Category Archives: Women in Science

A Steampunk Feminist’s Perspective on Science Week 2017

Warning Science Ahead

 

You can’t have Steampunk without Science … it would be like trying to build a locomotive without cogs! You could do it with great difficulty, but is the result worth the effort? And is it in a recognisable form? Do the wheels fall off when you try to run with it? I have read Science Fiction stories that claim to have no science, but it sneaks in under the door like smoke from a coal fire. After all, you can’t have a coal fire without coal!

Rocket for SCIENCE

This week is World Science Week, celebrating all the various fields of science from the so-called ‘soft sciences’ like Sociology and Anthropology all the way through to the diamond-hard sciences involving Physics. (Personally, I find this sort of description of the fields of science rather judgemental and divisive, and pretty damn useless.) In Brisbane, the majority of the festivities are taking place in and around the Cultural Precinct. You can find a description of the events here: http://www.worldsciencefestival.com.au/

I attended a Science Writing workshop that was one of the events to kick off the celebrations. I wondered if I should attend, since I have considered myself a science writer for over fifteen years, but curiosity and interest got me there in the end. I am endlessly fascinated by how other writers work. It was a well run and very useful workshop, and I always gain insights into my own process as well as garnering some very good tips.

What I did notice was that most of Science Writers mentioned in the course were men, while at the same time, only one man attended the workshop; the rest were women (including me). Several of the women attendees were already working as science writers or scientists (or both). I wonder if this a sign that things are about the change in the field of Science Writing, to reflect the increase of women working in the STEM fields. As well, the workshop didn’t mention too much about blogging, which is a growing arena for science writing. My favourite female science blogger is the SciBabe: http://scibabe.com/

Science!

So, as more women find their feet in the various fields of science, gain respect, and go on to have stellar careers … so should the women science writers … as should the female writers in the Steampunk genre. There is a knock-on effect.

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Filed under Feminism, Science, Steampunk, Steampunk Feminist, Steampunk Themes, Uncategorized, Women in Science

It’s been a mad week.

To make up for it, here are three articles you should read.

 

Women in Science: An Illustrated Who’s Who

 

http://www.vox.com/2016/7/14/12016710/science-challeges-research-funding-peer-review-process

 

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What’s in a name?

Cogpunk Steamscribe

Girl under tree

I am one of those people who spend a lot of time choosing a name for a character. I think a name aids in defining a character, and a good name is halfway to helping your readers to visualise them physically and possibly give them insights into the character’s personality.

 

I’m certainly not the only writer to feel this way. And it is no surprise that my own favourite writers are probably of the same mind. Terry Pratchett and Diana Wynne Jones are (or were) very clever at giving their characters the perfect name, like Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg or Sophie Hatter and Howl. Sometimes an author will even make the character’s name an integral part of the plot, like Michael Gerard Bauer’s ‘Don’t Call Me Ishmael’. So, I thought it might be interesting to dissect the process as I see it.

 

When I first start thinking…

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Filed under Characterization, Steampunk Genre, Victorian Era, Women in Science, writing, Writing Style, YA Work in Progress

Science as Hero and Villain

First posted on the HarperCollin’s Voyager Blog

A real scientist sees and considers all the facts…whereas a bad scientist deliberately ignores the facts that don’t support his or her theory.

Lynne Lumsden Green

Bad Science. Bad science infuriates me because it is so often used by Pseudoscientists to back up their pet theories. It is easy to make statements that sound valid and appealing, without having packing evidence. However, the supporters of pseudoscience, bad scientists, turn their backs on the truth and make facts jump through hoops. By blurring the truth, they give all science a bad name, so the honest, hardworking researchers are tarred with the same brush.

Over the years, I’ve brought up this issue before on the Science Page. I’ve shown how statistics can be manipulated or misunderstood, how small sample sizes can skew a result, how biases are formed simply by how a scientist picks a topic and design her experiment. This may have given you all, my readers, the incorrect impression that most scientific research isn’t something to be admired and supported. If I have, I do apologise; Science is always working to improve the human condition, improve society, and save the planet.

