A "rallying cry" to close the gender data gap is the winner of the UK's most prestigious science book prize.

The six books shortlisted for the 2019 Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize


Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, by British journalist and feminist campaigner Caroline Criado Perez, was chosen from a shortlist of six to win the 2019 Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize.


A boost for women writing about science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the 35-year-old became the fifth woman to take the prize in as many years – and was praised by the panel of judges for challenging their own perceptions by exposing the systemic discrimination caused by the data gap.


Judge and author Dorothy Koomson said, "From tech that doesn’t recognize feminine pitched voices to health symptoms that are dismissed and often prove to be fatal, we have a real world problem that needs to be talked about.


"This important, vital book is only the beginning of the conversations we need to be having about how to make sure modern life works properly for everyone, no matter who they are."

Caroline Criado Perez is the fifth woman to win the prize in five years.
Image: The Royal Society

Mind the gap


In a collaboration with LinkedIn, the World Economic Forum discovered part of the problem of data bias is due to the gender gap in Artificial Intelligence. Only 22% of the world's AI professionals are women, compared to 78% men, according to the 2018 Global Gender Gap Report.


As the report says, the AI skills gender gap "implies that the use of this general-purpose technology across many fields is being developed without diverse talent, limiting its innovative and inclusive capacity".


The Royal Society Science Book Prize was founded in 1988 and includes the late Stephen Hawking among its previous winners. It is the only major international award to celebrate science writing for a non-specialist readership.


These are the six shortlisted books:

1. Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez (Chatto & Windus)

Image: Chatto & Windus


The Royal Society said: "Invisible Women shows us how, in a world largely built for and by men, we are systematically ignoring half the population. It exposes the gender data gap – a gap in our knowledge that is at the root of perpetual, systemic discrimination against women, and that has created a pervasive but invisible bias with a profound effect on women’s lives. From government policy and medical research, to technology, workplaces, urban planning and the media, Invisible Women reveals the biased data that excludes women. In making the case for change, this powerful and provocative book will make readers see the world anew."


2. Six Impossible Things: The ‘Quanta Of Solace’ and the Mysteries of the Subatomic World by John Gribbin (Icon Books)

Image: Icon Books


The Royal Society said: "If you’re looking to dip your toes into the weird and wonderful world of Quantum, this is the book to read. Quantum physics is strange. It tells us that a particle can be in two places at once. Indeed, that particle is also a wave, and everything in the quantum world can be described entirely in terms of waves, or entirely in terms of particles, whichever you prefer. All of this was clear by the end of the 1920s. But to the great distress of many physicists, let alone ordinary mortals, nobody has ever been able to come up with a common-sense explanation of what is going on. Physicists have sought ‘quanta of solace’ in a variety of more or less convincing interpretations."


3. The Remarkable Life of the Skin: An Intimate Journey Across Our Surface by Monty Lyman (Bantam Press)

Image: Bantam Press


The Royal Society said: "Providing a cover for our delicate and intricate bodies, the skin is our largest and fastest growing organ. We see it, touch it and live in it every day. It's a habitat for a mesmerizingly complex world of micro-organisms and physical functions that are vital to our health and our survival. It’s also one of the first things people see about us and is crucial to our sense of identity. And yet how much do we really know about it? Through the lenses of science, sociology and history, Dr. Monty Lyman leads us on a journey across our most underrated and unexplored organ and reveals how the skin is far stranger and more complex than you’ve ever imagined."


4. Clearing the Air: The Beginning and the End of Air Pollution by Tim Smedley (Bloomsbury Sigma)

Image: Bloomsbury Sigma


The Royal Society said: "In late 2016, the World Health Organization announced that outdoor air pollution caused over 3 million deaths worldwide: by 2018, the WHO revised this up to 4.2 million with the UK contributing 40,000 deaths a year to this figure due to air pollution-related illnesses. Tim Smedley travels to cities with severe air pollution problems including Delhi, Beijing and Paris; he speaks to scientists monitoring the problem and the citizens suffering the consequences of indifferent corporations and governments turning a blind eye. He tells the full story of air pollution: what it is, which pollutants are harmful, where they come from and – most importantly – what we can do about them."


5. The Second Kind of Impossible: The Extraordinary Quest for a New Form of Matter by Paul Steinhardt (Simon & Schuster)

Image: Simon & Schuster


The Royal Society said: "This is the first-hand story of how Paul Steinhardt, the award-winning physicist and Albert Einstein Professor in Science at Princeton University, predicted a new type of matter – the quasicrystal – shattering centuries-old laws of physics. Steinhardt’s quest to prove the natural existence of quasicrystals takes him on a globe-hopping scientific journey from Princeton to Italy to the remote mountains of Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula. In a “suspenseful true-life thriller of science investigation and discovery” (Publishers Weekly), readers are taken along for the ride as Steinhardt challenges commonly held assumptions about settled science, refuting sceptics and disproving their notions of impossibility along the way."


6. Infinite Powers: The Story of Calculus – The Language of the Universe by Steven Strogatz (Atlantic Books)

Image: Atlantic Books


The Royal Society said: "This is the story of mathematics' greatest ever idea: calculus. Without it, there would be no computers, no microwave ovens, no GPS, and no space travel. But before it gave modern man almost infinite powers, calculus was behind centuries of controversy, competition, and even death. Taking us on a journey through three millennia, Professor Steven Strogatz charts the development of this achievement from the days of Archimedes to today's breakthroughs in chaos theory and artificial intelligence. Filled with idiosyncratic characters from Pythagoras to Fourier, Infinite Powers is a human drama that reveals the legacy of calculus on nearly every aspect of modern civilization, including science, politics."



Kate WhitingSenior Writer, Formative Content