XX Scientists: Is There a Such Thing?

tags: , , , ,

PZ asked his students these questions on an exam that he was recently writing;

14. Hey! Have you noticed the lack of women scientists so far? Briefly speculate about why they're missing.

15 (2 pts extra credit). Name a female scientist of any era.

So .. in addition to those questions, I pose these questions for you regarding female scientists;

Can you name any? Who?
Who is the first woman scientist who comes to mind?
Do you have a "favorite" woman scientist?

My answers to these additional questions are below the fold;

Can you name any? Who?

Marie Curie, Irene Joliot-Curie, Rachel Carson, Barbara McClintock, Rosalind Franklin, Margaret Morse Nice, Beatrix Potter.

Who is the first woman scientist who comes to mind?

Me. Besides me; Rosalind Franklin. Or Margaret Morse Nice. Or Marie Curie. Or Rachel Carson. It's kind of a jumble in my brain when someone asks me that question. It also partially depends upon whose biography (or books) I've read recently.

Do you have a "favorite" woman scientist?

Um. Ah. Well, Me. I am my own unsung hero. I admire me as a scientist because I alone can see that my birds have a really amazing contribution to make to the theory of evolution. Because I have lived with and bred my birds for most of my life and thus, because of my unique vision and passion, I alone am capable of successfully telling my birds' story to the world of science and to the public as well.

More like this

Marie Currie was the first to come to mind for me and probably will be for most people my age. Beyond that the next few were Caroline Herschel, Rosalind Franklin, Hypatia, Lise Meitner, and Jane Goodall. After that they started coming pretty fast.

Oddly, Jane Goodall was the only living person on my list. I didn't think of any science bloggers or academics I've known. I wonder if that is because I'm a historian by training or if other people are skewed toward the dead.

WOW, good suggestions! how could i have forgotten them??

well, i didn't forget. i just didn't think of them *first*.

The first the comes to mind AND my all-time favorite is Gertrude (Trudy) Elion. Nobel prize without a Ph.D. for the discovery of several anticancer drugs, including antimetabolites in an era before the structure of DNA was known. One of the greatest scientists in my field, female or male.

WOW, abel! here's what i found about Trudy.

i agree! she's a fantastic scientist, regardless of her chromosomal make-up!

i forgot to mention, john, that there's more dead people than live people, even when talking about female scientists. as you may have noticed, all of the women who came to my mind are dead ...

well, except me (and that is not for lack of trying).

Here in California we all know seismologists Lucy Jones and Kate Hutton!

I am not sure if she qualifies but Ada Byron, Lady Lovelace is credited with developing the outlines of the first computer program (for Charles Babbages difference engine) in the 1840's. In an article on the machine, published in 1843, "Lady Lovelace's prescient comments included her predictions that such a machine might be used to compose complex music, to produce graphics, and would be used for both practical and scientific use. She was correct". (Quote from her bio)

14. Hey! Have you noticed the lack of women scientists so far?

I noticed a long time ago that there are fewer women than men scientists. To call this a "lack" of women scientists rests on a theory-loaded conjecture, namely, that there is an objective reason why there should be more women scientists than there are.

This question is a logical fallacy known as the "loaded question." http://www.fallacyfiles.org/loadques.html

I believe this question is invalid for civil discourse because it presupposes that one position in the debate is the valid position.

Briefly speculate about why they're missing.

I'm with Larry Summers. I believe that men are more inclined toward technical things, while women are more inclined toward ways of being that are more likely to bind people together.

This is not to say that one sex is generally more competent than the other, but that each sex is drawn toward its own area of specialization.

15 (2 pts extra credit). Name a female scientist of any era.
Who is the first woman scientist who comes to mind?

I have known many female scientists who were my professors, classmates, co-workers, and friends.

The first who comes to mind that others would have heard of is Marie Currie.

Would you want to count Anna Freud (Freudian psychiatrist) and Karen Horny (gestalt psychiatrist) as scientists?

