Women Scientists Launch a Database Featuring the Work of 9,000 Women Working in the Sciences

“Why are there so few women in sci­ence?” has almost become a tire­some refrain over the years, giv­en how lit­tle the answers engage with the thou­sands of female sci­en­tists work­ing all over the world. “Too often,” writes the project 500 Women Sci­en­tists, “high-pro­file arti­cles, con­fer­ence pan­els, and boards are filled with a dis­pro­por­tion­ate num­ber of male voic­es. News sto­ries are report­ed by more men by a huge mar­gin, and this imbal­ance is reflect­ed in how fre­quent­ly women are quot­ed in news sto­ries unless jour­nal­ists make a con­scious effort to reach out.

“Most keynote speak­ers at con­fer­ences are men. Pan­els are so fre­quent­ly all-male that a new word evolved to describe the phe­nom­e­non: manels. These imbal­ances add up and rein­force the inac­cu­rate per­cep­tion that sci­ence is stale, pale and male.” The next time the ques­tion arises—“why are there so few women in science?”—or any oth­er ques­tion need­ing sci­en­tif­ic exper­tise, one need only ges­ture silent­ly to 500 Women Sci­en­tists, a grass­roots orga­ni­za­tion con­sist­ing of far more sci­en­tists than its title sug­gests.

Described as “a resource for jour­nal­ists, edu­ca­tors, pol­i­cy mak­ers, sci­en­tists and any­one need­ing sci­en­tif­ic exper­tise,” the project began in 2016 as an open let­ter penned by its founders, then grad­u­ate stu­dents at Col­orado Uni­ver­si­ty, Boul­der, who decid­ed to re-affirm their val­ues against reac­tionary attacks by amass­ing 500 sig­na­tures on an open let­ter. They’ve since built a search­able data­base of over 9,000 women researchers from around the world, and a resource that helps build local sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ties.

Since launch­ing last year, their Request a Sci­en­tist data­base has shown “the excuse that you can’t find a qual­i­fied woman just does­n’t hold,” says co-founder and micro­bial ecol­o­gist Dr. Kel­ly Ramirez-Don­ders. It has also pro­vid­ed much more detailed data on women in sci­ence, which was pub­lished in a paper at PLOS Biol­o­gy in April. “The group has ambi­tious plans to keep expand­ing its reach,” writes STAT. “They’re rais­ing mon­ey to start a fel­low­ship for women of col­or… and they have already launched an affil­i­ate group, 500 Women in Med­i­cine.”

“We’re sci­en­tists. We’re lovers of evi­dence and data points,” says co-founder Maryam Zaring­ha­lam, a mol­e­c­u­lar biol­o­gist. “And so now any­time some­body tells us they couldn’t find some­one or there just aren’t enough women in STEM fields, we can point them to [the data­base] and say, ‘Well, actu­al­ly, this is the tip of the ice­berg, and there’s over 8,000.’… ensur­ing that women’s voic­es are rep­re­sent­ed in the media nar­ra­tives is real­ly essen­tial for show­ing that, ‘No, we are here, it’s just that peo­ple haven’t nec­es­sar­i­ly been aware of us or done the work to find us.’”

Cor­rect­ing mis­per­cep­tions not only helps reduce bias­es with­in sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ties; it also encour­ages bud­ding sci­en­tists who might oth­er­wise be dis­cour­aged from the pur­suit. “It’s not that girls are not inter­est­ed in sci­ence,” co-founder Jane Zeliko­va tells Good Morn­ing Amer­i­ca. “Some­thing hap­pens where they don’t see women or girls rep­re­sent­ed as sci­en­tists and they don’t think it’s for them.” 500 Women in Sci­ence proves that notion wrong—science is for them, and for every­one who wants to devote their lives to sci­en­tif­ic research. Just look at the data.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Women’s Hid­den Con­tri­bu­tions to Mod­ern Genet­ics Get Revealed by New Study: No Longer Will They Be Buried in the Foot­notes

“The Matil­da Effect”: How Pio­neer­ing Women Sci­en­tists Have Been Denied Recog­ni­tion and Writ­ten Out of Sci­ence His­to­ry

Real Women Talk About Their Careers in Sci­ence

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Anarcissie says:

    I worked in and observed the high-tech­nol­o­gy field of com­mer­cial com­put­er pro­gram­ming from 1964 until the present. When I began to work in the field, about half the tech­ni­cians I encoun­tered were women; since there were no cre­den­tials for the work, those who want­ed to do it or have it done had to get inter­est­ed peo­ple and have them trained ad-hoc. Often, the work­ers had to train them­selves. After about ten years, acad­e­mia got into the act. We began to get ‘soft­ware engi­neers’ and ‘com­put­er sci­en­tists’. Acad­e­mia knew what an engi­neer looked like, and it was­n’t a woman. So the pop­u­la­tion became pre­dom­i­nant­ly male (and White). The prob­lem isn’t with the work; it’s with the aca­d­e­m­ic insti­tu­tions that set them­selves up as the gate­way to the work.

  • Angeles Leira says:

    I won­der if my moth­er Ange­les Alvari­no is in your list. She should be. She was an oceanographer/marine biol­o­gist spe­cial­iz­ing in phy­to­plank­ton. She dis­cov­ered 22 new species of these, among them sev­er­al that are ocean­cur­rent indi­ca­tors such as Sagi­ta Scripp­sae .
    If you are inter­est­ed I can send you her cur­ricu­lum vitae. She is list­ed in sev­er­al books of great sci­en­tists etc
    Look­ing for­ward to hear­ing from you
    Ange­les Leira-Alvari­no

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