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Note to Media: They Give Nobel Prizes to Women These Days

Reality BaseBy Melissa LafskyOctober 6, 2008 7:56 PM


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This morning, the three winners of the 2008 Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine were announced. One of the honored three is French scientist Françoise Barre-Sinoussi, a member of the team who first discovered HIV and its role in causing AIDS. Her co-discoverer, and fellow Nobel winner, is Luc Montagnier. Besides the fact that they were the first researchers to isolate the virus, the biggest thing there is to know about them is that one is a man, and the other is a woman. Unfortunately for Françoise—and for the reputation of the science-covering media—the Nobel committee apparently failed to include a picture of her in the press release, spelling out her female-ness for all to see. What happened next, in a display of basic fact-checking—or even just minor Googling—that would make Jayson Blair proud, was the following CNN report:

Two Frenchmen and a German won the 2008 Nobel Prize in medicine for their discoveries of viruses that cause HIV and cervical cancer, the organization's Web site said Monday. Francoise Barre-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier of France were honored "for their discovery of human immunodeficiency virus." The pair are recognized as the discoverers in 1983 of the virus that can expose people to AIDS.

And to pour a little sodium chloride in the wound, Scientific American's Steve Mirsky described the duo as "the two Frenchmen" in a podcast that's now posted on their Web site. The transcript of the podcast has since been changed—without any note of the correction—to "the two French scientists." Apparently Françoise was deemed female enough to be identified as such—Nobel Prize and all.

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