Journal editors should not divide scientists

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Science  13 Apr 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6385, pp. 163-164
DOI: 10.1126/science.aat6288

We're writing to express our disappointment at the poor judgment that led to the publication of “Instagram won't solve inequality” (M. Wright, Working Life, 16 March, p. 1294), which singled out and criticized a successful woman science communicator for her Instagram presence promoting and celebrating science. The editor of this piece should have ensured that the message focused on the issues: Women and underrepresented minorities take on a great deal of science communication, mentorship, and outreach work without recognition or professional reward from their institutions. Despite increasing institutional pressure to communicate about science—whether to increase a university's public profile or meet the National Science Foundation's Broader Impact requirements—many institutions expect the work to be done on personal time without compensation or additional resources. Although the piece hinted at these systemic issues, those arguments were undermined when the editors allowed the author to criticize the work of another woman with an unabashed tone of condescension and did not give the target of the comments an opportunity to respond.

Rather than address the roadblocks facing women and underrepresented groups in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) or grapple with the author's personal misgivings around science communication, the piece was framed as an attack. The tone implied that anything beyond basic research is a frivolous waste of time, belittling meaningful approaches to science communication and public engagement. It offered a false choice between an authentic and relatable social media presence and effective advocacy for institutional change. The choice to run this inflammatory article demonstrates a lack of thoughtfulness on the editors' part.

Pitting one woman scientist against another is destructive and irresponsible, and it perpetuates unreasonable standards for women and underrepresented groups in STEM. It is antithetical to the open, accessible, and inclusive future that we at 500 Women Scientists envision for science.

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