Nobel science prize voices concern over lack of female laureates

2:48 min

With women making up just three per cent of Nobel science prize winners, prize organiser the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences wants to see more female nominees.

The figures speak for themselves: of the 587 Nobel prizes awarded for science since their introduction in 1901, only 18 have gone to women, (including two to Marie Curie). The last time there was a female winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics it was 1963.

In the past, the academy has put this down to a lag in scientific research being carried out and nominations of between 20 to 30 years. But today, with women better represented in scientific fields, this no longer provides an answer.

Göran Hansson, permanent secretary to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has now acknowledged that the poor representation of women in science Nobel prizes is an issue.

"I think it's worrying. Very worrying. It's not as though there's a shadow over this year's laureates; fantastic research efforts, brilliant discoveries. But if we take a longer perspective, I would have probably hoped that things would look a bit different," Hansson tells Swedish Radio.

A key reason for the uneven distribution between the sexes is the uneven distribution in nominations, Hansson says.

"I don't think that this is about unfair treatment by the Nobel committees today. We are dependent upon the inflow of nominations. We don't decide who is considered for a Nobel Prize, rather, we invite the entire worldwide research community to nominate people."

The academy has taken a number of steps to address the situation, Hansson says, pointing out that all three Nobel committees in the three respective disciplines - chemistry, medicine, and physics - are now women, but he called for an improvement in the situation in the years ahead.

"This is up to us, but also up to everyone who is entitled to make nominations: we send out thousands of invitations to nominate people for Nobel prizes every year."

Hansson called on the scientific community to help the academy identify leading female scientists.

"We can sit here and decide ourselves that "this year we give the Nobel prize to so-and-so on the basis of gender or geography or whatever". We don't nominate ourselves, that needs to come from outside."