Tuesday, June 26, 2012

science: it's a human thing, and it needs your help

i woke up in australia one morning this week, ate breakfast, drank my coffee, and found that my twitter feed had exploded overnight with the unfamiliar hashtag of #sciencegirlthing, and that i had been identified by several people as one of the #realwomeninscience.  it's true, i'm not fake.  i'm a real person. 

i quickly discovered that the european commission recently kicked off an initiative to encourage teenage girls to get excited about science.   i'm all for addressing this important issue, as i've written about many, many, many, many, many times before!  the EU commission hosts a nice website with a lot of interesting information. 

but the thing that sent twitter aflutter was a trailer video for a project called "Science: It's a Girl Thing."   the title of the project is already a problem, in my opinion, which sarah kendrew nicely explains.  the video is... disappointing.    i'm not showing the whole video in question here, but what i show below has a sufficient amount of clips from the original, and shows meghan gray discussing why it fails to achieve its important goals. 

the video is disappointing because it's condescending to send the generic message to girls that as long as youre wearing high heels, lipstick, and do magazine model-type poses, you can be whatever you want!  in this case, a scientist, apparently.  i know i'm not the target audience for the video, and maybe i'm over-simplifying the marketing strategy, but seriously...  

science is exciting because you participate in the process of figuring out how the universe works!   

who cares what you wear while you do it?  although, one tweet particularly made me laugh.  it was something like:

i have two problems with this video.  (1) you would NEVER be allowed to wear open-toed shoes in a chemistry lab.  (2) everything else.  

anyway, it doesnt matter what your personal style is or who has done science in the past - everyone should feel welcomed and encouraged to participate in the effort NOW, and all human beings should support any other human being who wants to share that achievement.

so how do we get young people (any people) excited about studying science and contributing to our growing understanding of how the universe works?

that's where i need your help. 

in a couple weeks i'll be attending .Astronomy 4 in heidelberg, germany.   these events bring together some incredibly capable and clever people to develop "web-based projects, from outreach and education to research tools and data analysis." 

during last year's hack day, we produced the "pluto, the previous planet" music video. it was a fun, relatively spontaneous project.

for this year's hack day, i've suggested a project to create a version of a #realwomeninscience video, or even better, a real people doing science video.   any ideas for what we could do (in a day)?   i have a couple ideas, but i thought i'd ask you creative folks for your help.   what do you think?  what do you find most fascinating about science?   what do you want to know about scientists? 

i cannot guarantee that this project will be accomplished, but i'll do what i can to make it happen!

meanwhile, the EU commission has removed the video from circulation and created a list of female scientists on twitter.  they should be releasing a statement about all the commotion they've caused soon.   who says social media cant be effective?
and if you are curious, this is what a scientist looks like.  


Tidley_wink said...

small time science projects always produce a wow factor, but who hasn't seen a baking soda/vinegar volcano by now...

anything that uses a Bunsen burner is fun and science-y. liquid nitrogen..? how about science in everyday life? baking is science. make some muffins. the "keep the egg from breaking when it's dropped off the roof by making a impact safe contraption" is always fun. I hope these ideas are helpful.

Rita Tojeiro said...

Interesting. Would you consider using as your target audience the same as, e.g., 'E4 on the Beach', or Hollyoaks? (I know these are too UK-centric, maybe someone can think of others)

Stephen said...

Who knows if this campaign will be effective? If it were me, instead of optimization, i'd go for pessimization avoidance. That is, i'd attempt to address why girls don't go into science. And it's likely about math. Girls generally do better than boys in math, at least up to some age. But at some point in any class, there will be some kid who is demonstrably better than everyone else. And it seems like nearly everyone else imagines that by comparison, they don't measure up. There will be a few who will see it at a challenge. I'd attack this problem two ways. 1) assure everyone that math is something that can be mastered with a bit of patience, and 2) attempt better ways of teaching it. And, rest assured, there are better ways than i was taught. And, my sons were taught about the same way, some 40 years later. Yet, some of the superior techniques date to the 1930's and earlier.

As an aside, i've been better served by teaching myself. The main downside is that i don't get any credit.

Florian said...

Meghan Grey was mentioned as "one of the most prominent critics of the spot" in an article published on the homepage of ORF (the austrian national public service broadcaster)


heroineworshipper said...

Unless there's a female version of Neil D. T. or Carl Segan, it's going to continue to be a tough sell. Women tend to treat science as more of a job & tend to be the one who shows up & uses the instrument rather than the one campaigning to save NASA or the one inventing the instrument.

Unknown said...

thanks for the suggestions - some good ones in there.

rita - i'm not really sure what the target audiences are for the shows you list, so i dont know about that. but i would still like to target a young audience - teenagers.

heroineworshipper - the second part your statement is so far off and uninformed that i find it more offending than the video in question.

heroineworshipper said...

It's frustrating that Dr. Kiki's science hour was canceled because she covered the philosophy of the experiments instead of the bitrates & image resolutions, & audiences just weren't interested in philosophy. It's frustrating that Missy Cummings knows everything about FAA regulations & philosophy, but doesn't know how a UAV actually works or have a pet project. It's frustrating that you're fascinated by the travel & the philosophy of astronomy, but don't have any opinions on funding priorities or have a pet crusade to save NASA like Neil deGrasse. That's just reality, not my doing.

Rita Tojeiro said...

amanda - right, teenagers. These shows are the most popular with teenagers in terms of viewing in the UK (or where a couple of years ago), and their adverts have the same look and feel as the video in question. I guess what I mean is, find some adverts/trailers that are successfully reaching a wide teenage audience (in TV it's easy to tell because of ratings), identify that audience, and target it.

heroineworshipper - we're all entitled to our own personal frustrations. Mine is reading uninformed comments like yours in one of my favourite blogs (and I don't have many, mind. frustrations or favourite blogs).

Sakib said...

Laurence Sabin is amazing!!!