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Nobel scientist Rita Levi-Montalcini, 103, dies in Rome

The Italian neurologist and "senator for life" Rita Levi Montalcini, who won the Nobel Prize winner for Medicine in 1986, died in Rome. She was 103. Rome's mayor says the biologist, who conducted underground research in defiance of Fascist persecution, and went on to win a Nobel Prize for helping unlock the mysteries of the cell, died at her home in the city. More at the Associated Press. (HT: @csanz) Xeni

Amazons with a Cause

Why are women first to pay for every crisis? In every society, capitalist, socialist, or transition? It's because the bodies of women are expendable.

I always noticed how women over eighty in Turin looked incredibly well, beautiful and loved and taken care of: desirable, because old and valuable. I connected this to Italy's long-established and sophisticated health care system. Italian hospitals were famous for methods which preserved the dignity of the patients, in tumor cures, especially breast cancer: the "invisible mastectomy" was invented in Milan. Rather than simply intervening in crisis, they were good at illness prevention and attentive follow-ups.

The economic crisis and financial harassment of Italy has reached this safe haven of health and dignity. In Turin, one of the best clinics for cure and prevention of breast cancer is about to be closed. The patients are on the streets, their appointments cannot be scheduled, they are paying for their urgent operations because their doctors cannot help them. The doctors are on the streets too.

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Slate's "The Vault" is a great, new history blog

Rebecca Onion is the curator at a new Slate blog that showcases nifty finds from America's historical archives. So far, she's got a photo of the be-loinclothed winner of a eugenics-inspired Better Baby Contest; a breakup letter written by Abraham Lincoln; and this specimen of 1950s-style STEM recruitment toys for girls.

What's interesting about this chemistry set is that you can't really say it's more or less sexist than the types of science kits you see marketed heavily to girls today. Sure, it's in a pink box and heavily insinuates that the best job a woman can hope for in science is as somebody's assistant. But, on the other hand, it's apparently the exact same chemistry set sold to boys, just with different packaging. Whereas today, pink-colored science kits trend heavily toward "girl" things, like teaching you how to make your own scented soaps — but at least you're in charge of the soap-making lab.

Progress!

The set, which is preserved in the Chemical Heritage Foundation’s collection of chemistry sets, is a product of post-WWII anxiety over the nation’s lack of what was called “scientific manpower.” Having seen what a difference science made in the war (the bomb, radar, penicillin), and realizing that the amount of work to be done in labs and industrial R&D was limitless, Americans worried that insufficient numbers of young people wanted to be scientists. Some called for young women to be included in recruitment efforts. Women had been largely shut out of scientific careers up until that point. But they had a major point in their favor: They were undraftable. If girls got the right training, future wartime labs could be staffed by women, who were naturally bound to the homefront.

But all science jobs are not alike, and women didn’t get the plum ones. Historian John Rudolph, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has written about postwar efforts to upgrade the science curriculum. He found that girls were recruited to science careers after the war, but only for jobs that were to the side of the main show: lab technician, science teacher.

Read the rest at The Vault

Breast cancer patients: Stanford launches lymphedema registry study

Lymphedema occurs in about 7% of breast cancer patients who have undergone sentinel lymph node biopsy (to see if disease has spread to these lymph nodes), and in greater percentage of patients whose nodes end up being removed (because one or more contain cancer) and patients who receive radiation therapy after breast surgery. Lymphedema is basically a chronic swelling of the affected arm, caused by trapped lymph fluid. It can be disabling, disfiguring, and extremely painful.

"Once lymphedema develops, it is permanent," says my friend Dr. Deanna Attai, a breast surgeon in Burbank, CA. "Physical therapy can help minimize swelling and other complications, but there is currently no cure. Early recognition and prompt treatment definitely makes a difference."

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Sexy breast cancer campaigns anger patients

A wonderful article by Liz Szabo in USA Today on "I heart boobies," "save the ta-tas," and all those other horrible sexualized breast cancer campaigns that raise dubious funds for dubious goals and leave those of us who have the disease feeling demeaned. There is nothing sexy about breast cancer, and Szabo does a fantastic job in this piece explaining why. Above, one of the worst such campaigns I have ever seen.

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Honda designs a car "for women," the Fit She's

At left, the new Honda Fit She's, a car available in predictable pink or what the maker calls "eyeliner brown." The vehicle is designed for the female market in Japan, and costs around $17.5K USD at current exchange rates. Official website here, in Japanese.

The Honda Fit She's features a “Plasmacluster” climate control system the maker claims can improve skin quality, a windshield that prevents wrinkles, a pink interior stitching, "tutti-frutti-hued chrome bezels," and an adorable heart instead of an apostrophe in “She’s.”

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Amazon reviews for "binders" (full of women) are funnier than Romney's original gaffe

You knew it was coming. Binders full of women, the funny Amazon reviews. (HT: Tara McGinley)

Cassandra Clare, author and internet-bullying victim, "on hiatuses and hate blogs"

Fantasy author Cassandra Clare, writing about her experience at the receiving end of some fairly serious and organized internet bullying.