I'm trying to think of any ancient Arabic, Roman or Greek women who were scientists and I can't remember any. Does anyone else know of some?

Do you have a "favorite" woman scientist?

Yes, she is DK. I fell in love with her over 20 years ago, but she wouldn't, and won't, have me. :-(

I will name Carleen Hutchins as a female scientist whose work I admire. She was educated as a secondary science teacher, but she developed an interest in scientific research and learned how to do it correctly.

The object of her passion is violins. She did much pioneering work directed at determining how violin makers can control the subtle overtones of the instruments they make. Although quite elderly and retired from research, the last I heard she was still receiving guests who want to talk about violins!


Although it was not an entirely new idea, actress Heddy Lamarr independently came up with the concept of frequency hopping, and with help from an engineer, applied it to torpedo control. They were issued a patent in 1942.

This was a major advance, and at the time, their invention was Top Secret.

Heddy Lamarr: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hedy_Lamarr

Frequency Hopping: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spread_spectrum

Patent: http://patimg2.uspto.gov/.piw?Docid=02292387&homeurl=http%3A%2F%2Fpatft…

Do you mind if I don't answer these questions? I don't want to embarrass some of my female friends and colleagues by having them publicly linked to me.

Oh, Angela Merkel is a scientist too. As was Maggie Thatcher.


Marie Curie.
A great scientist and a very independent lady.
Then Jane Goodall.

I know there are more, but I'm terrible with names. There is one who blogs about budgies/parrots :o)

Why aren't female scientists as well known as male scientists? Well I'ld be hard pressed to name many male scientists who I'ld rate as great:o)
But more seriously, what percentage of scientists are female? Most people when asked about science think of Physics/Chemistry not Biological sciences and I suspect that in Physics/Chemistry the percentage of females is low.

By Chris' Wills (not verified) on 21 Sep 2007 #permalink

Lynn Margulis is a fun character and she's important for our understanding of endosymbiosis.

Maria Mitchell

By Mark Chandler (not verified) on 22 Sep 2007 #permalink

Maybe not famous outside of the field, but my first thought was Mary Jane West-Eberhard.

I actually think this problem is going to get better in the next 10 years. There is an obvious shortage at the professor level, but at the graduate level in Biology there are lots of sharp female scientists that I am confident will help to right the ship.

I admit to being a bit biased by my field - the first women scientists who come to mind are Vera Rubin, Margaret Gellar, Henrieta Leavitt, and Maria Mitchell.

me.. but besides me, the first one that comes to mind is Marie Curie.

But I'm also fortunate to have a female Ph.D. advisor - Zuleyma Tang-Martinez (formally known as Zuleyma Tang Halpin). She is an Animal Behaviorist who is best known for her research in rodent communication. Also Nancy Solomon - who ran a close 2nd for being my Ph.D. advisor, too - works studies small rodent social behavior.

The Urban Scientist - very true. Scott Edwards comes to mind, but only because he was a plenary speaker at ESEB last month. I know a few black African scientists.

A couple of years ago I was asked for help from a lady working on her PhD in epidemiology, in Iraq. Most of this was done my phone, which was interesting, between my strong accent, and her English. But she got the analysis working, and got her PhD.

P.S. Jack says hello:

First thought was Marie Curie. For TUS's challenge, I immediately thought of George Washington Carver.

I suspect the most direct reason why there are fewer women than men in the sciences is a matter of historical contingency and cultural homeostasis. That is, science was dominated by men a generation ago (and two, and...), and that "establishment" naturally tends to perpetuate itself. As an interesting counterexample, I'd point to primatology. There are a lot of prominent women in that field, and IIRC that's primarily because Louis (?) Leakey recruited a whole bunch of them when the field was forming.

