Stupid EU video PSA shows how *not* to promote science to young women

[Video Link] The title tells you there's gonna be trouble even before you hit play. "Science: It's a Girl Thing!" is part of a European Commission campaign to promote science careers to young women, who remain greatly outnumbered in the field and face gender discrimination in academic and professional environments (yes, guys, even today). More in the LA Times, Inquisitr, Advertising Miami, Physics Central, New Statesman. Below, Astronomer Dr. Meghan Gray responds.

(thanks, Miles O'Brien!)


  1. Holy hell. That was horrifying.  I was trying to explain what was so bad about it to my Dad and the only analogy I could come up with was: imagine if they made a video encouraging black people to pursue science that used lots of cut-a-ways to basketballs and watermelons instead of Neil deGrasse Tyson.

    1. imagine if they made a video encouraging black people to pursue science that used lots of cut-a-ways to basketballs and watermelons instead of Neil deGrasse Tyson.

      Or Neil deGrasse Tyson in hot pants shaking his booty.

        1.  Now, Neil deGrasse Tyson showing why you can’t dribble a watermelon the way you can a basketball?  That might be fun.  (Or at least, it would mix well with Dave Letterman dropping watermelons off the roof and the Mythbusters shooting them with various kinds of bullets and explosives.)

      1.  I’d like to think I lived in  a world with out gay porn fan fiction starring Mr. Tyson, but Rule #34 tells me otherwise.

        1. According to Quantum Theory, the very fact that you said that, caused a quantum decay, and now we’re in a universe where this exists.

          So congratulations.

  2. I love the last 10 second of the Brady’s video, spoken like a true scientist… But the promo video really suck ass.

    1.  A true scientist ignores all moral and ethical implications of their work?  I felt like she failed in the last 10 seconds by her acceptance of the interlocutor’s idea that we should have no problem with the campaign if it turns out that it is effective.  It’s like saying that executing all criminals is a great idea because the data shows that it reduces repeat criminal offenses!

      1. I didn’t read it that way, in manner when one say vivisection is wrong it is cruelty to animals, and no that basis, place no merit on the result produced, and starts wearing blinkers.

        she said to paraphrase,  if the video does what it meant, she is willing to accept that fact, but on basis of opinion, it does not seem so. Sounds like a fair minded person to me.


  3. It sounds like this was written by some guy who thought sexing up the PSA would attract young ladies to the field of science.   It was more likely to attract young men.

    PSA to  attract young ladies to science!


  4. This is a parody, right? I mean, there’s no way this is not a parody. I refuse to believe this isn’t some kind of parody. 

    At the very least, it appears to parody itself. So maybe it’s some kind of video Klein bottle capable of containing itself and TOTALLY makes sense in four dimensions.But my three-dimensional head says: This is a parody, right?

  5. I appreciate and agree with Dr. Gray’s opinion on this but I am totally distracted by the way she pronounces Twitter; “Twitt Ter…”  I suppose she is properly enunciating, but it just sounds weird.

  6. In defense of the decision to make the graphics pink and include lipstick, the commission stated:

    “It catches the attention and forms a contrast with the ‘dry’ and factual character of science.”

    It also cost 102,000 euros to make. Regardless of the message, that is an insanely high budget for the student film version of the L’Oreal Le Rouge commercial.

      1. Well, not anybody, but four gender experts, a “pool” of communication experts, three marketing consultancies, and an ad agency all had their hands in that pie.

        In all fairness, the gender experts are saying that all of their points were ignored in favor of the opinions of the ad agency people. The very ad people who thought that science was too “dry” and “factual” and needed to be glammed up. Which is hilarious when, if nothing else, there are entire television networks attesting to the sheer entertainment value of science.

        1. Wow
          One main problem of science is that it is “spiced up” far too much in the media already, and this spot just did that over the top.

          In advertising, you’ve won if you persuade someone to buy a product. But with science, if you’ve persuaded all those would-be models to go study theoretical physics, they _will_ sooner or later realize it’s not about getting the attention of that good-looking guy behind the microscope and … whatever those girls are supposed to be doing in that video.
          And if they don’t like _that_, they’re out again, so there you go…

          I think what’s needed is depicting science much more realistically rather than sexing it up. That may or may not include really good-looking people, but that’s entirely beside the point. Science is about people trying to figure out facts, and I’ve no idea how this ad should interest people in facts …

  7. In male dominated fields the main role for “girls” is as in an assistant position – not particularly an intellectual role or career path.

