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Backwards, and in Heels


Fred Astaire always got top billing for their appearances, the story goes, even though Ginger Rogers did everything he did — except backwards and in high heels. The moral seems to be that women have to work twice as hard as any man would to receive half the recognition. Though, progress is being made.

Science is no exception. In 2005, then-president of Harvard University Lawrence Summers said that innate differences between women and men might explain why fewer women succeed in careers in science and engineering, more than any effects of socialization or bias do. (He quickly apologized, saying that he does not think that women lack the ability to succeed in science.) Summers' remarks, which were made at a National Bureau of Economic Research lunch, set off a maelstrom — an MIT professor walked out of his talk, students called for his resignation, Harvard alumnae threatened to hold back donations — but also a discussion of women in the sciences.

It's a discussion that Matthew Dublin takes up in this month's cover story. Matt investigates why women seem to fall out of the sciences and to do so, he gathered plenty of data to show that female and male life scientists start out pursuing their PhDs in nearly equal numbers. But as they head up the academic ladder, the gap between them widens. However, Matt notes, there are instances in which women are gaining on, or even surpassing men, partially helped along by initiatives at NIH and NSF to promote gender equality and to help balance work and life, as well as provide young researchers access to mentors. It's an illuminating read, so don't miss it.

Elsewhere in the issue, Christie Rizk holds onto her stomach as she peers into the world of the human microbiome. She writes that researchers are hard at work trying to determine which microbes play a role in human health and disease. In addition, Tracy Vence looks behind the scenes of the Neurogenetics Research Consortium to see how they get so much done in Parkinson's disease research without group-dedicated funding.

The Scan

Dropped Charges

The US Justice Department has dropped visa fraud charges against five Chinese researchers, according to the Wall Street Journal.

More Kids

The Associated Press says Moderna is expanding its SARS-CoV-2 vaccine study to included additional children and may include even younger children.

PNAS Papers on Rat Clues to Human Migration, Thyroid Cancer, PolyG-DS

In PNAS this week: ancient rat genome analysis gives hints to human migrations, WDR77 gene mutations in thyroid cancer, and more.

Purnell Choppin Dies

Purnell Choppin, a virologist who led the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, has died at 91, according to the Washington Post.