Thursday, May 31, 2007

Watson on Female Scientists

Lab Lit points to an article in The Scientist about James Watson's response to his not-so-flattering portrayal in the up-coming Rosalind Franklin biopic "The Broken Code."

Despite [James] Watson's assertion that he ‘didn't know Rosalind [Franklin] well,’ he proffered a psychiatric diagnosis for her: Asperger syndrome, the autistic spectrum disorder, which he insisted is common among women who are talented at science."

- Ishani Ganguli writing in The Scientist
I could say "it takes one to know one," but that would be childish. I'll just leave it with Watson's patronizing description of Franklin from The Double Helix, his memoir of the discovery of the structure of DNA.
By choice she did not emphasize her feminine qualities. Though her features were strong, she was not unattractive and might have been quite stunning had she taken even a mild interest in clothes. This she did not. There was never lipstick to contrast with her straight black hair, while at the ag of thirty-one her dresses showed all the imagination of English blue-stocking adolescents. So it was quite easy to imagine her the product of an unsatisfied mother who unduly stressed the desirability of professional careers that could save bright girls from marriages to dull men. But that was not the case. Her dedicated, austere life could not be thus explained - she was the daughter of a solidly comfortable, erudite banking family.
Are male scientists ever criticized for being unfashionable and dedicated to their work? I really don't think Watson should be so concerned that the movie makes him look like an ass.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Fictional Female Scientists

On my science fiction blog, I recently posted about the benefits of reading fiction. It's not just that storybooks and novels are a fun way to develop the reading skills that are essential for learning pretty much every other subject. Fiction about science can inspire kids to learn more about real science, and, despite the way scientists are often depicted, to become scientists themselves.

Just think how many more kids would consider becoming scientists if they were more positively portrayed in popular culture - not just in books, but in movies and on TV. The standard stereotype is that scientists are socially inept and/or oblivious to potential consequences of their research. The upcoming comedy series on CBS, "The Big Bang Theory," seems to fit that profile. It features several geeky male scientists who try to impress their beautiful but not so bright female neighbor. Zuska doesn't mince words:

This is just a new form of unattractiveness: scientific expertise as an impediment to sexiness. Over on Grey's Anatomy, the surgeons can be as competent as they wanna be and still get it on in the on call room. But a top-notch physicist; nosiree, he doesn't know how to tie his own shoes. Especially if he's from India. No sex at the linear accelerator! And please, don't even get me started on the theorists; definitely no sex for the paper-and-pencil guys.
In response to the commenters who argue that stereotyped characters are just the nature of sitcoms, Zuska makes a great point:
I'd like you to consider this proposition: Humor that is based on stereotypes is only "humorous" if you believe in the underlying stereotype. I do not believe in the myth of the socially awkward scientist. I know many scientists who are all warm wonderful people with lots of interests who happen to do science for a living. I know a few who are intensely narrowly focused on science and a little less well-rounded. I know people like that in fields other than science, too. Scientists are human beings, and they come in all sorts of varieties. They aren't even all the same kind of scientist. Can you seriously contend that oceanographers, physicists, biologists, mathematicians, geographers, electrical engineers, pharmacists, are all the same "kind" of scientist? How can you say all the people who do all those varied careers are exactly the same kind of people?
It's a vicious circle: the stereotypes are considered funny because people think they are essentially true, and people think they are essentially true because they keep seeing the same stereotypical characters. Most people don't personally know any scientists, so how would they know otherwise? On top of the negative scientist stereotypes, fictional female scientists are often turn out to be the lone woman in an otherwise completely male workplace. I sometimes get the feeling that the male to female to ratio is worse in many fictional research facilities than in real life.

Fortunately there are a number of books in which female scientists play a significant role. Some places to start:
On the Feminist SF Blog lquilter suggests the next WisCon specifically have a panel on women scientists, including:
women scientists you’ve never heard of (* who may win the nobel prize some day … * who have already won the nobel prize … * who should have won the nobel prize … * who have no relationship to the nobel prize (and what’s wrong with the nobel prize anyway))
That would be a step in the right direction. If only there was some way to get the TV network people to attend . . .

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

2007 L'Oreal USA Fellowships

As reported in Genetic Engineering & Technology News, the 2007 recipients of the L'Oreal USA Fellowships For Women in Science have been announced. The winners all received their Ph.D.s within the last couple of years. Here are the winners, with research descriptions from the press release (I've added information about their current position if I could find it):

-- Dr. Jaime D. Barnes University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico - earth scientist and geochemist, analyzing chlorine isotope ratios of rocks, minerals and volcanic gas to determine the source of chlorine emitted from active volcanoes. Dr. Barnes is identifying sources of chlorine in two very different subduction zones, and has recognized important isotopic fractionation processes between hydrochloric acid solutions and vapor, which have implications for the fundamental dissociation of hydrochlorine in aqueous solutions. Her work may hold the key to how volcanic eruptions occur and thus help scientists to predict future eruptions.

Barnes is currently a postdoc in the lab of Zachary Sharp.

-- Dr. Sarah Clinton - Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience Research Institute, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan - neuroscientist, studying the roles that nature and nurture play in shaping emotionality and emotionally-driven behaviors in rats. She is breeding two types of rats with differences in emotional behavior and comparing the impact of mothering-styles on their offspring's behavior and neural stress-circuitry. When complete, this body of work should yield a greater understanding of how genetic and environmental factors interact to shape inborn differences in emotionality which may, in turn, put certain individuals at risk for developing stress-induced psychiatric disorders.

It looks like she is currently working in the lab of Huda Akil.

-- Dr. Julie Huber - Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, Massachusetts -oceanographer, researching the microbial ecology of deep-sea hydrothermal vents. Dr. Huber is using large insert DNA libraries to understand the metabolic capacity, genomic context and phylogenetic relationships of subseafloor communities. Her project applies a combined molecular diversity, metagenomic, and geochemical approach to provide a window into the microbial world. Dr. Huber's work will help researchers better understand how microbial populations function in and regulate the world's oceans.

Huber is currently a Research Associate at MBL. Her research is associated with NASA's Astrobiology Institute.

-- Dr. Maria Krisch - University of California, Irvine, Irvine, California - physical chemist, researching fundamental properties of the surfaces of liquid solutions. Dr. Krisch's area of focus is understanding liquid-vapor interfaces at the molecular level, which has been examined extensively with water-based solutions but not non-aqueous solutions. Her research focuses on liquid solutions of electrolytes, which are important in studying atmospheric chemistry. Her findings will have several practical applications, including bringing a much needed quantitative and physical picture to the role that aerosol particles play in pollution and climate change.

