22 May 2010

Scandalous, but...

My home country, Canada, decided to try to recruit senior, world-class scientists. And that’s good.

Through the Canada Excellence Research Chairs program, they got nineteen people to agree to pull up stakes move to Canadian universities and work there. That’s good.

All nineteen are men. That’s a scandal.

There’s not another way to put it. Not just for the agency, but for our discipline worldwide.

The Current has a good discussion on this, although I have to correct Wendy Robbins, who said (13:37 into the segment; emphasis added):

It's interesting, they're trying to find Nobel quality people, right? If you look at the history of the Nobel prizes, it's very interesting there, and I'm sure a lot has to do with two things: with more women going into different areas, but also with women’s work being recognized. You know, early on, Marie Curie won two Nobel prizes, right? Rosalind Franklin never did, because Watson and Crick took her research and they became famous for the double helix, but it was her work.

Rosalind Franklin died from cancer in 1958, and the Nobel Prize for the discovery of DNA structure was not awarded until 1962 (which Watson and Crick shared with Maurice Wilkins). The Nobel prize rules forbids posthumous awards, so Franklin could not have won the Nobel Prize. Whether she might have won it had she lived is anyone’s guess.

Much has been written about Franklin’s treatment by her colleagues, and there’s every reason to think much of it was unfair. Nevertheless, it’s wrong to say she didn’t win the Nobel prize because of it.

More comment by Canadian science show host Bob McDonald.

Additional: The Current revisits Rosalind Franklin’s legacy, with an interview with Brenda Maddox, who wrote the biography Rosalind Franklin, The Dark Lady of DNA.

1 comment:

Kevin said...

That does seem odd. There doesn't seem to be an easy, fair way to decide it, though. Presumably when choosing these people their research was looked at and it was decided whether or not they'd be a good contributor. I'd imagine that women would appear on that list and subsequently be selected. I think it would be unfair to mandate some number of the positions or some number of selected people be women, or men, or any other criterion not based on scientific merit. Perhaps in making decisions the papers should be read by people naive to the authors' identities so as to avoid bias. But I suppose the people who should know if the research is good or not would have already read these papers and be familiar with the authors...