Sisters of Science

Neil deGrasse Tyson delivered yet another excellent episode of “Cosmos” a few weeks back, entitled “Sisters of the Sun.”  Neil (or NdGT to those of us who consider him a rockstar) not only gave us a nice overview of the life-cycle of stars, but also used the subject as a way to illustrate how women have contributed to our knowledge.  The sad part of this story is that we need this story to find out who they were!

Beginning with Annie Jump Cannon, we see how one researcher (Pickering) helped change our social behavior by making a small decision.  He didn’t have to hire women for his research, but he did.  Granted, he probably saved money doing it, but he also received derision from his colleagues.  Yet he had the courage to do the right thing.

Henrietta Swan Leavitt, worked with Annie, and built yet another foundation stone for the newly minted field of astrophysics.  Then came Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, who almost buckled under pressure from her ‘betters’ for putting forth such radical ideas.  Today she is recognized for not only being right, but also having written one of the most influential PhD theses of all time.

The point here, for those of us who study behavior in particular, is that it is up to each of us as individuals to try and make decisions that help society in general.  It may be hard, and you may be laughed at.  However, I’m also willing to bet that your grand children will be proud of you.

And if you’re in a science-based discipline, think about who you add to your team, and who you reject.  Are you making those decisions for the right reason?  As a scientist, it’s almost certain that you haven’t had basic training in behavior, especially when it comes to running a laboratory or hiring personnel.  So take a moment and think about how you can make the world a better place, one employee at a time.

Who knows?  You might discover a sister in science.


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