Summit on women in science writing addresses continued gender imbalance, discrimination and harassment.


Correction: In an earlier version of this post I implied people were invited. I stand corrected. The summit was open and promoted on Twitter. And among the many organizers, I left out Deborah  Blum and Tom Levenson.

Women outnumber men in science writing programs, but we are still outnumbered in actual science writing. According to data gathered by graduate students Karen Hess and Aparna Vidyasagar, only 35 percent of technology stories and 38 percent of science stories from major news organizations are produced by women.

In a story appearing in the Columbia Journalism Review, Women science writers conference about changing the ratio, Cristine Russell compiles other figures as well. The conference, Solutions Summit for Women in Science Writing, was held last June at MIT. In a survey commissioned for the meeting, 54 percent of women and 44 percent of men reported some form of sex-based discrimination. (It’s a little ambiguous here whether the men are reporting witnessing discrimination against women, which I’d assume is the case, or whether they mean they were discriminated against as men.)

Women are also underrepresented among sources cited in science stories and among authors of stories included in anthologies and top-ranked books.

The meeting drew 90 people, and was organized by Emily Willingham along with Christie Aschwanden, Kathleen Raven, Seth Mnookin, Florence Williams, Maryn McKenna, Tom Levenson and Deborah Blum. It looks like a worthwhile meeting. I would have gone in a heartbeat with plenty of stories to tell had I known about it.

Tabitha Powledge also debriefed the rest of us in her PLOS blog. She included some observations on tribalism in the science writing world. There was a time it seemed like one big friendly tribe, but that may no longer be the case.  – Faye Flam


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4 comments / Join the Discussion

    Correction made. I must have been neglecting my Twitter feed when the notices went out.

    I was also an organizer of this conference and the graduate students, by the way, are my graduate students at the University of Wisconsin. And it was an open meeting, Faye, to which you would have been welcome to attend. I’m not sure why you think you needed an invitation. And I’m glad you enjoyed it, JoAnna. We were proud of it.

    “I would have gone in a heartbeat with plenty of stories to tell had I been invited.”

    This line from the above post assumes a situation that never existed. The meeting was never invitation-only; it was open registration, on the web, on a dedicated website. Prior to and during the month or so that registration was open, the existence of the conference and the address of registration was advertised multiple (at a guess, 100) times on Twitter via the conference’s account and the accounts of the organizing committee, including mine, and propagated from there through multiple RTs. The conference was also announced to members of NASW, AHCJ and SEJ while members’ participation was sought for the survey whose numbers you reference above.

    Since the organizing committee included two MIT faculty members with ties to KSJ, and the opening reception was supported by the MIT division in which KSJ is situated, there were plenty of people to ask.

    I was at this conference. It was so incredibly valuable and I loved meeting all these kickass ladies in science writing. We had such good and relevant discussions about real issues and possible solutions. A handful of men showed up too, which was really encouraging. I really really hope that they put on another conference like this!

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