Second Women in Theory Workshop

For the female readers of this blog: I thought all eight of you might be interested in the following announcement, which was sent to me by Tal Rabin.

We will be holding the Second Women in Theory Workshop at Princeton on June 19-23, 2010.
To apply please go to:
The format will be similar to the WIT 2008 workshop. You can view information on that workshop at:
and view a video of WIT08 at:

54 Responses to “Second Women in Theory Workshop”

  1. Elliot Temple Says:

    > For the female readers of this blog

    Are you saying the conference discriminates against all men?

    Why, btw, would you want to have a woman-focussed workshop if women are no different than men? Do you think women are different than men?

  2. female_reader#1 Says:

    Let’s take a poll: how many female readers of Scott’s blog are there?

    I’m one.

  3. Russell Impagliazzo Says:


    Computer science researchers do not operate in a social or cultural vacuum. Whatever the differences or lack thereof intellectually between the genders (and I lean much more heavily towards the belief that any differences are minimal and certainly not as simplistic
    as popular belief and “evolutionary biologists” make it out to be), female researchers are culturally very different from male researchers. In particular, one difference is that they are almost always outnumbered by the other gender, and treated as a rarity. One purpose of the WIT workshop, I believe, is to have a forum where this is not the case, and that highlights that there actually is a sizable and influential minority of women theory researchers. I believe some events will be open to men, but to have men outnumber women would defeat the purpose. (Scott, your jokes about how few women read your blog are not helping the cause much either!)

  4. algebrumbertheorist Says:

    Female reader #2! (not in CS theory, though…)

  5. Elliot Temple Says:

    How is having a special workshop for women, because they are a rarity, a way of treating women as if they weren’t a rarity? If they weren’t a rarity the workshop wouldn’t exist.

  6. Russell Impagliazzo Says:

    At the workshop, almost everyone will be female. For the duration of the workshop, the women who will be attending will be the majority. That allows them to work in a different social atmosphere, where presumably they can be less conscious of gender.

  7. Suz G Says:

    Female reader # 3 – not in CS either though, but QC (which sometimes comes close).

  8. Scott Aaronson Says:

    Scott, your jokes about how few women read your blog are not helping the cause much either!

    Russell: It was a self-deprecating joke, about this blog and its failure to attract a more diverse readership. Anyway, I hope you can sympathize with the bind I was in—I can’t write a post without jokes, and that was the most innocuous joke I could think of.

  9. Russell Impagliazzo Says:

    I sympathize, but like you, I grab whatever excuse for somewhat humorous material is at hand!

  10. Barbara T Says:

    Scott, how do you know about the lack of diverse readership…there may be a gazillion women out there quietly stalking your blog without feeling compelled to chime in….
    By the way, when is your paper with Arkhipov appearing on the arXiv?

  11. Alice Says:

    I thought all eight of you might be interested in the following announcement, which was sent to me by Tal Rabin.

    That’s a cheap crack. And it really doesn’t help the women in the field (what, five of us now?) feel particularly welcome or, y’know, taken seriously.

  12. Scott Says:

    Barbara: You’re absolutely right, of course—all I know is that males (or people with male names) leave the vast majority of the comments (this post excepted). Of course, if large numbers of women lurk here but comment at a much lower rate than the men, then that by itself is possibly cause for concern, as I strive to create an inclusive and equal-opportunity blog.

    Now, as for the paper with Arkhipov: we’re working on it! We’ve run into some unexpected difficulties showing that approximating the permanent of a matrix of random Gaussians is a random self-reducible #P-complete problem. Even without that component, I still think we have an interesting result, but it’ll be better if we can do it, and we have a plausible approach. Email me if you want to know more.

  13. Scott Says:

    Alice, and any other readers who consider me a chauvinist caveman:

    I apologize. I tried to add a bit of levity to the post. Tal Rabin (who asked me to post the announcement) seemed fine with it, commenting that “it is that number 8 which we are trying to improve,” and that she hopes the workshop will help. But some readers clearly took it in a way I didn’t intend, and I should have foreseen that.

    But rather than leaving things there, I’ve decided to turn this into an educational experience. I hereby propose the following contest, which is open to all readers:

    Come up with a wisecrack that I could have made in introducing the announcement, instead of the one I did make. Your wisecrack must be (i) inoffensive, (ii) germane, and (iii) funny.

    Any offensive submissions will be summarily deleted.

  14. John Sidles Says:

    Hmmm … OK … how about a quote from scientist/poet Margaret Cavendish (1623 – 1673):


    “Tis true, the World may wonder at my Confidence, how dare I put out a [Blog], especially in these censorious times; but why not please myself in the satisfaction of innocent desires?

