September 18, 2014 10:56 AM   Subscribe

This is Science Magazine; this is one of their featured front-page stories (date stamped 17 September 2014 8:00 am): "The top 50 science stars of Twitter", by Jia You. The list has 46 men and 4 women.

This is Laura Keeney (Twitter: @LauraKeeney, blog at The Denver Post). Her Twitter profile reads, "Biz reporter for @DenverPost. I cover tech, space, science and airlines. Fueled by The Clash, sci-fi and ALL the coffee. So Say We All. Lkeeney@denverpost.com". And this is her tweeted response (date stamped 9:48 AM - 17 Sep 2014):
There are more than 4 awesome women
scientists on Twitter. Here's a list:
cc: @sciencemagazine
The link within the Tweet above leads to a user-created public list that other Twitter users can subscribe to, or become a member of; in this case, the "Women Tweet Science Too" public list, created by Laura Keeney.

More and more people started tweeting about this issue, using the hashtag, #WomenTweetScienceToo.

It's worth noting the survey method that Science Magazine used, as described in the piece:
The list of most followed scientists compiled here is far from scientific. To identify Twitter science stars, we began with celebrity scientists such as Tyson and checked out which scientists they followed. We also referenced online lists of scientists to follow on Twitter, such as this one by The Huffington Post. If we’ve missed someone who belongs on the top 50 list, do let us know in the comment section. Follower number is, of course, a very crude proxy of influence on Twitter, but it’s the most accessible metric for the purpose of this story.

The question of who counts as a scientist is itself a matter of debate. As a general guideline, we included only those who have completed a Ph.D. degree and published at least one peer-reviewed paper in a peer-reviewed journal. As an exception to this rule, we excluded professional journalists who fit the above criteria.
Science Magazine Twitter account: @sciencemagazine ("The world's leading outlet for scientific news, commentary, and cutting-edge research.")
And their affiliated Twitter account, "News from Science": @NewsfromScience (the latest news in science)

Science Online News Staff (names and titles only); contact information page; Feedback page.

More about Science Magazine at Wikipedia.


In Response to the Top 50 Science List by Paige Brown Jarreau (SciLogs) discusses the original article and provides her own list of Twitter accounts to follow, and a compilation of other important related lists (blockquoted below):
More lists of women scientists on Twitter:

Discov/Her 10 Women Scientists You Should Follow on Twitter

Women Scientists on Twitter - a public Twitter list by Erika Check Hayden

And of course, many of these science bloggers are also scientists: Celebrating female science bloggers

Women (on Twitter) in Conservation

Women Tweet Science Too - a public Twitter list by Laura Keeney

Women in Astro/Physics - a public Twitter list by Katie Mack

Women in STEM, listed by number of Twitter followers - a public Twitter list by Laura Keeney

BLACKandSTEM - a public Twitter list by Spephani Page [sic - it's "Stephani Page" (@ThePurplePage - jcifa)]

And a growing list of female scientist tweeters can be found on Twitter #WomenTweetScienceToo

Please let me know if this list is missing someone who should really be on it. I'm happy to modify the list!
PZ Meyers (Wiki bio, previously) writes today on the freethoughtblogs.com blog, Pharyngula:
I do not blame the author. She was trying to track down a quantifiable measure and used the ones at hand, and was also trying to address a specific contrivance, the claim that high Twitter follower counts was somehow indicative of scientific failure. She didn’t invent the Kardashian index, so don’t blame her: blame Neil Hall, who came up with the K-index in the first place.

And now, of course, we get a useful backlash. People have started compiling lists of active Twitter users who also happen to be scientists and women. Here’s one from Paige Brown Jarreau; one by Erica Check[Haden - jcifa]; another by Victoria Herridge. I also posted a list of women scientists on youtube a while back. It seems these are relatively easy to find. Instead of referring to arbitrary lists of people assembled by an arbitrary metric that has a built-in bias against certain kinds of people, you’ll find that there are other lists built by advocates to counter those biases.
See also: POC STEM Professionals - a public list by DNLee (@DNLee5)

Previously: Where My Ladies At?, How to write about scientists who happen to be women, Picturing our scientific grandmothers
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome (23 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
Found another one - please add more if I've missed any: Latinas in STEM (website).
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 11:04 AM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thank you for this excellent post, jcifw.

