Monday, October 15, 2007

Overselling genomics (and men) award #3 - Newsweek Magazine

Newsweek Magazine has a feature on the "10 hottest nerds" that they say are "10 of the most esteemed biologists" in the w0rld. And they ask for their insights into various things. The people are
  • Eric Lander
  • Leroy Hood
  • Craig Venter
  • David Botstein
  • Svante Paabo
  • Philip Sharp
  • Rudolph Jaenisch
  • Kari Stefansson
  • George Church
  • Jay Keasling
Sure these people have done good things and I truly respect most of them in many ways. But are they kidding me? This is who they pick? First of all, all men? Mostly, all people who have been around the block too. Plus, almost all these people work in something connected to genomics (Lander, Hood, Venter, Botstein, Paabo, and Church are major genomics players; Keasling and Sharp and Stefansson are heavily genomics-based).

They couldn't come up with a single woman? Or anyone doing anything else? Or any new researchers? This whole thing is completely egregious. There are plenty of completely cool things going on in biology that have little if any connection to genomics, that are not men, and/or are not established researchers.

And to get the conversation going here are some people they could have considered to diversify in at least one dimension (i.e., the male versus female thing):
I came up with this list in about 20 minutes, based mostly on people I know. And of course, there are TONS of other women in biology who are doing fantabulous research. Even if one did not know anything, a little time on Google pulls up a vast collection of resources -- (e.g., see L'Oreal's for Women in Science page or this Wikipedia page for more suggestions). And of course lets not forget that genomics is not the only thing going on in biology.

So - Newsweek - you are getting my third "Overselling Genomics Award" and on top of that a bonus "Overselling Men" award. All I can say is - what were you thinking?


  1. Well said, Jonathan. This is why you blog, and I only mutter in the hallway and send an email or two to colleagues. When I saw the Newsweek blurb my second reaction (after a mocking "well, so-and-so didn't make this list either") was "they're all white male genomics folks -- is that all they could come up with?"

  2. Muttering is a good way to describe what I was doing while writing the blog. This Newsweek thing really pissed me off.

  3. Nice one. Does Newsweek have a "letters to the editor" section?

  4. Of course they have letters to the editor. But blogs are more fun ...

  5. Right on the mark Jonathan!
    Also, I don't see how it can be a "hottest" list without photos.

  6. Thanks for pointing out what SHOULD be incredibly obvious Jonathan, but clearly wasn't to the Newsweek editors. And we wonder why young women are leaving the sciences...

  7. Well, I see your point, but only for some of your choices -- it's pretty clear from the list that the author is not picking people who are doing great research "in the trenches" but people like Lander and Venter who are the "movers and shakers" who influence scientific policy and/or have teams of scientists working under them at an institute. Do Rita Colwell and Claire Fraser belong on such a list? Sure. But not the rest of the names you mention. Not because they aren't excellent scientists (including National Academy members like Shapiro), but because they aren't major players in scientific policy/administration. Of course one can ask *why* scientific policy is dominated by men, or why leading is esteemed more than doing science oneself, but those are topics in themselves.

  8. Jonathan I think you have missed both the details and the big picture here.

    Newsweek did not say they were picking movers and shakers. They said they were picking the "Einsteins of the 21st century." Einstein is known for his science, not is management or directorships. So I was basing my blog on what Newsweek said they were doing, plain and simple. And since they said they were going after science I offered up three things they should have considered: people outside genomics, women, and younger scientists. In my list I was not going after movers and shakers, I was picking women from a few different fields of somewhat different experience levels, all of whom should be considered as current or potential leaders in the science of biology in he 21st century.

