Angela Saini is an award-winning British science journalist and writer. She presents science programmes on BBC Radio 4 and the World Service and her writing has appeared in several publications including The Guardian, The Observer, New Scientist, Science, New Humanist, Wired, and The Economist. For our Women Who Inspire series, she spoke with Shefaly Yogendra in London.
Our interview with Angela:
Svaha: How did you first get interested in science?
Angela: I think I have always been. They say that children are natural scientists, they explore the world around them, and I guess that curiosity never left me. As a kid, my special interest was inventions. I had a book of inventions and I would pore over it, trying to understand how things work. My dad was an engineer and my mum is a brilliant seamstress, so I picked up a skill for building and making things from them.
Svaha: You are a well-known science journalist. Your writing has always been accessible. What first moved you to write your latest book about what research says or doesn't say about gender differences?
Angela: First and foremost, a desire to know the facts. We get fed so much conflicting information about gender differences, and I wanted to know the truth. Although it did turn out to be far more complicated than I had imagined.
Svaha: How would you summarise the key message from your book Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong – and the New Research That’s Rewriting the Story for this pro-STEM audience mainly of young girls and boys?
Angela: My key message for everyone is to read science with a critical eye, always. Don't assume that any scientific paper is the unvarnished truth. Try and understand the context, the motives of the researchers and where that research stands alongside other work.
Svaha: While writing this book, did you find things that you did not know before and that surprised you or challenged you?
Angela: Yes, everything challenged me! I too was carrying stereotypes about women and men in my head, and researching "Inferior" helped dispel many of them. I found the process incredibly liberating. From motherhood to menopause, my preconceptions were overturned. Women are not the weak, feeble characters that history has often painted us as. We are strong, strategic and as smart as men.
Svaha: Were there obscure findings you made during the writing of this book that you finally left out of the book?
Angela: I didn't explore the issue of homosexuality in much detail, because of space constraints. It is a burgeoning and fascinating topic in animal biology. More animals exhibit homosexuality than we think.
Svaha: As you know, Jaya Iyer, the co-founder of Svaha, is herself of Indian origin. Your book Geek Nation: How Indian Science Is Taking Over The World naturally piqued our interest. What bridges Indian and western science in your view?
Angela: The history of Indian science is far longer than western science. India was the birthplace of the zero, and had sophisticated metallurgy, mathematics and medicine even before the Greeks and Romans. So it brought a new flavour to modern science. Somehow, the traditional and modern sit side by side with remarkably little tension.
Svaha: What's next for you?
Angela: I am busy on a book tour, travelling across the UK this year, then the US in the spring. It has been so wonderful to hear from readers of Inferior. I hope it changes other people's lives the way writing it changed mine.
Svaha: Finally would you like to give some advice for our young readers who are interested in science and maths?
Angela: Go for it! Someone once told me, if you have the passion, you have the talent. Don't let anyone or anything stop you from pursuing your passion.
Svaha: We thank you, Angela, for speaking with us. We wish your book great success!