This is Not in Defence of ‘Science It’s a Girl Thing’, But….

If you haven’t seen this monstrosity treat yourself, although make sure you take in the like:dislike ratio and the comments below – they’re by far the best bit.

I have to reiterate that I’m not in favour of this advert.  I find it as patronising, sexist and quite frankly misleading as anyone who left a comment below the you tube video.  However I find it no less patronising, sexist and quite frankly misleading than most cosmetic adverts (should also point out here I’m sat wearing foundation, eyeliner, mascara and blusher with my hair dyed, I’m not anti-cosmetics, just anti-their advertising tactics).  I despair at phrases like “the science of genes” (genetics then, yeah?) and “healthy hair” (oh yes, those dead cells sure do look healthy).  I rant at the TV when I see small print statements like “the model is wearing lash enhancers” (i.e. false eyelashes when ‘demonstrating’ how good a mascara is).  I wanted a mass boycott on L’Oreal products in revolt of the “micro dermabrasion kit” – women taking to the streets stating ‘you can’t reinvent a scrub, shove 2 words together to make it sound scientific – we’ll not buy into it!’  But did it happen?  No.  You know why?  Because they work (the adverts, not necessarily the products).  They must do, because marketing companies charge a shed load of money to make them and, quite frankly, L’Oreal aren’t stupid.  If they didn’t see a profit in putting these stupid ads out they wouldn’t make them anymore.  This realisation made me very depressed until I saw the advert for Alpecin caffeine shampoo (sexist, patronising adverts are no longer the privilege of women, and therefore neither is the argument for ‘they must work’).  This advertising tact is rife throughout our lives and I find it particularly offensive when aimed at children.

So for someone whose acutely aware sexist advertising, why am I not leaving my true thoughts on the comments section below the you tube video?  Tragically it’s no worse than most other advertising and quite frankly at least this is attempting to exert some social benefit rather than pigeon-hole girls AND sell them a load of crap they don’t need.  I also have a feeling (although admittedly no substance behind that feeling) that a lot of the outrage online is from people who aren’t the target audience (although I’m sure, and hope, that I’ll be put right on that point).  This is not to say that just because it does appeals to school girls we should allow it, however if it does appeal to a girl as a result she gets into science and as she matures realises she’s much more interested in particle physics than walking back and forth on a catwalk (what are they supposed to be doing anyway?), or instead of synthesising eyeshadow she’s quite interested in drug design – could we fault it? Considering what small fry this is in the scheme of sexist marketing and the possible benefits if it worked, I’m happy to sit back and see if it has any effect on female uptake in science subjects, after all waiting for the results is what I do – it’s a science thing.

Whilst writing this though I’ve come to realise that the best response to the advert would be for teenage girls to say ‘you can’t shove a catwalk, some eye shadow and a crap backing tune together and think we’ll buy into it’ and thus boycott scientific subjects in protest – hmmm, will have to think of a better response which won’t involve the downfall of Science and Feminism in one fell swoop!


Finally, something that is accessible to the public

Open access to publicly funded research is an issue that isn’t going to go away, the number of articles I’ve stumbled upon recently is testament to that and I even get the feeling that it’s starting to snowball.   The latest nudge in that direction is the Finch Committe’s report, released today.  I haven’t yet managed to read a copy, however Stephen Curry has been much more on the ball this morning, read his summary and commentary here, or if you’re feeling brave read the full report here.

Apart from Govt. led investigations there is also a ‘grass roots’ element to this issue, highlighted by Tim Gowers.  After becoming frustrated with journal fees he posted his feelings on his blog, specifically regarding Elsevier’s high fees.  The reaction to this was outstanding and 1000’s (12098 at my last count) of other academics have also taken professional risks in boycotting journals run by Elsevier.  Want to find out more?  The Guardian has reported on this and there is a website, the cost of knowledge, dedicated to the cause.

Given the rising profile of this issue, I’m going to do a piece on it later this week – keep your eye’s peeled if you’re interested!

Female Role Models Desperately Needed in Japan?

I was reluctant to blog about this, as I’ve spoken about women’s role in academia before.  However this THE (No. 2052, pg 19) article shocked me, so I thought I should share it.