Krisch is a postdoc in John Hemminger's research group at Irvine.

-- Dr. Kim Woodrow - Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut - biomedical engineer, developing new drug delivery strategies and diagnostic tools for the monitoring and treatment of infectious diseases and cancer. Dr. Woodrow's research is doing this by using various bioactive peptides to engineer multifunctional nanoparticles. In particular, she is interested in designing biodegradable nanoparticles that will be efficiently delivered intracellularly once at a target site. This combination of molecular biology strategy and nanotechnology will likely translate into new technology for imaging and treating diseases.

Woodrow is a postdoc in the Yale biomedical engineering department, probably in the lab of W. Mark Saltzman.
Astronaut and physicist Sally Ride was presented the Women in Science Role Model Award "for her role in helping to shape the image of women in science." Ride currently is CEO of Sally Ride Science, which runs programs to encourage girls in science and technology.
A key part of our corporate mission is to make a difference in girls' lives, and in society's perceptions of their roles in technical fields. Our publications and out-of-school programs bring science to life and show kids that science is creative, collaborative, fascinating and fun.
The non-USA divisions of L'Oreal also award women science fellowships. For example, The Star online recently reported on the L’Oreal Malaysia For Women in Science Fellowships. The fellowships are for Malaysian female PhDs under the age of 35 working in materials science-related fields. Last year the winners were "Munirah Sha’ban, 26, for researching tissue engineering and regenerative medicine at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), Crystale Lim Siew Ying, 24 for researching molecular genetics at Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) and Dr Latifah Saiful Yazan, 35, researching a plant extract as a potential cancer-curing agent at UPM."

Also, in conjunction with UNESCO, L'Oreal awards fellowships to women scientists all over the world. The 2007 UNESCO-L'OREAL International Fellows are:
Mestawet Taye Asfaw, food science, Ethiopia
Khady Nani Drame, plant biotechnology, Senegal
Christine Ouinsavi, forest biology, Benin

Fatima Abbas, plant molecular biology, Sudan
Sarrah Ben M'Barek, plant biotechnology, Tunisia
Rhimou Bouhlal, marine biology, Morocco

Fenny Dwivany, molecular biology, Indonesia
Barno Sultanova, biotechnology, Uzbekistan
Chawanee Thongpanchang, medicinal chemistry, Thailand

Irene Chiolo, biomedicine, Italy
Gisella Cruz Garcia, conservation biology, Netherlands
Petra Klepac, epidemiology, Croatia

Venetia Briggs, behavioral ecology, Belize
Nancy Chandia, organic chemistry, Chile
Laura Echarte, crop physiology, Argentina
The application deadline for the 2008 awards is September 14, 2007.

As an aside: the L'Oreal web site is all in (mostly superfluous) flash. It makes Firefox run very s-l-o-w-l-y and they even have a multistep flash interface for subscribing to their RSS feed. Very annoying!
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Friday, May 25, 2007

Friday Links

Lots of interesting blog posts and news I didn't get to blogging this week.

She's Such a Geek writes about an article by Rachel Maines in the Chronicle of Higher Education, "Why Women Become Veterinarians But Not Engineers" (temporary link). Amazingly, in 2006 99% of Purdue veterinary medicine undergraduates are female. From the article:

No other profession in the United States has experienced as significant a gender shift as veterinary medicine has. The profession's transformation is not complete, of course. A significant earnings gap persists between men and women, which statistics from the veterinary-medicine association suggest is gradually being reduced as female practitioners gain more years of experience. And women in the field are more likely than men to work part time, which would explain some of the gap.
We still don't understand why women have come to dominate the field. It's not just that antidiscrimination legislation opened up the field, since there hasn't been a similar influx of women into engineering and the physical sciences. It may be that men are being driven away by the relatively low pay. Or, Maines asks, "Could the cause instead be that treating cats and dogs, now more common patients than in the past, is insufficiently macho?"
Science Daily reports on a study from the University of Chicago that suggests that the stereotype that girls are worse at math than boys creates anxiety that causes girls to perform poorly in other subjects too.

"This may mean that if a girl takes a verbal portion of a standardized test after taking the mathematics portion, she may not do as well on the verbal portion as she might do if she had not been recently struggling with math-related worries and anxiety," said Sian Beilock, Assistant Professor in Psychology and lead investigator in the study.

"Likewise, our work suggests that if a girl has a mathematics class first thing in the morning and experiences math-related worries in this class, these worries may carry implications for her performance in the class she attends next," she added.

The paper is Beilock S., Rydell R., & McConnell A.R. "Stereotype Threat and Working Memory: Mechanisms, Alleviation, and Spill Over," J. Exp. Psych: General, 136, 256-276 (2007).
Women in Tech News points out a study from the University of Michigan that women are happier if they wait until after the age of 25 to have kids. The study, lead by sociologist Amy Pienta (listen to podcast), indicates that adult relationships are the most important factor in a woman's happiness.
"Whether a woman has had children or not isn’t likely to affect her psychological well-being in later life," said University of Michigan sociologist Amy Pienta. "What is more important is whether or not she has a husband, a significant other or close social relationships in her life as she ages."
Inkling Magazine interviews neurobiologist Jill Bolte Taylor, who had a stroke at age 37 that eliminated her math and language skills. After eight years of therapy, which included the creation of stained-glass brains, she has almost fully recovered. She talks about her recovery in her new book, My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey.
Zuska asks whether Women's Studies programs are good for science, if they are taking away women would otherwise be studying engineering or science themselves. As she notes in the comments:
If women's studies stops at just critiquing science - if it cannot summon up interest for the conditions and concerns of actual women in science and engineering - then something has gone badly wrong. What use is all the high theory in the world, if we are still bleeding women at every level? How will our sophisticated visions for feminist transformations of science come into being if there aren't any feminists in science? I'm not saying every woman in science is a feminist, but damn, you're more likely to get some feminists in science if you work to increase the numbers of women in science.
Dr. Shellie found a great photo of physicist Elsa Garmire running a laser in the late 70s.
The Intel ISEF blog has some post-fair statistics, including that 236 of the 547 individual award winners were female. They also interview first time ISEF finalist Chang Liu about her research on hematopoetic stem cells.
The San Diego Business Journal interviews Julia Brown, "Biotech Pioneer, Angel Investor and Girl Scouts Honoree." Brown started her career as a microbiology researcher, but found her niche on the business side of biotech. She is currently advisor to Amylin’s chief executive officer, a Tech Coast Angel ("one of the few women in the exclusive, invite-only group that invests into local startups"), a member of the board of Trius Therapeutics and several other biotech companies, as well as the La Jolla Institute for Molecular Medicine, the Veterans Medical Research Foundation and the UC San Diego Foundation. When asked whether she had any advice for women, she responded:
“I don’t know that I would say anything different to women than men. All of us need to make sure to keep our skill sets current.”
The Daily Tarheel writes about a visit of a group of girls in the Durham County Women and Mathematics Mentoring Program to perform experiments on the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center's DESTINY bus.
"It's important for girls to do whatever they like, and this is the age when they decide what they like. Science can be intimidating, and it is good for them to see women in science and math," says Bell, a service processor test lead at IBM who has been involved with the program for two years.

