Monday, June 25, 2012

Want to Get Girls Into Science? Don't Insult Their Intelligence!

When I taught physics at Harrison College in Barbados I generally had at least as many girls as boys numbered in my Advanced -level physics labs, classes. What I noticed year after year is that while the males were always eager to engage in class participation the girls had to be cajoled. Maybe it was a "female" thing, but they generally dreaded being called upon in a class or lab to provide an explanation. (Despite the fact they did as well or better than the boys on homework and tests)

Eventually, I surmounted this barrier by implementing intra-class competitions - boys vs. girls. Also having a prize of some type (usually a book for each) to incite them to action. This did the trick and the girls discovered that when they had a mind to, they could deliver a response as intelligent and coherent as any of their male counterparts.

Now we learn of an apparent initiative (in Europe) to get more females into choosing science, and scientific careers by using a kind of cheap, bimbo-esque PR.  It appears the brain trust that thought of this scheme somehow believed women, girls had to be lured by flashy fashionista-type bollocks into giving science a try.  as one recent report put it: "The European Commission this week decided to trick ladies’ fluffy little brains into believing that stuff like astrophysics and nanotechnology are like, the funnest."

Are you efing kidding me?  Astrophysics certainly can be fun, but it also requires a lot of diligence and hard work! That includes mastering the appropriate vocabulary and also the mathematical apparatus necessary to progress. Readers can get an inkling of what that involves in several earlier "basic" blogs I did on astrophysics topics:

The preceding examples will show that the "fun" to be derived from pursuing astrophysics has nothing in common with superficial bilge:  lipstick, mascara, dancing, high heels or emulating the latest images out of Vogue  or Cosmopolitan. To be truthful, most female astrophysicists share none of that flim-flam as priorities in their life. That doesn't mean they look unfeminine - e.g. with hairy legs and armpits, mustache and no lipstick......only that their preoccupation is with the atmospheres of stars and dynamics of galaxies as opposed to the human "atmosphere" of superficial appearance, fashion and brand names.

Meanwhile, the EC offering emerges as supercilious and stupid at its core. Their video campaign features a trio of high-heeled, miniskirted bimbettes against a pink backdrop,  laughing and tilting their heads to images of test tubes and makeup brushes. The slogan? Science: It’s a Girl Thing!” The letter I in “science,” by the way, is a tube of lipstick. Puh-leeze! 

The defense for this vacuous nonsense? Máire Geoghegan-Quinn of the European Commission explained that the campaign was trying to “overturn clichés and show women and girls (and boys too!) that science is not about old men in white coats.”  (Well, sorry there, Máire, but a lot of it is!   Or at least older men in suits who are the ones most often giving ground- breaking presentations at top scientific conferences.)  Meanwhile, spokesman Michael Jennings added that the clip was “intended to catch the attention of the target audience – 13-to-17-year-old girls,” in a “fun, catchy” attempt to “speak their language to get their attention.” really want to know the best way to get their attention? You detach them from their ipads, iphones, cell phones, and Facebook obsessions then let some intellectual light in. You try to stimulate the radiance of that "light" by encouraging independent inquiry. You don't feed their culturally-biased fantasies with superficial baloney and bunkum. If then these 13-17 year olds want to ultimately have an exceptional place in the world, they must acquire the habit of thinking exceptionally - not like the herd! If they begin to think exceptionally, and that also means critically, they will then begin to pursue exceptional activities.....different from the herd's.

Yes, detachment from the herd's obessions and social networks is painful, or will be, but those who make breakthroughs later give up that chat time or Facebook time to pursue science because it is fun to them - not because it must be made so by a blatant PR campaign that insults and patronizes them. Thus, a girl who detaches herself from her web tribe connections and pursues a scientific interest, say in cancer cell markers, may be the one to find a more efficient way to treat cancers and become an oncologist at the research forefront.

Fortunately, I'm not the only "curmudgeon" who thinks this way! Nature editor Helen Pearson called it “packed with painful patronizing cliché,” while Victoria Herridge, a paleontologist at Britain’s Natural History Museum, declared it “beyond parody… all the things we worry about with gender stereotyping and body image these days.” Meanwhile, University College London social psychologist Petra Boynton succinctly asked, “For the love of all things holy, what is this crap?

What is it indeed? Basically, as most of us see it, a case of the "tail wagging the dog". The demeaning, superficial and lowest common denominator culture attempting to entice young females into the rarefied realm of rigorous appealing to their lowest common denominator social or personal appearance obsessions.

It simply doesn't work that way, and if anyone tells you it does, mark them off as full of shit.

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