A start, not an end point.
February 7, 2018 7:47 AM   Subscribe

Science journalist, blogger and author Ed Yong has spent the last two years trying to fix the gender imbalance in his stories.

Skeptics might argue that I needn’t bother, as my work was just reflecting the present state of science. But I don’t buy that journalism should act simply as society’s mirror. Yes, it tells us about the world as it is, but it also pushes us toward a world that could be. It is about speaking truth to power, giving voice to the voiceless. And it is a profession that actively benefits from seeking out fresh perspectives and voices, instead of simply asking the same small cadre of well-trod names for their opinions.

Another popular critique is that I should simply focus on finding the most qualified people for any given story, regardless of gender. This point seems superficially sound, but falls apart at the gentlest scrutiny. How exactly does one judge “most qualified”? Am I to list all the scientists in a given field and arrange them by number of publications, awards, or h-index, and then work my way down the list in descending order? Am I to assume that these metrics somehow exist in a social vacuum and are not themselves also influenced by the very gender biases that I am trying to resist? It would be crushingly naïve to do so.

Note that this call to ignore gender and find the best sources almost always arises when journalists talk about including more female voices. Where is this ostensible concern about quality when it comes to news stories that predominantly quote men—which is to say, most news stories? Absent, because as Adrienne noted in her piece, this vein of criticism implicitly assumes that the best source is not a woman. It suggests that the status quo, in which men are overrepresented, is one in which the best sources are already being found.

I doubt it is.
"Christina Selby, writing at the Open Notebook, compiled a list of tips for diversifying sources. The journalist Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato created Diverse Sources, a searchable database of underrepresented experts in science. 500 Women Scientists, a nonprofit, created Request a Woman Scientist, a similar (and larger) database. Both can be filtered by country, specialty, and more. Several scientists have compiled lists of women in microbiology, astronomy, physics, evolution, political science, neuroscience, and more."
posted by zarq (6 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
I had an idea for a tumblr awhile ago called something like "There were no women in X," based on a piece on NPR about the 1968 Democratic National Convention where not a single women was interviewed. I know there were women at the protests, women delegates, and women in the press core. But according to NPR's retrospective there were no women at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

If someone with more energy wants to steal that idea and make it a reality I would love it :)
posted by muddgirl at 9:39 AM on February 7, 2018 [6 favorites]

This is great. Ed Yong seems like a very conscientious and on-top-of things guy, and I really enjoy his writing. One of my mini life goals is for Ed Yong to quote me in a science article.
posted by ChuraChura at 9:56 AM on February 7, 2018 [16 favorites]

What Chura said. For sure.

I'm in the middle of a major scientific slump right now which is being... shall we say, exacerbated by gender issues, and so this is something I sort of needed at this point in my career. Very, very badly.

Yeah. I'm glad Ed is making this a priority. It's a little beam of light at a time when I am going through a rough patch.
posted by sciatrix at 10:21 AM on February 7, 2018 [10 favorites]

It's as if he was deconstructing all the squares in Female Speaker Bingo.

Thanks, Ed, good stuff.

Another good one to watch: Bias Watch Neuro
posted by Dashy at 11:31 AM on February 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

I really like his writing, now I like him even more!
posted by smoke at 2:36 PM on February 7, 2018

My favourite metric in that is his note that this takes about 15 minutes more for each article, and is getting easier as he adds more contacts. 15 minutes is a very brief additional bump to achieve such a significant change.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 2:58 PM on February 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

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