"(TV) shows like CSI help to dispel the stereotype that science is a nerdy field. The girls see science in these shows and want to do what the scientists are doing."
Lab Cat reviews Meg Cabot's Size 12 is Not Fat and points out the unrealistic female scientist character.

Unfortunately a day after reading it, I got annoyed. There are some major flaws with the plot. (If you are likely to read the book, this will be a spoiler.) The biggest one of which is that the Hall Director, Heather's female boss, claims to be a graduate from a chemical engineering program. Which is totally unbelievable as I seriously doubt any chemical engineering major, male or female, would work in a dorm for about $25,000 a year despite free accommodation in the center of New York. Perhaps she hated ChemEng, but the salary disparity betweenwhat she is earning and what should could earn is too big.
Finally, David Ng at The World's Fair talks about Disney's High School Musical:
This Disney movie has the pitch: Troy, the popular captain of the basketball team, and Gabriella, the brainy and beautiful member of the academic club, break all the rules of East High society when they secretly audition for the leads in the school's musical. As they reach for the stars and follow their dreams, everyone learns about acceptance, teamwork, and being yourself. (from

In essense, the lead female character is into science, math and chemistry if I recall correctly - and yes, in the end, that's actually a good thing. That's not so bad for a movie that was seen by millions of people.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Open Laboratory: The Best Writing on Science Blogs 2007 Call for Entires

Zuska has a reminder for people to nominate blog posts by or about women in science for the 2007 Science Blogging anthology, The Open Laboratory: The Best Writing on Science Blogs 2007.

Just enter the post information in the submission form. Easy!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

4th PostDoc Carnival

For an inside look at life in an academic lab, check out the 4th What's Up Postdoc? carnival at Minor Revisions. The next is scheduled for June 23 at On being a scientist and a woman.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Women Working, 1800-1930

I just stumbled on the Harvard Open Collections Program "Women Working, 1800-1930", a great digital database of books, photos, diaries, and trade catalogs. It covers all kinds of work, from unpaid household labor to lawyers and politicians. And, of course, scientists.

A few of the gems:

Women in chemistry. New York City: Bureau of Vocational Information, 1922

This is a guide for women interested in pursuing a career in chemistry. According to their statistics, in 1920 about 5.2% of all chemists were women, and women received almost 10% of the chemistry PhDs (impressive considering many universities did not allow women into their chemistry programs). It also has this interesting tidbit:

Although their number is small, women are not newcomers in the field of chemistry. It was a book by an American woman, "Conversations on Chemistry*," written in 1813 by Mrs. J Marcet, of New Haven, which contributed to the great Faraday's first interest in chemistry, according to his own statement, when as an apprentice bookbinder he snatched moments form his work to read the books which came to be bound in his employer's shop. (p.3)
The tone is upbeat about the future of women in chemistry professions.
In short, the present is a good time for those women who will consider chemistry seriously as a career although tradition and prejudice against them are still to be reckoned with, especially in industry. The ability of women has been demonstrated. The air has been cleared in the period of economic depression; it is ability which will count in the future as better efficiency in industry is demanded.
You can read Jane Marcet's original 1809 Conversations on Chemistry (or the updated 1853 edition) thanks to Google Books. Marcet make no claim of being a chemist herself, rather she attended lectures on chemistry and was interested enough to further her own education.
But frequent opportunities having [after the lectures] occurred of conversing with a friend on the subject of chemistry, and of repeating a variety or experiments, she became better acquainted with the principles of that science, and began to feel highly interested in its pursuit. It was then that she perceived, in attending the excellent lectures delivered at the Royal Institution, by the present Professor of Chemistry, the great advantage with her previous knowledge of the subject, slight as it was, gave her over others who had not enjoyed the same means of private instruction.
She wrote the Conversations on Chemistry to share her knowledge with other women.

Richards, Ellen H. (Ellen Henrietta). The chemistry of cooking and cleaning. Boston: Estes & Lauriat, 1882.

The author of The Chemistry of Cooking, Ellen Swallow Richards, was a pioneer in both chemistry and in the education of women in science:

When she graduated [from Vassar] in 1870, she tried to find a job as a chemist, but there were none to be had, at least not for a woman. She decided to continue her study of chemistry and was accepted as a "special student" at the recently founded Massachusetts Institute of Technology. M.I.T. charged her no tuition, which she initially believed to be an effort to assist a poor student. Later she learned that it was so the president could "say she was not a student, "should any of the trustees or students make a fuss about [her] presence."

She received a BS from M.I.T in 1873 and continued her studies at the Institute for another two years. She never received the doctorate she hoped for reportedly because "the heads of the department did not wish a woman to receive the first D.S. in chemistry." While this was a deep disappointment (and a great injustice), the lack of a PhD. did not prove to be much of a hindrance to Ellen Swallow Richards in her work.
. . . after her marriage, Ellen Swallow Richards was able to devote herself to a cause very close to her heart, the scientific education of women. With funding from the Women's Education Association of Boston, in 1876 she established a Woman's Laboratory at M.I.T. — the first laboratory in the world specifically designed to encourage women to pursue scientific study — and assisted the professor who ran it. She contributed her services and an average of $1,000 a year during the lab's seven years of existence. Training was offered in chemical analysis, industrial chemistry, mineralogy, and biology, subjects many female students were encountering for the first time.

The Chemistry of Cooking and Cleaning is a basic primer targeted to non-scientist women, with the goal of both improving the efficiency of housekeeping and preventing the housekeeper from being cheated by worthless "patent" compounds. It talks about the atomic formulas of common household chemicals such as quick-lime and carbonic acid, explains how atomic weights are calculated and shows simple chemical reactions. It's sort of a 19th-century equivalent of a Harold McGee book.

