Friday, 21 September 2007

Where did all of the chicks go?

A little controversy has been started up this week about The Scientist's vote for favorite life science blogs. The Scientist asked some of the most popular bloggers to give their opinion on the best science blogs and as many people have pointed out, including Chris at Highly Allochthonous, Julia at The Ethical Palaeontologist, and Brian at Laelaps, there are no women on this list.

Well I am sure I would get shot down by many of my female colleagues for saying this but let’s be honest, there just aren’t as many female scientists as male scientists, especially as you climb the ‘academic ladder’. Why not? As an undergraduate I noticed that the ratio of women to men is actually greater in biology and geology was reasonable even. A quick survey of my graduate colleagues shows a ratio of 12 men to 7 women over the last four years. And as you continue, the proportion of women gets smaller, we have 10 men listed in our department as staff and postdoctoral researchers and only 4 women. And check out how many members of the Royal Society are female (5%). So where do all the women go to?

Is it true that many women still give up their careers for a life at home? Is academia still heavily weighted against them and women leave the field because they don’t feel their career advance as fast as those of their male colleagues? I don’t know to be honest. But there is no doubt there are fewer female role models in academia especially in the fields of physics, math, computing and engineering where their ratio often dwindles to less than 10%.

So anyway, back to The Scientist, I am sure they didn’t deliberately mean to exclude female science bloggers. Looking at my own blogroll I realize most of the science blogs I read are written by men, I think it is representative of the ratio of the sexes in academia, something to think about.

10 comments:

Malacoda said...

I suspect it's actually that men are just smarter. After all scienticians have proven that a man's brain is 4 times larger than a woman's and less full of crap. For instance men are more interested in really important stuff like cars and football, whereas women are more interested in things like bonnets and ribbons.

Sarda Sahney said...

Where have you been Malacoda? I've missed your *insightful* comments.

Julia said...

That was the first point I made - that the ratio of men to women is about 2:1 (at least, as you point out, at the graduate student level), so we should expect to see fewer women in the scientific blogosphere than men.

The second aspect being that I think female science bloggers are more likely than their male counterparts to choose to write about the social issues of science and academia and not the actual science. To the extent in some cases that they choose anonymity and don't divulge their field of study. You and I are clearly not doing this, but I think there's some degree of self-removal from the pool of science blogs.

Most people in the blogosphere seem to accept that there are fewer female science bloggers than male science bloggers because there are fewer women than men in science (this may change - we may not see the attrition in female academics that you've mentioned). But the thing that really got everyone's goat was the absence of a female blogger on the panel - regardless of the ratio of men to women in the scientific blogosphere, it would have been nice to have had the representation there.

Having said that, the men were all white and English-speaking. Which I put down to the fact that TheScientist is an English-language North American magazine, and not to any subconscious racism. And Chris Taylor said in my comments "never assume malice where stupidity will suffice", so it's probably just an oversight.

But one that serves as a useful discussion point nonetheless.

archaeozoo said...

I would agree with both yourself and Julia, Sarda. In archaeology, my chosen field, the ratio of male to female is perhaps more equal (although it does seem to vary to some degree between sub-disciplines), but having studied geology at undergraduate level I am well aware that that is not the case for all sciences. I would not be at all surprised to discover that there are more male science bloggers simply because there are more male scientists at graduate level.

Sarda Sahney said...

Thanks for your comments. Julia, I agree with you wholeheartedly about female scientists getting caught up in the social issues surrounding being a female academic. To be quite blunt I find most articles written on this topic to be dull (was that a terribly insensitive and politically incorrect thing to say? :) Quite frankly, I just like to read about Science!

Andrew said...

It may take a while until the female scientists catch up the ranks. I think that they are capable of becoming excellent scientists. Maybe, it has to do with the cultures that drove young females to other interests? That's one possibility.

monado said...

A study in good old egalitarian Sweden a few years ago discovered that to be considered as competent, a female scientist had to publish approximately five times as much.

WendyB said...

Good blog! I mentioned it on mine, though in a kind of silly way.

DrowseyMonkey said...

Well, way back in my day (I'm 45 now) girls were discouraged from science and math classes. From what I see now that has changed, thankfully. Maybe not enough, but it is better than it was in the 70s.

I love your blog and writing style. Thanks!

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