I haven’t stepped out into many blog controversies lately, but looking through all the stuff in my Google reader this morning I found this really excellent post from Tara at Aetiology, further commenting on this post by Dr. Hgg, and yet a third post from Sheril on her blog.
All this text is about a new book out ‘The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing‘…ala Dawkins, and the current subject of all of these fine posts is that out of the 83 excerpts in the book- only 3 are written (actually 2 are written and 1 is co-written) by women. Hmmmm, surely there are a few more fine science writers out there who are women…. and why are they missing?!
Well, one can always say that the contents of this book are the top choices reflect the preferences of one individual, one very learned and powerful individual, one individual that would be excellent to have as an *active* advocate for women in science, Sir Richard Dawkins. Dr. Dawkins actually responded to a comment by Ed Yong on Sheril’s post:
“There is certainly no shortage of excellent female science writers to choose from. One of them writes this blog. Others are linked to in this very post. Olivia Judson, Deborah Mackenzie, Virginia Hughes, Natasha Loder, Linda Geddes, I could go on. Their skill is equal to and often superior to their male peers. . . . You’d be insane to argue that the 83 pieces in this tome are the best 83 articles written in 2008.” (Yong)
2008? Who said anything about 2008? This anthology goes back a hundred years, and not a single contribution is as recent as 2008. It is not an anthology of “science writing”, such as would indeed include Olivia Judson and the other admirable science writers whom you list. It is a collection of writing by good scientists, many of them dead and very distinguished. I am not one of those who thinks men are genetically better equipped than women to become distinguished scientists. Presumably for other reasons, 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. (Dawkins)
Dr. Dawkins-…let’s not focus on the past. Let’s focus on that lost opportunity, however big or small, to actively and positively influence the future of the other 50% of the population to participate in academic science and participate at a high level. That, in my humble opinion, is what everyone is so upset about. You see, I’m a young(ish) female scientist- and there is a high probability that your book will cross the threshold into my house, like so many of your other fine books. I’m going to read your book, and I’m going to see that great science writers don’t include people like me, hardly at all. Then I’m going to re-read your – hey, sorry,-it’s-not-my-fault-history-is-what-it-is comment up there- and I’m going to have the reaction I’m having right now…. which is- yes, duh- I know you can’t change history- but you CAN influence the future SO WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?
See, I hope the power of this little controversy will be to highlight fact that the future for scientists who happen to be women, and science writers who happen to be women can be different but it *requires* the active advocacy of powerful people. I’m sure you must have noticed the paucity of women on your list when you were putting your book together (at least I hope you did). If you truly are as you say:
I am not one of those who thinks men are genetically better equipped than women to become distinguished scientists
Then I respectfully challenge you to put the ‘history is what it is’ bit aside and figure out what active role you might be able to play in the future to even out the gigantic gender disparity on display in your book.
p.s. I *truly* and deeply appreciate that much of your time is spent fighting creationism… for which, as a biologist, I’m very grateful… but I suggest that advocacy for scientists who are women (and steppin’ in to advocate with women like these achieve these goals) is a similarly worthy cause.