Science’s Women Ghostwriters

Read the full story at Inside Higher Ed.

James Watson and Francis Crick (not Rosalind Franklin) getting all the initial glory for unlocking the structure of DNA may be the most famous example of how women’s contributions to science get overlooked. It certainly isn’t the only instance, however: many women scientists report having their work go un- or undercredited, and some say they’ve left science altogether as a result.

While these anecdotes are powerful on their own, a new study pushes the conversation far beyond individual accounts: the paper, published in Nature, finds that women are significantly—and systematically—less likely to be recognized than their male peers.

Hear from four TJ freshmen admitted under controversial circumstances

Read the full story in the Washington Post.

Sarah Castillo, 15, grew up never considering the possibility of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. Then two years ago, Thomas Jefferson, known as TJ and frequently ranked the best public high school in America, radically altered its admissions process, eliminating a much-feared test and a $100 application fee, in the hope of admitting more students of color and low-income students.

The changes at the magnet school in Northern Virginia sent parents and alumni into a frenzy. Some were thrilled that the first class admitted under the new system boasted more Black and Hispanic students, at 7 percent and 11 percent, than any other in recent memory. But others lamented a 20 percent decrease in Asian American representation, and a group of disgruntled parents eventually filed a lawsuit alleging the admissions system is racially discriminatory. That suit, which recently drew the attention of the Supreme Court, is ongoing.

But, as the adults went to battle in courtrooms, students such as Sarah Castillo were reconsidering their options. Hundreds of students who had neither thought of applying to TJ, nor felt they had a chance of acceptance under the old admissions system, now took the plunge, and some of them, including Sarah, got in.

These students spent the past year finding their way inside the school, adjusting to its notoriously heavy workload and trying to make good grades alongside good friends. Constantly sounding in the background, even for those who tried to ignore it, were the voices of adults, and sometimes fellow students, who insisted the admissions process that accepted them was illegitimate, that they did not belong at TJ.

The Washington Post followed four TJ freshmen — Sarah Castillo, Ershad Sulaiman, Kaiwan Bilal and Julie Marco — through a difficult, unusual and absorbing academic year. Here, in their own words, is what it was like.

This educator designs curricula to make nature inclusive for all kids

Read the full story at Grist.

The key, says Makela Elvy, is to ‘really lean into that wonder,’ check biases, and stay away from assumptions.

25 years after Karen Wetterhahn died of dimethylmercury poisoning, her influence persists

Read the full story in Chemical & Engineering News.

Karen Wetterhahn was a rising star in 1996. She was making key advances in understanding biochemical reactions of the heavy metal chromium and how those can cause disease. She had launched a major interdisciplinary research program to understand the effects of heavy-metal pollutants in northern New England. She was serving in top administrative positions at Dartmouth College. And a program for women in science that she helped found was being emulated around the country. Then a shocking lab accident halted her trajectory: on June 8, 1997, Wetterhahn died from dimethylmercury poisoning. Her legacies remain, however. Twenty-five years later, Wetterhahn’s colleagues and those who never knew her still feel her influences on laboratory safety, the scientific method, and women in science.

Scientist finds professor who supported her love for bugs when she was 4

Read the full story in the Washington Post.

Rebecca Varney met Vernard Lewis who let her hold a hissing cockroach, and told her she could get something called a PhD and spend her life researching insects.

Why do women get asked to do non-promotable work?

Read the full story at Industry Week.

Even female managers ask women more than men to volunteer for the thankless tasks. This article is an excerpt from the new book “The No Club: Putting a Stop to Women’s Dead-End Work” by Linda Babcock, Brenda Peyser, Lise Vesterlund and Laurie Weingart (May 2022: Simon and Schuster). The authors define non-promotable work as “tasks that matter to your organization, but will not help you advance your career.” They are tasks  that are often invisible, not directly tied to the company’s mission and ones that many others can do.

What’s behind the obsession over whether Elizabeth Holmes intentionally lowered her voice?

Was the way she spoke another strand of deception in the web of fraud spun by the former Theranos CEO? Karl Mondon/MediaNews Group/Bay Area News via Getty Images

by Kathryn Cunningham, University of Tennessee

There is a scene in Hulu’s new series, “The Dropout,” where Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, wearing a white blouse, stands in front of a mirror and practices saying, “This is an inspiring step forward.” With each iteration, her voice deepens.

As the world has learned about Theranos’ web of deception – whether through John Carreyrou’s bestselling book, “Bad Blood,” Apple’s podcast series “The Dropout” or Hulu’s streaming series of the same name – Holmes’ supposed attempt to alter her voice is a detail that captivates audiences. The behavior might strike some people as bizarre, even sociopathic.

But because of my training in vocology, which is the study of vocalization, and my interest in speech biases, I’m intrigued by why Holmes may have felt compelled to change her voice in the first place. I see the story of her voice as part of a broader cultural fixation on the way women speak and sound.

Reactions to Holmes’ voice

Whenever Holmes is in the news, some questions always come up:

What’s with that distinctively low voice? Is she faking it?

I have not been able to find definitive proof, in the form of video or audio recordings, to show that Holmes’ voice is noticeably different in its current form than at some previous time.

One video claims to capture Holmes shifting between two very different voice modes.

During this interview with Elizabeth Holmes, commenters highlight a vocal switch between the 1:28 and 2:08 marks.

However, it could have been easily edited. And dramatic, sustained pitch changes in speech can be associated with heightened emotional states without indicating a put-on voice. At the same time, people who know Holmes have claimed that she changed her voice in order to cultivate a persona as a Silicon Valley wunderkind.

