If a woman wins the Nobel Prize in Physics next week, she will be the first to do so in more than 50 years. Over the same period, just one woman has won in chemistry.
This gender imbalance is the subject of increasing criticism, much of which is aimed at the Nobel committees that award the honours. In the awards’ history, women have won only 3% of the science prizes (see ‘Nobel imbalance’), and the overwhelming majority have gone to scientists in Western nations. Some argue simply that the prizes tend to recognize work from an era when the representation of women and non-Western researchers in science was even lower than it is today. But studies repeatedly show that systemic biases remain in the sciences, and the slow pace of progress was especially evident in 2017, when there were no female laureates for the second year in a row.
The prize-awarding academies are making changes to their secretive nomination processes to tackle bias, but some say the measures don’t go far enough.