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Female Scientists Receive Less Funding Than Their Male Counterparts. You Don’t Say?

she blinded me with science

Today in Women in STEM Fields: The Struggle, The Life, a study conducted by University College London’s Infectious Disease Research Network has found that U.K. female scientists working on infectious diseases are far less likely to receive grants than their male counterparts. And when they do receive funding, they get significantly less of it than their science bros.

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I would like to be able to say that I am shocked by this news.

The study, led by Dr. Michael G Head, took a look at over 6,000 funding grants handed out between 1997 and 2010. Less than a quarter of said grants were given to studies led by women, and the average grant for a woman-led study was 43% less than that of studies led by a man. To throw some figures at you: That’s 1.8 billion pounds (about $2.9 billion) for brovaries and 488 million pounds (just under $800 million) for ovaries. (I’m sorry, I just started watching Parks and Recreation.)

The study’s authors make a point of stating that this study isn’t proof of gender bias in the funding organizations themselves, though they also note that said organizations should “urgently investigate” the reasons for the gap. Instead the issue may be a lack of women at senior levels of academia. But the study is still evidence of a problem in the field as a whole. Says Dr. Head:

“It is an unacceptable difference, indicative that women are in some way being disadvantaged, and there is a clear need for policies to address this.”

One might say, reading about this study, that the disparity in funding is purely a result of there being more men than women in the sciences, and therefore there are no uncomfortable shades of institutionalized sexism to be found. After all, if there are more men then of course men are the ones getting funding. That’s just math, and everyone knows girls are bad at that. Nothing to see here. Move along.

If one said that, one would be wrong. While it’s true that there are more men than women in the sciences—only one third of those who make a career out of science in the EU are women—that’s seen by many as an effect of the funding issue, not its cause. (At least a lack of funding is one of the reasons men still outnumber women in the sciences—if you want a more in-depth look, Eileen Pollack wrote an excellent essay for New York Times Magazine called Why Are There Still So Few Women in Science?). Half of the students in the EU and 45 percent of the doctoral students are women. You win a grant, you can do your science, and you advance in your career. Heck, maybe you even figure out a cure for something. You don’t win grants, and… well, things get that much tougher. Or, as Dr. Sarah Main, director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering explains it:

”We know that there is a problem attracting women into science careers in general. The point where scientists are trying to win their own grant funding is a really critical stage. Unfortunately the statistics show there’s a big drop off in the numbers of women succeeding at that stage.”

And if you counter that “maybe men are just better at science than women,” I want you to have a nice, long think about what you just said and then turn around and walk away.

(The Independent, via Skepchick)

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