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Member of the choir here. Try admitting to being a nurse and writing about health policy and programs. I must have found the last true outpost of the intertubes because no one comments. Not ever.

Inclusion? No. Ostracism. Yes.

Worse is that women (among them many nurses) are just as contemptuous of the field and it's rightful place at the table as men. It's seen as a bastard child of medicine, instead of as a science in its own right (which is how it's licensed and practiced, albeit with a gazillion problems and restrictions).

Do you find that there is proportional representation in commercial science reportage of qualified women reporters? What about overall (everyone who reports on science, regardless of competency or qualification)?

Lack of recognition was one of the problems cited in the Gender Equity report. One of their recommendations was that dept. chairs make sure to mention women's research and nominate it equally for prizes alongside men's research, so yes, I think in physics that proportional representation is a problem. Any of my co-bloggers want to speak to the science reportage question? You're all much more immersed in it than I am.

Several nurses in my circle of friends and family say the same things you do about nursing. I wonder if that will change as more men enter the field? Traditionally, the minute men begin to enter a female dominated field, it gains in prestige. ("It must be cool and worthwhile! Men are doing it!")

Did someone just post something?

Rock on.

The only thing I would add is that once women have been excluded, it is justification for further exclusion: "Well, if women were really capable, why haven't more of them done something important?!"

Men too ...
hate men's clubs, worry about nuclear wastes, struggle against unjust work recognition ...
One should go beyond the mere gender stereotyped argument and create a new social group of those who hate clubs, worry about nuclear wastes, reject supernatural and mystical elements, ... and become some kind of "social bright" (see namely a "Bright" concerned with social issues like why the rich get richer and the poor poorer... A whole new programme... is'nt it :-))
Women too ...
love women's clubs, do not care about nuclear waste .....

Yeah, yeah, "men too." They're the privileged default though, and women the exception. Men worry about getting enough work recognition; women worry about getting any at all. This is not a "stereotyped gender issue," it's an actual problem. Read the APS gender equity report before you talk to me about stereotypes.

And you miss the point of the post: it's not about nuclear waste, hating clubs or rejecting supernatural and mystical elements. It's about equal opportunity and representation for women and minorities in not just science, but the world at large. This is only a small example of how it happens everywhere. Being a Bright as Dawkins is doesn't, apparently, guarantee you'll be more aware of discrimination against women.

I like to read on this blog intellectual posts such as the recent post on 'A gift that keeps giving' that deal with science based on facts. Leave the sexist comments, personal opinions, things that bring division between men & women, put-down on religion etc, to the Huffington type of blogs. Enough is enough!! There is enough hate in the world without adding to it.

i concur with the author. As a religious Jew, many people[who are ignorant of *FACT*] often ridicule me for being sexist, obstinate, and fault me for keeping my wife home, pregnant, and in the kitchen. That couldn't be farther from the truth. My wife accomplishes more than i do in terms of our religious growth, even though i grew up with it, and she only returned to the faith before we married. i have a big problem with even many rabbis who try to put women in a different place. In Judaism, women are put on a pedestal, because they are more connected on a spiritual level. Because they are closer to God, and have the ability to create life, women are accorded more respect just for that. i applaud my wife for having prepared a talk for many of her friends on the topic of potential, and what people can achieve. i wish i could do the things she can. i understand that we come to Judaism differently, and do things differently, but in the end, we are a couple, and committed together.

i feel that the flagrant discrimination is part of human(read: male) nature. While there are a few men, i'm sure, who aren't that way, and some women who would do the same, it's unhealthy and antithetical to growth of any kind, whatever the field. i'm actually quite fond of one of my friends, a gearhead herself(sort of). She's a nuclear physicist, and deals with "noise", either studying it, designing something to make less of it... something like that. i know i would never be able to do that. i couldn't see anyone taking advantage of her, because she's smarter than her coworkers(she works for the government).

It's a shame that this happens. Maybe men will wake up one day soon and realize that women's ability to work can complement men's work.

"Dawkins" seems to transmute into "Hawkins" at one point - but that's probably just some quantum gravity effect due to the high emotional energies involved...

