Two-thirds of the British public are unable to name a single famous female scientist, according to an ICM poll.
The same survey, organised by the Royal Society, revealed that 90% of 18-24 year-olds could not name a female scientific figure – either current or historical.
Almost half were able to name at least one famous male scientist, such as Albert Einstein.
The Royal Society’s Lorna Casselton described the results as “frustrating”.
I suspect the “gender gap” in these figures is essentially an artefact of the fact that there have been more famous male scientists than female ones. Yes, I do appreciate that that word “famous” is somewhat loaded due to it being at least as culturally determined as determined by genuine achievement but the fact remains that they were asking the public about fame rather than achievement. If we take that as an explanation for the “gender gap” then we are still left with, if true, two appalling facts. The first is that “famous” scientists aren’t that famous in Britain and that situation appears to be worse amongst the young.
I said “if true” that is shocking but I’m not sure I believe it is that bad (I hope not anyway) because you always have to be very suspicious of surveys conducted to an end – in this case encouraging more women into science. I mean there are lies, damned lies, statistics and statistics derived from surveys.