Things I Found Ponderable: #scio12 Report the First

Once in New Orleans I went on a late night walking ghost tour.  The ghost stories, the architectural beauty, the historical tidbits have all mostly vanished from my brain, but one bit of the tour stays ever with me.  A careless tourmate paying little attention to the terrain ahead ran smack clang! into the metal upright of a street sign.  His head hit so hard it sounded like a rung bell; he bounced backward, the pole shook.   We stopped, startled and hushed. As terribly as it must have hurt, out of embarrassment he waved us off as though it was nothing and resumed walking.

I've often wondered how I would respond if/when I slammed my own head into an upright metal pole.  Now I have my chance!  Metaphorically speaking.  This post is part of my attempt to not just resume walking as if nothing had happened.

I had two metal-pole-to-the-head moments at SciO12.  The first came right away. No one saw me run into this particular street sign, but rather than just resume walking, I thought it would be better to share the story.  It was at the keynote address Thursday morning: The Vain Girl's Survival Guide to Science and the Media given by Mireya MayorIf you read the page of notes I took from her talk, you would get the sense that I experienced it in a very positive way, enjoyed it, maybe even found it inspiring and found some useful ideas in it.  All of which is true. At the same time, however, I was having an appalling out-of-body sort of experience, listening to an ongoing monologue in my head, wondering "who is this sexist asshole and how did she get inside my brain?"

At first I was conscious only of having a very negative reaction to Mayor.  This felt bizarre, since I knew absolutely nothing about her. Long ago a wise woman told me, "when you find something that makes you angry, upset, or disgusted, move toward it instead of away. Try to figure out why you feel that way.  You may learn something about yourself."  So I attended to the incoherent thoughts in my brain, to puzzle out this negative reaction.  Here is the ugliness I unraveled as Mayor spoke.

Z: Okay then, what's this all about?
Sexist Z-Brain: Why did they pick her for a keynote address? I mean, what makes her so special?  I've never heard of her.
Z: WTF???
S Z-B: She's doing stuff with all these different animals - maybe she just wasn't able to focus long enough to stick with one thing.
Z: WTF???
S Z-B:
No wonder Nat Geo picked her to be on camera for their specials. I mean, she's so blond.  And thin. And pretty.
Z: WTF???
S Z-B: And OMG she was a cheerleader.  Srsly? You're putting that in the talk?
Z: WTF???
S Z-B: Basically I think she just wants to be famous.
Z: WTEffingF??????

And there you have it:    I've never heard of her, she isn't serious, and she's so female.  A near-perfect sexist dismissal of someone I don't even know.  Clang! It quite took my breathe away to realize how deeply these stereotypes are buried within me despite decades of education and effort to counteract them.  I gave myself one point for being able to recognize on the fly that I was feeling unjustly negative and one point for figuring out why. And then I worked very, very, very hard to attend to her words, and not let those stereotypes get in the way of her message.

(A word about the cheerleader biz.  My professional opinion: in terms of stereotype-busting ability, mentioning briefly in a keynote address along with other info about your past that you used to be a cheerleader, is altogether different from dressing up in a cheerleader uniform, shaking your booty, and yelling "Go Science!" )

Mayor did not get up at the podium and proclaim in a shrill ball-buster voice "Feminazi in da house!" (Though I can imagine that the other sexist way of dismissing her would be to have that sort of reaction to her.) What she did was spin a  fabulously feminist fable for all who would hear it. Along with the photos of lemurs, other impossibly cute animals, and the adventure climbs, we saw Mayor as a child at a birthday party, Mayor as a child dressed in a nurse's uniform (with a photo of her mother-as-nurse), Mayor in her NFL cheerleader uniform.  We saw photos of her family in Cuba and heard the tale of their flight to America.  The child of Cuban immigrants, the former cheerleader, the person who did not look like a scientist, was also the expert speaking to us that morning. Above all, she was speaking passionately about her science.

Why did National Geographic find Mayor appealing as a spokesperson?  She had an unusual background - the Cuban immigrant history, growing up in a big city, and yes, having been an NFL cheerleader - but she could also speak authoritatively and in a down to earth way about the animals. She could communicate.  The combination of all that makes for appealing t.v.  The combination of all that makes her suspect to "real" scientists.  We don't expect scientists to come from unusual backgrounds, or display much in the way of humanity at all; we don't expect them to be female; and we definitely don't expect to see them on t.v.  I may understand myself as a female from a blue-collar background, a high-school majorette, a scientist and feminist who's spoken to large public audiences and on radio programs.  Yet I can still greet a Mireya Mayor with a knee-jerk "what does she know?" in my skull.

This is why you always have to keep your eye out for the terrain ahead.  You may be quite sure there are no ghosts, at least in your vicinity.  You feel confident the ghost tour is just a bit of fun, you aren't worried about a thing, you relax your guard, and then clang! But don't be embarrassed.  Running into a street sign doesn't mean you are stupid or a bad person.  It means you are human.  And it's okay to ask for help with that bump on your head.


127 responses so far

  • rebecca says:

    This is a fantastic post - you really spelled out something that I've experienced but hadn't deconstructed quite like this before. Thank you for sharing it!

  • Pascale says:

    You were a majorette?

    Seriously great post. Food for thought.

  • Peter says:

    Great post! Thank you.

  • Alex Wild says:

    Posts like this are why I read Zuska. Awesome.

  • Maryn says:

    Seriously good, and helps me reframe the talk for myself too.

  • DJMH says:

    Your (passed forward) advice about using a negative reaction to examine oneself has been a major influence for good in my life in the last few years. Thank you for this timely reminder.

  • Michele says:

    Thank you for this post. Looking from this perspective helps me answer some of my own questions. This is a great post.

  • RogerTheGeek says:

    I have to admit that before she spoke I wondered about having a TV host as a keynoter. That quickly vanished as her talk progressed. I thought that her describing her life as an adventure, rather than focusing on the individual adventures of her TV job, was very effective. I had never heard of her before. I started wondering about the back stories of other TV hosts on nature programs. At the end of her talk and especially her Q&A about leaving her kids at home while she did her job, I was smitten.

    It takes a lot of guts to put something like this out in public. I hope I can be as brave as Zuska when the time comes.

  • I had the exact same conversation in my head, and was very upset with myself.

  • Kristi says:

    Great post, as always! (seconding Alex Wild's comment)

  • sleddog says:

    Great post. This kind of stuff is the reason I love your blog. So what was the second metal-pole moment?

  • Great post, Zuska. I was, and remain, quite skeptical that the interactions shown by Mayor during her talk (lots of human-animal touching & interaction) are science. However, you have encouraged me to think more deeply about whether such interactions lead to conservation OUTCOMES (which is what I actually care about) and whether my crankiness has nasty hindbrain routes. Women are so powerfully socialized to tear each other down.

