Publication: Ring a Bell? Charles Murray and the Resurgence of Scientific Racism

This article was first published on The Humanist on 15 May 2017. Below is an excerpt.

In his latest podcast episode titled “Forbidden Knowledge,” atheist author Sam Harris guides political scientist Charles Murray through an extensive defence of Murray’s widely debunked body of work, focusing mostly on The Bell Curve. Co-authored with psychologist Richard Herrnstein (who died around the time it was published in 1994), the book was universally critiqued as an example of modern-day scientific racism. Continue reading Publication: Ring a Bell? Charles Murray and the Resurgence of Scientific Racism

Ellen Ochoa First Latin Woman to be Inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame

Dr Ellen Ochoa, a Mexican-American scientist with a PhD in electrical engineering, was the first Latina in space. Twenty-four years later, on May 19 2017, having already been awarded NASA’s highest award, the Distinguished Service Medal, she’ll be inducted into the USA Astronaut Hall of Fame. Continue reading Ellen Ochoa First Latin Woman to be Inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame

Publication: Better Leadership through Diversity

Protesters watch speeches at the March for Science, Sydney

Excerpt from my latest for The Humanist:

Here is where the March for Science, like so many other science activities, fell short.

In failing to take responsibility for diversity in a methodical and transparent manner, the March for Science leadership made four major errors. First, the organizers attempted to set up the march as “apolitical” without having thought about equity, inclusion, and accessibility. The organizers failed to connect with diversity experts and activist groups. Their diversity statement was first released due to criticism from underrepresented scientists (using the hashtag #marginsci, started by Dr. Stephani Page). In reaction to growing critique, the initial diversity statement would be revised another three times. Continue reading Publication: Better Leadership through Diversity

Publication: Making the Most of Diversity Lessons

This article was first published on Women’s Policy Action Tank on 24 April 2017.

Despite its special focus on diversity, the evolution of the March for Science shows that diversity has been an afterthought. Science and academia continually places scientists from underrepresented groups in the position of arguing for our rights. The issues for the global March for Science, as well as the national marches in Australia, are fundamental to issues of diversity in STEM around the world. The march is a microcosm of the battle to create a more inclusive culture in STEM that truly values and promotes diversity. 

Over the weekend, thousands participated in the March for Science, both in Australia and globally. Influenced by the Women’s March, the March for Science has struggled with reflecting the highly diverse scientific community. In today’s post, sociologist Zuleyka Zevallos provides a brief history of the controversies, explains why diversity in science is important, and provides practical suggestions for moving forward on stronger footing. 

March for Science crowd at Martins Place Sydney

Diversity is a quintessential tool in science

Continue reading Publication: Making the Most of Diversity Lessons

Luke Briscoe on Indigenous Science

Luke Briscoe, Co-Founder of Indigilab, sings about how one day the land will be returned to the traditional custodians of Australia, Aboriginal sand Torres Strait Islanders. His message was the hope that Indigenous culture and science will be recognised for its unique and important contribution to Australian society.

He also spoke about constitutional recognition of Indigenous people and he presented the Indigenous Science Declaration to the March for Science organisers.

I attended the March for Science as part of my participant observation research, and specifically to hear Briscoe speak and in solidarity of underrepresented scientists.

 

SciComm Cycle of the March for Science

Woman of colour reads her phone in front of a laptop

Over the next couple of days, in the lead up to the March for Science, happening globally on 22 April 2017, I’ll be republishing a few of my articles and analyses of the March here on my blog.

On 13 April 2017, an article in Science Magazine featured the academic research planned about the March for Science, and interviews with one of the march co-chairs. The journalist reported that George Mason University was seeking email addresses of supporters for a planned study.

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George Mason University requests email addresses of march followers: Source screengrab via Science Magazine

Scientists around the world who have been holding the march organisers accountable criticised the ethics of such a proposed study. This eventually led to the organisers requesting a correction from the journalist.

How did this major error happen?

Two days later, on 16 April, the March for Science was forced to issue a public apology after appropriating African American Vernacular English (AAVE) in a now-deleted tweet (below). This was heavily critiqued, especially by Black researchers, who pointed out the hypocrisy of using AAVE when Black scientists had been marginalised by the march, and received abuse for speaking out on inequalities within the march. Black scientists were also ignored when they encouraged the organisers to work with established social justice groups, including Black Lives Matter. Cultural appropriation of AAVE is doubly offensive in given these patterns of exclusion.

These are just two recent examples in a long line of problems. The organisers have established a damaging cycle of communication failures and weak apologies since the March for Science was first promoted.

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Continue reading SciComm Cycle of the March for Science

Analyzing the March for Science Diversity Discourse

Analyzing the March for Science Diversity Discourse

This article was first published on DiverseScholar, on 27 March 2017.

Given the high profile of the Women’s March against the Trump Administration on January 21, 2017, the March for Science (MfS) seeks to rally against the science policy changes, funding cuts, gag orders, and the administrative overhaul of science organisations by the Trump Government.

The March for Science is scheduled to occur globally on April 22 in over 400 cities. The aims and functions of the march have been drastically altered in the first two months of its existence, especially as the organisers began to receive critique from the scientific community regarding diversity issues. By setting up the march as being “not political” and by reproducing various problems of gender inequality, racism and other forms of exclusion, the march organisers have inadvertently created an anti-diversity discourse, which has been subsequently adopted by a vocal majority of the MfS supporter base.

In sociology, the concept of discourse describes how language comes to convey and justify dominant ways of thinking, talking, and behaving. Discourses are built around the social identities, values, interests, and power of dominant groups. This means that the stories we tell about “why things are the way they are,” reinforce the status quo, and thus justify the reasoning, policies, and practices of groups that already have institutional control.

The idea that White men are the taken-for-granted norm of what it means to be a scientist is learned early in school, and then reinforced throughout education, career progression, prestigious prizes, and the publication and funding systems. Institutional mechanisms in science serve to reinforce a discourse that naturalises White men’s dominance in science.

My article on DiverseScholar shows how the MfS organisers have come to reproduce the existing discourse of science, by normalising the interests of scientists who are White and from majority backgrounds. I present an analysis on public reactions to the third (of four) MfS diversity statements that reflect this position.

I analysed 354 comments and over 3,300 reactions to the MfS diversity statement. There were two broad response types to the March for Science diversity statement on the public Facebook page: comments were either discouraging or encouraging of the MfS diversity statement.

The discouraging comments fell into four sub-groups: people who felt that diversity was either politicising or dividing the practice of science; and those who felt that diversity was depreciating or distracting from the goals of the march more specifically.

The encouraging comments included individuals who felt uniquely positioned to be informing others about why diversity is important to the march, and supporters who thought that diversity is enhancing science more generally.

Discourses reflect the history, culture, identity, and politics of those in power. To make the MfS truly inclusive, the organisers need to think more strategically about how to manage misconceptions about science. They will also need to be more proactive in promoting a new discourse about the march.

Read more on DiverseScholar.

Analyzing the March for Science Diversity Discourse

The March for Science Can’t Figure Out How to Handle Diversity

The March for Science Can’t Figure Out How to Handle Diversity

This article was first published on Latino Rebels on 14 March 2017.

Inspired by the impact of the Women’s March, March for Science (MfS) emerged from a series of social media conversations. The ScienceMarchDC Twitter account was set up on January 24, and a Facebook page three days later. Their follower base ballooned from a couple of hundred people to thousands. At the time of writing, the Twitter account has 337,000 followers, the public Facebook page has more than 393,000 likes, and the private Facebook community has over 840,000 members. There are currently 360 satellite marches being organized in various American states and in many cities around the world.

The MfS organizers go to great pains to separate science from politics, and science from scientists, as if practice and policies are independent from practitioners. For example co-chair and biology postdoctoral fellow Dr Jonathan Berman says: “Yes, this is a protest, but it’s not a political protest.” Another co-chair, science writer Dr Caroline Weinberg, recently told The Chronicle: “This isn’t about scientists. It’s about science.” These sentiments strangely echo other highly publicized opposition to the march, and are being replicated in some of the local marches. The idea that a protest can be “not political” and that science can be separated from scientists are both political ideas. These notions privilege the status quo in science, by centring the politics, identities and values of White scientists, especially White cisgender, able-bodied men, who are less affected by changes to the aforementioned social policies.

The topic of diversity has dominated online conversations between many scientists across different nations who are interested in making MfS inclusive.

Even as the movement gained swift momentum, the leadership and mission were unclear in one key area: diversity.

Discussions over the march are important not just due to the planned demonstration. The debates matter because they reflect broader issues of diversity in science.

Read more on Latino Rebels.

March for Science Can_t Figure Out How to Handle Diversity

BadSciFilm: Kong: Skull Island

Let’s take a fun and sociological look at the representation of scientists on Kong: Skull Island. How is race, gender and science portrayed? With little substance, I’m afraid! This is part of my Twitter series, #BadSciFilm, where I take a satirical look at horror and sci-fi films that feature scientists as central protagonists. Spoiler alert for the film. Continue reading BadSciFilm: Kong: Skull Island

BadSciFilm: Prometheus

On Twitter, I host satiric discussions of science fiction films on Twitter, using the hashtag #BadSciFilm, with a focus on the sociology of science representation. I watch the movie, making comments in real time. This post is about the divisive movie Prometheus, a reboot of the Aliens franchise. I love the film, despite its many flaws – and gooddess help us – it has many flaws. This post archives my tweets focusing on the ways in which research processes are reflected and how the stereotypical characters reflect gendered notions of scientists.

In Prometheus, scientists are obsessed with colonisation, but, in usual science fiction fashion, colonial expansion is not ever reflected in its cultural connections to genocide of Indigenous people and the enslavement of African diasporic people on Earth. Scientists take their safety gear off with abandon, they touch alien life forms without protection, and their monologes about scientific discovery are inflated by hubris. The aliens (known as trilobites) mutate rapidly and kill not simply to reproduce, but seemingly just to wreck havoc on the humans.

The Aliens films perpetuate a stark duality about cisgender women and birthing, steeped in patriarchy. On the one hand, women in the stories are presented as conveniently “unencumbered” by motherhood, because their children have died (Ripley in the original films), or they are secretly cyborgs (Annalee Call in Alien Resurrection). In the case of Prometheus, women have trouble conceiving (Shaw) or they are overly ambitious (Vickers). On the other hand, women also suffer due to their motherhood urges. In the second film, Aliens, Ripley is put in danger in order to rescue the young stoway survivor Newt. In Prometheus, Shaw is terrorised after she was inadvertently impregnated by her partner, who was infected with an alien virus. We are treated to an over-the-top abortion of sorts, where Shaw’s alien-baby tries to tear her to shreds, and ultimately consumes another alien by the end of the film.

The fact that the aliens burst out of human chests for horrific effect is a simulation of birth as a violent event.

Prometheus is also deeply impressed with phallic symbolism, as aliens repeatedly force their way into both human and alien male’s mouths in visceral confrontations.

Enjoy my Twitter interactions with other scientists below! Continue reading BadSciFilm: Prometheus