Subject: Re: women in science
From: "Bill Howell. Retired from NRCan. now in Alberta Canada" <>
Date: Sat, 22 Nov 2014 12:12:30 -0700
To: "Pnina Abir-Am. Founding Director. Scientific Legacies. Belmont. MA. USA" <>

Thank-you, Pnina.  I have ordered your book "Creative Couples" and will glance through it.  It should be important to me in the sense that examples, and the details of the stories and science, are what I like to start with.   Realistically my backlog of reading precludes doing a full read and study, yet I'm sure a few situations from the book will stick in my mind. 

I did read through your article :
Pnina Abir-Am 100420 "Gender and Technoscience: A Historical Perspective"  J. Technol. Manag. Innov. 2010, Volume 5, Issue 1  pp152-165 
I really enjoyed this paper, both in the details and the context/ perspective it provides.  Some points were weird in the sense that they were indirectly related to [themes, situations] that have interested me in the past.  Additionally, the overall theme of women in science also indirectly relates to some issues that interest me with respect to widespread and recurring problems with modern science (and likely ancient science as well). 

While I do not specifically follow women's issues nor "Women and Gender in Techno-Science" (WGTS), my reactions to ideas in your paper varied from agreement to disagreement, but mostly either thinking in completely different directions, and ignorance on my part of the material.  I would not have liked your article if I had agreed with everything - that isn't good for learning, and would sound too much like me. 

Anyways, I've provided several "Random, scattered comments" related to your article below -  which you should probably ignore!! (it's mostly to collect a few of my own thoughts).  Do not react to any of this unless something strikes your fancy - I'm more mumbling to myself for future reference, and to at least give you some window into how the article struck me (again, somewhat randomly picking out a few points).  It was hard for me to put together items - I was always wandering off on tangents, and parallels to completely different themes.

Mr. Bill Howell
P.O. Box 299, Hussar, Alberta, T0J1S0
Retired: Science Research Manager (SE-REM-01) of Natural Resources Canada, CanmetMINING, Ottawa
IJCNN2015 Killarney Ireland, Publicity co-Chair
INNS BigData2015 San Francisco, Publicity Co-Chair
IJCNN2014 Beijing, Technical Program Committee,

Random, scattered comments on "Gender and Technoscience"
(p1c1h0.8 = means page 1, column 1 80% of the way down the page (very approximately) )

You should probably ignore all this, as I'm just mumbling to myself....  perhaps points of reference for me in the future sometime...

Start sub-theme on importance of history

Two of my favourite aspects of your paper are that :  it "opens up" gender in the context of other social challenges; plus it highlights a frequent failure to profoundly consider the history of [issues, processes, concepts].  I assume that you cover these themes in much greater depth in some of your other books and papers :

p158c2h0.4  "...   As a historian of science whose research included the €œrescue€ of women scientists from oblivion, I was particularly baffled by the total absence of a historical viewpoint in the debate, especially since the under-
representation of women in science, like any human condition, has historical causes.     ..."
>>  It is the individual histories (going back to ancient Greece) that have brought the issues to my attention.  I haven't chased the theme of women in science as a theme, even though I have spent considerable time on "large scale" (rather than individual) "history hobby projects".

p158c2h0.8  "...   In order to find out why a historical viewpoint was totally missing from such a crucial debate, I prepared and analyzed a survey that was filled online by about 100 scholars of women and gender in science, whether historians, sociologists, or policy analysts, out of 300 addressees    ..."
>>  This was a great idea to investigate!!  However, to me the need for using history as a key input to analysis goes far beyond the points mentioned p160c1h0.1, as even for scientific [data, concepts, results] I have found that the deep flaws in many modern scientific theories were often illuminated and discussed decades or hundreds of years ago, especially at times when the current mainstream consensus ideas won out over competing theories.  Often many alternate concepts from history can be drawn from as a means of getting past the limitations of current theories. 
>>   History provides many examples of the intellectual [theft from, under-appreciation of, ] women, as per the WGTS focus.  But examples of quite similar treatment of other groups in other domains makes it much easier to [appreciate, understand, analyze] the WGTS context. 

p160c1h0.1  "...   A key reasons for the invisibility of WGTS in the 2005-06 debate pertained to the tendency of policy makers to limit themselves to input from quantitative social sciences (economics, psychology, sociology) and to the parallel lack of a tradition of influencing policy among historians (57% and 55.8%, respectively). But a no less important reason pertained to the status of WGTS itself as a new field.    ..."
>>  The "answers" provided are certainly relevant

>>  As I like to say, on a twist of a standard truism :
"...   Those who fail to learn from the lessons of history, are doomed to repeat it.
               Those who do learn from history, well, they too are doomed to repeat it.   ..."

