Again, only five women named to science academy

May 10, 1992|By Natalie Angier | Natalie Angier,New York Times News Service

When the National Academy of Sciences was sharply criticized last year for including only five female scientists among its 60 new members, officials of the group that is the nation's most prominent scientific organization said they were striving mightily to change the overwhelmingly male complexion of their institution.

Now this year's new members have been announced, and of the 59 scientists and engineers voted into the academy, once again only five are women.

Though women have been swelling the entry and middle ranks of science since the 1960s, the percentage of women elected to the high-profile academy has hardly budged for the past 20 years, averaging 5 percent to 10 percent of the total.

Some scientists, including even some women in the academy, say there are still too few women who meet the organization's exacting standards. But others view these statistics as a symptom of a much larger problem: barriers that keep women out of the upper ranks of their field in anything beyond token numbers.

"It doesn't change; it just coasts along, and I'm prepared to say that this is a national disgrace," said Dr. Susan E. Leeman of Boston University School of Medicine, who was elected to the academy last year. "What do they want us to do, storm the barricades? This is such blatant discrimination that I'd almost call it apartheid."

Dr. Leeman has been a vocal critic of what she says is persistent bias against women in science at every career stage.

Even some of the men newly elected to the academy were baffled by the low representation of women in their ranks.

"I don't understand it," said Dr. Bert Vogelstein of the Johns Hopkins medical school, one of the newly named members of the academy. "It seems strange that there would still be so few women."

For those who hoped for change, the latest results are bitterly disappointing.

"It's an old club, elected by its own members," said Dr. Jane Richardson of Duke University Medical School, who was elected to the academy last year. "They're really trying hard, but still, when you vote for somebody, you tend to vote for somebody you know, and men just tend to know each other better than they do women."

New members are selected by current members, after a complex process that includes several rounds of nominations, informal votes and formal votes. Not only are most of the voting members male, but of the 25 scientists who head the committees that gather potential candidates for inclusion on the ballots, only one is female, Dr. Mary-Lou Pardue of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She heads the group that nominates new academy members in the genetics category.

Many of those who take part in the voting insisted that there was a conscious effort to seek more women, but that they could go only so far in pressing for women before they would be accused of voting by quota.

Dr. Jack Halpern of the University of Chicago, the chairman of the section that nominates potential academy members in chemistry, dismissed the notion that members chose potential candidates based on some sort of inbred, old-boy

network."People nominate in good faith those who they judge to be most qualified. . . ."

In addition to Dr. Vogelstein, other new members of the academy from the Baltimore area include:

* Thomas J. Kelly Jr., Boury professor and chairman, department of molecular biology and genetics, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

* Steven L. McKnight, staff member, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Baltimore, and investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Bethesda.

* Thomas D. Pollard, professor and director, department of cell biology and anatomy, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.