Science at the Oscars! #IfScientistsWereLikeStars

YAY Oscars! Last night’s Academy Awards ceremony did not disappoint- political commentary mixed with some humor, beautiful dresses (and people), some maaajor drama, and even some science! Pretty sure there was more mention of science during the Oscar’s than there has been during any of Trumps speeches ever (someone fact check me on that). Here are the highlights:

Hidden Figures nominated for several Oscars: While it didn’t take home any awards, Hidden Figures was nominated for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer), and Best Writing Adapted Screenplay.This film is the story of a team of African-American women mathematicians who served a vital role in NASA during the early years of the US space program. This is a major shoutout to both women and minorities in science, and it’s always great when a science film makes it to the awards show. Not to mention, our favorite scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson was live tweeting about the film throughout the Oscars.

GE wins “Best Commercial” with it’s ad geared towards hiring more women scientists: YAAAS. This was one of the best commercials I’ve ever seen. Huge kudos to GE for dedicating efforts to hiring more women in STEM and advertising this initiative in a well-done commercial. It’s beautiful.

Shoutout to Science and Tech awards: While they unfortunately have their own separate event, it’s nice that the Oscars took the time to highlight some of the innovation made from the science and technology sectors and their contribution to film making. Some of these awards went to facial-performance-capture technology, animation technology, and improvements in digital camera systems.

 

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Anti-Science Quotable: Rep Louie Gohmert (Tx) opposes bill for women scientists

HOW ARE THESE PEOPLE ELECTED INTO CONGRESS?!?!?!?!  U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) explained recently that he and other Republicans (only 3 others, Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI), Glenn Grothman (R-WI) and Thomas Massie (R-KY)) had voted against a bill to promote the recruitment of women scientists because it discriminated “based on gender.” Summary from RawStory:

Gohmert acknowledged that the bill was “well intentioned,” but said that “this program is designed to discriminate against that young, poverty-stricken boy and to encourage the girl. Forget the boy. Encourage the girl.”

“It just seems that, if we are ever going to get to the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr., that he spoke just down the Mall, he wanted people to be judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin,” the Texas Republican opined. “I know after race has been an issue that needed attention, then gender appropriately got attention.”

But Gohmert argued that “those things are not supposed to matter.”

“It just seems like, when we come in and we say that it is important that for a while we discriminate, we end up getting behind,” he continued. “And then probably 25 years from now boys are going to have fallen behind in numbers, and then we are going to need to come in and say: Actually, when we passed that bill forcing encouragement of girls and not encouraging of little boys, we were getting behind the eight ball. We didn’t see that we were going to be leaving little boys in the ditch, and now we need to start doing programs to encourage little boys.”

According to the lawmaker, the bill passed on Tuesday would have derailed the Madame Curie’s research, putting “millions and millions of lives” in jeopardy.

“I thank God that there wasn’t a program like this that distracted her,” Gohmert said. “But according to the bill that we passed today, we are requiring the Science Foundation to encourage entrepreneurial programs to recruit and support women to extend their focus beyond the laboratory and into the commercial world. Thank God that is not what Madame Curie did.”

I’m pretty speechless. And I think MLK would be pretty upset that his quote was used in this manner. Checkout some of our previous blog posts about women in science to make yourself feel better after reading this clowns comments.

Barriers For Women Today May Be Less Visible, But Not Less Real

YES, THIS IS STILL AN ISSUE. We discuss frequently the inequalities for women in science (most recently, here, here, here and here). This isn’t a thing of the past, but very much a reality. Read the entire NPR article:

Last month, I wrote a review of Eileen Pollack’s The Only Woman in the Room, a memoir about Pollack’s experiences as a physics major at Yale in the 1970s.

It’s no secret that women are still underrepresented in science and engineering, and my own piece cited a statistic from 2015: that women make up fewer than 25 percent of physics majors today.

So I was surprised by a theme that emerged in comments to the article, both on Facebook and on 13.7.

“Outdated story,” claimed the first comment on NPR’s Facebook page. “Those poor women being held back by……..NOTHING…..” wrote a reader on the blog. Some readers seemed to dismiss women’s underrepresentation as a thing of the past, or an issue of women’s own making. (Though one astute reader pointed out: “Funny, but none of the comments saying that this isn’t an actual issue and nothing’s holding women in physics back were written by women in physics.”)

In fact, women do continue to be underrepresented in a variety of fields, including many in science and engineering. And the barriers they face are (still) very real. How, then, could anyone believe otherwise?

It’s difficult to identify the sources of people’s beliefs and, in this case, they’re likely to be variable and complex. But here are a few reasons why the challenges faced by women today may be less apparent, if no less pervasive, than they were in the past.

First, much of today’s bias is implicit, not explicit. Women are much less likely to betold that they don’t belong in the lab, and people may be less likely to believe that they don’t. But both men and women are influenced by implicit biases — stereotypes and associations that can subtly and unconsciously influence their decisions and evaluations regarding others and themselves. For instance, one recent study found that both male and female participants were twice as likely to select a man over a woman to complete a mathematical task, even when they had no evidence that the man would perform the task better.

