Recently, a bit of a kerfuffle has sprung up around the choice of entries included in The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing, edited by Richard Dawkins. The book contains 83 examples of the “finest writing by scientists.” However, DrHGG noted:
Of 83 texts Professor D has selected 3 written by women. That’s about 3.6%. How hard could it be to find a handful more? Like 10%? It would still be a wiener fest.
She also notes that of those 3, one is even left out of the “Featured Writers” section, as it was co-written with her husband (who received all the credit).
Sheril brought this up on her blog, and Dawkins replied, noting that “it is a regrettable fact that the great majority of distinguished scientists of the past 100 years, as measured by Nobel Prizes, Fellowships of the Royal Society, numbers of science publications, etc, have been male. That imbalance, and not an imbalance in my preference or my choice, is what is reflected in the anthology.”
I call shenanigans. First, Dawkins also claims that he is “…not one of those who thinks men are genetically better equipped than women to become distinguished scientists.” Therefore, he must know that it’s other factors that have led to larger numbers of men than women in the top ranks of the scientific enterprise–one of these factors being a nasty feedback loop. Women lack role models in the upper echelons of science, leading more of us to think that perhaps this isn’t the place for us, which is reinforced by examples such as this anthology. While Dawkins may not support such an attitude, his incredibly male-dominated collection, and his “too bad, so sad, that’s just the way it is” response to this criticism reinforces this conclusion.
Other comments in the thread are also depressing. Dave24 notes:
The author of the material doesn’t matter. The substance does. Dawkins created a collection of works that he personally found relevant and important. Taking into account the sex of each author is completely pointless. Find something else to complain about.
This is exactly the wrong attitude for anyone who’s concerned about the future of U.S. science to have. Yes Dave, I’m sure we’re all well aware these are Dawkins’ personal preferences. The question is *why* are those choices so “weiner-centric,” as DrHGG notes? Really, only 2 solely female authored essays? Even granting that science has been exceedingly male-dominated in the past 100 years, surely something could have been included by some of the female “big names,” such as scientist, Nobelist, and writer Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard to give one recent example?
This isn’t just “pointless.” It’s yet one more example of women being overlooked and dismissed. This was a subjective collection–surely, if Dawkins had put some thought into it and realized how unbalanced it was, he could have included some additional essays by scientists who also happen to be women. You can argue that maybe he just didn’t know of any (which I find quite unlikely), but even if this is the case, why not throw out a net, asking friends and colleagues for some suggestions of great essays by female scientists in order to be more inclusive and take one small step toward breaking that nasty feedback loop?
PZ recently put up a post asking about the invisibility of female atheists, and noted:
The problem isn’t dismissal. It’s casual disregard. It’s being just enough pro-feminist that we lose sight of the real problems that women and people of color face.
Bingo. And even when called on it, Dawkins remained dismissive. *This* is why women still feel like outsiders in the atheist community, and in many parts of the scientific community, and Dawkins’ collection reinforces that it’s a boys’ club that we’re unlikely to crack, despite the call for change. Find something else to complain about, indeed.
[Edited to add: Mike Dunford also weighs in]