People & Science

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20/12/2014

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Shorts

Where the girl things are

The launch video of a European Commission campaign to promote science careers to teenage girls was withdrawn within a day amidst widespread criticism.

The launch video of a European Commission campaign to promote science careers to teenage girls was withdrawn within a day amidst widespread criticism.

‘What could have been a worthwhile campaign has been tainted by an advertisement [showing] female scientists are size 0 simpletons who wear lingerie to the lab and are only really interested in lipstick. This ad doesn’t empower girls. It ridicules them,’ Naomi Elster, a doctoral student at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland told People & Science. Michael Jennings, spokesperson for the European Commission, said, ‘According to focus groups, teenage girls associate science with people isolated in their lab having limited contact with society. They also think they lack interest and/or ability to do science, many preferring the idea of creative or social work.
‘The concept of the trailer was to combine images of science with images closer to cosmetics and fashion to show teenage girls that science is already part of their life,’ he explained. ‘A pool of communication and gender experts was involved in the preliminary discussions about the concept, the target and the goals of the campaign [but] they were not involved in the production of the trailer.’
New research published in Social Psychological and Personality Science suggests that the trailer may further depress girls’ confidence in their ability to do science, however. Diana Betz, a doctoral student at the University of Michigan, has found that exposure to feminine STEM role models put 10-12 year-old girls off science and maths careers.
She showed the girls magazine interviews with successful women. In half the magazines the women were dressed in a neutral way and described as having neutral hobbies such as reading. In the other half, they wore makeup, pink colours and jewellery, and were described as enjoying fashion magazines.
‘The girls read one magazine with three interviews, either with the feminine role models or the neutral role models, and the role models themselves were [described as] either talented in maths and science, or they were smart and successful but not specifically in maths or science… We found that it was only the unique combination of feminine and scientific success that made the girls feel worse about their own skills in maths,’ she told People & Science.
Elster has another objection. ‘This video grossly sexualised young girls and was targeted at young women,’ she says. ‘For the EU to stoop to this kind of objectifying and sexist advertising, and to spend €102,000 of taxpayers’ money doing so, is totally unacceptable.’
Jennings is looking for more female STEM role models to play a part in the campaign, so contact him if you want to get involved.

An open enterprise?

The Royal Society has published a new report encouraging researchers to make their data publicly available. At the same time, government departments and Research Councils UK have been promoting opening up research data to the public, as well as open access to research journals.

The Royal Society has published a new report encouraging researchers to make their data publicly available. At the same time, government departments and Research Councils UK have been promoting opening up research data to the public, as well as open access to research journals.

Challenges
`Science has been sleepwalking into a new era without recognizing challenges it makes for the way we do science,’ Geoffrey Boulton, chair of the Royal Society Science as an Open Enterprise working group, told People & Science. Referring to Climategate, he said, ‘We now have many citizens who are simply not prepared to accept the authoritative word of the scientist. They want to verify for themselves that the evidence actually justifies [the] conclusion.’ Warning that a public dialogue exercise is not a properly representative public opinion survey, Steven Hill, Head of Strategy at Research Councils UK, told People & Science about a recent public dialogue exercise conducted for RCUK, JISC and Sciencewise-ERC: ‘Clearly, people were comfortable with the idea that if you make data open that allows others to scrutinise it and that improves the robustness.’

Public demand?
That’s not the end of the story, however. Hill continued, ‘An important point is [participants] didn’t think it would be them that would be scrutinizing this data… it would be other experts that needed to be able to access data.’That fits with the existing experience of Thomas Kabir, network patient involvement co-ordinator for the National Institute for Health Research’s Mental Health Research Network. ‘We’ve had demand [from patient representatives] for original research papers but not yet had any demand for access to data,’ he said.

Unstimulated demand
Responding to that demand, Kabir has just overseen the publication of a guide to finding and reading research papers. Despite the lack of demand, he says there is a need for medical research data to be opened up: ‘You can’t want what you don’t know. There is evidence to suggest that the benefits of [antidepressants and antipsychotics] are significantly overplayed by the companies that produce them. So it’s clearly of immense public benefit to have original research data freely accessible, including in the commercial sector.’
Science or myth? Boulton agrees. ‘[Published research] conclusions [are] an opinion, and unless we see the data in such a way that we can replicate it, validate it, check it, then frankly there’s no reason why we should accept what they say as having any greater validity than a myth,’ he said. Boulton continued, ‘These are not trivial issues. They are absolutely vital to the progress and delivery of science, and its trustworthiness in the public domain.’

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Dr Joanna Carpenter
Dr Joanna Carpenter is the Shorts Editor of People & Science
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