Women in Science Communication: Two Lows and One High
I’ve been spending (too much of) my day thinking and talking/tweeting with colleagues about a couple of the pathologies that have recently reasserted themselves in the popular science communication arena. One incident was the grotesque case in which Scientific American blogger the Urban Scientist, Danielle Lee, was called a whore for the sin of inquiring whether or not someone asking her to write stuff might actually pay for her work. Compounding that outrage, Scientific American took down Lee’s post describing this incident for a couple of days amidst murky attempts at justification. The original guy’s been fired from his company, I’m happy to say, and Scientific American’s leadership has made some effort to right the ship. I may/probably will have more to say about that whole story in a little bit. (Elon posted on this, btw.)
Then, last night, I learned of playwright and writer Monica Byrne’s post on an encounter with the editor of Scientific American’s blog network, Bora Zivkovic, that amounted (in my view, recalling that IANAL) to sexual harassment.* I know and have great affection for Zivkovic, which has slowed my reaction to this news (I’ve also published a couple of guest posts at Scientific American under his editorship). But there’s no doubt either about the truth of Byrne’s account — Zivkovic has confirmed it — nor about the deeper and broader reality it reminds us exists out there. Gender discrimination and harassment is not simply about the big obvious shit. It’s a daily burden, driven by the fact that women in America have to be always on at least yellow alert, even in spaces and circumstances that should be/appear-to-even-well-meaning-men to be totally safe. I’ll try to come up with something a little more thoughtful and in depth on this one too, but for now I’ll leave it at that.
I’ll add that I hope to have my thoughts in order by Wednesday, October 23, when I’ll be doing my monthly host gig at Virtually Speaking Science. My guest will be Eileen Pollack, professor of creative writing at the University of Michigan, one of the first women to earn a BA in physics from Yale, and the author of this New York Times Magazine piece asking why there are still so few women in science. It’ll be at an unusual time for the show — 3 p.m. ET — but it’ll be podcast too, and I hope you’ll check it out. We’ll have a lot to talk about.
But none of that’s what prompted me to post right now. Rather it was my chance encounter with a right proper reclamation of the place and priority of one of the great women scientists of the 20th century, Rosalind Franklin — who happens to be a rather loosely construed family connection of mine. (Franklin was my mother’s cousin’s husband’s aunt. My English relatives form kind of a clan and we count folks like that as kin. Call ’em all cousins and let someone else sort them out.) Especially at the end of a day dealing with the recognition that my particular community is no more immune to inequity and more than any other, watching the video below offered a moment of take-that joy.
So sit back, hit play, and enjoy the new wave of science communication. Franklin, resurrected, represents: