Tag Archives: Twitter

Outrage and Manatees

I’ve been quiet lately.

Some of that was deliberate, as I chose to focus on myself for a while to get through what I expected to be a rough time. It turned out that my support group was wonderful, and I was stronger than I gave myself credit for. I’ve had a happy month.

I just haven’t really had anything to say. I’ve done plenty of things this month, many of which I’m sure would make for lovely posts, but I just wasn’t feeling the spark. Normally, when I can’t find a source of inspiration in my own life, I look elsewhere for that spark. Facebook, the news, Twitter. I follow fascinating people who link to fascinating articles and have many thoughtful things to say about them. But while most of my friends have been posting funny and wonderful things, I feel like the tone of my feeds has recently veered towards the negative.

There have been shootings, and the discussions about mental health resources and gun control that inevitably follow. There has been talk of censorship and intellectual property and plagiarism. Sexual harassment and discrimination and what consent and equality mean. Political corruption and incompetence and people on two sides of an issue who just refuse to aim for a middle ground. Food stamps and abortion and health care and a childish government shutdown that cost my household two weeks’ pay. I’ve read articles that surprised me about each one of these topics; articles that made me sad. And, of course, comment threads that made me angry.

These topics push buttons inside me and make me want to speak up. Scream, in some cases. But I can’t bring myself to add to the negativity. I’ve been unable to shake the feeling that if you can’t say something nice, you shouldn’t say anything at all, but didn’t realize that was a source of my “writer’s block” until a friend posted this on Twitter today:

manatee

There’s a term I see a lot online: Recreational Outrage. Getting upset for the sake of getting upset. I’m not saying that the writers and sharers of the things I’ve been reading are necessarily guilty of this, but I feel like anything I’d say on those topics would earn me that label. I get riled up too easily. I need to keep reading and absorbing and sorting out my opinions and thoughts. Right now, I have nothing constructive to say about any of it. I don’t want to fill my blog with rants. Not before I can make them clear and purposeful rants, anyway. I don’t want to feel angry right now. I don’t want to fight evil and injustice with my little blog today.

I’ll keep poking at the dusty crate of archived blog ideas in my brain until something pops up. Something happy, or something constructive. If that means I write about cookies and soup for a while, so be it. I miss writing. I miss sharing.

Until I figure out what’s next, please enjoy a calming manatee.

The Obligations of a Scientist

As much as I wanted to, I initially decided against answering Dr. Stemwedel’s questions about scientists’ obligations. She split the respondents into two groups – scientists and non-scientists – and I was uncomfortable with choosing a side because I wasn’t sure where I belonged. Yes, the word is in my job title (I’m a Medical Laboratory Scientist), but I always imagine “a scientist” running experiments and curing cancer and discovering quasars and writing papers that will earn them a Nobel prize. I don’t do any of that. I just play with blood. I used to work in a hospital blood bank. These days, I work in manufacturing.  I make specialized reagents for reference immunohematology laboratories to use in solving complex cases and finding rare blood types for transfusion. I work in a scientific field, but am I a scientist? I don’t think Dr. Stemwedel intended for her questions to open up cans of introspective worms in her readers, but they gave me a lot of thinking to do.

After discussing my dilemma with friends who feel the same way, I finally decided that I am comfortable saying that I am a scientist1. Wearing that badge, I will offer up my thoughts, even if I’m late to the game by a couple of weeks.

Note: Because of my background, I’m biased towards biological and medical sciences. There are many different species of scientist, of course, and I can only speak for myself.

1. As a scientist, do you have any special duties or obligations to the non-scientists with whom you’re sharing a world? If yes, what are they?

As a person whose daily work affects the lives of others, I think I have a general obligation to give a damn about the work I do, and take pride in doing it well. I’ve written about professionalism before, and I still think it’s a critical quality for a scientist to have. That said, I don’t think a commitment to quality is in any way restricted to scientists. I think that any human being who’s taken on a career of any sort has that same obligation, although laziness and corner-cutting will have a greater impact in some fields than in others. A bolt missing in a box of Ikea furniture, while annoying, isn’t as bad as a bolt lost in the assembly of a helicopter.

Scientists are held up to a different standard, I think, than the average person. The title of “scientist” often carries with it an presumption of intelligence and authority, which is why an answer from a scientist on a scientific topic will carry more weight than the same answer from a bus driver. The same can be said of anyone who’s an expert in a field, from law to medicine to electrical work. We need to be aware of the fact that people will trust our answers, and we must be comfortable with admitting ignorance instead of making guesses. As scientists, we should be the very last people pulling answers out of the air (excepting, of course, the atmospheric scientists among us) when we’re not entirely sure. Our training urges us to do the research, check sources, and back up our assertions with facts2.

Over and above avoiding statements we can’t back up, I think we have an obligation to call out bullshit science when we see it. Homeopathy, wacky diets, “OMG the moon will be BIGGER THAN MARS tonight” Facebook posts, and that sort of thing. If those of us who know better don’t step in and replace false claims with correct information, then the level of scientific literacy in this world will keep declining. That would make for a sad and ignorant world, and i’d very much like to avoid it. We get bonus points if we can make the real science as exciting as the fake science, because then people will be inspired to share the good stuff, and it will get out there faster and crush the forces of bullshit. I hold up Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer, as an example we should all aim to follow.

