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Regina Caputo | USLHC | USA

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The Futures Section of Nature

Yesterday, I was reading in the Futures section of Nature (vol. 463, 25 Feb 2010),  a short story called Distraction: A fine romance by Julian Tang.

I apologize to those of you who don’t have free access to Nature (it’s in essence the UK’s version of Science) and can’t read it but I have a bit of a rant.
I’ll briefly summarize:
outgoing Astronomer girl meets painfully awkward English major boy. Girl falls in love, couple get married, girl has children, girl “gave up her life-long dream of joining the SETI Institute to become a full-time mother” and boy “showed an amazing talent for predicting stock-market trends and became a very successful investment manager”.
Later on, boy is on his death-bed and asks girl if she regrets giving up her dreams (really, he asks her now). Girl replies: “Yes, a little, I guess – but having children is a worthy substitute, my love.”
Then boy floats away (you guessed it… he was an alien). Later on girl’s granddaughter has an interest in SETI. Dead-ish alien boy then “returns” to earth to “distract” (i.e. marry and impregnate) the granddaughter so she doesn’t find aliens either.
Huh??
There are so many things wrong with this article. First, the story is beyond poorly written. Between my personal rage and awkward unnatural dialogue I barely got through it. Second, since when do English majors become investment managers and since when is that the definition of success? – I thought Nature would emphasize science, not investment management. It seems if nothing else “girl” would be more adept for her job and the boy could have stayed home with the kids or there could have been a balance of both. But adeptness doesn’t matter, the basic jest of the story is women can not possibly follow their dreams and have a family – and this fact is so obvious that even aliens apparently know this and can use it to prevent being discovered.
I repeat… Huh???

Isn’t that exactly the wrong message we want to send to our young women (myself included)? I know plenty of talented women scientists who have a family/life outside of their work. I would even go so far as to say that having a multifaceted life helps you to be a successful scientist.

Of course, one has to assume that this is the opinion of the author, but it was  published in Nature, a science journal! And that gives Julian Tang (virologist and SETI member) a voice. What does he think of his female colleagues at SETI, especially if they have children? Anyway, this really steamed my clams, it also steamed the clams of one of female faculty in the department and several other grad students (men and women alike) with whom I shared the article – so I’m not the only one. In conclusion:

Dear Nature,
Please stop publishing articles from want-to-be science fiction writers in which potential women scientists must substitute children for a career. It makes the whole field seem like something out of a 1950s sitcom.
Thank you.

-Regina

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