For Ada Lovelace Day, I pick a winner of the International Cosmos Prize as a scientific role model.
This year’s Nobel Prizes have just been announced, and the three science prizes (Physics, Chemistry, and Physiology or Medicine) have again gone to men. As many have noted, the overall statistic for the science prizes are woeful: 576 men compared with 18 women. Another gripe I have with the Nobel Prizes is the fact that many areas of science, including my own of ecology and evolution, are not included. However, we do have an equivalent prize of our own: The Crafoord Prizes are often considered the Nobels for other fields of science, and are awarded each year on a rotation between biosciences (focusing on ecology and evolution), geosciences, mathematics or astronomy, and polyarthritis (the disease that one of the prize’s founders, Holger Crafoord, suffered from). Sadly, the Crafoord prizes have an even worse record on gender: 67 of the 68 recipients have been men, and the biosciences prize, which is of particular interest to me, has never been awarded to a woman.
However, there is another prize that does a little better. The International Cosmos Prize is awarded each year to an individual whose work has promoted the harmonious coexistence of nature and humanity, and the recipient is usually a practising scientist. So far, it has been awarded to 17 men and 6 women; not necessarily cause for celebration in itself, but notably better than the other prizes I’ve mentioned. Of the women who have won the Cosmos Prize, I want to highlight the ecologist and conservation biologist Georgina Mace. In the early years of this century, Georgina pioneered quantitative ways of assessing species for the IUCN Red List, the main method for looking at the conservation status of species. She has also worked on the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, the Convention on Biological Diversity 2010 targets, and the assessment of climate-change threats to biodiversity. On top of this world-leading research, she has taken the time to play an important role in science administration, being Chair of DIVERSITAS, and President of both the British Ecological Society and the Society for Conservation Biology. In addition, she has been Director of Science at the Institute of Zoology, followed by Director of the NERC Centre for Population Biology at Silwood Park and then Head of the Centre for Biodiversity and Environmental Research at UCL. To me personally, as an editor, she has been a source of very sound advice over the years, and has produced some great published work. I’m particularly fond of her history of conservation biology which was based on a very well-received plenary talk at the 2013 International Congress of Ecology.