I have several objections regarding the Fall 2007 review of Out of the Shadows
, edited by Nina Byers and Gary Williams. Reviewer Eugenie Mielczarek appears to have had preconceived ideas regarding the book and details her disparate expectations extensively. Through most of her discussion, she misses the book’s emphasis on physics and imposes her own desiderata.
As a contributing author to that volume, I can knowledgably say that it’s indeed a resource for “working women scientists”—and men scientists, too—notwithstanding Mielczarek’s “reluctant conclusion” in finally realizing this. The book is foremost an anthology of twentieth-century physics developments, and necessarily “presupposes a fair knowledge of physics.” In addition, it quite literally brings out of the shadows the women who accomplished these scientific advances. Contrary to Mielczarek’s perceptions, the book’s strength is not “as a historical record of . . . discrimination.” It is simply a history of some physics that is not as widely known as it should be.
The need for such a volume can be illustrated by an all-too recent incident. At an AAPT meeting a few years ago, a young woman described her ongoing project in cosmic rays. She first summarized the historical background, detailing the work of Victor Hess. In a comment afterward I advised her to include the contributions of Marietta Blau, too. She reacted with visible shock: “I never heard of her!
” That is exactly why this book is needed—to inform physicists of history that has been omitted from their customary studies.
Mielczarek gratuitously urges Byers and Williams to adapt their work “for high-school level readers.” But the information provided in the book is a trove of reference material for any author moved to write a book appropriate for young readers.
Finally, Mielczarek should recognize that an invitation to review a book is not a solicitation for an autobiographical sketch. Frieda A. Stahl
Professor Emeritus of Physics
California State University, Los Angeles Mielczarek replies:
Frieda Stahl disagrees with my assessment that this book is an important history of discrimination rather than of physics. But nearly half the sketches in it are about women working in nuclear science in academic settings. Where are the women who advanced materials science, plasma physics, biological and chemical physics, or atomic, molecular and optical physics? For example, materials science is represented by only three women; women in industry are also vastly under-represented. And although Stahl is offended by my autobiographical comments, she offers her own personal anecdote.
After my review appeared, I received several emails from other scientists commenting favorably on my review. There is no magic solution; it’s impossible to please all authors and readers.