In data we trust – but should we?

By Sabrina Patsch, Universität Kassel and Freie Universität Berlin

For us scientists, data are our daily bread. We collect them, we compare them, we try extract general knowledge from them. Instead of speculating, we ask data to give us all the answers we are looking for. We collect data to improve the daily life for everybody. Or rather, for the average human being. Too bad the average person is between 25 and 30 years, weighs 70kg, and is a white man.

In her new bestselling book “Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men”, Caroline Criado-Perez addresses what she calls the gender data gap. Since the beginning of historiography, women have shone with absence. Instead, the life stories of men were assumed to be representative for all people. It is based on – or even the origin of – the unconscious thought that the man is the default human. If people say human, they usually mean men.
Criado-Perez addresses this issue on 425 pages (not counting the 75 pages of references) in seven chapters using examples from our daily life, the workplace, design, medicine, the public life and crisis management. She begins her book by quoting Simone de Beauvoir

Representation of the world, like the world itself, is the work of men; they describe it fromtheir own point of view, which they confuse with absolute truth.
– Simone de Beauvoir, The second sex, 1949

showing that, despite being 70 years old, this statement is as true as ever.

Criado-Perez claims that gender neutrality is in most cases mere illusion. Most of the data – or in general information – we gather, concerns men. Based on this, people make decisions that affect everybody – including the half of the population that is not captured by the data. Now most of the decision making is in the hands of healthy, white men which come in nine of ten cases from the USA. Without (necessarily) malicious intent, the decision makers assume themselves to be the “standard human” and they lack perspective. This is why diversity is crucial to design a world that works for everybody.

Let me give an example for the problem with gender neutral design. While real languages are historically shaped and might be influenced by sexist thinking from earlier ages, Emoji is a new language consciously designed by people. It is the Unicode consortium who discusses and selects the emojis which are part of the worldwide Unicode standard [1]. Originally, in Emoji 1.0, most emojis were present in a gender-neutral form, such as the “spy” 🕵️ . While the consortium defines the main specifics of the emoji (“An undercover investigator, wearing a hat, and sometimes using a magnifying glass to closely inspect evidence.” [1]), the specific design is up to every platform. And indeed, most platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, interpreted the spy as a man. Even if they had been able to create a gender-neutral picture of a spy, most people (including women) interpret gender-neutral figures as men. We tend to assume things as male – until the opposite is proven. So, the seemingly gender-neutral language is not that neutral after all. The only way to make women visible is to name them explicitly. As a result, the Unicode consortium decided to add the “male spy” 🕵️‍♂️ and the “female spy” 🕵️‍♀️ to Emoji 4.0. An important step, even though Unicode still describes the “male spy” as “The male version of the Spy emoji. Currently identical in appearance to the non-gendered base emoji.” [1].

While the design of emojis could be dismissed as a trifle, Criado-Perez comes up with a shocking number of examples where the gender data gap poses a real threat for women. Take medicine. Studies on the efficacy of drugs are often conducted on men. One of the reasons put forward is that female bodies are more complicated since they undergo a hormonal cycle affecting the results. But if the hormonal cycle is affecting the effectiveness of the drugs, this must not be neglected in drug tests. But it is. As a result, many drugs don’t work for women in the same way as for men – or sometimes not at all. Even in medical school, women are often only treated as a variation of the standard. Students are taught anatomy and female anatomy, physiology and female physiology. How can half of the population be a variation?

In academia, we experience first-hand how the blindness to gender issues results in discrimination against women. In Germany, post-doctoral researchers can spend a maximum of six years in temporal positions. If they do not receive a permanent position afterwards, it is often the end of their scientific career. This system disadvantages women in particular, since the critical time for PhDs to achieve a tenure track position coincides with the time women might want to start a family. For many women, combining an academic career with raising a child seems like a Herculean task and they decide to drop out before even applying for their first tenure track position. Men become fathers too, one might think, so they should be affected in the same way, but the numbers tell a different story. A look at the figures is downright depressing – it is a story of lone she-wolves [2, study conducted in the USA]:
The rate of divorces is higher, marriages less frequent and the number of children less for female than for male professors. Among the tenured faculty members, 70% of men are married with kids – but only 44% of women. Women who are married with kids have a 35% lower chance of getting a tenured faculty position than married men with kids. Even without children, chances for women are lower than for men. At the end of the road, women receive a 29% lower pension than men – two of the reasons being a later promotion and parental leave. Men’s pension, on the other hand, is not affected by having children. This is a prime example of a system that was designed for only one half of the population. Currently, two years of half-time employment is simply not equal to one year of full-time work. One hard measure for success in science is the number of publications. If someone published half as much per year, their chances of a tenured position decrease significantly – full stop. Does the system have to be like this? Definitely not.