    Years ago when I worked at a defense industry company in the US most of the managers seemed to be competing to who could hire the hottest assistant.

    In my academic travels in Europe before and during that time I was amazed at how many “hot female” graduate students there were who never made it into the academic mainstream.

    This seems like a recruiting film to serve male scientists who don’t have enough girls around to talk to and date. It is a win for the girls because they will have better marriage prospects than if they worked in a beauty salon.

    1. Sadly, my kids’ grade school offered an after-school activity: chess for girls.  It was the most boring introduction to chess I’ve ever seen (they didn’t ever get to play an actual game with all the pieces, over a 10-class arc) but somehow the fact that there weren’t boys in the room (other than the teacher) was supposed to make everything OK.  It took years before they were willing to reconsider learning to play the game.

      At least the playing pieces weren’t pink.  Small mercies.

  8. What’s really terrible is that the site actually does have great things – it has several interviews with women in science, talking candidly about why they love what they do and the challenges they’ve faced. If only this disastrous ad hadn’t obscured these stories.

  9. Yes, me and my colleagues (biologists like me, anthropologists and physicists among others) saw this earlier this week and were outraged. It’s so stupid, but I couldn’t just laugh at it… it really made me angry!
    I know I’m not the target audience (I made my career choice years ago), but what young girl could ever become interested in a career in science after watching this, I can’t imagine.
    At least they listened to our opinions and removed it from the website… but still, making this was a considerable waste of time and money.

    1. I’m beginning to seriously doubt that the target audience for the video is who we all seem to think it is. I don’t think it’s for those they’re trying to attract. I now believe it more likely that the target is the kind of people girls think might judge them.

      1.  I think it’s more likely that the target is the kind of people who went into advertising because they didn’t have a clue about either science or girls…

  10. On the other hand, I think it’s a great way to attract scientists to a career in modelling…

    My favorite was when they dropped all those science balls and giggled.

  11. Ugh.  It’s the “Math class is hard” Barbie fiasco all over again.  Only worse.

    The best way to promote science is with science.  It’s vastly more interesting and compelling than this tripe.

    1.  It’s much better, showing actual science, but it’s still not what anyone should use as a main promo for “women in science”, although it makes a good advert for that scholarship program.

  12. Against my better judgement, I disagree. As I mentioned in the YouTube comments, I think the video is cringe-inducing, but probably okay. Also, the video caused me to have a codrial, thoughtful discussion on YouTube.

    (Here’s my initial YouTube comments, if anyone wants to flame me.)

    You know, I’m going to go against the grain here and say that this video is fine. It’s attempted message is that you can be fashionable, sexy, sexy etc and also be into “science.” Which is true, but contrary to popular perceptions. Its intended audience is not people who are already into STEM, it’s people who have avoided STEM stuff because of perceptions of it being isolated, nerdy, etc. Yes, its fixation on makeup is cringe-inducing, but popular culture pushes makeup at girls. Many smart girls who could do well in STEM fields are probably into that stuff. They’re not trying to end the marketing of gender stereotypes – they don’t have the budget for that. Instead, they’re trying to do some cultural judo to use things like makeup to bring young women into the fold. Directed at kids and tweens, where the cool/uncool perceptions start to gel, it could do some good.

    1. So the girls who aren’t girly can go get bent, eh? Oh, wait, they probably just don’t exist in your worldview.

      1. YouTube is over there. >>>>>

        Actually, girls who aren’t so “girly” will probably find the other videos on the EU site more compelling. You may note that ernest scientists explaining how STEM is cool to them is the standard mode of appealing to young women. You may also note that STEM is marketed to boys using things that stereotypically appeal to boys (`splosions and phallic rockets and computer games). You may wish to compare the efficacy of these two approaches.

        1. You may also note that STEM is marketed to boys using things that stereotypically appeal to boys (`splosions and phallic rockets and computer games).

          Is it?  Where?  Also, do you think this works?  I guarantee anyone who went into physics for the explosions got REALLY bored when they realized they’d just be doing calculus for the next three years.

          1. While it’s true that just about all the boys I know who became engineers (even computer engineers) really liked playing with explosives when we were kids, that was also true about the girls I know who became engineers. 

            One of the many serious problems is that the safety-paranoia culture that’s gotten rid of see-saws on playgrounds and diving boards in swimming pools has also gotten rid of chemistry sets for kids that let you make explosives. Instead, they’d be better off pushing “girls can blow stuff up too!”