The degree of laziness in the Twitter list can be gauged by the fact that Dawkins is #3.
posted by jokeefe at 11:08 AM on September 18, 2014 [9 favorites]

It seems what they missed is that a number of women in science blog and/or tweet anonymously .... often for Reasons.

Don't miss the debacle in which Henry Gee, an editor at Nature, outed a prominent female blogger.
posted by Dashy at 11:29 AM on September 18, 2014 [7 favorites]

More specifically: Science calculated the "K ratio" using citations, which are based on a real identity linked to a Twitter account.

That methodology would not have survived peer review, in the blogosphere.
posted by Dashy at 11:36 AM on September 18, 2014

Great post!
posted by brundlefly at 11:40 AM on September 18, 2014

Yeah, I'm pretty sure that's going to end up as my favorite tweet of the year.
posted by brundlefly at 1:27 PM on September 18, 2014

Mathy Ladies - A public list by Evelyn Lamb (@evelynjlamb, and her Scientific American blog).
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 1:37 PM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I crossed the Github list of women (and double-checked the others to make sure it wasn't missing anyone popular) with the top 50 from the article and came up with this:


It looks like there should have been 12 women in the top 50 instead of 4. Top 70 would have had 20 women.

Of course, that's assuming there weren't also popular accounts missing that were run by men.

I'd be interested to see what the top ranks look like if only full-time researching scientists are included - no Tysons or Harrises allowed.
posted by michaelh at 4:05 PM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just realized I only pasted the top 49. #50 is Seth Shotak with 14,500.
posted by michaelh at 4:06 PM on September 18, 2014

Oh, the irony.

It's time for scientists to tweet - The Conversation by Emily Darling.

(She was also one of the top PhD students in Canada last year.)
posted by wenat at 7:32 PM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I feel bad for the author, Jia You. She's a news intern who chose to wrote (or perhaps got assigned, since she's an intern) a lighthearted piece on the "Kardashian index" of tweeting scientists, and probably had no idea that it would spark the kind of reaction it did. Again, it was supposed to be a lighthearted exercise in finding the Kardashian index (yes, après Kim), of some popular scientists with the tongue-in-cheek insinuation that "Hey, if you're high on this list, maybe you should spend less time Tweeting and more time sciencing, lol!", but the results were taken by some to be saying instead "There are only 4 awesome women scientists." Way to miss the point.

I wonder what proportion of women in the top 50 would have prevented this kind of reaction. 50/50?

If there were many more women than men in the list, would the article have been accused of minimizing the accomplishments of women scientists by implying that they spend more time tweeting than sciencing?
posted by jingzuo at 8:40 PM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Science Magazine: 2 0 months since blatant misogyny!
posted by Corinth at 11:27 PM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

wenat: It's time for scientists to tweet - The Conversation by Emily Darling.

That's interesting, because the more I watch these stories the more I think "If you're a professional, you should probably stay the hell away from Twitter". Unless you have the natural talent of a PR expert to never say anything offensive to anyone and the self-control to never kick out a message in anger or annoyance, it's too easy to unintentionally piss off someone you'll later need to have not pissed off.

A system of communication that is extremely easy to engage but that is under your name and completely on the record all of the time is a nice large gun with a natural tendency to aim itself at your foot. Best to only load it if you're sure you can and will be careful with it all of the time.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:44 PM on September 18, 2014

I too felt sorry for the intern but I think it can also be a great learning experience for someone just beginning their career. That would be: even lighthearted pieces are political. Even erasure of women in "lighthearted" pieces MATTERS. This is how it happens, folks. This is why we need feminism.

Anyway I popped in to drop another link, someone has gathered the tweets on Storify (Alberto Roca @MinorityPostdoc). Here's his Storify homepage.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 7:05 AM on September 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

I meant to also make the point that Science Magazine has a certain amount of prestige and are positioning themselves as a noteworthy publication in science; therefore they have a responsibility to work harder when assigning these stories. Giving it to an intern wasn't the best move, IMHO. Or at least have a supervising editor who could run their eye over the piece and use better editorial judgement.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 7:09 AM on September 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think the lesson she learned isn't so much that even lighthearted pieces are political, but that they get politicized.
posted by jingzuo at 8:41 AM on September 19, 2014

I realized from the first that this was a "fluff" piece that ... got out of hand.

