The science boys' club strikes again

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]

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I agree completely. I have great regard for Prof. Dawkins, but he is not infallible. And here he indeed has made a grave error. The "too bad, so sad" is an attitude that is deplorable coming from one as driven to break dogmatic attitudes as him.

In fact, I think he would serve his cause best if he promoted the presence of women in science. To break religious dogmatism in societies, you're going to need the other 50% of the human race to be an equal part in the intellectual process.

And where is the balance of black vs. white scientists, of Buddhists and Protestants, of 20-somethings and 60-somethings, of Russians and Americans; and did you notice neuroscientists were almost entirely shut out (gee, and no botanists, I guess plants have no importance)?....
To put together such an anthology focused on meeting some pre-determined percentage of females would have been silly and even more subjective. I'm not even particularly a Dawkins fan, but this is a great anthology that says a lot about science, and nothing about gender (if you think it says something about gender that's your own self-consciousness).
Ye protesteth too much...

I wrote a comment recently on Isis' blog pointing out that when discussing minorities, people with disabilities very rarely get mentioned. (I'm aware that 'minority' is usually thought of in terms of sex, ethnic background & religion. I've since written an article on this.)

Maybe it might be serve as a useful case to work through? Should there be proportionate representation of scientists with disabilities? Should Dawkins' book include representatives with disabilities? And so on...

I agree with the thrust of this, but I think it's only fair to remember that Dawkins' collection are those written by scientists and generally pieces of historic importance or that have stood the test of time. (As a consequence most are older. In that sense I think the 'modern' in the title is relative to 'ancient' rather than 'these last few years' as others have pointed out.)

No excuse perhaps, but at least it partly explains the bias.

One book I've previewed, Victorian Science Popularizers, has a chapter devoted to the women science popularizers of that day. They're not just from recent times. From memory few were scientists, though, so they'd probably not make Dawkins' anyway?

(Re-posting this here as my post at The Intersection seems to have not made it. For some annoying reason my email address seems to be triggering spam filters lately. At least that's the impression I'm getting...)

Well, he also didnt include any virologists. Hes always been hesitant about talking about viruses, despite the fact they are super friggin cool and are a useful tool for describing evolution to laymen in an approachable way.

Could have gotten two birds with one stone by picking an essay by a prominent virologist-- tons of top virologists are women :P

Rather than just complain about the misogyny of Dawkins and the science establishment, wouldn't it be better to assemble a list of 10, 20, 40 or even 83 pieces of superlative science writing by women? This would be a much more powerful tool to challenge Dawkins and his defenders on the specifics of why these examples were excluded from the anthology. It would have the added benefit of highlight great work done by female scientists and lead the interested public to seek out those works for themselves.

This is an anthology of the last 100 years. Over the last 100 years men have dominated the field. Therefore, of course there will be more articles written by men.

WHY they dominated the field is of little consequence to those who are compiling anthologies. They are looking for the top publications, which is exactly what we have here.

If you want to help the situation, help fund/support/inspire young females to enter into the sciences. But don't bash what is, in essence, a historical overview of the last 100 years.



By Amber Culberts… (not verified) on 06 Dec 2009 #permalink

I am willing to believe that Dawkins didn't choose the pieces with regard to the author as much as the subject. I can also accept that it doesn't excuse the need for such lists to be more inclusive. I also see this as a kind of catch-22. Women tend to be driven by culture to non-scientific careers, and as a result simple statistics mean that men will dominate.

At least until all the gender bending chemicals in our food and environment feminize a lot more men.

Among the women in science that I've come to appreciate in 2009 are Jen Frazer of The Artful Amoeba and Bonnie Bassler.

I apologize but I've posted a comment that had too many links and was moderated. I don't know how often you check that detained message queue. I've created a TypeKey identity, in the hopes of avoiding this in the future (as it happens a lot since I like to cite sources with links).


Yeah, sorry, but to include women just because that makes it "more fair" or whatever is certainly not what I would want. I didn't drop out of science because I didn't have any woman role models -- there are plenty of them out there. (Including my mom :D).

