Tuesday, March 8, 2011

International Women's Day and the science blogging gender gap.

Warning: This post contains *gasp* feminist and non-politically correct opinions. Read at your own risk.

As anyone who reads this blog regularly knows, I've been working on characterizing Science Blogs which have over twenty posts at the Researchblogging.org aggregator, and posted there after January 1st, 2010. While my original sample had almost 200 blogs, I've decided to focus on private independent blogs and private blogs belonging to a blogging network (meaning of "private" here is "one or two writers and not a commercial blog). I ended up with 126 blogs*.

If you think you've seen these results before, it's because you probably have. Jennifer Rohn from "Mind the Gap" showed last year that women were considerably outnumbered in four major science blogging networks. This gap isn't limited to selective blogging networks, but exists in the Researchblogging.org aggregator as well, as Dave Munger showed. To quote Munger: "The gender ratio there closely mirrors the other networks." Wikipedia has the same problem: only 13% of the contributors are women.

I must say that the first time I saw the data, I thought "Wow, it looks like the percentage of women in Science Fiction at the 40s". Back then women were walking wombs (Heinlein), miserable, lonely scientists (Asimov) or silly housewives (Asimov again). The problem is that, well, Science Fiction moved forward since then, while the spreading of scientific memes to the public is still being done mostly by men.

So, where are all the women? I don't have a definite answer, but I can offer a few ideas:

Fandom - Fandom is a feminine sphere. Both genders watch television and read books, but in all my years in fandom, I've rarely seen men author fanfics, to the point that the default assumption is that a fanfic author is a "She".

A "Science" blog - What is a science blog? Or a research blog? RB is supposed to be open to all posts dealing with peer-review science, but I'm currently working on a list of peer-review journals cited in RB posts, and Literary, History or LIS journals are rarely cited. It is possible that once we take into account blogs dealing with peer-review research that aren't "officially" science blogs, the percentage of women will go up.

The second shift - Today, not to breast-feed until the kid can talk whole sentences is considered child abuse. And that's before we talked about picking up the kid from day care, helping older kids with homework and driving them to after-school activities. In many homes, somehow the mothers end up doing most of the work. However, the "Publish or Perish" rule is looming over everyone's head, mothers included.

The third shift - In "The Beauty Myth" Naomi Wolf pointed out that many women today feel the pressure not only to be excellent workers and excellent mothers, but to look great while doing everything as well. How is a woman to balance between being a scientist, mother and an aspiring model?

This post might seem kind of gloomy, but it's important to remember how much we progressed. Whenever I hear a female parliament member, a business woman, or a female professor claiming she's not a feminist, all I can do is wonder how would said woman lived her daily life without a bank account or a right to vote. Never take those for granted.

*Disclaimer: These are primary results and the final results might change a bit (if I decide to include other groups in the sample, for example. Please don't quote anywhere official without consulting me first).

Glott, R, & Ghosh, R (2010). Wikipedia Survey – Overview of Results UNU-Merit



  1. Perhaps like my spouse and others (http://scienceblogs.com/aetiology/2010/09/moving_science_communication_i.php#more) there is no value (quite the opposite in fact) on the tenure-track to blogging.

    Yes it's sad but true.

  2. Hi there,
    I understand what Dr. Smith says (link doesn't work but I found a cached page). However, I don't write the blog only to spread science memes, but mostly to organize my own thought. It's my academic notebook. Also, in my field (Library/Information Science) spreading information might be considered an advantage. Of course, it depends on one's field of expertise.

    Thank you for taking the time for commenting!