Not so Nobel: Researchers frustrated by low number of women who've been given science Nobels

More than 600 Nobels have been awarded in scientific disciplines, but just 23 have gone to women
Nobel Prize Medal | Pic: Wikimedia Commons
Nobel Prize Medal | Pic: Wikimedia Commons

The lack of gender equality in science at the Nobel Prize 2021 has set off frustration and disappointment in the scientific community, particularly among women researchers, Nature reported. The prestigious prize for different Science fields, which this year were awarded to seven people - all men, showcase "a disappointing lack of progress towards diversifying the awards", said researchers calling out on the lack of gender equality. While in 2020, three out of the eight science laureates were women, in 2021, the Science Nobel prizes were awarded exclusively to men.

However, it is not the first time where women have been underrepresented at the Science Nobels. So far, more than 600 Nobels have been awarded in scientific disciplines, but just 23 have gone to women. "Since the Nobels were first awarded in 1901, there have been just 4 female Physics laureates, 12 female Physiology or Medicine laureates and seven female Chemistry laureates," the report said.

The Nobel Prize "represents so much that is wrong with our reward and recognition systems in science", Imogen Coe, a biologist at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada, was quoted as saying. The prizes are "an annual reminder of all the work that still needs to be done" for women, she added.

According to Goran Hansson, Secretary General of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm, which awards the Science Nobels, the prize-selection committees are making efforts to be more inclusive.

They have taken some steps such as asking more women to nominate laureates, and emphasising the need to consider diversity in letters sent to potential nominators, the report said. This notion of "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. She noted that the proportion of female physicists getting PhDs since the 1980s far outweighs their representation among winners of the physics Nobel, the report said.

The steps taken by the Swedish academy are "like putting a Band-Aid on a gaping and infected wound", added Kelsey Johnson, an astronomer at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

Among 138 major Science awards between 2016 and 2020, 19 per cent were won by women, compared to only 12 per cent of Nobels, said Lokman Meho, an information scientist at the American University of Beirut. "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 per cent in the past 6 years," Meho said.

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