It’s the third Wed. of the month again (remarkable how that comes around), and I’ll once more be doing my internet radio thing on Virtually Speaking Science (a program within the Virtually Speaking empire that recently featured our own Richard Mayhew in conversation with Jay Ackroyd).
This evening at 5 p.m. ET/ 2 p.m./PT, I’ll be talking with Maryn McKenna and Janet Stemwedel about sexual harassment, gender discrimination and science writing. (We’ll also be live in Second Life at the Exploratorium’s joint. Come join the live studio audience if you’ve got that kind of virtual bent.)
As many of you I’m sure know, it’s been a tumultuous couple of months in the science writing world. Since October, we’ve seen Dr. Danielle N. Lee, a researcher and blogger at ScientificAmerican.com get called an “urban whore” for the sin of politely declining to write for free — and then have her equally polite explanation why that’s not OK deleted on spurious pretences by a Scientific American editorial staff who thus, effectively silenced an African American woman trying to let the world know this sh*t still goes on — every damn day. You can listen to Lee herself on all of this as part of the invaluable Story Collider series of tales of science and life.
In the wake of Lee’s story, first one woman, then two, then three reported incidents of sexual harassment by then-Scientific American blog editor and Science Online co-founder Bora Zivkovic. Of particular note at this stage of events was the pattern of reactions to the news about Zivkovic, who was a cornerstone of the English-language science blogging world, widely known and liked. By me too, btw. Devoted fans of my Virtually Speaking Science gig — yes, all 6 of you, counting my cat — will recall that Bora was on the show last January. He was kind to my fledgling blog as he was to many others, and the reserves of good will he engendered play a role in this story. The concept of “community” was invoked to suggest that Zivkovic’s role in fostering community as an end in itself suggested some kind of amelioration or alternate context for the one incident on the table. As more women came forward, that line of argument largely evaporated — but it set the context for the public debate that followed.
Moving forward, there was Rapey-Einstein-Curie-Bobblehead-gate. I kid you not. Joe Hanson, who writes the It’s OK To Be Smart blog for PBS digital posted a Thanksgiving video showing famous historical scientists (bobbleheads) gathered around the table. Marie Curie was the only woman on hand, and the video ended up with Einstein assaulting Curie. Oy.
What made that particular embarrassment worse that neither Hans0n nor PBS seemed to get quite what was wrong with the piece — as Kate Clancy* writes, Hanson apologized, but said he was trying to draw attention to the insufficient representation of women in science through the video. PBS merely lauded Hanson and itself for opening up “up an important, though difficult, debate” — as if the conversation about rape, discrimination or abuse of power was suddenly brought to our attention by this act of intellectual courage.
One of the most striking aspects of the whole last few months was the surprise gap. Women in science writing were unhappy to hear of each insult and act of diminishment imposed on other women — but, at least as documented in that immaculate scientific assay, Twitter, they were utterly unsurprised by the pervasiveness of the phenomenon. Men, those with some power and those pretty much without, mostly had a different reaction. They — and this certainly goes for me — had a collective “I had no idea that this happens to all of y’all” reaction.
But it does. Crap gender behavior is a constant, it seems; at least every woman I’ve spoken to in the science writing world reports interactions ranging from the unnecessarily and workplace-inappropriate awkwardness to outright sucker-should-be-in-jail awfulness. The data on women’s advancement through the ranks of power in both science itself and public science communication reflect both the leaky-pipe impact of such environments and the power of old-boy networks, even in this day and age. See this and this and this for examples, with Janet Stemwedel’s post as context.
So we’ll be talking about all of this: what happened to bring the issue of sexual harrassment and gender discrimination to the fore in the professional world of science communication; what it means on the ground for the craft — and hence, inter alia, for the goal of engaging the public in science and the use of scientific thinking for civic participation; and what can be done to address the systemic flaws that have enabled gender discrimination to persist, for all the (often quite spectacular) self-congratulation science communicators have allowed themselves in the very recent past.
As to my guests. Maryn McKenna is a return visitor to the program, having joined me in April to talk antibiotic resistance and why we’re all doomed. She’s one of the country’s leading public health journalists, who has spent the last several years diving into the problem of antibiotic overuse and the evolution of increasingly resistant microbes. She’s also someone who has thought long and deeply about gender issues in our shared profession, and you can find some of her writing on the subject on her blog (variously linked above).
Janet Stemwedel is a professor of philosophy at San Jose State University who teaches the philosophy of science and its ethics, among other concerns. She’s known on the web as Dr. Freeride, and she blogs about a wide range of issues of ethics and public responsibilty in science. It’s both too horrible and necessarily inaccurate to say that someone is “the conscience” of a group, but Janet is nonetheless one of those to whom many of us turn when we want to talk through a question with rigor and humanity.
Should be a rich conversation this afternoon. Hope y’all can make it, or check out the podcast when it suits your schedule.
One more thing: it should go without saying, but in case it doesn’t, there’s nothing unique about science journalism or public outreach. Some of us in the business (almost exclusive the male sort) thought there was, that we had enlightened ourselves as a group past the broader social issues raised by ongoing gender crap. This program is both a result of and an attempt to further disabusement of that notion — and, I hope, whatever I’ll learn from Janet and Maryn will also serve as a guide to navigating the same issues in settings beyond science writing.
IOW — this may all look like inside baseball for science writers. It’s not.
*BTW — as I write this the news just came off embargo that Kate’s been named one of the journal Nature’s 10 — “Ten people who mattered this year,” recognized for her work in developing data to demonstrate the reality of sexual harassment and physical or sexual assault in research settings.
Images: Titian, The Rape of Europa, 1559-1562.
Thomas Cole, The Expulsion from Eden, 1828.
smedley the uncertain
Dam, I like SciAm. Didn’t know about the sordid back stage stuff…
Not really Science, but sciency – anyone know what percentage of SciFi today have a female protagonist? Are there modern scifi writers focusing on female teens?
(I know that Hunger Games is a bit of a copy of Battle Royale, but wondering if there are more science-focused writers)
I’m sure there’s more to it, but my immediate gut reaction is duh. A) constantly bringing up the fact that gravity is still operative is dull dull dull, especially if B) as an individual, bringing it up at all (sometimes even in egregious circumstances) gets you labelled as whiney and quite possibly trying not to make it on your own merits but have success “gifted” to you.
“For a good time on the intertubes” and then a post about sexual assault/harassment?
Really…really…Lord I just can’t even with some people.
Elizabeth Moon leaps to mind. Her Familias Regnant and Vatta’s War series both have teenage-ish female protagonists. There are quite a number of others but I can’t seem to get my brain working.
A friend got her Ph.d. in Physical Chemistry. Her stories of blatant sexism in the field are a horror show.
@srv: bspencer over at LG&M posted a rant from some fedora wearer about how women are ruining scifi. This was a couple of weeks ago, but perhaps his butthurt is a good starting place.
I promise (fingers crossed) not to make a habit of commenting on extraneous matters, but my immediate reaction to this post….
On my first return visit to Boston in fifteen years, on the day following Thanksgiving, I saw both of the paintings you’ve chosen as illustrations here. Singularly impressed by the recent expansion of the Gardner Museum. However, given the wall placement of Titian’s celebrated work and museum restrictions on artificial lighting, reproductions remain the preferred method of appreciating its beauty and significance. Thomas Cole is an artist on whom I’ve written some years ago.
Now, perhaps somewhat less irrelevant to the richly provocative subject of your post and upcoming podcast (which I intend to listen to at a later time), is the work of Evelyn Fox Keller on gender and scientific research still held in good repute within your jurisdiction?
Science fiction books aimed at female teens would be classified as Young Adult, which tend to get grouped together regardless of genre. We get books published by Hyperion at my office and a couple of new ones looked interesting:
The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken (a little Hunger Games-ish, in that it’s kids vs. adults, with a completely different premise)
These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner (has a very romantic, Titanic-ish cover, but it doesn’t sound like the romance is the primary plot)
If you’re looking for, say, the woman-centered equivalent of Isaac Asimov or Poul Andersen with all of the fiction based specifically in known science (aka “hard” science fiction), I’m not sure it exists.
Since art fans hang out on these threads, thought I’d share my wild take on buying gifts:
The Art of Gifts
I use each chapter of Sun Tzu’s the Art of War to explain buying art gifts for your loved ones.
Please share! Tip your server! Don’t order the veal!
@Mnemosyne: Well, there’s John Scalzi’s Zoe’s Tale, which is hard SF (space ships, aliens, interplanetary intrigue) told from the viewpoint of a teenage girl. I’m sure there are others; some of Heinlein’s juveniles, for example,although those are somewhat dated.
