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Guest Post 2: Automatic ‘othering’

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Please welcome the second in the guest post series, the fantastic D-list monktress, Hermitage!

So, I’m one of the ‘bloggers you’ve never heard of’ that Scicurious has graciously invited to be part of her diversity guest post series. Which Sci made very clear is supposed to be an uplifting outlet for all of the e-rage about the Biology-Online debacle, and not a “Look at all the non-white friends I have” segment for SciAm. If I were on token black PhD student duty, I totally would have increased my base charge of $0 by at least 200%*. I have standards for my e-famewhoring.

Disclaimer: If you are the type of person who reads a post, then shakes their head while sighing, “this would have been really compelling if they’d had better copy-editing,” we should both agree that we’re good people and go back to our respective NPR/lolcats lives. Similar rules apply if blatant disregard for grammar makes you cry, or if you’ve ever made a grumbly comment on overuse of memes by The Kids of Today. Not that you’ve been properly appraised, let’s dive right in.

Figure 1: Being the token black academic is a super stressful job, especially now that I’m expected to have views not only on the debt ceiling, but also Kenya AND muslin.

*Note to people who continued reading even though the disclaimer totally applied to them: this post will not get any better.

“Dr. Lee’s post pertained to personal correspondence between her and an editor at Biology-Online about a possible assignment for that network.” (Source)

Now, I am going to ignore the (imo) logical fallacy of calling an email exchange about requesting someone’s professional services—followed up by a youtube video advising young bloggers how to navigate such requests—a personal correspondence. No, today muffins, we will discuss a different topic: that stories about scientists interacting with and navigating through the broader scientific community have no place in Srs Science Bsns Discussions. This is total le bullshit, now let us walk through why.

As far as I’m aware, when white d00d BSDs do campus visits, it is considered Srs Science Bsns time. They are sponsored by graduate departments, swarming with professors and students trying to get BSD facetime, and sport someone important is here so don’t dumpster dive this time tapas. And when said BSD graces the plebeians with their imminence, we sure as fuck aren’t gathering around adoringly for them to read us the results from their 1e7 glamourmag publications. We want to hear the personal saga in the scientific equivalent of defeating Mount Everest. We want to hear about the context of their career progression, their successes and failures—both for admiration and also to benchmark ourselves against it, “could I ever achieve that?” If that’s not the stamp of official science approval, I dunno what is.

Of course, if said BSD is a woman or a person of color, it is often immediately perceived as a ‘diversity’ or ‘outreach’ event.

Which brings me to my second point, which is an academic’s simple existence as a non-straight, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied white man is still automatically ‘othering’. This is also a perfect example of the academy talking out of both sides of its mouth, because we are inundated with breathless reports of how we simply must get more diversity in STEM fields to push us to the next level. We smile and tell potential recruits that they are needed to provide new perspectives and viewpoints. Except when you do join the STEM Borg, you’re supposed to leave your cultural baggage outside the door, but line up and smile for the ‘diversity’ promo photographs.

Figure 2: The main goal of a lot of research is to answer the what and why of certain phenomena. The what of this study is decreased retention of URM men and women from undergrad to TT. There are numbers and percent signs and statistical significances, so SRS SCIENCE y’all. The why is a combination of social biases, cultural expectations, and the phase of the Moon, probably. Is the why no longer science because it now lacks clean controls and parametric comparisons? Source: Education Career Outcomes for Women of Color in Academia.

Academics do not exist within a vacuum, their careers, and their science, are influenced by how the greater scientific community perceives and interacts with them. Louis Pasteur’s establishment of germ theory is not only compelling for his elegant experiments. We revel in his dogged determination to prove his theory despite hostile reactions from the medical establishment. It is his crusade against other scientists, against accepted dogma propagated by others before him, which makes us appreciate the beauty of an ironclad experiment with near irrefutable results. Researchers do not avoid these stories; we seek them out voraciously, because the context outside of simple experimental conditions makes us appreciate the data even more. However, the template for such stories has almost universally been through a white male’s lens, and when a scientist shares a story that does not fit this mold, it is confusing. When the story does not fit the mold, it must not be scientific, and therefore is to be dismissed as frivolous, or a sidebar to real science discussions.

But, dismissing these stories as ‘not science’, because the researcher in question had the moral failing of not figuring out how to make the scientific community perceive them like a white male, is a direct contradiction to wanting to increase diversity in our fields. Assuming these stories are strange one-offs, or are something to be discussed quietly in some panel somewhere while Real Scientists get on with Srs Science Bsns is what helps dropkick minorities right out of STEM. We must accept that diversity of viewpoints means our definition of what is a proper scientific discussion must change along with it. Otherwise we are directly lying to underrepresented populations when we say we need their expertise, when what we really want is window-dressing. And I assure you, there are fields that would pay a heck of a lot more for us to be their Token Minority/Female/LBGTQ/Etc friend. With, like, pensions…probably.

