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Inflammatory Remarks Ignite Debate on Women in Science



By Dan Shewan
Posted October 17, 2013 10:00 AM

Inflammatory remarks ignite debate on women in science.
Inflammatory remarks ignite debate on women in science.

The number of women pursuing bachelor's degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields has risen substantially in recent years. However, a recent incident in which a former editor of science website Biology Online made hostile remarks to a female scientist has sparked a debate in academia over women's treatment in traditionally male-dominated fields, The Chronicle of Higher Education reports.

Incendiary Comments

The controversy began when Danielle Lee, a biologist who holds a PhD and writes a regular blog for Scientific American, was contacted by a former editor of Biology Online, a website dedicated to biological science. An editor at the website, known by the online handle Ofek, reached out to Lee to propose that she begin writing regularly for the site. Lee, whose blog is titled "The Urban Scientist," subsequently inquired as to rates of pay for contributions to the site. Ofek responded by saying not only did Biology Online not pay its bloggers, but also made hostile remarks toward Lee for having asked about money.

Although the editors of Biology Online issued a formal apology to Dr. Lee and terminated Ofek's employment as a result of the remarks, the incident ignited a heated debate across academia about the continuing discrimination against women in scientific fields. In addition, although Dr. Lee wrote about her experiences in a blog post for Scientific American, the publication chose to remove her post from the site, adding further fuel to the fire and drawing harsh criticism of the site from several prominent female scientists.

A Long Way to Go

Despite the fact that increasing numbers of women are pursuing careers in scientific and technical professions, women are still sorely underrepresented in these fields. According to CNN, just 6% of the leading technology companies in the U.S. are run by female CEOs, and a majority of tech startups have all-male boards.

Earlier this year, Twitter sparked outrage among female technology professionals after filing for an initial public offering without a single woman on its board, a move that was widely criticized in the technology industry.

"This is the elite arrogance of the Silicon Valley mafia, the Twitter mafia," Vivek Wadhwa, a fellow at Stanford University's Arthur and Toni Rembe Rock Center for Corporate Governance and author of a forthcoming book about women in technology, told The New York Times. "It's the same male chauvinistic thinking. The fact that they went to the IPO without a single woman on the board, how dare they?"

Although more women have their sights set on careers in technology and science, the fact remains that, for now at least, there are still many obstacles left for them to overcome.

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