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CommForge2 is the course website for LAIS423/523, Advanced Science Communication, at the Colorado School of Mines. From here, you can link to student sci-tech blogs, read about the course, and comment on current events and stories. Welcome!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hormones and Voting

We were reading excerpts from Dorothy Nelkin's classic book Selling Science last week in class.  A fair amount of my students assumed Nelkin was a man when they read her work, by the way, so here's a lovely picture of her:

In class, we created a typology of classic science narratives that appear in media coverage of science and technology on the board, narratives such as:

  • The scientist as hero
  • The scientist as deviant, which only proves the real purity of the scientific enterprise
  • Technology as the cutting edge of history
  • Technology as potentially perilous and needing to be controlled
And so on.  The book is about 25 years old now, so I challenged the class to go online (we work in a tiny computer lab), to find modern sci-tech news stories, and to examine them for evidence of Nelkin's types.  I had also hoped students might venture to update her typology somewhat, given that things such as gender representations have (hopefully) changed in the last quarter-century.

We didn't get very far.

Shane (of Chewblagga) was the first to present his article, and he brought up the CNN news flap over the scientific study that claims that women who are ovulating and single are more likely to vote for progressives, where as married women are more likely to vote conservative.  Or, in other words, single chicks vote for Obama (because, as one of my students pointed out, moms tend to vote for the handsome guy).  But that only holds if your mom is single.  And ovulating.  Which, ew.

Also, CLEARLY, in the interests of fairness, we need to point out that both candidates are handsome.  I know because I watched the debates and was checking them out.  I'm not trying to make a political statement here, like about who would make a better President based on looks.  But how could you not notice?  Same for the vice-presidential debates!  I could hardly follow what they were saying because of all the handsomeness.

Plus, really, it's hard to keep all of the politics straight.  Most likely because women who menstruate can't multitask.  And how was I supposed to follow politics and policy with all that handsomeness and potential male fertility flying around?  I had laundry to fold!

Or perhaps it's just that women are having trouble figuring out which presidential candidate turns them on.

In any case, there's some lesson to be learned here, I'm sure of it.  Perhaps it's that Nelkin is right, and that scientific study that claims to settle some sort of social debate or controversy (such as whether women really are the weaker sex, thanks to the whole menstruation thing) is going to get a lot of news coverage, because in society we tend to want science to definitively decide some things for us.  And the power that women seem to be wielding as voters in this election--which is also about a lot of policies affecting women's rights--might be freaking us out a little.  It would be great if we just had some science to tell us what to do.  Nelkin--and other classic Science and Technology Studies (STS) texts we've read in class--have tried to show us both that science is not always performed so neatly, nor can it be neatly mapped on to social issues in such a way.  We're going to have to figure this out through politics.

We could also add that science that doesn't agree with our political values is quickly discounted as being sham science, and this is true on the left, and on the right, and with climate change, stem cells, abortion, or women's hormones, among other things.  Censoring the science is probably not good for the scientific enterprise as a whole, even if it might be good for women in the short-term.  So even though I find this kind of study (what I've seen of it) troubling from a personal and political perspective, I think CNN pulling the story is an odd move.  Better to improve your coverage, have the scientific debate out and out, in full view, with transparency.

Let the golem come forth, in other words.  Let the doing of science be visible.

Or maybe the lesson you learned in class is that you can easily get your professor off on some tangent, derailing her pedagogical goals, by bringing up an example like this.  Clearly, she's no good at multitasking, and now you know why.

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