“STEM” or “Math-intensive?”

April 01, 2011

Each month this year, AAUW teams up with Nature Publishing Group, one of the world’s leading science publishers, in an online forum on women in science. The AAUW posts highlight findings from our 2010 research report, Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, now in its third printing.

One of the first decisions we at AAUW had to make when researching Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics was exactly which fields we were talking about when we used the term “STEM,” short for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

I was reminded of this question again in the past few weeks with the publication of Stephen J. Ceci’s and Wendy M. Williams’ Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America article in which they do not use the term “STEM” but rather “math-intensive fields of science” once and then throughout the paper, just “math-intensive fields.”

Definitions of STEM vary, and so do opinions on whether or not the acronym should be used at all. The National Science Foundation includes such fields as psychology, economics, and sociology in their broad definition of STEM. In Why So Few, in contrast, we included only the physical, biological, and agricultural sciences; computer and information sciences; engineering and engineering technologies; and mathematics.

Do you have thoughts on the use of the term “STEM” versus “math-intensive” in discussions of the underrepresentation of women in science and engineering? How should we refer to these fields when women aren’t underrepresented in all STEM fields (such as biology) or all math-intensive fields (such as accounting)?

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By:   |   April 01, 2011

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