The problem, these scientists say, is that the industry remains an unwelcoming place for minorities. While several studies have come out in the past year arguing that this is no longer the case — for women, at least — most scientists have criticized the methodology of such work.
[Gender gap: Women welcome in ‘hard working’ fields, but ‘genius’ fields are male-dominated, study finds]
And Science, one of the most widely read journals in the world, hasn't been doing its part to make the world a friendlier place for scientists who aren't white, cisgender men.
Three prominent incidents in particular inspired scientists Aradhna K. Tripati, Jennifer B. Glass and Lenny Teytelman to pen the letter:
In July 2014, an issue of Science used a cover photo of transgender sex workers in Jakarta, Indonesia with the caption, "Staying a step ahead of HIV/AIDS." In the image used, the heads of the women were cropped out, a decision that many readers said objectified them.
[Sexism often comes with a smile, study finds]
In the open letter (which has been excerpted over at Retraction Watch, but not yet released in full by its signers), Tripati, Glass and Teytelman argue that the use of the image — and later, defensive tweets by a now-resigned editor — conflate sex work, HIV/AIDS transmission, women, people of color and transgender people in one exploitative horrific hodgepodge. Not to mention, they write, "its general harmful representation of disembodied female bodies."
Marcia McNutt, editor in chief of Science (who's also set to become the first female president of the National Academy of Sciences) issued a swift apology. But that wouldn't be Science's only "oops" of the year by a long shot.
The second incident came in early June, when Science's career advice column responded to a young woman experiencing sexual harassment from her adviser by recommending that she just put up with it — with a good sense of humor, if possible — lest she hurt her career. The column was pulled and apologized for, but you can read all about it here.
[Sexism in science: Peer editor tells female researchers their study needs a male author]
The final straw for the letter writers came in July, when an editorial in science featured a scientist who revealed the secret to his success as a tip to others — that his wife, also a scientist, had done less publishing than he and focused less on her career.
So he basically told young scientists that the best way to succeed is to find someone else to do your chores.
In response to queries from Retraction Watch, McNutt issued a statement reiterating Science's commitment to helping women in science, admitted to "missteps" by the magazine, and claimed that the editorial board is working to change things for the better.
The letter, which asks Science to use its wide-reaching platform more responsibly — especially since its editorial board claims a strong commitment to helping women and other marginalized groups enter the sciences — is being circulated on social media in the form of a Google document. The authors are keeping it close to the vest until they're finished collecting signatures, citing concerns that Internet trolls will target them for their efforts.
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Sexism often comes with a smile, study finds
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Can science make you less sexist while you sleep?