Baroness hits back at laureate's broadside

October 31, 2003

Britain's best-known female scientist has hit back at her critics after a Nobel laureate attacked her latest book in this week's THES .

Philip Anderson begins his review of Oxford professor Susan Greenfield's book Tomorrow's People by saying he has an "almost insatiable" appetite for facts, and even reads the backs of cereal boxes. But he says her book "was an exception to the rule - I had to grit my teeth and really work at each chapter".

Baroness Greenfield, a pharmacology professor and the first female director of the Royal Institution, said she was becoming used to such dismissive responses to her work. She told The THES : "I don't mind criticism. What I can't live with is if you feel there is a differential (because I am a woman). It says more about them than me."

One scientist, who asked not to be named, said he thought that attacks on her research by male scientists in the field were partly due to sexism. But he said: "I do find her position a little difficult as she claims expertise in an area (consciousness) in which she, frankly, doesn't have it."

Baroness Greenfield has been the focus of considerable media attention, much of it concentrating on her short skirts, red lipstick or failed marriage rather than her science. A review of her book in The Sunday Times newspaper opened with a description of her "reclining on a sofa, leather-skirted, legs impudently sporting fishnet stockings, lips glossed".

She said: "If people constantly carp on about how you look and what you wear, it reinforces the image of science as a male-dominated, nerdy profession."

She believed female scientists would be happy as long as they were treated the same as men.

Professor Anderson said he had never heard of Baroness Greenfield before he opened her book, and he insisted his comments were in no way personal. "I didn't feel that I could have guessed the author's gender," he said.

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