No, you can’t wear that to school

UPDATE 14 NOV 2014 11:30AM: Matt Taylor made a sincere (according to trusted reports – I haven’t seen it yet) today.

Short-sleeved button down is unacceptable. The tie clip is unnecessary. What is that mess in your pocket? On the other hand, the four-in-hand knot was absolutely the right choice for your tie. Also, congratulations on landing people on the moon for the first time. That was pretty awesome.
Charles Duke (CAPCOM Apollo 11) making space history in a bad shirt without offending anyone.

I’m the proud parent of two small children. That means we occassionally (ie, every day) have to review the clothes they select and determine if they are appropriate for the day’s events (eg, landing a robot on a comet). Sometimes we have to intervene because they have made poor choices. We apply experience, knowledge of the day’s activities, and awareness of the effect their personal presentation can have on others to identify poor choices. I am the adult. Making sure my kids represent themselves, our family, and our values positively is part of my job.

My kids don’t always like being told that they need to make a change to their attire. That dislike is sometimes expressed in a loud – painfully loud – and vocal manner. They are young. They are inexperienced. They will be making bad decisions with total commitment well into the future. That does not relieve me of my responsibilities to limit the harm done by those bad decisions, because I am the adult. This is my job.

European Space Agency (ESA) scientist Matt Taylor must not live with responsible parents, because he showed up for work in a shirt covered with pictures of scantily clad women* (violating any HR policy not written by Silvio Berlusconi). He wore that shirt to work on the day that the ESA was landing a robot on a comet – on the day that event was broadcast globally – on the day he was going to appear on that global broadcast. Wearing that shirt was a bad decision.

Screenshot 2014-11-12 23.45.47

Matt Taylor’s individual bad decision turned into a bad decision for the entire ESA. He was allowed to go in front of the camera dressed like that. He was allowed to make robotic space exploratio appear unwelcoming to women. He was allowed to make that portion of the webcast unwatchable in my child’s classroom.

Screenshot 2014-11-12 23.48.59

Were they so unaware that they did not realize his clothing would offend so many? Or, were they aware, but decided the interview was more important than the offense? Either way it speaks to systematic blindness toward the negative and chilling effects of sexism. Cameras turn off.

During the webcast, numerous old, white guys spoke of ambition, collaboration, courage, and hope for the future; but no one had the bravery to stop one man from making a fool of himself, emabarassing their organization in their moment of triumph, and signalling that the field of robotic space exploration is not ready to treat women with respect and dignity.

Those “no ones” at the European Space Agency – those “no ones” who should have been “someone” – are the ones that I want to hear apologize and explain themselves. I have kids. I know the job you were supposed to do. You didn’t do it.

*No, I am not going to post a picture of it. If you want to see it, you can find it.

Do Better

From Andrew David Thaler, you should read this:

These things are related.

Do better.

Sexual Harassment, an Unacceptable Hazard of Field Work

Figure 1. Proportion of survey respondents, by gender, who indicated that inappropriate or sexual comments occurred never, rarely, regularly, or frequently at their most recent or most notable field site (N). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0102172.g001
Figure 1. Proportion of survey respondents, by gender, who indicated that inappropriate or sexual comments occurred never, rarely, regularly, or frequently at their most recent or most notable field site (N).

Important conversations are best addressed with good data. Science has a sexism problem and not all of it is of the passive, unconscious variety. As Kathryn Clancy, Robin Nelson, Julienne Rutherford, and Katie Hinde show in a new paper in PLoS One (“Survey of Academic Field Experiences (SAFE): Trainees Report Harassment and Assault”), sexual harassment and assault is disturbingly common at scientific field sites. They find that when women are the victims it is most likely that the perpetrator is a superior, which allows abuse of the hierarchical power dynamic. They also find that codes of conduct are absent or unknown, that clear reporting systems are often unknown, and that the existing reporting systems often fail to address the issues satisfactorily.

Little is known about the climate of the scientific fieldwork setting as it relates to gendered experiences, sexual harassment, and sexual assault. We conducted an internet-based survey of field scientists (N = 666) to characterize these experiences. Codes of conduct and sexual harassment policies were not regularly encountered by respondents, while harassment and assault were commonly experienced by respondents during trainee career stages. Women trainees were the primary targets; their perpetrators were predominantly senior to them professionally within the research team. Male trainees were more often targeted by their peers at the research site. Few respondents were aware of mechanisms to report incidents; most who did report were unsatisfied with the outcome. These findings suggest that policies emphasizing safety, inclusivity, and collegiality have the potential to improve field experiences of a diversity of researchers, especially during early career stages. These include better awareness of mechanisms for direct and oblique reporting of harassment and assault and, the implementation of productive response mechanisms when such behaviors are reported. Principal investigators are particularly well positioned to influence workplace culture at their field sites.

These controversies have their uses…

May those who love us love us.
And those that don’t love us,
May God turn their hearts.
And if He doesn’t turn their hearts,
May he provide an online discussion of sexism in science,
So we’ll know them by their commenting.

Adaptation of a traditional Irish curse inspired by ridiculous attempts to dismiss the unsavory bits of Richard Feynman’s life as either irrelevant or “worth it”.

Originally appeared as a pair of tweets here & here.

Don’t give your megaphone to just anyone

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.

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