Friday, August 24, 2012

"Genomics: the Power and the Promise" meeting - could be called "Men Studying Genomics" instead

Just got another email advertising this meeting: Genomics: the Power and the Promise.  Organized by Genome Canada and the Gairdner Foundation.  And, well, though I love some of the things Genome Canada has done, this conference really stick in my craw in the wrong way. Why?  It has a serious male speaker overabundance.  Here is the list of speakers:

Day 1 
  1. Pierre Muelien
  2. John Dirks
  3. Gary Goodyear
  4. Eric Lander
  5. Craig Venter
  6. Philip Sharp
  7. Svante Paabo
  8. Tom Hudson
  9. Peter Jones
  10. Stephen Scherer
  11. Michael Hayden
  12. Bertha Maria Knoppers
Day 2
  1. Stephen Mayfield
  2. Elizabeth Edwards
  3. Curtis Suttle
  4. Peter Langridge
  5. Michel Georges
  6. William Davidson
  7. Klaus Ammann
That is 17:2 male: female ratio. That is one female speaker per day.  Not impressive.

On Day 2 there are two panels (which generally I do not count as "speakers" but at least there are a few more women on these):
  • Panel 1: Sally Aitken, Vincent Martin, Elizabeth Edwards, Curtis Suttle, Gerrit Voordouw, Steve Yearley
  • Panel 2: William Davidson, Martine Dubuc, Isobel Parkin, Graham Plastow, Curtis Pozniak, Peter Phillips 
So if you count these that then comes to a ratio of presenters of 25: 6.  Do I want quotes for meetings?  No, but given that the ratio of men: women in biology is close to 1:1 this suggests to me some sort of bias.  Where does this bias come from?  I don't know.  Could be at the level of who gets invited.  Could be at the level of who accepts.  Could be some non obvious criterion for selecting speakers that leads to a bias towards men.  I don't know.  But I personally think they could do better.  And I note - they could probably do better in terms of other aspects of diversity of speakers, but I am focusing here just on the male vs. female ratio.  Again, I am not suggesting one should have quotas for all meetings but at the same time, a 17:2 male to female speaker ratio suggests something could use some working on.

As a side story I decided to look at some past conferences sponsored by Genome Canada.  I worked my way down the list ... see below:
  • 2008 Joint IUFRO-CTIA International conference. Speakers: 8:2 male: female
  • 6th Canadian Plant Genomics Workshop Plenary Speakers 8:2
  • 8th Annual International Conference of the Canadian Proteomics Initiative.  See below.  32:2 male to female.  I have no idea what the ratio is in the field of proteomics but this is a very big skew in the ratio.  94% male.  
    1. Leigh Anderson (Plasma Proteome Institute)
    2. Ron Beavis (UBC)
    3. John Bergeron (McGill)
    4. Christoph Borchers (UVic)
    5. Jens Coorssen (U Calgary)
    6. Al Edwards (U Toronto)
    7. Andrew Emili (U Toronto)
    8. Leonard Foster (UBC)
    9. Jack Greenblatt (U Toronto)
    10. Juergen Kast (UBC)
    11. Gilles Lajoie (U Western Ontario)
    12. Liang Li (U Alberta)
    13. John Marshall (Ryerson)
    14. Susan Murch (UBC Okanagan)
    15. Richard Oleschuk (Queens)
    16. Dev Pinto (NRC)
    17. Guy Poirier (Laval)
    18. Don Riddle (UBC)
    19. David Schreimer (University of Calgary)
    20. Christoph Sensen (University of Calgary)
    21. Michael Siu (York)
    22. John Wilkins (University of Manitoba)
    23. David Wishart (University of Alberta)
    24. Rober McMaster (Universiyt of British Columbia)
    25. Peter Liu (University of Toronto)
    26. Christopher Overall (Universiyt of British Columbia)
    27. John Kelly (NRC, Ottawa)
    28. Joshua N. Adkins (Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, USA)
    29. Dustin N.D. Lippert (University of British Columbia)
    30. David Juncker (McGill University)
    31. Jenya Petrotchenko (University of Victoria)
    32. Detlev Suckau (Bruker Daltonik GmbH)
    33. Peipei Ping (University of California)
    34. Robert McMaster (University of British Columbia)
I couldn't bear to go on any further.