Another study, published earlier this year, found that both male and female undergraduates were more likely to explain a woman’s science-related setback than a man’s by appeal to factors about that person (e.g., “Lisa was ‘let go’ from her research assistant job because she messed up an experiment”). The reverse pattern was true for men’s setbacks — the undergraduates were more likely to explain them by appeal to factors about the situation (e.g., “Steve was ‘let go’ from his research assistant job because there were budget cuts”).

These examples of implicit bias may seem inconsequential, but they’re only two among dozens, and they add up over the course of an individual’s education and career.

A second reason contemporary challenges for women may go unnoticed is because they’re often not a consequence of sex or gender identity per se, but instead an interaction between caregiving responsibilities and the structure of the workplace. Women with children, in particular, suffer from what some have dubbed a “motherhood penalty,” with negative effects on income, career advancement, and perceived competence relative to both fathers and women without children. Caregiving responsibilities can lead women to favor jobs with greater flexibility (which typically come with lower pay and fewer opportunities for career advancement), to forego professionally valuable travel, and to pass up opportunities that could involve relocation when it doesn’t work well for their families. These systematic costs for women are a function of gender-based caregiving norms and aspects of the workplace that should arguably change, but they don’t necessarily reflect discrimination againstwomen.

Finally, people may assume that the number of women entering the science “pipeline” is an indication of the future; that women are underrepresented at higher ranks due to past — not present — barriers. For instance, the American Institute of Physics reportsthat in 2010, the percentage of physics faculty members who were women was 22 percent at the assistant professor level, 15 percent at the associate professor level, and only 8 percent at the full professor level. This could reflect an effect of age: The full professors (on average) entered physics at a time when women faced more serious discrimination than that faced by women a few years later, when the associate professors were entering the field, and so on. By this logic, achieving gender parity at the undergraduate level solves the problem.

Unfortunately, this idea isn’t backed by the data. While there are indeed “cohort effects” — with women in more senior positions more likely to have experienced factors that were more prevalent in the past — there has also historically been a leaky pipeline, with women dropping out of science degrees and careers more often than men at every stage, as well as a glass ceiling, with genuine barriers to advancement, recognition, and power at the top.

So to the commentator who wrote “outdated story,” I say: I wish that were so. Unfortunately, women continue to be underrepresented in a variety of important and prestigious fields, and they continue to face serious barriers. Many of today’s barriers may be less visible than those of the past, but this comes with a new kind of challenge: that people will fail to acknowledge they’re there.


Tania Lombrozo is a psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley. She writes about psychology, cognitive science and philosophy, with occasional forays into parenting and veganism. You can keep up with more of what she is thinking on Twitter: @TaniaLombrozo

Help out with the Wikipedia Women in STEM project! #GirlPower

Wikipedia has a new WikiProject: Women scientists.This project is dedicated to ensuring quality and coverage of biographies of women scientists. Unfortunately, part of Wikipedia’s systemic bias is that women in science are woefully underrepresented. Let’s change that!

How you can help[edit]

Find out more here!

Happy Belated International Women’s Day! #WomenofScience

Sorry for the belated note, but yesterday (Mar 8) was International Women’s Day! Celebrate by recognizing the contributions of Women to science. Motherboard has a great list of female scientists from A-Z who are pushing the limits of science and technology.

Also check out NobelPrize.org which is featuring female prize winners, including several scientists!

Girl Power!

Girl Power! HHMI selects female biochemist Erin O’Shea as next President

Who run the (world) HHMI? Girls!

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) has named Erin O’Shea its sixth president, effective September 1, 2016. O’Shea currently serves as HHMI’s chief scientific officer, a position she has held since 2013.

O’Shea will succeed Robert Tjian, HHMI’s president since 2009. Tjian announced last year that he would step down and return to the University of California, Berkeley.

Kurt Schmoke, chairman of the HHMI Trustees and head of the committee that conducted the search, commented: “We’re delighted to welcome Dr. O’Shea into her new leadership role as the next president of HHMI. She is not only a distinguished scientist but also a leader committed to advancing HHMI’s unique role in the research community. Going forward, Dr. O’Shea will build on her accomplishments at HHMI, as well as the success of outgoing HHMI President Bob Tjian. We look forward to this exciting new chapter.”

O’Shea, 50, is a leader in the fields of gene regulation, signal transduction, and systems biology. An HHMI investigator since 2000, she has served on the faculty of Harvard University and the University of California, San Francisco. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. O’Shea received her undergraduate degree in biochemistry from Smith College and her PhD degree in chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Since joining HHMI in 2013, O’Shea has worked to enhance diversity in science, and to expand the institute’s support for researchers across career stages and its collaborations with other funders, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Simons Foundation, and the Wellcome Trust.

“HHMI pursues high-risk, high-reward science that can change the future,” said O’Shea. “I’m honored to have the opportunity to lead the institute, and I look forward to the important work ahead.”

The CDC guidelines on drinking and pregancy… and subsequent unwarranted media outrage!