These sort of attacks are so shocking/upsetting because they break the social contract we have come to expect decent people to adhere to: that people don’t attack your personal relationships, that they don’t sneer not just at your friends but at the idea that you might have friends, that they don’t attack the way you look or your family or your ethnicity/religion. The thing is, to the hate bloggers, and to the kind of people who send anonymous hateful messages, the object of their hate isn’t a person. To them, I am not a human being. My family are not real people.

Been there. It sucks. (via Maureen Johnson)

Why not to hire a woman, Australia edition, 1963

An Australian Department of Trade document listing the reasons women should not be hired to be trade commissioners. "A spinster lady can, and often does, turn into something of a battleaxe with the passing years. A man usually mellows." (HT: @christinelhenry) Xeni

Native American women twice as likely to be raped

"One in three American Indian women have been raped or have experienced an attempted rape," according to a Justice Department statistic cited in the NYT. The rate of sexual assault among indigenous American women "is more than twice the national average," and it's particular grim in "Alaska’s isolated villages, where there are no roads in or out, and where people are further cut off by undependable telephone, electrical and Internet service." Xeni

Natural history and the rights of women

Really fascinating talk coming up at the Royal Society in London. Sharon Ruston, a professor of 19th century literature and culture, will be talking about the scientific texts that influenced Mary Wollstonecraft—the pioneering feminist who wrote Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792. Wollstonecraft isn't known for a connection to science, but during the time she was writing Vindication, she was also reading and reviewing books on natural history for a journal called Analytical Review. Ruston says those books played a role in shaping Wollstonecraft's philosophy. Sounds cool! Event is September 28 at 1:00 pm. Recorded audio will be available online a few days later. (Via Alice Bell) Maggie

Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon at the library of the Royal Society

Wikipedia's entries on women in the sciences are lacking. The Royal Society has an extensive collection of original sources documenting the work of women in the sciences. On October 19, the nail will meet the hammer in the form of a group Edit-a-Thon and workshop. The event is especially aimed at fledgling Wiki editors, who might be intimidated by the job of editing the Internet's primary source of basic information. Representatives from Wikimedia UK will be on hand to show you how the site works and answer questions. They're going to pick the entries that need improving. Participants will get access to the Royal Society archives and will work together to make Wikipedia better. What a cool program! More museums should totally do this! (Via Ed Yong) Maggie

Happy Women Reading Comics in Public Day!

When I was about 10, I developed an obsessive love for The X-Men. It started with the Saturday morning cartoon show, but quickly became about comic books, as well. To this day, long-overwritten plot points from the Marvel universe take up a significant portion of my memory space (as my husband can attest). In my marriage, I am the one who is called upon to flesh out the backstory and conflicts with source material after my husband and I have seen an action-hero movie.

But I didn't own a single comic book until I was 19.

In fact, I'm not sure my parents or friends even knew I liked comic books. All my reading, for nine years, was done in secret. I'd slip into the comic book aisle at the bookstore when nobody was around to see, grab an anthology off the shelf, and spend the next two hours nestled in a corner somewhere — with the comics safely hidden behind a magazine or large book. I did the same thing at the public library. Never even checked one out. If I couldn't finish a library comic anthology in one afternoon, I'd hide it in a seldom-used section and come back the next day. (My apologies to the librarians of the world for that.)

Partly, that shame and fear came was about being labeled a nerd, in general. But there was, for me, also a pretty heavy gender component. Tall, clumsy, nerdy, ignorant of fashion or makeup, and definitely not "attractive" in the way that sheltered pre-teen and teenage society defines it, I spent a good chunk of my adolescence paranoid about my identity as a female. Where and when I grew up, there weren't a lot of good role models for diversity of female experience. My parents always supported who I was, but society and my peers seemed to have a pretty strict definition of who girls were and what they liked ... and I didn't fit. Admitting that I was into comics felt like it would be just one more thing I did wrong. That's why I really, really love Women Reading Comics in Public Day, an unofficial holiday started by the bloggers at DC Women Kicking Ass.

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For Mr. Akin, from a woman who conceived her child through rape

Writes Maureen Herman, at "A is For..." blog—"Rep. Akin, I’d like you to meet my daughter. I’d like to show you how dead wrong you are when you say that women rarely get pregnant from rape. I’m writing this letter to let you know that you definitely can, because it happened to me, and I have a 9 year old to prove it." Xeni

Great science chicks from history

From Merit Ptah—Chief Physician of ancient Egypt—to 1st-century BC alchemist Mary the Jewess, the Science Chicks from History Tumblr is dedicated to introducing you to all the science-y ladies you didn't learn about in school.

The image above is titled "Woman teaching geometry”. It comes from an early 14th century translation of Euclid.