"Life: The Leading Edge" of demonstrating the profound sexism in science

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"Life: The Leading Edge" of demonstrating the profound sexism in science

Post by Eravial » Fri May 27, 21:12 2016

"Life: The Leading Edge of Evolutionary Biology, Genetics, Anthropology, and Environmental Science" is a collection of 18 essays written by 23 contributors, who represent the "leading" thinkers on the subject. All 23 contributors and the editor, John Brockman (of Edge.org), happen to be men. More biology PhDs are being awarded to women than men these days, but sexism at the higher levels is still rampant. Far fewer women gain tenure-track faculty positions than men, and somehow one of the top purveyors of popular science managed to edit a book without realizing or caring that there was not a single woman involved in the finished product. This is very disappointing, as this compilation does contain some excellent scientists and writers and was widely anticipated in the biological sciences community.

Here's a list of notable women in Evolutionary Biology, which is by no means comprehensive.

Here's a decent writeup about the book that contains the table of contents with full author info.
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Re: "Life: The Leading Edge" of demonstrating the profound sexism in science

Post by Sonic# » Sat May 28, 16:41 2016

Whoa, thanks for bringing this up. The list of notable women in evolutionary biology is especially useful.

I think about the number of stages that a book like this has to pass through, stages which act as gatekeepers to the status and attention writers receive. The cover of the book is a great example. Big names often go here, or more importantly, people who benefit from their names being big. Dawkins, Kurzweil, and Dyson no longer need the help. They're branding. But for other people in this collection this is a great form of promotion and professionalization. Women not getting in the book, let alone on the cover, denies them that portfolio-building, reputation-building space. :(

One of the comments in the write-up says it well:
I admit I'm surprised that not even some of the "token" female researchers seem to be mentioned anywhere.
Are there books out there on evolutionary biology that you would recommend for a newb? Or ones that do a better job tackling the sexism in the editing?

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Re: "Life: The Leading Edge" of demonstrating the profound sexism in science

Post by rowan » Mon May 30, 20:32 2016

:puke:

A bunch of bio people I know were grousing about this. It's a shame because I might have picked it up but now? nah.

Second Sonic#'s request for other recommendations. :)
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Re: "Life: The Leading Edge" of demonstrating the profound sexism in science

Post by Neko » Tue May 31, 21:55 2016

No POC either. But I had fun reading the comments on this blog post.

Especially:
It utterly lacks ambition – this is just a rehashing of the same material and perspectives which have filled these books for the last twenty years.
Ouch.
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Re: "Life: The Leading Edge" of demonstrating the profound sexism in science

Post by Eravial » Tue Jun 7, 13:20 2016

So, I saw the request for recommendations and couldn't immediately think of any female evolutionary biologists that have written popular science books. I hadn't realized this before since I know so many great female evo biologists, though I didn't quite realize how few of them had written extensively for the public. I've discussed this a bit with some of my fellow grad students over the past week, and no one else could immediately provide a recommendation either. This is a bit troubling to me, so I did a little bit of research by going to the personal pages of some of my female biology idols to search for any pop sci publications that perhaps just haven't gotten wide recognition. It turns out, none of them had a single full-length pop sci publication. They did, however, all have numerous papers per year, often published in top journals. I also went through all of the female TED speakers on the subject of "Evolution," and as far as I can tell, only a few of them have book-length popular science writings. My gut feeling is that some of the reasons for the disparity are:

1) While popular science books might get you public recognition, they are worth very little in the scientific community. There are still huge gender (and racial) gaps in the top levels of science (the faculty makeup in my own biology department is less than 20% female), and women are absolutely held to a higher standard than men at the top levels. Female scientists may not have the luxury of spending their time writing comprehensive, well-researched books for the general public instead of publishing frequent, high-impact scientific journal articles when only the latter really helps their academic career.

2) The female professors I know generally spend a lot of time mentoring younger scientists (especially young women). This is clearly invaluable work, as the gender/racial disparity will only get better if advanced scientists actively mentor young woman and POC scientists through the morass that is academia. I owe so much to my amazing female mentors and the time and energy they've invested in me already. Apart from just a couple male PI's I know (who also happen to be outspoken feminists), I see female faculty doing far more than their share of mentorship of the next generation of scientists. It is also work that generally goes unrecognized.

But, despite the difficulty of finding female authors, here are a few recommendations. I have the most exposure to the first two:

Joan Strassmann is an evolutionary biologist who is considered a leader in the field of social evolution. While she hasn't written any popular science books, she runs the blog Sociobiology, which talks about some social evolution, but mostly covers how to navigate the aforementioned quagmire of scientific/biological academics.

Suzana Herculano-Houzel is a Brazilian neuroanatomist and evolutionary biologist who researches how brains evolved increased size and neuron density. She's written several popular science books, most recently The Human Advantage: A New Understanding of How Our Brain Became Remarkable (2016). I haven't read any of her popular science books, but I've read some scientific papers of hers and find her writing style very accessible with some vibrant analogies even within otherwise dense papers.

Nina Jablonski is an anthropologist and wrote Skin: A Natural History. I watched her TED talk on how skin color is an illusion and liked it.

Hopi Hoekstra is a Harvard evolutionary biologist and was a consultant author of science book for kids, Color-Changing Animals (Animals with Super Powers).

Janine Benyus is a science writer on biomimicry, or how humans can adapt natural structures and functions for human use, with strong ties into both evolutionary biology and engineering. Her book is Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature.
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Re: "Life: The Leading Edge" of demonstrating the profound sexism in science

Post by geldofc » Thu Jul 21, 3:56 2016

This is pretty disappointing. Thanks to all for listing the women in biology.:) :redcheck:
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Re: "Life: The Leading Edge" of demonstrating the profound sexism in science

Post by Aum » Sat Jul 23, 21:30 2016

My sister is doing her PhD in social work and now that she's at the upper levels she says the sexism is rampant. Lots of male privilege and downplaying of credit for my sister's hard work. She has become disillusioned and has decided to leave academia once she gets her diploma. I think the last straw was when she was credited as the third or fourth person in a paper when she was actually the secondary author, but the credit of two other men with minor roles was upstaged.

I know to outsiders that sounds like a petty complaint but when you've worked hard for 8+ months on an important paper with a close colleague and then get mediocre credit for it, plus obvious gender bias, it really stinks.

The ivory tower institutions are some of the last bastions of major, blatant and entitled sexism that I can think of. They have the least exposure to public accountability too since nobody ever talks about it... yet these institutions are still seen as the "experts" of knowledge.
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Re: "Life: The Leading Edge" of demonstrating the profound sexism in science

Post by rowan » Sat Jul 23, 22:29 2016

Academia sucks a lot that way. :( Hope she finds something awesome to do with her life afterward that is better than academia.
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