Monday 22 September 2014

Ireland's 100 Greatest Women

Hmmmmm, maybe not? This last weekend the Irish Independent published a list of Ireland's 100 Greatest Women which ten of their staffers cobbled together from their contacts list, the paper's archives and what they could remember from the Leaving Certificate history course.  The Indo has not chosen to follow the Irish Times into hiring someone like Dick Ahlstrom as a full time Science Correspondent, so they are not ideally placed to include STEM women in their list of 100. In the 32 page supplement, they have chosen to include a half page on The Scientists: how Ireland paved the way. But they hired Anita Guidera, a freelance journalist from Co Donegal, to fill this space, rather than, say, a freelance Science journalist like Mary Mulvihill to do it properly. Guidera ran out of steam early and the editors have filled half her space with a portrait of Kathleen Lonsdale by Jennifer Mondfrans.  Who has also done one of Barbara McClintock. I've ranted before about the invisibility of science and scientists in The Media, because The Media is almost exclusively peopled by folks from the Arts Block. Some of the STEMistas remembered in the Indo's 'science' subsection of the supplement even make it to the top 100 list which includes
77. Margaret Lindsay Huggins, astrophysicist
65. Mary Heath, aviator
49. Kathleen Lonsdale, chemist
28. Kay McNulty, computer programmer
11. Orla Hardiman, neurologist
09. Dorothy Stopford Price, doctor
It's a bit of a push to claim Kay McNulty Antonelli as an Irishwoman, seeing as she left Donegal in 1924 at the age of three and emigrated with her family to Philadelphia where she got a degree in Mathematics in 1942.  But that's like people in London being happy to call successful Scots "British" and the rest "Scotch". I didn't claim that Nellie Bly was Irish, simply because she was the daughter of Irish immigrants, but the Indo has no such sense of shame, including her in their list of 10 Ireland's Greatest Original Trailblazers.

These lists are fine if you treat them as mildly amusing chatter because, unless you spend far more time than such a trite exercise is worth, you finish up with a biased compendium. Biased towards people whom people can recall - the most recent women in the news for example. And if you throw Jane Public into the decision-making process the bias and silliness gets exaggerated.  #1 in this weekend's list is the worthy and engaging Sister Stan Kennedy, who founded Focus Point for the homeless of Dublin and later The Sanctuary, an ecumenical mindfulness centre. The Sanctuary gamed the system by spamming their mailing list to vote their founder up the list of 100. At least Sr Stan #1 can do something for her supporters in this life; St Brigid #7 is going to be handier in the next.  Full List Top Twelve is Sr Stan; Mary Raftery; Countess Markievicz; Mary Robinson; Christina Noble; Granuaile O'Malley the pirate queen; St. Brigid; Lady Gregory; Dorothy Price; Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington; Orla Hardiman; Christine Buckley.

Back to science! On The Blobside, I acknowledge that writing about Maude Delap is a bit of a boffin's Isn't Bob Clever coup, although she features in the aforementioned Mary Mulvihill's book Ingenious Ireland. But how can you forget Jocelyn Bell Burnell , discoverer of pulsars, in any list, however short, of Irishwomen who require our acknowledgment and respect.

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