Confronting sexism in the world of science communication

Beginning in October 2013, the science communications community has been dealing with issues of personal behaviour, inherent misogyny, betrayal, speaking out, doubt and professional worth. Much has been written, tweeted and posted; the paragraphs below are an attempt to collect the resources together for future reference. Our intent here is to capture both the key events and the remarkable commentary, analysis and (we hope) change that have come out of it. The stream of amazing articles and blog posts is too much to stay caught up on, so if you think there’s something missing that should be here, tweet them to @afmaxwell or @everickert.

The main points and chronology of the timeline can be found in this Storify, with further relevant content linked under the headings below.

#standingwithDNLee 10 October – 14 October 2013

Scientific American blogger and researcher Dr. Danielle N. Lee posted details of an email exchange with a Biology-Online editor, who labeled her a whore for declining to guest blog on the network. Lee’s post was removed within an hour by Scientific American.

  • Lee’s original blog post on Urban Scientist
  • Scientific American Editor-in-Chief Mariette DiChristina

The Finkbeiner test

The description for this picture is careful to mention that Mary Alice McWhinnie was the first woman to serve as chief scientist at an Arctic research station. Retrieved from Wikimedia commons, presumed to be public domain. Originally uploaded by the Smithsonian Institution.Christie Aschwanden has an excellent piece up at XX Science, with a simple experiment you can do at home to identify sexism in science journalism! As a long-time fan of the Bechdel Test, I’m easily convinced that science journalism warrants a similar instrument. Finkbeiner’s test is interesting because, unlike the Bechdel Test (which primarily reveals a lack of individuality and agency in fictional women), it has components specifically designed to call attention to “benevolent” sexism. Having applied the test, I believe that science journalism has made great strides forward, and finally achieved routine tokenism. Baby steps.

Science, the gender gap, and how to make it worse

Of late, some people have really hit it out of the park when it comes to articulating the obstacles women face in science. In what seems to be an effort to restore symmetry to the universe, the Guardian’s Emma G. Keller recently did her best to hit it right back in. The piece is a reagent-grade mixture of bad science, just-so stories, and unvarnished sexism.

The backlash has been swift and forceful, as documented on our Storify. Of particular note was this rebuttal from Dean Burnett.

What’s most striking to me about Keller’s piece is that she didn’t ask any female scientists about their early experiences with science. It seems to me that if we want to know what makes it harder for young women to get into science, and what keeps them going despite the difficulties, that would be an obvious place to start. Not that you’d get easy answers that way—but it might give a good indication of which direction to take with future research.

Teachers would also probably be a good group to ask. Have they observed any patterns in the way that girls in grade school and high