As a white western male, enjoying all the trappings of privilege and power that that brings with it, I wanted to agree with your article, but I have to say that I lost the thread, as it seemed to go off in many different directions. (Also the mental image of your internal genitalia was not welcome while I was eating, although the fairer sex has a definite advantage in that regard, as it is amazing how many day-to-day collision hazards occur in the male groin area...)

I had heard of the finding that there are more clever men than women in the world. That was many years ago (60s? - I can't find a link just now) but this is looking (I guess) at the statistical spread of IQ among populations. Women were found to be more tightly distributed around the mean than men. So, more stupid men exist than stupid women(no surprise there) but the average was found to be the same, if I recall. (As for the significance of IQ as a measure of intelligence, well that's another story...)

Of course I can only speak for myself, but an interest in maths and physics started very young so I kept taking these courses. However, it was clear in those early school days that girls were dropping out of such courses as soon as they could (much to my regret...). Now, I don't think that can be blamed on institutional misogyny (at least one A-level physics teacher at my school was a women, and both my PhD supervisor and the head of department were also women) but of course, individual samples count for nothing statistically - I could even mention that the UK's first female PM was trained as a chemist (but I'm not too proud of this fact for other reasons...)

So, perhaps the bit issue: why do girls drop out of science at an early age - and how to stop it happening?

in this spirit - what about anglophone unjustified domination? apparently it wasn't enough that everyone either way has to speak and read in the current lingua franca, but they apparently even had to be native speakers as well to be considered, judging by the selection. this surely has no reasonable justification given contemporary polyglottism in science and, if for some reason still insufficient, standards of translation? preferences of specialization area set aside, another obvious name on the list ought to be rita levi montalcini, not just still a brilliant mind at 99 but also a great testimony of a woman's life in science.

It is, in fact, usually a hell of a lot easier to teach good writers about science than it is to teach most scientists to write well,

I think this is absolutely the opposite of the truth. Many scientists are at least competent writers - theses and papers don't write themselves - and learning the skills of effective science writing for a broad audience is just a matter of practice. When they've mastered that, they are then able to communicate complex and difficult ideas effectively, not least because the first stage in being able to do that is understanding the ideas in the first place. Examples abound: Dawkins, Feynman, Hofstadter, Dennett, Weinberg, Gould...

On the other hand, the idea that you can take a capable writer and pump him or her full of a load of science which he or she then turns into great science writing seems to me terribly naive. Certainly there are science writers who follow this path, but I invariably find their work shallow, trite and devoid of the kinds of genuine, startling insights that real scientists can bring to their writing. They are generally in the classic position of the Third Artist: the First Artist paints from life, the Second Artist copies the First Artist, and the Third Artist copies the Second Artist. By which point, all the complexity and nuance that made the First Artist's work invaluable, and the Second Artist's at least worthwhile, has been washed away.

Actually, I think the key point is made in your own words. It may be relatively easy to teach good writers about science, but that's not the same thing as teaching them science.

-Iain, I couldn't (obvously) disagree with you more. The scientists you cite are undoubtedly fine writers, but they're the exception rather than the rule. Communicating science to the public does not require a Ph.D. There is nothing comparable about writing either a dissertation or a scientific paper and writing for the public. In the latter you have problems of voice as well as content, which scientists don't as a rule have to grapple with. Dissertations and scientific papers invariably employ the passive voice, which is damned hard to break out of, if the writer is even aware of it. Fine writing, contrary to most people's concept of it, is actually an art, not just a skill. Anyone can be taught to write competently, but writing well--with verve and excitement and a real personal voice--is a genuine talent. Nor is it just a matter of "pumping writers full" of scientific knowledge. The best science writers generally have pretty solid backgrounds in science themselves, whether they have degrees in it or not. They couldn't write a dissertation or sometimes even do the math, but neither can the people they're writing for. What they can do is communicate the excitement you say you're missing. And when that excitement is missing, it's not because the writer doesn't know the science, is because they're writing outside their expertise, i.e., not a science writer. I'm not saying no scientist can write well about their field, but the ones who can hold my interest without losing me in minutiae and formulae are few and far between. Even Feynman gets to be a bit much after a while. And Gould was often very stilted, despite his folksy voice.