This isn’t because every scientist is a selfless individual devoting themselves to the greater good (though some are exactly that sort of person). Being a scientist is like any other job … just as a plumber follows the career path suggested by his or her education interest and abilities, so do most scientists. It’s a job. Some days are good days, when the boundaries of knowledge are expanding and a theory is finally proven, and other days are a dull slog through mountains of reference reading or results. It isn’t a job that suits every one; and you have brilliant and mediocre scientists just like in any other field of human endeavour.

But even a mediocre scientist shines like a diamond when compared to a bad scientist.

You see a lot of Bad Science on the internet as well, usually sprouting up on the Internet. And Bad Science hates proper science, because it might reveal the fallacies and inaccuracies in the pseudoscience rubbish. One of the things about haters is that they only see the facts that they want to see. They will shout down anyone who disagrees with them or questions them, and they are often much louder than the real deal. This high profile means that everyone hears about it when their claims are disproved. And so, because they paraded their ‘facts’ as science, the reputation of all scientists gets a little more tarnished. (I am ignoring here the actual Luddites who won’t even accept proven scientific facts.)

So, it is time we put Science back on its pedestal and the scientific community the recognition and respect it deserves.

Personally, I’ve always felt that the ordinary, everyday scientific advances have benefited women. Who has the most to gain from plumbing? It was the women who carried the water from the wells, heated the water for laundry, cleaning, washing and bathing, and scrubbed the chamber pots after throwing away the contents. Few men were ever involved in these chores; they probably thought it built character, or kept the women too busy to gossip, or some such patriarchal bunkum. However, a clever woman is very good at making a man think he has had a good idea. Like internal plumbing or flushing toilets…

Historically, Science has been womankind’s knight in shining lab coats. These days, Science provides all sorts of toys for the girls and boys.

This article was inspired by the Australian government’s decision to no longer have a Minister for Science. I don’t like to get too political, but I think that is quite a frightening step backwards for our clever country. It is up to us to keep Australia a clever country.

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Draft of Timeline of Women in Science During Victorian Era

All suggestions of additions welcome. This is something I’ve been working on for a couple of weeks, because I really needed a proper understanding of the background for women in Science in the Victorian era. It is only partially complete, but the backbone is there.

Mary-Anning-4

Mary Anning

Time Scientist/Instigator Achievement
1799 Mary Anning (21 May 1799 – 9 March 1847) was an English fossil collector, dealer, and palaeontologist

 

Discovery of the Ichthysaurs, Plesiosaurus, and many invertebrate fossil species.
1816 Marie-Sophie Germain (1 April 1776 – 27 June 1831) was a French mathematician, physicist, and philosopher. Submitted her third paper, Recherches sur la théorie des surfaces élastiques under her own name, and became the first woman to win a prize from the Paris Academy of Sciences.
1826 Mary Fairfax Somerville

(26 December 1780 – 29 November 1872) was a Scottish science writer and polymath (Caroline Herschel was first in 18th century)

Presented a paper entitled ‘The Magnetic Properties of the Violet Rays of the Solar Spectrum’ to the Royal Society
1832 Jeanne Villepreux-Power (24 September 1794 – 25 January 1871) was a pioneering French marine biologist The first person to create aquaria for experimenting with aquatic organisms. The first woman member of the Catania Accademia, and a correspondent member of the London Zoological Society.

 

1834 Janet Taylor (1804–1870), was an English astronomer scientific instrument maker, and navigation expert Her “Mariner’s Calculator” was patented. She produced Lunar Tables for Calculating Distances. She was awarded a Civil List pension in 1860.
1835 Mary Fairfax Somerville and Caroline Herschel Elected as Honorary Members of the Royal Astronomical Society
1836 The Deaconess Institute at Kaiserswerth was established t0 teach women nursing.
1842 Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, (10 December 1815 – 27 November 1852) was a British mathematician and writer Wrote the first computer program, for use by the Analytical Engine built by Charles Babbage.
1843 Anna Atkins (16 March 1799 – 9 June 1871) was an English botanist and photographer Self-published her photograms in the first installment of Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions

 

1847 Maria Mitchell (August 1, 1818 – June 28, 1889) was an American astronomer She discovered a comet, which was recorded as Miss Mitchell’s Comet

