The World Conference of Science Journalists kicked off in Seoul on 08 June, amidst an outbreak of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus in Seoul. The science journalists were, of course, thrilled to have a story awaiting them on their arrival. The irony, for a journalist from Sierra Leone that battled an Ebola outbreak, is that he would have gone home to Sierra Leone to be quarantined there for coming from an MERS-affected country.
But the MERS virus was soon overshadowed by a Homo sapien — a Nobel Laureate to boot. Tim Hunt remarked, in response to a query by a Korean woman scientist at a luncheon , that he preferred single sex labs — the reason being that guys fall love with girls, girls fall in love with guys, girls cry when criticised!!. Needless to say, Hunt landed in a soup over his lunch remarks. His defence that he was jesting had few women takers, for whom gender discrimination in the labs — sometimes subtle and sometimes overt — is no laughing matter. Rather, the remarks went viral on Twitter, and also threw up several serious commentaries on women in science. A report in the Guardian summed it well as an explosive combination of science, sexism and social media
Closer home in India, Indian women scientists are yet to break the glass ceiling — none of the leading mega science institutions have ever had a women head, and no national research institute, barring the National Brain Research Centre’s whose founding director was Vijaylakshmi Ravindranath, has had a woman director. The number of women scientists in science academies is woefully low. As several women scientists repeatedly told me, ‘the old boys’ club’ culture prevails. I did a brief report on the tough journey for Indian women scientists for Nature back then:
The latest article to address the issue in India is in India Today, by Gayatri Jayaraman: The Secret Sexism of Indian Science. Good read.