Opinion: ‘Give half of research grants to women, then we’ll have more women Nobel Prize winners’

After a Nobel banquet celebrating another year's crop of winners -- all of them male -- Swedish MP Linda Snecker argues that the country must do more to promote and recognize the scientific achievements of women.

Opinion: 'Give half of research grants to women, then we'll have more women Nobel Prize winners'
Some of this year's (male) Nobel Prize winners pictured at Stockholm Concert Hall. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Sunday was Nobel day and Jeffrey, Michael, Michael, Kip, Barry, Rainer, Jaques, Joachim, Richard and Kazuo received the Nobel Prize. Surrounded by admiring and applauding women in beautiful dresses, dazzling jewellery, extravagant hairstyles and flattering necklines that show just the right amount, the media report on which of them sit at the same table as the King.

The fact that there are also competent researchers among the women will continue to be of secondary importance.

After an autumn with the landslide feminist campaign #MeToo, it feels especially irritating that not one of this year’s Nobel Prizes went to a women. So we are still part of this long drawn-out notion that women can take part in the Nobel context primarily as attractive things to look at, while it's only men who have made important discoveries.

READ ALSO: Behind the top secret scenes of Stockholm's Nobel banquet

This is nothing unusual; over the years it has been the rule rather than the exception that all the prize-winners are men. Is this because men’s research is so much better than women’s? No. The result of research does not change depending on the sex of the researcher. However, the attention surrounding research varies a lot depending on the sex of the researcher.

Above all, we see that male researchers get more research grants than their female counterparts. Men are also more likely to be made professors. It’s not acceptable to close one’s eyes to the importance the Nobel Prize has in drawing attention to science and research in the world, especially in Sweden. The absence of female prize-winners depends primarily on two things: partly on the fact women have fewer possibilities to be able to pursue advanced research and studies, and partly on the fact that women’s accomplishments and discoveries are overlooked, minimized, or completely forgotten.

The dance floor at the Nobel Banquet. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

The Left Party is a feminist party. Therefore, we see the problem with so few women receiving the Nobel Prize and we have suggestions for how we can do something about it. Already in school, textbooks need to be revised; more notable women researchers, both contemporary and historic, should be highlighted to break the existing norms and prejudices early on.

When it comes to the distribution of state research grants, we want a goal to be introduced, that no more than half should go to male researchers. We also want the introduction of an equality bonus for educational institutions to encourage a more equal gender distribution in research and academies.

READ ALSO: Who was Alfred Nobel, the Swedish scientist behind the Nobel Prize?

There is also a lot to do to rectify inequality in Sweden’s universities and colleges. Students choose training positions based on stereotypical patterns of gender roles. Research grants are awarded to a higher extent to men than to women.

Last year, the Swedish Research Council granted applications from almost double as many men as women, and even if you take into account the fact that men made more applications, a greater proportion of them were approved than of the applications made by women.

It’s not only about the opportunity to carry out research, but also about noticing the women who do it. The Times Higher Education carried out a survey among 50 former Nobel Prize winners this year. They noted that many of the prize-winners said it was a problem that so few women had won the prize. Many of them believes it’s due to the fact that women’s research accomplishments have been underestimated. Nearly two thirds of them said that their own prize was devalued in some way by the fact that so few women had won the prize.

That’s why we need a change; we need to have more women researchers, who should get half of research grants. We need more women professors and above all more female Nobel Prize winners.

This opinion piece was written by Linda Snecker, spokesperson on research policy for the Left Party, and translated by The Local. You can read the original on Aftonbladet here.


‘Chemical crayfish’: Why does the Swedish media love killjoy festive news?

It's time for this year's "kräftskivor", Swedish crayfish-eating parties! A cause for celebration? Not if the Swedish media has its way.

'Chemical crayfish': Why does the Swedish media love killjoy festive news?

Sweden’s main newswire this week ran a story warning that an analysis of the eight brands of Swedish crayfish available in the country’s supermarkets contained elevated levels of PFAS, a persistent pollutant which can damage your liver and kidneys, disrupt your hormones, and even cause cancer. 

But don’t worry. If you weigh 70kg or more, you can still safely eat as many as six of the outsized prawn-like crustaceans a week without being in the risk zone. 

While I’m sure the news story, which was covered by pretty much every paper, is accurate, it is also part of a grand Swedish media tradition: running miserable, killjoy news stories whenever there’s a sign that people might be planning to have a bit of festive fun. 

The two public service broadcasters, Swedish Radio (SR) and Swedish Television (SVT) are by far the worst offenders, their reporters unusually skilled at finding a downbeat, depressing angle for every public celebration. 