            (And yes, those examples may risk labelling me as being old enough that “computer games” involved paper teletypes.)

    2. This is a good point. In my own field, computer science, there are currently a number of attempts going on to get girls interested early this way. When you consider that video games targeted at boys are commonly cited as a major factor in the field’s gender imbalance, this begins to sound like a reasonable idea.

      However, I would argue that even by that standard the video is a failure. It’s far too patently ridiculous to actually serve as an effective advertisement for what it’s supposed to be advertising.

      1. I certainly can’t disagree with you on how ridiculous the video is. However, I am a little disappointed at the vehement, categorical condemnation that the video has elicited. One thing we can be pretty sure of is that nobody in the next few years will try to make a better argument that STEM is not incompatible with girly stuff. The best is the enemy of the good, I guess.

        1. The best is the enemy of the good, I guess.

          What’s that, the reverse nirvana fallacy? The video is crap. It advertises itself, not science careers.

        2. I am pretty sure that just keeping their mouth shut would have been a better argument than this shit video.  

          I went to school for Chemical Engineering, which has a shockingly high number of women in it.  Our class was split almost 50/50 m/f.  All of those women would have been pissed if they had seen this.  They went into STEMs because they valued something a little higher than looking pretty for boys.  That isn’t to imply that they were ugly kids running away from the mean bullies.  On the contrary, most of them were quite fit, but that wasn’t the source of their personal power.  Their power came from being intelligent and curious. 

          The stuff that dragged the girls into STEMs was more or less exactly the same stuff that dragged the boys in.  All chemical engineers, pretty much without exception, like to blow things up.  The girls were no exception.  Read a transcript of what got them in, and you would find it impossible to split them into boy and girl piles.

          The real problem is that this kind of targeting girls with stupid girly shit advertising fails because it perpetuates the stereotypes that cause girls to be too socially dysfunctional to want to enter science, much less survive there.

          If you want a real PSA announcement targeting girls, have some girls sitting around blowing shit up and having a merry old time, then flash forward to them blowing up shit that is bigger in a professional capacity and having a merry old time.  That will convince far more women to join STEMs in a far healthier way than this utterly stupid video that is actively damaging to women in STEMs.

    3. No it’s shit. It says “Hey, girls! You are primarily concerned with empty vacuous superficial bullshit, right? Science can be as empty and vacuous and superficial as the rest of popular culture you know!”

      Which is just wrong on so many levels.

      1. Well said!

        The video advertises looking like a model and running about with test tubes.
        I do know a few very good-looking females who do work in science, and I don’t mind at all if someone shows that this exists, but that’s not what the video does.
        I bet the advertisement people were all like “women are into cosmetics and shoes, so that’s what we’ll show them”. They’re enforcing a cliché when they should be encouraging the contrary.

    4. It is a knowing parody of a make-up adverts and the pseudo-scientific bullshit used in them  e.g. “here comes the science bit”.

  13. I can’t believe no one has said anything about this yet:
    So those women were supposed to be “doing science” right?
    Not in open toed shoes they aren’t!

    1. Heh… when I taught geology 101 lab classes in grad school, every student had to sign the standard lab safety form which includes a clause that says you can’t come in the lab without closed-toe shoes. In Southern California this can be a problem, particularly for female students, and in chemistry and biology lab classes they often bring closed-toe shoes to change in and out of just when they need to be in the lab.

      Since the only danger to your feet in geology 101 is that you might drop a rock on them, and the rocks we looked at were either too small to do any damage or so large that a shoe wouldn’t really protect you anyway, I flagrantly flaunted this rule by wearing flip-flops (it was a phase as I adjusted to becoming an Orange County resident) and didn’t require the students to wear closed-toe shoes. The students were grateful for that (and told me so).

      For the field trips I was given a permission slip type form to hand out which included a “no high heels” clause… apparently this had been an issue from time to time in previous years because most geology 101 students are not geology majors and have no idea what a geology field trip entails.

      1. When I worked in a place with a pneumatic tube system, the dress code specified ‘no dangling sleeves’. As if they were planning on hiring wizards to do clerical work.

        1. It happens to the best of us.  I cooked last night’s dinner (4 burners going at the same time) wearing a polyester dress with dangling sleeves.  Yes, I realized how stupid it was.  Made me keep my concentration directly focused the entire time, let me tell you!  If our guests hadn’t already arrived, I would have changed.

