Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ada Lovelace Day at I.N.K.


Ada Lovelace Day


“Women’s contributions often go unacknowledged, their innovations seldom mentioned, their faces rarely recognized. We want you to tell the world about these unsung heroines, whatever they do.” -- Ada Lovelace Day website

Augusta Ada King, the Countess of Lovelace (1815-1852) wrote the first computer programs, which were used by the Analytical Engine invented by Charles Babbage.

Ada Lovelace Day celebrates the legacy of a lone woman scientist in a field of men. -- and does so, in part, through across-the-board blogging about women in the sciences.

The first Ada Lovelace Day, March 24, 2009, generated hundreds of blogs worldwide, as well as attention on Facebook and in the media.

I decided to sign up on behalf of I.N.K. to blog about women scientists on this day and soon found out that 1,110 other bloggers signed up, as well.

It’s Monday morning, and I’m putting the finishing touches on my Ada Lovelace blog when I find this article in the New York Times: “Bias Called Persistent Hurdle for Women in Sciences”. Tamar Lewin describes the American Association of University Women’s report, "Why So Few?" on the gains that women have made in the sciences, and the issues that still get in their way. Thirty years ago, among high schoolers scoring 700 or more on their math SATs, boys outnumbered girls 13 to 1. The ratio has dropped to 3 to 1, but that’s still proof of chopped sides.

Despite increasing numbers of women receiving doctorates in science, math, and computer science, women don’t represent a parallel percentage of workers or tenured faculty in those fields. The AAUW report focused more on factors that can make a difference in the accomplishments of women and girls -- such as learning that ability can grow with effort -- than on differences in innate ability between the sexes. Researchers found that cultural bias -- an underlying impression that women can’t cut the mustard -- had considerable impact. This bias takes root in any who feel themselves to be on shaky ground, as evidenced by a dramatic difference in performance between groups told that men and women have equal abilities in math and science and those told that men are stronger in these areas.

Many I.N.K. writers have devoted their work to science and to telling children about women in the field. Ada Lovelace Day seemed like the right time to ask some of them to spotlight their stars.

Vicki Cobb: I want the world to know more about Marie Curie because of her passion for science that overcame all the roadblocks life and her times threw in her path. As I summed her up in my biography: Poverty didn’t stop her from getting and education. Marriage only enhanced her personal growth; it didn’t stop it. Children didn’t stop her from pursuing a career, and her career didn’t stop her from being a good mother. Lack of money didn’t stop her from building up the Radium Institute into the world’s premier laboratory for research into radioactivity. Illnesses, off and on throughout her life, didn’t stop her. Grief and the loss of a beloved partner didn’t stop her. Above all, being female at a time when women were second-class citizens who didn’t even have the right to vote didn’t stop her. She was in the news because of her achievements, and because she was a woman she became a target for the press… She was not tempted by fame or the possibility of fortune. Marie Curie was a truly worthy role model for generations to come.

Deborah Heiligman: I would like the world to know more about Barbara McClintock, the geneticist who was the first woman to win an unshared Nobel Prize in the category of Physiology or Medicine. O.K., the way I wrote that, it (and she) sounds dry, but let me tell you, Barbara McClintock, and the story of her hard work and long-delayed recognition, is anything but dry. Barbara McClintock won the Nobel Prize for a discovery she had made decades earlier. She discovered "jumping genes" and it took most other scientists decades to realize she was right. The most amazing part of her story is that even though she was pretty much ignored, and even ridiculed at times, she kept on working on her beloved maize to hone her discovery. How did she have such perseverance? She loved her work, and, as she once said, "I knew it would all come out in the wash." And it did. Her discovery led to great advances in science, especially in studies of cancer, AIDs and other fields of medicine. You can read more about her in my book, Barbara McClintock: Alone in Her Field. I wrote the book because I really wanted to know what kind of person keeps going, working alone, even though no one else understands or appreciates what she is doing. The book is out of print, but if you can't find it in your library, email me. I have some copies.