Sorry, but a lot of women aren't going to choose that life, whether they would make good scientists or not. I decided I didn't want to spend 7 years getting paid $16K and sleeping in the lab while my protein filtered. Grad school is not a very fun thing to do to yourself. Sorry, but I want a life. At least out here in silicon valley, you were remunerated for that sort of hellish life.

Anyway, like someone above said. Next thing you know you have to balance every last characteristic about people to "make it fair". But that's really not fair to brilliant people who are left out because they didn't happen to be a left-handed celiac pakistani pagan man with uneven ears, just because that was the exact sort of scientists they need to be #100 to make all the percentages work out. And it's not fair to people reading it, either.

Women are perfectly capable of being excellent genius scientists, and Dawkins list of essays doesn't change that.

By silvermine (not verified) on 06 Dec 2009 #permalink

ARJ has hit the nail on the head perfectly. I would have thought an anthology of science writing was just that - not a forum for correcting any perceived inbalances in gender, nationality, race, age, etc, etc an nauseum.
If you are concerned with some sort of sexism etc, how about you stop being sexist yourself. Stop insisting that science writing be selected on the grounds of who wrote it and what their gender may be, rather than the apparent criteria used by Dawkins, which appears to be based on quality.

I'm not asking for "fairness." I'm not asking for quotas. I'm asking for consideration. There is a difference. Inclusion in this anthology is a completely subjective choice, which even Dawkins himself acknowledges. For instance, regarding his exclusion of anything from "The Double Helix:" he said it was "too well known" and instead chose portions of "Avoid Boring People." Was this necessarily the "finest writing" he could have found? If so, why even make the justification for excluding DH? Obviously other things come into play than simply "excellence."

The fact is that Dawkins, as he himself admits, left out a number of capable, well-known scientists. A dozen different editors would probably have come up with a dozen different lists, so what's wrong with asking one's self if there are people who were left off because of reasons other than their excellence? And yes, this applies to *any* minority in science who have difficulty attaining prominence in a world run by white men.

justawriter, I agree and am already starting discussion of that. Unfortunately though I know nothing about how to even start going about obtaining rights to older essays, not to mention the cost issue (and the time issue, as anyone can see from my blogging frequency that time for my non-research activities is scarce). But I think it's a worthy cause and I'll see what we can get put together...

1) Thanks for approving my comment :)

2) peynir - appears to be a spammer? I do not understand why my comment was quoted by him/her/it, incompletely and without further comment :(

3) I can understand the objections to the objection. In some manner, it smacks of "political correctness" to even complain about disparity.

I wish both sides would acknowledge the other has a point. Dawkins shouldn't revise his list unless he finds something more worthy of inclusion. But perhaps he needs to look again.

It is astonishing that this publication was put together without this issue having come up. Probably impossible. The idea of having even just a few female authors must have been discussed and must have been rejected.

I think you give yourself away there with your statement....
" a world run by white men."

I would hesitate to say the list is dismissing women (although women were certainly and unavoidably overlooked). I don't think it's very fair to criticize Dawkins for presenting a list that is actually fairly representative of the gender ratios of the past century. Male graduate students in ecology and evolution publish about 40% more often than females today, and even 30 years ago, 6% of publications in medical journals were authored by women. At the beginning of the century the ratio was far lower than 1%. If you take a representative slice of the past *century*, 3% actually sounds about right.

Artificially inflating the gender ratios of his anthology would certainly be encouraging to women in science, but it wouldn't be historically honest. Yes, Dawkins left out a good deal of really good female researchers, and they certainly deserve consideration, but simply by a statistical argument, that means he left out *even more* really good male researchers. Besides, you're making a pretty big assumption that Dawkins didn't make the consideration you're asking for.

Is he going to leave out RA Fisher's Genetical Theory of Natural Selection? Certainly not. Is he going to leave out Carl Sagan's Demon Haunted World? Knowing Dawkins, under no circumstances whatsoever. What about Feynman, Einstein, Gould, or Hawking? There are probably 50 pieces that would *need* to be included, and most of those are (unfortunately) authored by men. To not include the real cornerstones of modern scientific thought is like attending an Aerosmith concert without hearing Sweet Emotion. Simply not gonna happen.