-Gustav, I couldn't agree more. I'd love to have a collection of science writing with a more international flavor. I'd love to have one that was just more diverse period.

-PLO, this post isn't about hate it's about exclusion. So if I point out sexism in a system, whether science or religion, I'm automatically sexist and anti-religion? How does that work? The divisions are already there, whether I point them out or not. Ignoring them doesn't make them disappear. Critiquing a system can actually be useful. And it has a place in writing about any system, science or religion or politics.

-James, I think you're right about the IQ thing averaging out, and you're right to point out that it's a bogus measure of intelligence anyway (Gould wrote a couple of great essays about that). As for why girls drop out of math and science, it seems to be largely down to peer pressure and the (now) very subtle expectation that girls aren't good in either discipline. It's still not cool to be smart if you're a girl. Math and science are often seen us unacceptably nerdy.

I have always wanted to know why the writers of the Gender Equity report chose the pull quote that says, "if you publicly chastise those who make demeaning or snide comments"... "the rewards are great."'

This is terrible advice. First, it assumes that a person in power is witnessing the gender-based harassment; that rarely happens. Second, it assumes that the person in power has enough information to determine fault without investigating, and even though I am not a fan of harassers, that would not be fair to an alleged harasser. Lastly, it escalates harassment into a public scene and potential violence, aside from disrupting work. It is better to handle these things in an HR department, or at least remove the harasser and take him or her behind closed doors, and deal with it in a fair, non-emotional manner for both victim and alleged harasser. It seems no one talked to a lawyer before putting that quote so large and in front.

Can you advise me on why this choice of solution and how that fits in with the idea of gender equity?

"Sister," I think the context that pull quote was taken from was in discussing zero tolerance policies for sexist remarks. The report urges heads of departments to make it clear that demeaning remarks won't be tolerated during, for instance, faculty meetings. It's not a suggestion to act on hearsay, but to act in the moment, when it happens, as anecdotal evidence indicates it often does. It's much more harmful to let remarks slide when they're made (which signals tacit approval) than to quash them immediately. And those remarks are actually far less rare than you might think, according to surveys.

Unfortunately, even when sexual harassment complaints are filed, they're often ignored or not acted upon when they are brought to HR departments. But the pull quote is talking about "caught in the act" situations, not where it's he said/she said. Those situations are always much harder to deal with for everyone, especially where it's ongoing.

Thank you for answering.
In fact, complaints about, or brought to, leaders are ignored more often. It is often the leaders who are the harassers. So I guess we have no real answer. HR is under the leadership of someone and that leader should make sure HR is working.

As a victim in just the very gender-based harassment situation, in a physics environment, public "anything" just brings retaliation onto the victim more than it stops the harasser. It is emotional, spur of the moment responses that will create a disaster in the workplace for everyone, victim, harasser, onlookers, etc. You don't change people by acting like a "parent" in front of others, when the speaker thinks he or she is fine to make the comment. As a victim, I can tell you the tension created by this solution is not helpful. It further victimizes the victim by making "her" issue bring unwarranted attention to her that the harasser gets angry about. The leader is not around enough to protect the victim and then it is the victim who is branded with "causing public turmoil."


How often do you find people from a science background patronising the world with pop accounts of the great works of Sheaekspere or the symphonoies of Beethoven?


If, by "pop accounts" you mean "dabbling" outside their degreed specialty for the public:

-Isaac Asimov, Ph.D. chemist, Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare (and the Bible!)
-Sir Jonathan Miller, neurologist & theater and opera director
-Sir Arthur C. Clarke and about every third writer of hard science fiction at Clarion
-Lewis Thomas, MD, Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler's Ninth Symphony
-Alan Lightman's excursions into fiction

Those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head.

I think it's the word "patronising" that's the problem.

Actually, the idea that "of course, scientists are the best writers to describe science" is of that same "patronising" mindset. Fiction and writing in general are part of the humanities, not the scientific disciplines. You don't go to the physics department for composition classes, do you?