    Even if we grant that Newsweek's own description of what they were doing was inaccurate and that they were going after movers and shakers, still they did a horrendous job for focusing on men and genomics. 20 minutes on the computer could have found any of dozens of movers and shakers in biology whojust happen to be women. Shirley Tilghman, president of Princeton. Sharon Long, who was dean of Stanford's Humanities and Sciences until recently. Julie Geberding, Director of CDC. Jane Goodall. Mina Bissell, who was the head of Biology at LBL, Gail Cassell (from Lilly), etc. I mean, these are easy pickings and I know nothing about anything. So even if you grant them the notion that they were going after movers and shakers, they made a completely pathetic and objectionable overall selection.

  9. Also - apparently the Newsweek site has been taken offline or moved. Here is a link to the Google Cache for it.

  10. Here is the link for their International Edition

  11. "Einstein's for the 21st Century" ... hmmm ... while I admire most of the people mentioned in that list, and some are still at the cutting edge, I'd say that they would fit more into an Einstein's for the 20th century list.

    The structural biologist/biophysicist in me grieves.

    Great post ... as always

  12. I would add Anne Yoder to the list... she interviewed for a faculty position at Vanderbilt while I was a grad student there, but the job went to a male -- definitely was Vandy's loss. This was several years ago, but obviously she made quite an impression on me in a very short period!! And now she is Director of the Primate Center at Duke. Their gain!!

    Actually, the most brilliant person I know in science (or any other field for that matter) is a woman who is in a small company and has not been treated well by the good-old-boy network. Shame on them!! She should be Vice President or CEO, but there are NO female executives in this company. What century are we in?

  13. Another lack of diversity in the list of "new Einsteins": Great research is not only done in the USA, yet all the mentioned researchers are American.

  14. And this in the same issue in which they highlight feminist bloggers - they should read each others' articles....

  15. What about creating an "great biologist but disgusting man/woman" award. I guess it should be given to James Watson after his declaration about human intelligence.
    I feel sorry that S.J.Gould is no longer here...

  16. anonymous, not all of them are americans but i agree, the list is quite biased towards that end too...

  17. I assume Dihade was referring to this, although Watson doesn't come across much better in
    this story either. I know he's not the first Nobel laurate to "tarnish the luster" -- remember William Shockley (sorry, couldn't find a good link) -- maybe the prize should come with a muzzle.

  18. FWIW here is the roster from
    yesterday's (excellent) NISC
    10th Anniversary Symposium on the
    future of sequencing:

    Claire Fraser-Liggett
    Richard Gibbs
    Richard Wilson
    Wylie Burke
    Richard Myers
    Andy Clark
    Evan Eichler
    David Haussler
    Eric Lander (keynote)

  19. Are you pissed because the authors actively discriminated against women and non-whites, because they didn't positively discriminate to include those groups, or because the most obvious names in trendy science (=genomics) are almost-dead (;-)) white males?

  20. PeterD

    I guess pissed off was not the right words to describe how I felt. I was disappointed. And I am not sure any of your 3 categories fits perfects although #1 is closest. I was disappointed because the people on their list were inconsistent from my point of view with their stated objectives of finding the next Einstein in biology. Given their stated objectives, their list of people is not reflective of the field of biology. Not to take anything away from these people. I think if they really wanted to find the next Einsteins for biology, and they had done their task objectively, they would have picked some women, some younger people and more people not doing genomics. So I think in the end what I would accuse them of doing is having a mismatch between their stated goals and what they actually did and also in being shortsighted. That does not rise to the level of "discrimination" in my mind, but it certainly was silly.

  21. It's happened again, this time in GQ magazine, according to this article which notes that 11 "Rock Stars of Science" are featured in a six-page photo spread in the June issue of GQ magazine. They are:
    Eric Topol
    Francis S Collins
    Harold Varmus
    Anthony S Fauci
    David B Agus
    Rudy Tanzi
    Ron Petersen
    Steven T DeKosky
    Sam Gandy
    Dale Schenk
    Jeffrey Cummings

    Sure, you can argue "consider the source" and dismiss the whole thing out of hand because it is just GQ ... But with only 5 "real" musicians chosen for the photo spread, they managed to include Sheryl Crow,, and Seal along with Josh Groban and Joe Perry.


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