So what about the remaining 33 papers? Should they be solely written by women since the 50 big'uns are penned by men? Should it be an even 50/50 split? Or should Dawkins have chosen only pieces that were particularly good but often overlooked?

If we're interested in highlighting the achievements of women in science, then let's put together an anthology with that theme in mind. If we're interested in developing an objective anthology of scientific popularity, let's put together a list of the top 100 cited papers of the past century. If we're interested in Dawkins' opinion of what the most relevant papers of the past century are... well, that's what we got. My point is, the anthology you get is going to be based not only on the person picking the papers, but the intended theme. I think criticizing Dawkins for not including more women is equivalent for criticizing him for deciding on a historical anthology instead of an inclusive one - a criticism I'm not sure I find fair.

Thanks so much for writing this, Tara. I'm astonished at all the folks who seem to think the anthology is an accurate reflection of the best science writing of the last 100 years. Really? Natalie Angier, Jane Goodall, Margie Profet? How about Ann Gibbons of Science? Kristen Hawkes? I mean, really. Some of these people have made permanent changes to the directions of their field. Perhaps Dawkins only thinks certain kinds of science are "real" and those disciplines just happen to be less feminized. Interestingly, as a discipline becomes more feminized over time it is considered less of a "hard" science and funding because increasingly difficult to come by. So women have 1) the work/life problem, 2) the misogyny problem, 3) the funding problem, just to get started on what they're up against.

And I wonder why Dawkins never bothered to defend completely leaving out an author?

In addition to being a misogynist, the list of authors also reflects Dawkins is a racist: mind you, 1/4 of the authors should have been Chinese, 1/5 Indians, etc. in order to reflect the world's population. Also, he's a homophobe for not including at least 3 gay authors. And he seems to be oblivious to the fact that the world isn't limited to Europe and North America. Right?

By Armand K. (not verified) on 06 Dec 2009 #permalink

thanks for keeping this issue visible

By mollyrogers (not verified) on 06 Dec 2009 #permalink

Nowhere have I said that Dawkins is a misogynist. Indeed, I specifically quoted PZ to show what I think is going on--casual disregard, overlooking the issue.

To claim that people's work should be given more or less importance because of their gender is incredibly offensive.

It is offensive--and yet that's what happens. Study upon study have shown that when names are stripped from papers, women authors fare better and men fare worse because people carry preconceptions about gender of the writer. There are already systematic biases built into the system--and that is offensive to me. No one is asking for poorer quality writing to be included, but when the topic is as subjective as this one, isn't it simply good practice to examine your own biases, consider what you may be omitting, and (gasp!) maybe work to rectify that a bit by seeking out other exemplary writing which may not have been initially considered?

The visibility of works by Richard Dawkins ensures canonical status, especially if conferred through anthologizing. You could provide an alternative anthology, but it might not get the attention deserved. If only for this reason, it is fair to critique The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing, and yours is spot on. I couldn't help but thinking while reading it of Larry Summers. Yuck!

WHY they dominated the field is of little consequence to those who are compiling anthologies. They are looking for the top publications, which is exactly what we have here.

I would say that the anthology is not a collection of "the top publications." As Tara noted above, Dawkins deliberately omitted anything from The Double Helix, choosing to highlight some lesser-known works by both Watson and Crick. Moreover, most (but not all) of the excerpts seem to come from more-or-less popularly-oriented works rather than strictly academic ones, i.e., the Dobzhansky excerpt is from Mankind Evolving rather than Genetics and the Origin of Species, the Simpson excerpts are from The Meaning of Evolution rather than Tempo and Mode in Evolution, etc. So the basis for selection doesn't appear to be whether or not the pieces represent central papers or monographs in modern science, but rather writings about science by scientific figures that Dawkins regards as important or interesting. (At this point I should probably note that I'm basing my conclusions only on a reading of the Table of Contents available at Amazon.)

