Thursday, October 06, 2005

Not so noble

A friend just asked me why the winners of Nobel prizes are "always guys". We were discussing the fact that two guys at our alma mater won Nobels this week (woo hoo!). Of course the winners are not always guys. Mostly guys. Why is that? Don't women do good science? Actually, women do great science. The most dynamic scientist in my department at Big State U happens to be a woman.

So what is it? I posit that it's because science is still a haven for white males. At least in Western nations. The "old boy network"? Alive and kicking. Life is hard for women faculty. There's the maternity and family thing. On top of that, they're asked to be on a disproportionate number of committees etc. Every committee wants diversity, but there's not much to pick from, so the women and minorities get asked a lot. And it's hard to say no when you don't have tenure. Of course saying yes too much can hurt your research and teaching, thereby reducing your tenure chances. That sucks. And then there are (thankfully fewer each year) older faculty members who are male chauvinist pigs of the first degree (also charter members of the old boy network). But I digress. I'm not trying to say there aren't many female Nobelists because they're too busy attending committee meetings, having babies and fending off dirty old men. It's more a matter of the current state of the system. There are fewer female science faculty (and scientists in general). Simple statistics tells you that most winners of Nobels will be male.

Thankfully the system is changing. In the life sciences there are now as many female graduate students as male. In our department more. The mid- and junior-level faculty, plus many of the senior faculty, recognize the need to increase diversity among the ranks. It will get better. It will take time. And vigilance. But it will get better.

4 comments:

Milo said...

It's because the Nobels are *usually* given for work that is several decades old. And back then, there were just not many women doing the work. I suspect that over the next 20 years, the fraction of women winning will steadily increase for just the reason you suggest near the end.

Milo said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Milo said...

sorry for the double posting - silly network hangup.

JollyRgr said...

Interestingly I was one of the early test subjects for the use of antibiotics to cure an ulcer....my then GP was a supporter of the studies in the 1980's and it certainly worked for me....