What I love about the text is that it assumes that women are both interested in and capable of learning chemistry. No need to make it sexy or pink or frilly.

Mitchell, Henry. Biographical notice of Maria Mitchell. [Cambridge, Mass.?: Academy of American Arts and Sciences, 1889?].

Maria Mitchell was born in 1818, the daughter of a teacher and amateur astronomer. She became his assistant and made many astronomical observations, including Halley's comment in 1835. She eventually made novel observations of her own (including a new comet) and was the "first and only" woman inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1848. In 1865 she became the first Professor of Astronomy at Vassar. While she was influenced professionally by her astronomer father, her mother influenced her politics.
Maria Mitchell was selected as President of "The American Association for the Advancement of Women," at the meeting in Syracuse of 1875 , and again at the meeting in Philadelphia of 1876. And here again we discover a logical relation to the conditions of her early life. In what, long after, came to be called the "Woman's Movement," Miss Mitchell's mother had taken a decided interest, and lent to it her sympathy, at least to the extent that it sought ot open to young women larger opportunities for earning their living by intelligent labor. It was, to this extent, in the very genius of Quakerism and consonant with its "Discipline." Miss Mitchell took many steps beyond her mother in this direction, but always with a quiet dignity that became one whose life presented an illustration of the loftiest purpose that the "movement" entertained. (p. 341).
She died in 1889. I assume that the author of this text, Henry Mitchell, was Maria's nephew or brother. In 1908 the Maria Mitchell Observatory was opened in her honor in Nantucket.
After browsing through the Women Working collection, I learned about three interesting women I knew nothing of yesterday. I figure that means I've had a productive evening.

Tags: , , , . The image is a detail from "Observatory women computers", taken in 1891. "The women depicted in this photograph analyzed stellar photographs and computed data at the Harvard College Observatory."

Monday, May 21, 2007

Girls Minds vs. Boys Minds

Pat at Fairer Science points out a recent study to be published in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society that has found that there are only small differences between the brain development of boys and girls.

The study, lead by Deborah P. Waber of Children's Hospital Boston, used data from the NIH MRI Study of Normal Brain Development, which follows a group of children from age 6 to 18. The JotINS is behind a subscription wall, but the study is summarized on Among the findings:

  • Mental performance differs little by gender. "We found a few significant differences that we would have suspected," Waber said. "For example, boys are better at visual and spatial tasks, and girls are better at motor speed, but there are no differences in many other paths, like memory."
The overview of the study by Scientific American has a few more technical details.

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"Why Aren't More Women in Science?"

Computer scientist Gregory V. Wilson has reviewed the 2006 anthology Why Aren't More Women in Science? Top Researchers Debate the Evidence for Dr. Dobbs Journal, calling it possibly "the most important book I've ever reviewed."

Assembled in the wake of the Larry Summers controversy by Cornell Human Ecology Professors Stephen J. Ceci and Wendy M. Williams, the book is unique in its inclusion of a wide diversity of views from both the sociological and biological perspectives. According to an interview with the editors by Inside Higher Education, Ceci and Williams wanted to be sure that all voices in the debate would be heard, even those making unpopular but data-supported arguments.

It is only by open and honest consideration of all types of evidence that society can hope to navigate this issue. What, if anything, should be done to increase the representation of women in certain fields? The answer to this seemingly simple and straightforward question is anything but simple, and it requires consideration of multiple viewpoints and diverse types of data. (Note that we said data, not rhetoric.) It should not be left to a coterie of science policy aficionados to decide whether the current state of affairs is unfair, and if it is unfair, to decide what should be done to encourage greater participation by girls and women.
Editors Ceci and Williams conclude that there is no easy solution to closing the gender gap:
The bottom line is that the pipeline leading females into mathematically-intensive science careers leaks at every step along the way, from elementary school through post-Ph.D. tenure decisions. If you look only at the women who earn doctorates in the sciences, a smaller proportion of them are in satisfying, successful careers than is true of men. Either they managed to get tenure, but express lower levels of satisfaction with their jobs, or they never go on tenure track, or they quickly go off tenure track to raise families, care for elders, or follow partners. The “barriers” they face are those associated with being asked to perform maximally at jobs at a time in their lives when other needs compete for their energy and time, such as family care. Some opine that if women had the flexibility to move slower at first until their family needs were met, they could be very productive later in their scientific careers. As evidence for this assertion there are some very limited small-scale data from one or two fields showing that mid-career and older female scientists produce articles that are cited more highly than articles by their male colleagues — thus leading to the argument that women would excel, if only they could be allowed delayed start-ups. As we see it, there is no easy solution to this situation, and if delayed start-ups were permitted, it would raise a host of other serious issues having to do with gender equity and ensuring and evaluating progress in professional fields.
Wilson gives an overview of the topics covered and notes that the book is refreshingly lacking in overt politics, concluding that "These are scientists, wrestling with an emotive issue as objectively as they can. For that alone, it's worth reading." Wilson himself has written about the gender imbalance in the computer sciences.
Several years ago, Michelle Levesque and I looked at the gender balance in open source (see Open Source, Cold Shoulder). While the male:female ratio in the software industry is between 7:1 and 12:1, depending on how you measure it, the ratio in open source is at least 200:1, and probably worse. For a community that talks so loudly about freedom and rights, I think that's shameful; I think it's even more shameful that so many people in that community choose not to notice, or say (rather defensively), "Well, it's not my fault." I think some social refactoring is long overdue; I think that programs like the one Jane Margolis and Allan Fisher led at Carnegie-Mellon, and described in their book Unlocking the Clubhouse, matter a lot more than copyright reform or the fight against software patents. Sadly, though, our profession is self-selected for people who don't agree, and that, I think, is the greatest shame of all.
Why Aren't More Women. . . sounds like an interesting book, but $35 is a bit pricey for me. I'll have to wait until it goes into the Amazon bargain bin (or my local library gets a copy) to read it.

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Inspiring Minds: Meet Women in Science

The Boston Globe spoke to Brindha Muniappan, a health science educator at Boston's Museum of Science. Muniappan has a PhD in genetic toxicology and taught at the University of Guam before coming to the U.S.

Now, Muniappan's job is to organize lectures and speak to lay audiences about developments in current health science -- subjects like breakthroughs in asthma or cancer research. This month, she has organized a series of public interviews at the museum with women doing exceptional work in technical fields, with the aim of inspiring girls to think about the career options that can come from earning, say, a doctorate in genetic toxicology.

