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Science: Good Thing, Bad Thing, or Girl Thing?

The European Commission – the executive body of the European Union – recently launched a campaign to encourage more young girls to study science and engineering in school. Good idea, right? Of course.

Unfortunately, they decided to release a teaser video for the campaign (embedded below) featuring girls doing "science" in stilettos and short dresses, random shots of lipstick tubes, and a seemingly bewildered male scientist onlooker. The "Science: It's a Girl Thing" video, as seen below, has angered a lot of people who have rightfully argued that the sexist video demeans scientists of all backgrounds. The campaign took the video down shortly after the initial wave of criticism.

The video is pretty revolting, but the actual campaign website seems innocuous at worst, and it includes several great profile videos of women in science. Maybe the teaser video was a PR stunt, but generating this much bad press around launch will cast a permanent shadow on the campaign.

After giving the website a quick overview, Physics Central team member Mathlete thought that there was a lot of good buried under the teaser trash. In particular, the website focuses on using science careers to directly help people, and this should appeal to the target audience: middle school girls.

And Mathlete has a good idea of what should appeal to girls because she's worked extensively in public outreach for students (and she was a middle school girl herself not too long ago).

Additionally, the website doesn't seem to suggest that women scientists are somehow inferior to their male colleagues, something that can crop up in these types of campaigns. The profiles feature charismatic students and researchers covering a range of disciplines across several European countries.

Amazingly, the videos show scientists in the lab doing real research, and there's surprisingly little emphasis on high heels and makeup. Instead, the videos, including the two embedded below, reveal why these women became interested in science.

The website itself has still received some criticism though, however. Some social media commenters have noticed that the "Did You Know?" factoids on the website may implicitly espouse unhealthy ideas for young girls. Nonetheless, the somewhat minor infractions on the website pale in comparison to the original teaser video.

Here's some examples of the factoids that change every time you refresh the main page:

Fun Science Facts

"Cotton, found in most clothing, is the most pesticide-dependent crop in the world. It takes one-third of a pound of pesticides to make one t-shirt."

"The heaviest human brain ever recorded weighed 2.3 kilograms."

Not so Much

"Cleopatra wore lipstick made from crushed carmine beetles for colour and squashed ants as a base."

"You actually lose weight from eating celery since chewing and digesting it burns up more calories than the celery itself contains."

"Ground fish scales have been used for years to add a shimmer to lipsticks and eye shadows."

(You can appeal to more than makeup and dieting to grab girls' attention, I would think.)

At least people are talking about this important cultural issue within science. Physics in particular is male-dominated, and we could use more targeted outreach to encourage young girls to study math and science. But we shouldn't have to grab people's attention with ridiculous misrepresentations of what scientists do.

I'm waiting for a good "Science: It's a boy thing," parody video to surface. Maybe the Physics Central team has some work to do...


If you want to keep up with Hyperspace, AKA Brian, you can follow him on Twitter.


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