  • Karen James says:

    I just love it when someone writes something that makes sense of all the angst and confusion in my brain, putting it neatly down on paper or in this case teh interwebs. Thanks, Zuska. What you said.

    Also, what Miriam said.

  • Well-stated! Thanks!

  • drugmonkey says:

    I was, and remain, quite skeptical that the interactions shown by Mayor during her talk (lots of human-animal touching & interaction) are science. However, you have encouraged me to think more deeply about whether such interactions lead to conservation OUTCOMES (which is what I actually care about)

    What you should also think more deeply about is whether such presentations contribute to a highly inaccurate portrayal of what animals are, thereby fueling sympathy and $$ support for animal rights activity in opposition to science.

    Are you willing to lie about the nature of objective reality to achieve your other goals? That is kind of what you are suggesting here. Who is it that favors that strategy..? hmmm, tip of my tongue here...

    • becca says:

      And what you also need to think about more deeply is what happens when feminism meets animal rights, and why for so many years men like you argued that it was "objective reality" that women were subhuman. You might start here
      The objective reality is simple: most traits we are interested in (scientifically or morally) exist on a gradient between humans and other animals. Humans have a constellation of traits that is unique, and that most humans believe to be of special moral value. That's it. Those are the facts, all the ones we've got. Everything else is moral opinion, and painting it as black and white is stupid and useless when you do it or when the extreme fringe animal rights activists do it.

      "There are stringent rules and regulations that I follow and I am happy to say that every animal has safely been released unharmed and continuously followed in their natural habitat. "
      No no no!
      You misunderstand DM's objection. He could give a rodent's posterior about the safety of the animals. He's just mad you made them look so cuddly- because if women get all cuddly with animals, they will make us think they are like babies, and therefore we will join PETA, and firebomb genetics laboratories, because our dumb girl brains can't handle COMPASSION for animals AND for suffering humans who might benefit from medical research. Duh.
      Also, don't brag about conservation because we all know humans are always more important than animals, and all efforts at species conservation Hurt Business and Starve Poor People and things.

      • DrugMonkey says:

        Nice try becca. Nowhere have I asserted a sex-bias in AR whackaloonery and you know it. Good derail though.

        As it happens the nuttiest of the nuts seem to have good sex balance. Hard to know about monetary support. Opinion polls might skew a little bit, I seem to recall.

        • becca says:

          The idiot d00dly atheists don't always assert a sex-bias in religious whackaloonery. The particular way they attack women (and, somehow, it's always women) for woo can be plenty sexist though.

          • DrugMonkey says:

            Are you suggesting Eric Michael Johnson is a woman becca? I did not know that. How about ol Köhler? Woman in disguise like that French adventurer? Because those are the ones I can recall taking to task in blog posts for their science mistakes. Admittedly I put Pepperberg in the same category but I don't recall doing a whole post on her Wonder Pigeon Woo.

    • No, I am not willing to lie about the nature of objective reality. Drugmonkey, you know perfectly well how insulting that is to say a scientist, especially one such as myself who has spent considerable time advocating for objective reality (there's no giant floating plastic island in the Pacific, guys!), so I'd appreciate it if we could have this interesting discussion without getting all shouty.

      What I meant was that people really want to connect with animals individually. As an ecologist, I think of animals on a population basis, which leads to a very different set of priorities than the general public. For example, while the Taiji dolphin hunt is bloody and cruel and makes for a dramatic documentary (The Cove), stopping it is not a scientific priority since it is not a major cause of dolphin decline.

      Because people want to connect with individual animals, TV shows give them what they want. They don't show Mayor trying to get her PCR to work or writing permits or advocating forest preservation to the Madagascar government, they show her snuggling the teeny lemur or petting the rescued leopard, because that's what makes good TV. (Obviously no one wants to watch a show about what scientists REALLY do all day, because typing at a computer and pipetting tiny amounts of clear liquids is pretty boring, and that's quite understandable).

      This conflict between what makes good film, what makes good science, and the conflict between the two is at the heart of my question. I know that Mireya does a ton of stuff off camera, because I know how fieldwork works. But I worry that if all the public sees is a scientist cuddling a tiny lemur, they'll think that is the science, and that if they cuddle a tiny lemur they are doing science too.

      I have spent a lot of time as an environmental educator (though nowhere so exotic as Madagascar, for sure), and a huge part of what I had to do was educating people to NOT feed or touch the animals. It's really hard, as tragic stories from the National Parks tell us every year. Images are far more powerful than words, and these people have been deluged with photos & TV & movies of people handling & snuggling with animals for years and years. It's mildly entertaining and pretty harmless when the animal they're trying to snuggle is a sea star, and not entertaining at all when they're handling endangered Sierras frogs with their bug spray-covered hands or getting up in a moose's business for a photo opportunity.

      Now, I know that Mireya doesn't advocate ANY of these things, and that she handles animals responsibly and with the correct scientific procedures. But that's not what the TV shows. This is not an issue unique to her, by any means - hello Steve Irwin - so my original post was questioning my own decision to bring this up specifically in regards to Mireya's #scio12 talk. But since we're talking about what scientists look like, I feel that this is a legitimate issue to bring up. National Geographic clearly feels that what scientists look like involves a lot of animal snuggling - because that's what the audience wants - but my question remains, does that actually benefit the animals in the long run?

      Mireya has already answered part of my question, as she used her lemur work to define species and therefore to help them get protection, and has also said that she never catches animals for show. I still wonder about the power of those images, though - and I don't think there's an easy answer.

      Mireya, thanks so much for engaging - I really appreciate it.

      • Miriam, I'm really glad you brought up the idea of science-that-looks-cool vs. science-as-it-actually-is and which we should choose to portray, even though I'm going to take it a slightly different direction from your original issue.

        Looks-cool vs. actually-is is a sticky issue for me, because I was attracted to science in the first place by science-that-sounds-cool (specifically, my teenage heroine was Ellie Arroway from the novel Contact). And it's awesome that a portrayal of a woman scientist in pop culture brought me into science. Yet, I did leave astronomy (and later left research altogether) feeling pretty disappointed about science-as-it-actually-is.

        Did I leave because my expectations were shattered so dramatically? I'll never really know if that's why I hated research so much, but I suspect that played a role. On the other hand, if I knew what I was getting into, I may have stayed away altogether. Then there would've been one fewer physics-trained woman in the world -- which I'd argue would be a bad thing.

        So what do we do about it? I agree that we need to do a better job portraying science-as-it-actually-is, but I definitely don't think we should stay away from science-that-looks-cool. Sometimes hanging out in Africa discovering new, really cute species really IS what scientists do all day. We just need to make sure we don't convince folks that it's what ALL scientists do all day.

        Thanks for posting about this, Zuska!