And Dawkins's selections are undeniably biased (though not necessarily in a "bad" way) simply because the very process of assembling an anthology requires the editor to make judgments about what does or does not pass muster. Dawkins's own background and interests presumably play a part in this: the list seems slightly slanted towards the life sciences rather than the physical sciences, for example, and I suspect that many other editors might have been content with just one excerpt from Peter Medawar (and probably would have chosen something other than Medawar's review of The Phenomenon of Man). So I think it's more than fair to critique some of Dawkins's blind spots. While it's true that the majority of the leading figures in science for the last hundred years or so have been men, more than TWO of them have been women. Could Dawkins really not find anything interesting or well-written by (first three names that come to mind) Dean Falk, Lynn Margulis, or Jenny Clack? Had Marie Curie won that elusive third Nobel Prize, would she have made the cut?*

*I might be being unfair here. So far as I can tell, the anthology is made up only of English-language excerpts.

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.

Is this not a little bit sexist in itself? That women should perhaps only look for role models in other female scientists?

An analogy: I am a male new to the sport of sailing which I feel safe to assume is dominated numerically by men. However, if I were asked to select one, the current top role model in the sport would be Dame Ellen Macarthur - who wrote the preface to one of my earliest acquired sailing books: KISS Guide to Sailing.

To get more women to go sailing, emphasis should not necessarily be placed on who does it, or who wins at it, but on how much fun, pleasure and how healthy the pursuit is for both males and females.

Similarly perhaps, to encourage more women to enter the scientific world, emphasis should be placed on the beauty, novelty and sense of achievement (among others) that are the rewards of a scietific career and not so much on the gender of the historical personalities involved.

By jacksondbn (not verified) on 06 Dec 2009 #permalink

It's a tricky one because nobody (least of all Dawkins, I suspect) would want to be accused of doing-down the great work of female scientists. But this collection of works was always going to be highly subjective and, given the wide date range, statistically always going to be heavily biased towards males (for any number of reasons - many of which are not relevant to today). Remember that this is just a collection of scientific papers that Dawkins thinks made the greatest contributions to science (irrespective of gender, popularity or any other criteria). To have used positive discrimination in favour of females (or any other grouping) would have made the main selection criterion (quality) complete irrelevant. Perhaps, rather than criticize Dawkins (who just followed his remit), you should lobby the publishers to have an alternative list of works, made by a respected female scientist? :)

Tara, I applaud you for being more ambitious than I could ever imagine myself being. My thought was just to produce a list that would serve as a resource to counter the "isn't that much available" argument and to serve a starting point for those who would like to seek out such works. To consider actually producing such an anthology, well that is taking an exciting step beyond debate. It sounds like an incredible project and I wish you well with it. But for purposes of this discussion I would be satisfied with a list in a blog post.

Women are invisible when men have to come up with speaker lists, invited book chapter authors, greatest hits, etc. There isn't always a misogynist undertone, there is a TEH MENZ R SUPERIOR default mode because of the visibility and attention on men's work, not because a genderless fairy is running QA/QC checks on scientific output where men are deemed "better." Men are more aware of men's work than they are women's work because men's work is "promoted" by word of other men. Women tend to dominate fields in areas with fewer men as was pointed out above with virology because women find niches where there's not an active attempt to push them out. Women dominate nursing and K12 education because historically, the focus for men was being a medical doctor and college professor, professions deemed superior by the men. Men who were first-grade teachers and nurses were seen as "not being good enough" (but it's really about "not being manly enough") to be doctors and professors by TEH SUPERIOR, rather than being seen as great teachers and nurses if they were great. These negative judgments and lack of "promotion" have been passed on to women.
A good intro book on this is Gender Knot. Zuska had discussions going which hopefully will continue when things settle down for her.

I hear that good science is done by making sure that your scientists match a politically-correct quota.

I also hear that we should be considerate of feelings of people that want to go into science; instead of, perhaps, assuming that those truly passionate for science will go into the field regardless.

Such nonsense. Is there nothing else to whine about?

By JC Carter (not verified) on 07 Dec 2009 #permalink

Ok, sorry the link to the particular comment in #31 didn't work... it is in comment #26 over there, I think. Take all your suggestions about what women scientists you would have put to the man himself. I'll be makin my list as well.

Also @ JC Carter, at #30- huh??? Women do great science as great as everyone else if given the opportunity. Women have been systematically excluded from the opportunities of academic science for decades. It is not because women aren't passionate about science, it is not because they are not committed. I am getting so terribly tired of hearing these empty words. This isn't about being considerate of peoples' feelings- and I'm totally sorry that you see it that way- it is about the real dreams, abilities, and accomplishments of women- and it is about unrealized potential.