Professor Burton, from the Bunkyo Gakuin University of Tokyo tells her first hand account of being a female academic in Japan, not only heavily outnumbered by men but frequently having to justify here presence to students.  She has been described by students as “not a real teacher” and one even stated that students had less motivation in a class taught by a woman (although stating it in his graduation thesis was bravery bordering on stupidity).  The article goes on to say that throughout society the driving force behind official changes in policies has not been an internal demand but international pressure.  Attitudes within the country have been slow to change, examples of which include influential figures such as Yoshiro Mori (ex-prime minister) who stated that women who didn’t have children shouldn’t benefit from a state pension!

I am well aware that sexism is a pretty well established form of bigotry throughout the world and not just Japan.  I also believe that the “early female brain drain” is not even unique to HE (I think it would’ve only taken one female role model when I was a teenager for me to be blogging to you about carpentry right now).  However the openness and entrenched nature of the prejudice I did find shocking; which might be a naive response, but surely the correct one.

Read the full article here.

Mobile Networks may help to Maintain Crucial Water Supplies in Africa

Thompson et al ( have devised data transmitters which will use mobile phone signals to automatically text engineers when hand-held pumps, vital for rural water supply in Africa, are broken.  They hope to shorten the average time water isn’t available due to a broken pump to less than 24 hours.

Despite the overall positive message, I couldn’t help but be saddened by the sentence “It is now estimated that more people in Sub-Saharan Africa have access to these networks than have access to improved water supplies.”

Full article here from the Matt McGrath at the BBC.

Twitter Discussion on How to Take Effective Notes from Papers

Here’s a twitter discussion on how other postgrads and researchers take notes from articles. Also worth a glance is the article on Luhmann’s Zettelkasten from @FHeimburger(

Personally I’ve always stuck to pen and paper to take notes, begrudgingly supporting this with Endnote organised papers – I’m not a technophobe, I simply don’t remember anything I read or write digitally, whereas an insignificant jot on the back of an envelope will stay with me for weeks.

The Thesis Whisperer

Taking notes from the articles we read is not something we researchers talk about a lot, which means you have probably developed your own ad-hoc, idiosyncratic methods. And they probably work … but could they be better?

I find the very best way to learn this kind of everyday practice is in casual conversations; the sort that usually take place in the tearooms and hallways of academia. When @riotk asked me to do a post on note taking I figured Twitter was the ideal vehicle to start gathering ideas. Twitter enables me to host a ‘watercooler’ conversation – globally.

I know lots of people either don’t like Twitter, or think it’s a waste of time. I hope to convince you otherwise. Last night I facilitated a live Australian #phdchat on the topic on note taking tips and techniques, where lots of good ideas were shared. In fact, the discussion…

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Antidepressants in Water Linked to Increased Expression of Autism Genes in Fish

Ingestion of antidepressants during pregnancy has long been associated with an increased risk of autism in the child, however recent work by Thomas et al has opened up another more concerning source of this potential interaction; antidepressants within drinking water.

Antidepressants, along with many other pharmaceuticals and illicit drugs, are present in waste-water, from human ingestion and excretion, and therefore are often also found in drinking water.  The concentrations of even the most highly prescribed drugs are often 1000’s of times lower than a prescribed dose in every litre of water, however the synergistic interactions which can arise from being exposed to a ‘cocktail’ of drugs at low levels is poorly understood.

Thomas’s work exposed Fathead Minnows to such a cocktail of specifically antidepressant drugs whilst they were carrying young.  The genes of the next generation were then tested to see if any were significantly enriched.  Many of the genes associated with idiopathic Autism were.  Genes associated with predisposition to autism, such as Rett, as well as disorders such as Parkinson, MS and Major Depression were also not consistently significantly enriched suggesting that the processes is not a general neuropathy affect but specific to autism.  In addition to increased gene expression the fish also demonstrated abnormal behaviour pattens and tended to panic more easily when startled.

It should be said, that although the article is interesting and definitely indicates more work in the are should be carried out, it should not have you running for the Evian.  There is after all a significant body of work to be carried out before you can leap from behavioural and gene expression changes in fish to a significant increased chance of autism in children from drinking contaminated water during pregnancy.  However I can only hope that this will lead to more research in water treatment and the affects which drugs can have within water, both for future human use as well as for sensitive species within the environment.  The group are now carrying out studies into mammalian responses to these drugs.

Article reference: Thomas MA, Klaper RD (2012) Psychoactive Pharmaceuticals Induce Fish Gene Expression Profiles Associated with Human Idiopathic Autism. PLoS ONE 7(6): e32917. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0032917