I sat next to the single most important scientist of the 20th century IMHO at an ACS symposia on the impact of mass spectrometer in chemistry. The scientist was Carl Djerassi and his contribution was the creation of the oral contraceptive pill. The pill has allowed women to enter and stay in the work force for as long as they want to or feel economically required to do so. And in so doing, women have been changing the workplace dynamic in a very positive way and contributing to increased economic viability in so many industries around the world. In my field of biotechnology, women have a very high percentage of staff positions and have been my manager, mentor and ocassionally a more jumior staff contributor to many challenging research projects. Biotechnology and drug development activities would immediately collapse without your continued contributions. I cannot speak to the issues of glass ceilings as I do not have experience with senior management in large pharma but I can say unequivocally that there is gender equality as far as professional roles go at the bench and middle manageament in biotechnology.

I just finished writing an article for my college alumni magazine about women in science. For those of you who are interested in looking up information about this question, and don't mind reading through committee reports, there is an excellent study by the National Academies of Science, called "Beyond Bias and Barriers," that you can read online or download for a very reasonable price at Also, for physics types, there is some interesting data (slightly older) on the retention of women at

I'd like to mention one thing from the AIP website that I have not seen mentioned or discussed *anywhere* on the Web. They have a graph of the percentage of bachelor's degrees in six different sciences that were earned by women during each year from 1966 to 2004. In every subject but one, there is a slow and steady increase of women. In biological sciences, the percentage in 2004 was *over 60%*! Chemistry was over 50%, and mathematics was around 45%. At the bachelor's level, these fields are already at or near gender equality. Physics and engineering are far from equality, with about 20% of the degrees going to women, but at least they are making steady progress.

The one big exception, which sticks out like a sore thumb, is *computer science*. The percentage of women earning bachelor's degrees in computer science peaked around 1984, at around 35 percent, and it has gone downhill ever since.

What's the deal? Why has CS alone, of all the sciences, become *more* male-dominated over the last two decades? My personal hypothesis, based on observation of my nephews, is that boys these days grow up absolutely immersed in the world of computer games, and therefore computer science is their first and easiest choice for a major. For girls, that is probably less true.

Anyway, I just thought I'd throw this out for discussion.

The fact is that male writers have a sense of humor, and women writers
are usually earnest drudges--see Christopher Hitchens:

Dana, thanks for the information. I don't know of similar studies in computer science, but this may explain the problem:

What to do about it? That's another question.

Gordon: R U serious?

Lee: "Gordon: R U serious?" Yup. Sort of...
There are very good women science writers (Sylvia Nasar, Gina Kolata, Jennifer :)), but
I do find most women to be humor-impaired compared to men (there are always exceptions).
Christopher Hitchens is being abit of a troll, but his column is headlined as "Provocations",
and the subtext is spot on.

Gordon: Don't start me on Christopher Hitchens; that's a side issue. But saying "I do find most women to be humor-impaired" is a sweeping generalization. You don't even know most women. I suspect that many women you do know don't find the same things funny that you do (hmmm, jokes about what women are like, maybe?), but that is not the same as lacking in humor. This is another example of using the male paradigm as the standard default. "You don't find our humor funny, therefore you have no humor of your own, because our humor is the only legitimate template." I suspect many (not all) women would find your type of humor . . . insulting? Juvenile? Misogynist? I dunno because I don't sense anything funny in your writing here. Women's humor is the humor of the oppressed: sharper, sarcastic, not meant for your ears. Of course you don't "get it."

I see your Christopher Hitchens (shudder) and raise you a Ms. article:

My writing here wasn't supposed to be funny--that sort of proves my point. And talk about
sweeping generalisations---"insulting, juvenile, misogynist.." Other than Tina Fey, I don't
find any women equivalents of Robin Williams, Bill Maher, Dana Carvey, Jim Carrey, John Cleese, Ricky Gervais, etc. etc.
And I am Canadian, so I don't find your American "in your face" humor very funny. British humor
is "sharper, sarcastic, not meant for your ears" but "of course you don't "get it"". Hmmm, name
a British female "comedian". It seems that I have stumbled into a feminist warren.

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      Mix tequila, triple sec and lime juice in a shaker and pour into a margarita glass. (Salted rim and ice are optional.) Top off with 7-Up/Sprite and let the weight of the world lift off your shoulders.
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