There has been a lot of talk about the fact that two of the three Nobel winners for Physiology and Medicine were women this year – a state of affairs that seems so astronomically impossible to some commentators that they’ve been speculating that telomeres (the area of research that was honored by the Prize) must somehow be a “girl’s” area.

There’s a nice quote from one of the female laureates, Carol Greider, about why this might be, and it basically boils down to “the Founder effect” – good women getting nurtured and trained at the very beginning of the field, thereby making it a female-friendly place that attracted more women as the field grew larger and more competitive.

That’s not what I want to talk about today, though. I want to talk about the gentleman who approached me after my Skeptics in the Pub talk this past Monday and, in response to some of the feminist-tinged topics in my lecture, tried to goad me into admitting that all of Biology was essentially “women’s science”. His reasons (a bit blurry after the number of pints he’d probably consumed) seemed to be that since Biology has a lot of women in it, unlike other fields, it must by definition be easier, softer, more feminine. My attempts to explain that there can be many reasons besides ability that women can feel comfortable in a field fell on deaf ears. I suspect that if more women felt more welcomed in the ‘harder’ sciences – if they saw a critical mass of other women already there, for example, it could make a big difference to recruitment and retention of female scientists in traditionally male disciplines. That I know dozens of talented and successful female chemists, mathematicians and physicists speaks to the fallacy that women are too feeble to do anything else other than muck about in Biology.

Also, given how incredibly complex and often computational modern biology can be, it’s also an insult to the many men who work in this field to imply that this science is less challenging. And of course, how “womanly” can Biology actually be if the majority of higher positions – and prizes – continue to be won by men?