Tanya Lee Stone: I want kids to know about Rosalind Franklin because her research was paramount to the discovery of the structure of DNA. This London-born female scientist was not given proper credit alongside Francis Crick and James Watson even though some of her data was instrumental in Crick and Watson constructing their DNA model. Learn more about Rosalind Franklin in the children's book Rosalind Franklin by Lara Anderson and the brand-new adult book The Madame Curie Complex: The Hidden History of Women in Science, by Julie Des Jardins.


Karen Romano Young: I want the world to know about Marie Tharp (shown in the picture above), who drew the first image of the ocean floor. It was the U.S. Navy’s Matthew Maury who first mapped the North Atlantic by dropping weighted lines and measuring how far they went, and using his data to draw a profile. In the 1940s and 50s, scientists Maurice Ewing and Bruce Heezen used sonar massively increased Maury’s data to confirm the existence of the underwater mountain chain now known as the MidAtlantic Ridge. Nowadays, we use satellite data to see detailed false-color images of the ocean floor. Ewing and Heezen’s data wound up on the desk of Marie Tharp, who painstakingly drew and painted them into a map by hand, revealing the rift valley that lay between the MidAtlantic range -- and which would later be revealed as a vital center of previously unknown life. There’s more in my books Small Worlds: Maps and Mapmaking and in Across the Wide Ocean: the Why, How, and Where of Navigation for Humans and Animals at Sea.


I also want to mention Temple Grandin, for her kindness to animals, advocacy for them, and contribution to the understanding of different thinkers, including people with autism like herself, whose unique way of seeing the world allows them to make exceptional contributions and encourages the rest of us to take a look at our own thinking and how we, too, can contribute through our own uniqueness. To read Grandin’s book Thinking in Pictures and Other Reports from My Life with Autism is to find all kinds of shared attributes -- when my father read it he decided he, too, might be autistic -- but also to be awed at the way this woman has learned to understand her own mind. As someone who continually struggles with feeling like I don’t have the right kind of mind for certain subjects (history and linear processes in particular), Grandin helped me to look more closely at what I am good at, and to find ways to value and emphasize my strengths.


I hope Ada Lovelace Day inspires other people to spread the word about finding your own strengths in the sciences.



7 comments:

Jeannine Atkins said...

Thank you all for the wonderful Ada Lovelace Day tributes!

helaine said...

Hi - I didn't know about Ada Lovelace day, so thanks for sharing!

Lovelace, however, has been a pretty important feature in my work. Last year, when I was writing What's the Big Idea, a book that highlights the most significant inventions since the wheel. The problem all along, in writing this book, was the very heavy male presence, a reality that could not be denied. Where were all the women?

The problem became particularly acute when trying to decide which individual inventors would be highlighted on double-page spreads at intervals throughout the books. Bell, Edison, and da Vinci? Or Faraday, Gates and Galileo? And which women would get their own super spotlights?

We (and when I say we, I mean my team of all-female editors and me) with these choices. Back and forth, back and forth. Could we present Ada Lovelace on a full spread, and omit Bell? Were her contributions really more important than Alex's?

Could we include Marie Curie instead? Well, she wasn't really an inventor...and neither was Lovelace if you want to be picky-snicky about it. And besides, I don't think it's right to include Lovelace and ding Babbage, who really have to be side by side...

In the end, we opted for presented our dilemma straight up to the reader.

I wrote a detailed intro called, "Hey? Where are all the women?" which we positioned right at the front of the book.It squarely addresses the dearth of female names in the book, straight up, without dissembling. It points out that many of the world's most pervasive and life-changing inventions - the loom, the needle, cookery, pottery - were all probably conceived and developed by women. Their names are lost in the mists of time. Many other inventions by women were appropriated by men (I would argue paper falls in this category) - after all, women were men's property, so there innovations were too.

Later on, women were denied the opportunity to experiment in the way men did - hard to imagine a 17th century woman with the leisure time of an Isaac Newton...or access to lab equipment!

