Friday, May 04, 2007

Nine of Seventy-Two of the Newly Elected Members of the National Academy of Sciences are Women

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) recently announced the election of 72 new members and 18 foreign associates. Only nine of the newly elected U.S. scientists and three of the foreign associates were women, the lowest number since 2001. First off, congratulations to:

  • BAKER, Tania A.; investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and E.C. Whitehead Professor Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge
  • BELLUGI, Ursula; professor and director, Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience, Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, Calif.
  • COOK, Karen S.; Ray Lyman Wilbur Professor of Sociology, department of sociology, Stanford University, Stanford, Calif.
  • ESTES, Mary K.; professor and Cullen Foundation Endowed Chair, department of molecular virology and microbiology, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston
  • FRAKER, Pamela J.; professor of food science and human nutrition and distinguished professor of biochemistry, Michigan State University, East Lansing
  • GRONENBORN, Angela M.; professor of pharmacology, and director, Structural Biology Program, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh
  • HOBBS, Helen H.; investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and director, McDermott Center for Human Growth and Development, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas
  • KIESSLING, Laura L.; professor of chemistry and biochemistry, University of Wisconsin, Madison
  • MARDER, Eve E.; professor of neuroscience, department of biology, Brandeis University, Waltham, Mass.
  • ASKONAS, Brigitte A.; visiting professor, Imperial College of Science, Technology, and Medicine, London (United Kingdom)
  • LI, Aizhen; Shanghai Institute of Microsystem and Information Technology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shanghai (People's Republic of China)
  • SALAS, Margarita; research professor, Severo Ochoa Center for Molecular Biology, Autonomous University of Madrid, Madrid (Spain)
Long considered to be an "old-boy's" club, currently 10% of the National Academy's members are women, significantly up from 2000, when women only made up 6% of membership, but still far below the percentage of women currently working in the sciences. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, NAS president Ralph Cicerone argues that "it can take two decades for scientists to build credentials outstanding enough to merit election to the academy," so that it should not be surprising that the numbers do not yet reflect the growing number of women who are earning PhDs in science and engineering. However, 18% of full professors in science and engineering in the U.S. are women, leading some to disagree that the underrepresentation of women will correct itself with time.

Given that representation, the percentage of academy inductees this year who were women (12.5 percent) is "not good," said Nancy H. Hopkins, a professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has studied gender discrimination in science.

Ms. Hopkins, who was elected to the academy in 2004, said of her fellow members, "maybe they thought they had pretty much solved the problem, and they took their eyes off the ball." Several elite universities, including MIT, have worked to hire and promote more female scientists, and, she said, "if you look at data from a lot of places, that's what happens" -- numbers go up for a while and then level off or drop (The Chronicle, April 28, 2006.) "People have come to realize that to continue to get results requires sustained effort," she said.

The NAS has been discussing the issue of diversity among its board members and come up with some ideas.
A new approach being pursued by some of the academy's discipline-based scientific sections was for members to offer to serve as mentors for rising stars they identify as being "on stunning trajectories" in their careers and who might be eligible for academy membership a few years down the road, Mr. Cicerone said. Most sections have already begun trying to take note of and track the development of such candidates, he said.
It is not clear to me that that will be effective in changing the voting habits of what still remains a white male bastion.

Zuska has more on the issue, and has her comments open for substantive discussion.

ETA: Here is an overview of how new members are elected (pdf).

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lost clown said...