I once heard DNA co-discoverer James Watson speaking at a lecture. Referring to some research, he said, “We thought we were being stochastic, but we were just guessing.”
I’d like to think that I’m integrative, but mostly I just happen across unassociated things. Like, for instance:
Michael Feldstein at e-Literate has a guest post by Jutta Treviranus. You Say Tomato… looks at designing the user-experience interface for distributed learning. Treviranus notes that UI designed is often left to programmers and often happens at the end of the development process.
As part of her work with the Fluid project, Trivarnus and her colleagues “have found ourselves at odds with common or traditional notions integral to pedagogy, software design, user interaction design, usability, and accessibility.”
The Fluid approach to user experience design and usability testing is also at odds with standard or commercial UI design methods. These methods assume that the user really doesnâ€™t know what is best or what they want. Users are not self-aware, what they report doing is not actually what they do and asking users what they might want does not lead to innovation because they extrapolate from what they know and are most likely to ask for a faster horse carriage than a car. Consequently the assumption is that any proposed design requires extensive user testing with objective observation and data gathering from a large number of representative users.
(I’ve always felt a bit sheepish about tinkering with my off-the-shelf software — I have created buttons In Word to prevent tables from breaking within rows, to insert section breaks, and to print just the current page. That’s pretty low-level customization, but a lot more than the average person tends to do.)
The apparently unrelated item that came to mind as I read this was John Tierney’s article in Monday’s New York Times blog, A New Frontier for Title IX: Science. (Title IX is the U.S. law barring sexual discrimination in education, and till now has applied mainly to sports. The article deals with the question of similar discrimination in science.)
Lots of things I didn’t know (it’s an ever-growing list):
- In the U.S., 50% of med students, 60% of biology majors, and 70% of psychology PhDs are women.
- Less than 20% of physics PhDs are women.
Tierney cites research by David Lubinski and Camilla Persson Benbow suggesting that the differences in choice of field may have more to do with an individual’s preferences than overt discrimination. Similar research by Joshua Rosenbloom and Ronald Ash made this less-than-astonishing conclusion:
…Information technology workers especially enjoyed manipulating objects and machines, whereas workers in other occupations preferred dealing with people.
Once the researchers controlled for that personality variable, the gender gap shrank to statistical insignificance: women who preferred tinkering with inanimate objects were about as likely to go into computer careers as were men with similar personalities. There just happened to be fewer women than men with those preferences.
What struck me (for this post of my own) was not the gender gap per se, but the connection between the object-manipulators in IT, and the end-users of software that Treviranus discussed in her user-interface post.
And I figured a post combining user interface, open source, and potential on-the-job discrimation might stir up a thing or two.
Photo of Rosalind Franklin (whose X-ray images helped lead Watson and Crick to their model for the structure of DNA)
from the National Library of Medicine.