The 2012 Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism Goes to…

The “Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism” is given out by the Harvard Secular Society on behalf of the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard and the American Humanist Association.

The first year, the award went to Salman Rushdie.

The second award went to Greg Graffin, the lead singer of Bad Religion.

Then, it went to Joss Whedon.

In 2010, it went to MythbustersAdam Savage and Jamie Hyneman.

Last year, it went to actor and comedian Stephen Fry.

There’s a theme there and it’s not one to be proud of: A total lack of female recipients.

Are none of them deserving of the award? Or were women selected but unable (or unwilling) to accept the award in person?

From my conversations with the Harvard folks, it’s the latter. They’ve had women on their shortlist, but for a variety of reasons, things just haven’t worked out. Still, they were aware of this discrepancy.

Now, they’ve resolved it. They picked someone worthy of the award… who also happens to be a woman.

The 2012 Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism Goes to author Mary Roach:

Among her other accomplishments, Roach is the author of the bestselling books Stiff, Bonk, Spook, and Packing For Mars.

Roach also gave a popular TED talk called “10 things you didn’t know about orgasm“:

She writes in the intro to Spook:

“Flawed as it is, science remains the most solid god I’ve got. And so I’ve decided to turn to it, to see what it had to say on the topic of life after death… because I know what religion says, and it perplexes me. It doesn’t deliver a single, coherent, scientifically sensible or provable scenario… Science seemed the better bet.”

Good choice, Harvard Humanists!

The celebration and acceptance speech take place April 25th in the Harvard Science Center and tickets are free — you just have to reserve them.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • http://www.facebook.com/chris.wonderboy Chris Pata

    Provable or probable?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      It’s “provable”

  • Meadowrue

    I absolutely loved Stiff.  So glad to see her being recognized.

  • Uzumaki1

    Her books are soooo smart, and I laugh until I cry through every one!

  • Anonymous

    I literally just jumped up and clapped/squealed. >_> I LOVE Mary Roach, to the point where when I heard one of my friends in med school down in Argentina couldn’t afford the $50+ for the English versions of her books, I sent her down my copies of Stiff, Bonk, and Packing for Mars, at the expense of actually getting coffee before work for more than a fortnight. She is amazing and deserves this, hands down.

  • Aimee

    Great writer.  Good choice.  Maybe this is messed up, but I believe that awards should go to those who deserve them.  Not to the minority or a specific gender.  If the work is worthy then the recipient is worthy as well, regardless.  

    • amycaswell

      But then how do you deal with how to tell when someone’s work is “worthy?” It’s common knowledge that women have to work twice as hard in the academic world (especially science and math) in order to be seen equal to a man. I can name a few other women off the top of my head who probably deserve an award like this too: Maryam Namazie, Ayan Hirsi Ali, Elizabeth Cornwell, Lori Lipman Brown, Annie Laurie Gaylor and Margaret Downey. I’m pretty sure all of those women have done more than the lead singer of Bad Religion. I’m not saying he doesn’t deserve awards. He’s an outspoken popular atheist (popular due to his band) and he’s highly educated. Hemant isn’t talking about giving token awards to women and minorities (that would be just as insulting as them not being acknowledged at all); this is about acknowledging that women and minorities are important to our movement and do important work, and they should be honored for it.

    • Anonymous

      The problem is, people are biased to think that men’s work (or that of other privileged classes) is more worthy than women’s. They get more exposure and more accolades, making it seem as though their work is more important, leading to more exposure and more accolades. The only way to counter this tendency is to actively, deliberately diversify the exposure and accolades. Unless you think that no women and no minorities are actually doing worthy work, this shouldn’t present a problem for you.

  • Jfigdor

    She’s also a guest on the daily show: 
    http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/mon-august-2-2010/mary-roach

  • Guest

    In 2011, it went to Mythbusters‘ Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman.
    Last year, it went to actor and comedian Stephen Fry.
    The 2012… Typo?

    • Jfigdor

      2010 Mythbusters
      2011 Stephen Fry

      Apologies for the typo.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      Yep! Typo. Corrected. Thanks!

  • Anonymous

    Just to (try) to head off the inevitable complaint at the start, this is not about giving a less qualified candidate a prize because of their status (in this case being a woman). This is about having an abundance of highly qualified candidates and therefore taking the liberty to make the prize as representative of the wider skeptic population as possible.

    This prize also has the Nobel Peace Prize problem. It seems fairly clear from the choices that the chief consideration is often less about contribution and more about fame. Bringing very high profile people into the fold of Humanism is a laudable goal certainly, but I think that it’s abundantly clear that sheer popularity is a strong factor in who gets chosen on any given year. Nothing wrong with that, necessarily, but it’s something to keep in mind when considering the list.

    • http://twitter.com/aynsavoy Anne Sauer

      I agree with your comment on fame–it explain why all of the recipients so far are entertainers of one form or another. 

      • Anonymous

        well also the fact that its an award  specifically in cultural humanism, meaning representing humanism in cultural output, which most often and most far reaching in the west indicates entertainment of some kind.

  • Piet Puk

    Sweet! I love her books.
    Reading about her writing here on Friendly Atheist got me interested in the first place.

  • Richard McAteer

    Mary Roach is hilarious, and awesome.  Good choice. 

  • http://felicityk.livejournal.com/ Felicity

    I plan to attend the event. Our local Skeptic Book Club read Stiff last year.

  • Anonymous

    I would have chosen Genie Scott (Dr. Eugenie Scott)
    I hope they at least considered her. She’s amazing.

    • Richard McAteer

      Yes, I just listened to Eugenie Scott on climate change denialism the other day; she’s continuing to fight against efforts to inject misinformation into childrens’ education, but against a much tougher target now.  Hopefully her tireless efforts will be recognised in the future.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X