Now - note - I am not accusing anyone of bias here.  But I do think it might be a good idea for Genome Canada to put some more effort into figuring out why the conferences they sponsor have such skewed ratios.  And perhaps they can try to do something about this.  For more on this issue from my blog see


  1. Didn't you know that we have a 20:1 male to female ratio up here in Canada? Yup, the women can't take the cold, so they move south instead. :)

  2. Thanks for continuing to bring up this important issue.

  3. There is probably such a ratio in bioinformatics and genomic, that's not surprising at all.
    Focus on the anglophone native / rest of the world, and you have the real discrimination.

    1. I don't think the ratio is anywhere near that for genomics. Maybe for bioinformatics but not genomics. As for vs. rest of the world, IU decided not to comment on that. It was almost too obvious.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Oh, but why would you stay away when you can hear Gary Goodyear drop gems like this when asked why he didn't give a clear answer about his "belief" or otherwise in evolution:

    "We are evolving every year, every decade. That’s a fact, whether it is to the intensity of the sun, whether it is to, as a chiropractor, walking on cement versus anything else, whether it is running shoes or high heels, of course we are evolving to our environment. But that’s not relevant and that is why I refused to answer the question. The interview was about our science and tech strategy, which is strong."

  6. Jonathan. Here is the list to calculate my number of speakers at #LAMG12, Dawei
    1. Jeffrey H. Miller
    2. Jonathan Eisen
    3. Nina R. Salama f
    4. Frederic Bushman
    5. Kristine Wylie f
    6. Janet K. Jansson f
    7. Forest Rohwer
    8. Curtis Huttenhower
    9. Tanja Woyke f
    10. Maomeng Tong
    11. Jeffrey Cox
    12. Susannah Tringe f
    13. Julian Parkhill
    14. Rustem F. Ismagilov
    15. Gautam Dantas
    16. Pamela Yeh f
    17. Mike Gilmore
    18. Lance B. Price
    19. James Meadow
    20. Jason E. Stajich
    21. Laura Sauder f
    22. Scott Kelley
    23. Susanna Remold f
    24. Bernhard Palsson
    25. Anca Segall f
    26. Trent Northern
    27. Rick Morgan
    28. Beth Shank f
    29. Peter Karp
    30. Tatiana Tatusova f
    31. Timothy Harkins
    32. Ee-Been Goh f
    33. Shota Atsumi
    34. Howard Xu

    1. Miller did not give a talk - he does not count. He simply explained things like when lunch was going to be, where to swim, when the posters were. And from the original schedule there were two changes. One made it on the list (James Meadows replaced An Womack (male for female). Also Tara Schwartz replaced Scott Kelley (female for male). Somehow the second change was not posted. So - not counting Miller and adding Tara makes it 13/33 on your list. That comes to 39.3% or so.

    2. Actually - cannot believe I did not notice this - you are missing a whole session there (as is the web site). Here is the full list of speakers

      Jonathan Eisen
      Nina R. Salama
      Frederic Bushman
      Kristine Wylie
      Janet K. Jansson
      Curtis Huttenhower
      Forrest Rohwer
      Tanja Woyke
      Maomeng Tong
      Jeffrey Cox
      Susannah Tringe
      Julian Parkhill
      Rustem F. Ismagilov
      Gautam Dantas
      Pamela Yeh
      Mike Gilmore
      Lance B. Price
      James Meadow
      Jason E. Stajich
      Laura Sauder
      Tara Schwartz
      Susanna Remold
      Bernhard Palsson
      Anca Segall
      Trent Northern
      Rick Morgan
      Beth Shank
      Peter Karp
      Tatiana Tatusova
      Timothy Harkins
      Katrine Whiteson
      Mallory Embree
      Varum Mazumdar
      Abigail McGuire
      Ee-Been Goh
      Shota Atsumi
      Howard Xu

      the ratio is 16/37 or 43% ...

  7. Thanks for the update. My list completely relied on the published program. So your corrections are reasonable.

    The reason I spent some time on this is that almost all the discussions so far in twitter and in blog sphere are about how bad the female speaker representation is in conferences, but no one sets the bar to show what is a good ratio is or what is the best we can achieve. Since you are listed in #LAMG as an organizer, so I picked the conference as a starting point. I should say that it is a much better number than I expected. I do not remember that I have been many meetings that have a higher ratio.

    Of cause to have 50:50 ratio needs effort more than meeting organizers. Probably it is a big issue for science education in general. But if each conference can publish their speaker gender ration, it is a good way to raise awareness of the issue.

    1. We worked pretty hard to have "diversity" in the speakers at the meeting - diversity of topics, diversity of career stages, diversity of kinds of institutions, and, yes, diversity in terms of gender. I am happy with the end result. But it still could be better in terms of underrepresented groups and in terms of some other aspects of diversity.


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