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Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Women have been written out of science history – it's time to put them back | Special Reports - Irish Examiner

This article was written by Claire Jones, Senior Lecturer in History of Science, University of Liverpool and was originally published on The Conversation.

Read the original article here.


Uncovering forgotten history can help explain why science still has a masculine bias today, says Claire Jones, Senior Lecturer in History of Science.

Astronomer Caroline Herschel portrayed assisting her more famous brother, William.
Photo: Wellcome Collection, CC BY-SA

Can you name a female scientist from history? Chances are you are shouting out Marie Curie. The twice Nobel Prize-winning Curie and mathematician Ada Lovelace are two of the few women within Western science to receive lasting popular recognition.

One reason women tend to be absent from narratives of science is because it’s not as easy to find female scientists on the public record. Even today, the numbers of women entering science remain below those of men, especially in certain disciplines. A-level figures show only 12% of candidates in computing and 22% in physics in 2018 were girls.

Another reason is that women do not fit the common image of a scientist. The idea of the lone male genius researcher is remarkably persistent. But looking to history can both challenge this portrayal and offer some explanation as to why science still has such a masculine bias.

For a start, the traditional view of science as a body of knowledge rather than an activity ignores women’s contributions as collaborators, focusing instead on the facts produced by big discoveries (and the men who made them famous)...

Yet, scientific women worked though the cracks. Between 1880 and 1914, some 60 women contributed papers to Royal Society publications. And some women continued to work as scientists without pay or titles. Dorothea Bate was a distinguished palaeontologist who was associated with the Natural History Museum from 1898 yet wasn’t paid or made a member of staff until 1948 when she was in her late sixties.

Why this pervasive ambivalence to female scientists? In the late 19th century, science taught that there were innate intellectual differences between the sexes which limited women’s suitability for science. (Another reason why scientific societies did not want their prestige tarnished by female fellows.) Charles Darwin argued that evolutionary competition led to the higher development of male brains.

Scholars such as Carolyn Merchant and Londa Schiebinger have demonstrated that the birth of modern science in the late 17th century embodied a masculine ethos hostile to women’s participation. Femininity became associated with the passive object of scientific investigation, in direct opposition to the active male investigator.
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Source: Irish Examiner


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