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Friday, March 22, 2019

A brief history of science writing shows the rise of the female voice | Women in science - The Conversation AU

The early days of science writing were largely confined to men, with women treated to texts labelled "for the ladies". Things have changed, but more needs to be done, writes Robyn Arianrhod, Adjunct Associate , School of Mathematical Sciences, Monash University.

Three centuries ago, when modern science was in its infancy, the gender disparity in education was not a gap but an abyss: few girls had any decent schooling at all.

The emerging new science was clearly a male enterprise.

But it arose from a sense of curiosity, and women, too, are curious. If you look closely enough, it’s clear women played an important role, as both readers and authors, in the history of science writing.

New vs old ideas 
Both science and science writing were up for grabs in the 17th century. Technology was rudimentary and researchers struggled to obtain even the simplest observational evidence, and then searched for ways to make sense of it.

You can see this struggle in the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei’s famous Dialogues of 1632 and 1638. He painstakingly and somewhat tortuously tries to justify his arguments for heliocentrism – in which the planets go around the Sun – and the nature of motion and gravity...

Science gets complex 
Then, the very next year, everything changed. The English physicist and mathematician Isaac Newton published his monumental Principia Mathematica. Suddenly science became a whole lot more complex.

For instance, Fontenelle’s explanation of the cause of heliocentrism had been based on Frenchman René Descartes’ notion that the planets were swept around the Sun by gargantuan cosmic ethereal vortices.

Newton replaced this influential but unproven idea with his predictive theory of gravity, and of motion in general, which he developed in 500 dense pages of axioms, observational evidence, and a heap of mathematics...

Then there’s the question of ethics in science. Rebecca Skloot’s 2010 book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks tells the little-known story of the 1951 illegal harvesting and selling of cells from poor black farmer Henrietta Lacks.

Having diverse voices of all kinds in science and science writing is a good thing for science, as even a brief look at history shows. As far as women’s participation goes, we’ve come a long way.

But we still need more women to help shape and tell the story of science.
Read more... 

Source: The Conversation AU