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A regional public media collaboration serving the Rocky Mountain States of Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

Group Aims To Change Face Of Science, Starting With Database Of Women Scientists

An organization called ‘500 Women Scientists’ got its start in the Mountain West. Now, it has gone global with a database of experts who are also women.

It all started when members of the group noticed a pattern: an overabundance of something they call ‘manels.’

“They are all-male panels,” says Liz McCullagh, a neuroscientist at the University of Colorado and a member of 500 Women Scientists. “And in particular in fields where we know there’s a lot of representation of women, it’s incredibly frustrating.”

Then, there were the studies showing that the face of science is still very male. In one, researchers asked American kids to draw what a scientist looks like, and only 3 in 10 drew women. In another, prestigious universities invited male scientists to speak about their research about twice as often as they did female scientists.

In an effort to disrupt those trends, McCullagh and other members of the group started a database to make it super-easy for anyone, from journalists to school teachers to conference organizers, to get in touch with female researchers.

It’s called “ Request A Woman Scientist.” The database now includes about 9,000 researchers and counting, in fields from solar physics to software engineering.  

“I think this should become the next Wikipedia. So if you’re looking for information about anything, why not search our database to see if you can find a real live person to talk to about their research?” says McCullagh. “They would love to talk to you about it.”

But the group isn’t stopping there. They’re analyzing how effective the database is and just published their findings in the journal PLOS Biology.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado. 

Copyright 2020 KUNC. To see more, visit KUNC.

Rae Ellen Bichell is a reporter for NPR's Science Desk. She first came to NPR in 2013 as a Kroc fellow and has since reported Web and radio stories on biomedical research, global health, and basic science. She won a 2016 Michael E. DeBakey Journalism Award from the Foundation for Biomedical Research. After graduating from Yale University, she spent two years in Helsinki, Finland, as a freelance reporter and Fulbright grantee.
Rae Ellen Bichell
I cover the Rocky Mountain West, with a focus on land and water management, growth in the expanding west, issues facing the rural west, and western culture and heritage. I joined KUNC in January 2018 as part of a new regional collaboration between stations in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah and Wyoming. Please send along your thoughts/ideas/questions!
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