Nature 441, 25 (4 May 2006) | doi:10.1038/441025a; Published online 3 May 2006

Computing: report leaps geographical barriers but stumbles over gender

Martha E. Pollack1, Susanne E. Hambrusch2, Carla Schlatter Ellis3, Barbara J. Grosz4, Jessica Hodgins5, Ruzena Bajcsy6, Carla E. Brodley7, Luigia Carlucci Aiello8, Maria Paola Bonacina9, Lori A. Clarke10, Julia Hirschberg11, Manuela M. Veloso12, Nancy Amato13, Liz Sonenberg14, Elaine Weyuker15, Lori Pollock16, Mary Jane Irwin17, Lin Padgham18, Barbara G. Ryder19, Tiziana Catarci20, Kathleen F. McCoy21, Maria Klawe22, Sandra Carberry23, Laura Dillon24, Kathleen McKeown25 & Mary Lou Soffa26

  1. Computer Science and Engineering, University of Michigan, 2260 Hayward Street, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109, USA
  2. Purdue University, USA
  3. Duke University, USA
  4. Harvard University, USA
  5. Carnegie Mellon University, USA
  6. University of California, Berkeley, USA
  7. Tufts University, USA
  8. Università di Roma La Sapienza, Italy
  9. Università degli Studi di Verona, Italy
  10. University of Massachusetts, Amherst, USA
  11. Columbia University, USA
  12. Carnegie Mellon University, USA
  13. Texas A&M University, USA
  14. University of Melbourne, Australia
  15. AT&T Labs, USA
  16. University of Delaware, USA
  17. Penn State University, USA
  18. RMIT University, Australia
  19. Rutgers University, USA
  20. Università di Roma La Sapienza, Italy
  21. University of Delaware, USA
  22. Princeton University, USA
  23. University of Delaware, USA
  24. Michigan State University, USA
  25. Columbia University, USA
  26. University of Virginia, USA


As senior researchers in computer science, we were interested in both the report Towards 2020 Science, published by the Microsoft Corporation, and your related set of News Features and Commentaries (Nature 440, 398–4052006 and Nature 440, 409–419; 2006). The vision of advanced computational techniques being tightly integrated with core science is an exciting and promising one, which we are glad to see being carefully explored and presented to the broader community.

We are, however, concerned that, of the 41 participants and commentators brought together by Microsoft, not one was female, with the same being true of the nine authors of the related articles in Nature. The report notes that the participants in the 2020 Science Group were geographically diverse, representing 12 nationalities, coming "from some of the world's leading research institutions and companies [and]... elected for their expertise in a principal field". Women have earned between 13% and 18% of all PhDs awarded in computer science and engineering in the United States during the past two decades. Women also work at leading research institutions, and also have expertise in the relevant fields. In most other scientific fields represented in the report, an even higher percentage of PhDs is female.

That the omission of women from the 2020 Science Group was doubtless unintentional does not lessen the negative message conveyed. The future of computing will be defined by the efforts of female as well as male computer scientists.

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