Report Cards

Beyond Mueller, there were at least two revealing reports issued this week

Neither of these were the most famous report of this week. They might’ve both contained more valuable information.

First, a report on workplace demographics found that gender equality comes at a price sometimes, as women get more jobs in certain fields causes others—such as STEM—to suffer with male/female ratios. The STEM fields umbrella (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) has been recently touted as one of the emerging areas for women; over the last decade universities have seen a marked increase in enrollment in majors of these disciplines. However, in a broader sense, gender equality and female involvement in STEM fields have divergent paths worldwide.

This paradox was explained in a paper released in the journal Psychological Science last month. The basic explanation was “life-quality pressures” for women—or the path of resistance they face in countries that suffer with gender equality. In the Middle East (specifically represented in this study by the countries of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon) where women only very recently gained the right to drive, and are often subjected to stark inequality, more women enter STEM professions percentage-wise than anywhere else. This can be attributed to the “path of least resistance” theory, meaning they simply choose those fields out of necessity, not aptitude. When women have more freedom of choice, such as in the United States, is isn’t that they don’t score highly in STEM fields, they just have the option to pass them up:

“We showed that girls performed similarly to or better than boys in science in two of every three countries, and in nearly all countries, more girls appeared capable of college-level STEM study than had enrolled,” the paper, written by University of Missouri professors Gijsbert Stoet and David Geary, concludes. “Paradoxically, the sex differences in the magnitude of relative academic strengths and pursuit of STEM degrees rose with increases in national gender equality. The gap between boys’ science achievement and girls’ reading achievement relative to their mean academic performance was near universal. These sex differences in academic strengths and attitudes toward science correlated with the STEM graduation gap. A mediation analysis suggested that life-quality pressures in less gender-equal countries promote girls’ and women’s engagement with STEM subjects.

Meanwhile, FEMA is under fire after it was revealed the government body leaked personal data of over 2 million disaster survivors. In an alarming report filed by Office of the Inspector General (part of Dept. of Homeland Security) it was discovered that data intended for a contractor to verify survivors’ lodging eligibility in the wake of multiple 2017 natural disasters instead leaked sensitive personal data including dates of birth, Social Security numbers, and bank information. The data in question was gathered for the Transitional Sheltering Assistance Program, which involved survivors of the 2017 hurricane season (Harvey, Irma, Maria) and 2017 summer wildfires in California.

“The data FEMA should have sent to the contractor to verify survivors’ eligibility for lodging includes full names, dates of birth, eligibility start and end date, a FEMA registration number, and the last four digits of survivors’ Social Security numbers,” the OIG report stated, “and “also found that FEMA additionally shared 20 unnecessary data fields with the contractor, including six that contain particularly sensitive information, like survivors’ full home addresses, bank name, electronic funds transfer number, and bank transit number.”

“In transferring disaster survivor information to a contractor, FEMA provided more information than was necessary,” FEMA press secretary Lizzie Litzow said in a statement on Friday. “Since discovery of this issue, FEMA has taken aggressive measures to correct this error. FEMA is no longer sharing unnecessary data with the contractor and has conducted a detailed review of the contractor’s information system. To date, FEMA has found no indicators to suggest survivor data has been compromised.”

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