If you want to label that whining- that's all great. I think labeling it as that is unproductive.

@32- This is where reading comprehension would pay off, instead of just making things up to get defensive.

Turns out that women that are passionate about science will go into the field regardless of roadblocks?

If this isn't about arbitrary white-washing of history in order to make Some Minority Group (women in this case) feel better, then the argument is being horribly constructed.

Phrased differently: if said discrimination exists (and I have no reason to doubt it does), there are better ways to go about it than moaning about an analysis of scientific history, which is going to be biased towards white men no matter what you do about it.

By JC Carter (not verified) on 07 Dec 2009 #permalink

JC Carter - There is as little need to question my reading comprehension ability as there is to question your exacting writing ability. Let's just call that even, and talk about more substantive things, ok?

And to your point- 'there are better ways to go about it than moaning about an analysis of scientific history' - that may be. But there's an old saying that goes 'the squeaky wheel gets the grease'- so while moaning may not be your preferred method- it does bring attention to the issues, which are the first step in recognition of the issues, and change in the future.

You're right, nothing enacts social change better than irritating whining about a non-issue that you've contorted to fit your pet ideology.

If you want to tackle discrimination, tackle it. This topic is pure nonsense.

By JC Carter (not verified) on 07 Dec 2009 #permalink

I know I'm late to the conversation, but I left this quote on Mike Dunford's blog yesterday and it seems pertinent here:

Interesting thoughts Mike. For myself I think that it is a useful exercise for every intellectual to build a list of excerpts and quotes that express ideas pertinent to their own intellectual growth. Dawkins is famous, so he gets to publish his. I have my own, created for my own use and shared on my blog. It's not an anthology, but still a collection of ideas articulated.

I notice now that out of 55 thinkers on my list, only 5 are women. Interesting to note. I don't know why that is. I suspect that if I think about it - and I am starting to with this post - I can come up with at least a handful of other brilliant thinkers who happen to be women that I should include in my list.

But it is interesting to note that in just about all lists of intellectual authors and speakers, greater attention is usually afforded to men. With each such list of thinkers being so unbalanced, it is no wonder that many people come away thinking that women just aren't as intellectual - it looks like a sampling bias to me.

And I've since added some great quotes from Sylvia Earle and Marie Curie that I absolutely had missed before. Tara, you add in one of the comments above:

The fact is that Dawkins, as he himself admits, left out a number of capable, well-known scientists.

Other commenters were fair to mention other biases as well, and I'll try to keep those in mind. For the gender bias however, I'm having a bit of trouble finding great quotes or excerpts (beyond simple one-liners) appropriate for the fields of science that interest me.

"Wiener-centric" How very cute; in quotes even to make it ok. WTF! I'm offended.

Would you have used "non-slot-centric"?

Pot. Kettle. Black!

By August Falcon (not verified) on 09 Dec 2009 #permalink

I fear a PC backlash here, and whilst recognising that RD may indeed display bias, or outright discrimination as you suggest, but the answer isn't to automatically include a fixed percentage of female entrants as this may include unworthy entrants just to meet the criteria. In commerce this has been proved to be the case, where ethnic and gender quotas have been met at the cost of quality.

Thousands of years of female subservience isn't going to be overturned in 100 years, at least not while women in some countries still have no status in society at all, and are treated as chattel, just like it says in the bible!

By Pete Knight (not verified) on 09 Dec 2009 #permalink

It's me again!

Here is an example of a woman doing female researchers no favours whatsoever:

This sort of twaddle sets back acceptance of women in academia by years, meanwhile the hard working female researchers are overlooked, and you wonder why!

By Pete Knight (not verified) on 10 Dec 2009 #permalink

What a load of...sorry.

The lot of you should learn to read and think. There are two arguments here that a lot of you are combining into one. The main objection that I noted when I started wasting my afternoon was that women are very under-represented in science. This, sadly, is true. There is a bias built in to the "system". It is true for a number of reasons. RD has highlighted the fact with his anthology.

The other piece was that RD collected an anthology that didn't agree with someone's loose and muddy appreciation of science history. My suggestion is turn the dial down a bit and consider what to do with the fact of history that women are not treated well by today's standards rather than shooting the messenger.

1. dilute the impact of women in science by demanding equal representation regardless of achievement -- token/quota method.

2. do something about it

'Casual disregard' most definitely rings a bell.

I read this post a few days ago, but didn't want to respond because, regardless of the frustration - it is simply disappointing. As a female scientist, poor representation of women is discouraging in any arena. But what is more discouraging is the comment posted by Eric (just prior to mine), when he simplifies the 'choices' down to two - with one of them being the greatly oversimplified 'do something about it'. Female scientists are struggling to do something about it everyday - in my specific situation, there are grey-haired white men on every major committee/board that makes any decision at all. You get shut down (and out) anytime you try to get a word/action/opinion tossed into the mix - the disregard is less casual than blatant. So please Eric, don't oversimplify the situation with a choice as condescending as 'do something about it.' That minimizes what female scientists are working hard to 'do' everyday.

I'd point to the virtual absence of materials by social scientists. What materials Dawkins presents dealing with human behavior tend to come from the sociobiologists -- hardly the most widely accepted view. Dawkins fails to tap the great diversity of work that is out there. But then the same criticism can be leveled at Oxford University Press.

By Paul Heikkila (not verified) on 12 Dec 2009 #permalink

One way to check Dawkins' judgment would be to make a list of the 100 top pieces of science writing of the last 100 years, and see if it differs much from the 80 someodd he found.

Rachel Carson will rank up there. Maybe Ann Morrow Lindbergh. Surely I'm overlooking a few women (probably a male bias, more likely the damned sinus infection and the fog it casts). It would be a good list to have.

I suspect in the end it would show we've shorted women's talent through the entire century.

Perhaps a good goal would be to chase down some of the pieces by women, good pieces which have fallen by the wayside and not gotten the attention they deserve. That might be the best way to make the point.

Your blog or mine?

Can't we assume that Dawkins simply wasn't paying attention to the authors' gender when compiling the anthology?

Isn't that how things ought to be?

Kindly ask Professor Dawkins to compile an anthology of notable/best scientific writing by women. I think he might just take you up on it (if someone helps him with the work). You'll have his name on it, identifiable women role models, etc. (Yes, I know its the point that the main anthology has miserable representation - this too will change in time. I have great faith in all of us.) But enough talk, if you are passionate about this, take action Professor Smith and change your world. Cheers!(PS: really enjoy your blog. I'd read that anthology and suggest it to my daughters when they are older.)

By Paul Kostyack (not verified) on 13 Dec 2009 #permalink

About ten years ago, give or take a bit, a number of readers called Science magazine, the AAAS publication, on one of their biology, perhaps genetics, review articles and its complete lack of women scientists in a field with a relatively high female participation rate. I believe one writer simply noted that the article had been mistitled, and should have said "male scientists" rather than simply "scientists" up on the header.

Interestingly, the magazine took note of this, and over the next few years the number of women quoted and included increased dramatically. The reporters simply asked for a few names, made a few phone calls and updated their "usual sources" lists. It is now rare to read an article in Science that doesn't mention a woman scientist or two in the field, along with a similar number of man scientists. There aren't any obvious quotas, but the science in Science now seems more of a human endeavor.

Dawkins was certainly well within his rights to include only, or almost only, writing by man scientists. (I'm intentionally using that awkward form.) The community, however, is perfectly well within its rights to call him on it. Odds are he never thought about it. It's like suddenly wondering why the sky is dark at night or why an apple falls. One of a scientists hardest, and most important jobs, is figuring out good questions. Now that the question has been raised, perhaps Dawkins will think about the answer.

After reading your article I just wanted to comment on your last paragraph.

As a woman I have never felt like an 'outsider' in either the atheist or science communities. I studied geology and biology and the only 'discrimination' I have ever encountered had nothing to do with my gender but rather my choice to study biology! And only revolved around comments like "why would you want to study bugs?". Bugs being what most of the people in geology called anything with a heartbeat!

