Barbie dolls are not real people. The pictures of actors and models in magazines are barely real people (thanks to Photoshop). The actress in this car commercial is not a real scientist.
It does, however, show anyone watching commercials during the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament a stylish woman of color driving a nice car and doing complex-looking mathematics* in her head.
It shows someone who is not white, not male, not bearded, not with crazy hair, not with disheveled clothes, not with sub-par social skills doing complex-looking mathematics* in her head.
As we increasingly recognize that recruiting and retaining a diverse STEM workforce requires presenting individuals in that field with whom they can identify, we have a car company showing us that. This actress may not be a real scientist, but my four-year-old daughter won’t know that her concepts of who can be a scientist will have been expanded positively by a commercial while Daddy watched Duke play basketball on TV.
*I do not have the gift for going “oh, that is X equation” on sight. So, I will leave it up to you, dear readers, to evaluate the actual complexity and accuracy of the mathematical imagery.
This week, Science for the People is looking at the intersection of race, history and genetics in science writer Nicholas Wade’s 2014 book A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History. DNA researcher Jennifer Raff and science journalist David Dobbs share their critiques of the claim that differences between genetically distinct “races” are responsible for global divergence in cultural and political structures. Blogger Scicurious walks us through the (delicious) basics of the scientific method with Cookie Science.
*Josh provides research help to Science for the People and is, therefore, completely biased.
If you are a regular patron of The Finch & Pea, you know that Nicholas Wade’s controversial book, A Troublesome Inheritance (link is to David Dobbs’ unflattering review), is a work of pseudoscience that purports to draw on the fields of human and population genetics to support a panoply of racist stereotypes. Now, a lengthy list of leaders in these fields, tired of their work being misappropriated, have signed a letter asserting:
We are in full agreement that there is no support from the field of population genetics for Wade’s conjectures. – Graham Coop, Michael Eisen, Rasmus Nielsen, Molly Przeworski & Noah Rosenberg (+134 signatories)
As Mary Carmichael notes, this is probably the first time these 139 scientists have ever agreed on anything.
*Hat tip to Daniel MacArthur.
On the one hand, it has been a rough couple of months for science communication. We’ve been reeling from problem with sexism/racism/harassment to another. The reputations of even science communication juggernauts like Scientific American and Nature Magazine have not survived intact.
On the other hand, we seem to actually be talking about these issues publicly, which may be a sort of progress.
Established institutions, with their established audiences, retain the capacity to dominate such public discussions. In a must-read post (originally published last week and now republished on the excellent LadyBits), our Raleigh Sewer Tour buddy Anne Jefferson explains the problem of institutions, who claim to not be sexist or racist, providing a platform for bad actors to amplify their sexist and racist messages. As she lays out the problem, it is akin to the issue of false balance in journalism surrounding issues like vaccinations.
Anne also lays out three easy steps to avoid handing your institution’s supposedly progressive megaphone to a jerk. My favorite is tip #1:
If you receive racist or sexist material for publication, DON’T PUBLISH IT. Throw it out.