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

Taronga Zoo

A visual sociology of Taronga Zoo as a happy holidays, from me to you!

The most magical non-magical animal is not the horse at all. It is the mighty zebra. From all the zed animals in this world, happy holidays!

Continue reading Taronga Zoo

STEM Girls Know

Young girls know that stars, dinosaurs, bugs and volcanoes are magic. The problem is that day-to-day life in a patriarchal culture makes it hard for women to study them. – Shannon Palus on Quartz.

Gender stereotypes are perpetuated through the stories we tell children as soon as they’re born. For example, little kids have few preconceived ideas about what a scientist looks like until they start going to pre-school. In Prep and Grade 1 they still draw scientists in gender-neutral ways, but by Grade 2 onwards, they start drawing White men in lab coats. By Grade 5 the stereotype that only White men are scientists has taken hold. The stereotype is both gendered and racial, as research shows that even minorities tend to draw White men, thus affecting diversity in science on multiple levels.This stereotype is used in other ways by teachers, parents, the media and other figures of authority to force girls to consider that maybe they’re not fit to do science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM0. It turns into a phenomenon known as stereotype threat which affects women’s memory recall, decision-making and resilience.

The stereotype is repeated in high school, in the way women scientists and people of colour are missing from the science curriculum, to university, where women role models are largely absent from the syllabus. At every step of girls’ progression from education through to their careers, gender stereotypes are used to discourage women both in tacit and overt ways. This is known as the leaky pipeline, with studies showing how girls and women leave STEM at various stages due to the cultural pressures and institutional obstacles they face.

Read more from me, Dr Buddhini Samarasinghe and Prof Rajini Rao on how to transcend gender stereotypes and structural barriers in science.

Sociology of Science

Most institutions demand unqualified faith; but the institution of science makes skepticism a virtue.” ― Robert K. Merton, Social Theory and Social Structure
Most institutions demand unqualified faith; but the institution of science makes skepticism a virtue.”― Robert K. Merton, Social Theory and Social Structure

Robert K. Merton is seen as the “father” of the sociology of science. His research posed the question: What are the social and cultural bases of knowledge? For example, Merton examined the role of socioeconomic status, work, ethnicity, power and other social processes of competition and conflict. The cultural bases of science include the values, the dominant ideas in broader culture. Continue reading Sociology of Science

Sociology of the National Arboretum

Playground at the National Arboretum Canberra

One of the themes of my visual sociology is the representation of science. Conservation is as much about social practices as it is about earth science, biology and other natural sciences. Today’s post is about the sociology of the National Arboretum, which sits on Ngunawal country. Ngunawal people are the traditional custodians of this part of Acton, west of the city in Canberra. Less than a seven minute drive central business district, this is one of the world’s largest arboretums for rare and endangered trees. I am no arborist. I cannot even claim to be a fan of gardening. I was interested in the Arboretum first in an attempt to capture a visual sociology of Canberra, and second to see how people interact with this place as a science centre. The focus of my post today is on the social dynamics of the Arboretum, especially on community aspects of conservation and the trees that drew the greatest interest amongst the crowds I saw: the Bonsai and Penjing Collection .
National Arboretum (18)

Continue reading Sociology of the National Arboretum

Nobel Laureates’ Letter Supporting Precision Agriculture

Genetically modified foods are one the most misunderstood scientific processes of our day. The world’s leading research organisations have shown that there is no scientific basis for the moral panic over GMOs. Billions of people eat foods that have been enhanced or otherwise modified every day – without problems or objections, mostly because people are unaware of what GMOs are and how the science works. From the humble carrot to new developments like Golden Rice, designed to address vitamin and food shortages, GMOs have long been a part of our food supply. Continue reading Nobel Laureates’ Letter Supporting Precision Agriculture

Visual Sociology of Questacon and National Library of Australia

Canberra blends science, education, arts and humanities with various public art around the Parliamentary Triangle. Questacon, Australia’s national science museum, has various outdoor mathematical and scientific sculptures. A tree-lined pathway from Questacon to the National Library of Australia has more musical and artistic installations. The National Library is currently hosting an exhibition called “Celestial Empire,” covering 300 years of Chinese culture. This video also covers some of the history of the National Library and its extensive collection.

Filmed on my Snapchat: @OtherSociology.