By David Harmon (not verified) on 22 Sep 2007 #permalink

Note that mine is a rather pessimistic stance; it suggests that the only practical way to get from "here" to "there" (parity) is pretty much the "blood, sweat, and tears" route: individuals need to keep plugging away, recruiting, mentoring, and otherwise encouraging female scientists. For another couple of centuries....

By David Harmon (not verified) on 22 Sep 2007 #permalink

Olga Ladyzhenskaya.

That is, if mathematicians count.

By Stagyar zil Doggo (not verified) on 23 Sep 2007 #permalink

First coming to mind: Barbara McClintock, Mary Claire King (breast cancer research), Sidney Carne Wolff (astronomy), Judith Resnick (astronaut), Judy Helgen (friend & biologist)

14. Hey! Have you noticed the lack of women scientists so far? Briefly speculate about why they're missing.

It's a trap! Isn't that basically the question that led to Larry Summers getting fired? I'm not touching that.

By Tegumai Bopsul… (not verified) on 23 Sep 2007 #permalink

Sarah Blaffer Hrdy at UCD and Shirley Ann Jackson who is now president of RPI, both of them smarter than Loopy Larry by a mile. It is my hypothesis that most females don't have the talents for self-promotion that males have; our ambition needs to be made of sterner stuff. Maybe some scientists will test that hypothesis in my lifetime; I'm curious to know if it's nature and/or culture.

By Elizabeth (not verified) on 23 Sep 2007 #permalink

Sophie Germain, a female mathematician. I like to think of mathematicians as scientists as there is so much of the scientific process in math.

Of course mathematicians count. Without math how would science express itself? Hmmmm?

If you ask me, math is the ultimate science, but then again, I am VERY *heavily* biased.

My answer to all three questions is "you"!

I also thought of Marie Curie, though. I also remember hearing in college that there was a woman who worked with Watson and Crick in discovering DNA and deserved the Nobel Prize along with them, but didn't get nominated because of sexism. There's a good possibility that I fucked that story all up, though, and even if I didn't, I don't remember the woman's name. There's also Jane Goodall, and the "Gorillas in the Mist" lady...what was her name?

Wasn't Alex the Parrot's caretaker also female?

I am reminded that Marguerite Vogt just recently died, up in her ninties, another woman who didn't get the credit due her. Why IS that?

By Elizabeth (not verified) on 24 Sep 2007 #permalink

Andrew: I like to think of mathematicians as scientists as there is so much of the scientific process in math.

In fact, modern information theory points out that a computation (including proofs!) is essentially equivalent to an experiment:

1) computation costs energy and releases entropy, which pretty well clobbers the Platonic theme of a World of Ideals (where all "true facts" would be contained).

2) in any sufficiently general case, the results of a computation can't be predicted without actually performing the computation (Turing).

3) in similarly general cases, it cannot be guaranteed that a given computation will yield an answer at all (G:odel).

Therefore, attempting a computation represents a thermodynamic investment toward an uncertain attempt to yield new information. That's at least an "observation", if not an experiment.

Based on these issues, I consider that mathematics is indeed a science. Specifically, it's the science of materially independent phenomena -- that is, the study of those processes and events for which the specifics of their material implementation are basically irrelevant. To give an example, the mathematics of turbulence doesn't depend on exactly what fluid is examined, only on particular characteristics of those fluids (e.g., viscosity) and the forces acting on them.

By David Harmon (not verified) on 25 Sep 2007 #permalink

My favorite woman scientist is definitely Hedy Lamarr. Her contributions to science weren't all that significant, but she was really, really hot.

Are there seriously people who can't even think of one? How horrible.

I think women tend to be less likely (in general) to seek the spotlight and crow about their discoveries, so people might not know about the ones that are out there.

Also, there probably are fewer. I mean, it may not be PC to mention, but someone has to clean the house and take care of the kids. That's why I dropped out of grad school -- it's too hard for both people in the house to have full time jobs with crazy hours. I just wasn't really up to sitting around in the lab at 3 am....

By silvermine (not verified) on 26 Sep 2007 #permalink