Some female scientists -- working in the era when their numbers were small and the environment was overtly hostile -- used to publish papers with their first initials rather than their first names. Their hope was to have their work judged on the basis of the science, not the gender of the scientist.
Women in science today enjoy greater numbers than in the past, and more support. But an online incident this week has many people again talking about whether good ideas in science are presumed to come from men.
On Wednesday, the author of the popular science blog I Fucking Love Science posted a link to her Twitter account. And her Twitter account features her name (Elise Andrew) and her photograph. To many of the fans of the blog (which has 4.2 million "likes" on Facebook), this was the first time that its author had been identified, and many expressed shock that the author of the blog -- about science and with the f-word in the name, too -- could be a woman. Many also felt compelled to praise Andrew on her looks.
"I had no idea that you were a female ... that's hot," said one post. "You're a GIRL?!?!?! We're not worthy," said another. Plenty said that they were pleased that she was a woman. Some made light of all the attention about her gender by noting that they had also learned that she ... lives in Canada. But many quickly started to post their frustration that it was so shocking to so many people that a respected science writer could be a woman.
Posted one reader: "I am rather disturbed at the amount of people exclaiming "You're a girl!?!?!?". Yes, she's a female. Females can use computers, and they can have an interest in science."
After about 24 hours (and well over 1,000 comments on her identity), Andrew weighed in, asking what to make of all the discussion.
"I don't usually go off on a social sciences tangent, but hopefully you'll all find this interesting. Earlier today I posted my Twitter account (below). I was absolutely astonished by an onslaught of comments expressing their absolute shock that IFLS is run by a woman - is it really that surprising?" she wrote. "As someone Tweeted to me, it's a sad day when a woman being funny and interested in science is considered newsworthy.
So I'm interested in opinions. Is it the science? The swearing? The humor?"
That prompted more than 10,000 comments.
On her new Twitter feed, Andrew summed it up more succinctly: "EVERY COMMENT on that thread is about how shocking it is that I'm a woman! Is this really 2013?"