27 March, 2020
Here at e4s we’re big proponents of books. (Or maybe that’s just me! The library at my Brownie unit has certainly been steadily growing since I became a leader there.) I think books are such powerful tools: they give you the opportunity to open your eyes to other people’s experiences or learn new facts and theories. We’ve been expanding our equality4success library with books about gender equality, surviving and thriving in science, building inclusive workplaces, and many other topics besides. I asked some of the staff who’ve been checking out books to share what they’ve learned and how it’s changed their thinking.
Inferior by Angela Saini, review by Izzy Hampson
I first heard about the book Inferior on Twitter when there was a campaign to get a copy into every school in the UK. Having now read the book, I absolutely wish I'd had the opportunity to get my hands on it as a young girl with an interest in a career in science - the sheer number of female scientists highlighted alone provides numerous positive role models for young girls, and the book also provides an insight into how the mysterious world of academic science works. I'd never even met an academic scientist until I went to university, let alone thought about sexism within scientific research.
Reading now with my ‘scientist’ hat on, I did notice a high proportion of anecdotal evidence used to support Saini's points, but perhaps this is more effective for a wider audience. Overall, Inferior is a strong account of gender bias in research and I am looking forward to reading Saini's follow up book, Superior, which will explore the disturbing re-emergence of research into racial differences.
Increasing my awareness of bias in research helps me become a better scientist, both in terms of designing better experiments, but also in being a better member of the lab with an increased understanding of the needs of others and obstacles scientists might be facing. We can't start to tackle these issues without first understanding and listening.
The Autobiography of a Transgender Scientist by Ben Barres, review by Elizabeth Wynn
You could be forgiven for not knowing much about neuroscientist Ben Barres as he devoted most of his energy to overlooked areas: he was passionate about glial cells in neurobiology, mentoring in academia, and women in science. His passion and perseverance brought his achievements to international attention and that enthusiasm can be felt throughout this short but engaging book.
Starting from his early childhood through to his latest research, Barres divided the book into life, science, and advocacy sections. The life and advocacy parts feel conversational and move at a fast pace. In the science section, he clearly tried to keep the science basic without sacrificing accuracy but unfortunately keeping the O2As straight from the RGCs will probably prove difficult for anyone who hasn’t been reading Neuron regularly.
Barres is reflective and honest when describing his life and chronicling the various events and people that shaped his path in research and outside of work. He is also frank about his struggles with his gender identity. This painful subject is acknowledged openly but almost clinically. Remarkably, despite suffering from intense gender dysphoria that led to suicidal ideation, Barres never sought to abandon or distance himself from women, using the perspective and authority his new male identity gave him to highlight the sexism female researchers face.
Overall, this is a quick and interesting read that shines light on an underappreciated individual and is worth reading for anyone who is interested in equality, diversity, and representation in science.
A longer version of this review first appeared in Chemistry World.
Brit(ish) by Afua Hirsch, review by David Blackwell
I enjoyed reading this book as I found it very well researched and gave a greater insight to some of the political movements being aired on national news programmes. As often is the case we don’t have to look that far back in British history to be appalled at the treatment of others by the ruling classes. However, the author has a tendency to express that only people of colour have been treated unfairly by the pale skinned elite, so I do not necessarily agree with all of her opinions and conclusions. Nonetheless, it’s a great read and I look forward to discovering music from Afua’s playlist.
Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez, review by Cheryl Smythe
Everyone should read this book – buy it for your parents, friends, cousins – it will change how you view the world but might make you cross in the process. I was cross, incredulous and exasperated, but also inspired to do something about it.
The book is an incredible lesson on how we cannot assume that we can know the needs of others and that those involved in creating anything for the world need to consider all of the end users in their design – not just the ones that are like them. Unfortunately, inclusive design has not been the default, especially in the world of biomedical research, and this book is packed with excellently referenced examples of how when the needs of one type of human (usually white adult male) are assumed to meet the needs of the rest of humanity things go horribly wrong when that, unsurprisingly, turns out to be a bad assumption.
One of the classic examples used in the book is that of the crash test dummy: the crash test dummy ensures that cars and their safety features reduce the risk of injury to those who are 75kg with typical male muscle and fat distribution. This results in women experiencing greater number of injures in a crash and a greater severity of injury compared to men. The car industry has finally woken up to this and designed a crash test dummy to reflect women’s bodies. Unbelievably, however, these are only used in the passenger seat!
27 March 2020
By Elizabeth Wynn