Protecting Activist Academics Against Public Harassment

Two women of colour sit at a desk reading a laptop

There have been an increased number of public attacks on underrepresented academics for their education and activism on social media. The term “activist academic” describes the longstanding tradition across nations where intellectuals engage in conscious protest in support of social justice and dissent against the status quo. Activism by academics asserts that the university has a social function beyond the provision of education and scholarly critique. Activist academics see that their role serves a social purpose to provide independent social criticism through volunteering, program interventions, public engagement outside academia, protests, and beyond. In some circles, the profile of activist academics has declined, particularly amongst White academics from majority groups. This led to the misperception that recent international protests by scientists were novel. This is misguided, as minority academics are often inextricably activist in their pedagogy, not-for-profit service work, and activities.

Sociology is centrally concerned with activism, especially in applied contexts. Our social justice focus is misconceived as bias or as an attack to those not used to having history, culture and politics viewed through a critical lens. Sociology is centrally concerned with social transformation. We do not merely observe the world; we aim to challenge existing power structures and to reduce inequity. Having said that, women academics in general are penalised for their work, and the outcomes are even worse for minority sociologists as they seek senior roles. The stakes for minority activist academics is therefore higher, as I will show below.

One of our first aims must be to collectively reconfigure what ‘counts’ as academic work while simultaneously challenging whether ‘counting’ is necessarily the best way to ensure the efficient use of public resources in any part of the education sector
Activist academics: what ‘counts’ as academic work? – Dr Sandra Grey

Continue reading Protecting Activist Academics Against Public Harassment

Online Moderation is not Censorship

Democracy is not about saying whatever you want whenever you want, without facing consequences:

‘this notion we have about radical free speech — this distinctly American framework, that anyone can say anything, more or less, short of screaming “fire” in a theater or making a “true threat” — does not have to apply to online spaces. Instead, companies like Twitter can make new standards, new frameworks, according to their corporate values and the needs of their users. (Twitter, a longtime holdout here, has recently escalated its attempts to make sure that “differences of opinion do not cross the line into harassment.”)’

– On Twitter’s ban of internet troll Charles Johnson, via The Washington Post

How Informed Science Can Counter the “Nasty Effect”

How Informed Science Can Counter the Nasty EffectIn September 2013, Popular Science announced that they were closing down their comments section. This has lead to many public debates, including discussions on Science on Google+, a large community that I help manage. I wrote the following post in response to our community discussions at the time. I discuss the role of public science moderation in context of one scientific study that Popular Science used to support its decision to close their comments section. The research shows that people who think they know about science are easily swayed by negative internet discussions, but these people more likely to be poorly informed about science in the first place. For this reason, popular science publications and scientists need to step up their public engagement, not shy away from it due to the so-called “nasty effect” of negative comments made through social media. I also reflect on my own moderation experiences with the hopes of encouraging sociologists and other scientists to contribute to public science education and engagement.

Continue reading How Informed Science Can Counter the “Nasty Effect”

Scholarship Copyright

Text graphic. A the top: Scholars protect your copyright. At the bottom: manage your Google Scholar. Sign up with Copyright.com.au. Use ResearchGate or Academia.eduToday I found out that one of my publications, a peer-reviewed conference paper which is available free online, was published without my consent on a journal that I’ve never submitted to. What makes matters worse is that the journal is charging $48 for access for a paper that is freely available on the original conference website! The university that I’m affiliated with doesn’t have a subscription to this journal so I can’t check what the published piece looks like. I can’t check if my work has been edited in any way.

I’ve written to the original editor of the conference proceedings to clarify things, but it got me thinking about how confusing academic publications have increasingly become. It can be tough to sort out what’s happening to our content as previous papers are cross-published online. For junior scholars, it can be tricky to work out which journals have a reputable editorial board. So what can we do to protect our work? Continue reading Scholarship Copyright

The Problem with Misleading Science Memes

Writing for Science on Google+, I discuss the problem with memes that convey incorrect science or mislead the public. The post notes that memes have a useful place in public science communication, but not where the memes are incorrect or misinform. We received a barrage of comments about elitism and, strangely, sexism, which were later recanted…. in favour of more cries of elitism. 

Our Moderators did a terrific job of looking after this post in the comments. It’s funny how these men who tried to argue this post is “sexist” don’t stand up to actual sexism within our science community, such as when women scientists are told not to discuss gender inequality within STEM. Or the routine sexist comments that women scientists face in science outreach; for example when non-experts question our knowledge of the peer-reviewed research using nothing but personal anecdotes or conspiracy theories. They question us  in a way that they do not dare with our male colleagues.

A love of nature, the wonderment of space and taking delight in fun science factoids are all great things we want to encourage – but not where the information being conveyed is wrong. Read on for more examples. Continue reading The Problem with Misleading Science Memes

STEM Women Host Science Chat

Very excited about this! As part of STEM Women, Buddhini Samarasinghe and me are hosting the upcoming #ScienceChat on Twitter on 9th April, 2pm PDT USA/ Thursday 10th, 7am Aussie time. Dr Buddhini Samarasinghe and I 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:

  • @LaMinda Mindy Weisberger 
  • @Julia_SCI Julia Wilde 
  • @JessieNYC Jessie Daniels 
  • @drisis Isis the Scientist
  • @Dharlette Hannah Grimm 
  • @LlewellynCox Llewellyn Cox 
  • @kaythaney Kaitlin Thaney 
  • @kejames Karen James 
  • @NellieNeutron Ellen Byrne 
  • @madamscientist Rajini Rao 

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.

Continue reading STEM Women Host Science Chat

Inclusive Management in Tech

Here’s our STEM Women on G+ Hangout with Google+’s Chief Architect, Yonatan Zunger, co-hosted by Buddhini Samarasinghe and me. 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

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?

Chad Haney, 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

Video: Science on Google+ Community Reaches 20K Members

This is so exciting! Our Science on Google+ Community is about to reach a landmark 200,000 members! The Curators will host a celebratory Hangout on Air. I’ll be there – join us so  you can meet our team. Hear about our favourite posts and also pick up some tips on how to write science for a public audience!

During our Hangout On Air, you’ll get a chance to meet the moderators and curators who dedicate so much time and energy into making sure that good, quality science content rises to the top in the community. 

After we hear from the moderators on who they are, we’ll have a discussion on what the curator team looks at for community posts to get put on the Curator’s ChoiceCheck us out!

 

Sexual Harassment on Google Plus

Neon sign spelling, Google

Author Kimberly Chapman has published an excellent post on sexual harassment on Google+, with practical suggestions on how Google+ can be made a safer place for women to post. Kimberley mentions that much abuse follows women who make the What’s Hot list on Google. Without addressing this and the other issues raised in Kimberley’s post, Google+ is effectively discouraging women from writing insightful contributions.

There are other forms of racial and religious discrimination that occurs on Google+ because it’s difficult to block people effectively. 

One of the things I love about Google+ is the room to write longer, critical posts that other social media don’t facilitate. Other platforms have dragged their feet on addressing sexual harassment, most recently Twitter who responded to wide backlash with a fairly weak commitment. I hope Google+ will prove itself to be a leader here as it has in other respects.

I have seen evidence of Google+ responding relatively quickly to user feedback on technical issues, particularly with communities. I hope the same swift innovation occurs here.  Continue reading Sexual Harassment on Google Plus