        (and in my experience, people have been fascinated by pipetteing clear liquids, as long as I had a lab coat on and worked in the glove box)

      • DrugMonkey says:

        "shouty" MG? Don't go getting all hysterical now.

        In your case the cuddle effect is a distraction from where the main goals lie. Which is bad, but might have some beneficial effect. In the case of animal research, not so much. It is in direct contravention, not a mere distraction.

        • becca says:

          DM and Other Men of The World- you are exactly as misogynistic as the cheapest, lowest, most bullshit ridden misogynistic trick in your rhetorical basket. Employing it with "intentional irony" (ala Greggie) does not a non-misogynist action make (see *intent* vs. *impact* discussions about bias/discrimination/prejudice).

          Your use of hysterical in this context ergo puts you one step below most of those idiot atheists, and only a hair above Newt "don't vote for my opponent or her children will be *gasp* raised by a nanny!" Gingrich.

          Go to hell and die.

        • Zuska says:

          Dude, I just saw this comment. That was sucktastic. Becca is dead on in her critique of it.

    • Zuska says:

      "...what animals are...the nature of objective reality..."

      Well, the right wing fundamentalist wackaloons tell me that animals were put on earth by God for the use of man as he sees fit - indeed EVERYTHING on earth was put here by God for the use of man as he sees fit - so all that namby pamby conservation talk is irreligious, contrary to God's will, and contrary to The Way Things Are. People are on top, and everything else is fodder for our needs. You wanna crack open a monkey's skull and scoop out its brains for examination, or blast the top off a mountain to scoop out the coal underneath, why not. God wouldn't have put that stuff there and given us the know-how to make scooping and blasting tools if He didn't want us to have at it. That there is your objective reality, sir.

      • DrugMonkey says:


        I object to politically expedient abuse of science and objective reality on both sides of the political spectrum as you well know. Teevee depictions of field science, Sheril's kissing pictures...and if GLad puts up pictures of himself schtupping a lion back in his heroic field days...same position.

        It is scientifically abusive and all y'all skeptics, science supporters and all around right thinking folk should agree.

        • Zuska says:

          As much as it would be good tv to see pictures of GLad - or you! - schtupping a lion, I would totally not support that. If only for the lion's sake. I guess I am more wondering, "what animals are". I am pretty damn sure the right wingers don't have the answer, and I am sure that the ARA wackaloons don't have the answer (esp. because we are animals too and it makes no sense to kill one animal to protect another) but I don't feel like animal researchers have given the public a convincing answer as to what animals are. Or are for. I know that many people feel comfortable valuing animals above plants, and that other people do not feel comfortable with that at all - that they see an important interconnection that has completely been thrown out of balance by one animal, humans. So, what are animals? I think the "objective" answer to this depends upon where you are sitting and what you want or need. In saying this, I strongly reiterate that none of the above should be construed as explication, tacit, or explicit support for ARA behaviors (including and most especially death threats and killings of animal researchers).

          • Anonymous says:

            As someone who conducts research on rodents (and has for the past 13 years), I whole-heartedly agree with your perspective, Zuska. IACUCs exist for a reason.

          • DrugMonkey says:

            Somehow I seriously doubt you have read deeply of the considerable literature on animal behavior stretching way back to at least the WWI era, Zuska. It exists, it gives us much information on what animals are. Likewise developmental (human) psych and cognitive psych (the college sophomore psych, by some lights) tells a shitload about what humans are. Your stratification and black/white assumptions are perhaps the stuff of another clang moment. Yes, I do recall you share your home with "kittehs" btw.

          • Zuska says:

            Wow, that feels like a really condescending answer DM. Of course the literature gives us much information on what animals are or might be. What I'm trying to get at is that this is one way of knowing animals, the scientific way, and it doesn't serve for every purpose. And no, I'm not talking about living with teh kittehs in mah house. There are other sources of knowledge about animals and the systems they reside within, and there are other scientists and engineers who have made the leap to take advantage of those sources, recognizing that skienz, per se, is/was not capable of yielding all the information needed to understand what the particular animal under study "is".

  • The Nerd says:

    Glad to know that my brain isn't the only one that has weird racist/sexist/ableist/etc corners.

  • Mireya Mayor says:

    I must start off by saying that I rarely leave comments on someone's post, let alone one written about me. When I started reading this post I thought, "here we go again". But what a brilliant and honest post it is. I began my career as a scientist in 1996 when I foolishly thought I could head to the Amazon with nothing more than a backpack, a field notebook and my sense of wonder about the natural world. I literally quit cheerleading for the NFL to pursue this far fetched dream with absolutely no xperience under my belt. I had never left the country, I didn't have much scientific training at that point, and I had never even been camping. Most people thought it was joke. Many thought *I* was a joke thinking that I could actually do this.
    I thought that reaction would end when I went off and collected data on an animal that was critically endangered, that no one else had been able to study and published my first article on my findings in a peer reviewed journal. That reaction continued.
    I applied to only one graduate school, Stony Brook University which was considered to have the best Anthropology program in the country. I was accepted with full funding and an NSF Fellowship. I thought for sure that reaction would end at that point. It didn't.
    I went off to Madagascar on my next expedition and studied for the first time ever the most critically endangered lemur (and in the top of 5 of all primates). Renowned scientists (reading material as I called them) had attempted to do this and failed. I succeeded. I then recieved a Fulbright Scholarship and proceeded to pursue my second study in another region of Madagascar where again no one had been able to even follow these animals because of the difficult terrain and elusive nature of this animal. I spent ten months in the field, in an area so remote, the villagers had never seen a foreigner. I had no communication with the outside world and worried that I'd have no idea if something happened to my family back home. Again I succeded in the first long term study of an otherwise unknown species. This for sure I thought would prove my legitamacy as a scientist. It did for some, but that knee jerk response continued.
    Then the job offer from National Geographic came while I was out in the wilds and I accepted it because I felt I could reach a much larger audience about the plight of these animals and maybe even inspire a few to care. Many scientists whose respect I had now earned felt this was a setback. Female scientists were usually the toughest on me, although they would eventually come around after having spent months with me in waist deep swamps. Producers commented on my looks and how we could get me "to look more like a scientist", but would then ask if they could film me bathing at the waterfall. Tastefully, of course.
    When I discovered the world's smallest lemur I thought for sure this reaction would have to end. Especially since after discovering this new species I decided to take the information to the Malagasy government and meet with the Primae Minister and President of Madagascar convincing them to declare the area a national park. Suddenly my little discovery would become a huge ambassador for all the wild things in that area. An area filled with thousands of species bound to disappear because its habitat was quickly being destroyed. Surely THAT would be enough. But it wasn't.
    I'm not looking for sympathy as I feel very blessed to be doing what I am doing and frankly the problem is not how I look or carry out science. The problem is well outside of me and how we are taught to perceive genders and occupations.
    But what the television shows I host don't show is the grueling process behind the scenes of writing scientific grants, obtaining the permits necessary, spending days and nights in a genetics lab trying to find the genetic markers of animals no one has ever studied before, and the painstaking measures of the logistics usually involved.
    That stuff doesn't make for good TV.
    I don't consider myself to be the smartest or most profficient scientist out there. There are many much more qualified to do what I do. But I do my best and hope that my perseverance can inspire others to reach for their dreams no matter how impossible it may seem or how many people tell them they can't do it.
    As for my holding research, which focuses on the genetic biodiversity of primates necessitates that I capture the animals. There are stringent rules and regulations that I follow and I am happy to say that every animal has safely been released unharmed and continuously followed in their natural habitat. In order to pursue my studies in cytogenetics I am obliged to handle the animals to obtain the necessary samples. Because of these samples I was able to raise the EIGHT subspecies of primates to FULL SPECIES and get them much needed attention and protection.
    I appreciate those concerns and am happy to address them. I don't and have never handled wild animals for show. I am also not under any dilusion that touching an animal is science. Do viewers feel more engaged when they see someone getting closer to these animals? Without a doubt. Do I catch animals unecessarly for television? Never.