I presented only three of Criado-Perez’s examples of how women are affected by the gender data gap. In the afterword of her book, she breaks down the plethora of problems to three points that describe the position of women in a male dominated world. Firstly, the invisibility of the female body. It is often ignored, that the female body is simply different from the male one. In addition to medical aspects mentioned above, there are also technical or architectonical aspects. Gender neutral security clothes don’t fit, the keyboard of a piano is too wide, or voice recognition just doesn’t work. Secondly, and ironically with respect to the first point, the visibility of the female gender. It is not the female sex, but the gender – the socially constructed aspect of being a woman – that leads to women being ignored, interrupted in discussions, harassed or even abused. Equal behaviour of men and women does not cause the same reaction. And most dramatically, sexual violence of men against women is a threat to women’s freedom and well-being, and is not sufficiently studied and included in the design of our world. Thirdly, women do most of the care work, without which our society would not function. This work is not sufficiently acknowledged or considered in shaping the world which restricts the possibilities of women and complicated their lives.

In her book, Criado-Perez presents a staggering amount of statistics revealing the underrepresentation of women to make a simple point: This is a men’s world. Women are disadvantaged and discriminated against, treated as a variation of the norm. But women’s issues are no minority’s issues – they are issues of 50% of the population. We have to start questioning the implicit assumption of masculinity, just as Denna did in Patrick Rothfuss’ novel “The Name of the Wind”:

“How could we possibly hurt it?” (the protagonist said, talking about a dragon)
“We lure her over the side of a cliff,” Denna said matter-of-factly.
“She?” I asked. “Why do you think it’s a she?” ​
“Why do you think it’s a he?” she replied.



All we need to do is wait… for 250 years

By Sabrina Patsch, Universität Kassel and Freie Universität Berlin

Times are changing. It is becoming more normal to see female scientists. I had two female fellow students, one of the physics professors of my university is female and a woman just won the Nobel prize for physics. System changes are slow but once the new generation reaches the age of senior researchers gender parity will be there.

Congratulations! We’re done. Time to lean back, give ourselves a pat on the back and enjoy a merry future.

Wouldn’t it be nice? But – I’m sorry – things are not as easy as that. Studies show [1] that, if we just keep going on as before, gender parity in physics will be reached in no less than 258 years. As a comparison: the feminist movement started in the late 19th century which would mean that we made only about a third of the way.

There are many reasons for this. Of course, also demography plays a role. When today’s senior scientists were young, they had much less female fellow students than the students have nowadays. But this demographic inertia is not sufficient to explain the slow adjustment in gender parity we see today. Another reason is visualised by the metaphor of the leaky pipeline: there are many women at the beginning of the academic journey but only a few make it until the end. Of course, also not every man reaches top positions in research. But the percentage of women is decreasing from step to step or, to follow the metaphor, from junction to junction. May it be due to hindrances or because they “chose” to leave academia.

Let’s face it: academia does not glisten with promises of a luxurious or secure life. The way to the top goes through numerous countries and uncountable temporary positions without the guarantee to reach the goal at all. Impossible to plan your life – or even the next three years. That perspective is not very attractive and many choose to pursue another career with more security.

But this does not sound like a women’s problem per se, does it? Aren’t men affected by this as well? Of course they are – but still it is only on conferences dedicated to female scientists that this issues are being addressed openly. Changing the system can help to make academia a more attractive place for a lot of bright people who just do not want to live a hermit life for the sake of an academic career.

