Stamping out sexism in science

Nature has a few ideas on that score. And if we lose a few male Nobel Laureates along the way, what does it matter? After all, the vast influx of female talent that is certain to replace the old sexist dinosaurs will more than make up for any losses, right?

The problem is serious and long-standing. But there are plenty of ways to tackle it. Nature has discussed and promoted them before, and is happy to do so again. Here is a list of measures to consider afresh:

  • Recognize and address unconscious bias. Graduate students given
    grants by the US National Institutes of Health are required to undergo
    ethics training. Gender-bias training for scientists, for example, would
    be a powerful way to help turn the tide.
  • Encourage universities and research institutions to extend the
    deadlines for tenure or project completion for scientists (women and
    men) who take parental leave, and do not penalize these researchers by
    excluding them from annual salary rises. Many workplaces are happy to
    consider and agree to such extension requests when they are made. The
    policy should simply be adopted across the board.
  • Events organizers and others must invite female scientists to
    lecture, review, talk and write articles. And if the woman asked says
    no — for whatever reason — then ask others. This is about more than mere
    visibility. It can boost female participation too. Anecdotal reports
    suggest that women are more likely to ask questions in sessions chaired
    by women. After acknowledging our own bias towards male contributors, Nature, for example, is engaged in a continued effort to commission more women in our pages.
  • Do not use vocabulary and imagery that support one gender more than
    another. Words matter. It is not ‘political-correctness-gone-mad’ to
    avoid defaulting to the pronouns ‘him’ and ‘he’, or to ensure that
    photographs and illustrations feature women.
  • In communication and promotional materials, highlight women who have
    made key contributions to previous work, whether in your own lab or
    within your research discipline more broadly.
  • Be aware of the importance of informal settings and social
    activities to workplace culture, and people’s sense of their place
    within it. Senior scientists can, where possible, make such events

Can one really say the Law of Unintended Consequences applies when the consequences of a proposed action are so entirely obvious to anyone with half a brain? How many Shakespeares, Dantes, or even JRR Tolkiens have been produced since since the liberation of women from the male oppression that forcibly prevented them from putting pen to paper 40, or 80, or 97 years ago?

And what is the price of trading a few Watsons and Hunts for the scientific equivalents of Stephanie Meyers and E.L. James going to be?

Now, obviously I support women in science; I publish more female scientists than 99.9 percent of my critics do. But I don’t support female thought police in science, which is really what Nature is advocating here. It is the thought police, of both sexes, who truly have NO PLACE whatsoever in science.