No Female Nobel Winners in Science

No Female Nobel Winners in Science About 1,600 years ago, the Egyptian mathematician and philosopher Hypatia was stoned in public—according to some accounts, by order of the Bishop of Alexandria, because she was a woman, a pagan, and in particular much too smart. In human societies, it always seems as if men, from time immemorial, have done everything possible to deny women access to knowledge and power, which are often linked. This hold began to loosen only during the Renaissance, when girls were (very) gradually allowed, and then encouraged, to pursue the same studies as boys. But the road has been long, and there is still quite a way to go.

Consider, for example, the Nobel Prize, a universal symbol of excellence and the subject of Dix-Sept Femmes prix Nobel des sciences (“Seventeen Women Who Won a Nobel Prize for Science” by Hélène Merle-Béral, professor of hematology at Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris. As the title indicates, only 17 women have been awarded a science Nobel Prize since its inception in 1901. That amounts to three percent of all prizewinners. Why should that be?

The second explanation has to do with male stereotypes of women, which are nowhere close to disappearing. A 2015 survey showed that 67 percent of men believe that women lack the capacity to become first-rate scientists. Hence the unconscious temptation of parents and teachers to discourage girls from these careers.

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