Like Annie Jump Cannon (female astronomer), you too can classify objects in our night sky! Citizen science is scientific research conducted by non-professional (or not yet professional) scientists. Citizen science projects are proof that everyone is capable of being a scientist. In honor of Annie Jump Cannon's 151st birthday, here is a list of our favorite citizen science space projects. Have fun classifying!
Google is celebrating Annie Jump Cannon's 151st birthday and so are we! Annie Jump Cannon (1863-1941) was an American astronomer who was extremely influential in classifying stars and in developing the current classification scheme. In her lifetime she classified around 350,000 stars, a number which has yet to be topped by another astronomer. Read her full biography here, or listen to it here.
Annie Jump Cannon is a testament to the success of (white) women in scientific careers despite the fact that science was dominated by white men. She is one of multitudes of successful non-white-men in science. Unfortunately, many of these other stories have been silenced or forgotten in favor of a more consistent white male narrative. This narrative is not only dishonest, it is also harmful to future scientists who are not given the opportunity to see themselves in the pictures of traditionally successful scientists. We can and should work to tell diverse histories in science classrooms. How we tell stories about the history of science says as much about us as about the history itself. Presenting a white-male-only view of science history is a choice.
The lists of female/black/hispanic scientists are endless. A quick google search will bring up as many results as one could desire. Yet why are these narratives not making it into our classrooms? Here are a few of our favorite lists of female/black/hispanic scientists:
Institutional barriers complicate access to academic science for white women and underrepresented minorities. The barriers we have discussed this semester can be broken down into two categories: structural and behavioral. Structural barriers are aspects of a structure, in our case the structure is academic science, which make it difficult for underrepresented minorities and white women to succeed in academic science. Behavioral barriers are actions preformed by individuals which make it difficult for members of underrepresented groups to succeed. We compiled a list of structural and behavioral barriers to success for underrepresented minorities and white women at the undergraduate level.
What is general anesthesia? ... You’re unconscious; you’re not supposed to remember; it’s nice if it doesn’t hurt; it’s good if you’re not moving around while the surgeons are operating. And if you take those first four things by themselves, they’re synonymous with death. On that long list of things that are not cool, that’s not cool. This next part is where we sort of earn our money… we keep the patient alive.
What is general anesthesia? What does brain activity look like in a patient under anesthesia? How is anesthesia different from sleep? Dr. Emery Brown answers these questions and more as he convinces a Brown University audience that general anesthesia is no mystery. Dr. Brown is a professor of Computational Neuroscience at MIT and a professor of Anesthesia at Harvard Medical School. His November 13th lecture at Brown University is a part of Brown's presidential lecture series Thinking Out Loud: Deciphering Mysteries of Our World and Beyond. Dr. Brown's lecture is the second in the series. The first lecture was given by Dr. John Johnson. Read about our discussion with Dr. Johnson here.
On Wednesday, we continued to discuss Science Education, this time focusing less on theory and more on practice. We began by reading an article called “Reducing the gender gap in the physics classroom,” written by members of Professor Mazur’s lab at Harvard (note: we are very excited to have Professor Mazur visit our class later in November!). We thought the results were compelling, and discussed whether the reduced gender gap was a result of more inclusive teaching or simply better teaching, and if it is possible to differentiate between the two. We then moved on to talk about a book chapter we read from Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozol called “The Savage Inequalities of Public Education in New York.” We found the scenes described by this book chilling, and talked about what it meant for us to be focusing on bias and discrimination among scientists at such an elite level when the racism of our public education system often prevents students from attending and learning in primary school and high school. We know that there is work to be done here at Brown to make the scientific community more inclusive, but agreed that we must always keep the broader context of educational inequality described by Kozol in mind when discussing these topics and designing interventions. We also read some articles about Richard Tapia’s minority scientist program at Rice and single-sex schools’ effect on girls interested in STEM.
On Wednesday, October 8th we spent a day looking at the history of women in science using two readings: The Mind Has No Sex? Women and the Origins of Modern Science and The Madame Curie Complex: The Hidden History of Women in Science. Right off the bat we recognized that these readings exclusively discussed white women in science. One student commented that this discussion day ought to be renamed in our syllabus to more accurately reflect the topic, and that some of our previous readings about women of color in science ought to comprise their own week. Many of our readings so far this semester have merely glossed over issues of intersectionality, which students have been finding frustrating at best.
