Great excitement in New York, where girls wiped the board in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology, which a New York Times article describes as “one of [America’s] most coveted student science awards”. It’s no great surprise to me that girls are doing better than boys in science and maths. Indeed I heard in a lecture last night that in England’s old secondary school placement exam, the 11 plus, girls used to have to achieve higher scores than boys to get in to school. The higher threshold for girls was meant to level the playing field with boys, who were deemed to be less “mature” when they took the exams.
What was heartening was the subject of the winning team’s research. Janelle Schlossberger and Amanda Marinoff, both 17 year-olds, won a $100,000 scholarship for creating a molecule that helps block the reproduction of drug-resistant tuberculosis bacteria. TB has long been the poor cousin to HIV in research terms, although by neglecting TB we’re essentially undermining much of the progress made in treating HIV in many of the worst-affected countries. TB is the most common cause of death in HIV-infected people in many countries. Unless we improve TB treatment and stamp on drug-resistant forms of the disease, we’ll be throwing our progress on HIV down the drain.