    For a smile of neglect cannot dishearten me, no more can a Frowne of dislike affright me; not but I should be well pleased, and delight to have my [Blog] commended.”


    Hey, was the Enlightenment great, or what?

    Surely the opportunities of our 21st century, are not less than those of Margaret Cavendish’s 17th century … provided of course that these opportunities are perceived and grasped by all alike.

  15. steve Says:

    To the woman who reads this blog: I thought you might be interested…

  16. Amanda Waldo Says:

    While I am woefully under-qualified myself, readers may be interested in the following workshop:

  17. Aviva Says:

    Lest you all jump down my throat for implying that very few of you are female, I would like to extend this invitation to half my readership, for whatever proportion you would like to define as “half.”

  18. Scott Says:

    To the woman who reads this blog: I thought you might be interested…

    Steve: It’s a very interesting idea, that I could’ve caused less offense by being more over-the-top.

    I should say that what I was thinking about, when I wrote the post, was a crack Jon Stewart once made about something like “the three black people who watch the Daily Show.” It seemed funny at the time, and completely inoffensive. But I should’ve considered that the reason it seemed inoffensive was that the speaker was Jon Stewart, and those who would take offense at such things also love Stewart and give him a pass on anything.

  19. Z. Says:

    #8! I’ve exhausted your female readership.

    Scott, I see what you did there. See, you were thinking you were comparing your *blog* to the Daily Show, and in fact that is quite literally what you imply above, that there are eight female readers of your blog.

    However, Alice’s interpretation (and Tal Rabin’s comment) interprets that number as a proxy for the number of women in theoretical computer science. It’s probably a useful exercise to think of the ways that a scientific field is different from a TV show.

  20. Scott Says:

    Z.: So that’s the crux of the matter, then—I’m not conceited enough even to imagine that all theorists read this blog. :-)

  21. Aleph Aleph Ronson Says:

    Suggested wisecrack:

    For the female readers of this blog: First of all, you should all know I’m taken. Also, Tal Rabin sent to me the following announcement:

  22. Meena Says:

    I’m number 9 (and in theory cs), and we’re still counting!

    See, it takes a women-in-theory workshop announcement for folks to realise there are more of us in existence than you hitherto even suspected … And still we’re a rarity. Not for long, one hopes.

    Scott, I thought the joke was not offensive. I merely wondered why 8. Then I figured – you must have thought the number can be counted off on your fingers *not including the thumbs*! Yes, or yes?

  23. Alice Says:

    Sorry for the throat-jumping – probably not the most useful thing I could have said. It did seem worth saying something though, since it’s very easy for quiet irritation about that kind of thing to go unexpressed.

    It’s not so much that the comment itself was terribly far out of line. And eight may actually be a pretty accurate number for the women actively doing quantum computing research (or seven now that I’ve left, but someone probably started grad school this year). However, it’s very easy for that kind of joke to work against you, precisely it’s true. Here are two things to consider:

    1. (In my experience) in male dominated fields, one of the most common reactions of men who are actively uncomfortable with the presence of women is to joke about it. Such comments make gender an ISSUE, even if everyone is trying to play nice. (Hey look, you’re different and that’s funny!) And it can be actively unwelcoming, especially when trying to choose a research area or adviser.

    2. Your comment boils down to “the number of women in QC/theoretical CS is laughably small”. This is funny, but mostly in an everyone laughing uncomfortably kind of way. (Maybe there’s also some hilarity with hotel assignments at conferences, I don’t know.) The comment also raises the issue of why this is true, which is harder to make jokes about without really saying something offensive.

    I also feel like the joke might be funnier if you’re male, or at the very least less depressing. Not sure on that part. But hey, at least you’ve achieved thought-provoking!

  24. Job Says:

    It would have been equally bad for Scott, or worse, to imply that masses of females were anxiously awaiting the next post.

    I’m quite sure i would have made some crack about it had that been the case.

    The lesson here is that even modesty can get you in trouble. :)

  25. Z. Says:

    Wow, all of the wisecrack submissions by men have managed to be more offensive than your original (slightly insensitive if interpreted in a professional context) crack. Good job making yourself look better.

  26. Job Says:

    Maybe it will help if i relate a story that has nothing to do with anything.