  14. The message my fat, bookish 16-year-old self would have take from this is “Science: it’s for outgoing cute girls in tight pants”.

    1. Already aired. And I agree. Most women I know have watched it, too, even ones who aren’t particularly geeky.

  15. Science always did seem like a girl thing to me… as an undergrad and grad student at different schools female students outnumbered male students in most departments (not in physics, engineering besides biomedical engineering maybe, or computer science, but pretty much everything else) – and often they are the best students too. In my undergrad geology class (University of Rochester ’08) I was one of two males out of the ten or so students that graduated from that small department that year.

    This is changing big time in academia since there are already so many female scientists there and the days of the old-school, conservative, curmudgeonly male professors and administrators controlling things are numbered at best and completely gone already from many universities. 

    Further, it’s already the case that many of those female undergrad and grad students use it as a stepping stone to something else anyway and never intended to become scientists in the first place. Most of the undergrads (of any gender) studying biology in particular intend to go to medical school, not become biologists. 

    I think the perceived problems must come after university; perhaps it is still the case that it isn’t as easy for females to get good jobs in science or to advance as easily. As others have noted, a lot of female scientists get stuck in assistant-type positions. However, most of the female students in grad school with me got good jobs with lots of room for advancement in industry right out of school. The males haven’t done so well, and in my case it’s been two years and I haven’t been able to find a job (I now intend to go back into academia).

  16. This was far worse than I imagined possible after seeing the title and reading the BoingBoing introduction.

  17. For what its worth almost every single person within the boundaries of the EU as condemned this video.

    It did the rounds last week in the UK and even some of the more right leaning media outlets picked up on its hugely patronising ridiculousness. If conservatives can recognise that something is wrong, it must be really wrong.

    1.  Figured it was worth the risk, even though it was a troll :-)  One of my friends has been recommending that I try knitting to help my wrist problems, and it’s on my “things to get around to” list…

  18. If you ask me, Mates of States did a better job showing girls in science in their video for their cover of Guided By Voices’ “I Am a Scientist.” To me, that’s what science is about:

  19. In too late, but I have a good one for you:

    I recieve the ACS (American Chemical Society) Diversity emails, as a practicing chemist.  About a year ago, they sent out an article encouraging high school experiments involving cosmetics and perfumes, because the current curriculum is too masculine.  For the ACS Diversity division to think that girls can only be interested in make-up is astonishing to me.  I always hoped whoever wrote that editorial got fired.

    1. Hey, there can be interesting chemical issues regarding make-up and related products.  My wife and I were in one chemistry course together in college (she’s a computer scientist, so we didn’t do a lot of chem..)  She did have one issue she asked the teacher about, regarding some hair care product that had polymerized when mixed with something.  It’s long enough ago that I’ve forgotten the details, and we didn’t cover much organic chem in the intro classes, but you can get the occasional surprise.

  20. Dr Reena Pau  performed an “informal study” with  “38 girls, aged between 9 and 13 (with an average of 10.8). 11 of these girls had parents who worked in a scientific job. The group was asked about their perceptions of science careers before and after watching the video.”

    Basically, the video was generally taken positively and apparently changed their mindset/acceptability of science careers.

    Good discussion in the comments.

  21. So I finally steeled myself and watched the video.  How does it start?  With the observer (a male scientist) and the observed (younger female performers dancing towards him).  From that point on, effectively we’re seeing the video through his eyes.

    Does Feminism 101 not exist anymore?

  22. I saw this program last night, and I thought, now why can’t they make a commercial with this woman for young ladies? She is so smart and enthusiastic, she makes ME want to be an astronomer!

    The International Year of Astronomy
    Catherine Cesarsky – International Astronomical Union

    “I think astronomy in general, and the big discoveries we are doing now in particular can do a lot to change the lives of a lot of people because we are studying the universe and it’s not just our universe, it’s everybody’s universe. My own experience is that once you start talking to people, everybody wants to know where do we come from, where are we going, what are our dreams, what is our destiny as a race, everything.

    “And we are really trying to understand some of this. This is why, for instance, in 2009, we will declare that 2009 is the International Year of Astronomy, four hundred years after the first observations with the Galileo telescope. And the aim of this, our motto is, “The universe – yours to discover.” What we are doing is not to please a handful of astronomers, I think that what we discovered interests everybody and we want everybody to know.”

    You have to scroll about 7/8 down the page to see this particular excerpt…

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