Only a clinician like a laryngologist can make a voice-related medical diagnosis. But since I can’t definitively answer if Holmes’ voice changed intentionally, it is worth considering what natural or medical processes could cause a similar effect. Hormones directly impact the voice, including pitch and the perception of roughness or hoarseness. Women’s voices tend to decrease in pitch range during menopause.

Holmes’ young age at the time she became known for her voice may rule out an age-related hormonal voice change, but a similar effect could be found with certain hormone therapy. There are also several voice disorders that impact pitch range.

If she did it … how?

There are all sorts of reasons people seek voice therapy or coaching to address vocal insecurities. Whether they’re concerned about their voice range or simply seeking skills to become better communicators, the voice is resilient and can be developed with training. There are also wonderful resources available for gender-affirming voice support for transgender people.

So what is the physiological process at play when someone intentionally lowers their voice?

Woman wearing mask seated in back seat of car.
Elizabeth Holmes leaves a San Jose, Calif. courthouse after testifying in her defense in November 2021. Ethan Swope/Getty Images

Engaging a tiny laryngeal muscle called the thyroarytenoid causes the vocal folds, which are housed inside the larynx (or “voice box”), to relax and become shorter and thicker. Imagine decreasing tension on a rubber band. These shorter, thicker folds vibrate at a lower frequency, resulting in a lower-pitched voice, just as a thicker or more lax guitar string has a lower pitch.

It is likely the singular nature of Holmes’ voice is related not only to its low pitch, but also its resonance, the unique tonal quality and placement of the voice. Holmes might adjust her resonance by consciously lowering the larynx. Doing so creates a longer space above the larynx, which boosts the deeper, darker tones in the voice.

Women’s voices subject to scrutiny

In my role as a theatrical voice coach, I’m sometimes asked to help women actors lower their voices. I’ve encountered directors and producers with significant distaste for higher-pitched women’s voices, especially when this pitch range is combined with nasal resonance.

In movies and on TV, characters with high-pitched voices are often portrayed as comical, dim-witted and generally undesirable. Think of Lina Lamont, the character from “Singin’ in the Rain” memorably played by Jean Hagen. Her high, piercing voice became a source of consistent laughs.

Might sexist attitudes about women’s voices cause women in leadership roles to feel pressured to adjust their pitch range down?

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, nicknamed the “Iron Lady,” famously down-shifted her voice to burnish her stature. Research on perceptions of pitch in women’s voices shows higher ones are associated with physical attractiveness, while lower voices are associated with dominance.

Meanwhile, many women radio and podcast hosts are barraged with negative listener feedback about “vocal fry,” the creaky mode of speaking made famous by Kim Kardashian.

Yet physiologically, to create this sound, the vocal folds must vibrate at a low frequency, associated with low pitch. This much-maligned vocal feature is at one end of the pitch spectrum. But there’s another equally hated speech feature that is achieved at the other end: the high-rising terminal intonation pattern, or “uptalk.” This feature is noted for the dramatic upward pitch at the end of each thought, which can make statements sound like questions.

The insistence that women in media change the pitch of their voices often comes with little concern for the anatomical and physiological factors that will limit how much pitch change is ultimately possible. My current research is investigating perceptions of women’s speaking voices in the performing arts and considering whether it’s time to part ways with some old aesthetic preferences.

Either way, the delicate dance of trying to strike a happy medium – the Goldilocks voice profile, where one can be taken seriously as a leader without being perceived as inauthentic, grating or patronizing – seems to be elusive. Women’s voices are the subject of endless scrutiny at both ends of the range – it seems they just can’t win.

If everything about this story were the same except the gender of Theranos’ CEO, I wonder whether his voice would even be remarked upon. If it were, might the same vocal qualities be perceived as positive traits befitting a capable, serious-minded leader?

Elizabeth Holmes undoubtedly lacks the practical skills and moral compass to be a great leader. But all the noise about her voice, and the potential that she changed it to get ahead, just may reveal a sexist double standard that women seemingly can’t escape.

Kathryn Cunningham, Assistant Professor of Theatre, University of Tennessee

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Jennifer Holmgren: from alternative fuels pioneer to carbon recycling queen

Read the full story in GreenBiz.

If you’d like to find out whether Jennifer Holmgren can do something, the quickest way is to tell her she can’t.

The Colombian-born chemist started her career in the late 1980s, in a lab in Des Plaines, Illinois, working for a company called UOP that would later be acquired by Honeywell. UOP developed technology for the petroleum and petrochemical industries, and after becoming the company’s director of exploratory research in 2002, Holmgren began pitching the idea of bio-based chemicals and fuels. Given this was a company squarely focused on the fossil fuel industry, she faced plenty of internal pushback from colleagues who thought the whole idea of alternative fuels was something of a joke. Still, by 2006, she’d convinced the higher-ups to create, and let her lead, a renewable energy and chemical division.

Using data science to uncover the work of women in science

Read the full story in Smithsonian Magazine.

Scientists’ personal papers often offer key insights into a scientist’s goals and character. Without them, digital curator Dr. Elizabeth Harmon must act as a detective.

Defying a gendered ‘narrative’

Read the full story at Inside Higher Education.

Are biased letters of recommendation one reason that women remain seriously underrepresented in experimental particle physics, at just about 15 percent of the field’s faculty? A new study suggests not.

The new paper, published in open-access format, includes some other interesting findings that challenge the existing literature on gendered language in letters of recommendation.