In addition to women falling of the career ladder, there are also significantly less girls setting their foot on the bottom rung of the STEM ladder in the first place. The reasons for this are again innumerable. Girls do not have enough female scientific role models, they cannot picture themselves as scientists, and girls are “worse at maths than boys” anyway. As for the last argument, it is important to bear in mind that career decisions are usually not made on the basis of absolute but relative abilities. In other words: People usually decide to study what they are best at and not what they are sufficiently good at. So someone who is good at math but even better at something else will most likely decide to study… something else. And indeed: a recent study [2] showed that the higher reading ability of girls, as compared to their math skills and also the reading abilities of boys, can largely explain the gender gap in math-related fields while the sheer difference in maths performance is not able to do so.

Shouldn’t we encourage everybody to study what they are best at? The subject in which they are most likely to develop their full potential? In principle yes, but the occurrence of this difference in abilities seems quite peculiar by itself. One obvious explanation seems to be the very different education of girls and boys. Girls are, for instance, usually more encouraged to read and dream while boys are expected to be more practical and to make things. Even the most trying parents have a hard time to raise their kids without gender expectations. Our society is full of them. Never have there been more gendered toys, more pink and blue in our world than today. Parents who tried to show their kids that they can become everything they want will be disappointed one day when their little girl comes home from the nursery school telling them that she can’t be a knight anymore and that she wants to be a princess now –  the other girls said so.

It’s hard to be a knight amongst princesses. It’s hard to be the only girl in the advanced math course. It’s hard to be the only women on a conference.

And who can blame them for wanting to be just like the other girls? They should not need to justify themselves. They should not need the strength to “be different”. And they should not need to wait 258 years for it.


[1] L. Holman, D. Stuart-Fox, C. E. Hauser (2018) The gender gap in science: How long until women are equally represented? PLoS Biol 16(4): e2004956.

[2] T. Breda, C. Napp (2019) Girls’ comparative advantage in reading can largely explain the gender gap in math-related fields. PNAS 116 (31) 15435-15440.

When the Physik Journal honored Nobel Laureates Donna Strickland and Gérard Mourou for their discovery

The German Physical Society’s Physik Journal reached a new low in its current issue featuring a special section on this year’s Physics Nobel prizes. Half of the prize was awarded for the method of generating high-intensity, ultra-short optical pulses, and was awareded in equal share to Donna Strickland and Gérard Mourou. However, to honor the laureates and their discovery the Physik Journal managed to publish an article portraying Mourou as the brilliant genius (e.g., “äußerst innovativen und großartig visionären Wissenschaftler”) and mentioning Strickland only on the side, in one sentence in the whole article, as the PhD student who did some measurements (article; paywall).

Among illustrations showing the physical principles, the article starts with a big photo showing not the both Nobel laureates, but instead Mourou and the article’s author, sitting in the first row at a meeting of mostly old men. At the end of the article there’s even another photo of the author, who is Science and Technology Manager at an ELI facility in the Czech Republic. ELI is a research infrastrucure that Mourou had initiated, and remember: to promote ELI, Mourou had had made a “funny” creepy sexist video showing himself in the lab decorated by undressing half-naked young women (No Mourou, this is fun — yours is just creepy).

It’s worth noting that this article appeared in the Physik Journal’s December issue, so way after the uproar on the fact that a few months before Donna Strickland was awarded the Nobel prize, a Wikipedia article was written about her but not approved by a Wikipedia moderator saying Strickland doesn’t qualify for Wikipedia.

So it’s not only that women are often neglected by the Nobel committee (e.g., Lise Meitner, Chien-Shiung Wu, Deborah Jin, Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Vera Rubin) but when they are awarded they are almost entirely neglected in an article honoring them, making it sound like Donna Strickland received the prize just by mistake.

Colleagues have contacted the Physik Journal’s editorial board, but unfortunately they see no wrongdoing on their side, claiming only the author is responsible for the article.

For context: The German Physical society (DPG) claims to be the largest Physical Society in the whole world, however they are even today lacking basic programs or a division for e.g. diversity and inclusion which e.g. the US-American APS and AIP and the British IOP have installed for long time now (And here’s a symptomatic photo showing the previous, the current, and the future DPG presidents).

The society’s journal is the monthly “Physik Journal”. I had written an opinion piece on women* and queer inclusion in Physics, which after many alterations appeared in a very soft version on page 3 of the Physik Journal’s June 2018 issue. It had provoked people to leave the society, people claiming my article had no relevance at all and comparing me to the Nazis (and the Physik Journal even printed the Nazi comparison in a Letter to the Editor section of a later issue), but there is no interest by the society’s board in this topic at all.