"A lot of girls turn away from science," she says. "So the more young girls we can inspire, the better."

The Inspiring Minds program at the Boston Museum of Science continues through the end of May (almost over, sorry about that). Here is the full schedule:
  • Dr. Pauline Barmby (May 6), astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, she studies how galaxies are formed and is a member of the instrument team for the Infrared Array Camera on the Spitzer Space Telescope.
  • Amy Brodeur (May 6), criminalist from the Boston Police Crime Laboratory and faculty member in the Biomedical Forensic Sciences Program at Boston University.
  • Dr. Kathleen Dudzinski (May 6), a marine biologist and director of the Dolphin Communication Project at the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut. Dr. Dudzinski is also one of the lead scientists featured in the large-format film, Dolphins.
  • Dr. Michelle Potashman (May 13), medicinal chemist at Amgen who holds four patents through her work there.
  • Dr. Rachelle Reisberg (May 20), director of Women in Engineering Programs at Northeastern University and co-founder of a startup company specializing in speech recognition software.
  • Erika Ebbel (May 27), MIT chemistry graduate and Miss Massachusetts 2004, who currently is a Ph.D. candidate at Boston University Medical School and CEO of WhizKids Foundation.
  • Dr. Eva Schernhammer (May 27), associate professor and epidemiologist at the Harvard Schools of Medicine and Public Health, who studies the relation of circadian rhythms and melatonin to cancer risk.
Visit the Museum of Science web site for more information.


Friday, May 18, 2007

Odds and Ends

A few of the blog posts and articles that caught my eye this week, in no particular order:

Assistant professor and X-Gal Rachel Cantwell writes about the discrepancy between the gender and race composition of science fair participants and judges for The Chronicle of Higher Education, and reflects on how the similar lack of role models in academia affects the creation of a welcoming culture for women and minorities.

In my current position, as well as when I travel for my work, I am routinely confronted by the predominance of men within the profession, particularly in positions of power or leadership, such as full professors, symposium organizers, or provosts. I am surprised I didn't understand the implications of that when I was an undergraduate or even a graduate student. But now I do.
She's Such a Geek weighs in on the "Girls of Engineering" calendar.
A Natural Scientist asks "When is it appropriate to wear "pretty" clothing in the lab?" I left a comment over there, but my take is that the peer pressure to not "dress up" often has as much to do with class as it does with gender, since secretaries and sales reps are often the best dressed people you'll see in a science environment. However, if the clothes are comfortable, don't break any regulations on exposed limbs, and you aren't worried about spilling, why not wear a ruffled dress on a hot day?
Pat at Fairer Science writes about the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) summit she is attending. (And, yes, I'm jealous of her hike Rocky Mountain National Park).
Zuska points to the May 14 Baldo comic strip, in which Baldo's sister Gracie proclaims "I like math"
ScienceRoll has found a neat video on Rosalind Franklin's work by artists Wyllie O Hagan, created to raise awareness of ovarian cancer.
Modern Mechanix has posted an article from the October 1927 issue of Popular Science titled "Unique Activities of Unusual People." It includes a photo of Northwestern University chemist Gladys E. Woodward, as she "works on a method of removing sulphur" from petroleum. A quick search turns up a number organic chemistry and biochemistry papers by Woodward published in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. Turns out that she moved to Philadelphia in the early 1930s, and eventually ended up at the Biochemical Research Foundation in Delaware. It looks like she had a productive career in science.
The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair blog has a video of Caroline Wurden (Los Alamos, NM) explaining her physics project "Great Balls of Fire" and an audio interview with 2006 Intel Foundation Young Scientist Award winner Meredith MacGregor (Boulder, CO) on her research on the "Brazil Nut Effect."
Wired Science points to two interviews with science journalist Natalie Angier - one in the Boston Globe and another on NPR's All Things Considered. Angier considers science "the sexiest thing alive." Her latest book, The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science, was released on May 1.
The May/June issue of MIT's Technology Review profiles new astronomy faculty member Sara Seager in "Planet Gazer"
Flea at Feministe reviews recently-published The Dangerous Book for Boys, and likes it - despite the title.
I’m pretty sure we girls are allowed to read it. I don’t think anybody’s going to come along and snatch it out of our delicate, manicured hands. Which is great, because this book kicks so much ass I think everyone should buy it. I seriously cannot say enough good things about the book itself. It really has everything, from the previously mentioned water bomb instructions* to gift wrapping, marbling paper, and poetry (quel butch, no?) to famous battles and true-life tales of derring do. So much is cool in this book that I keep wanting to add to the examples I’m giving. Bugs! Stars! Codes! Invisible Ink! Grammar lessons and Latin (for reals)! Seriously, Latin.

Bitch PhD points to an article in the spring issue of Ms. Magazine that appointment of Drew Gilpin Faust to the presidency of Harvard isn't enough.

Arizona Daily Star notes that "Women graduates increase in science". Between 1995 and 2006 the number of women graduating with science degrees from the University of Arizona jumped from 30% to 39.4%. I imagine there will be more stories like this as we progress through graduation season.


Women Bring New Perspectives to Archaeology

The Bend Weekly News reports on the new book The Invisible Sex and gender bias in the interpretation of archaeological finds.

"I think it's perfectly obvious that the whole man-is-the-hunter idea, while not necessarily totally wrong, was formed from a completely male perspective," said Sarah M. Nelson, a professor of archaeology at the University of Denver.
Perspectives didn't really start to change until the 1960s, when a few female archaeologists began to argue that existing science was based upon faulty premises.

"Some women archaeologists finally just got up and said, 'Wait a second, you're full of ...'" said Nelson.
The typical Natural History Museum diorama showing a male carrying a spear is largely based on the imagination of male archaeologists, not science.

Specifically, they asserted that tool use doesn't necessarily reveal the identity of the tool user. [James M.] Adovasio offered the Clacton tool as a case in point: It is a 300,000-year-old fragment of wood found in 1911 near the town of Clacton-on-the-Sea in England. The standard interpretation is that the tool is a spear point fashioned by a Paleolithic male. Adovasio says this assertion goes too far, given the limited evidence. The Clacton tool, he suggests, might be a fragment of a digging stick once used to unearth edible roots. Or perhaps it was both a spear and a digging tool, used at different times for different purposes by both males and females.

