"Science is sexist because we are sexist about science" says Kiwi scientist

By Solbin Kang

In her newly released book, Victoria University of Wellington senior lecturer Nicola Gaston looks at the reasons why female scientists are struggling in the profession. Photo / iStock
In her newly released book, Victoria University of Wellington senior lecturer Nicola Gaston looks at the reasons why female scientists are struggling in the profession. Photo / iStock

Sexism is still rife in the world of science and a New Zealand scientist blames our society for assuming certain roles are more suited to men.

In her newly released book, Why Science is Sexist, Victoria University of Wellington physical and chemical sciences senior lecturer Nicola Gaston looks at the reasons why female scientists are struggling in the profession.

"They [women] confront unconscious biases and hidden hurdles not faced by men," she said.

She blamed society for allowing science to be a male-dominated profession "which urgently need dismantling".

"Science is sexist because we are sexist about science," she said.

Dr Gaston also explained the career progression of women in science was a "leaky pipeline" as women are confronted by biases and hurdles that are often not faced by men.

She also slammed the controversial comments made by former president of Harvard University Larry Summers who claimed women may be biologically less-suited to certain scientific work.

However, she didn't want to point the finger at anyone.

The "purpose in talking and writing about sexism in science is to find answers, not to apportion blame", she said.

Her book comes after a Nobel-winning British scientist, Sir Tim Hunt was subject to heavy backlash and resigned from his job at the University College London after claiming that women in science were prone to crying.

At the world conference of science journalists in Seoul, South Korea, in June Sir Tim said: "Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab: you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them, they cry."

His comments sparked a social media backlash, with the hashtag #distractinglysexy trending on Twitter as female scientists posted photographs of themselves doing mundane tasks in the lab, and mocking his comments.

The scientist later issued a full apology, saying: "I am extremely sorry for the remarks... I accept that my attempts at a self-deprecating joke were ill-judged and not in the least bit funny."

Meanwhile, a "scintillating" festival is coming to Dunedin this month which divulges an unusual combination of sex and science.

Hosted by the Centre for Science Communication ScienceTeller at the University of Otago, the biannual event celebrates the world of science.

This year, Otago University science professors will speak about kinky behaviours of the animal kingdom - including humans.

Surprisingly, penguins are promiscuous animals, with "rampant infidelity, prostitution, homosexual behaviour" rife in the penguin community. This will be discussed by an Otago University professor often known as 'Professor Penguin'.

Professor Phil Bishop dives into the world of amphibians -- in particular the fertilisation of frogs in his talk, Frog Kama Sultra.

- NZME.

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