Wednesday, July 19, 2006

He, Once a She, Talks About the Mysterious "Journey"

Because this article is so unbelievable, I read it four times to completely grasp its key points. The second time around I wanted to spot anything that contradicted "the Larry Summers Hypothesis" and it's there. The third and fourth time, I was just feeling good about myself, taking it in and wanting to personally thank Ben for sharing his/her experiences. There is a lot to learn from this piece. After all, here is a woman, now a man, telling us how she felt when she was a woman in the academic science and math areas. Fascinating stuff and -- now-- so transparent.

Ben Barres had just finished giving a seminar at the prestigious Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research 10 years ago, describing to scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard and other top institutions his discoveries about nerve cells called glia. As the applause died down, a friend later told him, one scientist turned to another and remarked what a great seminar it had been, adding, "Ben Barres's work is much better than his sister's."

There was only one problem. Prof. Barres, then as now a professor of neurobiology at Stanford University, doesn't have a sister in science. The Barbara Barres the man remembered was Ben.

Prof. Barres is transgendered, having completed the treatments that made him fully male 10 years ago. The Whitehead talk was his first as a man, so the research he was presenting was done as Barbara.

Being first a female scientist and then a male scientist has given Prof. Barres a unique perspective on the debate over why women are so rare at the highest levels of academic science and math: He has experienced personally how each is treated by colleagues, mentors and rivals.

I urge you to carefully read the entire article and weigh in with your comments. Not sure how long it's available for free through the WSJ -- better hurry up.

He, Once a She, Offers Own View On Science Spat

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