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Science

VIDEO. Chronicle of Camille: the Matilda effect, when women are erased from science

CJAMY. Camille Gaubert’s column is broadcast daily in the program “C Jamy”, presented by Jamy Gourmaud from Monday to Friday at 5 pm on France 5.

Can you name five names of human scientists in ten seconds? What about five names of female scientists now? If it is not as easy to find women who mattered in science as men, it is because of a phenomenon called the “Matilda effect”.

The Matilda effect or the invisibilization of female scientific contribution

The Matilda effect refers to the systematic minimization of women’s contribution to research and was theorized by American science historian Margaret Rossiter in the 1980s. She named it in tribute to feminist activist Matilda Joslyn Gage who , from the end of the 19th century, had noticed that certain men monopolized the work of women. To theorize the Matilda effect, Margaret Rossiter looked further into the “Mathieu effect” invented by sociologist Robert King Merton in the 1960s. The Mathieu effect designates the way in which certain great characters are recognized to the detriment of their relatives, despite their contribution in the reason of their fame. The Matthew effect takes its name from a verse in the Gospel according to Matthew 13:12: “For whoever has will be given, and he will have plenty, but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.. ”

Trotula de Salerno, Marie Curie, Marthe Gautier: (very) many victims of the Matilda effect

The victims of the Matilda effect are numerous. Marie Curie herself would not have obtained her first Nobel Prize in 1903 without the intervention of her husband Pierre Curie. Only Henri Becquerel and he had in fact been appointed by the Academy of Sciences for their joint discovery of radioactivity.

Also in France, in the 1950s, Dr Marthe Gautier discovered that the cells of people with Down’s syndrome had an additional chromosome. But to confirm these results, it must use the more efficient equipment of Jérôme Lejeune, researcher at the CNRS. But that done, Jérome Lejeune alone announces the discovery, and connects honors and promotions. “I have no pleasant memories of this period, I felt so cheated in all respects“, Marthe Gautier explained later.

Another example, in 1967 in the United Kingdom. Physicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell takes part in the analysis of the results of a new radio telescope. She then notices anomalies: she just discovers the pulsars, neutron stars which spin very quickly on themselves, emitting significant electromagnetic radiation. Although she draws great fame from the discovery, it is her thesis supervisor, Antony Hewish, who will receive the Nobel Prize.

Trotula de Salerno in gynecology in the 11th century, Lise Meitner for nuclear fission or even Rosalind Franklin for the discovery of DNA (the last two having been ousted from the Nobel prizes rewarding their work for the benefit of their male colleagues) were not only a few of the victims of the Matilda effect over the centuries.

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