Microbiology pioneer dies

Esther Lederberg dies at 83

Stanford University microbiologist Esther Miriam Zimmer Lederberg, a trailblazer for female scientists and the developer of laboratory techniques that helped a generation of researchers understand how genes function, has died at Stanford Hospital.

Professor Lederberg, who lived at Stanford, was 83 when she died Nov. 11 of pneumonia and congestive heart failure.

She discovered the lambda phage, a parasite of bacteria that became a key tool for the laboratory study of viruses and genetics, and was the co-developer with her husband [Nobel prize winner Joshua Lederberg] of replica plating, a technique for rapid screening of bacteria for desired mutations.

“She developed lab procedures that all of us have used in research,” said cancer researcher Stanley Falkow of the Stanford University School of Medicine.

She was also a pioneer of women’s rights, becoming a full professor at a time when women were rare on the faculties of Stanford and other major universities. “She was a real legend,” said Dr. Lucy Tompkins of Stanford.

(More after the jump…)
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New NAS report on women in science

Matt has the scoop.

Women in science and engineering are hindered not by lack of ability but by bias and “outmoded institutional structures” in academia, an expert panel reported today. The panel, convened by the National Academy of Sciences, said that in an era of global competition the nation could not afford “such underuse of precious human capital.”

Among other steps, the report recommends that universities alter procedures for hiring and evaluation, change typical timetables for tenure and promotion, and provide more support for working parents. “Unless a deeper talent pool is tapped, it will be difficult for our country to maintain our competitiveness in science and engineering,” the panel’s chairwoman, Donna E. Shalala, said at a news conference at which the report, “Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering,” was made public.

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The report also dismissed other commonly held beliefs — that women are uncompetitive or less productive, that they take too much time off for their families, and so on. Their real problems, it says, are unconscious but pervasive bias, “arbitrary and subjective” evaluation processes, and a work environment in which “anyone lacking the work and family support traditionally provided by a ‘wife’ is at a serious disadvantage.”

Belated news of import

Guess I should’ve held off an extra day on this post. Yesterday was blog against sexism day. Lots of excellent posts linked there if you’re looking to spend several hours getting depressed, then pissed off, then ready to go out and kick some as over the state of affairs and the treatment of women in the 21st century. Locally, Janet shares some of her experiences.

In other “can you believe this crap is still happening in 2006?” news, Orac notes that the offices of the Holocaust History Project were attacked by arsonists (more details here). This latest outrage comes after an extended denial-of-service attack on their website. Obviously the arsonists aren’t aware of the idea of the phoenix rising from the ashes.

Women in science–and ramblings thereof

So, Chad posted a link to this post last week.

As a woman in science myself, I have to say I don’t 100% buy this argument:

Most people go to work primarily in order to earn a paycheck. Workers prefer a higher salary to a lower salary. Jobs in science pay far less than jobs in the professions and business held by women of similar ability. A lot of men are irrational, romantic, stubborn, and unwilling to admit that they’ve made a big mistake. With Occam’s Razor, we should not need to bring in the FBI to solve the mystery of why there are more men than women who have chosen to stick with the choice that they made at age 18 to be a professor of science or mathematics.

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