So I passed my defense last week. I am breathing another sigh of relief. Hooray! The formalities are not quite done yet, but hopefully they will be by the holidays, making me officially Dr. Volcanista and no longer ABD faculty, which is decidedly less fancy. I have also successfully survived my first semester of teaching.

I had a long post in the works about some of my observations about progressivism in science, based on my interactions with scientists in the meat life and on observing discussions on science blogs, but I scrapped it. The truth is that I’m pretty new to the science-o-sphere, and only pretty recently added a lot more blogs to my feed (not all on the blogroll yet – things are under construction!) and started reading more comment threads. Observing more before commenting on generalities felt like the right approach at that point.

This all originally occurred because after Thanksgiving, I got pretty upset reading a post by the brilliant and awesomely-shoed Goddess Isis. Isis and I disagree on a social justice issue that I care about particularly strongly (we agree on most else, as far as I can tell). That prompted me to reflect on other discussions I’d seen, and since then I’ve done a lot more reading in what I’ll call the feminist science blogosphere.

Short version of my recent observations, as a relative newcomer: the science blogging community is awfully small, and insular. It makes it really different from the social justice blogs where until now I have spent most of my internet-time: big communities of thousands of readers and hundreds of commenters, where trolling is a huge problem and comments have to be heavily moderated. I am used to not just the flamer trolls but the more subtle “concern” trolls being either filtered so I never see them, or publicly ridiculed. My initial impressions from becoming a regular reader of, say, FSP and Green Gabbro, and occasionally dropping in on Zuska, Isis, and a few others, were that the science community, on the other hand, was overall too small to restrict commenting to those who have at least passed Feminism 101. There just wouldn’t be enough commenters left for interesting discussions to happen. That kind of strict moderation does allow for more informed discussions about, say, the intersection of gender issues with the realities of being a scientist, but it doesn’t allow much room for discussing the important 101 stuff for those who might benefit from it. I admit that upon finding science blogs, was initially pretty taken aback by what sounded like basic Anti-Feminist Bingo comments on straightforward feminist posts. While many blog posts were addressing these gender (and other social justice) issues in really thoughtful ways, I found myself honestly surprised by the uninformed-ness of some of the comment threads. And I felt like to some extent, that reflected the reality of the science community IRL. Most scientists do not take, for example, very many social justice classes, and there isn’t much discussion of these issues in most departments, IME. So there just isn’t as much awareness and education on these topics in the science community as a whole as I’ve grown accustomed to seeing on my favorite blogs. Sometimes that makes it feel like I have to lower the bar when talking to a general scientific audience – teach more 101 and have less in the way of advanced discussions. Sometimes I find that feeling frustrating (this is, incidentally, independent of my disagreement with Isis, who is clearly informed on these topics and very thoughtful about them).

This general feeling of uninformedness in the science community may or may not reflect reality. To some extent I also think a lot of bloggers prefer to police their comment threads less stringently than I’m used to. This is true among “progressive” and social justice blogs as well (it’s why I so strongly prefer places like Shakesville to, say, Feministing or Feministe – I can’t stand the trollishness of the comments on most of the internet. Oftentimes it’s not a discussion, it’s a screaming match). I most highly value informed dialog, and I do favor the argument that if you want to be more informed on an issue, it’s your own responsibility to read up on it and find the resources yourself.

So I don’t really have a firm position on this subject. Some of the threads I’ve read on Sciencewomen have been really good, initiating conversations that I hope continue and that I plan to think about more. I think we have a strong group of progressive science bloggers out here in this corner of the internet, and I’m excited to be starting to join it in my little way. I’m also excited by the idea that it might lead to a slightly more educated science population, which would sure make it easier to be a woman in science. And I look forward to reading more (on issues aside from just gender, for one).

Ahem, so now that I have some time for more than just quick hits, I suppose this is a more long-winded way of saying, Hello Science Blogosphere! I am reading ur blogz.

(Please note that I got to this corner of the blogosphere in earnest a little too late to join the December Scientiae, but my research is totally hotter than Dr. Isis’ Naughty Monkeys because I study hot magma. Seriously.)

ETA: In my frantic-ness finishing up the PhD and classes this week, I missed the active debate about women in science over at DrugMonkey and Isis’ blog. I haven’t quite finished all the threads, but it kind of seems like a case in point – a couple trolls derailing the conversation to complain about AA and women and minority scientists. But while I generally prefer troll-free conversation, I do enjoy the occasional troll smackdown. Thanks to all the fabulous troll-smacking commenters!


9 Responses

  1. This is a really interesting post, (Dr-ish) Volcanista, especially to me as a spy from the humanities. While humanities circles are certainly as full of racists, sexists, and their ilk as other circles, I think the strong influence of feminist theory, critical race theory, and (a bit) queer theory on the humanities in the past three decades has made most of us at least familiar with the vocabulary, concepts, and main purposes of various contemporary social justice movements. Many people try to incorporate their awareness into their work somehow and see it all as interconnected in terms of epistemology — our ways of building knowledge in the world have real effects on that world.

    It seems to me (and of course I’m coming at this as a relative outsider) that this crossing of theory into general practice has not happened nearly as strongly in the hard sciences. I’ve read feminist theory that addresses the philosophy of science and the problem of objectivity in a world that, for instance, assumes the white man to be the default observer — but I have no idea how much that kind of idea is talked about by people who aren’t inclined to feminism for other reason (e.g., experiencing sexism).

    There’s a lot to think about in this post!

  2. Right, and to a large extent I think this is just an unawareness of that vocabulary and that discourse. I even think that most of the concern-troll-sounding commenters are sincerely interested in learning more (unlike the ones at, say, SP) – they just haven’t really thought about it before.

    Another possible difference with humanities, which I may be wrong about, is that I wonder if you have the same proportion of international academics in humanities departments as there are in the sciences. There are some very significant cultural differences that can make this conversation even more difficult.

  3. Congratulations on the successful defense! With that and the end of the semester you’ve gotta be looking forward to happy holidays. Enjoy!

  4. Thanks!

  5. Congratulations on becoming Dr. Volcanista!

    I have been reading many of the threads in those corners of the blogosphere you were talking about, and generally can’t figure out how or where to enter in. It’s a little amazing that one newcomer (D.) can take over that easily; I guess it takes a lot of persistence.

    And magma is truly hot – I should have linked to you, also, in my Scientae, not only Tuff Cookie. Well, all the best!

  6. Thanks, Silver Fox! I was late to the Scientae, so it wasn’t an overlook on your part.

    Dave supposedly saw he error of his ways and was convinced of another point of view by the end of the thread, but he completely derailed the conversation and was pretty nasty about it. As far as I’m concerned, 1) he was a big old troll, 2) he DOES, sadly, represent points of view that are all too common in science and in general, and 3) it’s no one’s job to explain to him why he was so wrong. I’m impressed people had the patience to do so, but it shouldn’t have been necessary in the first place.

    And yeah, I have stayed out of it this time as well. I’m not in the mood for troll-baiting right now, or for concern-troll-teaching, for that matter.

  7. congrats on passing defense … celebrate a bit and enjoy your accomplishment!

  8. Just discovered your blog via a Shapely link! I don’t have much to add besides absolutely to everything you’ve said – I frequent those same blogs and have noticed the same things. The end of finals week has fried my brain to the point of not being able to add anything substantial other than that. :)

  9. Thanks car! I didn’t realize you were a geo person, but I’ve seen you around blogland. :)

    This is one insane month, and I’m pretty fried, too. Who can’t wait for the new year!!

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