Profs Earn Science Honors
Nineteen of the 72 inductees are women, the highest number ever elected to the NAS in a single year.
Inductees are picked because they have performed distinguished research in science and technology, according to the NAS website.
The record high number of female inductees is unrelated to uproar following recent comments made by University President Lawrence H. Summers about women’s intrinsic abilities in math and science, according to John I. Brauman, a professor of chemistry at Stanford who oversees the election process.
“The election to the NAS depends on outstanding scientific contributions,” Brauman said. “The scientists are judged strictly on merit.”
The number of women in the sciences has been increasing for years, according to Brauman, so it is natural that the number of women inducted to the NAS would correspondingly increase.
He added that the increase is not recent, but that a “time lag” exists between when women enter scientific professions and when they “have established the reputation and quality required” for an NAS induction.
Election into the NAS, a non-profit group of scholars dedicated to advances in science and technology, is generally regarded as one of the highest honors that can be bestowed upon a scientist, according to the NAS website.
Inductee Tom Rapoport, a professor in the department of cell biology at Harvard Medical School (HMS), said he did not think the larger number of female inductees had anything to do with Summers.
“The NAS started to make a big push to get more women inducted years ago, way before Summers made these comments,” Rapoport said. “This push has improved the percentage of women in the NAS quite a bit in recent years, and while this is a big year for women, it has been an ongoing effort.”
Christine E. Seidman, a professor of medicine at HMS, acknowledged that Summers’ comments may have had “ripple effects,” but that she does not believe the high number of female inductees is one of them.
She said that an important factor in the increase is the acknowledgement of great women scientists by their male counterparts.
The appointment of 19 female scientists represents a “very powerful, collective voice” that “wants the world to know how many great women scientists there are out there,” said Seidman, who added that she also serves on a small task force created to encourage women and minorities to become involved in the sciences.
Seidman said that while there is still much work to be done to encourage women in science, the number of female inductees is still a big accomplishment,
“This is great news, and I hope it’s sung from the highest rooftops,” she said.
The other Harvard affiliates on the list of inductees are: Higgins Professor of Biology Daniel L. Hartl, Professor of Medicine Christophe O. Benoist, and Professor of the Practice of International Development Calestous Juma, who received the foreign designation and is also the director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and the Kennedy School of Government.
The National Academy of Science was founded in 1863 to “investigate, examine, experiment, and report upon any subject of science or art” upon the request of the government, according to its website. Since its establishment almost 150 years ago, the NAS has advised the U.S. government on scientific issues and has expanded its membership to 1,976 active members and 360 foreign associates, including the 2005 inductees, the website said.