The sections we chose from The Mind Has No Sex? by Londa Schiebinger discussed the institutional landscapes from which modern Western science was born during the Renaissance and even earlier. Today the exclusion of all women from then-nascent academies and universities often seems like a forgone conclusion- of course they were excluded, it was the seventeenth century! In fact, the question of whether and how to include women in academic and scientific zones was very much up for debate at the time. Any time a female was nominated for membership to an academy there was an opportunity to discuss “the woman question”. Even though many of these female candidates, it was agreed, possessed sufficient merit to be admitted, it wasn’t until the twentieth century that academies like the Académie Française and the Royal Society accepted women. Unfortunately, little is known about the reasons given at the time for excluding women, as history has quite a selective memory. We do know that when Marie Curie was nominated to join the Académie des Sciences in 1910, the other members voted that no woman should ever be elected to the body. One said they found it “eminently wise to respect the immutable tradition against the election of women,” so as not “to break the unity of this elite body,” (p.11).
Schiebinger argues that the place of women in science at the time of its origins depended on their social standing in the environment from which it formed. Monasteries, universities, salons, and royal courts were all centers of learning which treated women differently. In royal courts, where nobility and prestige outranked gender in the seventeenth century, noble women participated actively in intellectual discourse. As science became more legitimized as a profession and as the prestige of the nobility waned however, women’s participation in sciences declined dramatically. Over the next two centuries women worked on the periphery of the scientific community as “assistants” or “amateurs”, and were largely confined to “women’s sciences” such as botany and midwifery.
Another interesting point that Schiebinger raises is that seventeenth and eighteenth century artwork virtually always personifies science, reason, and logic as women. When scientists published their work in book form, they often included a frontispiece which depicted astronomy, mathematics, or whatever topic the work addressed. Unfailingly, these abstract concepts were represented as women in long, flowing gowns. In our discussion we speculated that this image was tied directly to the image of nature as female, and therefore something for men and specifically male scientists to dominate. Schiebinger mentions one depiction of astronomy exposing her breasts to clothed male scientists, which seemed to support this argument.
Finally, Schiebinger discussed how science in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries became preoccupied with searching for sex differences that validated the discrimination against and exclusion of women, all the while claiming absolute neutrality to the topic. As she put it, “Though anatomists proclaimed their neutrality, the evidence they used was not itself free from the imprint of social concerns… though flawed, this evidence served as the basis for the continued exclusion of women from science. At the same time, the elimination of dissenting voices insulated the scientific profession against immediate correction of these misreadings of female nature,” (p.268). Even today we often are exposed to the argument that the underrepresentation of women in STEM is due to innate biological differences because of this type of misguided research.
Our second reading for this day, The Madame Curie Complex by Julie Des Jardins, took us from the turn of the twentieth century through the 1970s and into today. Before the 1940s most white women could only work as “amateurs” and “technicians” for male scientists in their fields. Notable in this area were female astronomers such as Annie Cannon and Henrietta Levitt, who received virtually no credit at the time for her discovery of Cepheid variable stars (a very important type of star which pulsates and can be used to measure distances to celestial objects).
In the 1940s and 1950s World War II created temporary openings for white women in scientific fields, according to des Jardins, but wartime science came with an enormous cost. Scientists, particularly physicists, were rebranded as heroes and even soldiers during the war. The image of the heroic scientist was decidedly male and nondomestic- he was a loner with a one-track mind and an innate brilliance, according to social scientists of the day. At the same time the development of quantum mechanics and the atomic bomb drastically increased the prestige of physics in America, simultaneously causing the rejection of women from the field. Perhaps these are the reasons why physics still lags behind other sciences in its representation of women.
