Claims of gender bias in Canada's Science Hall of Fame nomination process

in science on (#75J7)
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reports that two researchers have stepped down from the Science Hall of Fame selection panel over claims that cultural bias is limiting the number of female researchers nominated for the honour. No female researchers have been nominated for two years running and former panelists Judy Illes and Catherine Anderson argue in their resignation statements that the lack of nominations reflects a cultural bias that fails to reflect the contributions women make to science nationally and globally.

Anecdotally, the gender bias claims echo how the work of Rosalind Franklin was rewarded in her lifetime following the discovery of the structure of DNA. As a Wikipedia summary notes: "Franklin is best known for her work on the X-ray diffraction images of DNA while at King's College, London, which led to the discovery of the DNA double helix. According to Francis Crick, her data and research were key in determining the structure. Watson confirmed this opinion in his own statement at the opening of the King's College London Franklin–Wilkins building in 2000 and formulating Crick and James Watson's 1953 model regarding the structure of DNA. Franklin's images of X-ray diffraction, confirming the helical structure of DNA, were imprudently shown to Watson by Wilkins without her permission. Her work was published third, in the series of three DNA Nature articles, led by the paper of Watson and Crick. Watson, Crick and Wilkins shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962. Watson suggested that Franklin would have ideally been awarded a Nobel Prize in Chemistry, along with Wilkins."

Re: A couple years ago (Score: 3, Interesting)

by on 2015-04-16 15:57 (#76JM)

Thanks for this as well... your elaboration is exactly the kind of thoughtful commentary I was hoping for... you raise a number of interesting points...

Point One: What is the gender breakdown of Hall members? I went to the Canada Science Hall of Fame website and expanded the Hall members list until the "show more" option stopped coming up. I then scanned the Hall members and got these numbers (after only one visual pass over the list): 60 total members, 10 women (so a Hall membership rate of 16.7% women). This strikes me as quite possibly reflective of merit based on the participation of women in science over the past century which may have structurally favoured greater opportunities for men.

Point Two: Who were the nominees for the past two years and why? I actually think this information is probably not published and I'm not sure what the ethics would be on publishing the information of unsuccessful nominees. Nonetheless, considering this question made me realize that I actually sit on an awards committee for some career geoscience awards and I haven't seen any women nominated for the awards that my committee judges in any of the past four years. However, this is mostly reflective of who gets nominated by the general community and not of the gender bias of myself or my fellow panelists because our committee doesn't go out looking for nominations ourselves (we simply judge on the nominations we receive). Women have received these awards in the past, however; a woman is on the panel itself; and, I am not aware of any gender bias from the panelists when choosing recipients of the award. A role for gender bias may be in the structural opportunities presented to women selecting careers in geoscience up until now, however.

Point Three: How might the popular media have fed a narrative without regard for fact or context? I find this quite interesting at this stage. I think that certain narratives gain traction in society and are useful for the goals of media corporations therefore because they have traction and generate support and thus revenue. However, sometimes the continued appeal to an established narrative can cause new problems. For example, there may be evidence emerging at the leading edge of this issue that present-day men are actually at a disadvantage to women in starting a career in science research. A recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences ( observed experimentally a 2:1 hiring preference in academic faculty for women over men for tenure track science positions. Thus, men may still be winning the majority of career science awards right now due to past structural biases, but the bias pendulum may be swinging to women's favour presently and this may lead to new observations in a generation's time. This leads to your main point, perhaps, that:

Point Four: The CBC article probably doesn't advance this discussion much because it invokes a simple narrative on a possibly nuanced topic.
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