Matt Taylor is a key member of a team that managed to land a space probe on a faraway comet moving more than 100,000 miles per hour. But for many gender activists, it was the allegedly sexist shirt he wore at a press conference that riveted their attention. Are the sciences steeped in sexism? The Factual Feminist dives into the data on women in science and science education.
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Years ago, I saw a feminist astronomer on CNN and she told the interviewer that phrase “Big Bang Theory” was sexist and off -putting to young women. Today, gender activists with a similar mindset are having a fit because a noted astronomer appeared at a press conference wearing a mildly risqu? shirt. What is going on? That is coming up next on the Factual Feminist.
Matt Taylor, a brilliant astrophysicist, was a key member of a team that managed to land a space probe on a comet moving more than 100,000 miles per hour –300 million miles away.But for many gender activists, it was the shirt he wore at a press conference that riveted their attention. The shirt was an eccentric fashion choice—but his elaborate tattoos are unusual as well. But professors and scientists are not known for their conventional sartorial choices.Here are two philosophy professors and a professor of math. I think Dr Taylor looks like a cool guy. But gender activists were appalled—not because he was dressed informally—but because his shirt featured images of “sexualized” women. Guardian writer Alice Bell, marveled that scientists can land their robot on a comet, but can’t see the misogyny right under their nose. Rose Eveleth, technology editor of the Atlantic sent out several indignant tweets about the shirt, including this one. “Thanks for ruining the cool comet landing Asshole.” The Verge carried article that blamed the shirt for “demeaning” half the world’s population. This is madness. It is not Dr. Taylor who has created a hostile environment. It’s the gender activists. Rose Eveleth’s tweets ignited a storm of social media abuse on the hapless Dr. Taylor. Mortified by the attacks, he gave a tearful apology—and renounced his shirt—a gift from a female friend. It is hard to disagree with a defender of Dr. Taylor who described his detractors as “joyless scolds,” who are far more judgmental and censorious than social conservatives like Rick Santorum. One of my Twitter followers @eggkin sent me a poster of the proper attire for scientists in Taylor’s organization—the European Space Agency (ESA)
Phil Plait, the popular science writer and author of Slate’s“Bad Astronomy” blog, has defended Taylor’s feminist critics. Lets consider what he says.
The shirt by itself, Plait explains, may not seem like a big deal. It has to be seen in the overall context of a scientific community which he says is “steeped” in sexism. Yes there is anger and bitterness—because women are routinely and systematically shortchanged, discriminated against and held back in science. By wearing a female objectifying shirt, Taylor was exacerbating an already fraught situation. Women are fed up with male insensitivity, boorishness and the slow pace of change. It’s too bad that a seemingly nice (but clueless) guy was made to feel bad on a day of his greatest triumph. But think of all the women who were never even given a chance to reckon with comets.
Plait links to various articles that seem to support the idea that scientific culture “steeped in sexism.” There is a flourishing cottage industry of feminist advocacy research and twisted victim statistics and Phil Plait is credulously citing it. And he ignores serious and credible research that shows little or no bias.
In 2009 the National Academy of Sciences published a major study that flatly contradicts Plait’s claim of science “steeped in sexism”According to the study, “..At many critical transition points in their academic careers (e.g., hiring for tenure-track and tenure positions and promotions) women appear to have fared as well as or better than men…”
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