The Royal Astronomical Society has also issued a statement on shirtstorm / shirtgate. (That’s what they call it, just as the AAS did.)
It’s not nearly as well worded as the AAS statement, but it’s still good to have. I doubt that Dawkins will be calling the RAS “pompous idiots” the way he called feminists he considers wrong “pompous idiots,” so the statement is good to have. It might conceivably cause Dawkins to reflect on the fact that some people he respects actually agree with the feminists he considers wrong (and pompous idiots).
Last week saw the successful landing of the Philae space probe on the surface of Comet 67/P Churyumov-Gerasimenko. This is a huge achievement for the European Space Agency and for the many scientists and engineers who worked on this project.
At the press conference announcing the landing, the lead scientist chose to wear a shirt with inappropriate depictions of women and used an expression in his description of the comet, that were offensive to some of those who watched what was otherwise an unqualified triumph for space science and astronomy. The Royal Astronomical Society welcomes his subsequent unreserved and sincere apology.
That’s one of the places it’s not as well worded. “Offensive” is the wrong word for the purpose. It’s the wrong word for the purpose, and it’s also a favorite whipping-word of people like Ricky Gervais and the armies of misogynist harassers. The core point wasn’t so much that the shirt and remark were “offensive” as it was that they were the kind of absent-minded belittling or relegation or dismissal of women that, repeated many times every day, combine to discourage women from entering a discipline. Dawkins waves that analysis away as pompous idiocy, but he’s wrong to do that. Big names in science should not wave that analysis away. Hence it’s good that the RAS issued this statement, even though it’s not perfectly worded.
Much of the discussion that followed the press conference took place on social media, for example on Twitter as #shirtstorm and #shirtgate. Unfortunately many of those who commented have been the subject of physical threats. The Society unequivocally condemns the perpetrators of this abuse, which overwhelmingly targeted women.
Again, not perfect. Physical threats are not the only form of abuse worth condemning.
In all areas of our work, the Society takes issues of discrimination and diversity very seriously. We have recently increased our activity in this area, with the appointment of a staff member to cover these concerns and a designated member of Council who holds the role of Diversity Champion. The RAS also signed the Science Council Declaration on Diversity, Equality and Inclusion at its launch on Monday 6th October (see http://www.sciencecouncil.org/content/science-council-launches-declaration-diversity).
We therefore recognise that behaviour choices, from clothing to language, can discourage women from pursuing careers in science in general. These are equally important considerations in both the workplace and at public events such as press conferences.
Better. Much better. Let’s highlight that: behaviour choices, from clothing to language, can discourage women from pursuing careers in science in general.
The Society notes that the Rosetta team has a number of prominent women scientists and engineers who are excellent role models. They provide a positive message that gender is not a barrier to achievement in astronomy and space science at the highest level. Particularly in its future events, we strongly encourage ESA to make use of these women in its efforts to encourage people of all backgrounds to engage with the extraordinary science it delivers.
Good idea. Apply it to people of color as well. If there’s ever a time to make a point of assigning women and POC to a job it’s when you need someone to go on tv to talk about holy shit we just landed a probe on a comet.