After the war there was a push for women to return to the domestic sphere, but second-wave feminists fought for women’s place in science as well as other professions. In the 1970s laws such as Title IX and others attempted to secure equal rights for women in the workplace. Women academics could now sue their universities for discrimination, as many experienced a “revolving door” phenomenon in which tenure was often promised and then denied when the time came. Prejudice was still rampant against women scientists, des Jardins explains, citing many misogynistic reactions to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring as examples. Furthermore, the model of scientific success was (and often still is) predicated on the idea of separate spheres: a scientist must devote himself entirely to his work and leave all domestic issues to a wife at home. Female scientists in the twentieth century were expected to subscribe to this model as well as take care of their own domestic lives as well, one reason why it seems only relatively wealthy women who could afford child caretakers and house workers were successful in science.
The “Madame Curie complex” is the idea that women must perform much better than men in order to “earn” their places in science. They must be superwomen. It is true that today there excellent women in science, but not very many average or mediocre ones. Des Jardins ends her book on a bit of a somber note, stating that the pressure to outperform men in order to prove oneself is very much still felt by women in science today. Overall our class agreed with this statement- we found it chilling that many issues described by des Jardins in her work were still very relevant to today’s women in STEM.
On Monday October 6, we were fortunate enough to engage in a lunchtime discussion with Dr. John Johnson, professor of astrophysics at Harvard. Dr. Johnson is the first tenured black professor at Harvard in the physical sciences. He was invited to give a talk at Brown as a part of Brown's Thinking Out Loud speaker series. Watch Dr. Johnson's riveting talk, Searching for Life Basking in the Warmth of Other Suns below. Our discussion was focused not on astrophysics, but rather on Dr. Johnson's lived experiences and his insight into the issues we are discussing in this course. Our discussion ranged from the ineffectiveness of the GRE to the necessity of attacking actions, and not people. Dr. Johnson has spent a lot of time reading up on and thinking about the issues we are discussing in this course. We really enjoyed hearing his thoughts and reading his blog.
This week we talked about feminist philosophy of science, diversity arguments, and the history of science. We read about other knowledge communities, e.g. polynesian navigators, and used this to discuss what we mean by "science". Are polynesian navigators scientists? We came up with the following list of attributes often used to describe, or even define, western science.
How Scientists would define Science
After discussing what it means to be a "scientist", we spent a significant amount of time writing down our most recent goals for the course (also known as the GISP, short for Group Independent Study Project).
On Monday, we looked at this NSF document and discussed whether the numbers given matched our experiences, and what we thought the report left out. We then moved on to look at an article written by Professor Anne Fausto-Sterling about a class taught at Brown in the 80s similar to ours in subject area but different in structure. For example, our class will look less at narratives and non-traditional forms of science, and more at social science. We discussed the merits of these two approaches, and decided that we were comfortable with our focus but would like to take a second look at our syllabus in light of this article and will include more readings about minority-serving institutions.
Wednesday’s class centered on establishing background in some theories in the philosophy of science, as well as drawing connections between these theories and the main subject matter of our GISP. We began by discussing Thomas Kuhn, a philosopher of science who asserts that what we think of as “normal science” exists within a given “paradigm,” and argues that transitions between paradigms are important “scientific revolutions,” which are highly influenced by non-objective/non-scientific forces. We then moved to discussing Helen Longino’s “Science as Social Knowledge,” which stresses the social factors that play into the production of scientific knowledge, and begins to critique the purported objectivity of science based on this intrusion of social forces. We then discussed the implications of these readings for the main subject matter of this GISP, i.e. race and gender in the scientific community. We discussed how social forces could lead to underrepresentation and bias within scientific fields, as well as how the social nature of science plays into paradigm choice. Of particular interest near the end of our discussion was how to translate the lessons learned from these readings into actual change. For instance, we discussed the difficulty of bringing up these issues with scientists who have never thought about them before.
On Friday, influenced by Kuhn's definition of paradigm, we discussed who gets left out of the scientific community and why. We looked at the peer review process and noticed that this process allows the current scientists to shape the future generations of scientists, allowing for a conservative social structure. We then thought about what a more fair system for determining merit in the scientific community might look like. During our discussion we asked ourselves whether survival (i.e. integrating into the scientific community, and perhaps forfeiting one's unique identity in the process) or resistance (i.e. broadening the definition of a scientist to include oneself) is more important for underrepresented individuals in the scientific community. We ended our discussion with a conversation about our midterm projects, which will focus on data collection and fact finding at Brown.