Noble Achievements - and Deserved; Three American Women Honored for Science

Article excerpt


Enough already. Barack Obama got the Nobel Prize for Hope and Hype, and now the rest is up to him. But there are more important Nobels, and this year, women won three of those for scientific research. They won not for what they might do, sometime, maybe, could be, or hope so, but for what they already have done. Just eight women have won Nobels in physiology or medicine, and the recognition of these women strikes down pernicious myths about women and science. These were not affirmative-action awards.

Carol W. Greider, who shared her prize with another woman and a man, took her two children, a 13-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter, with her to her press conference at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Strike another myth, that it's impossible to be a dedicated female scientist and have a family life. Her husband is a science historian.

I certainly hope it's a sign that things are going to be different in the future, she told the New York Times. How many men have won the Nobel in the last few years, and they have kids the same age as mine, and their kids aren't in the picture? That's a big difference, right?

Right. In bold strokes, she put aside the prejudice against women in science. She took a swipe at Lawrence H. Summers, who, when he was president of Harvard, suggested an academic investigation into why there are few successful women in science, particularly the notion that women don't think in the way science demands. Nevertheless, she concedes that women may have a different social way of interacting, that would bring results in differently. She urges greater collaborative male-female effort to exploit possibilities, not diminish them.

She explains gender bias and the gender gap in the old-boy network with common sense, not outrage. It's not that they are biased against women or want to hurt them, she says of her male colleagues. They just don't think [of women]. And they feel more comfortable promoting their male colleagues. Just as there's a cultural bias for men to promote men, there may be a bias for women to want to work for women. There haven't been a lot of women trained to the most rigorous standards in the past.

No doubt many women as well as men disagree with her analysis of the role of sex in science - it was with no small irony that she was doing the family laundry when she got the call from Stockholm - but nothing succeeds like success. …