To give readers a sense of the genre, we’ve spent half an hour or so searching through the archives. 

‘This is how dangerous your Christmas tree is’ (and other yuletide cheer)

Source: Screenshot/SR

Christmas is a time for good food, drinking a little too much, and cheery decorations to ward away the winter darkness. But have you considered the risks?

SR has.

In “This is how dangerous your Christmas tree is”, a local reporter in Kronoberg looked into the possibility that your tree might have been sprayed with pesticide, or if not, might be covered in pests you will then bring into your house. 

But the most common recurring story reflect Sweden’s longstanding guilt-loaded relationship with alcohol. 

You might enjoy a few drinks at Christmas, but what about the trauma you are inflicting on your children?

In this typically festive report from SVT in Uppsala, a doctor asks, ‘why wait for the New Year to give up alcohol? Why not start before Christmas?’, while the reporter notes that according to the children’s rights charity BRIS, one in five children in Sweden has a parent with an alcohol problem, with many finding drunk adults both “alarming and unpleasant”. 

God Jul! 

The Swedish media finds ways to make you feel guilty about the food you eat at Christmas too. You might enjoy a slap-up Christmas dinner, but what about those who suffer from an eating disorder? SVT asked in this important, but less than cheery, story published in the run-up to the big day. “This is the worst time of the year,” Johanna Ahlsten, who suffered from an eating disorder for ten years, told the reporter. 

Don’t you just love a cosy Christmas fire? Well, perhaps you shouldn’t. A seasonal favourite in Sweden’s media is to run warnings from the local fire services on the risk of Christmas house fires. Here’s some advice from SVT in Blekinge on how to avoid burning your house down. 
Those Christmas lights. So mysigt. But have you ever added up how much those decorations might be adding to your electricity bill? SVT has. Read about it all here
Finally, isn’t it wonderful that people in Sweden get the chance to go and visit their relatives and loved ones over Christmas.
Well, it’s wonderful if you’re a burglar! Here’s SVT Jämtland on the risk of house break-ins over the Christmas period. 
Eat cheese to protect your teeth! and other Easter advice 
“Eat cheese after soda”. Good advice from Swedish Radio. Photo: Screenshot/Richard Orange
For the Swedish media, Easter is a fantastic opportunity to roll out all the same stories about the risks of open fires and alcohol abuse, and that they do. But the Easter celebration has an additional thing to be worried about: excess consumption of chocolate and sweets. 
Here’s Swedish Radio, with a helpful piece of advice to protect your teeth from all that sugary ‘påskmust’, Sweden’s Easter soft drink. “Eat cheese!”. 
Yes, you and your children might enjoy eating all those pick-and-mix sweets packed into a decorated cardboard egg, but have you thought who else has had their grubby hands on them? SVT has. In this less than joyous Easter article  a reporter gives viewers the lowdown on “how hygienic are pick-and-mix sweets?” (According to the doctor they interview, sugar acts as an antibacterial agent, so they are in fact less dangerous than the newsroom probably hoped). 
Perhaps though, it’s better to avoid those unhealthy sweets altogether, and instead cram your mouth with healthy raw food alternatives, as SVT advises in this Easter report
Aren’t daffodils lovely? Well they’re not if you’re a dog. They’re deadly, according to this Easter report from Swedish Radio on all the “dangers lurking for pets over Easter“.
Glad Påsk!
Midsommar drowning  
Midsommar, again, has all the same possibilities for worried articles about excess drinking etc, but in the summer there’s the added risk of drowning. 
From Midsummer until the start of August, the temp reporters who take over Sweden’s newsrooms as everyone else goes on their summer holidays churn out a steady stream of drowning stories, all of them with a slightly censorious tone. After all, most of these accidents are really about excess drinking.
Here’s SVT Västmanland tallying up the Midsummer weekend’s death toll in a typical story of Midsommar misery. 
So, what is the reason for the Swedish media’s taste for removing as much mirth from festivities as possible?
It’s partly because Sweden’s media, unlike that of many other countries, sees its public information role as at least as important as entertaining or interesting readers, so an editor is likely to choose a potentially useful story over a heart-warming one. 
This is the aspect of the Swedish media beautifully captured by the singer Lou Reed when talking about how he’s more scared in Sweden than in New York in the film Blue in the Face
“You turn on the TV, there’s an ear operation. These things scare me. New York, no.” 
But it is also reflects the puritanical streak that runs straight through Swedish society, leading to a powerful temperance movement, which meant that by 1908, a staggering 85 percent of Socialist parliamentarians in Sweden were teetotallers.
Sweden is now a liberal country where you can get good food and drink, and enjoy a decent nightlife, but sometimes that old puritanism bubbles up.