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Gender in science

Discussion about the distribution and relative career success of women in science has a long history and seem unlikely to reach a conclusions any time soon. PLoS Biology made a contribution with a piece from Peter Lawrence back in January. The latest ripple effect from that has just appeared as “An open letter to Nature“.

Peter Lawrence’s piece was called “Men, Women, and Ghosts in Science“. I hope it’s not oversimplifying too much to say that he argued that the way science is practiced puts undue premium on aggressiveness and that “Science would be better served if we gave more opportunity and power to the gentle, the reflective, and the creative individuals of both sexes.“.

The e-Letter responses to this article on our website were on the whole very supportive of Lawrence’s article; some even commended PLoS Biology for “having the courage to publish it“.

In July his year however Nature published a Commentary piece from Ben Barres called “Does gender matter?” which gave The Lawrence piece quite a mauling. I had difficulty recognising the Lawrence article in the description that Barres gave of it and would argue that he was unfairly misrepresented.

Barres’s piece sparked some critical debate in the pages of Nature and also a lot of support on the Nature Newsblog. By far the most detailed response however was posted by ‘agnostic’ on the Gene Expression blog. This in turn has resulted in an open letter to Nature, criticising the Barres piece in very strong terms, again on the Gene Expression blog.

This debate is becoming both heated and aggressive, two things that are guaranteed to prevent any constructive consensus being reached.

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