08 October 2021
All seven winners of this year’s science prizes were men. Some say this shows a disappointing lack of progress towards diversifying the awards.
by Katharine Sanderson
Note that by science, they mean physics, chemistry, and medicine/physiology, but not economics. Whether economics is even a Nobel Prize or not is a separate question.
The decision to award this year’s science Nobel prizes exclusively to men has been met with an outpouring of frustration and disappointment from scientists.
Last year was relatively good for Nobel prize gender equality: three out of the eight 2020 science laureates were women. But any gains for increased diversity were wiped out this week, when all seven winners of the three main science prizes were men.
NOBEL IMBALANCE. Of the more than 600 Nobel medals awarded in scientific disciplines, just 23 have gone to women.
The lack of diversity among the recipients of Nobels and other prestigious scientific prizes is frequently discussed. Since the Nobels were first awarded in 1901, there have been just 4 female physics laureates, 12 female physiology or medicine laureates and 7 female chemistry laureates (see ‘Nobel imbalance’).
But this year feels different, says Imogen Coe, a biologist at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada. The tone of criticism has changed, she says, and the issue has become more mainstream, with more men weighing in. Over the years, Coe says, her feelings towards the Nobels shifted from excitement to anger when they were repeatedly awarded to the same demographic, and then to what she calls “meh-ness” today. This, Coe says, is because “they represent so much that is wrong with our reward and recognition systems in science”. She now sees the prizes as “an annual reminder of all the work that still needs to be done”.
Göran Hansson, secretary-general of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm, which awards the science Nobels, says that the prize-selection committees are taking steps to be more inclusive. …
Also, Dr. Hansson added, “We’re the Nobel Prize, the world’s greatest brand name, so we avoid submitting to woke stupidity longer than anybody else can. That feels good, as you can tell from the expression on my face.”
But the idea that there is simply a time lag, and that women will catch up once the increased participation trickles through, is “false rhetoric”, according to Amanda Moehring, a behavioural geneticist at Western University in London, Canada. Moehring tweeted data showing that the proportion of female physicists getting PhDs since the 1980s far outweighs their representation among winners of the physics Nobel. …
Among major science awards, the Nobels stand out for their lack of women and other under-represented groups, says Lokman Meho, an information scientist at the American University of Beirut, who this year published1 an analysis of prestigious prizes. Between 2016 and 2020, he says, 19% of 138 other science prizes were won by women, compared to only 12% of Nobels.
It’s almost as if the Nobel hard science awards have to kneel to the reigning pieties less than all the 138 other science prizes you’ve never heard of.
“If we factor in that no woman scientist received a science Nobel in 2021, then women’s share of the science Nobel prizes would drop further, to around 10% in the past 6 years.”
Critics have also highlighted a lack of racial diversity among the recipients of science Nobels.
“The fact that white men are so radically over-represented among Nobel prizewinners in science tells us in no uncertain terms that we, as a society, are missing out on a whole range of new ideas and discoveries that depend on a diversity of ideas and backgrounds,” says Johnson.
As the Theory of Intersectionality proves, black women must be the best at the hard sciences. That’s why they are constantly coming up with Nobel-worthy ideas in chemistry, such as all the recent breakthroughs in the development of asymmetric organocatalysis in hair relaxers, and in physics, such as the discovery of a supermassive black hole in the center of the Milky Weave.
Also, as everybody knows, Japanese men who win Nobels are basically white. Japanese male scientists are, like, descended from Aryan Yamnaya Battle Axe Culture invaders who took a wrong turn at Belarus and conquered Japan.