Women in chemistry blogging – lookin’ good, CENtral Science

Earlier this week, Jenny Rohn posted a graph on her Mind the Gap blog followed by:

Celebrated science bloggers are male.

Discuss.

She specifically noted the male/female breakdown of the four newest blog networks – The Guardian, PLoS, Discover, and Wired – without considering ScienceBlogs, Science 2.0, Lab Spaces, Scientopia, or CENtral Science.

I can tell you from my years at ScienceBlogs that a large contingent of bloggers were always pushing for more diversity – not just with regard to gender but in national origin and ethnicity, race, sexual preference, current geographical location, as well as diversity across the realm of what we call, “science.”

In response, Martin Robbins at The Lay Scientist, a Guardian Science Blog, launched a Twitter crowd-sourcing experiment this week with the hashtag #wsb to compile a list of women science bloggers regardless of indie or network status.

But let’s take a look here at CENtral Science:

Melody Voith – Cleantech Chemistry
Leigh Krietsch Boerner – Just Another Electron Pusher
Lauren Wolf, Bethany Halford, Rachel Pepling – Newscripts
Alex Tullo (with Melody Voith) – The Chemical Notebook
Rudy M. Baum and A. Maureen Rouhi – The Editor’s Blog
Lisa Jarvis and Carmen Drahl – The Haystack
Jyllian Kemsley and Jeff Johnson – The Safety Zone

If you only count Melody once, CENtral Science was comprised of nine women and three men before this graying, bespectacled Y chromosome joined on August 24th. Nine-to-four would still look mighty good compared with other networks.

Why might this be? Remember that CENtral Science is primarily written by editors and staff writers for C&EN (Leigh and I are the freelancers). A great many are trained scientists with Ph.D.s but who have sought careers away from the bench. All are superb writers, several of whom I read for a few years before joining CENtral Science (such as Rachel Pepling’s treatise on phenobarbital in my all-time favorite C&EN issue (June 2005) on the world’s top pharmaceuticals which sits beside my blogging desk.

I find this leads to a very interesting second question: does the overrepresentation of women at CENtral Science reflect that women are more likely to choose “alternative” careers with their scientific training?

Author: David Kroll

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10 Comments

  1. Might I suggest Divine Providence as a reason?

    No? Then I’m going to guess that it’s a matter of generational change — younger people (of either gender) are more likely to be Web-friendly and younger cohorts in chemistry have more gender equity. This is a WAG, but I’m guessing that CENtral Science’s bloggers are younger than your average high-end science blogger.

  2. You know, this observation/question came up at the session where I talked about CENtral Science at the ACS meeting. My explanation was that it was probably reflective of the staff demographics, which is skewing toward younger (let’s say under 40) and female.

    So, I think your generational guess makes perfect sense, CJ. And I suspect that if we had more younger men on staff, you’d see that reflected in the blogs as well. But I think that brings us back to David’s question about “alternative” careers.

  3. I have always been impressed and gladdened by the disproportionate presence of talented women scientist-writers at C & EN and I am glad you floated the topic. I think the best feedback would be from these women themselves- what prompted you to pursue a career in scientific writing rather than science? Could even make a great post.

  4. …a great post about women in alternative careers? It’s certainly something to think about.

    Although, I’m not sure that there ARE more women chemists in alternative careers. At least, the people I’ve profiled for JAEP have all been men. I have noticed that, and wondered if it was a coincidence or not. But how would one get a hold of that kind of data? It merits looking into.

    But, a different question: are there more women chemists that have gone into science writing? It is disproportionate around these parts, but in other places too? What’s Chemistry World’s ratio?

  5. Wait, I did profile one woman for JAEP! Jewelry designer Raven Hanna.

    (And I can’t find a masthead for Chemistry World, at least not after a quick search.)

  6. Excellent out of the box question at the end. I got no dog in that fight, being neither a researcher or female, but it would seem that it’s just a statistical fluke and can’t be used for much any more than a ‘is C&EN prejudiced against men?’ query based on such a small sample. Choosing an ‘alternative’ science career to sitting in a lab across from mercurial male researchers may also be a data point that women are just smarter. :)

    Just to give demographics from other places, we have 30% women contributors (overall membership is 44%) but, more of a concern about other US science writers, I have noted that many of the same people who claim to care about diversity are critical of it. Science 2.0 is one of few sites (and the only open site on your list, I think, since researchers can just sign up and write science) with a strong foreign contingent, yet in terms of perfect English they won’t on par with native speakers, so regardless of credentials they are disregarded a little by others in science writing. Diversity and tolerance is a lot more than gender.

  7. I am always baffled at the use of the term “alternative career” for jobs that don’t involve running experiments daily.

    Is working at C&EN really considered an alternative career? You got a degree in chemistry and are working for the American Chemical Society writing about chemical research and/or chemical news. Seems like a chemical career to me; there’s nothing “alternative” about it.

  8. Paul, you’re exactly correct and I should have qualified the “alternative” term, especially in this case. In fact, I should be a bit embarrassed about this as I’ve written quite a bit previously about my opposition to the term. (I also grew up when “alternative” music became an exceedingly popular genre.)

    In fact, a greater proportion of scientists are now pursuing careers other than tenure-track academic positions (a reference in The Scientist that I can’t find right now). Indeed, my chemistry colleagues writing for ACS and C&EN about chemistry are about as far from “alternative” as one can be.

  9. Hank, you also have a great point, “Diversity and tolerance is a lot more than gender.” The discussion this week in the blogosphere has focused primarily on women but I’ve been party to many discussions during four years at ScienceBlogs on the need for all “alternatives” to academia and the WASPy male dominant groups (race/ethnicity/geographical origin, LGBT, religious/atheist, trainee/freelancer/tenured prof, industry/entrepreneur, educational level/discipline, overall age/generation, political, geography). You do a fantastic job at Science 2.0 with complete openness and inclusion.

    ScienceBlogs did a good thing with their German and Brazilian platforms but, again, they were segregated – not sure if this was driven by advertising more than scientific reasoning.

  10. Rachel, I’m really sorry I missed your session at ACS – that must have been a great discussion. I also agree with Chemjobber about the generational issue – I’m somewhat-less-young than your under 40 category but my grad school cohort was about when one began to see gender parity in biomedical disciplines.

    Leigh, do NASW/AMWA/AHCJ keep tabs on these data. Membership would also be prone to selection bias but it would be a start. In the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill, NC area, I estimate that freelancers and salaried science writers known to me run 2-to-1 or 3-to-1 women-to-men.