*Which, if we were going to insult The Hermitage using gendered, patriarchal slurs, would make her a slut. Because whores get paid, have insurance, and (in non-assbackwards countries) workman’s comp. Take this PSA as inspiration to Do Better in your internet trolling endeavors.

Hermitage is a STEM grad student who likes to make snarky comments about laboratory servitude. You can follower her on twitter: @meinhermitage, and at her blog:

Scicurious About the Author: Scicurious is a PhD in Physiology, and is currently a postdoc in biomedical research. She loves the brain. And so should you. Follow on Twitter @Scicurious.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. Bashir 3:39 pm 10/15/2013

    That picture sends me straight back to high school. *shudder*

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  2. 2. rtbinc 6:42 pm 10/15/2013

    The 1337 speak throughout undermined the post. I spent way to much time looking up things on Google. The disclaimer didn’t help.

    Scicurious was generous to give Hermitage the space to say her thing. But, in the end it was just a re-hash of the problems of people of color and women in science, couched in somewhat obscene terms. BSD should only be the Berkeley Systems Distribution.

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  3. 3. rowlandw 8:36 pm 10/15/2013

    Not sure what your point is but I’m sure it could be made in many fewer words.

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  4. 4. AllyF 9:10 pm 10/15/2013

    Hermitage, missed you! Thank you for coming out of blog hiatus, and so I’ll delurk to say I appreciate this positive response to the Biology-Online crap. Goes along with DNLee’s excellent response, and discussing how all of us can survive in science is certainly a science discussion.

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  5. 5. scicurious 8:55 am 10/16/2013

    rtbinc: I’m so sorry that, even after the disclaimer, someone forced your eyeballs open and made you read this post. It must have been difficult for you.

    I love this post, whether or not anything in it has been said before. There are hard truths in it that people need to hear, and that people often forget. Many people feel like they slap a “diversity” label on something and get a cookie, but that label can in fact be othering in and of itself. And whether or not it has been said before, it’s quite clear that nothing has been done about it. This means it needs to be said again, and I’m proud to give Hermitage a place to say it.

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  6. 6. Hermitage 10:31 am 10/16/2013

    Bashir: Take two pop rocks and a Spike Lee movie overnight, you’ll make it thru this!

    rtbinc & rowlandw: Sry I r doing it wrong. I’ll try to make my blackness more concise and entertaining next time*. Animated gifs, yes/no?

    AllyF: Whooo, I’m glad to see one of my muffins/minions alive and well! Thanks for delurking, made my day.

    Sci: Thanks for the board space. Totes ticked off one of mai life goals.

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  7. 7. M Tucker 3:08 pm 10/16/2013

    Hermitage, (I love that handle and I can’t stop wondering how you acquired it.)

    $0 + 200% is still $0. Your dignity is preserved.

    I blew past the disclaimer and dove right in! I enjoyed the POV and the slang and it is a POV that does need to be repeated again and again.

    But I was thinking that, because of the slang, your audience must mostly be young folks who do not need to struggle with the slang. Would your typical BSD fit into that category? I’m thinking the “academy” is still dominated by OWM. If you want to communicate with them you might consider a copy editor. Just a suggestion not a criticism. I really did enjoy your post.

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  8. 8. Hermitage 5:01 pm 10/16/2013

    M Tucker: That is an excellent question. Ze answer is probably not as exciting as you’re hoping (

    I have no interest in, or hope to, communicate with BSDs. I DO hope to communicate with their golden children aspiring BSD-lites. Perhaps being inundated with alternative viewpoints during their incubation period will help them be more inclusive BSDs in the future. Also I don’t remember any of the grammar rules required to be respected like a big kid, so I was ‘f it, ALL IN.’

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  9. 9. M Tucker 6:33 pm 10/16/2013

    “Perhaps being inundated with alternative viewpoints during their incubation period will help them be more inclusive BSDs in the future.”

    Yeah, that’s what we thought too, when I was a young “golden” child. It doesn’t last with enough of them. Too many hippies turned into Yuppies and voted for Reagan, believed his ‘trickle down’ nonsense, and ignored that he ran our debt into the trillions. Now they are the BSD OWM of your time. My generation dropped the ball and our votes have saddled your generation with the most conservative Supreme Court in modern times. Watch as the last vestiges of affirmative action evaporate like spilt water in Death Valley. I really think the focus must be multigenerational but I don’t force my opinions on others, forget I said anything about it. ;) PhD student who can’t write…yeah, like I take that seriously.

    I’m glad that for a hermit you seem to be well endowed with friends because you seem like a fun person to hang with. Happy gaming!

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