I think geology counts as a rather "wiener-centric" field, and yet no one ever shot me down or discouraged me. I had more trouble with the administration staff and registrar's office than I ever did with my own departments!

Did I see men behaving badly at conferences? Absolutely, but when pointing it out I was never ostracized or treated badly for it. And for the most part (in an attempt to avoid being tarred with the same brush?) other men around would support me.

Maybe I'm lucky, or maybe I'm 'not the right kind of feminist'? Either way, I feel I've never had my voice silenced or stepped on in either community.


By Dinophile (not verified) on 14 Dec 2009 #permalink

have you read the yearly anthology The Best American Science and Nature Writing? Is it better as an anthology, in your opinion, or does it fail for the same reasons as Dawkin's Oxford anthology, in your opinion?

Some times an organge is an organge. In Australia the public voted for the best Australian songs of all time. Not on female made it into the list. Why did that happen, the easy answer would be sexism. The real answer might be something.

PS. I'm in the IT sector, The only photo we have in our board room is a photo our first Mainframe. Surounding the Mainframe are six women, no men in the photo. All the computer operators were women.... that is until they went off and had babies......

I agree that there is a big problem with recognition of women in the sciences, but I disagree with the solution.

Why should women seek validation from Richard Dawkins or any other man?

Instead of begging for recognition from Dawkins, create your own anthology.

Lead by example, and show how it should be done.

Why should women seek validation from Richard Dawkins or any other man?

Because men, over a huge period of time, and by increments, made the mess in the first place, by building and reinforcing social structures that systematically and self-perpetuatingly excluding women from every field of endeavour that men thought was important, and now men are telling women that women need to clean up the mess? Do you seriously not see how men really need to be out front on combatting patriarchy?

Otherwise, it's just the world's biggest game of Housework Chicken.

By Interrobang (not verified) on 28 Dec 2009 #permalink

The reductio ad absurdum 'arguments' that various other minorities were also not represented seems disingenuous, given that women are half the human race, not 10-20%.

As to their representation in the past century of science, of course it would be lower - but is it less than 5%? Had someone more socially or community minded been assembling the list, they might have noticed this and thought to be a bit pro-active about finding another female voice or two - Barbara McClintock, Jane Goodall, Marie Curie, Anna Freud, Lynn Margulis or others.

There absolutely is something to negative feedback loops and self-reinforcing stereotypes, and people decide what to do about them individually - but only if they see them to begin with. Dawkins repeatedly strikes me as someone so arrogant that he's unlikely to think in these sort of terms. His reaction to the point when it was raised was in perfect keeping with this - technically accurate but rather flaccid, missing a larger human perspective. It's all too possible for a person to be brilliant in some ways but a fool in others.

ARJ has hit the nail on the head perfectly. I would have thought an anthology of science writing was just that - not a forum for correcting any perceived inbalances in gender, nationality, race, age, etc, etc an nauseum.

Tara, I'm just curious why you decided to delete my post? I'm on your side 100% and always have been. No one can honestly deny that gender discrimination in the academy is still all too common. But gender doesn't bestow sainthood simply because one's female does it?

Is it believing that women can discriminate in the exact same fashion as men that bothers you? What would you expect in a female dominated discipline? It doesn't surprise me in the least that in male dominated disciplines gender discrimination still occurs. I would expect that, unfortunately.

I'm not a troll by the way. We actually know each other, which is why I was very surprised that you deleted my post. I didn't expect that from you.

And I shouldn't have to state the obvious, but I'm keeping my identity anonymous for good reason. It's hard enough finding work in my field given my demographics. The last thing I need is another liability.

By GradStudent (not verified) on 22 Feb 2010 #permalink

dawkins: an iconoklast does not attack his/her own icon. it's perhaps unethical.
be careful not to build icons in ur work to allow equality, liberty and rights to all sisters and all brothers.

By jon edvard killi (not verified) on 01 Apr 2010 #permalink

I missed this, GradStudent, but I didn't delete any posts--I never delete anything but obvious spam. If it contained links it may have been automatically sent to the spam filter and I missed it, but searching my comments on the back end only gives me a single comment from "GradStudent." And damn it, now I feel really bad that someone I know thinks I trashed one of their comments.