And to continue with the extraneousness, I’ve just now come to realize that the Titian painting chosen above by TL is in the collection of London’s Dulwich Picture Gallery.
Same subject, same composition, same approximate date as the Gardner’s Titian, but the paintings’ titles are slightly different: Dulwich, The Rape of Europa; Gardner, The Abduction of Europa or Europa.
My apologies to the congregation. Now back to regularly scheduled programming….
ETA: And thanks, TL, for yesterday’s emendated “s”.
The Other Chuck
Your ironometer needs recalibrating. Also too, you ever consider you’re “some people”?
You may want to give a little hat tip to PZ Myers as an exemplar of a male science blogger who’s using his (quite popular) platform to draw attention to the degree of sexism in science, plus a whole bunch of the (less well-read, but very good) blogs written by women in science at Freethought blogs. (I like Butterflies and Wheels.)
I can think of authors from when I was a teenager (like Anne McCaffrey and Andre Norton), but I’m not very up on current titles, unfortunately.
From the interview with the “Duck Dynasty patriarch” (honestly I had never heard of this show…):
Tom, I think you need to get him on one of these science shows. What an idea machine!
Your last point is the most interesting to me. I’ve got my own and varied stories of gendered idiocy in science (details are unimportant), but what galls is the self-definition of the males in the group: we are smart and educated and what we do is therefore not a problem. We know best, if you complain you are either an outlier (and as a female you – we – are still considered the exception in the group) or lying or hysterical. You can see the same problem in liberal politics as well. “We are the advanced folk. We don’t do those sorts of sordid things. Liberals never beat their wives or chase their assistants – that’s only those conservative hacks.”
Privileged folk do privileged things. And it is invisible to them.
I listen to podcasts on my ipod nano when I walk my dog. I was looking forward to downloading and listening to the Virtually Speaking podcast, but the sound quality is so bad, I gave up on listening to it on my ipod. One person on it sounds like he is underwater.
@BGinCHI: Thanks for giving me ANOTHER reason not to watch the show…
Certified Mutant Enemy
There were plenty of Christians in Nazi Germany. Islam has been around for 1400 years and isn’t exactly new (also, see Jesus in Islam. Japan wasn’t exactly unique in its imperialists ambitions.
There’s also around 1500 of years of so of European history where the vast majority of the population was Christian which was pretty bloody, to say the least.
@Certified Mutant Enemy:
There is no way anyone can watch Triumph of the Will and not see all of the christian iconography.
@Certified Mutant Enemy: You want to argue history against the off the cuff remarks made in an interview with the guy from Duck Dynasty?
Certified Mutant Enemy
Silly me. He’s a TV personality and therefor his uttering should be taken as gospel…
@BGinCHI: Basically, quackers queue apparenly seem to be objecting to killing queers and brown folks without the JebusJuice explicitly rolling off your tongue as you’re doing it. Or something.
Herbal Infusion Bagger
OT: Via Science Magazine, this is a plausible explanation for why good triumphs over evil in fantasy literature – it’s ‘cos of Vitamin D:
Hopefully they’ll follow this up with work on Vitamin A deficiency in Star War’s Imperial Stormtroopers leading to poor eyesight and markmanship.
@WereBear: @scav: He still sounds smarter than Rick Santorum.
I like that he’s making an argument based on some logic (vagina vs. anus) whereas someone like Santorum can’t even bring himself to get into the weeds of what he’s talking about.
Let’s face it. Once morality comes down to a question of taste/aesthetics, the right is finished.
OT: VA rethugs concede AG race.
Tone In DC
That is some VERY welcome news. The Fox News gravy train of Massive and Everlasting Butthurt awaits that dude.
@BGinCHI: Pretending to logic, well, possibly, yee-hee, but given the predilection for hands, rubber doughnuts, holes in public toilet stalls, vacuum cleaners, things not currently nailed down and still more objects ER doctors spare us the details of, the actual logical foundations seems shaky.
On the up side, the genetic input from neanderthals is looking more solid — I’ve always thought it more likely than not DNA stuff. Not sure what it’d be good for, but I’d rather them as cousins than the beardy quackers. Feathered quackers though, instantly favored uncle status.
Get ready for a teapublican meltdown…
US Army War College seeks removal of Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson portraits from the premises.
Some inquiring mind apparently wondered why enemies of the United States Army should hold an honored place at one of its facilities.
This post assumes that all the opposition to women is science comes from men. My PhD thesis adviser was a woman and she held her female students to an impossible standard of perfection.