I’m advocating for equal opportunities and women* visibility in the DPG for years now as board member of their working group on equal opportunities (AKC) but it’s so frustrating. Does anyone have any idea what to do with this? Please do write me because by now when I see such articles I start to feel like I just want to go to bed and sleep, I’m so extremely tired of all this. But this is dangerous. We as a society should not tolerate this anymore.

Increase the visibility of female scientists on Wikipedia

By Niki Vavatzanidis

Dear all,

if you are reading this, chances are high that you already are interested in empowering women in science (congratulations) and here is a very nice opportunity to go from “interested” to “actively promoting”. And that’s even without moving from your comfy couch!

How so? Less than 20% of biographies in Wikipedia are about women, meaning that too many links to women are red (as in: non-existent content). A WikiProject called “women in red” wants to change that by getting more and more blue links to women’s biographies (

So here is the chance to finally create your first Wikipedia article! Choose your favourite female scientist and write about her. Or translate an already existing biography and spread the knowledge into more corners of the world. Or improve an already existing article.

Of course, you can do this any time. If you like the additional inspiration of a group event, however, you can join the edit-a-thon taking place on March 24, 2018 in Berlin – online or in person: (sorry, the page is in German only, but an online translation should help).
Can’t make it on Saturday? Maybe you’d like to arrange your own little edit-a-thon with friends around a pot of tea or coffee.

Help make women blue in Wikipedia!

Interested? Here are some first steps:

Have fun with it!

Nachhaltige Förderung von Schülerinnen in MINT-Fächern

Das Projekt Überfliegerin sucht Zuwachs!

Gastartikel von Rut Waldenfels, Physikerin und Gründerin von Überfliegerin

Der Anteil von Studienanfängerinnen in den MINT-Fächern betrug im Wintersemester 2016/2017 an deutschen Hochschulen immer noch weniger als 30%, in Ausbildungsberufen war das Verhältnis im Juni 2014 mit einem Anteil von 12% noch weniger ausgeglichen.

Warum ist im MINT-Bereich der Anteil von Frauen immer noch so niedrig?

Der Einfluss von geschlechtsspezifischen Rollenbildern auf die Berufs- und Studienwahl spielt hier die Hauptrolle. Im- und explizite Erwartungen an Frauen und ihre Berufswahl, sowie (oft unbewusste) Hindernisse auf Grund ihres Geschlechts sind in unserer Gesellschaft allgegenwärtig und bestimmen das Interesse von jungen Frauen an MINT-Fächern. [1, 2] Entdecker, Erfinder, Forscher – das Bild, was zu diesen Begriffen allein durch das sprachliche Maskulinum im Kopf entsteht, ist das eines Mannes. Dieses Bild bestätigt sich in zahlreichen (Jugend-)Büchern und Filmen, in denen die großen Abenteurer und genialen Tüftler sehr viel häufiger Männer sind. [3] Auch im realen Leben sind erfolgreiche weibliche Vorbilder in MINT-Berufen wenig sichtbar. Aber Vorbilder, sowohl aus fiktiven Geschichten als auch reale Personen, geben Perspektiven und Identifikationsmöglichkeiten, machen neugierig und engagiert. In der Pubertät wird die Abgrenzung über das Merkmal Geschlecht wichtiger und gelernte Vorurteile verfestigen sich: weniger weiblich wirken, weil man mit guten Noten in Physik leicht zum „Nerd“ abgestempelt wird oder sich von vornherein in einer Gruppe von überwiegend Jungs nicht zugehörig fühlt, kann bewusst oder unbewusst das Interesse entscheidend beeinflussen. Deutlich zeigt sich dies auch daran, dass sich die Leistungen von Schülerinnen in mathematischen Tests signifikant verschlechtern, sobald sie vor Testbeginn ihr Geschlecht angeben müssen. [4]

Nachhaltige Förderung bedeutet die gesellschaftlichen Einflüsse zu adressieren.

