In which outrage finds focus: petition about the Daily Mail Peiris/Aderin-Pocock affair

Most of you have probably heard about the crass article that appeared in everyone’s favorite working mum- and immigrant-bashing rag (that’s me firmly in its sights, then, for embodying both evils simultaneously), the Daily Mail.

Which one, you ask? Because there are so many.

I’m referring, dear reader, to the columnist who took issue with BBC Newsnight having had as their guests two (gasp) women scientists, neither of which were (shocked double-take) white. Although chosen for their expertise, the columnist stated that it was only their gender and race that had scored them the high-profile punditry stint commenting on the big gravitational wave discovery.

Or in journalist Ephraim Hardcastle’s own charming words:

So, two women were invited to comment on the report about (white, male) American scientists who’ve detected the origins of the universe – giggling Sky at Night presenter Maggie Aderin-Pocock and Sri Lanka-born astronomer Hiranya Peiris.

The whole gaff has been amply covered elsewhere, and in an open letter, the scientists’ university (my own academic home, UCL) reminded the Mail about the scientists’ legitimate credentials:

[Peiris] is a world expert on the study of the cosmic microwave background…[and] Aderin-Pocock is a highly-qualified scientist and engineer with an exceptional talent for communicating complex scientific concepts in an accessible way.

This whole thing is a bit of joke. The number of women and people of color who appear in broadcast and print media as science pundits is vanishingly tiny. Having two at once may well be conspicuous because of how incredibly unusual it is, but to imply that they were chosen solely for these attributes is just silly considering how every other time, it’s almost always white guys in the chair. If it had been deliberate, we’d see more of it, and we just don’t.

Besides, it’s obviously very insulting to the scientists in question, no doubt having spoiled for them what should have been a deeply exciting moment. It’s also insulting to the women and non-white members of the gravitation wave teams whose work contributed to the discovery – to have the Mail just airbrush them from the picture is astonishing. (Has good old-fashioned fact checking gone out the window along with any semblance of respect or human dignity?)

Anyway, I just wanted to alert you all to a petition that’s gone live from University College Union member and fellow UCL colleague Dr. Rachele De Felice, demanding that the Mail issue a formal apology to the two scientists. I just had a peek and it’s got over 1500 signatures already, which is great for its first day. If you feel as strongly about this as I do, sign the petition and spread the word!

About Jennifer Rohn

Scientist, novelist, rock chick
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6 Responses to In which outrage finds focus: petition about the Daily Mail Peiris/Aderin-Pocock affair

  1. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Signed! Thanks for the link.

    I bet the fact that the work was done exclusively by “white, male” scientists came as something as a surprise to the research team involved…

  2. Nico says:

    Haha, you mentioned fact-checking, dignity and respect together with Daily Mail, clearly you’re just off the boat!
    I think my wife beats you at DM hater bingo: refugee, brown, muslim, mum. It’s like she’s doing it on purpose.

  3. Rachele says:

    Thank you Jenny for the post, and thanks all for the support!

  4. Cromercrox says:

    I am not sure that righteous indignation and petitions directed at the Daily Nimbyist Bungaloid Curtain Twitcher are much help, as they might think they’ve touched a nerve. In my few the best thing to do with it is ignore it, but if you can’t do that, then laugh at it. (Jewish, child of immigrants, one a child of the Kindertransports when the Daily Immigrants Cause Cancer ran the headline ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts’.)

  5. I’ll have to disagree with you on this, Henry. I always feel it’s important to respond, no matter to how unworthy a target. Getting an apology from a newspaper with a circulation of nearly two million, no matter how unlikely, is a worthy goal in my view.

    The Mail has in fact apologized for half of the gaffe, here:

    We are still hoping for the other half.

    Meanwhile, Dr Peiris has written a really rather lovely and graceful rebuttal herself, here in the Tmes Higher:

    We UCL women have class.

  6. Cromercrox says:

    Classy indeed. Not only is the Daily Nimbyist grubby – it can’t even be bothered to check its assertions against reality. Me ? I thought the BICEP2 findings astonishing – I was very much less interested in the people making the finding, thinking it one of those moments to celebrate a collective human effort of which we can all be proud – men, women, hamsters, geraniums, everyone.