While the number of female science winners may be slowly improving, the diversity problem is even worse when it comes to race.
“The problems start right at the beginning in economic, schooling, bias,” Marc Zimmer, a chemistry professor at Connecticut College told CNN. “Starting in elementary school.
“I think the problem really with the lack of racial diversity is not a problem of the Nobel awards, rather that’s more a societal systemic problem.”
A lack of diversity in science can lead to a lack of information about certain demographics, he added. “To do real good science we need everybody’s input, not just 30, 40% of the population.”
“I think that what matters is who is nominating, and who’s in the room,” said Patricia Matthew, an associate professor of English at Montclair State University, who has written about race diversity in higher education and popular culture. “I also think part of the challenge is not understanding or appreciating the impact of the work that Black, African, people of African descent, the impact of their work globally.”
Matthew said she thought Glück was “phenomenal” but said the world could be improved if Black writers such as Sonia Sanchez, Amiri Baraka or Rita Dove were to receive global recognition from an organization like Nobel. “If you see people who look like you succeeding globally it’s easier to dream that you can make some contribution,” she added.
The statutes of the Nobel Foundation restrict disclosure of information about the nominations for 50 years.
CNN contacted the Nobels for comment but has not yet received a reply.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences supplied a comment written by its chair in Nature journal in 2019.
He said the Nobel Committee made “substantial efforts to approach research universities across the world” but that “the inequitable distribution of Nobel prizes is a symptom of a bigger problem” with science being dominated by Western Europe and North America.
Hansson pointed out that fewer than 15% of senior authors in Nature are women and just 2% of authors were from Africa, South America or western Asia. He said the process strives to ensure “that all scientists get a fair chance” but others must also work to improve the situation by encouraging women to pursue science careers and supporting research in low-income countries.
“The prize should reflect the world that we live in now,” Matthew said. “I think as the leading prize it should want to honor and reflect the best globally, not just a narrow subset.
“I do think that if it’s a global prize that it should reflect global cultures, reading and uplifting the work of people who write in different languages, who speak to the global condition in different ways.”