Happy Ada Lovelace Day!


Today we celebrate women in science and technology by remembering Ada Lovelace. We also take note of how tech companies still fail to meet gender equality standards (so they better hire my daughter when she graduates), and the miserable failure of academia to end sexual harassment. So it’s kind of a mixed celebration.

Do read that last link, if nothing else.

Last week I watched a documentary by Louie Theroux, about Jimmy Savile and the child rape scandal. In it, Theroux said something that struck me; “monsters don’t get close to children, nice men do”. I think the same can be said of these sexual harassment and abuse stories that we hear of so often now in STEM disciplines. The perpetrators of harassment and abuse are not monsters, they are often highly respected and inspiring figures at first. They can be our friends, colleagues, and mentors. That’s what makes it so hard if we find out that this trusted friend, colleague, or mentor has been abusing and hurting other people. The resulting cognitive dissonance keeps us from accepting that it is even possible that our trusted friend, colleague, or mentor is capable of these behaviours and therefore, we automatically ignore what we hear from survivors. We believe the excuses and explanations that the perpetrator comes up with. And I have come to realise that this is just one of the many ways that our society allows sexual harassment to go on as long as it does, and why survivors are so scared to come forward. Even when they do, we expect these survivors to shoulder the emotional labour of reaching out to other victims, talking to the media, and reliving the harassment, all while trying to hold the perpetrator accountable for what they did. And if that wasn’t enough, survivors also have to deal with those within the community who question the veracity of their experiences.

On a cheerier note, at least now you can buy badass women of science t-shirts.


  1. blf says

    A set of interesting related links (all in the Granuiad, mostly because that is what I happen to be reading at the moment):

    ● Palaeontology is full of dinosaurs — and not in a good way for women’s careers: “For Ada Lovelace Day I’ve been on a quest to examine the issues faced by women in palaeontology. One thing is clear: attitudes need to change”.

    ● Promoting equality in science: what works, and what doesn’t?: “On this Ada Lovelace Day, what can we do to fix inequalities in science?”

    ● On Ada Lovelace Day, let’s also celebrate 19th-century renaissance woman Agnes Clerke: “This annual celebration of women in science and technology is the perfect time to appreciate the brilliant Agnes Clerke: astronomer, writer and historian”.

    ● Sydney Padua: ‘Once I started drawing Ada Lovelace, I couldn’t stop’ (cartoon): “The creator of The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage explains in graphic format how a stray doodle about a computing pioneer grew into a book”.
      An excerpt from a review of the book (which I haven’t read): “This is an utter joy, but also, to hazard a semi-educated opinion, mathematically sound. The 19th century was when mathematics started getting weird, and the idea that a machine could have an emergent intelligence began to take root. Babbage and Lovelace were, in a sense, ahead of their time; Padua brings them into ours. She is also honest enough to raise the question of whether Lovelace’s contributions and reputation have not been inflated by a desire to squeeze a woman into mathematical history; and the way she answers this question is extremely plausible. […] This is a book to reread, not just read.”

  2. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    She does have an entire programming language named Ada to honor her. *smirk* /sarc
    I mention to illustrate that not being sufficient.
    I’ve had the impression that was used to gloss over the disparity that exists within the CS community. That naming a language for her would just erase all the embedded inherent sexism in the field of CS.
    Much like: Having a POC POTUS was believed by some to indicate the elimination of racism. (actually it still exists prevalently)
    She deserves more recognition. Turing maybe overshadows her (being a man and all, tsk tsk), she was just as pioneering as Turing, and Babbage.
    *applauding* Ada.

  3. F.O. says

    All hail the First Programmer!

    @Sili thanks for the tip, I’ll go check Hypatia, Agnesi and du Châtelet.

  4. Rob Grigjanis says

    Sili @3: For demonstrable impact on modern physics, I’d propose du Châtelet-Noether Day.

  5. savethelastpants says

    Her real name was Linda Susan Boreman. It’s hard to believe she went from bestiality and golden shower flicks to starring in Deep Throat, and somehow still found time for programming and whatnot. Truly amazing and inspiring. The only real blemish on her life was her turn to Christian inspired anti-porn crusading.

  6. KG says

    I second Rob Grigjanis’s recommendation of the BBC doc. It convinced me that the claims Lovelace made no real contribution (as linked to by Sili@3) are themselves misleading – but I have not investigated the issue.

  7. aziraphale says

    I’m quite pleased that I knew something about each of the women on the T-shirts. But I notice a bias towards physics and mathematics. I might not have done so well with the life sciences.

  8. birgerjohansson says

    There was this bronze-age Chinese empress that was pretty cool (I have trouble remembering chinese names). Science per se had not been invented, but being a Chinese emperor was much about building and maintaining irrigation and solving the logistics of moving the workers around. Certainly a task that was intellectually challenging.
    States that depend much on irrigation could bloody well name a day after her.

  9. colinday says

    I was disappointed that the apparel website to which you linked included designs from American Apparel.