Monday, October 12, 2009

Nobel Barrier is Falling

This year, a record number of women were awarded the Nobel Prize. The Nobel committees have been overlooking worthy female candidates for some time now, with the possible exception of the literature prize, and their acknowledgment of the oversight is good news for all.

In Physiology or Medicine, two of the three winners were Elizabeth H. Blackburn (60) and Carol W. Greider (48) who, along with Jack W. Sozstak (57), were honored for the discovery of "how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase."

In Chemistry, one of the three winners was Ada Yunath (70) who, along with Venkatraman Ramakrishnan (57) and Thomas Steitz (69), was awarded the prize for "studies of the structure and function of ribosome."

Herta Muller (56) won the Literature prize, "who, with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed."

And finally, one of the two winners of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science was Elinor Ostrom (76) who was cited "for her analysis of economic governance, especially the commons." The first woman to win the Economics prize, she shared the honor with Oliver E. Williamson (77).

Only Physics and the Peace prizes were without women laureates this year.

A total of 5 out of 13 winners in 2009 may not seem much but when you consider that the Nobel committees honored a total of only 41 women from 1901 to 2009 for the various prizes, you can see what a breakthrough year 2009 has been. Of the 41 winners, Marie Curie was honored twice, first for Physics in 1903 and then for Chemistry in 1911. So, in reality, the Nobel committees awarded the prize to just 40 women until now.

You can expect to see more female laureates from now onwards, a recognition by Nobel committees that women have been ignored and denied the prizes for too long. You can also lay to rest all those stereotypes about women not being good enough to compete with men in the sciences. Such myths have persisted for too long. Let the best women, and men, win!

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