 

1848 Maria Mitchell First woman elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

 

1850 Maria Mitchell First woman elected to the American Association for the Advancement of Science
1850 Founding of women’s tertiary educational facility, the North London Collegiate School
1853 Founding of women’s tertiary educational facility, Cheltenham Ladies’ College
1860 Florence Nightingale Established the Nightingale Training School for Nurses
1865 Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, LSA, MD (9 June 1836 – 17 December 1917), was an English physician and feminist. the first Englishwoman to qualify as a physician and surgeon in Britain. She was the co-founder of the first hospital staffed by women, the first dean of a British medical school, the first female doctor of medicine in France, the first woman in Britain to be elected to a school board and, as Mayor of Aldeburgh, the first female mayor and magistrate in Britain

 

1865 Maria Mitchell Was made professor of astronomy at Vassar College, and she was also named as Director of the Vassar College Observatory.
1869 Founding of first UK women’s university college, Girton
1871 Founding of UK women’s university college, Newnham
1874 Sofia Vasilyevna Kovalevskaya  (15 January 1850 – 10 February 1891) was the first major Russian female mathematician She presented three papers to the University of Göttingen as her doctoral dissertation. This earned her a doctorate in mathematics summa cum laude, the first woman in Europe to achieve that degree.
1874 Elizabeth Garrett Anderson founded the first UK medical school to train women, the London School of Medicine for Women
1879 Founding of UK women’s university college, Somerville
1881 Phoebe Sarah Hertha Ayrton (28 April 1854 – 23 August 1923) was an English engineer, mathematician, physicist, and inventor. Successfully completed an external examination and received a B.Sc. degree from the University of London

 

1884 Sofia Vasilyevna Kovalevskaya Appointed to a five-year position as Professor Extraordinarius (Professor without Chair) and became the editor of Acta Mathematica.

 

1886 Dorothea Klumpke Roberts (August 9, 1861 in San Francisco – October 5, 1942 ) was an astronomer. Made Director of the Bureau of Measurements at the Paris Observatory for the production of a star atlas.

 

1889 Sofia Vasilyevna Kovalevskaya Appointed Professor Ordinarius at Stockholm University, the first woman to hold such a position at a northern European university
1889 Dorothea Klumpke Roberts first recipient of the “Prix de Dames” from the Sociétié des Astronomique de France
1891 Annie Russell Maunder (14 April 1868 – 15 September 1947) was an Irish astronomer and mathematician. began work at the Greenwich Royal Observatory, serving as one of the “lady computers”
1893 Dorothea Klumpke Roberts First woman to be made an Officier d’Académe of the French Academy of Sciences AND she read her doctoral thesis, “L’étude des Anneaux de Saturne” to a large audience of academics at the Sorbonne, and was awarded the degree of Docteur-és-Sciences; the first woman to do so.
1896 Dorothea Klumpke Roberts sailed to Norway on the Norwegian vessel Norse King, to observe the solar eclipse of August 9, 1896

 

1897 Helen Beatrix Potter (28 July 1866 – 22 December 1943) was an English author, illustrator, natural scientist, and conservationist submitted a paper, On the Germination of the Spores of the Agaricineae, to the Linnean Society. Was unable to be taken seriously as an academic and turned to children’s writing.

 

1898 Annie Russell Maunder She photographed the outer solar corona from India in 1898, then published The Heavens and their Story with her husband as coauthor. She was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in November 1916.
1899 Phoebe Sarah Hertha Ayrton At the International Congress of Women held in London, Hertha presided over the physical science section.

 

1899 Margaret Lindsay, Lady Huggins (born 14 August 1848, Dublin – died 24 March 1915, London), was an Irish-English scientific investigator and astronomer. co-authored the Atlas of Representative Stellar Spectra with her husband, William Huggins.
1902 Phoebe Sarah Hertha Ayrton Published The Electric Arc, a summary of her research and work on the electric arc.
1904 Phoebe Sarah Hertha Ayrton Became the first woman to read a paper before the Royal Society.
Phoebe Sarah Hertha Ayrton was awarded the Royal Society‘s prestigious Hughes Medal “for her experimental investigations on the electric arc, and also on sand ripples”.

