There’s a lot of talk about sexism in science these days – blogposts, op-eds and tweets roll out on a daily basis, and even Parliamentary committees get worked up about it. It’s no longer a minority of isolated people concerned about the problem: it’s entirely mainstream and legitimate.
Despite this awareness, there are still plenty of problems being reported, so much so that all of the anecdotes about sexism in my profession leave me immune enough not to get really pissed off.
Most of the time.
Today I read something truly shocking. Many of you have probably heard about how chemists are calling for a boycott of the The International Congress of Quantum Chemistry for its glaring lack of female speakers in a preliminary list, despite hundreds of possible options. So far, so par for the course in this day and age, when bias and discrimination are quite rightly pointed out and criticized – against a largely supportive background.
But in an article on Salon entitled “Sexism plagues major chemistry conference: Boycott emerges amid growing outrage” (which for some bizarre reason, at the time of this post going to press, is not viewable outside of the United States), an instance of repugnance has reared its head above my normal threshold. As some of you can’t read the article in full, I reproduce here the key material (with thanks to Professor Virginia Valian for providing access to the text via email). The following is a message from one James Kress, who according to Salon is “a member of the Worldwide Who’s Who for Excellence in Science and Engineering, a nonprofit dedicated to cancer treatment research”. This is what he is reported to have written on a chemistry forum called CCL (which I think is this one, though I’m not a member so can’t check). I leave you with it – with no further commentary – and invite you to draw your own conclusions.
Has anyone bothered to ask the organizers of the “evil” ICQC about their supposed “gender inequality” issues? Has anyone asked about the speaker selection criteria? Has anyone allowed, or asked, the “evil” organizers of the ICQC to provide a response so the members of the community can get BOTH SIDES of the story?
Has anyone determined the number of black/ Hispanic/ Asian/ American Indian etc. speakers to ensure there is no “racial inequality”? How about the number of speakers from every country on the planet to ensure these is no ”ethnic inequality”? How about the height of the speakers? Has any ensured there is no “vertical inequality” by making sure that people of all stature are “properly” represented. What about weight? We wouldn’t want to promote “Girth Inequality”, now would we? What about age? Hair color? Shoe size? Marital status? Claimed sexual orientation? Eye color? Nose length? Ability to hear? Ability to see? Ability to walk? Ability to talk? Every other “disability” status?
As one can see, once CCL starts down this path there is no end to the amount of whining and complaining that the list will have to endure. It will render CCL a wasteland of “Political Correctness”. Perhaps CCL should dedicate a part of their platform to related social issues such as these.”
If people want to discuss “gender inequality” they should start a forum on LinkedIn or Facebook or any of the many Social Media sites; or a WWMWICCL (We Want More Women I Computational Chemistry List) email list to which interested people may subscribe.
If you INSIST on discussing this on CCL, the please place an identifying header on all your emails so that those of us who care about SCIENCE, as opposed to trendy whining about supposed “gender inequality” and other fashionable modes of Political Correctness can at least have a hope of filtering out all of the nonsensical content and peruse the SCIENTIFIC content.