And while the men were discussing theoretical stuff, women were "on the ground", so to speak, trying to apply new technology to everyday problems such as cooking - difficulties they were dealing with every day, while their menfolk smoked cigars. So that's why, in the Victorian and post-Victorian era, you find women inventors developing stuff like the stoves, vacuum cleaners, windshield wipers, blenders, dishwashers...

These inventions all are lovely to have - I'm very fond of my windshield wipers, thank you, during blizzards - but how can I honestly equate them with the generator or the telegraph?

In the end, I included as many individual women in What's the Big Idea as I could without feeling like I was compromising the overall integrity of the book. I hope readers will agree.

Helaine Becker
author
www.helainebecker.com
www.helainebecker.blogspot.com

Follow me on twitter
Twitter.com/helainebecker

PS. I see shout outs here for both Marie Curie and Barbara McClintock - curiously enough, I wrote two Middle School teaching units about both of these great women a few years back!

helaine said...

Hi - I didn't know about Ada Lovelace day, so thanks for sharing!

Lovelace, however, has been a pretty important feature in my work. Last year, when I was writing What's the Big Idea, a book that highlights the most significant inventions since the wheel. The problem all along, in writing this book, was the very heavy male presence, a reality that could not be denied. Where were all the women?

The problem became particularly acute when trying to decide which individual inventors would be highlighted on double-page spreads at intervals throughout the books. Bell, Edison, and da Vinci? Or Faraday, Gates and Galileo? And which women would get their own super spotlights?

We (and when I say we, I mean my team of all-female editors and me) with these choices. Back and forth, back and forth. Could we present Ada Lovelace on a full spread, and omit Bell? Were her contributions really more important than Alex's?

Could we include Marie Curie instead? Well, she wasn't really an inventor...and neither was Lovelace if you want to be picky-snicky about it. And besides, I don't think it's right to include Lovelace and ding Babbage, who really have to be side by side...

In the end, we opted for presented our dilemma straight up to the reader.

I wrote a detailed intro called, "Hey? Where are all the women?" which we positioned right at the front of the book.It squarely addresses the dearth of female names in the book, straight up, without dissembling. It points out that many of the world's most pervasive and life-changing inventions - the loom, the needle, cookery, pottery - were all probably conceived and developed by women. Their names are lost in the mists of time. Many other inventions by women were appropriated by men (I would argue paper falls in this category) - after all, women were men's property, so there innovations were too.

Later on, women were denied the opportunity to experiment in the way men did - hard to imagine a 17th century woman with the leisure time of an Isaac Newton...or access to lab equipment!

And while the men were discussing theoretical stuff, women were "on the ground", so to speak, trying to apply new technology to everyday problems such as cooking - difficulties they were dealing with every day, while their menfolk smoked cigars. So that's why, in the Victorian and post-Victorian era, you find women inventors developing stuff like the stoves, vacuum cleaners, windshield wipers, blenders, dishwashers...

These inventions all are lovely to have - I'm very fond of my windshield wipers, thank you, during blizzards - but how can I honestly equate them with the generator or the telegraph?

In the end, I included as many individual women in What's the Big Idea as I could without feeling like I was compromising the overall integrity of the book. I hope readers will agree.

Helaine Becker
author
www.helainebecker.com
www.helainebecker.blogspot.com

Follow me on twitter
Twitter.com/helainebecker

PS. I see shout outs here for both Marie Curie and Barbara McClintock - curiously enough, I wrote two Middle School teaching units about both of these great women a few years back!

helaine said...

Hi - I didn't know about Ada Lovelace day, so thanks for sharing!

Lovelace, however, has been a pretty important feature in my work. Last year, when I was writing What's the Big Idea, a book that highlights the most significant inventions since the wheel. The problem all along, in writing this book, was the very heavy male presence, a reality that could not be denied. Where were all the women?

