Monday, February 12, 2018

TWIC: Gender imbalance in science writing, Salvatore

Ed Yong discusses what he did, and why, to interview 50% women in his stories. That link is to his Twitter feed. Here is his article in the Atlantic.
To find more female sources, I just spend a little more time on all of the above—ending the search only when I have a list that includes several women.
Crucially, I tracked how I was doing in a simple spreadsheet. I can’t overstate the importance of that: It is a vaccine against self-delusion. It prevents me from wrongly believing that all is well. I’ve been doing this for two years now. Four months after I started, the proportion of women who have a voice in my stories hit 50 percent, and has stayed roughly there ever since, varying between 42 and 61 percent from month to month.
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 na├»ve to do so.
It is getting increasingly easy to find such people. The journalist 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.
As a youth I chose not to read RA Salvatore. I considered him a fanfic writer like whoever wrote Shades of Grey or Twilight. And it is true his writings were basically Dungeons And dragons games transcribed. In those days, I couldn't see what creativity he added to the stories. To me, without having read them, mind, they seemed to be merely deep dives into Monster Manual and the DM handbook and such.
I have read a few of his books now and they passed the time well. I cheered for Drizzt and enjoyed the stories. I don't know if they are high art but at the same time, I typically avoid serious literature so I am not a knowledgeable judge. I would read another of his books, although I would not put much effort into hunting one down. Ah, here is my clear position. I would read one of his books before I would read another da Vinci Code sequel.
Anyway, this story, entirely unrelated to my rambling here, of a young reader who wrote to Salvatore and received responses made me like Salvatore even more. In a time of typewriters and no copy-paste, this letter shows individualized attention.

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