More to the point, Adovasio and colleagues write, "whatever the Clacton tool was (and it probably was a spear point), who is to say that females 300,000 years ago did not make spears and use them to help feed themselves and their offspring?"
I'll confess that I always just assumed there was a substantial basis for the "man is hunter, woman is gatherer" dichotomy. The article is well worth a read.

• "Neanderthal Women Joined Men in the Hunt" New York Times, 5 December 2006.

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Rosalind Franklin Award Winner: Ottoline Leyser

York University biologist Ottoline Leyser has been named the 2007 Royal Society Rosalind Franklin Award winner. The award goes to an individual for "an outstanding contribution to any area of natural science, engineering or technology (SET)." In addition to demonstrating achievement in science or engineering, all nominees were required to submit a "proposal for a project that would raise the profile of women in SET in their host institution and/or field of expertise," and are expected to implement at least part of that proposal if they win.

According to the York University Press*:

Professor Leyser's nomination stated that many women are deferred from pursing a career in science because they believe it is impossible to balance it with having children.

To dispel this myth, she will assemble a collection of time lines, mapping the career paths and family lives of successful women scientists who have children, illustrating the possibility of combining career and family.
"Things are so much easier now for women than during the time that [Rosalind Franklin] was working, there is really no reason why the proportion of women pursuing research careers in science should not be 50 per cent."

She talks about her own experiences on her WISED profile:
Contrary to popular belief, you can do this job and have a life. In fact the job has very flexible hours making it relatively easy to juggle with other responsibilities. There are no rules about the exact career path to follow. People will tell you that there are, but they are wrong. For every rule you are given, there will be plenty of examples of people doing exceptionally well who have broken the “rules”.
Leyser herself "broke the rule" that you must wait until you have a permanent job to start a family.

Leyser and her lab study the role of plant hormones, such as auxin, in plant growth. She will give a public lecture on her work, and the video will be posted on the Royal Society web site .

Other Links:
*The York University Press article calls Leyser a "boffin." For some reason that makes me think of an eccentric middle-aged man wearing a pith helmet, waving a net and chasing butterflies. I guess that's not what it means.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Uppity Women and Sexual Harassment in the Physical Sciences

Catherine Price of writes about the recently-published research of Jennifer Berdahl on sexual harassment in the workplace. Going against the common wisdom, Berdahl concludes that it's not the most stereotypically feminine women who are most likely to be harassed.

She asserts that actually the opposite is true -- women who act like men are the ones who get the most harassment. She thinks that this is because most sexual harassment has little to do with sexual desire; instead, it's used to keep women in their place.

The idea that sexual harassment is about control and power is not that surprising. What's interesting about Berdahl's hypothesis is that it means that the women who act the most like men -- which Berdahl defines as showing stereotypical characteristics like assertiveness, independence and dominance -- are the most likely to be harassed. She calls this phenomenon "gender harassment" and defines it as "a form of hostile environmental harassment that appears to be motivated by hostility toward individuals who violate gender ideals rather than by desire for those who meet them."

Berdahl concludes that there is no clear winning strategy for women who enter traditionally male fields, and changes need to come from within organizations for the situation to improve.
These results highlight the double bind faced by women who are dismissed and disrespected if feminine but scorned and disliked if masculine, limiting their ascent up the organizational ladder [. . .]. There appears to be little that women can do to avoid being victims of sex discrimination. The onus should not be on victims to avoid a wrong but on those in charge to create structures and incentives to prevent it. A better solution to preventing sexual harassment is to focus on systemic means of discouraging such bias. Employers should focus on eliminating different treatments, standards, and status between male and female employees [. . .]. Being outspoken or having a traditionally male job should not be accompanied by punishments for women but not for men, for example. Organizational policies should focus not on banning sexual behavior per se [. . .] but on creating respectful work environments that do not derogate individuals on the basis of sex and treat men and women with the same characteristics the same way.
It seems to me that defining assertive behavior as "masculine" is one of the factors that works against women's career advancement (but that's a different post). In Berdahl's study the "masculinity" of various traits were defined by an apparently standard measure, the Bem Sex Role Inventory, and the conclusions of the study are significant, even when you strip away the issue of "acting feminine" vs. "acting masculine." Simply put, men use sexual harassment to bully women they see as encroaching on their privileged position in the workplace.

There is no argument that science and engineering are traditionally male occupations. However the culture of science, particularly in academia, makes it unusually difficult for women to find recourse for harassing behavior. Women who have come forward with sexual harassment charges against their academic supervisors have had their own behavior, rather than the alleged harasser's behavior, scrutinized. Because academic advisers have such a high level of control over the careers of those who work for them - including publication of their research and recommendations - there is a great disincentive for women to report harassment. As a 2006 article in the Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy concludes:
However, much evidence points to the fact that the sciences are an environment in which women can be sexually harassed with impunity. First, [*pg 137] statistics in the physical sciences indicate that women are not treated as the equals of men; subsequently, women disproportionately occupy low positions of power. Second, there is no consensus in the scientific world about what constitutes sexual harassment; thus, it is not included in the definition of "science misconduct." Third, harassment is facilitated by the institutional hierarchies associated with physical science doctoral programs. Courts exacerbate this situation by failing to account for the unique conditions that exist in science. Ultimately, the behavior and characteristics of the complainant are exploited to her detriment, creating an injustice. Fourth, the government does little, perhaps less than the law requires, to make its grantees aware that their funds are dependent on compliance with Title IX.
Recently, the Nationals Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Energy (DOE) and NASA have begun visiting academic departments to evaluate their compliance with Title IX. While some of the interviewed faculty members feel that the funding agencies' approach has been a "waste of time," others believe this is a step in the right direction.
"To understand if women face barriers, you have to look at the experiences of individuals in the department," says psychologist Abigail Stewart, head of Michigan's Institute for Research on Women and Gender, who was interviewed during the NASA review. Jocelyn Samuels of the National Women's Law Center, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that has pushed for compliance reviews, applauds the government for looking beyond obvious metrics such as the number of women students and faculty members in a particular department. "Sex discrimination in labs ranges from outright harassment and sexual overtures to expressions of doubt about women's capabilities and exclusion of women from social gatherings where lab matters may be discussed," Samuels says.
Too many discussions of sexual harassment are derailed by men complaining that they can't figure out where the boundaries lie. It doesn't seem that hard to me. Simply treat your female and male employees and colleagues in the same way, as individual human beings. When evaluating a woman's achievements, stop a moment and consider whether you would assess them differently if she were a man. Don't assume that any one woman represents all women. Ask yourself whether your behavior is simply meant to make your target uncomfortable. This doesn't mean you can't ask a colleague for a date, but you do need to back off if she shows no interest. And no, you should not be making sexual overtures to anyone who works for you. That isn't so hard, is it?

