by Judith Curry
Inspiring biosketches of some amazing female scientists, which rather astonishingly includes moi.
While at the Annual Meeting of the American Meteorological Society a few weeks ago, a number of people mentioned my Girls Rule(s) blog post, saying that it stimulated much discussion. Several requested that I do more posts along these lines, related to the sociology (including gender issues) in our field. I said I would, if an opportunity/ presented itself.
They say that success is the best revenge.
For every woman who has ever felt exasperated by the various speculations regarding the existence or non-existence of innate differences between the sexes with respect to mathematical ability, what better rebuttal could there be than a list like this one?
The very fact that these fifty women have achieved what they have shows the superficiality of the whole debate. It ought to be clear by now that the mature expression of sophisticated human capacities depends upon a complex interaction between biological endowment and cultural and educational opportunity (that is, nature andnurture).
We simply looked for the best women in their respective fields — women who have gotten where they are by simply plowing through whatever obstacles may have stood in their path. Women with a lot of innate talent, certainly, but who have also put in a great deal of extremely hard work.
In other words, what our list shows — to today’s young women and whoever else may be interested — is that it can be done. If a young woman has a taste and a talent for math and science — and a capacity to stick with it to accomplish her goals — that is really all she needs. At the end of the day, everything else is sound and fury signifying very little.
In short, the highly accomplished women on this list provide the best sort of role models for mathematically and scientifically inclined younger women. They say it loud and clear, for all the world to hear:
“Just get out of my way, and let me get on with the work!”
Climate and geophysical sciences
Here are the biosketches of 4 women from the list, in fields that are closest to climate science (including 2 scientists further afield, but in university departments that include climate science):
Judith A. Curry, geophysical sciences and climate science
Curry took her bachelor’s degree in geography from Northern Illinois University in 1974, and her PhD in geophysical sciences from the University of Chicago in 1982. In 2017, under intense pressure and amid public controversy, she resigned her long-time position as Professor in the School of Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech University, where she had served as Chair of the School from 2002 until 2013. Prior to coming to Georgia Tech, Curry had been Professor of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Colorado-Boulder, and before that had taught at a number of other prestigious universities, including Penn State, Purdue, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has published nearly 200 peer-reviewed papers, and is co-author or -editor of three important textbooks: with Vitaly I. Khvorostyanov, Thermodynamics, Kinetics, and Microphysics of Clouds (Cambridge University Press, 2014); with James R. Holton and John Pyle, Encyclopedia of Atmospheric Sciences (Academic Press, 2003); and with Peter J. Webster, Thermodynamics of Atmospheres and Oceans (Academic Press, 1998). Curry has served on NASA’s Advisory Council Earth Science Subcommittee, on the Climate Working Group of the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and on the National Academies’ Space Studies Board and Climate Research Group. In 2004, she was elected a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union, and in 2007, a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
In spite of these solid credentials and achievements — and despite her entrenched position within the institutions of mainstream American academic climatology — Curry came under vitriolic attackfor publicly censuring what she perceives as the growing politicization of climate science, which she feels has resulted in claims that are not adequately supported scientifically, in the stifling of needed further research, and in intimidation, fear, and conformity throughout the discipline. It was this courageous public stance — including an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal in 2014 and culminating in congressional testimony in 2015 and again in 2017 — that eventually led to her resignation from her tenured position at Georgia Tech earlier this year.
Maureen E. Raymo – geology, paleoclimatology
Raymo was born in Los Angeles. She received her bachelor’s degree in geology in 1982 from Brown University. She went on to earn two master’s degrees, in 1985 and 1988, from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, as well as a PhD in 1989 from the same institution. After graduating, she spent a year at the University of Melbourne in Australia. Between 1991 and 2011, Raymo taught at University of California–Berkeley (briefly), at MIT, and at Boston University. For a number of years during this period, she was also an Adjunct Scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. In 2011, she returned to the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, where she is currently Lamont Research Professor and Director of the Lamont-Doherty Core Repository.
Over the course of her career, Raymo has participated in or led field expeditions to Tibet, Patagonia, South Africa, southern India, and Western Australia, among other places. Her particular area of interest lies in understanding the causal factors responsible for the earth’s climate variation over geological time. This involves many different factors, including variations in the earth’s orbit (and thus distance from the sun), variations in solar activity, plate tectonics, and the evolution of life (and thus its contribution to the physics and the chemical composition of the land surface, the oceans, and the atmosphere). One of Raymo’s signal contributions to the field is her Uplift-Weathering Hypothesis (developed with William Ruddiman and Philip Froehlich). This hypothesis states that during mountain formation (tectonic uplift), such as on the Tibetan plateau, many minerals that become exposed at the surface interact with atmospheric CO2 in a process of “chemical weathering,” leading to a net loss of carbon to the atmosphere and a lowering of the earth’s mean surface temperature. The hypothesis has proved to be quite complicated in its details, and thus difficult to test. It is still being hotly debated. In 2014, Raymo received two of the most prestigious awards in her field: the Milutin Milankovic Medal of the European Geosciences Union and the Wollaston Medal of the Geological Society of London. In 2016, she was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences.
Sara Seager – astrophysics, planetary science
Seager was born in Toronto, Ontario, in Canada. She earned her bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physics in 1994 from the University of Toronto. For he graduate work, she moved to Harvard University, where she received her PhD in astronomy in 1999. For her dissertation, “Extrasolar Planets under Strong Stellar Irradiation,” she worked on developing theoretical models of the atmospheres of extrasolar planets, or exoplanets, under the direction of Dimitar Sasselov. After graduating, she was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow for three years at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. She also held a position as a Senior Research Staff member at the Carnegie Institution of Washington through 2006. In 2007, Seager joined MIT as a Associate Professor; she became a full Professor there in 2010. She is currently the Class of 1941 Professor of Physics and Planetary Science at MIT.