End sub-theme 

Start sub-theme on Lucio Russo's comments
Lucio Russo 2004 "The forgotten revolution: How science was born in 300 BC and why it had to be reborn" English edition, Springer-Verlag, Berlin Heidleberg, 2004, 487pp  ISBN 3-540-20396-6
I love this book - it shattered most, if not all, of my [education, reading, beliefs] about the development of science and scientists, and I like it when someone pulls the rug out from under my feet and forces be to abandon my "truths".   Here I'll simply quote two passages in the book that relate to female scientists.   These don't include the story if the librarian at Alexandria just before it was burned - so I'm not sure if I'm imagining that, but I won't check up on it for now. 

p14h0.7  "...   The activity documented in the fourth century A.D. is limited to compilations, commentaries and rehashings of older works; among the commentators and editors of that time we will be particularly interested in Pappus, whose 'Collection' brings together many mathematical results that have not reached us otherwise, and Theon of Alexandria, whose editions of Euclid's 'Elements' and 'Optics' have survived through the centuries.  The definitive end of ancient science is sometimes dated to 415, the year in which Hypatia, the daughter of Theon and herself a mathematician who wrote commentaries on Apollonius, Ptolemy and Diophantus, was lynched for religious reasons by a fanatical Christian mob in Alexandria.   ..."
>>  Hmmm, kind of like ?Yogi Berra's? "...   It's like deja vu all over again.   ..."

p157h0.0  "...   Herophilus founded a school that remained active until the first century A.D.  According to Hyginus, one of his immediate disciples was Agnodice, the first woman who dared challenge the exclusion of her sex from the medical profession.  In view of Agnodice's professional success the ban against female physicians was lifted - an example of the role played by women in Hellinistic civilization.    ..."
>>  I really suspect that Russo should have expressed it as "...  the first documented example of a woman in ancient Greece who dared challenge  ...".  Russo puts the origins of science, cica 300 BC, after the Greek conquest Egypt (Alexander).  He does, however, state this as a fuzzy date of origin, but does feel that "true science" did not exist in ancient Egypt.  I'm not comfortable with that, even more so years later when one of the historical themes of great interest to me is the possible existance of advanced civilisations towards the end of the last ice age (100 ky each for last 1 My), up until the period of the great mammalian extinctions of ~12 ky BP.  ?Gobelki Tepe? (spelling?) on the Souther Anatolian  plateau in Turkey may be an example, but most great advanced cities would be maritime, and would now be under ?100 to 300? or more meters of sea water...

End sub-theme 

p154c2h0.0  "...   for example Caroline Herschel, who discovered several comets, was the daughter and sister of
UK€™s Astronomer Royals    ..."
>>  I'm fairly sure that Steven Yaskell mentions "one of the UK Astronomer Royal Herschels" in one of his books :
>>>> 1. "Maunder Minimum"  co-authored with Willie Soon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Institute for Astrophysics
>>>> 2. "Grand phases on the Sun" - in addition to describing climate science, its history, and that of key scientists, Yaskell had worked with Cornelius de Jager of the Netherlands, and Sylvia Duhau of Argentina, to illustrate their theory for solar activity. 

p161c1h0.45  "...   Dorothy Hodgkin (1910-94) received the 1964 Nobel Prize in chemistry for her solution of the structure of  vitamin B-12 in the mid- and late-1950s, at a time when that 110 atom molecule was the largest ever to be solved.  It also became a turning point in the chemists€™ acceptance of X-ray crystallography as a method that could anticipate    traditional synthetic methods.   ..."
>>  I seem to remember a comment that, while Watson & Crick received the Nobel prize for their determination of DNA structure, the critical x-ray work (and maybe the conclusion too?) was done by a female scientist.  I didn't check to see if that was Hodgkin...

p155c1h0.4  "...   The liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s directly challenged and delegitimized  inequality on grounds of race and gender    ..."
>>  Racial-and-gender basis -  OK, but what about class-based - science as historically a pass-time of the "rich and idle", and university attendance as being possibly a strong function of class up to that period of time? (certainly for my parents generation!  but much less so for Baby Boomers)
>>  Also [religion, "clan", philosophy, economic/organisational unit] -based?
>>  Perhaps it is assumed that we have "solved" many of these challenges, but I suspect that it is a dynamic equilibrium that will drift with time, even drifting to extremes.  

p156c1h0.25 "...   Recent findings suggest that gender equality is more easily achieved in new technoscience fields such as biotech (but not in information and communication technology or ICT, Corneliussen, 2009), in part because its need for constant innovation requires a constant influx of new talent.    ..."
>>  This parallels my own feelings about several very general problems in science, which can be less [obvious, entrenched] in immature areas of science where themes and concepts are changing rapidly, and new scientists (and old scientists new to the area) can dominate.   The problems are still there - but cannot cause quite as much damage.

p156c2h0.15  "...   Moreover, covert discrimination proved much more difficult to combat, because it often  precluded collective action, which remains the only source of power for members of disempowered groups.    ..."
>>  Wow, this sounds so pessimistic?

