Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Grab bag: blog posts and news

OK, there have been lots of interesting posts in the past month or so in addition to the recent Scientiae carnival:

Jenny F. Scientist has great advice on how to choose a lab to work in as a graduate student:

Female Science Professor notes that no one asks her husband who is taking care of their elementary school-age daughter when he travels, and is surprised that some people assume grandma is the caretaker when she goes out of town.
Zuska reviews Allegra Goodman's LabLit novel Intuition, noting how wells it captures the culture of science that leads to difficulty in raising gender issues in the lab and contributes to the "leaky pipeline." For more, see earlier reviews by Coturnix and GrrrlScientist.
Over at ScienceBlogs there was a bit of a kerfuffle when Shelly Batts (Retrospectacle) was sent a take-down notice over graphs she reproduced from the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. That resulted in an interesting discussion about fair use and blogging. In discussing the issue, Scientific American's blogger Nikhil Swaminathan chose to parenthetically add a description of Batts who he described as "based on her pictures alone seems to be both attractive and avian-friendly." Zuska pointed out that such a comment was unlikely to have been made if Batts were male and that being constantly judged on appearance rather than substance is one of the women have to put up with in traditionally male professions like science:
[. . .] yes, it is indeed sexist to comment on a woman's appearance in a context like this. It's completely gratuitous, it has nothing to do with the story, and it wouldn't have been done if she weren't a woman. I'm not over-reacting; I'm pointing out an occurrence of sexism. That's one of the functions of this blog, to highlight the thousand and one daily, mundane occurrences of sexism that go on in the science universe, that are so common we breathe them in like the air around us and don't even notice them anymore - till someone points them out. (And then gets told she's over-reacting.) I don't care if Shelley is the hottest babe to ever hit the world of neuroscience, it still does not justify commenting on her appearance. And hey, if you want to comment on her pictures in the privacy of your home, that's one thing. A journalist for a respected scientific publication - that's another. Simply. Not. Appropriate.
Ed Brayton (Dispatches from the Culture Wars) also weighed in, as did Rob Knop (Galactic Interactions). I guess I'm not too surprised that many of the commenters argued that this was "overreacting" or "no big deal" and it was OK because Swaminathan "meant it as a compliment" (not to mention that Zuska was obviously jealous and unattractive). Why is it so difficult for some to understand that there is an appropriate time and place for personal comments, and a serious discussion of copyright and fair use (or science) does not fall into that category?
Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports on a study showing that "women working in labs more likely to get cancer" than the general population of women. The study was unable to determine whether the increase was due to the actual lab work or other factors, and there is no mention of whether men working in labs also have increased cancer risk. (via Pandagon)
Omni Brain points to a story that claims that girls carrying name with higher "femininity ratings" are less likely to study science. From the Daily Mail article:
David Figlio, professor of economics at the University of Florida, compiled the study and listed which names are perceived to be more feminine than others.

He said these preconceptions could have huge implications for later life.

Professor Figlio's ratings for femininity are based on 1,700 letter and sound combinations which are associated as either male or female.

Note that Figlio did not survey people about how the names were perceived, but used some kind of algorithm to look at the letters and phonemes. Using that method, the most feminine names are Isabella, Elisabeth, Anna and Emma, while Ashley, Grace, Abigail and Alex ranked low on the femininity scale. It isn't clear how he controlled for generational differences in names - "trendy" names like Brittany and Tiffany and Ashley always sound more young and girly to me than traditional names like Anna and Elisabeth. I'm also not sure how Figlio controlled for class differences in naming - are Elisabeths more likely to study science because they are more likely to be born to middle class or educated families than Hannahs? I guess without more details I'm not convinced that simply a different name might so drastically impact a girl's life path.

Well that's my roundup of reading I found interesting from the past month or so. I swear I'll try to keep up with all the interesting posts out there in blogland.