The Swedish scientist and director of the academy that awards the Nobel prizes has ruled out the notion of gender or ethnic quotas in the selection of the winners of the prestigious award.
Göran Hansson, secretary general of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, accepted that there are “so few women” in the race, but admitted that the award would ultimately go to those “deemed the most worthy”.
Investigative journalist Maria Ressa from the Philippines was the only woman honored this year, sharing the Nobel Peace Prize with fellow journalist Dmitry Muratov, along with 12 men.
Since its inception in 1901, only 59 Nobel prizes have gone to women, representing only 6.2% of the total.
Hansson, who reports his triumph to the Nobel laureates in chemistry, economics and physics, defended his position on quotas in an interview with Agence France-Presse.
“It is sad that there are so few Nobel laureates and it reflects the unjust conditions in society, especially in recent years, but that still exist. And there is much more to do, ”he said.
“We have decided that we will not have quotas for gender or ethnicity. We want all the laureates [to] be accepted … because they made the most important discovery, and not because of their gender or ethnicity. And that’s in keeping with the spirit of Alfred Nobel’s last will. “
Hansson stressed that the academy would ensure that “all deserving women have a fair chance to be evaluated for the Nobel Prize” and said “significant efforts” have been made to encourage nominations by women scientists.
“We make sure we know the problem and also the subconscious bias, and so on. [prize-awarding] committees and academies. We have had sociologist conferences, we have had group discussions, we have put a lot of effort into it, “he added.
“In the end, we will give the award to those who consider themselves the most worthy, to those who have made the most important contributions.
“No woman got the science awards this year. Last year we had two award-winning women in chemistry, Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna, and we had a female physics laureate, Andrea Ghez. The year before we had Esther Duflo in economics ”.
And while more women are now being recognized compared to previous decades, Hansson said the trend was increasing “from a very low level.”
“You have to keep in mind that only about 10% of natural science teachers in Western Europe or North America are women, and less if you go to East Asia,” added the doctor. “… It takes time to evaluate, to get nominations and to evaluate for the Nobel Prize … You could even say that this is the situation as it was a decade or two ago, when the discoveries were made.”
Hansson said the issue of gender quotas had been discussed about three weeks ago, but was dismissed on the grounds that it may detract from the legitimacy of the laureates.
“We have discussed it … but then it would be, we fear, to consider that those winners got the award because they are women, not because they are the best. Now, there is no doubt that scientists like Emmanuelle Charpentier or Esther Duflo got the award because they made the most important contributions, ”he said.
“We will ensure that we have a growing portion of women scientists invited to nominate. And we will continue to make sure we have women on our committees, but we need help, and society needs to help here. We need different attitudes towards women who are dedicated to science … so that they have the opportunity to make these discoveries that are being awarded ”.
New Zealand physicist and author Laurie Winkless criticized the academy in a series of tweets on Tuesday. “Distressed but not surprised that the organization has retained its outdated attitudes,” she wrote. “A reminder: if the committee had had their way, Marie Curie would not have received the 1903 physics award.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism