STEM Women Host Science Chat

Very excited about this! As part of STEM Women, I am co-hosting the upcoming #ScienceChat on Twitter on 9th April, 2pm PDT USA/ Thursday 10th, 7am Aussie time. We will be tweeting from our account @STEMWomen and our amazing colleague Professor Rajini Rao will be one of our distinguished guests. Join us if you’re on the tweets!

We’ll talk about how we can address intersections of discrimination in STEM, including gender, race, LGBTQI issues, as well as other forms of exclusion. We’ll also focus on the creative ways to improve science outreach to disadvantaged and marginalised groups. Join our discussion on Twitter using #ScienceChat. Our talented guests are all STEM outreach & diversity advocates:

Below is a summary of some of the responses we could keep track of – we ended being a trending topic on Twitter, with hundreds of tweets coming at us, making it hard to capture our guest responses later on.

Myths About Science Funding

A Quora thread recently caught my eye. Titled, How do we restore trust in science?, I was curious to see, once again, the conflation of trust in science with the idea that all science is politically and economically motivated by “big pharma” companies and by politicians. I reproduce my answers to the original question and my response further below. I start by pulling apart the interconnected ideas of trust, funding, belief in science and political influences on science. The public should hold scientists, politicians and private industry accountable for Research and Development. This is an important discussion, but it often happens in a vaccum. Researchers address research demands in closed journals. Research ethics is part of our training. The reality of these issues, however, are not really as the public imagines it.

Continue reading Myths About Science Funding

How Media Hype Hurts Public Knowledge of Science

Remember that news article that was going around saying that a high proportion of Americans can’t tell astrology from astronomy? We tackled this news on the Science on Google+ Community, by going to an analysis of the original source. I’m republishing my comments and parts of our Community discussion.* I expand my argument to make two points: 1) Media hyperbole on science needs careful critique by scientists. 2) Scientific literacy requires our sustained engagement. I include some of interesting figures from the USA National Science Foundation (NSF) Science and Engineers Indicators report for 2014, focusing on Public Attitudes and Understanding of science and technology. This information speaks to the public’s lack of understanding about what scientists do, how funding works, and how trust in scientists influences the public’s assessment of the output of our research. I’d like to start a conversation about how to move forward in dispelling the hype and myths surrounding science.

Continue reading How Media Hype Hurts Public Knowledge of Science

Inclusive Management in Tech

Here’s our STEM Women on G+ Hangout with Google+’s Chief Architect, Yonatan Zunger. We had limited time and we could have easily spoken longer. I was especially interested to hear Yonatan speak about his personal journey to learn additional leadership skills to support diversity, such as active listening. I see that many individuals are invested in supporting women in STEM, which is heartening, but this often means taking a personal interest to read more on the issue, as Yonatan has done. My interest as a sociologist is how to improve these individual efforts to build a critical mass. How do we better maximise and pool our collective efforts to achieve broader change? I’m a big advocate of mandatory equity and diversity training within organisations. I also see that issues of inequality for women and other minorities need to move into a central place within all the STEM fields. These matters need to be addressed earlier in research and applied careers, so that they are not marginal topics that we debate later. Instead, the conversation we’re having with STEM Women is: things are unequal, what are we going to do about it?

Continue reading Inclusive Management in Tech

Teaching Against Racism

Minneapolis Community and Technical College lecturer Shannon Gibney (who is African America) was formally reprimanded by her university after three White male students complained that they were being made to study structural racism. One student interrupted Gibney during her  Mass Communications class and asked: “Why do we have to talk about this?” Continue reading Teaching Against Racism

The Sociology of Why People Don’t Believe Science

This the story of how sociology can improve public science. I discuss the social science research explaining why some sections of the general public resist research evidence. As some of you know, I’m one of around 20 Moderators who run Science on Google+. Our Community is managed by practising scientists and our membership includes researchers as well as members of the public who are interested in science. I run the Social Science stream (along with Chris Robinson who created the Community). Our Community aims to improve the quality of science posts and public outreach, by connecting the public to real scientists. This week, we celebrated the fact that our Community has grown to 200,000 members. The Community receives numerous posts each day. We want to move discussion away from people sharing their personal opinions on “fluff” science pieces that often end up distorted in the news, and instead we’d like to focus on the relevance, validity and reliability of peer reviewed science. Invariably, we get people coming to the Community specifically looking to argue about how all science is wrong (usually with regards to social science), corrupt (often regarding life sciences), or “just a theory” (creationist arguments against the physical sciences).

These critics do not focus on the scientific content of a study. They focus on moral and cultural arguments, which to them are scientific. For example, when discussing research on gender inequality in science, there’s a variation of: “In my engineering class there’s only two women. I think that most women just aren’t interested in science. That’s not sexism to point out the truth.” (Yes, it is sexist.) When discussing research on climate change: “There’s inconclusive evidence on this!” (No, the evidence is compelling.)

Judging you

Most of these people do not use credible scientific research to back up their claims, but they evoke some general statistics (“everyone knows…” and “countless studies show”).We ask for links to peer reviewed science, which never come.  Sometimes they post links to conspiracy videos that have no scholarly merit. Despite their lack of evidence, these people are thoroughly convinced that they are scientists or that they are very well informed on a topic. They cite ideas of science from popular culture (“science is about questioning everything!”). Otherwise they draw on something they heard in the news or they revert to personal anecdotes and subjective observations.

These critics are the exception, as most of our Community members are genuinely curious in science and learning. The problem is that these anti-scientist “scientists” take up a lot of time and they derail discussions. So what motives them?

One of our colleagues and a Curator for the excellent Science Sunday, wrote a fantastic post about how social psychology concepts might explain why people refuse to engage with scientific evidence. Chad invited me to comment on his post, and this has led me to crystallise thoughts that I’ve had circling my head since I started blogging seven years a go. Other than a sheer love of the social sciences, why bother with public science? Who is our audience? Does it “work” and how do we measure its success? How can we improve it?

My post will discuss the sociology of beliefs, values and attitudes to describe the cultural, institutional and historical ways in which the public has engaged with science. I present two case studies of “hot topics” that usually draw anti-science comments to our Community regarding gender inequality and genetically modified foods. I show how cultural beliefs about trust and risk influence the extent to which people accept scientific evidence. I go on to discuss how sociology can help improve public science outreach. Continue reading The Sociology of Why People Don’t Believe Science

Gen Y, Literary Elitism & “Serious Culture”

Melbourne private school teacher and literary curmudgeon Christopher Bantick argues that Gen Y don’t understand “serious” Australian culture. Writing for The Age, Bantick believes that Gen Y’s engagement with popular culture over the classics will lead our nation to decline:

The vanity that is lauded as virtue pervades the culture to a corrosive extent. Young people have lost the capacity to actually know when something is art, and worthy. Instead, they hang on every word of their latest celeb mouthing inanities….

So who’s at fault? Schools need to do more about bringing a little elitism back into the awareness of culture. High culture: fine art, opera, serious drama and music that requires patience and understanding needs to be embedded into the curriculum.

In Australia, elitism is a dirty word. But maybe our jingoistic egalitarianism has gone too far with the sense of cultural equity. Who knows what a sonnet is, a partita, a motet, or who was Goethe or Christopher Marlowe? As for ballet, forget it. There are many other examples.

Bantick celebrates the fact that he teaches “classically demanding literature” at a private school, adding that his course is “elite, consciously so.” Continue reading Gen Y, Literary Elitism & “Serious Culture”

Importance of Intercultural Education for International Students

Importance of Intercultural Education for International Students in Australia. (Repost)

International students represent a large economic and international relations investment for Australia. Australian universities are increasingly relying upon overseas students for their revenue, but these institutions are not adequately addressing the special learning, linguistic, cultural and religious needs of these students. Despite their Australian education, international students experience various difficulties in finding work in their field of study after they graduate. Poor English-language, communication and problem-solving skills are the biggest obstacles to securing ongoing and satisfying jobs. Employer biases regarding international students are equally a problem. Below, I provide a demographic overview of the international student population in Australia. I argue that a stronger focus on the socialisation of international students is likely to increase their educational and career satisfaction.  Continue reading Importance of Intercultural Education for International Students

Autism Research and Policy

Today, our community, Science on Google+, is co-hosting an event with Autism Brainstorm. The Hangout includes autism experts who will speak about educational, policy and biological research into autism.  

Read my notes of the discussion below, plus links on the research discussed, as well as biographies of our guests. I focus on the research and policy developments highlighted by the speakers. I hope these notes might also facilitate our visually impaired community members.

In order to set the background for my Hangout notes, I begin by summarising the key research and policy recommendations on autism made by The Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee. The scientific focus on biology, social science and research practices are of interest to our multidisciplinary community.

Continue reading Autism Research and Policy

Buunji – National Indigenous Education Conference

NITV news reported from Buunji, the National Indigenous Education Conference in early November.

Organiser Lillian Gordan says they are promoting Indigenous identity, Indigenous diversity and Indigenous sustainability and an improved delivery of education in a way that won’t interfere with traditional culture.

It’s about bringing everybody together. Buunji is a Wiradjuri word meaning ‘to share,’ that everyone is coming together pretty much from all across the nation, what they’ve done and what they’ve seen and what their hopes are into the future for Aboriginal education.

Continue reading Buunji – National Indigenous Education Conference