Eine nachhaltige Förderung von Nachwuchs-MINTlerinnen, die diese gesellschaftlichen Einflüsse adressiert und soziale Fähigkeiten zum Umgang damit stärkt, ist deshalb unbedingt sinnvoll und notwendig. Mein Projekt, die Gründung des Förderinstituts „Überfliegerin“, soll genau das leisten. Ich selbst bin Physikerin und möchte mit „Überfliegerin“ auch meine persönlichen Erfahrungen, die ich in der Auseinandersetzung mit geschlechterbasierten Vorurteilen bzw. ihren gesellschaftlichen Auswirkungen gesammelt habe, in der Praxis einsetzen und weitergeben. Ich möchte Schülerinnen dazu motivieren, selbstbewusst an MINT-Inhalte heranzugehen, gesellschaftliche Hindernisse zu überwinden und Begeisterung für „typische“ Männerberufe und Fächer zu entwickeln. Im Jahr 2012 war ich Teil des Organisationsteams der deutschen Physikerinnentagung und habe an mehreren Tagungen und Veranstaltungen mit ähnlichem Hintergrund und Coachings im Rahmen von Förderprogrammen von Studentinnen teilgenommen. Die Erfahrungen, die ich dort sammeln konnte, und der Austausch mit anderen Wissenschaftlerinnen haben mich darin bestärkt, dass ein gesellschaftlicher Wandel vor allem durch Förderung von jungen Frauen voran gebracht werden kann. Überfliegerin soll Schülerinnen die notwendigen Mittel an die Hand geben, sich im MINT-Bereich zu Hause zu fühlen.

Die Zielgruppe des Projekts sind Schülerinnen mit fachlichem Förderungsbedarf in den Fächern Mathematik, Physik und Chemie zunächst an Gymnasien ab der 8. Klassenstufe. Es wird schuljahresbegleitende Kurse und Ferienblockkurse geben. Ich möchte mit dem Konzept eine möglichst heterogene Gruppe ansprechen: das Angebot richtet sich sowohl an Schülerinnen mit guten bis mittelmäßigen Noten, als auch an Schülerinnen mit schlechteren Noten. Inhaltlich orientiert sich der Kurs eng an den Lehrplänen und den momentanen fachlichen Themen im Unterricht der Kursteilnehmerinnen. Der inhaltliche Umfang eines Kurses, d.h. die Schwierigkeit der Übungsaufgaben und des vermittelten Stoffs, wird innerhalb der Gruppe differenziert auf die Schülerinnen zugeschnitten. Das Angebot ist exklusiv für junge Frauen, um einen geschützten Rahmen zu schaffen. Ergebnisse verschiedener Studien legen nahe, dass Schülerinnen im Schnitt bessere Leistungen in MINT-Fächern erzielen, wenn sie in rein weiblichen Gruppen unterrichtet werden. [4] Neben der fachlichen Förderung wird es in den Kursen ein Präsentations- und Kommunikationstraining geben. Offene Diskussionen werden ermutigt und moderiert. Die Schülerinnen profitieren von der Gruppe, indem sie üben, Gelerntes mit den anderen Mitgliedern präzise und verständlich formuliert zu teilen. Aktuelle Übungsaufgaben werden kooperativ mit ständiger Unterstützung der Lehrkraft gelöst. Außerdem werden Geschlechterstereotype und deren Auswirkung spielerisch und interaktiv erarbeitet. Zwischen den Kursterminen wird eine Vernetzung und Kooperation gefördert, z.B. durch die Unterstützung digitaler Medien, wie Messenger oder Social Media Gruppen. Fragen können dort zeitnah gestellt werden und eventuell schon mit Hilfe von den anderen Gruppenmitgliedern beantwortet werden. Zusätzlich zu dem regulären Kursangebot werden freiwillige Veranstaltungen angeboten, in denen die Kursgruppen Frauen in spannenden Berufen an ihrem Arbeitsplatz besuchen oder ihre Fähigkeiten bei Experimentiernachmittagen erproben können. Dazu möchte ich eine Kooperation mit bestehenden Projekten im Bereich der MINT-Förderung aufbauen.

Naturwissenschaftlerin mit Vision und Unternehmer(innen)geist gesucht.

Überfliegerin sucht Zuwachs! Hat dieser Artikel dein Interesse geweckt und du bist eine idealistische Naturwissenschaftlerin mit Lehramts-, Master- oder Promotionsabschluss voller Tatendrang? Für dich ist eine selbstständige Tätigkeit absolut vorstellbar und spannend? Das Projekt ist in der Konzeptionsphase – es gibt also noch viel Gestaltungsspielraum. Schreib einfach eine Mail mit ein paar Infos zu deinem beruflichen Hintergrund und ich beantworte gerne alle deine Fragen zum aktuellen Stand der Konzeption, Finanzierung und Umsetzung. Die Gründung des Instituts ist in Frankfurt am Main geplant. Startzeitpunkt des Angebots ist Anfang des Schuljahrs 2018/2019.

Kontakt: nachricht [at]

[1] Anzahl der MINT-Studienanfänger* an deutschen Hochschulen nach Geschlecht in den Studienjahren von 2007/2008 bis 2016/2017;
[2] Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund; Frauen in nichtakademischen MINT-Berufen-Analyse ihrer Stellung am Arbeitsmarkt und ihrer Arbeitsbedingungen; arbeitsmarktaktuell 04; 2015;
[3] LMG Blog: Bibi Blocksberg vs. Wickie;
[4] M. Steffens und I.D. Ebert; Frauen-Männer-Karrieren: Eine sozialpsychologische Perspektive auf Frauen in männlich geprägten Arbeitskontexten; Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden; 2016;

Let’s all stop paying attention to Nobel Prizes!

Every year in Fall when the Nobel prizes are announced I get a little bit more angry. When I was a child and young student I was amazed and fascinated by the Nobel prize, and thought that Nobel laureates are the single most awesome scientists. When I studied Physics at the university my then-lover and I were sure that we will of course one day be awarded the prize, as we loved Physics, were curious about everything and spent most nights and days discussing and deriving and finding problems we wanted to solve. Of course we didn’t do that for some far goal of getting an award, but that award seemed like a natural logic consequence in the life of an awesome scientist.

At the university in Germany where I studied ten years ago all professors were men, literally all, of the some 40-50 professors at the Physics department. Still, when I was a student I didn’t think at all that merit or science awards have something to do with gender – or rather, that natural sciences have something to do with societal issues – because it’s about science, it only has to do with who is talented, intelligent, dedicated, and not with gender, right?
That was then.

I learned about many exciting discoveries, and with that, I learned about the scientists who made them, and some of them were women. Continuing in my studies I started getting more and more doubts about the Nobel prize, seeing my heroines being overlooked year after year.
I used to think it’s sad and unfortunate, but well, maybe next year. Now I see this in a different way, even more so since day before yesterday: it is political.

I started reading a bit about women in Physics, and many of their life stories are sad, heartbreaking and infuriating for the injustice and neglect they experienced, and the merit men got for discoveries women made.

Seven of this year’s Nobel laureates held a press conference in Stockholm day before yesterday. Apparently, to explain the lack of women among Nobel laureates they said things like “Change is coming, but there is a long delay between entering freshman and the Nobel prize.” (Kip Thorne) and “Science has been made by males, for males. It is changing, it takes time, but you will see it, they (women in science) are coming.” (Jacques Dubochet)

Reading these inconsiderate statements now made me furious. I can think of many women who did awesome and undoubtedly Nobel-prize-worthy research but were neglected, ignored, betrayed by men who got the merit and the Nobel prize for their discovery. A few who immediately come to my mind are Jocelyn Bell-Burnell, Lise Meitner, Chien-Shiung Wu, Vera Rubin and Deborah Jin.

So now it’s ultimate. The Nobel prize is a platform for ignorant unthoughtful (unreflektierte) white old men who fail to recognize their privileges to celebrate themselves, reassuring white men in general that they are superior and stabilizing the hegemonial patriarchic order of the society. This is toxic and harmful and we have to get over this.

Apart from all of this there were questionable campaigns like more than 100 Nobel laureates condemning Greenpeace publicly at the Lindau meeting in 2016. Only because someone was awarded this prize doesn’t mean that he understands every aspect of every scientific discipline, but exactly this is the widespread notion that is continuously reinforced, also by the media.

