Ada Lovelace Day: Guest Blogger Rebecca L. Johnson

Rebecca L Johnson, Mexico, with Atlantic SpadefishRebecca L. Johnson (pictured at right) is the author of dozens of award-winning books about science for children and young adults as well as an avid scuba diver. Recent titles with Lerner include Investigating Climate Change and the Microquests series. Her research for the forthcoming Journey into the Deep: Discovering New Ocean Creatures (Fall 2010) gave her the opportunity to attend a number of scientific meetings.

Over the weekend I was reading Mark Jaffe’s The Gilded Dinosaur: The Fossil War between E.D. Cope and O.C. Marsh and the Rise of American Science, and I encountered a statement that gave me pause. In the early to mid-1800s, America’s fledgling community of scientists numbered around 3,000, yet the women included in that group could be, as Jaffe put it, “tallied on the fingers of a single hand.” Four or five out of 3,000, a mere 0.17 percent, at most. Jaffe doesn’t name the women included in his reckoning, but surely, like Ada Lovelace, they must have possessed passion, talent, and extraordinary grit to be able to overcome—or at least withstand—the pervasive, enormous prejudice against a woman’s inclusion in the scientific circles of their day.

That got me thinking about some of the scientific meetings I’d attended over the past year or so, and how the “tally” has changed. At least half, and in some cases more than half, of the participants at those meetings were women. They were professors, field researchers, lab directors, PIs, graduate students . . . even explorers. And then I thought of my 22-year-old niece, who just last fall started a Ph.D. program in virology, pursuing her dream of one day working at the CDC and investigating all those “totally cool” viruses she loves to tell me about. Of course, prejudices and obstacles remain. But oh, how far we’ve come.

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photo credit: Ann Hawthorne