    Zuska, I really appreciate your candor and honesty in writing this post. It is very thoughtful and insightful. I too have learned a lot from it. Does it bother me that people still react that way? Yes. I have 4 daughters and I worry about what limits they place on themselves because of the expectations of others. Your post gives me hope that people may start to question why they react differently to female scientists who have an unusual background and that don't fit the "type".

    • Zuska says:

      Mireya, thank you so much for commenting here.

      Damn, I see I forgot to put "touches animals" on the list of reasons why women scientists are teh suxxor.

      Bathing at the waterfall, tastefully. Like on that show "Off the Map"! Which totally depicted real life medical science in the jungle in all its hawtness! I'm sure the producers were just trying to get that kind of realityishness for the show.

    • Kim says:

      Mireya, the description of what you do and have done is inspiring. Thank you.

  • Beth! says:

    great discussion, all around. I didn't make it to the conference, but I listened to the keynote online. very inspiring. and thanks to both of you (Zuska and Mireya) for being open and honest about your experiences.

  • Thank you for the superb post, Zuska, and to Mireya for your presentation and story.
    I love your sage advice, "Long ago a wise woman told me, 'when you find something that makes you angry, upset, or disgusted, move toward it instead of away. Try to figure out why you feel that way. You may learn something about yourself.' " Your post resonated with my similar reaction and how I have to work to overcome my own biases...

    I grew up in a family where boys were more valued, told to hide that I was smart or boys won't like me...the usual...and yet subconsciously, I appear to have adopted similar attitudes, I confess.
    So @doctorfreeride's story about her Pink Princess, and your accurately capturing my initial reaction to Mireya's speech, are very resonant. And apologies to my own brainy Pageant Princess.

    Thank you, too, Mireya, for your captivating story that shook me out of my ingrained thinking. With great admiration to you both,


  • jenedavison says:

    Thank you Zuska and Mireya. Honest and thought-provoking.

  • Zuska, man, you have a way with a point! Your metaphor of a ghost walk & walking into a pole could not have been more vivid or appropriate - I can hear that sign as I read the post & hope to hear that sign as I run into my own poles in the future. I thank you for this post - it is hard to "fess up" but you doing so helps get people talking & dealing with this issue. I think just opening up these type of discussions goes a long way towards solutions. Be well, & be betting I'll be back to read your next post! 🙂

  • Zuska, great writing, love the metaphor (been on the tour myself!). Thank you for your honesty. I experienced the same internal struggle, but giving Mireya the benefit of the doubt won out and I really enjoyed her talk!

  • Mr. Gunn says:

    I'm just going to go ahead and say this, since we're all being so direct and honest and stuff. Here's what I thought as I was watching the keynote:

    This is more of a "look at me" story rather than a "look at my science" story.

    I wanted to see lengthy clips from her show, I could just, you know, watch her show.

    This is a rather inspiring story and I'm glad I heard it.

    It was an honor that she was able to come and grace our little gathering.

    Lots of thoughts, some conflicted, some probably reflecting some sort of latent bias, since I am a privileged while male, and some reflecting the fact that I'm somewhat of a professional conference-goer and have heard quite a few keynotes in my time.

    I hope my comments are useful.

  • KateClancy says:

    Wow, Zuska, that was beautiful and insightful. And pretty much sums up my own reaction as well. Mireya, I can't thank you enough for also sharing your perspective. I marvel at all the things you manage to do, and think you make a pretty darn awesome role model for your daughters.

    It's such a hard thing, to be female and operating against external and internalized oppression, to always remember that any feeling we have that makes us judge another woman needs to be evaluated as a product of that sexism first. But we have to do it. And that's what Zuska has done here: exposed the feeling and evaluated the ways in which it is a product of sexism.

    • Zuska says:

      I'm replying to Kate, but want to say this to so many of you: thank you for sharing this with me. I felt so awful for feeling what I felt. Me, the hairy-legged feminazi! How could it be! But of course it must be. Even when we have dedicated years and decades to working against such attitudes, they are still going to be embedded within us and it is only by shining light on this awful stuff that we can hope to make progress. D00ds, you should not think I am a holier than though feminazi. Maybe I just try to fight a little harder against the prevailing winds than a lot of people. And by exposing how hard it is to fight, I hope I inspire more people to fight. I am not a perfect soul, I have not achieved Nirvana, there is no magic trick. You just fight and fight and work and work against it every day, and try to do a little better every day, and the best way we can win is to talk about this stuff to each other. To make it public and not let it hide. It grows in hiding, it withers in the light of day.

  • Greg Laden says:

    Great post, Zuska. I has similar thoughts in parallel.

    Further fuel for the discussion:

    1) Is no one outraged that the TV show she spoke of is mostly owned by Rupert Murdock? Should we not be having an Apocalyptic moment over that? ... 🙂

    2) There was science:

    3) Drug monkey: why do you hate cute animals?

  • Greg Laden says:

    BTW, some of us are surely wondering what the second head-clang was, if you'd like to share!

  • Lalsox says:

    Thanks for posting so candidly. That kind of bias is a hard thing to admit in the light of day. I was impressed with Mireya Mayor's accomplishments, but also was disappointed that we didn't get to hear more of the science of her background and current work. Given the audience, I think it was a bit of a missed opportunity. There were a lot of comments on Twitter during the talk relating to the specific role of animal handling in conservation, its perception, usefulness, etc. It is a shame we didn't have a chance to discuss it in a more formal way.

  • Heidi Smith says:

    This a really lovely and honest post. I must admit I struggled with many of the same thoughts during the keynote. I had a difficult even understanding why she was chosen as a keynote. I also agree with Mr. Gunn that the talk was much more "look at me" then "look at the science". In fact, the speaker was in most of the lemur pictures smiling each time.

