Science: It's a Girl Thing
Friday, July 20, 2012
Major kudos to the European Commission on Women in Research and Innovation for launching Science: It’s a girl thing.
The commission points out that the challenges our world faces need to be tackled by all of us. They address key ideas that will hopefully fire up a young woman’s inner scientist.
The EU Commission identified six reasons why science needs more girls:
1. Health, demographic change and wellbeing – helping us all lead longer and healthier lives.
2. Food security, sustainable agriculture and the bio-economy – feeding the world healthier food.
3. Secure, clean and efficient energy – finding new sources of energy.
4. Smart and clean transport – designing cleaner and more efficient transportation.
5. Climate action, resource efficiency and raw materials – using our planet’s natural resources carefully and taking action on global warming.
6. Innovative and secure societies – making the most out of great ideas for a safe society.
In spite of every good intention, and focusing on profiles of outstanding adult women in science and a number of science dream jobs, the program seems to have backfired with a large number of folks finding the music video they produced to attract girls between the age of 13 and 17 to science, suggestive and insipid.
These folks, who also frequently claimed to be morally outraged, obviously never looked at any part of the well-designed program but the 55 second music video.
I’m a scientist. I did not find the music video or the program disturbing. In fact, I emailed the EU Commission video to all of my teenage granddaughters and grandsons because science is fun.
Early science education develops life-long passion and curiosity about the world around us. How fun is that! Science knowledge promotes self-assurance and inner pride with a feeling of accomplishment. Why would we not want to attract more young people to the field we love? If it takes a little rock and roll featuring lipstick science to get some young girls attention, so be it. Science Fact: It's important to remember that fascination with appearance is a normal rite of feminine passage for the majority of teenage girls, just as fascination with all things fast is a rite of passage for the majority of 13 - 17 year old boys. This fact does not suggest that some of these girls and boys would not become brilliant scientists if given the opportunity. To suggest otherwise short changes our youth and our country.
The EU Commission video shows energetic young girls in short skirts cat-walking to an interesting beat, not the suggestive moves or clothing reported in a number of journals and web sites, including Scientific American online. The reported outrage seems over-the-top, particularly if we compare the moves in this science-focused music video to the half-naked cheerleading squad moves at any Saturday afternoon football game, which actually rarely offends me either. The modern cheerleader is a stunning athlete and a joy to watch.
We should all hope that the video reaction does not cause the EU Commission to shut down its three-year outreach campaign because the gender gap in science fields is a serious problem in both our country and Europe.
According to Mary Ann Rankin, PhD, the President and CEO of the National Math and Science Initiative and the U.S. Commerce Department, women make up 48 percent of the workforce in the United States, but hold just 24 percent of the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs.
The commerce department also reports that STEM jobs are projected to be the highest-paying jobs of the future. If we don’t encourage girls to become passionate about science, the pay gap between men and women will become even greater. That is not a good thing.
Given that the US now lags way behind other countries in science, technology, engineering and math, our position as a world leader depends on our collectively upping our science education game if we are to attract outstanding students of both sexes.
Let's hope we succeed.
Ellen Troyer, MT MA
Biosyntrx CEO / Chief Research Officer