Dear nobel laureates, there is extensive research done on gender-related discrimination in science. I suggest you refer to the literature and revoke the statements you made publicly. Actually, knowing the literature on gender and diversity in science is your duty as privileged white men. But please don’t annoy women, people of color or members of underrepresented minorities by asking them about these issues. Before you do this, it is your duty to go ahead and research the literature, and not the duty of underprivileged people to explain your privileges to you.

Last year there was a public outcry, with the hashtag #NobelforVeraRubin. While last year I thought that was a good idea and also participated in it on twitter and used the hashtag, by now I think this and similar efforts go in the wrong direction. I lost all hopes for the Nobel committee and the academy. First, I thought shaming the committee would be the way. But no, now I vote for ignoring this award altogether. We can all contribute to stop the public idolatry that distorts reality.

The whole issue is of course not limited to the Nobel prize, please also check Katrin’s article on awards of the German Physical Society – Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft e.V.
And discrimination is of course not limited to gender. The white women whom I mentioned and also I myself are and were of course still privileged compared to for example people of color who could have discovered awesome things but didn’t even have the chance to work in science in the first place. The reasons of this article were the statements of the Nobel laureates on women in science, that’s why the article explicitly focusses on this.

Congratulations: You are … a man!

When it comes to visibility of women in natural science there is not only a lack in the occupation of high job positions and the promotion of women – also female researchers often get less honored and awarded for their work. The German Physical Society (DPG) – the biggest physical society world wide – has several prizes which they award every year. The two most import and most honourable ones are the Max-Planck-Medal for outstanding theoretical work and the Stern-Gerlach-Medal for outstanding experimental work. Beside that, there are for example prizes especially for young researchers, for good interdisciplinary research and didactic, for technical centered research or for pupils. One prize, the Hertha-Sponer-Prize, is especially for young female researchers (initiated by the working group on equal opportunities of the DPG: AKC). The names of all awardees can be found online on the website of the DPG.

Looking at the numbers of female prize winners, I found somehow alarming*. In total there are 543 awarded persons, and only 48 of them are women. This is just 8.8 %. If one does not take into account the all-female winners of the Hertha-Sponer-Prize, we reach 528 awarded persons from which are 33 women (6.3 %). If  additionally the awardees of the pupils prize (11,0 % female) are omitted, from 355 laureates there are only 14 women left (3.9 %).

There are also prizes without a single women ever awarded. These are 3 out of 11, meaning 27.3 %. One of this three prizes is the honourable Sern-Gerlach Medal (since 1988). Note: The pendant for theoretical physics has exactly one awarded women since 1929: Lise Meitner!

Ok, now some people say the field of physics was long time a full men dominated field but it all changed and there is no discrimination nowadays – let’s have a look on some numbers of prize winners only since 2000:

The total number of awarded persons is 326. From this 45 are female, which means a rise to 13.8 %. If we look at numbers without the Herta-Sponer-Prize, it is 30 women out of 311 (9.6 %), and without taking into account the pupils prize (11,0 %), we end up again with only 8.0 % (11 women out of 138).

Interestingly is the last number mentioned before for all years: prizes without a single women. Looking only at prize winners since 2000 there are 5 instead of 3 awards (out of 11) without a single female laureate – including both the Max-Planck-Medal and the Stern-Gerlach-Medal! These are 45.5 % awards without honoring one single women since 2000 in the biggest physical society worldwide. Wow!

To be recognized in research, to get promoted, to get permanent positions, and a professorship, visibility and publicity is of high importance. And this can be reached for example by getting awarded for your outstanding work. I want to encourage all people who think that these numbers should be changed to take action! There are several prizes and fellowships where you can apply yourself – just try it! For example there is the Emmy-Noether-Program for experienced young researchers (which just changed their regulations to make the program more family friendly) or the Heisenberg-Program for people who head for a professorship (both DFG) .

If you don’t want to apply yourself – then nominate someone else! To mention just a few possibitities here:

The online portal academics is looking in the moment for the “Young researcher of the year” (Deadline for 2017 call: 30th of September 2017). For all mentioned DPG prizes you can nominate persons (unfortunately the deadline for 2018 has already passed, but stay tuned for the 2019 call). And also the GDCh (German Chemical Society) has a list of awards, where you can nominate people for (Deadline for 2018 call: 29th of September 2017).

Are there other awards you have in mind where people can apply for or one can nominate people? Write us here or on our facebook page and get more women awarded!