 

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Filed under Feminism, Historical Personage, History, Research, Steampunk, Steampunk Feminist, Uncategorized, Victorian Era, Women in Science

Can Hysteria create Mad Science? A further discussion of the depiction of Fictional Women of Science

A meeting with sinister repercussions for the world

Cogpunk Steamscribe and Doctor Steel.

Hysteria (noun): an uncontrollable outburst of emotion or fear, often characterized by irrationality, laughter, weeping, etcetera. Often considered restricted to women. The word ‘hysteria’ comes from the same origins as the word ‘hysterectomy’ – both derive  from Greek word ‘hystera’ meaning “womb”.  Back in the Victorian era, it made perfect sense that women suffered from hysteria, because they were considered emotional creatures and too much thinking would send them mad. However, consider the word ‘mad’. It can mean insane, but it can also mean really, really angry…

Happy Quinn from Scorpion -a mechanical engineer and inventor with an IQ of 184 and anger management issues.

It depends on how you define mad on how you define a mad scientist. Happy from Scorpion fills my definition nicely. She is mad at the world, and yet she hasn’t let that stop her from inventing or repairing machinery and electronics. I would love to see anyone call her a hysteric to her face.

I’ve mentioned Temperance Brennan from Bones in previous articles. She can get pretty snippy when the science doesn’t make sense or doesn’t achieve her exacting standard. As well, in her earlier seasons, she would have probably fulfilled the criteria for being a slightly crazy scientist as well. However, I am yet to see her blow anything up … that is left to Doctor Jack Hodgins, who gets to have the real fun.

 

I’ll stop being a tease. One of the actual fictional mad scientists is Claudia Donovan from Warehouse 13. She invents wild and wacky gadgets and does manage to blow things up once in a while. As well, she often updates Warehouse technology, adapting it or improving it. And when we first meet her character, she is trying to get her revenge on Arty by destroying the Warehouse.

And – of course – the epitome of mad scientist is Helena Wells from Warehouse 13; beautiful, genius level intelligence, and (when we first meet her) completely balmy due to the death of her daughter.  She will crack the world to get her revenge. She even builds her own time machine, unlike our world’s H G Wells, who only wrote about it; though it can only send your consciousness back in time. Some of her other inventions include the Imperceptor Vest, which allows faster-than-humanly-detectable movement, and Cavorite a metal with anti-gravity effects, and the grappler gun (which Mika envies).

Helena Wells of Warehouse 13: Polymath and Inventor

You can’t get any more Steampunk that a gender-swapped bisexual H G Wells who is also a genius with mad inventing skills (see what I did there?). Her characterization is dependant on her being a grieving mother, but her intelligence and gadgets are equally important. In fact, her femininity adds an extra dimension to her characterization, rather than overwhelming it. Alas … by the end of the show Helena was also ‘domesticated’, with the writers having her claiming to be happier playing a role as wife and mother rather than as a mad scientist.

Thank goodness, Claudia is a zany inventor right up until the very last episode. No white picket fences for Miss Donovan! She goes from being extraordinary to being more extraordinary!

Well, the winds up my character dissection of recent fictional women of science. Sadly, most of characterisations for these women have focussed more on their gender than their intellects and abilities. It seems that we still have a way to go before women scientists are seen as scientists first and women second.

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A Discussion of the Depiction of Fictional Women Scientists – Part Two

 

For fictional scientists, I do believe this to be the case … every character I have posted about over the past three blogs has her character defined by her femininity in some way. This may seem obvious because they are women, but male scientists are generally not defined by their masculinity, but by their job. This underlines the (often unconscious) bias that people have towards an expectation of a character; people associate science, maths, engineering and technology with men. When personal computers first became available for home use, they were marketed towards men and boys even though just as many women and girls were purchasing them.

The best example of this phenomena would be to contrast the two scientists from the same show, such as Amy and Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory … or Bernadette and Howard. As I discussed Amy last blog, let’s run with this second couple.

Bernadette the Pocket Rocket marries her Howie.

