Why 'Magic School Bus' Returning to TV Is Fantastic News For Women in Science


The news: Ms. Frizzle is making a comeback. This week, Netflix ordered 26 episodes of a new version of Scholastic's original Magic School Bus, the '90s television series that got kids excited about science.

Why it matters: While all of us can celebrate the return of the charmingly geeky, super-enthusiastic field trip champion, Ms. Frizzle's renewed presence in American living rooms is especially important for women and girls. That's because, despite Ms. Frizzle's unstoppable energy and daring thirst for adventure, real-world examples of her character — women who rock the science field — are lacking.

Most of our current media science champions, too, are men, from Cosmos pioneer Neil deGrasse Tyson to Bill Nye, whose recent win in an evolution versus creationism debate inspired a national following.

A dearth of love for science amongst women and girls is certainly not to blame. In fact, while an equal number of young men and women are interested in science, far fewer women go on to become scientists. While women represent nearly half of the workforce, they made up just 26% of all science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs in 2011.

The research: Recent research suggests that's because of a confidence gap. Despite being just as smart or driven, women who like science are reluctant to believe they have what it takes to succeed academically or professionally in the field. It's even worse for women of color, who face not only gender-based but race-based obstacles to employment.

Another important factor here is that men — and women — don't take women scientists seriously. A 2012 Yale study showed that physicists, chemists and biologists are more likely to view young male scientists more favorably than women with the same qualifications.

One reason for this might be the fact that women are still a minority in the schools, labs and other science environments they see as children, or a lingering result of the negative stereotypes that portray men as innately better at science than women.

Stanford psychologist Claude Steele investigated this phenomenon in the late '90s. He compared the math test scores of female and male students at the University of Michigan and found that when the women were asked to answer the following questions: (1) I am good at math and (2) It is important to me that I am good at math, their scores dropped. Steele and his team hypothesized that this was a result of the stereotypes that remind women that they are naturally inferior at men in the science and math fields.

Our labs and classrooms should reflect the knowledge that women and men are equally fit for careers in STEM fields. One way to do this is by increasing the number of female science champions on the shows and films we watch. This way these environments, however artificial, would reflect the real-world scenarios we would like to see.

Ms. Frizzle is an exceptional example. To the bus!