*The following prizes where taken into account:

Max-Planck-Medal, Stern-Gerlach-Medal, Walter-Schottky-Prize, Gustav-Hertz-Prize, Robert-Wichard-Pohl-Prize, Medal for Natural Science Publishing, Hertha-Sponer-Prize, Georg-Simon-Ohm-Prize, Georg-Kerschensteiner-Prize, The DPG Prize for excellent physics-teaching at schools, School Students’ Prize

The years in which prizes where not awarded to persons are not counted (e.g. Medal for Natural Science Publishing, 2008: “Die Sendung mit der Maus”). The numbers of female / male award winners was counted based on their names. Persons with names which where not directly associated with a male or female person and the respective prize winner could not be found online by further research (7 persons from the School Students’ Prize), were excluded from the numbers.

Bibi Blocksberg vs. Wickie

Original title: Audio-visual Diversity? – Gender representation in movies and television in Germany

Authors: Prof. Dr. Elizabeth Prommer, Dr. Christine Linke


Television and movies portrait a gender equal society, right?

I actually never actively thought about this but if anyone would have asked me that question a couple of months ago, I would have said: “Sure.”

The talk by Anke-Domscheidt Berg at the I, Scientist conference in May 2017 (I, Scientist 2017) got me wondering about the real situation in movies and television in Germany by shocking me with numbers like: Only 57% of german movies or movies produced with German cooperation pass the Bechdel-test, whereas 87% of them pass the reversed Bechdel-test. Meaning that only about every second movie has a plot that allows to answer the following four questions with ‘yes’:

– Are there at least two women?

– Do they have identifyable names?

– Do they speak to each other?

– About something else than men or relationships?

That is not only sad, it is a serious deficit that should be obvious and known to everyone. That this is not the case, shows even stronger how much we are influenced by media and used to the pictures we are presented with.

But the shocking numbers go much further than that. With Audio-visual Diversity? the University of Rostock conducted a study looking into the representation of gender in movies and television in Germany. The basis for their study was over 3000 hours of german TV program from 2016 and over 800 german-language movies from the past 6 years (Audiovisuelle_Diversitaet.pdf).

What they found was not only the sad number of movies that pass the Bechdel-test, but they also looked at the absolut number of female and male main characters appearing in german television and the roles of female and male characters in documentaries, series and kids TV-programs. Bad enough that the distribution of female (33%) and male (67%) main characters in television does not represent the real life distribution of the sexes of 50/50, the worst ratio of male to female main characters is found in kids television programs with 28% (female) to 72% (male)! Animal figures are in 87% of the cases male, humans 62%. What the hell?!!!

But not just the protagonists in kids television are mostly male, outside of fiction kids are presented with male experts and moderators from a very early age on. Only every third moderator is female. “Men explain the world”, that seems to be something that runs through the presentation of information throughout the age range. For adults that seems to get even worse leaving us with 79% male experts in TV – information.

As a young girl, where are my role models? As a kid in general, what is the picutre of the world that is presented to me? Experts, the people presented at the top, are male. Apperently even when it comes to fantasy where everything is possible and kids can imagine themselves as whatever they want, that world is dominated by male figures. What do I learn, uncounsiously, from as young as a few years old? Women stay in the shadows. They are not important enough to be displayed for a wide audience, asked for their opinion or independent enough to experience adventures over a wide range of settings (not just pony farm). What does that potentially leave me with as a girl: Being insecure about myself, about what I can do and where I can go. Having uncounsiously accepted men to be the ones to get to the top, to be better than me.

What does that teach me as a boy? It does not reflect the reality of the 50/50 ratio of women and men. Which means it shows me that both sexes do not seem to be considered equally important. It does not bring women into the picutre as knowledgeable, strong, independent and adventurous persons.

And we are asking ourselves where the insecurities of girls and women about what they can do come from….

If we start with programs for girls, to strenghen their selfesteem, help them aim for great things, in Highschool or University, we are fighting windmills. We have to start at the roots and the roots are we, all people alive at the moment, because we are those who shape the world with our perceptions for the next generation. If we don’t start to realize how we are shaped and influenced by the people and things surrounding us, we cannot reach a world or even only a Germany with real equality.



for the details and results of the Rostock University study (German).