Seager has been at the forefront of efforts to discover and study exoplanets, particularly by analyzing their atmospheres through spectroscopic analysis. The difficulty this presents lies in the extreme faintness of the light reflected by extrasolar planets in relation to the light from the nearby stars they orbit. Seager has worked on several NASA missions — past, ongoing, and in the planning stages. A future mission she is currently involved in developing will deploy a novel mechanical device to occlude starlight in order to make the closer study of exoplanets feasible. (See the video clip below for details.) Named a MacArthur Fellow in 2013, Seager is also known for the Seager Equation, a revised version of the famous Drake Equation, which provided a formula for estimating the probability of the existence of extraterrestrial life in the universe. She has co-edited (with L. Drake Deming) the volume of conference proceedings, Scientific Frontiers in Research on Extrasolar Planets (Astronomical Society of the Pacific, 2003), and authored two popular college textbooks: Exoplanets (University of Arizona Press, 2010) and Exoplanet Atmospheres: Physical Processes (Princeton UP, 2010).
Susan Solomon – atmospheric chemistry
Solomon was born in Chicago, Illinois. She received her bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1977 from the Illinois Institute of Technology and her PhD in chemistry in 1981 from University of California–Berkeley. Upon graduating, Solomon went to work for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Boulder, Colorado, where she spent the bulk of her career. There, she worked in the Aeronomy Laboratory, the Earth System Research Laboratory, and at the time of her retirement in 2011, was head of the Chemistry and Climate Processes Group. That year, she joined MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. It was while working for NOAA during the 1980s that Solomon did the work upon which her reputation primarily rests. In the 1970s, it had been observed that the ozone layer on the stratosphere — which screens deadly cosmic radiation and upon which all life on earth depends — was becoming depleted. The problem was especially acute over Antarctica, giving rise to the phrase “ozone hole.”
Solomon and her team at NOAA began to study the problem and came up with what proved to be the correct causal mechanism: the interaction of atmospheric ozone with man-made chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which were present at that time in a wide variety of refrigerants and aerosol propellants. To test the theory, Solomon led expeditions to Antarctica in 1986 and 1987, personally carrying out observations showing that the abundance of chlorine compounds there is about one hundred times greater than expected, thus confirming the CFC theory of the etiology of the Antarctic ozone hole. As a result of Solomon’s work (as well as that of James Lovelock and others), several international treaties were signed in the late 1980s phasing out the production and commercial use of CFCs. By the early twenty-first century, it had become clear that the strategy was working — stratospheric ozone depletion was being reversed. Solomon, who is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and was awarded the National Medal of Science in 1999, is currently the Ellen Swallow Richards Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry and Climate Science at MIT.
Does science need a #metoo moment?
As mentioned in the recent Week in Review post, Sarah Myhre recently had an essay published in Newsweek: When will science get its #MeToo moment? The punchline:
Science should be a feminist institution, but we aren’t there yet. We have been silenced by a culture that tells us to divest ourselves from ourselves, for the sake of apolitical objectivity. Everywhere in our society, but doubly so in science, we are told to remain calm, play nice and keep our head down. As if our silence and complicity, indeed our docility, will be rewarded.
This is a lie. There is no reward in acquiescence, only subjugation. We deserve better, and we’ll get it.
The feminist reckoning is here, and it is coming for science.
I wonder how many of these 50 female scientists own pink pussy hats. I’m betting not many, if any.
Yes, lets weed out the serial sexual harassers. But the bottom line for science has to be this:
“Just get out of my way, and let me get on with the work!”
Yes, we need more females in STEM. Which message is more powerful for inspiring/attracting more young females into STEM – science #metoo, or the biosketches of the accomplishments of these 50 women?
In the many discussions I’ve had about Girls Rule(s) with other female scientists and professionals, the one somewhat critical point was this, I’m paraphrasing: “I agree with much, but not everything. These are the views of the older generation feminists, not the younger generation.” The individual making this point was 40-ish.
Well, as a scientist, i don’t identify as a feminist (and haven’t throughout my entire adult life). I have worked to empower female scientists and help them navigate various obstacles. For me, it is about science, not feminism. This sentence sums it up for me:
At the end of the day, everything else is sound and fury signifying very little.
Some of the younger generation scientists seem to identify first as feminists, who happen to have careers as scientists.
Well I am certainly proud to be included in this list of outstanding women scientists. I found it absolutely exhilarating and inspiring to read these 50 biosketches.
I don’t doubt that most if not all of these women (especially the older ones) have encountered obstacles in their career, including gender discrimination, sexual harassment and/or family-related challenges (the topic of the Girls Rule(s) post). But all that is beside the point of their accomplishments. I also don’t doubt that most if not all of these 50 scientists has in some way worked to increase the participation and success of females in STEM.
Celebrating the accomplishments of women scientists is much more important than whining about a misogynist culture in science, in terms of the goals of increasing the numbers of women in STEM fields and advancing the careers of those women.
My 7 year old grand daughter will come over today after school to spend time with us. She has an interest in science — her favorite ‘toys’ are the electronics set and magnet science that I got her for XMAS. She is in the process of watching the black hole series on NOVA. She has other interests too, but perhaps she might follow in Grandma Judy’s footsteps? I will go through The Best Schools article with her, and tell her the science topic that each female scientist is working on. I will report back on her reactions :)
Will I bother talking to her about discrimination etc. that female scientists have faced? Nope. 1-2 decades from now, when she is entering into the work force, I have every confidence that females will not be facing any discrimination in STEM fields. We aren’t quite there yet, but continuing to highlight the accomplishments of females in STEM fields will probably do more than anything to diminish any residues of discrimination.