Sunday, June 03, 2007

Women underrepresented in the President's National Medal of Science Awards

When the new members of the National Academy of Sciences was announced last month, I wrote about the efforts of the Academy to boost the membership of women, who are significantly underrepresented. Since 2000, female membership has risen from 6% to 10%, a number still significantly below the 18% of U.S. full professors in science and engineering that are women.

Well, last week President Bush announced the winners of the 2005* National Medal of Science, to eight U.S. scientists, without a single woman in the bunch. Now doing a bit of math, you'd figure that if women were represented in the awards as they are in academia, one out of six awardees would be female. Obviously, women are underrepresented as National Medal of Science recipients. In fact only 6% of the 495 recipients are female. The last woman to receive the award was Rutger's University biologist Evelyn Witkin in 2002.

Why is that the case? It's not clear. Are fewer women nominated? Are women scientists just not as good as their male counterparts (I'd argue no, if the National Academy membership is any measure)? I hope the committee is willing to take a look at the award process to see whether there is some kind of bias.

As usual, there is an interesting discussion in the comments on Zuska's blog.

* That's not a typo. For some reason the 2005 award was announced this year. The wheels of government grind slowly, or something.

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