p157c1h0.4  "...   Below, I compare Summers€™ three €œexplanations€ for women€™s under-representation in science with the views of about 100 scholars of gender and technoscience, including historians, sociologists, and policy analysts.    ..."
>>  It would have been very interesting to see a summary of non-scolar, scientists reactions, by [age, gender, area of science].  I suspect that there is a flood of articles from that time expressing opinions, but I wonder how useful surveys from that time would be, given the climate at the time (at least what I experienced, in that it was best to keep one's mouth shut - eg p156c1h0.2 "chilly climate", when one dared neither tell nor laugh at jokes in the workplace).   Since then things have improved considerably, and I suspect that surveys could much better reflect opinions.

p157c1h0.75  "...   thus preempting any need for social policy to help women, indeed workers in general, to balance their work and family lives    ..."
>>  Having seen complete changes related to the "work-life-balance" issue over my career (mostly in the last 10-15 years), it has often been of interest to me.   
>>  At the start of my career, it wasn't an issue at all - I always put in huge overtime (weekends included!).  Most of the top people were away all the time.
>>  During the last 10 years of my career, in a government lab, there was a near-cessation of week-end-at-the-lab-work (compared to the levels previously), and travel had been greatly complicated.  There were clear, huge consequences of "work-life balance" on the workplace & productivity, but a there was a strrange silence on the issue.   My concern isn't whether changes were "good" or "bad", I just have a great deal of discomfort about how they are coverened (or not). 
>>  Being divorced myself, and seeing the ultra-rapid evolution of marriage and families (on the scale of generations), my feeling is frankly that everyone is "solving yesterday's problems", and that we have almost no ability to predict future [trends, outcomes, evolution].  To me, we are nowhere near the halfway point in the evolution of marriage (which to me is really the issue of child-rearing), and that quite possibly only a modest percentage of the population will live in "married-equivalent" arrangements in the not-so-distant future, with child-rearing arrangments going well-past the [married-equivalent, single-mother, communal] set.
>>  In some ways, this issue of "work-life'balance" reminds me of the impacts of bilingualism on [individuals, children] which were not normally reported (other than the gripes that occasionally flared up).  , constitutional protections for aboriginals.

p156c1h0.2  "...   lack of mentorship   ..."
>>  This has always looked so completely foreign (and useless!?) to me personally, compared to the normal process of procurring work, and performing in the job.  I neither received nor requested mentorship during my career in many organisations.  Work has sometimes resembled an apprenticeship, sometimes "development opportunities" opened up (short ot long term), but never any kind of "mentorship" as typically described today. However, perhaps that is a big issue to people who are promoted high in the organisation (not something that ever happened to me, or most mentees that I have seen (all in recent decades)).  I don't know, but over my entire career I can probably count on my one hand colleagues who have been provided arrangements that one might consider to border on the mentorships as currently described (these were extremely "high flyers" at advanced stages of career, with proven exceptional performance in several different areas). 


I've often noticed quick comments about the role of women scientists in Communist countries, and if I remember correctly, I have recently heard (Marley Velasco, INNS) that in Brazil parity or near parity of gender exists in neural network (or Computational Intelligence more generally? - I don't remember the exact scoping).  What are the lessons from that?

To me, no analysis can ever fully take the place of personal experience.  I really like crazy ideas, but I have a deep mistrust for [concepts, theories], which so often fall from a status of "religion" in science, to be replaced by yet another strong belief system. 
  • Being older, there were few women in engineering when I went to university, nor were there many as I progressed through my career.  That statement even applies to research engineers in the mining-related laboratory where I finished my career, in stark contrast to much of the rest of the Canadian government labs which underwent rapid demographic shifts (I doubt they're at 50%, but they were generally far beyond our level!). 
  • Perhaps this is one of the "generational lags" that social (and scientific!) change undergoes, in that it takes time for proactive policies to generate attrition-limited organisational changes, that in turn drive perceptual changes. 

-------- Forwarded Message --------
Subject: Re: women in science
Date: Thu, 13 Nov 2014 15:54:02 -0500
From: Pnina Abir-Am <>
To: Hava Siegelmann <>
CC: Bill Howell. Retired from NRCan. now in Alberta Canada <>

There are over two dozen case studies in Creative Couples in the Sciences, eds. Pycior, Slack & Abir-Am, 1996. See also Ruth Sime 1996, Lise Meitner, A Life (how she did not receive the NObel for atomic fission despite 15 nominations...
Then see my website on Ester Lederberg whose husband won Nobel in 1958 for their joint work. There are many, many others.

Good to hear from you!

On Thu, Nov 13, 2014 at 3:11 PM, Hava Siegelmann <> wrote:

Hi Pnina and Bill

Let me introduce the two of you.

Pnina, I told Bill in general words about your findings showing how many women in science that were recognized only via a man typically husbands) or were not recognized since a man was recognized for their work. Can you give us a few known examles of these?

thanks and best regards


Dr. Pnina G. Abir-Am
Scientific Legacies
249 Orchard Street
Belmont, MA. 02478, USA
Phone & Fax: 617-484-2709
Cell: 617-283-7464