This is a few days late, but to bring everyone up to date, the CDC has released new guidelines on the topic of drinking and women. The main take away points: don’t drink while pregnant and don’t drink if you are not using some form of birth control and have the chance to become pregnant. None of this should come as a surprise to anyone. It has long been known that Fetal Alchohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs) come about from consuming alcohol during pregnancy. While many doctors say it’s OK to have a drink every once in a while, the CDC stresses that no alcohol is the best way to be absolutely certain to avoid FASDs. From the CDC:

Alcohol use during pregnancy can cause fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs), which are physical, behavioral, and intellectual disabilities that last a lifetime. More than 3 million US women are at risk of exposing their developing baby to alcohol because they are drinking, having sex, and not using birth control to prevent pregnancy. About half of all US pregnancies are unplanned and, even if planned, most women do not know they are pregnant until they are 4-6 weeks into the pregnancy. This means a woman might be drinking and exposing her developing baby to alcohol without knowing it. Alcohol screening and counseling helps people who are drinking too much to drink less. It is recommended that women who are pregnant or might be pregnant not drink alcohol at all. FASDs do not occur if a developing baby is not exposed to alcohol before birth.

When I first saw this, my reaction was basically “duh”.  Apparently, others reacted differently. There has been lots of media outlash and uproar over the CDC recommendations. Some claim that this is an unrealistic warning-from Jezebel:

The CDC isn’t alone in this recommendation: the Mayo Clinic, for one, also recommends that any sexually active woman not on birth control refrain from drinking. But “the risk is real, why take the chance” has such a historical stranglehold even on women who are already pregnant, whose risk level is not real but immediate; to extend this idea to women whomight become pregnant just because they are alive and unmedicated—or to phrase the recommendation with a basic disregard for the facts of how women live—suggests the same old idea that all women are either future, current, past or broken incubators, and that is their body’s primary use.

forget that the real problem is abortion access and the fact that birth control occasionally fails. Women, your body is a ticking time bomb in which the bomb is a fetus, so get on birth control or stop drinking—that’s the way it’s going to be!

An article in The Washington Post claims that this message is incredibly condescending towards women, stating that the guidelines suggest drinking without being on birth control can lead to pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. NPR summarizes some other reactions:

The way this advice was communicated has struck many women as severe and condescending. “CDC to younger women: Better take your birth control before you drink that glass of wine,” read one headline.

The Internet let forth a tsunami of derision. One columnist for The Washington Post quipped, “That’s the last time I drink merlot alone in my apartment. I don’t want herpes.”

Indeed, the CDC did also point out that drinking can make a woman more vulnerable to injuries or violence and sexually transmitted diseases. But many commenters pointed out that there was no report warning men that drinking can lead to violent behavior and STDs.

“The way [the CDC] stated this is very extreme,” says Emily Oster, an economist at Brown University who wrote a book on the sometimes anxiety-producing advice that women are given during pregnancy.

Oster says the CDC has an important message to convey. Some women undoubtedly are unaware of the risks of alcohol during the early weeks of pregnancy when they may not even know they’re pregnant.

But given the tone and the judgment woven into the messaging, Oster says, it touched a nerve.

Let me say that I am SHOCKED by the amount of outrage over this article. These guidelines are legit- don’t drink while pregnant; don’t drink if you have the chance to become pregnant. No one can deny that this is sound advice. Access to birth control, abortion, etc. is all a different issue- which should definitely be discussed (and improved upon), however, unrelated to these guidelines. Furthermore, I believe the swarm of posts have all taken these guidelines grossly out of context. Thank god for The Huffington Post:

“We definitely didn’t make any recommendations for women who are pre-pregnant,” said Lela McKnight-Eily, an epidemiologist and clinical psychologist on the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Prevention Team at the CDC. 

“It’s more a matter of women knowing and being informed that if they are drinking alcohol, sexually active and not using birth control, that they could be exposing a baby to a teratogen, and that could cause fetal alcohol spectrum disorders,” McKnight-Eily said.

The warning was really directed at the three out of four women who reported wanting to get pregnant “immediately,” but who said they continued drinking as they tried to conceive. 

It was intended to inform women about the risks of alcohol and pregnancy (both expected and unexpected) — not to control the behavior of women who aren’t trying to have a baby. 

“Women should have conversations with their health professionals about drinking alcohol and their health, in general, “McKnight-Eily added. “Particularly if they are planning to get pregnant or trying to get pregnant, this should be part of the conversation that they’re having.” 

As a woman, I take no offense from the CDC guidelines, and I don’t think others should either. Some say it’s “unrealistic” to expect women to completely stop drinking if they are trying to become pregnant (it can take a while sometimes)… fine. As mentioned, this is a conversation that women need to have with their health professionals, and THAT is what the CDC recommends. The CDC isn’t telling women what to do with their bodies, it’s encouraging them to know the facts and discuss with their doctors. That’s ALL.

As for me, WHY would you take the chance? I like drinking just as much as the next person, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to stop drinking for a little while leading up to pregnancy. And I think it’s crazy that others are outraged by this. Ladies, we have REAL issues in this country that need to be dealt with (access to birth control, abortion, wage gap, ‘leakly pipeline’ when it comes to leadership positions, etc etc), let’s try to focus on those issues instead.