The problem became particularly acute when trying to decide which individual inventors would be highlighted on double-page spreads at intervals throughout the books. Bell, Edison, and da Vinci? Or Faraday, Gates and Galileo? And which women would get their own super spotlights?

We (and when I say we, I mean my team of all-female editors and me) with these choices. Back and forth, back and forth. Could we present Ada Lovelace on a full spread, and omit Bell? Were her contributions really more important than Alex's?

Could we include Marie Curie instead? Well, she wasn't really an inventor...and neither was Lovelace if you want to be picky-snicky about it. And besides, I don't think it's right to include Lovelace and ding Babbage, who really have to be side by side...

In the end, we opted for presented our dilemma straight up to the reader.

I wrote a detailed intro called, "Hey? Where are all the women?" which we positioned right at the front of the book.It squarely addresses the dearth of female names in the book, straight up, without dissembling. It points out that many of the world's most pervasive and life-changing inventions - the loom, the needle, cookery, pottery - were all probably conceived and developed by women. Their names are lost in the mists of time. Many other inventions by women were appropriated by men (I would argue paper falls in this category) - after all, women were men's property, so there innovations were too.

Later on, women were denied the opportunity to experiment in the way men did - hard to imagine a 17th century woman with the leisure time of an Isaac Newton...or access to lab equipment!

And while the men were discussing theoretical stuff, women were "on the ground", so to speak, trying to apply new technology to everyday problems such as cooking - difficulties they were dealing with every day, while their menfolk smoked cigars. So that's why, in the Victorian and post-Victorian era, you find women inventors developing stuff like the stoves, vacuum cleaners, windshield wipers, blenders, dishwashers...

These inventions all are lovely to have - I'm very fond of my windshield wipers, thank you, during blizzards - but how can I honestly equate them with the generator or the telegraph?

In the end, I included as many individual women in What's the Big Idea as I could without feeling like I was compromising the overall integrity of the book. I hope readers will agree.

Helaine Becker
author
www.helainebecker.com
www.helainebecker.blogspot.com

Follow me on twitter
Twitter.com/helainebecker

PS. I see shout outs here for both Marie Curie and Barbara McClintock - curiously enough, I wrote two Middle School teaching units about both of these great women a few years back!

Karen Romano Young said...

Thanks, Helaine! That's great information to add to this discussion, and your work sounds exciting.

LB said...

I'd nominate Rachel Carson, the biologist, educator and writer on nature and science, whose book "Silent Spring" (1962) touched off a major controversy on the effects of pesticides and started the environmental movement - at the time a national struggle between the proponents and opponents of the widespread use of poisonous chemicals to kill insects that were damaging crops.

Carson's position, as a person of science was that she was searching for scientific truth and that the widespread and indiscriminate use of pesticides was calling out for public awareness, calling out for a solution and calling for scientific analysis of the effects of pesticides - many of the effects that would take decades to materialize - and that these pesticides, while perhaps, unseen after application, did not simply disappear - they found their way in the waterways, the flora and fuana, wildlife and waterlife, and ultimately to individuals.

According to Carson:
"It is the public that is being asked to assume the risks that the insect controllers calculate. The public must decide whether it wishes to continue on the present road, and it can do so only when in full possession of the facts.

"We still talk in terms of conquest. We still haven't become mature enough to think of ourselves as only a tiny part of a vast and incredible universe. Man's attitude toward nature is today critically important simply because we have now acquired a fateful power to alter and destroy nature.

"But man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself. The rains have become an instrument to bring down from the atmosphere the deadly products of atomic explosions. Water, which is probably our most important natural resource, is now used and re-used with incredible recklessness.

"Now, I truly believe, that we in this generation, must come to terms with nature, and I think we're challenged as mankind has never been challenged before to prove our maturity and our mastery, not of nature, but of ourselves."
source info: NYT, Wikipedia, Silent Spring

daniel john said...

This was a really quality post. In theory I'd like to write like this too - taking time and real effort to make a good article... but what can I say... I procrastinate alot and never seem to get something done.

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