I will admit, Sci's #sfn11 science hangover is massive. I spent the last five days surrounded by science, getting little sleep, crappy food, and working out my liver heavily (always difficult on me, Sci has the liver of a chihuahua). Today all I really wanted to do was finish up the Neuroblogging, lie around in my pjs, and work on two paper drafts and a grant (even when we take the day off, we work from home. Life in academia, my friends. Behold the glamor of my paper drafts and pjs).
All was going well and then my twitter feed filled up with the #womanspace. Dr. Anne Jefferson (of the really wonderfully accessible Highly Allocthonous geology blog) clued me in as well.
What is #womanspace? It's a response to a piece published back in September in Nature. When I went to read the original piece, most of what I saw was some inept blathering on the subject of shopping, and how two old guy scientists are apparently too hopeless to buy clothing for a child. They tried to relate it to physics somehow, something about women accessing alternate universes to achieve shopping-fu. From what I could tell, the piece lacked logic, was badly written, and was generally just kind of crappy, and I couldn't get my hackles up about it.
Then I showed it to Mr. S. Spake Mr. S "that's more like a second rate blog post. Isn't Nature kind of a big deal though?"
And therein lies the problem.
Mr. S is not a scientist, but he knows Nature. Everybody knows Nature. Nature is one of the Big Three Journals, in which a young biomedical scientist such as myself is expected to publish in order to achieve the coveted tenure track position. Were this piece of 50's era sexism, smelling of old farts and cigar smoke, published in a normal blog or paper, it would attract little, if any attention, which would only be what it deserved. Such obviously old fashioned tropes, insulting both to women and to men (most men can buy kids' pants, I assure you), should barely appear on our radar anymore, and are generally dismissed with a roll of the eyes. We all know better by now.
But this wasn't published in a second rate blog. It was published...in Nature. Nature, where I am expected to submit my most beautiful science and lovingly crafted results. What is the point of putting such outdated sexist ideas in a high caliber journal? Why on earth put something so eye-rollingly irritating in a journal which is supposed to represent the highest achievement of the meritocracy* that is academic science?
I can only conclude that Nature is trolling.
My conclusions arise from two comments. First that of Henry Gee, the editor who published the piece, and who expressed amazement for lack of outraged comments. Not to mention a tweet from the author himself, noting that he would catch flak. The publication of two angry comments on the issues has finally evoked the storm they were apparently trying to stir up.
It makes me wonder. What IS the point of Nature's "futures" section? According to their site, "Futures" is:
In 1999 and 2000, and again in 2005 and 2006, Nature ran Futures, a popular series of science-fiction vignettes on what the coming millennium had to offer. A separate strand of Futures now hums along in Nature's sister journal Nature Physics.
Now, Nature is proud to present the return of Futures to the mother ship: a forum for the best new science-fiction writing, exploring some of the themes that might challenge us as the future unfolds. Prepare to be amused, stimulated, even outraged, but know this: the future is sooner than you think.
Ok. Previous editions of Futures have included some interesting stuff, and some quite good (including a piece by Stephanie Zvan which was beautifully written, conflicting, thought provoking, and creepy as heck). But I fail to see how the current piece under discussion fits into the "best new science-fiction writing" which "explor[es] some of the themes that might challenge us as the future unfolds". In contrast to previous issues, the #womanspace piece is poorly written, not funny, and not worthy of the journal (people may, at this point, accuse me of having no sense of humor. In fact, as my blog attests, I do have one, but I'm afraid it's just not...simple enough to LOL at Womanspaces).
So I look at the Womanspace piece with annoyance (really, Nature? One of the biggest scientific journals in the world publishing things which pander to ridiculous and outdated gender myths?), but also with puzzlement. Y U Trollin', Nature? Page views are low? Nothing like a fight for rustling up some page views, so good going there. But is it really worth the association of your little red and white 'n' with such material?
Others have explained the issues better than I, check out the links below!!
The Biology Files
Context and Variation
Once Upon a Time in the West of London
Stages of Succession
Doing Good Science
*heh. Yeah. Well. It's SUPPOSED to be a meritocracy.