March for Science: Reproducing Inequality

Having recently created two issues of gender inequity, March for Science made their third foray into inappropriate gender commentary less than a week later. By repeating one of science's most infamous tales of fraud and sexism, the organisers once again proved that equity is not their strength.

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  1. March for Science has been inadvertently re-staging multiple problems with diversity in science. Since the project was launched, it has paid little attention to equity, inclusion and access, except to rebuff critiques by scientists. With an ever-shifting diversity stance and general lack of diversity awareness, the march organisers have been slow to respond to mounting critique that it is overly focused on the science of White, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied men.
  2. People of colour have been leading these critiques, showing that the messaging around the march is exclusionary. Underrepresented scientists are using the hashtag #MarginSci to share the lack of proactive action on diversity and issues of accessibility with the march.
  3. In the past week or so, the March for Science central Twitter account has made two major errors, reflecting that the organisers have limited awareness of diversity issues. First, they invited "ladies" to provide an explanation for the gender pay gap, and then they asked "females" to give reasons why they left science. If this sounds innocuous it is not. As I previously discussed, the literature has a wealth of empirical evidence about the structural dynamics that impact on gender inequality. It is not a matter of individual choices. Moreover, with a chequered history of mismanaging diversity discussions, scientists were fed up.
  4. On the 1 March, just days after apologising for these previous issues, the March for Science Twitter account tweeted about Professors James Watson and Frances Crick's "discovery" of DNA; thus subsuming the contribution of Dr Rosalind Franklin, whose work was stolen by Watson and Crick. By stumbling into one of science's most infamous tales of fraud and sexism, the march organisers once again proved that diversity awareness is not on their radar.
  5. At this point, it's almost as if followers of March for Science are stuck in a never-ending story of exclusion.
  6. Forgetting Franklin

  7. I discussed the timeline of events, focusing on the how this latest issue was linked to broader problems with equity and diversity with the March for Science. Note that the timeline below is how it appears on the march's Twitter timeline, which shows that there was a tweet celebrating Watson and Crick as the discoverers of DNA, before there was a tweet about Franklin. I did not realise this at the time, but this is because March for Science retweeted the initial Franklin tweet after they began receiving criticism (and then retweeted another version of their original tweet in their defence later still). In effect this exacerbates the issue, showing that the organisers did not understand the problem with their tweets (hence resharing their problematic statements multiple times).
  8. The key issue here is that, as hundreds of scientists pointed out, Franklin's stolen work gained Watson and Crick a Nobel Prize, while recognition for Franklin was withheld. This story is well-known; anyone who is committed to gender equity should know this sordid tale of a deserving woman being robbed of her scientific achievement.
  9. The first issue is that March for Science's social media team clearly do not know this background well enough to see how offensive their tweets were to women in science. Second, March for Science did not own the issue and instead doubled down. They retweeted a link to a story about Franklin which actually argues that Franklin's story is a myth, a proposition refuted by Sienna Schaeffer (and many other historical accounts vindicating Franklin).
  10. A geologist, CJ, pointed to a popular joke by Robby Kraft to demonstrate how well-established the Franklin story really is:
  11. Sexist response

  12. Hundreds of women scientists flocked to tell March for Science that their tweets were downplaying the significance of Franklin's research. This went on for hours, but the organisers only responded to one person: marine conversation biologist Dr Matt Shiffman. March for Science pleaded their case to Shiffman, saying that the miscommunication was due to character limit (Twitter allows for only 140 characters). Even Dr Shiffman noted that women colleagues were being ignored, and he responded that he did not buy the character limit excuse.
  13. Having responded to only one male scientist, March for Science did not respond to any other individual, despite the fact that the criticism was nuanced and important, and went on steadily for two days.
  14. Instead, March for Science fled the discussion altogether and went on tweeting about other items. Their next interaction was retweeting a story about the death of a sweet dog.
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