Science: It’s a girl thing?

In what was seen by many as a misguided attempt to get girls interested in science, the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, this summer released a ridiculous video that used short skirts, high heels, and lipstick to sell the idea. The video, “Science: It’s a Girl Thing!”, triggered widespread criticism, and at least one parody video.

Now, a group of Dartmouth College scientists has produced its own take on science being a “girl thing,” with a video that trades the preposterous club-like atmosphere of the original video for the scenic views and the gritty reality of field work in Greenland: boots, dirt, snowflakes, and all.

The topic of women in science is an important and complicated one. Things have certainly improved in many respects. But even as more women are getting science degrees, women are still outnumbered by men, when you count the number who become full faculty members. The numbers are improving but remain far from equal in most fields — a National Science Foundation study notes that in 2008, women made up a little more than a fifth of full professors with science and engineering degrees.

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This year, a team of scientists from Yale University revealed that subtle, unintentional biases held by other scientists may help reinforce gender disparities. The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that science faculty members from research universities evaluating a job application for a lab manager rated applicants with a male name as “significantly more competent and hireable” than the same application with a woman’s name on it. Nature magazine just chose the woman who led that research, Jo Handelsman, as one of its “Ten people who mattered this year.”

“I had heard so many times from scientists that this couldn’t possibly be true of us, that we’re trained to be rational,” Handelsman told Nature. Once again, science suggests that human nature applies to scientists, too.