ETA : She paid lip service to the whole encouraging women’s participation in the sciences but did everything to discourage and run down her own female students whether in her classes or as a research adviser.
@Tone In DC:
I saw it on Billmon’s twitter feed.
Billmon thought it possible that the VA Rethugs would send the contest to the VA legislature and then steal the election; they disappointed him.
As I commented awhile back, I was walking inside the Capitol building with a Canadian friend once. In the hallway(s) where states put statutes of Great Men (not sure there are many women placed there!), he remarked (of many southern states’ choices) that it was very strange that so many traitors were represented there.
@scav: I’m quite low on my detailed understanding of the specific influence of genes, but I’ve often wondered if it was the influence of Neanderthal genetic material that caused Europeans to have different eye and hair color from other groups of homosapiens.
@Mnemosyne: C. J. Cherryh’s Cyteen books are definitely woman-centered “hard” SF, if you consider biological sciences in that category.
OT, and maybe it’s already been noted: In Virginia, Obenshain has conceded to Mark Herring in the Attorney General election. The recount had Herring ahead by 800+ votes. (ETA: I see liberal beat me to it.)
Certified Mutant Enemy
Probably not, since east Asians also have Neanderthal genetic material…
@Certified Mutant Enemy: Maybe we had some trigger, like eating too much yellow snow. But yeah, since Asians have some as well, it’ll leave my question open. It just hasn’t been so pressing that I’ve gone to look for an actual answer.
The nice thing is that the recount made Obenshain’s position worse.
I don’t know much about it, but if I were to hazard a guess, I’d say sexual selection.
I was just going to mention C.J. Cherryh. Great stuff! Some military S-F has women protagonists. Honor Harrington comes to mind.
Some of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan books have a female protagonist.
I’m currently reading a big old space opera of a series by Kevin Anderson and I’d say half the plethora of leading characters are female.
@CDW: that probably was me
It’s all over academia. I had a friend who was getting her PhD in linguistics who was basically told that she would never get tenure anywhere because she had a child. And that was a woman telling her that.
More likely the differences stem from a limited gene pool leading to recessive dominance selected by evolutionary advantage. The “poster child” is blue eyes. This trait is recessive but under the dim and limited daylight conditions of Northern Europe it carries a significant advantage thus the child is much more likely to inherit the likelihood of having the trait from both parents. Another trait is skin melanin deficiency as compared to baseline in Northern Europeans helps to manufacture Vitamin D under weak sunlight. Being able to digest milk into adulthood is another.
All of these have come about in about 10,000 years or so. Quite fast on the evolutionary time scale but they are all likely to be eliminated from the progeny of a Northern European and, say, a Japanese.
Crap gender behavior is still a constant EVERYWHERE, alas. It has improved a little since my days in the AF jet engine shop in the 70s, but not nearly as much as you’d think. There should have been nearly 40 years of evolution on this stuff since then, but there’s been relatively little. Mostly it’s been of the nature of most guys now saying that they “understand” the issues (rather than laughing in my face or being actively hostile to the idea of feminine equality), but then going on to SPEAK, ASSUME, and BEHAVE in the same old ways.
It’s very similar to the case with racism, I think. Many white people don’t believe in it, and even those who do often assume that there is “too much sensitivity” about it. They allow themselves to make those judgments, they who don’t live with it and its global effects on lives, opportunities and self-perceptions. Just as guys tend to toss off our anger and complaints. We’re exaggerating, you know. We’re “hysterical.”
Well the fact is unless she wrote a knock ’em dead Ph.d. thesis in a breaking sub-discipline with strong corporate or military interest she probably won’t get a tenure position. It is wrong and it sucks but that’s the reality.
You miss the point of the story, I see.
Speaking as a dad who spends quite a bit of time dealing with the kids (if not as much as my wife), it’s pretty hard to reconcile our model of career development and child rearing, regardless of the sex of the parent, though obviously it impacts women more.
I love my kids, but it’s almost like a second job.
I got it. I also know what your friend was told is the most likely outcome. Just because a person is the south end of a north bound horse that doesn’t mean what they say is inaccurate.
So if a black man was told that he would never get tenure because of his race, it’s no big deal because it’s so hard to get tenure in the first place?
And before you sputter, It’s not the same thing! … uh, yeah, telling a woman that she won’t get a job based on her maternity status is exactly as illegal as telling a man he won’t get it based on his race.