Women in science: myth, harsh reality, or advantage

Ruth Feldman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

To initiate discussion on women in science, we begin with Gerald Edelman’s definition: “Science is imagination in the service of the verifiable truth,” which underscores “verifiability,” truth reached by evidence, as the pathway science charts to Truth. “Verifiability” is named after the Roman Goddess Veritas, the daughter of Cronos and the mother of Virtus, suggesting that mythology viewed science as embodied by a female, embedded in its historical time, and aimed to breed values. We contemplate three perspectives on the topic and discuss their potential risks. The Veracity (Veritas) Perspective holds that science is impartial to the gender, race, political camp, or religious affiliation of its practitioner and from this perspective “women in sciences” is an oxymoron; science is, essentially, genderless. We argue that this perspective is misleading. Becoming a scientist requires education, resources, encouragement, training, role models, time, and funding, and the lack of such provisions banned women from the gates of Truth. The Harsh Reality perspective brings data presenting a grim picture. From 1902 to 2022 only 3.6% of Nobel Prizes in sciences were awarded to women and percentages of women in top academic positions are a third or lower across the US and Europe despite earning about 50% of PhDs in sciences. We contemplate internal and external reasons for this reality. Finally, the Potential Advantage position asks whether women may have unique sensitivities in the road to cumulative knowledge. We base our discussion on 20th century philosophical models that call to move from the metaphysical and abstract to the daily and contextual in the acquisition of knowledge and on research describing the distinct neural pathways to motherhood and fatherhood. We conclude by highlighting our unique historical time and the emergence of novel topics in neuroscience through the work of female and male scientists; interaction synchrony, inter-brain communication, and social and affiliative neuroscience.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1247242
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Volume17
DOIs
StatePublished - 2023
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2023 Feldman.

Funding

This study was supported by Simms/Mann Chair, Bezos Family Foundation, Harris Foundation.

FundersFunder number
Bezos Family Foundation
Harris Foundation

    Keywords

    • affiliative neuroscience
    • biobehavioral synchrony
    • gender equality
    • history of science
    • oxytocin
    • parental brain
    • phenomenology
    • women

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