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Small steps for women writers of science

16th Jun 2014

Small steps for women writers of science
Friday saw the announcement of this year's longlist for the Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books. While the attempt at gender parity is overwhelmingly poor, as in non-existent, two women have earned themselves a spot next to the ten men nominees.

Evolutionary biologist, Marlene Zuk‘s offering – Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us about Sex, Diet, and How We Live is an in-depth critique of the fashionable school of thought that humans have not evolved as fast as our methods of food production, thus the healthiest and most natural diet is a Palaeolithic one.

The judges deemed Zuk’s thesis “fresh” and “accessible”, which seems a great fit for a prize that rewards scientific writing for a non-expert audience. Paleofantasy might just be the book to read if you’re a sucker for fad diets.

The other woman longlister is Mary RoachShe has gained a name for herself as a writer of popular science, ergo the weird, wonderful and icky things most of us want to know.

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal approaches the oft-shirked topic of the labyrinthine tube that traverses our bodies. It answers questions such as: Why doesn’t the stomach digest itself? and Did constipation kill Elvis?

According to the panel, this book “delves into a usually unspeakable topic with great humour and great insight.” Our congratulations go to both Marlene and Mary, but what this list does not reflect is that there are plenty of women writing engaging pop-science books that could have balanced the scales a bit more. Keep an eye on the site for our picks later this week.

in the prize's 26-year history, no woman has ever won single-handedHowever, if either of these ladies move further in the competition, there will be a glimmer of silver lining. Last year, no women made it to the shortlist and in the prize’s 26-year history, no woman has ever won single-handed (Pat Shipman won as a co-author SEVENTEEN YEARS ago!)

We’re keeping our finger’s cross that this year heralds a change because, frankly, that is rubbish.

P.S. RS, it would be a lot better if you spelt Marlene Zuk’s name right.