    I do not wish to detract from any of her accomplishments, but I wish she would have emphasized her work in science and number of species she managed to protect. Oddly enough, I was also surprised at the end when she failed to thank collaborators.

    I am reluctant to leave these comments at the risk of appearing unsupportive of female scientists, but this is my honest opinion.

    I wish the speaker had included some of her accomplishments listed above in her comments in the talk. Overall, I wanted to root for a strong female scientist keynote speaker, but she just fell short of my expectations.

  • Jacquelyn says:

    Basically, what Miriam said (and said, and said). Like her, and Heidi, I had some concerns about the portrayal of problematic human-wildlife interactions. Like them, and you, I found myself questioning and re-questioning my mixed feelings throughout the plenary. The danger of institutional sexism (and racism, and ableism, etc.) is that it's so insidious! I think your post illustrates really nicely why we have to be really thoughtful and careful about what we take issue with, and why.

    Nicely done!

  • PB says:

    I want to thank both Mireya Mayor and Zuska for their post and comments. I'll ignore one aspect of this discuss, and go for another one. The knee jerk reaction that seems to say "He has a TV show, he can't be a real scientist."

    When I was in graduate school I was surprised at an almost universal dislike and dismissal of Carl Sagan as a scientist. I think the one lone faculty member I met who didn't feel this way summarized the ones who did as jealous. And perhaps that is true. I admit that though I have a strong interest in cosmology from an "arm chair scientist" point of view, I know very little about Sagan. But for years Sagan was the face of science in the US. He wasn't dismissed for being a "cute blonde girl" instead of a scientist, but he was dismissed anyway.

    So I wonder is extreme success in reaching to the general public enough to turn other scientists off? Is it simply jealousy? Or a sense of betrayal?

    As a science communicator, what do you think?

  • Jacquelyn says:

    Clarification: I didn't mean to say that Miriam was repetitive, but that I endorsed all of her comments. I don't think the animal-handling issues can be stated enough.

  • [...] you will recall, in Report the First, Zuska looked deep inside her own brain and found a squirming pile of sexist maggots gnawing away [...]

  • Zuska says:

    Clang!2 is up, Zuskateers. Go read and see how even more incredibly dumb I was at scio12.

  • [...] was doing in various sessions has brought her out of blog hibernation, with plenty to say. If her first post about the conference is any indication, this is going to be [...]

  • AmoebaMike says:

    Plain and simple, my dislike for the keynote had nothing to do with the speaker, her sex, her gender, her former job (cheerleader), her hair color, her attractiveness, her pink boots, or her personally. It had everything to do with it being a generic, "I'm awesome" speech and not tailored in any way to a group of intelligent, free-thinking scientists. Are we supposed to be more impressed because she works with mammals and not nematodes or cnidarians; in Madagascar instead of in Milwaukee?

    I don't care what you look like when you're doing your science or where you do your science. I do care about the actual science, especially if you have a personal background different from average. I honestly have no idea what her research is on, short of looking it up on my own.

    I don't doubt that she's smart, a good scientist, and a great mom. But I felt there was a lot of story left untold and a whole lot of Hollywood that was unneeded.

    • Zuska says:

      Very interesting. So, as a keynote, you wanted a straight science talk?

      In general, when you go to see keynote talks, do the speakers give something like a regular old science talk? Or do they do something else? And if something else, what is the something else that they do?

      Have you ever seen any keynotes delivered by dudes that were in the "I'm awesome" category, or, more generally, "My whole fucking research program since day 1 is awesome" category? As opposed to a "Here's the absolute latest breaking research from our lab" kinda speech? If so, did that kind of keynote annoy you?

      What I'm asking you to do is move toward your annoyance with her keynote and interrogate it a little more closely. What's the underlying source? What's it really about? Is it really about wanting more of teh skienz? Or is it about something else?

      • RogerTheGeek says:

        Most keynotes I have seen were at technical conferences. There the keynotes are "bought" by the sponsors of the event. They are mostly marketing talks about some new product that I won't see for four or five years. Others are some CIO talking about some topic where he (mostly he) is unbelievably naive. Other conferences have had keynotes that were mostly forgettable like speeches someone would give at a graduation. I preferred this one to any of the those.

        I'm looking forward to who they might have for SciO13. I thought that having Mireya give the keynote was an inspired choice looking back at it now. How did they know that? I hope she comes back to future events as an attendee.

      • AmoebaMike says:

        In total honesty, I almost always skip the keynote because they're like commencement ceremony speeches--horrible, impersonal, and usually irrelevant.

        And sure that shaped my idea going in, just as the fact that I expected different at ScienceOnline.

        I was hoping for neither "I'm awesome" nor "here's hard core science", I was hoping for "I've done this awesome science, here's how to communicate it, and here's why it's important to communicate it."

        Certainly expectations came into in other areas of the conference. This isn't because Mireya is a woman and some of my other issues were with men--believe me, I went to some men-led sessions that sucked. I'm not mentioning them here because this conversation isn't about those.

        • KateClancy says:

          What I appreciated about Mayor's talk was that her own feelings about work and parenthood were so similar to mine -- I don't feel whole being just a mom, and I don't feel whole just working. And I can't be me without being both. And you know, even in an audience that was slight majority female, this was probably a really great thing to say to a room full of scientists. So I didn't mind that it was more of an "I'm awesome" rather than "My science is awesome" speech (though I think that is oversimplifying things quite a bit, she did talk about her science as well). Keynotes should be fun and inspiring, and give us something to think about to kick off a conference. It's not like any of the other sessions were all "here's my hard core science, suckas!!!"

  • Mireya Mayor says:

    Just a couple of more points I wanted to address. The content. When I was asked by the organizers to keynote I was asked to talk about my journey and the role that media has played throughout my career as a scientist. That is what I did. It was my life story and so pictures of me seemed appropriate. In scientific meetings where I often present my findings I wouldn't have gone that route. For the scientists wanting on this, I want to remind you that you were not alone in the audience. Journalists were there too, some of which I have worked with such as Andy Revkin on the science i do and the plight in Madagascar.
    I had 50 minutes in which to share my journey, not present my science.
    I think this attitude of "where was the hard core science" undermines the nature of the conference itself. Given all the sessions I attended, it was my impression tht many scientists that while brilliant in comminicating their work to other scientists, they are uncomfortable speaking to the media and frankly don't communicate well to the audience they could reach through the media, the general public.
    And that was the point. I wasn't there to crunch data but to give a glimpse of how science can be presented to non-scientists to an audience who may otherwise not care about it.
    I work with mammals & was not trying to impress anyone with that fact. I have worked with sharks and humboldt squid, and scorpions & cicadas. I also work in TV & some animals are more televisual than others. If you want to do a show on nematoads go for it and please let me know who wants to produce it. That is an artifact of television, not me as a scientist.

