Sunday, May 27, 2012


I scoured the biography sections of my local used bookstores today in search of a copy of David Leavitt's The Man who Knew Too Much: Alan Turing and the Invention of the Computer, this month's Skepchick Book Club selection. (I ended up special-ordering it.)

One local store has an entire section of science biographies, which is awesome! I did notice something disappointing though. Out of all the science biographies, only two were about women, and both (Galileo's Daughter and Einstein's Daughter) were certainly framed to be about their famous fathers rather than their own contributions to science. I'll acknowledge that I haven't read either book, but the titles alone reveal something about how the reader is supposed to view the subject.

There's certainly nothing wrong with writing about Sagan or Feynman or Einstein. They're all interesting and complex men who made major contributions to science. But there's also no shortage of interesting women scientists. Off the top of my head: Grace Hopper, Ada Lovelace, Marie Curie, Irene Joliot-Curie, Maria Goeppert-Mayer, Lise Meitner, Hypatia, and I could keep going for a while*.

The point is, there's not a lack of biographies about women in science due to a lack of interesting subjects.  But when we don't tell the stories of women in science, we undervalue women in science generally. It's part of why people don't think of women "Champions of Reason." It's part of why girls have trouble thinking of themselves as scientists. It's part of a culture that generally just doesn't value the stories of women.

Women do much more in science than simply have famous fathers, and we need to start telling their stories more.

*I do seem to have a physical science bias here, just due to my own interests!


  1. Thank you! I'm often also super frustrated by the way that women are categorized only according to their male relative's accomplishments. What about Rosalind Franklin? Or Hildegard, who pioneered medieval medicine? I mean, Hedy Lamarr. Hedy. Lamarr.

    Great post.

  2. Or even Florence Nightingale and her work in sanitation.

  3. "Rosalind Franklin and DNA"?

    I just read Charles Darwin's autobiography, edited by his grand-daughter I think, Nora; and "Darwin, his Daughter, and Evolution." which was enlightening about child mortality in those days.