What is #STEM?

STEM is the abbreviation for  Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

We live in a world that is shaped by science and technology, yet, a 2011 survey in the USA found that most Americans can’t name a living scientist. In their book, Unscientific America, Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum reported that only 18% of Americans say that they have met a scientist.

Perhaps, it’s no wonder, then, that in his talk about the importance of science communication, on Monday March 2nd 2015, Dr. Jim Woodgett, the Director of Research at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Centre at Mount Sinai Hospital, Toronto, challenged scientists to consider why, despite the importance of science and the scientific method, science faces a credibility problem.

coca national percentages infographic-cmyk

On the other hand, there are encouraging data about how the public views STEM. In their 2014 report, Science Culture: Where Canada Stands, the Council of Canadian Academies reported that many Canadians are strong supporters of science:

Key Findings

  • Canadians have positive attitudes towards science and technology and low levels of reservations about science compared with citizens of other countries.
  • Canadians exhibit a high level of engagement with science and technology relative to citizens of other countries.
  • Canadians’ level of science knowledge is on a par with or above citizens of other countries for which data are available.
  • Canada’s performance on indicators of science and technology skills development is variable compared with other OECD countries.”

A recent Pew Foundation report and survey, Public and Scientists’ Views on Science and Society echoed some of these findings:

“Science holds an esteemed place among citizens and professionals. Americans recognize the accomplishments of scientists in key fields and, despite considerable dispute about the role of government in other realms, there is broad public support for government investment in scientific research.”

Yet, all is not rosy:

“At the same time, both the public and scientists are critical of the quality of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM subjects) in grades K-12.”

And,

“Despite broadly similar views about the overall place of science in America, citizens and scientists often see science-related issues through different sets of eyes. There are large differences in their views across a host of issues.”

Not only are there tensions and contradictions in how society views science, but women continue to be largely under-represented in some STEM fields, while in others, there is over 50% intake of female students at the undergraduate level, but there is a “leaky pipeline” that results in few women making it to senior positions in STEM fields.

In these pages, we have compiled information and resources about STEM fields in general and the situation for women, in particular.

– Dawn R. Bazely

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