2. If you have special duties or obligations, as a scientist, to the rest of society, why do you have them? Where did they come from? (If you don’t have special duties or obligations as a scientist, why not?

I was raised believing that we all have a duty to contribute to the world in some way, and to live and work with integrity. My teachers in the medical technology program reinforced the importance of quality in laboratory work, and I’ve taken that to heart. Thanks to those teachers, I’ve always felt very strongly about promoting my profession. I don’t scribble fun lab facts on a sandwich board and stand in the park with a megaphone, but when Medical Laboratory Professionals Week comes around, I put in a lot of effort to get information out there.

We need a scientifically literate society if we want to keep making progress as a species. If I don’t support and promote science when I’m given an opportunity to do so, then I’m not contributing to that end.

3. As a scientist, what special duties or obligations (if any) do the non-scientists with whom you’re sharing a world have to you?

To ask questions, even if it means challenging a scientist. It’s just like the “Ask me if I’ve washed my hands” buttons you may have seen nurses wearing – just because we know we should be doing it the right way doesn’t mean that we always are. And it’s okay to remind us of that.

1.  That discussion deserves a post of its own, and it will get one soon.

2. I’m looking at YOU, “Doctor” Phil.

Nothing To Prove

I’m not sure I want to wear the Geek Girl label.

I don’t deny that I am both female and geeky, but there’s something vaguely condescending about the term “Geek Girl,” and it bothers me. I’m sure I’ve never heard anyone called a Geek Boy. Or a Geek Guy/Man/Dude/Bro/Gentleman, either. So why is there a special term for the females of the geek clan? Why does gender matter here?

We don’t speak of “lady doctors” or “authoresses” anymore. We’ve slowly transitioned to using neutral labels for people like “postal workers” and “flight attendants,” to reflect the fact that one’s genitalia are irrelevant to one’s career choice1. It’s not about “political correctness,” it’s about evolving away from a sexist society that thinks it’s adorable when a woman does physics and hilarious when a man goes into nursing.

I feel that the word “girl” makes it that much more convenient for jerks to marginalize female geeks2. It singles out female geeks as different. So when they come to the table with their games and their comics and their cosplay and their big beautiful brains, they’re challenged and accosted and harassed. They’re not really geeks. They’re just girl geeks, which means they can’t possibly be taking Batman as seriously as the rest of the gang.

These men are not to be taken lightly. BIFF! POW! BLORT!

The “Fake Geek Girl” phenomenon is real, in that there are plenty of folks who analyze the motives of female geeks, and try to cast out those who don’t measure up to some nebulous geek ideal. I’ve been lucky enough to avoid harassment, whether by happenstance or obliviousness to my surroundings, but I’ve heard stories from many friends about being dressed down in front of a group for daring to geek while female. Why do I only hear these stories from my female friends? Why isn’t there as much finger-pointing towards men who travel in geek circles, calling them fakes and poseurs? Why don’t you hear stories of guys at cons being challenged to prove their worth and their right to be there? There seem to be an alarming number of jerks out there who think that women can’t possibly like anything geeky except as a trick to infiltrate the geekosphere to seduce a sexy nerd-mate.

Dude. Tiaras? Totally geeky in the right context. And don’t you also love the implication that pretty girls aren’t really geeks?

I really hate that even though I’m an adult, people might judge me and challenge me to “prove” that I love Star Trek or Doctor Who or Jonathan Coulton. That’s completely unacceptable. I spent far too much of my childhood trying desperately to fit in with the popular kids, and I know that many of my current friends can relate. I spent years trying to like what they liked, because what I liked wasn’t cool enough to share with anyone. To be mocked as a child because I loved nerdy things too much, only to find myself, as an adult, accused of not loving these same things enough? I will say it again: unacceptable. We all went through a similar hell as geeky children – why perpetuate the discrimination as adults? None of us has anything to prove to one another, so just stop it. Live and let live and let people be excited without challenging them about what they say they love. You know more Star Wars trivia than me? Cool! Maybe I can learn from you.

geek

And you know what? If there are young women out there who are faking it, and only pretending to love things to get attention, so what? How does it hurt you? Let them try on different selves until they find the one that fits them. Hell, I tried on the Backstreet Boys in my teens to see if I could be like the cool girls I idolized. Maybe she’s trying on manga because she thinks you’re cool. Be flattered, and be kind. Thinking you’re a better geek than someone else because you loved something first, or you love more things, or different things, or you love them differently? That’s bullshit. And using that as your default approach to female geeks is even bullshittier.

I am absolutely delighted to have found acceptance as an adult in my geek tribe. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I finally felt like I could be entirely myself and still have wonderful friends. Nobody has the right to take that feeling away from me. I have nothing to prove.

And neither does anyone else.

 

1. Unless you’re a penis model. You’ll probably need a penis for that.

2. I’m not saying that everyone needs to stop using the term “Geek Girl.” I understand that some find it empowering, and that’s fine. I just feel uncomfortable using it to describe myself, because I know I’d never put up with being called a stewardess or a policewoman. I do believe the internet is making a feminist of me.