As a part of my Feminist Friday series, I’ve been asking lovely bloggers and writers to write about Feminism and what it means to them. Today, the wonderful Jess from makingphysicsfun speaks about Inferior by Angela Saini, women and science. So, over to Jess.
Did you, like me, read the Google memo this summer and role your eyes? Or perhaps look up the new Nikon D850, and be confronted with an ad campaign that consisted of a wall of 28 men. Maybe you picked up the Time’s Education Supplement (Sept 2017) to read boys were “better at physics” because they pee in urinals? Or waited for the announcement of the 2017 House of Commons Science & Tech Select Committee with naïve optimism, thinking it might continue the women-dominated glory 2015 – 17, to find out it was (you guessed it!) … all men. Every single time I get tired of talking about the need for more women in science – well, physics and engineering specifically – a new scandal makes part of me think I have to try again. But the rest of me is thinking – maybe they are right? Maybe women really are crap at photography. Maybe I am worse at physics than the boys in my group because of how I go to the toilet? Maybe women are bad at technology because we don’t have enough testosterone? I don’t say this out loud much, I wouldn’t want to let the side down!… but these miserable thoughts echo around my head every time I have to stand on stage.
And then, I was asked by Physics World to review a copy of Inferior by Angela Saini. Angela Saini is an Oxford-trained engineer who has had a phenomenal career in popular science writing and journalism. In 2009 she was named the European Science Journalist of the Year by the Euroscience Foundation and three years later won the Association of British Science Writers’ award for best news story. That year she became Knight Science Journalism Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 2015 she won the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Kavli Science Journalism gold award for a BBC documentary into bogus universities.
When Saini was investigating the science of the menopause for a Guardian article, she discovered that there is very little scientific literature explaining the biological mechanisms that caused it. She realised that everyone takes it for granted that research will be fair and unbiased; that experiments will be ethical and that the results will be reproducible. But what if the people who wrote the rules of science were biased themselves? Saini’s ground-breaking second book, “Inferior”, uncovers how science has gotten plenty of women wrong, often due to the biases of the people and processes involved in research. An advocate for equality and honesty within scientific discourse, Inferior does not set out to prove that men are sexist scientists- it highlights stories where assumptions, poorly designed experiments and hasty press releases have failed 51 % of the population. She is a phenomenal journalist determinedly persistent in untangling the evidence from both sides to present pure fact – her bibliography is 29 pages long with 306 distinct articles and books covering the gamut of evolutionary psychology to anthropology. Inferior has it all: from understanding bluebirds to babies, shouting at dodgy f-MRI studies and picking apart the lazy stereotypes that prevent women entering science and technology careers. Reading Inferior has given me my voice back… and I am going to short very loudly.
You can catch Angela Saini on her UK university tour or at a local event. You can buy Inferior here.
Angela has written a comprehensive response to the now infamous Google memo, which you can read here.
Bio: Jess is a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Physics and Centre for Plastic Electronics at Imperial College London, creating chiral molecular structures as the active layer for electronic devices. Jess has been involved in projects to support gender inclusion in science, as well as encouraging more young people to study science and engineering. She won the Institute of Physics (IOP) Early Career Communicator Prize (2015), “I’m a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here!” (2015), the IOP Jocelyn Bell Burnell Award (2016), the IOM3’s ‘Robert Perrin Award’ (2017) and the Imperial College Dame Julia Higgins Certificate (2017). She sits on the committees of the IOP’s Women in Physics Group, Communicators Group and London & South East Branch. She is also on the council of the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) and Women in Science & Engineering (WISE) Young Women’s Board.
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