Friday, March 15, 2019

The "Ben Franklin Award for Open Access in the Life Sciences" should be renamed as a "#Manward"


So in 2011 I won this award called the "Benjamin Franklin Award for Open Access in the Life Sciences. "  I was happy about it at the time.  I got a book and a plaque and was toasted at a meeting in Boston.  A few years ago I and others noted that the award had been given only to men.  Then Helen Berman won the award in 2014 and it looked like maybe the process was starting to not be so biased.

But I got alerted to the ongoing issues again by an email a few days ago.  And not only have the other winners all been men, all four nominees this year are men too.

Past Winners
  • 2002 – Michael B. Eisen
  • 2003 – James Kent
  • 2004 – Lincoln D. Stein
  • 2005 – Ewan Birney 
  • 2006 – Michael Ashburner 
  • 2007 – Sean Eddy 
  • 2008 – Robert Gentleman 
  • 2009 – Philip E. Bourne 
  • 2010 – Alex Bateman 
  • 2011 – Jonathan A. Eisen 
  • 2012 – Heng Li 
  • 2013 – Steven Salzberg 
  • 2014 – Helen M. Berman 
  • 2015 – Owen White 
  • 2016 – Benjamin Langmead 
  • 2017 – Rafael Irizarry 
  • 2018 – Desmond Higgins
That comes to 16:1 M:F.  

Yuck.  This just is not reflective of the contributions of people to open access in the life sciences. There are many many many women who have made important contributions in this general area.  

When I won the award I was happy but I did notice the gender bias of the winners although that was when I was kind of just waking up to the issue of gender bias in STEM.  I tried to get people to nominate more women for the award the next year via FriendFeed, Twitter, email and other means.  For example: 

But that effort went nowhere I guess.  Helen Berman did win in 2014, but for the last four years it has been all men again.  Uggh.  At this point I think the only conclusion is that there is some bias in the system.  It is actually quite hard to figure out on the web just who is behind the whole award thing anyway.  It is given out by the "Bioinformatics.Org" group.   But the web site does not really have any details about what the group actually is.  There is a page for the award: And then there is a link to information about the selection process.

Here is the summary:

The selection process

  1. Nominations may be submitted by members of using this form (you must be a member and logged in).
  2. Any person may be nominated, but the final list of nominees will be determined by, based on the following criteria:
    • All nominations must be submitted by current members of
    • Self-nominations will not be counted.
    • Nominations of past laureates will not be counted.
    • There must be evidence that the nominee has done something to promote open access in the life sciences.
    • After the above exceptions have been considered, there must remain at least two (2) nominations per nominee (a member must ``second'' each nomination).
  3. The list of nominees will then be presented for a vote, on a ballot, to the members of
  4. The time given for all votes to be collected will be specified on the ballot.
  5. The nominee with the most votes will be the initial consideration for the Award. There will not be a run-off vote.
  6. The initial consideration for the Award will then be contacted. He or she must be willing and able to accept the Award in person at the time of the ceremony.
  7. If the initial consideration will not accept the Award in person at the time of the ceremony, then the nominee with the next most votes will be considered. And the process will be repeated until a laureate is found or until the list of nominees is exhausted.
  8. An announcement about the identity of the laureate will be made sometime prior to the ceremony.
Well, that sounds, umm, not ideal.  No committee.  No names of members who do any of the reviewing.  So - my guess is that the gender bias in the award is connected to this highly anecdotal review process.  Pretty disconcerting.  I thus think this award should be renamed "The Ben Franklin Award for Men"


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