Friday, March 1, 2013

6 famous speeches by women scientists from The Eloquent Woman Index

Rachel Carson
We have several scientists starring in The Eloquent Woman Index of more than 100 famous speeches by women, and it's a group that shows just how difficult--and rewarding--public speaking can be.

Many of these women were pioneers in their fields, and had to speak a little louder to be heard in occupations that were typically dominated by men. Rachel Carson, for instance, was attacked for being "too hysterical" when she first spoke about the dangers of pesticides, and engineer Sheila Widnall knows what it's like to be called "Mrs." rather than "Professor." And like all scientists, they've faced the formidable problem of sharing their technical expertise with a non-technical audience.

But pioneers can be passionate, and unafraid to share their own sense of wonder in a way that makes science more accessible to everyone. And the technical barrier? That just means that you get to use the coolest props. Check out Carson's recordings of clicking shrimp, Jane Goodall's stuffed monkey, and Jill Bolte Taylor's human brain. If Diane Kelly's description of the penis as a "reinforced water balloon" isn't the perfect example of an invisible visual, I don't know what is.

Here are six speeches by scientists that we love, all included in the Index. Clicking on the links will take you to the "Famous Speech Friday" posts for each one, where you can learn more about the speech and, where available, read the text, listen to audio or watch video.
  • Not so silent: A reluctant public speaker, Rachel Carson took her environmental message directly to the public when she gave her "A New Chapter to Silent Spring" speech.
  • Flights of more than fancy: Amelia Earhart and Sally Ride both used their roles as media-beloved pioneers to advocate for a larger role for women in science, by sharing the wonder of flight with many listeners who had never left the ground--or orbit.
  • A hoot and a holler: The Welsh storyteller in Jane Goodall comes out in nearly every one of her passionate, vivid speeches, where she's not above greeting (and startling) her audiences with an enthusiastic chimpanzee pant-hoot to kick things off.
  • Anatomy and the TED talk: The TED conferences have been a wonderful showcase for women scientists, and Diane Kelly's frank, funny and highly educational TEDMED talk about penis anatomy is one of the best. Neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor's intensely personal account of her own stroke is one of the most-watched TED talks of all time.
  • Don't call her Mrs.: Sheila Widnall's speech at the southeast region meeting of the National Academy of Engineering is a classic, focusing on the everyday barriers faced by women scientists and engineers.
If you have a favorite speech by a woman scientist or a famous speech on science delivered by a woman, let us know in the comments.

Freelance science writer Becky Ham contributed this post.

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