    One day, me, two of my brothers and a cousin were walking home from school when we came across a white cat. We hadn’t a cat and we thought “a cat would be nice”. The cat had clearly an owner, but somehow, then and there, taking the cat didn’t seem out of the question, so we were left undecided, debating. My cousin, seeing the situation thought to help by suspecting that the owner, which she claimed to know, mistreated the cat. “Well, then we have to take it”, i said. And we did.
    The cat was an elderly person’s treasured companion. Days passed, and my cousin, coming to her senses, came to warn us that we probably should return that which we had stolen. “Stolen! Saved, you mean?” Another debate ensued.
    Knowing that this illicit ownership would not last, we determined that we could not keep the cat. “We’ll set the cat free”, we concluded, “free to return to where it came from, if it so chooses, despite the mistreatment”. “I have heard, many a time, of dogs finding their way back from miles away”.

    Nobody saw the cat thereafter.

  27. Scott Says:

    Z: Thanks! Yes, that was precisely the goal. :-)

  28. Scott Says:

    Job: Thank you for sharing that heartwarming story.

  29. Job Says:

    You’re welcome, though i was going more for a “women are not to be trusted”, or a “women are the devil” type of message.

  30. rrtucci Says:

    As Goucho Marx’s would have said: “i know a lot about women theory myself”

  31. rrtucci Says:

    “The Silvio Berlusconi Female Theory Conference”

  32. rrtucci Says:

    Job, you cat killer

  33. Job Says:

    In my defense, i’m a dog person.

  34. Lil person Says:

    Reply to Meena (22):

    Perhaps Scott was counting the spaces *between* his fingers, as did members of the Yuki tribe ( Which is actually pretty slick, because you don’t have to curl as many fingers when counting. Not to mention, the base of the number system is a power of 2. How can a computer scientist not love that?

  35. Jocelyn Says:

    10! Although I’m a physicist, not a computer scientist.

  36. Luca Says:

    “My eight male readers will not, but the remaining ones might be interested in the following announcement…”

  37. steve Says:

    Is this what has become of the stone soup experiment? Our few clastic wisecracks, a helping of vitriol, and Amanda Waldo’s brilliant carrot?

  38. Aleph Aleph Ronson Says:

    Jocelyn: but can you fix a transporter if we’re stranded on a hostile planet?

  39. Katherine Says:

    11, although again I’m a physicist in QC not a computer scientist

  40. Clare Says:

    And number 12, who is rather tired of being the gender balance at computer science conferences.

    I thought the blog post was hilarious. Somewhat less hilarious was the tediously inevitable male posters jumping up and down like 8 year olds in class who think they’re *so* clever to be able to pin the label of discrimination right back on women… Feynman had a low tolerance for people he called “stupid-clever”. I rather agree with him.

  41. Alena Says:

    #13, computer games programmer, not a computer scientist.
    And, Scott, thank you for the great blog, by the way…

  42. John Sidles Says:

    Over the past fifty years, the steps toward gender balance taken by academic medicine –both generally and at my own UW Medical School in particular—have been remarkably effective.

    Scott’s post and the ensuing discussion have led me to reflect on the role of humor in achieving these advances in medical education … and so please warm up your sense of humor before reading further!

    Back in the 1970s, the state-of-the-art in medical humor was Samuel Shem’s acerbic, cynical, satirical novel The House of God. A great triumph of academic medicine was to take the themes of Shem’s novel completely seriously … so seriously as to strip them of all humor.

    The result being such PubMed gems as “Making fun of patients: medical students’ perceptions and use of derogatory and cynical humor in clinical settings”, and “The impact of hissy fits in primary care”, “Am I being over-sensitive? Women’s experience of sexual harassment during medical training”, and “The House of God : another look”. Yes, these peer-reviewed PubMed articles are certified to be (mostly) humor-free.

    The medical establishment’s internalization-of-humor has helped greatly to create an academic environment in which humor and seriousness are well-balanced … as are cynicism and altruism … and idealism and realism. This is an environment that is good for all young medical students … hence medicine’s success in attracting young women equally with young men (and here Alice’s comments above are to-the-point IMHO).

    Which is not to say that these PubMed articles don’t have elements in them that are pretty darn funny … fans of Monty Python and Annie Proulx understand perfectly well that (sometimes, or even often?) nothing is funnier than the complete absence of humor.

    Now, a little thought will show that the problems of computer science theory are far more profound than those of academic medicine. To see this, imagine a peaceful, prosperous planet with ten billion people on it (it’s tough, but let’s try). Assuming that 1/500 planetary citizens is a physician, we have twenty million physicians working away … doing pretty much the same things that they’re doing nowadays … hopefully with better tools, perhaps. The point is, no major transformation in the normative values of medicine seems indicated.

    Assuming that 1/10^5 is a theoretical computer scientist (TCS), we have 10^5 TCS professionals working away … each publishing (say) four academic articles per year … hmmm … that’s a thousand new TCS articles every day. And of course, similar scaling arguments apply to all academic disciplines.