It got out of hand because it clearly wasn't supervised or edited or reviewed or given a second thought. Which is insanely ironic, given the bar of peer review for publication in Science.

Someone - anyone! - should have seen the headshot-group pic of "look, a bunch of white men!" or a list of male names and had a gut reaction. Just that alone would have sufficed to keep this from getting out of hand, if not thinking more deeply about what the K index is really made of (ie, named people).

And like joseph_conrad said, this "oh it's just fluff!" is how it happens. This is "casual" sexism. This is how women ... vaporize, out of sight out of mind, no one really thought about it, and well it's just 'fluff' so no one reeeeeally meant anything but women disappeared anyway? This is why we need feminism.
posted by Dashy at 9:17 AM on September 19, 2014 [7 favorites]

I think in order to understand the reaction to this you really have to see it in context with a lot of recent discussion (and some activism) about scientific conferences that massively under-represent women (see here, for example - full disclosure, I've interacted with Jonathan Eisen professionally but was familiar of his work in this area before that). Some men, for example, have actively refused to speak at conferences where the male to female ratio is absurdly high; others have accepted the invitation and used their session to highlight the work of as many female scientists in the field as possible. It's an issue that's on a lot of people's minds right now. (As Corinth mentioned also, Science has also fucked up with regard to women and especially trans women in very recent memory.)

Combine this with an increasing popularity of Twitter as a place to discuss "serious" science (for example, and I know I'm not alone in this, I use Twitter in part to read summaries of conferences to which I'm not able to travel), and I can definitely see why people would be annoyed at a list that seemed to unnecessarily overlook women who are equally active on social media. As michaelh has noted, even if you were to just use a less biased input sample, several more women "should" be in the top 50. I totally agree that calling it the "Kardashian" factor to begin with kind of makes a lot of shitty assumptions (that social media engagement is improper or inappropriate for scientists, that frivolity and social fame are somehow feminine traits, etc.), but at the end of the day you're still making a list of prominent, public-facing scientists who are active on social media, and that list still seems to have downweighted women for no good reason.

Happily, part of the outcome is, as PZ Myers mentioned in his post, a "useful backlash" that highlights a lot of interesting female voices in science. I think that's a pretty great outcome, especially since it salvages a snotty Genome Biology op-ed (has anyone else noticed how Genome Biology has this weirdly condescending, "get off my lawn" tone to their editorials? It's a pretty grating house style IMHO) and a somewhat oblivious follow-up piece published in the blogging arm of one of the most prestigious 2-3 science journals worldwide.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:58 PM on September 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Sorry, I think that link got eaten because of non-escaped spaces. Trying again!
posted by en forme de poire at 4:32 PM on September 19, 2014

This is really good, via Katie Mack.

When words fail: women, science, and women-in-science by Jacquelyn Gill (@JacquelynGill):
Because I am a woman-in-science with an opinion about women-in-science, you’ll expect me to have answers. I don’t. There’s a perpetual cycle happening and I don’t know how to break it. It goes like this (you can start anywhere in the sequence):

1. News article reveals a problem facing women in science. 2. Discussions happen (online and in person) and awareness is raised. 3. Someone does something stupid and sexist. 4. Article comes out questioning why we have a women-in-science-problem. 5. Hand-wringing discussion ensues. 6. The cycle progresses back to step 1, step 3, or step 4, ad infinitum.

Did you notice what’s missing from that cycle? Action. Here’s what I want to know: at what point does the action happen? When do we take actionable steps to stop the self-perpetuating cycle of outrage (Wow, we have a problem!), justification (Look at these numbers! You should care about this! It’s worse than we thought!), and damaging sexism (Bitch, make me a sandwich!)?
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 5:24 PM on September 23, 2014

This is a great photo!

(Pointer to this FPP.)
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 7:32 AM on September 24, 2014

A response and update from Deputy News Editor at Science magazine, John Travis (@johnstravis):

Twitter’s science stars, the sequel

Via Katie Mack (@astrokatie)

(My own comment - having skimmed it and still on first cup of coffee - sort of a strange decision to include economists, but otherwise, at least it's a response, which is good. Also nice to see an update from closer to the top of the Science Magazine hierarchy.)
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 8:06 AM on October 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

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