Gina Mei
July 23, 2015 6:31 am

On Tuesday, over 600 scientists and their supporters presented an open letter to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), requesting the organization take responsibility for multiple instances over the past year in which they reinforced “damaging stereotypes about underrepresented groups in STEM fields.”

Originally published on Buzzfeed, the letter points to four instances in particular, two of which originated from AAAS magazine and website Science, “the world’s leading journal of original scientific research, global news, and commentary”; while the other two originated from the magazine’s section Science Careers, “the leading resource for job listings and career advice in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”

In one particularly horrifying instance, a now retracted advice piece from Science Careers’ website encouraged a postdoctoral researcher to “put up” with her adviser’s sexual harassment and advances — “with good humor if you can” — even if it may be “unwelcome.” In the open letter to AAAS, the authors specifically call out the post for the following:

“An online Science Careers post in response to a postdoctoral researcher requesting advice about her advisor’s tendency to look down her shirt implied that employees should tolerate inappropriate behavior because they would otherwise risk career advancement (‘…As long as your adviser does not move on to other advances, I suggest you put up with it, with good humor if you can…..His attention on your chest may be unwelcome, but you need his attention on your science and his best advice.’)”

In another article, a male Ph.D. scientist said that he “managed” his heavy work load by giving his wife — also a Ph.D. scientist — “the bulk of the domestic responsibilities.” In the third instance, the cover image of AAAS magazine Science featured a photo of transgender women of color sex workers, alongside the caption, “Staying a step ahead of HIV/AIDS” — promoting offensive stereotypes about women, sex workers, transgender people, and people of color in one fell swoop. In the final instance, an editor for Science Careers tweeted, “Am I the only one who finds moral indignation really boring?”, in reference to criticism over the offensive cover. (He later deleted it.)

“I chose to write the letter because I appreciate how damaging the unintentional reinforcement of stereotypes can be,” Aradhna Tripati, a UCLA geologist and one of the letter’s co-authors, told BuzzFeed News. “I think the recent mishaps we’ve seen in Science journals and their associated columns and web forums reflect underlying societal issues relating to gender, race, and civil rights.”

According to the U.S. Census, women make up only 25.8% of people in STEM fields, and people of color only 29.2%. According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, women of color make up fewer than 1 in 10 engineers and scientists. When one of the most reputable journals in STEM promotes prejudice and dated gender stereotypes, it only further dissuades marginalized groups from entering the field — and points to a larger theme in the industry.

“It’s not just AAAS — these biases get in our heads,” Tripati continued. “We decided we could use our position of relative privilege, as opposed to students and postdocs, to make a difference.”

As the letter points out, each of the incidents promotes damaging stereotypes in an industry already considered to be unwelcoming. The letter requests AAAS “work more diligently” to ensure that they do not promote these stereotypes in the future, and suggests requiring “STEM diversity training” for its staff at both Science and Science Careers to further prevent it from happening again. Here’s hoping AAAS is open to change — and helps to foster a more inclusive, welcoming environment in STEM fields for all.

(Image via Science.)

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