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Women in Technology 2007 Report

Women in Technology International (WITI) and Compel Organizational Excellence Alliance, Ltd. interviewed nearly 2,000 women managers and CIOs about their experiences in the technology and IT workplace, and released their findings in the Women in Technology 2007 Report.

From the report:

The good news is how apparent it is that women in technology enjoy their work. An eye-popping 75 percent of respondents said they would encourage young women beginning their careers to pursue a technology-related field, a sentiment loudly echoed by the CIOs. There's a consistent view that IT is a good place to learn, be creative and make a difference.

Yet, all is definitely not rosy. Mixed feelings abound regarding whether a level playing field exists for men and women, as well as the extent to which women feel "in control" of their careers. There is also an omnipresewnt frustration that women's views and perspectives are not truly heard and appreciated."
They identify four factors that could make a different in women's satisfaction and retention in technology careers:
  • Give women more opportunities to have their "voices heard" and listen to what they are saying.
  • Establish meaningful mentoring programs.
  • Create organizational programs that support woman managers at the point that is often the pivotal moment of their careers: "mid-career, when they've started a family and have young children, but they are offered a big, important all-consuming assignment."
  • Pay attention to women CIOs when they describe "technology trends that point to increasing opportunities for women's leadership in organizations - including a tectonic shift away from technology as bits and bytes and toward a human focus of helping people do what they do but better."

Download the full report (pdf) and send your comments to wholeworldatwork (at) corp (dot) witi (dot) com. WITI is holding 90-minute "Webinars" on the report and IT as a career, with the next one held on Tuesday, May 29th at 11AM PST ($49 for WITI members, $59 for non-members).

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Cheesecake and Engineers

The IEEE Spectrum writes about how female and male scientists have been judged differently when posing semi-nude. As an example they take a look at the "Girls of Engineering 2007" calendar. It all started when mechanical engineer Jennifer Wood and an anonymous male friend decided to create a calendar that would show that attractive women can be intelligent. While Wood and new partner Syed Karim claim that the purpose was to "challenge stereotypes" by showing that smart women are sexy too. It doesn't seem that they've achieved that goal.

Ask the models themselves, though, and their silence is eloquent. IEEE Spectrum e-mailed 11 of the 12 young women, but only one answered, a 20-year-old mechanical engineering major. Even she asked that her name not be revealed. She said she’d agreed to participate in the project mainly to contradict the stereotype of women in engineering.

“Most of the time when I talk to people and I tell them I’m in engineering, I can feel them treating me as one of ‘those nerds,’ ” she says in an e-mail. “When people think of engineers, they always think of something along the lines of, ‘stay in their own cell, never go out to meet anyone, never do anything for fun, their life revolves around a computer….’ For a female engineer it is even worse.”

She makes a point of contrasting her “nerdy moments” with such out-of-the-cubicle interests as playing guitar and drums, writing music, painting and sculpting, riding in bicycle motocross, surfing, wrestling, and hiking in her home country of New Zealand. Nevertheless, she says that she had hoped to show not just her beach-bunny side but also her engineering persona, and it didn’t happen.

“To be honest, I am disappointed in the outcome of the calendar,” she says. “The maker had a very sound concept to start with. However, when the focal point is sex instead of intelligence, the calendar itself lost its meaning. It is now another Playboy-ish calendar, with amateur models that happen to be in engineering.” She said she preferred a similar project at MIT for putting more stress on engineering and less on cheesecake.

As for the photos*, they are pretty run-of-the-mill cheesecake - undies or bikinis and attractive, but non-siliconized bodies. The trouble is that we live in a world where female engineers and scientists often have to work harder than their male counterparts to achieve the same recognition. The calendar seems to reinforce the stereotype that women should be judged by their appearance rather than their achievements. Judge for yourself.

* My initial reaction was that females over the age of 20 are not "girls," and using that term juvenilizes the models (one of my pet peeves). Would they be too scary if they were sexy, intelligent women?

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Scientiae Carnival #6 @ On Being a Scientist and a Woman

ScienceWoman has just posted Scientiae #6, with the theme of "mothers and others, those who influenced us along the way."

Go. Read. Now.


Monday, May 14, 2007

Interview with 2006 Intel ISEF winner Shannon Babb

The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair blog has posted an interview with 2006 ISEF winner Shannon Babb. Babb also won the Seaborg Award, which allowed her to travel to Stockholm to attend the Nobel Prize Award presentation .

One thing that struck me about the interview was that Babb seems to have had an enthusiastic and inspirational high school science teacher:

Q: As the winner of the Seaborg Award at last year's Intel ISEF, you attended the 2006 Nobel Prize Award Ceremonies in Stockholm. What was your most memorable experience there?

A: Well, when I won I had to call Mr. Allen, who was my science teacher all through high school. Every December, he'd throw Nobel day. He had a life goal--when he was younger, he wanted to go to the Nobels. But as he got older, he realized that that probably wouldn't happen. So his life goal then became meeting someone who had been at the Nobels. And I, I actually started crying after I got the award, because it was something very, very important to my teacher, who had given a lot for his students. That's part of what made that entire experience so very special.
Hooray for Mr. Allen and all the teachers who help instill a love a science in their students!

Babb is currently a freshman in Watershed Sciences at Utah State University, where she is "researching paleoclimate indicators and paleocurrents in the Neoproterozoic Era, so I'm working with about 1-billion-year-old rocks, trying to determine what was happening on Earth at that time. " Cool stuff.

Be sure to check out the ISEF blog for more info and photos from the fair.

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Closing the Gender Gap in California?

She's Such a Geek points to an analysis of PhDs awarded by California universities, originally published in the Sacramento Bee, that shows the gender gap to be narrowing.

For its analysis, The Bee looked at computer science, the physical sciences, mathematics and engineering -- the four large disciplines with the biggest gender gap in doctoral students.

In the UC system between 1994 and 1996, 527 women received doctorates in those disciplines, according to the California Postsecondary Education Commission. From 2003 to 2005, the most recent years available, that number rose to 681. That's a roughly 30 percent increase.

A big, obvious gap still exists -- but it's shrinking. Across the UC system, the ratio of men-to-women doctorates in those four disciplines went from 4.8 to 1 a decade ago to 3.5 to 1 in the most recent figures.

