father' of Sciences? Well, am aware of many such conflicting phrases and sobriquets that extol one gender against the other(you don't have to spin-doctor against me), but not all of them have the same grounds of explanation. So what is the  plausible elucidation to the original question in specific reference to the context of Sciences?

I do not know the correct answer. And I cannot possibly find out from Gauss either. Maybe he liked women in a good sense.Maybe not. Whatever it is, this peek into the transcript of a letter that he once wrote to a prominent French female  mathematician is certainly a clue:

"But when a person of the sex which, according to our customs and prejudices, must encounter infinitely more difficulties than men to familiarize herself with these thorny researches, succeeds nevertheless in surmounting these obstacles and penetrating the most obscure parts of them, then without doubt she must have the noblest courage, quite extraordinary talents and superior genius. Indeed nothing could prove to me in so flattering and less equivocal manner that the attractions of this science, which has enriched my life with so many joys, are not chimerical, as the predilection with which you have honored it."

Not unexpectedly, this was in an era when women were banned from studying the subject even in Europe. The revolutionary crusader who was the subject and predicate of Gauss's letter was Sophie Germain. She was so committed to the science, that she contributed to it by corresponding with eminent mathematicians (including Gauss) under the false identity of a male. Her nom de plume was Antoine-August Le Blanc. There are more revolutionary stories of women soldiers who fought for their love of the quintessential truth that is - Mathematics.

Apparently, that is a pretty long list of female mathematicians that matter. My question for this post is however, larger than that long list. What percentage is this list in the large realm of mathematics? It is certainly quite humbler than the male contribution ratio. If you need more stats for women in math, you could take a look at this.  The causal factors for the lower turnout of women in this field,  if not obvious, are cultural and gender based demarcation. But that's certainly antiquated.

What about now? There is quite negligible gender discrimination, and yet why hasn't the stats leveled up as yet? Girls seem to outsmart the boys in math in high school, however the boys have the last laugh in PhDs (in the 'Queen of Sciences'). Is it that the average genius-woman loses charm in the queen of sciences and prefers to be an adept obstetrician or an enterprising engineer or a satiated home-maker? Is it that to the above-average woman who loves colors and spices finds math quite devoid of them both? Does mathematics appeal to a woman's feminine senses at all?

One of my friends points out - "Statistically true, but what I have observed is , women dont like them (Maths) much easily. for what ever reason.. but once they like it, there is possibly no difference that one can say between men and women in this subject".
Before you embark on a journey to ponder about femininity and mathematics, here is a cue - Florence Nightingale, best known for her nursing accomplishments, was also an adroit mathematician. This page has more details.

So the number discrepancy question cannot be answered by just the stats that are enlisted. And you know what I think about stats, don't you? The fact that women mathematicians existed and exist is a tribute to the dexterity of women in this Science. I'd like to give the last word to my friend in this context.  Once a woman finds beauty in infinity, there is no stopping her, infact we know that she can turn into a male if the world wants her to.And going by the number of battles that a woman fights in whatever era, Mathematics is definitely the "Queen" of Sciences.