Royal Society elects nine women into Fellowship

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The Independent Online

The world's oldest scientific academy has taken a first step towards ending centuries of male domination.

The world's oldest scientific academy has taken a first step towards ending centuries of male domination.

The Royal Society, established in 1660, decided to elect nine women as Fellows yesterday - the first time the percentage of women chosen has been well above the percentage working in universities.

The move follows severe criticism of the male-dominated world of the society by the House of Commons select committee on science and technology, which complained bitterly last year that only 3.9 per cent of the society's Fellows were women, compared with 8.9 per cent of scientists in universities.

The new intake amounts to 21 per cent of the 42 Fellows announced yesterday and means that the number of women elected has increased significantly over the past few years from just 3 per cent seven years ago.

Lord May of Oxford, the society's president, acknowledged, however, that much more needed to be done. "There are many excellent women scientists in the research community so it is pleasing to be electing more women into Fellowship this year," he said.

"The under-representation of women in science, engineering and technology remains a problem but progress is being made. A concerted and continuing effort within academia, industry and government is needed to tackle the problems causing the lack of women in science and the causes of women leaving science early. If we are failing to exploit half of the talent pool fully, it is clear we are not reaching our full potential."

The nine women elected yesterday include Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell, dean of science at Bath University, who is well known for her role in the discovery of pulsars in 1968 while still a postgraduate student in Cambridge.

Others were Professor Kay Davies, professor of anatomy at Oxford University and a pioneer in the study and prevention of genetic diseases, and Dr Fiona Watt, head of Keratinocyte Laboratory at Cancer Research UK, and Dr Karen Vousden, director of the Beatson Institute for Cancer Research, Glasgow, who have broken new ground in the understanding and treatment of cancer.

The row over the society's allocation of fellowships began when Ian Gibson, Labour MP for Norwich North and chairman of the Commons select committee on science and technology, argued that the society was a male-dominated club and launched an inquiry into it and other learned societies on the basis it received £25m of public money.

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