    So the academic norms of TCS are destined to change … especially in the most optimistic scenarios for our planet. How will these norms change? Bright students have a right to expect that their professors have pretty good answers to tough questions like this.

    One book that has impressed me with the originality of its thinking is Daina Taimina’s Crocheting Adventures in the Hyperbolic Plane (which has a wonderful introduction by Bill Thurston).

    Taimina’s book gives some of the best answers I know to the (transgressive but professionally key) questions that Annie Proulx’ stories ask of us, and that every thoughtful student contemplates: “Is graduate school hell?” (The Hell Hole), “Can my love of mathematics survive?” (Them Old Cowboy Songs and Brokeback Mountain), “Do I *have* to sell-out to the system?”(That Old Bob Dollar), “Is our 21st century going to finish-up OK?” (T*ts-up in a Ditch).

    My experience has been that medical students and residents are pretty darn comfortable dealing with Annie Proulx’ hard questions. Perhaps in coming decades TCS students (and professors) will become comfortable with these hard questions too.

  43. Games FTW Forever!! Says:

    @41, Alena

    If you’re a games programmer, then you ARE a computer scientist. The theoretical foundations behind video game development are just as strong as any major field in academia. The final product, however, is easier for the general public to consume (and it puts smiles on faces!). Yay!!

  44. steve Says:

    Clare, are you sure Feynman would find these jokes objectionable?

    Feynman Sexist Pig.

    “That jokey attitude didn’t please feminists, who once wrote him a long letter protesting a lighthearted story he’d included in a textbook about a woman driver stopped for speeding by a cop. “I had her raise valid objections to the cop’s definitions of velocity,” Feynman recalled. “The letter said I was making the woman look stupid… so I wrote a short letter back to them: ‘Don’t bug me, man!’”

    Perhaps not surprisingly, Feynman found himself picketed with “Feynman Sexist Pig!” signs when he spoke to a meeting of physics teachers later in San Francisco. But he disarmed most of the protesters when he agreed that women do suffer from discrimination in physics, then basically cleared them out of the room when he added that he would therefore like to talk about something of particular interest to women — the structure of the proton.

    O.K., maybe three passages: A few diehard protesters stayed till the end of Feynman’s talk, and complained that they still didn’t like that woman-driver story:

    “Why did it have to be a woman driver?” they said. “You are implying that all women are bad drivers.”

    “But the woman makes the cop look bad,” I said. “Why aren’t you concerned about the cop?”

    “That’s what you expect from cops!” one of the protesters said. “They’re all pigs!”

    “But you should be concerned,” I said. “I forgot to say in the story that the cop was a woman!”

  45. Eric Jablow Says:

    I thought improvements in theoretical CS usually involved reducing numbers: reducing 3 to 2.376, or 12 to 4. So I guess you’re interested in reducing the number 8.

  46. Rainy day woman no. 14 Says:

    Boring male comments. If you have to be offensive at least be original.

  47. Koray Says:

    I wouldn’t pass up on a wisecrack contest, but this one is impossible. This sounds like people getting together for a good cause.

    “Hey, have you heard the last one about a bunch of computer scientists getting together to discuss their PAPERS?”

    … or …

    “This is something that ALL EIGHT [insert ethnic minority] readers of this blog may enjoy.”

    Not going to work methinks.

  48. Barbara T Says:

    “Many male readers of this blog may have been waiting for a first Women in Practice workshop, however I have been asked to announce, already the second, Women in Theory…”
    or is this also offensive…

  49. wolfgang Says:

    >> or is this also offensive…
    I don’t know, but at least it is funny.

  50. Ross Snider Says:

    If you are a Woman (in practice), you might be interested in the Women in Theory Workshop at Princeton…

  51. Rachel Says:

    #15, in CS, but not theory…though I have been too busy to read much lately (and ought to be still too busy…)

  52. Claire Says:


  53. DM Says:


  54. Howard Barnum Says:

    For what it’s worth, it seems to me that “quantum computer science”, and quantum information more generally, might have a higher percentage of women than other areas of science and engineering, though I don’t have hard data. When I think of a stereotypical “quantum computer science” theorist, I’m quite likely to think of Dorit Aharonov, Julia Kempe, Barbara Terhal, Stephanie Wehner, Sophie Laplante, Anne Broadbent…

    At a “quantum foundations” conference this summer I realized that there were something like one or two women in a room of about thirty… and they were students… I found myself wondering why this field seems to (attract? be dominated by?) men so much more than women, to a greater degree than quantum CS.

    That’s hardly a hard-data comparison of quantum foundations with quantum computer science, but maybe it could serve as the basis for some unfounded speculation…