When we first encounter Bernadette, she is working with Penny at the Cheesecake Factory, while studying microbiology. She is better friends with the non-scientist Penny than with Amy, even though they are both scientists with doctorates in the biological sciences; I see nothing odd about this, as she was friends with Penny first. She breaks the stereotype of being a ‘dumb’ blonde, and is pretty, buxom and short; however, she is also strong-willed and knows her own mind. I suspect she loves Howard partly because she can dominate him both emotionally and intellectually, even though he is an aerospace engineer and an astronaut, and partly because he is basically tender-hearted and loyal and he sings her songs he had written himself.

 

Howard loves Bernadette because she is beautiful and sexy and smart, and she got on with his mother. He was a Mummy’s Boy. He met Bernadette through Penny, and the start of their relationship was quite rocky, mainly due to Howard’s inability to understand women while thinking he knows all about them. Since marrying Bernadette, his ‘creep’ factor has been dialled down. Bernadette finds Howard’s friendship with Raj a little wearying, but she still manages to accept most of their strange behaviour when together. Bernadette started off as a comedic foil for Howard, but her role has been expanded.

Raj – the co-dependant best friend

Both Bernadette and Howard have managed to cause major accidents at work, and survived with careers intact. Bernadette makes more than Howard, but Howard has been an astronaut and helped run Mars missions. You might consider their careers on par, even though Bernadette has a doctorate and Howard has a Master’s degree (which is a sore point with him, but he never seems to be doing anything to gain a PhD).

However, when the three women interact, they generally talk about their men, even though two of them are scientists in the same field. When the male characters interact, they talk about their pop culture obsessions, their work, and their women. See the difference? Howard has been given a whole range of interests outside his work – music, comics, movies, and his magic tricks. Bernadette seems to have no hobbies worth mentioning, and seems to spend her free time gossiping with Penny & Amy or doing girly activities with them like clubbing.

The shared bedroom – with little evidence of Bernadette’s personality.

And this is the root of the problem. Bernadette is written to be just an ordinary girl … with an extraordinary mind. In a very real way, Bernadette has been stereotyped not as a scientist but as a woman. Her gender is more important to her characterization than her intellect or career. Characterization shouldn’t work that way.

The domestication of an extraordinary scientist

Look at Brennan from Bones. Her character started off with many personal quirks that related directly back to her career and personality. I suspect it was to be inferred that Brennan was a little weird, possibly she had Asperger’s, because everyone knows that too much knowledge melts your brain (looking at you, Sheldon). As time has passed, she has been normalized as a wife and mother, with a reduction of her awkwardness and those strange little gaps in her knowledge, and a reduction in her enthusiasm for risks.

River in action outfit

Professor River Song from Doctor Who – a doctorate in Archaeology

Now, who is an exception to this need to domesticate the extraordinary into the ordinary? Professor River Song of Doctor Who. She has a PhD in Archaeology, but her characterization has grown to show her to be a free-thinker, a vigilante, a risk-taker and problem-solver, who is scary enough that a Dalek will beg for mercy. She embraces her femininity and at the same time is a gun-toting adventurer with a sassy attitude. No one tells her what to do – not even the love of her life, the Doctor. Nor does she settle into being a domesticated wife and mother after they marry; they lead independent lives, coming together when needs be. Instead, her personal growth is about becoming more responsible and caring for other people, so that her ethics improve if not her morals. River breaks all expectations and stereotypes.

Another exception is Doctor Julia Ogden from Murdoch Mysteries. Not only has Julia not given up her career upon marriage – because the expectation was that a woman’s real job should be to look after her husband and home – but she hasn’t given up on her enthusiasm for the suffragette movement. This pleases me immensely, that the Steampunk-inspired television show has broken all the Edwardian-eras expectations of conforming behaviour. Even after marriage, Julia is still fey, flirtatious, and prepared to try new things. I am yet to see her character show any signs of her extraordinary personality and intellect being made to change with marriage.

Tomorrow, I will be pondering further into the implications of the depiction of fictional women of science.

For those who are interested, I have two pages on Facebook:

Steampunk!

https://www.facebook.com/SteampunkSunday/?ref=hl

Doctor Who!

https://www.facebook.com/Osgood-LIVES-548954855247854/?ref=hl

 

 

 

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