Wednesday, December 5, 2012


A couple of things today. Sylvia's stayed dry very well lately (Yeah!) so this evening I let her watch a couple of shows on PBSkids. Lately she's been into this silly show called "Fetch! With Ruff Ruffman." Sylvia watches it over and over and over again, which I suppose I can accept since most of the episodes are at least a little bit about science. We did have a nice discussion of density and why things float or sink after one episode, which I know is a concept that plagues students well into college, so I'm glad she's getting early exposure. Anyway, the bad guys in the show are cats in an organization called PURRS. Sylvia asked me FOUR TIMES over ice cream why PURRS wants to take over the world. It's almost tempting to introduce her to James Bond, but I worry she'd start thinking there really ARE people who want to take over the world for ill-defined, silly reasons.

Second, I'm not at AGU this year, since we're moving to Australia, we didn't have sitters lined up, and I didn't think I could get anything together for the meeting. As it turned out, not going was a wise idea since Paul got sick with a nasty gatro-intestinal bug right before Derrick left and having both of us leave would have been ridiculous.

Fortunately for me, AGU is streaming some presentations in a "virtual meeting." It's the big-name lectures and town halls that I never go to anyway, but I've caught a couple of the talks and it's nice to feel like I'm not completely out of the loop.

Monday Ira Flatow of NPR's Science Friday gave a talk. Mostly he talked about how science is sexy, I think trying to encourage us scientists to engage more with the public. He presented a lot of evidence scientists are loved by the public, including clips from shows that feature scientists in positive roles (Big Bang Theory especially), art both using and venerating science, and a couple of interviews of scientists by big-name entertainers like David Letterman. The clips were meant to both encourage us scientists and show us how successful science communication is done.

He also presented a couple of spots from public relations campaigns trying to encourage young women to consider science. Okay, the first one is a public relations campaign; the second is some young women spoofing "For the Longest Time" to present their research. Anyway, if you want to see what I'm talking about, the clips start at about 39:30 in the talk liked above. You should go watch them--it's worth the time.

Back? Okay, so what did you think?

What did you think of the audience reaction?

Did you notice Ira Flatow's reaction to the two clips? If you want to go back and watch him this time, go ahead.

Yeah. I think he was more impressed by the professional public relations campaign than the amateur quartet. Either that or he was amused watching the reactions of the scientists. Can't rule that out.

I loved the second clip of the acapella group, even with its tone issues. It's clever, it's funny, and it's educational. The slick advert, not so much. I wouldn't go so far as to embrace the idea it's reinforcing negative gender stereotypes, but it is embracing a far more traditional version of femininity. While I suspect that was the point--encouraging ALL women to think of themselves as potential scientists, not just us frumpy girls--as a frumpy girl I found it off-putting. I certainly didn't choose science because of the way people look, but the fact that the other women around me who were interested in science were similarly, ahem, beauty challenged made it a far easier place to imagine myself inhabiting. Not that I think exceptional beauty should be a barrier to entering science, but I do think reinforcing the idea that women in science are average-looking, not hot, will make more young women feel comfortable in a scientific environment than presenting scientists as sexy. Maybe it's just me, but one of the things I love about scientists is knowing it's not physical attractiveness that determines relationships but common interests and respect for the ideas and intellect of the parties involved.

In other words, I want to be loved for my brain, not my body!

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