    • Zuska says:

      Amen. And maybe the folks who introduced you could have done a better job of framing the talk, eh?

      Still, I think no matter what the fuck was said beforehand, and no matter what the fuck you did in your talk, an audience of scientists will find fault with a female keynoter. Even if she stood on her head and showed conclusive evidence for the big bang. That's what this post is about. HELLOOOOOO!!!!!!!!

    • AmoebaMike says:

      I have no doubt that you were guided in what kind of talk to give. This is in no way a personal attack on you, though I understand if it was taken that way. If so, I apologize.

      I didn't want hard core science, but I felt there was no science at all. I was looking for a balance of science. You say the conference itself is, in part, specifically for scientists who don't communicate well with the general public. I think that's what I was hoping to see: you communicating science with us. If there was science, I missed it.

      I'm not a research scientist, nor do I have any interest in being one; likewise I'm not a media personality and have no interest in being one. You do that well and I am not jealous of that fact. I would have liked to have been wowed by your science too, not just that you get to go camping for a living.

      I'm a science educator, and I wanted to see you showcase to a room full of critical thinkers how to present scientific info to an audience that wasn't knowledgeable about all the techniques and jargon, but was still at least interested in the science.

      You have accomplished more in your career as a scientist and a media personality than I ever will. This honestly isn't about >you< vs ~me~. And I can't say enough about how you being female had nothing to do with the talk not meeting my expectations, and I hate that we live in a world where that is an issue.

      • KateClancy says:

        I'm perplexed, still, as to how it is that a woman that showed that she was the first to describe species doesn't have science in her talk. Was it because you need equations or something for it to be science? I'm an anthropologist like Mayor. My science talks might have some stats in them because I do reproductive physiology, not primatology and conservation, but I struggle to understand what you define as science.

        And again, I also struggle to understand why a hard science talk is appropriate at a conference where not a single other session did that.

        • becca says:

          C'mon. New species identification is like textbook philately. Obviously Not Real Science.

        • AmoebaMike says:

          She said she described a species. That's a generic as saying, "I do some gas chromotagraphy," and then not saying anything more about it.

          • becca says:

            If you were giving a keynote and tried giving me a detailed scientific technical talk on gas chromotagraphy, I'd throw rotten tomatoes at you. No disrespect to gas chromatagraphers, but the details do Not do it for me.

  • Ed Yong says:

    It's interesting to me that Robert Krulwich, when he delivered the keynote last year, did pretty much exactly what Mireya did - lots of personal stories, charmingly told, interspresed with extensive clips of his own work.

    And not a single person, as far as I know, complained about it or gave him shit for not including enough science or tailoring his talk or such like.

    • Zuska says:

      Ahahahahahahahaha! Ed Yong FTW!

      But Ed...Robert Krulwich has a DICK!

    • AmoebaMike says:

      I was under the impression that Robert Krulwich does not do science, only writes about it. Surely that matters more than his genitalia?

      • Ed Yong says:

        Hang on, you're saying that Mayor and Krulwich both gave talks that were heavy on the communication and light on the science, but Krulwich gets a pass because he had no science to talk about in the first place?

        That... makes no sense.

        • AmoebaMike says:

          Really dude? You don't understand how I could hope for a "this is my science, this is why it's important to get the word out, this is how to get the world out" talk from a scientist versus a science writer?

          • Janet D. Stemwedel says:

            One of the barriers to communicating science that we keep hearing about, though, is that the people to whom we hope more science will be communicated are alienated from scientists. They don't believe scientists are actual people. They don't think they could possibly relate to scientists. To the extent that they actually think of *people* connected to the scientific knowledge that's banging around out there, they think those people are boring at best and maybe even downright evil.

            So ... humanizing themselves for wider consumption is maybe a tool that scientists want to have in their communication tool box, the better to sell their, "this is my science, etc."

            Also, Mireya *did* draw a pretty direct line between her field work and why it's important to get the word out about her findings (e.g., to drive governments to protect the habitats so we don't lose some of these critters right after we've found them).

  • Sian Evans says:

    Mireya - what a great response. You communicate so well and I ALWAYS love hearing you speak. Looking forward to attending my next Mireya talk on Feb 04 @the Dumond Conservancy's Amazonian Festival!

  • I've been thinking about the Krulwich talk from last year, which I saw. I did not see the talk this year, having not recovered from the burst of late-night energy I expended immediately upon arrival on Wed. The one thing I recall about the Krulwich talk--except that it was hilarious--was that he had tips for what he did to communicate science to people. I remember his telling us about how he always asked "stupid questions" and had to get over trying to look smart so he could tell a good story, and he demonstrated a few ways that he applied that information. So...for me, at least, there was a take-home message that was closely relevant to the audience at hand.

    That would be my reason for not having given him any shit last year for not including enough science, etc. Although if I do recall, some people *did* complain about that talk, although perhaps not on blogs or Twitter. I remember some negative comments, only because I didn't agree with them.

    All that said, from what Mireya says, it sounds like she had a focal point for content, as provided by conference organizers, and she built her talk around that. Talking about the role of media in her science communication journey does seem relevant.

    It seems to me that last year, we did have a female speaker who was widely regarded as a brilliant presenter...Canopy Meg. Is that an accurate recollection? I'm not saying that to contrast with Mireya Mayor, but to toss out that there may have perhaps been a female main speaker (at the banquet, I believe) who didn't have to stand on her head to be well received. In addition, the scio12 audience was not strictly an audience of scientists but of science writers, some of whom are scientists, and based on tweet rumors, at any rate, the majority of attendees were female.

    Zuska, I enjoyed the hell out of this post because my thought processes from the corners of my own mind started with reading the word "vain girl" in the talk title, and I was basically on the same train of thought you had...except I didn't get out of bed in time to get to the station. Bah! Bad metaphor!

    • Mireya Mayor says:

      Was Canopy Meg attractive? I ask this because that seems to play into the knee jerk reaction.

      • Good Lord, I have no idea. If I notice that about a person, it gets lost pretty quickly in intellectual translation, and I know that I find people very attractive who probably aren't considered as such on some kind of objective scale. I noticed you at the meeting, but it made me think about lemurs more than anything else. I mean that as a compliment.

      • Zuska says:

        I think she was. And I think this annoyed me. Because I am an effing sexist.

      • She's attractive, but older - around 60 perhaps. No doubt that plays in - I felt like I could relate to her (and grow up to BE like her), but I don't feel like I can relate like that to you. This has absolutely nothing to do with you and your accomplishments, but is the baggage we all get stuck with as women in a sexist society.

      • Something came to mind when I was considering this question. Krulwich also was older (Miriam thinks Canopy Meg may have been in her 60s), so was it age or sex that precluded deep criticisms of either of their talks?

        Another thing I was considering is that I think there's a perception when you're in science or a thinking person or a critical person, etc., that you will shun things that seem superficial or peripheral or irrelevant. I think that when either a man *or* a woman turns up in a field like ours and steps out of that stereotype and manscapes or wears lipstick in the field, that's perceived as somehow fluffy headed and as a trump to any "real" science that may be afoot. I'm not saying I agree with that--I don't--I am just talking about perceptions. Male scientists don't manscape, and female scientists eschew all forms of outer elaboration, right? 'Cause they're all, you know, *serious*.

        I was thinking of this in terms of Patti Smith and Madonna. Smith is about 11 years older, but no one goes around questioning her gravitas and didn't 10 years ago. She's always been someone who shunned those presumably superfluous externals, but people take her seriously, even though she's said some pretty goofy stuff. But Madonna can't open her mouth without having criticism rain down on her head. Smith's always had that air of not giving a shit about superficialities, so as she ages, no one comments because, you know, she's *serious*. But Madonna? She's also made significant contributions to music--and, I'd argue--for women in general (at least for women who were in high school in the '80s)--but people give her shit for the way she looks now and talk about her age, her accent, etc. Because she pays attention to things that allegedly serious people consider nonsense, she gets more blowback from everyone. I think in general, serious-minded people perceive those who engage in adornment as being less valid or of lesser gravitas. The Scarlet Pimpernel character made an entire career relying on that perception.

        Seems to be operating here, yes? Like if Mireya had shown up in baggy fatigues and a battered hat, no makeup, and maybe some combat boots, perhaps with a Bowie knife tucked into her belt, and told a similar story with similar scientific details--we wouldn't be having this discussion? Is it her sex, or the fact that she enjoys looking great and does so? Both? What if Krulwich had turned up looking like Wayne Newton? Would people have taken what he actually had to say as seriously? (That is NOT to imply that Mireya looks in any way like Wayne Newton).

        • becca says:

          I, for one, would be delighted to meet any individual who simultaneously describes themself as a "vain girl" and was a former cheerleader, and dresses as you described. Because they'd probably be someone who likes to play with preconceptions and might therefore be quite interesting.

          That said, I think this type of response has come up many-a-time before. But take a second and think about how the media reacts to female presidential candidates' fashion choices. I don't blame any woman who concludes "there is no way to dress to 100% ensure I will be taken seriously, by everyone".
          The issue isn't so much "do we unfairly judge people by things other than gender?" (i.e. age or whether they 'dress the part' as we expect). The issue is whether "if we are honest with ourselves, is our judgement of a particular individual exaggeratedly negative, in a way that basically wouldn't be possible if they were of another gender?"

          • It was the "girl" term, rather than the "vain" part. I've got decades of prejudice against referring to women as "girls," in part because of This One Man in our lab who insisted on doing that in a really condescending way even after we asked him to stop and even though we were older than he, and I need to get over that and calm the hell down.

            I think that the interaction of female sex, objective attractiveness, youth, and personal adornment exaggerates the response, yes. If it were male sex, objective attractiveness, youth, and personal adornment, the result would still be "how valid are you?" but not as viciously, I think.

            I like to meet people who "play with preconceptions," but what I've found is that if you ask enough questions of just about *any* person, they'll defy preconceptions. I love that. Mireya seems to be kicking ass in that department.

    • Lyndell says:

      And honestly, if those of you at #scio11 remember, Canopy Meg had a VERY similar talk as Mireya' was her story, her journey, her adventure in science up to that point. There were lots of amazing photographs, new scientific discoveries, the interface with media, and aspects of her personal life thrown in the mix. After all, that is usually our lives: a combination of work, family, travel, hobbies, research, writing, and how we manage it we make it fit together. We all define ourselves in very different ways, balance our lives in different ways, but in the end, we are all on a journey.

      I think there are a lot of very important points being covered here, but I also think that we may be mixing up the discussion between points...and I have a lot to say...but I have to run off to a reception with Dr. Paul Sherman (naked mole rats, now working in evolutionary nutrition and medicine). So I'm off to put on my lipstick and mingle.

      But first, I just want to say that these issues of women in the sciences--in all our shapes, sizes, backgrounds, and personal appearance preferences--really disturbs me. Clearly it's not just limited to those of us in disciplines like field biology, ecology, fisheries, oceanography, and marine science. I think this topic requires a whole other (ongoing) dialogue than can possibly fit on Zuska's blog. One night at #scio12, Mireya and I talked about the possibility of having a session at #scio13 that starts to deal with/discuss the varied issues and attitudes that women have to confront in the sciences--from each other, male colleagues, general public (stakeholders) that we work with/communicate with (ie. fishermen), administration, media, etc... I'd at least like to start the discussion in one format at #scio13. Is this of interest to anyone? If so, I think I'll add it to the wiki. I can be found @lyndellmbade

      • Zuska says:

        Mmmm, this might be a totes interesting way to take the blogging while women session. How do we see us? How do men see us? How do we think men see us? How would we like to be seen? How do women see other women? Why are we so hard on each other? How can we recognize the inherent sexism we have and still be good allies? How can men and women who want to be allies to women get past these ground-in-our-brains preconceptions about women?

        • That's not a session. That's an entire conference.

        • Let's just make one. This topic needs DAYS.

          • Zuska says:

            Yeah, but then they will call us ball-busting hairy-legged feminazi freaks who aren't real scientists and none of the dudes will attend. The topic DOES need days but it needs DUDES too. I want to effing trick the dudes to dropping in on the conversation.

          • Zuska says:

            Maybe we need a session called: Ball-busting hairy-legged feminazi freak scientists of your nightmares: How to deal.

          • KateClancy says:

            Maybe there does need to be a #sciowomen. Or maybe we shouldn't always assume that sessions that deal with gender issues get to be in just one or two sessions, and that issues of identity should permeate the whole conference ;).

            Of course, this is my not-so-secret evil plan for #scio13 - that identity become a larger focal point of the conference. We are bloggers and communicators, so WHO we are is hugely important. Yet we talk a ton about craft in a way that is divorced from identity. I find that weird. They go together for me. And talking about identity opens things up so we can talk about gender, race, sexuality, etc etc etc...

  • Mireya Mayor says:

    I fucking love you Zuska. And I say that while I apply lipstick and write up my next scientific grant.

  • Should add...Mireya Mayor's comments here should be required reading for anyone wondering about women in science and "what their problem is." I'm going to have my sons read them.

    • Zuska says:

      Thank god someone can finally explain what is effing wrong with women in science.

      • Lyndell says:

        One of the things I love about Mireya is that she had the guts to say these things about who she is as a woman in the sciences. I read her book before #scio12, and every chapter was liberating. She said things OUT LOUD that I kept hidden...or filed it all under my "ballet dancing/cheerleading/dance major/theatre degree/performance" life. But we are all a combination of our life experiences, a sum of these things, not merely defined by a part of them. We should be allowed to own these disparate parts of ourselves.

  • Sam says:

    From an outsider (librarian) and scio noob: Zuska I thought your candid personal post was inspired and I learned from it. I didn't experience anything like it.

    I thought the choice of Mireya was similarly inspired - she appears to me to be the most successful science communicator in the room so I listened and watched and tried to take away lessons from her presentation. I made sure to give a recap for my wife (a mathematician/scientist) and daughter (artist/scientist).

    To Mireya: I think more of us have 'non-traditional' paths than otherwise, and I always enjoy hearing about them. I'm pretty sure I heard the gears moving in my daughter's head as I recounted your story - she is a great student, devoted to the natural world, and wants to know there are alternate paths after high school.

    I have no earthly idea the best way to give a keynote, nor can lay claim to all of science's best practices. And this is Zuska's post about an internal conversation anyway so I can't fathom how my comments along those lines would be relevant here.

    Thanks again to Zuska and Mireya.

    • Zuska says:

      oh sweet jesus amen! srsly! so the keynote was interesting and helpful for your wife and daughter who are also scientists. So you don't see any one right way to give a keynote - hallefuckingluia!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ZOMFG there could be room for diversity in how we talk about and present science as well as who does science as well as how we do science!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!11111

      Thank you, Sam. I'm trying to imagine there might be more than one of you.

      I'm going to go lie down now and let my brain asplode.

    • I thought many of the same things that have already been said here ... but one of those thoughts was that Mireya is modeling what many of us at #scio12 are trying to do: communicate science to those who aren't scientists.

      I think of this in context of the writing for women's magazines session, and Carl Zimmer's profile of Neil Tyson in Playboy: it's equally important for "science" to be communicated in non-traditional ways and venues than it is to be included in scholarly publications. Mireya's story exemplified that, which impressed me during the session.

      Thanks to Mireya and her publisher for the book, which I have happily donated to my library for potential science journalists to read.

      On a side note, I agree that it's important for us to acknowledge & articulate our prejudices, sexist, racist, homophobic. If we don't acknowledge them and air them out (in careful, thoughtful ways), they won't change. Thanks the brave post, Zuska.

  • Janet D. Stemwedel says:

    I, for one, am utterly offended ... that this whole rich discussion transpired while I was pinned down discussing syllabi and being pestered for add codes. Have some pity for those of us ripped from the milky bosom of ScienceOnline and hurled into the stinky maw of the day job!

  • coturnix says:

    If this was Facebook I would have hit "Like" on so many comments here...

  • Chuck says:

    Y-chromosome = developmental disability. I ought to know. Mireya Mayor is a good scientist and a good communicator. Doods who can't process that need to grow up. There's no wrong way to have a brain, except to have one and not use it. MM doesn't let others' lack of vision constrain her own. I admire the hell out of her for that. It's Her World, doods just live on it. Kudos, Mireya.

  • Zuska says:

    Zuskateers effing ROCK. This conversation is awesome. Thank you all.

  • After reading through these comments, I felt moved to offer up my perspective on Mireya Mayor's keynote.

    I was uneasy about the keynote for two reasons: one, my scientific training is in molecular and computational biology, so I'm interested in the world of cells, genes and proteins. Macrobiology just doesn't interest me near as much. The second reason was the title; I didn't understand why someone would want to use the phrase 'Vain Girl' in the title of a talk. This made me a little apprehensive about the content of the keynote.

    However, as Mireya spoke, I got her passion for science. I got why her science is important and how she's getting the word out. Her stories were fascinating; the pictures were amazing. And the title ... yeah, I got that too.

    What surprised me about Mireya's keynote is that I found it so engaging. She communicated a great story, and along the way connected with some personal information that made it all feel "more honest" than without. I sat there thinking how nice it would be to hear more of that in regular old science talks -- not less science, but a little more humanizing of the person telling the story. This is one of the lessons I took away from the keynote.

    It all makes sense to me within the context of a conference on communicating science, and I think Mireya Mayor was a great choice for a keynote speaker. To Mireya: thanks for enthralling a molecular biologist with something I've otherwise found so hard to truly appreciate. See you at #scio13.

  • I have followed Mireya on the Twitter for a while and found her funny, smart and interesting. I did not know she was giving a keynote talk until going into the room at Science Online 2012. Not only did I like the talk - I found it moving - the mix of personal story, family issues and science was an excellent kick off to the meeting. I note - when I then met Mireya during the meeting (most of it is a blur and I have no idea any more which day I met her) I do remember one thing. The first thing I said was "Can I ask you a science question" and then asked her about how she did her phylogenetic analysis to determine that one of the lemurs appeared to be a new species. I think this shows that not only did she include some science in her talk, but I remembered it (which I confess, I have trouble with at many meetings) - was intrigued by it - and wanted to know more. And I note - I got a very good answer from her ... though I still want to know more ... the science and the field work and the outreach all sounded good to me

  • Laura says:

    I had a very similar discussion inside my own head on a flight recently. Our pilot was a woman and we were flying in some rather bad weather. I found myself wishing we had a male pilot because then we'd be safer.

    Then I thought why am I thinking a woman pilot isn't as competent as a male pilot, just because she's a woman?

    It was depressing that such sexist thoughts were going through my head. Where did that even come from? Why do I think we're less safe with a woman at the controls rather than a man? Bad brain! No cookie.

    It's horrible, but it's reassuring to know that other feminists struggle with internalized sexism, too.

  • Liath says:

    Thank you for a fine post and the best conversation I've read in a very long time. This is the way blogs and commenters are supposed to be.

  • Barbara says:

    Some years ago, I sat tiredly in a scientific conference, waiting for the next session to begin. A rather pretty middle-aged blond woman in a pink dress moved about the stage adjusting the microphone, pouring a glass of water, putting it on the lectern. A conference secretary, I assumed. Soon she stood on the stage and asked for our attention. I wondered if the session chair was ill.

    Not only was this woman the session chair, she is one of the leaders in my field. I had used her books, and read her articles. I was so embarrassed!

    I am another woman, too.

    Thanks for writing this post. I'm glad and sad to see that I'm not the only one making such utterly foolish mistakes.

  • [...] demons in the rear end. At Thus Spake Zuska, she gives two summaries of her internal battles. At Things I Found Ponderable: #scio12 Report the First she tackles her sexist inner demon, named Sexist Z-Brain; and Things I Found Ponderable: #scio12 [...]

  • [...] How People Respond To Female Scientists. [...]

  • [...] the conference, was a strong theme during the event itself, and the conversation, continues, well after the meeting [...]