Today the European Commission released a teaser video on YouTube for its new campaign to recruit young women into science. It really has to be seen in all its high-heeled,lipsticked and giggly glory to be, um, appreciated.
As you'll see by clicking on the official video here, the EU shut it down in response to the criticism I've detailed below.
But here is a saved copy of most of it that will give you the idea:
Okay, I was being sarcastic about the appreciation bit. Of course, there were good intentions here somewhere. And, of course, we absolutely do want more women in science But we want them because they're smart, talented, hard-working, capable - for all the same reasons that we want them in science journalism and any other profession. And we'll see their numbers rise everywhere, including in research, when those abilities are fully embraced and rewarded.
And this video - and the campaign behind it - seems to recognize that not at all. I can't decide if it's more insulting to young women because someone believes that they are simple-minded enough to find such song-and-dance a science recruitment call. Or more insulting to women working in science today who embody the intelligence and determination referenced above.
I doubt it was the response the video makers were looking for but I'm not the only science journalist, blogger or scientists who reacted along these lines. You'll see what I mean if you scroll through the comments on the YouTube video. Or the #sciencegirlthing conversation on Twitter:
@bengoldacre: The EU have funded a campaign to make women in science wear shorter skirts.
@vaughanbell: I was out with women scientists last night and it was exactly like the #sciencegirlthing video. I looked awesome in high heels, by the way.
@scicurious: BTW, that's TOTALLY what I look like when I do science. Everyday.
@drisis: What pisses me off is that I spend a lot of time mentoring women. That's what gets them in science. Not high gloss fashion.
@eruptionsblog: Considering my Ph.D. and post-doc advisors were both remarkable women scientists, this #sciencegirlthing is even more appalling and offensive.
@DrRubidium: Girls, don't get any ideas from that #sciencegirlthing video. Wear a mini-skirt & high heels - I'll send you home to change. #safetyfirst
@edyong209: It's been fun watching the wave of #sciencegirlthing outrage spread westward, as each time zone sees the vid for the first time.
But - I am a Tracker, after all - what about the media coverage? Most of this has come from bloggers but it's been bloggers across a remarkable spectrum, from The Washington Post to Pharyngula.
At the Post, Olga Khazan covered the "backlash" in a straightforward way. So did Nick Collins at The Guardian. And Lucy Sherrif at The Huffington Post-UK also took a standard news story approach - so unlike what I'm used to in the USA Huffpost - in a story titled "Is 'Science: It's A Girl Thing" Video Sexist?"
After that, the gloves came off:
"This is the Most Sexist Science is For Girls Ad We've Ever Seen" wrote Laura Stampler in Business Insider.
"Lab Barbie, Extra Lipstick," noted Maryn McKenna, who provided a more detailed summary of Twitter comments on her Superbug blog at Wired (full disclosure: I also blog at Wired)
"Be still my twitching eye," UK blogger Olivia Solon began her exploration of good intentions gone wrong.
At the blog, Adventures in Ethics and Science, Janet Stemwedel reported showing the video to her teenage daughters who responded "Yuck." (By the way, I also showed it to my teenage son whose response was "Huh? That's about hot girls."
At The Pleistocene Scene blog, A.P. Van Arsdale responded by posting photos of "actual" teenage girls in a summer science camp where, he added, they did outstanding work.
At Nature Networks, Deep Thoughts and Silliness blog, Bob O'Hara shared a brilliant Venn diagram by James Monk which neatly identified the "people you are patronizing" by putting up this video.
If you wonder about the take over at Pharyngula, PZ Myers started his commentary this way: "Jesus Wept".
"Science: It's a Girl Thing (Insert Face Palm Here) was the headline for Carin Bondar's equally blistering post at Scientific American blogs.
"The EU Commission might as well have put lipstick on a string and filmed 18-year-old models doing a belly crawl after it," wrote Martha Gill at her Irrational Animals blog at New Statesman.
"I'm waiting for the parody video which will have Chippendale male dancers strut their stuff while a bespectacled female looks up from the microscope," commented MSNBC's Alan Boyle at Cosmic Log.
And from Anna Leach at The Register: "Are You a Hot Babe in Heels and a Short Skirt? SCIENCE IS FOR YOU!
Even the European Union Science Journalists Association (EUSJA) weighed in with a post from Elmar Veerman of The Netherlands, titled "Science: It's Not a PR Thing."
There were also those who noted money wasted. Such as this from Tim Worsall at the business magazine Forbes: "Science: It's A Girl Thing - Or How the European Union Spends Taxpayer Money." Or as Frank Swain, at Science Punk, put it: "Another well-meaning yet soul-crushingly misdirected initiative from the public purse."
Okay, I think you probably have a general sense of the coverage by now. And, as I said, this wave of outrage and dismay worked for me. Yes, in part because the video so completely got it so wrong about what's cool about science and what's terrific about young women. But equally because you know, really, science is a people thing.
--- Deborah Blum