In an open letter to Rush Holt (PDF – 974KB), the CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and executive publisher of Science, Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA) writes:
Women who speak out about these incidents have been subjected to torrents of online abuse, including rape and death threats. Female scientists from underrepresented minorities, already a small group, have been subjected to even more vociferous abuse and have received limited support from scientific institutions…At the beginning of the 21st century, while we are in the midst of exploring the solar system, unlocking the human genome, and creating ever-more-advanced technology, the demographics and attitudes of scientists and engineers must not be trapped in the 19th century.
–Representative Jackie Speier
One of the things that was made apparent in the revelations about Geoff Marcy’s assaults on students was that our inherited culture of institutionalized science has favored protecting those in power over protecting those without. In many ways, the AAAS represents the scientific legacy of the United States. Representative Speier notes some missteps in Science that reflect that destructive culture.
The AAAS also has the opportunity to represent the future of science – a future that is inclusive and prioritizes the humanity of all. Representative Speier also notes the recent editorial by Bernard Wood in Science that chastises his fellow established scientists for failing to substantively address misconduct in their own ranks as a small step in the correct direction.
The third “A” in AAAS stands for “Advancement”. Representative Speier is asking the AAAS to recognize that overcoming its sexist heritage is a critical issue for the advancement of science into the 21st Century.
If you wonder why Twitter seems to have no interest in protecting individual users from harassment, maybe you need to think about how the companies that pay for the annoying “promoted” tweets think about
harassment negative online behavior (UPDATE: It has been pointed out that McCaffrey doesn’t address harassment per se or what may differentiate this from “hating on”). For example, here is HBO director of development Kathleen McCaffrey on the Nerdist Writer’s Panel having an honest discussion* how their social media and marketing teams think about Internet “haters” with host Ben Blacker:
McCAffrey: The thing about Girls which is kind of amazing is the haters. And it makes our social media team very happy because they just put one thing out and people come out of everywhere and just start to hate on it. And, so, it is very loud and very strange…just so many people hate it…
Now, bear in mind that the hating on it she refers to will invariably include negativity directed not just at HBO and the show, but at the individuals involved in creating the show:
McCaffrey: but on social media – on Twitter and everywhere – Lena is very polarizing and people love to hate on her. It still surprises me…
Blacker: But, but that’s, that’s good for you, because it’s a loud conversation and it means that the people who do love her will probably come out to defend her.
McCaffrey: Yes. It becomes this weird fight that she’s kind of even not really a part of, like the people around her just yelling about her. It’s very strange and fascinating.
*McCaffrey expresses disappointment with the continuing negative reaction, while acknowledging the utility of the reaction for marketing.
On the Pop My Culture podcast, actor Josh McDermitt described his first audition scene for the role of Eugene on The Walking Dead.
…I was taking to a girl. We were both backstage about to give this big presentation in front of, like, the world’s top scientists about some, you know, medical breakthrough we just had; and I’m backstage talking with her and I’m, like, berating her and, like, telling her how stupid she is, and then, and then, I try to sleep with her…
The scene, although fiction, rings very true, because this scene happens – not always in such a confined time frame, with those particular details, or with that intensity – but the aggression, denigration, and sexual objectification of women in science is ever present.
The focus of the description is on how the abuse of the female character illustrates flaws in the male character, because the description of the scene exists to illustrate the process of auditioning for a specific character. In real life, however, should we be more concerned with the character of the jerk or the life experience of those who have such behavior directed at them? As Janet Stemwedel notes in her column in Forbes on Tim Hunt’s controversial comments:
What if, when asked to say a few words to the Korean women scientists and the science journalists at the luncheon, he had recognized the audience he was speaking to was likely to have had quite different experiences in science than he had?
Disproving sex-based biological determinism in one graph from No Ceilings, with more data on the phenomenon at their website.
Source: No Ceilings
Chief Technology Officer of the United States Megan Smith discusses the problems of erasing women from the history of science and technology with Charlie Rose. It is not that the historical role models for young women don’t exist. It is that we actively expunge them from our narratives.
As Rose suggests with a question, it is hard to imagine how this practice actually benefits anyone – other than an intellectually lazy adherence to our standard, male-centric narrative.
HT: Caroline Siede at BoingBoing.