Feminist Harding discusses women in science
By MOLLY McVOY
Saint Mary's Editor
Science benefits from women as much as women benefit from science, according to renowned feminist Sandra Harding, who spoke at Saint Mary's Thursday night.
"We know science benefits women, because, in science, we [as women] too have the opportunity to enjoy the exciting and pleasurable work that is involved in scientific fields," Harding said. "But, that is not the focus of my talk. We know that involvement in science can benefit women; I will focus on how women in science can benefit the sciences."
Harding, a scientific theorist, spoke Thursday on the topic of how science improves as the number of women scientists improves. She explained that science must improve on the "recruitment and retention" of women in order to maintain integrity, expand its investigations and further understand science's place in today's society.
First, she explained that including women in the sciences increases the talent to draw from.
"We add women's skills and talents to the pool," she said. "Women are half the human pool of skills and talents."
More specifically, in order to retain its reputation and keep its legitimacy, science must include women in fields like physics, biology, chemistry, engineering and medicine. According to Harding, science has always been looked upon as logical and reasonable. If discriminations based on gender continue in the scientific community, science's reputation for logic and reason will come into question.
"Science and technology are considered a paradigm of objectivity and rational thought," Harding said. "Their legitimacy as that paradigm is questioned when these patterns of discrimination continue."
In addition to including women to save its reputation, the scientific community benefits from women by their ability to expand and diversify the content of scientific inquiry and scientific practices. She explained women do not only bring the ability to do the science that men have traditionally done; they bring the ability to do new and different types of science.
"Historically, the argument for ending discrimination in science and medicine is that we will do just the same science as men," Harding said. "It turns out, we lied. Women in science and engineering bring distinct contributions to the fields."
She explained that in the same way people from different cultural backgrounds bring different perspectives to their work, women often bring different perspectives than men.
"Are there any differences that can be exploited by science and engineering and medicine?" she asked.
Harding explained that it is not the nature of women to be fundamentally different from men, but, that their unique life experiences often bring fresh perspectives and ideas to their work. These different backgrounds and points of view will lead to different types of research and investigations.
"We know science should value cognitive diversity — new ideas that come from outside the mainstream gender differences are a sitting pool of diversity that science can benefit from."
Finally, Harding explained that in order to more fully understand how the scientific community fits into society as a whole, women must be included.
"We now understand that its cultures, not individuals that produce ideas," Harding said. "Data has to be confirmed and theories must be agreed with. Science is a social organization."
Women force scientists to examine social beliefs that are a foundation of how research is carried out, according to Harding. Theories and ideas must not only be proved in science, but also accepted. Including women in the pool of scientists forces the community to evaluate the standards by which they look at scientific theories and the scientists themselves.
"By looking from a women's perspective, we start to understand the conceptual framework of science," she said. "It's a chance to ask new questions about women's lives, men's lives and the relationship between them. But, most importantly, it's a chance to ask about the conceptual framework that forms the scientific body of knowledge."
All News Stories for Friday, February 9, 2001