PhDs awarded by California private colleges show a similar trend. They attribute some of the increase to the "snowball effect," in which the presence of women in science and engineering programs makes those programs more woman-friendly. They also cite the active recruitment of women and other underrepresented groups.

I'd expect the gap to be even narrower if the natural sciences were included in the study, since even back in 1993 women earned 40% of the doctorates in the biological sciences.

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Happy Mother's Day!

On this Mother's Day, the women who are able to balance motherhood and a career in science deserve special recognition. Most scientists work long hours for relatively low pay and rarely have access to affordable child care. There is an expectation that your personal life will come second to your research. Despite that, women are still expected to be be the primary care givers of their children. Back when I was a graduate student, I felt like I barely had time to take care of myself, let alone anyone else. I can't imagine how they do it other than being super organized, very smart, and strong enough to take the time they need with their kids, despite the fact that might be met with disapproval from their non-parent and non-caregiver colleagues. Is that a cape I see peeking out from under their lab coats?

Janet Stemwedel has a fantastic three-part interview with her mom, Sally Stemwedel, who went back to college in her mid-30s to study astronomy.

Her mom is one of those women who was able to create a science career that fit her family life:
I believe that persisting to the goal firmly established in my mind that my stubbornness was really one of my gifts (when used properly). That has been exceedingly important in my work AND personal life since then.

It also taught me this lesson: If you can figure out an accommodation that can make things work, you'll only get it if you ask (and fight) for it. No one is going to volunteer to do it the way you need to get the job done. You have to make your case. That gave me the gall to ask to work mostly from New Jersey at an astronomy job in Washington, D.C., once I had had a year being away from home 5 days a week while your younger brothers were 12 and 14. I figured out a solution, made my case (and backed it up by interviewing for other jobs closer to home), and got the accommodation.

There are a number of scientist-moms who have been willing to share their experiences on their blogs, including (in no special order): Janet Stemwedel, Professing Mama, Addy N., ScienceWoman, PhDMom, Female Science Professor, SciMom, Alethea, Karmen, Absinthe, Wildvineyard, Michelle, Rebecca, MVidya, new mama Jane, the women who contribute to Mums in Science, and anyone else I've missed.

Special thanks also go to the moms out there who encouraged and supported their daughters' interests in science and engineering, including my own. Thanks mom!

Happy Mother's Day!

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Rosalind Franklin and Hedy Lamarr movies in the works

In a report filed with Nature News on the Science and Technology Series at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival, Emma Marris notes that there are two movies about women in technology and science may be in the works:

The rumour mill has it that the life of Heddy Lamar [sic] — the glamorous actress and inventor of the cryptographic strategy of hopping between radio frequencies to keep a message secret — is slated to be turned into a film called Face Value. I heard the name Anna Paquin (Oscar-winning child star of The Piano, now grown up) floating around for the lead role. Broken Code will take as its subject Rosalind Franklin, the molecular biologist involved with the discovery of DNA, and may be directed by Peter Bogdanovich (acclaimed director of The Last Picture Show amongst others).
The Franklin movie isn't much of a secret; the Time Out Movie Blog reported on Bogdanovich's "Broken Code" a year ago. According to its IMDB entry, it's based on Anne Sayre's biography, Rosalind Franklin and DNA, which was written in response to Watson's The Double Helix.
After reading James Watson's The Double Helix (1968), Anne Sayre began working on an account of the role of Rosalind Franklin in the discovery of the structure of DNA. Sayre felt that the portrait of her friend Franklin (who had died in 1958) that emerged from Watson's book was not only unflattering, but wrong.
Sayre herself was an interesting woman. After her death in 1998, her husband wrote an appreciation of her life for the International Union of Crystallography which explains her special relationship with Franklin:

Anne was not a scientist. In 1943, having gone to Radcliffe College and gotten a degree in government, she joined the Radiation Laboratory at M.I.T. to do her bit for the war effort; her job had to do with ordering special-design transformers for the lab. She never really came to know what a transformer was, and within a few months, feeling that her efforts were really helping our opponents more than ourselves, she left the lab for a job she could handle. She was there long enough, however, for us to meet, and shortly after the war we married.

But if not a scientist herself, she cared for scientists and in an important sense, understood their work; married to a scientist, she often said that she was a camp-follower to the scientists. And she was articulate. From about the mid-40s to the mid-70s, she was a successful writer, mainly of short stories, of which several found their way into the Foley's and the Best American Short Stories collections. When in 1949 we went to England so that I could study crystallography under Dorothy Hodgkin, she helped keep us financially afloat with her sales of stories, and with her job as an editor at the Oxford University Press. It happened too, in 1949, that she met Rosalind Franklin, and they became fast friends. We saw Rosalind fairly frequently through the next two years, while we were in Oxford and she in London, this period covering most of the period of Rosalind's work on DNA, though not the final months, as we came home to the U.S. in Sept 1951, a few months prior to the solving of the DNA structure. In the next few years she visited us several times in the U.S., and I think it was in 1957 that Anne helped nurse her in England following her unsuccessful operation for cancer. Rosalind died in 1958.

After completing the Franklin biography, at the age of 52, Sayre went back to school, getting her law degree from NYU. She did pro bono work in environmental law and served as a court justice up until a year before her death. It's a shame she won't see the movie made from her book.

As for the the Lamarr biopic, that does sound like a bit of a scoop. I couldn't find any additional information online. I've always been fascinated with Lamarr as a brilliant and beautiful woman that embodies the contradictions between stereotypical femininity and the stereotype of the male technical mind. Her invention supposedly came out of a conversation with co-inventor George Antheil that started with boob jobs and shifted to military communications (not that surprising, perhaps, since Lamarr had attended business meetings with her first husband Fritz Mandl, one of the largest armaments manufacturers in Europe).

He met Hedy Lamarr in the summer of 1940, when they were neighbors in Hollywood and she approached him with a question about glands: She wanted to know how she could enlarge her breasts. In time the conversation came around to weapons, and Lamarr told Antheil that she was contemplating quitting MGM and moving to Washington, D.C., to offer her services to the newly established National Inventors Council.

They began talking about radio control for torpedoes. The idea itself was not new, but her concept of "frequency hopping" was. Lamarr brought up the idea of radio control. Antheil's contribution was to suggest the device by which synchronization could be achieved.
You can read the whole story at There is definitely the potential for an interesting movie in her story.

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