I mentioned last week that The Scientist was looking for people to vote on their favorite science bloggers. It seemed that none of the 7 folks they initially asked to name favorites to kick off the article were women; and that few of the men who contributed to the article named women bloggers (it was about a 3/1 ratio male/female).

This lead to a great deal of discussion and a nice post from Zuska asking where the women bloggers are. The Scientist also released an article about women in science originally scheduled to appear in January this week, which suggests that they either feel guilty, are covering their ass, or both. They certainly noticed all the heat, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

The editor at The Scientist also commented at Grrrl Scientist’s blog:

“I wanted to clarify why there ended up being an all-male list of bloggers in this article. We contacted around 15-20 male and female bloggers in total — based on Technorati authority — across several life sciences topics, such as evolution, pharma, genetics, etc., to try to cater for all the readers’ backgrounds. The bloggers that appear are all the people who replied….”

There was a heated discussion about this topic over at Pharyngula, where the usual canards of “reverse discrimination” and “forced to include less qualified people” have been thrown about. Several people have suggested there simply are no good female science bloggers.*

I feel a bit like Bill Clinton when I say that depends on how you define “science blogging”, or “good.” If a blog is 50% science, is it a science blog? What’s the magic number?

Does the blog content have to be a long, detailed essay about a science topic, or what what I often do, posting a news item with a little commentary? Does it need to only deal with primary literature?

And what is good? How do you know it, other than when you see it?
No one seems to be willing to define it, other than “Good is what I like.” It’s like trying to define “good porn.”

This whole situation made me think of the Schelling Segregation Demo. In the late 70’s Shelling set up his model to examine how very small preferences for “people like me” can over a relatively short time cause complete segregation. His model was re-examined in the 90’s, and found to be pretty robust.

So, you’re a white dude. You set up a meeting at a conference. Or, you compile a list of blogs. You invite…your friends. Who are people like you. It doesn’t have to be a conscious decision to exclude anyone. But the results will be exclusionary.

And that is why you have to examine everything you do to see if there is a pattern of exclusion. And work actively against it.

And all of this is why I think the suggestion that no women were included because there aren’t any good women science bloggers is utter bullshit.

——

*Disclaimer: I don’t think I’m a “good science blogger”; I shoot for “interesting.” I have rather a fringe niche, so don’t expect to ever hit the big time :D
I’m pretty sure I am female, though.

Posted by Gwen Pearson

Writer. Nerd. Insect Evangelist. Have you heard the good news? BUGS!

4 Comments

  1. I agree with you on all points. At the risk of getting everybody’s panties in a twist, I will make an observation. A fair number of female scientists often write specifically about being a woman (associated problems, discrimination real or imagined, being a mommy). This is, in fact, the leitmotif of many of the science blogs written by women.

    As a female scientist myself, I can relate to some of it, but I admit to feeling rather uncomfortable with all the hand-wringing. I think it probably only adds to the impression that women are too emotional, whiny, weak, or maternal to be good scientists or professionals. Unfortunately, I can see how a man might see this type of writing as not enough science, and not “good.”

  2. I haven’t done a quantitative survey, but I’d tend to agree with Nuthatch’s assessment: many science blogs written by women describe the tribulations of being a female scientist. When you put it that way, it doesn’t sound wrong at all! I certainly wouldn’t fret if a male science blogger wrote about, say, the problems of coming from a poor family. In fact, airing these problems and making space to talk about them is the first step to solving them. (That “space” is both the space to type the words where they will be read, and also the psychological space of being able to write and think freely.)

    I doubt I personally would consider such writing to be “hand-wringing” or evidence of whiny weakness. Speaking out against an insidious status quo is a sign of strength, in my book. However, if you asked me for my favorite five life-science blogs, I wouldn’t include one which was devoted to such issues. The dividing line between “this is a biology blog” and “this is a science-lifestyle blog with occasional biology talk” is, for me, ill-defined, but I know I regard the two extremes differently. The same goes, of course, for physics or chemistry or mathematics.

  3. If a scientist has a blog, male or female, I’m more interested in reading it if it includes insights on their motivations on their research, why they do it as much as what they do.

  4. Your blog is Interesting AND Good.

    If I wanted scholarly articles I’d go to the library.

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