Science editors wanted to debate #scicomm. But they attacked the messenger instead.

Some members of 500 Women Scientists Leadership Team at our November Board Meeting.

500 Women Scientists’ Leadership team sent the following Letter to the Editor to Science magazine following their recent Working Life column “Why I don’t use Instagram for outreach.”

Dear Science Editorial Board,

We’re writing to express our disappointment at poor judgment that led to the publication of publishing “Why I don’t use Instagram for outreach,” which singled out and criticized a successful woman science communicator for her Instagram presence promoting and celebrating science. Science is one of the most highly esteemed journals, yet this article reads like a smear piece worthy of a tabloid. The job of an editor is to ensure the best possible argument comes through, and there is certainly an argument to be made here. For instance, women and underrepresented minorities take on a great deal of science communication, mentorship, and outreach work without recognition or professional reward from their institutions. Though there’s an increasing institutional pressure to communicate about science — whether to increase a university’s public profile or meet NSF’s Broader Impact requirements — many institutions expect that work to be done on personal time without compensation or additional resources. While the piece hinted at these systemic issues, those arguments were undermined when the work of another woman was criticized with an unabashed tone of condescension and without an opportunity to respond.

Rather than address the roadblocks facing women and underrepresented groups in 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 kindest interpretation for running this article is a lack of thoughtfulness on the editor’s part. At worst, Science made the choice to run an inflammatory article for the sake of increased website traffic.

The pages of Science are meant to mark advances in scientific discovery. But pinning one woman scientist against another is destructive, irresponsible, and 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 the future of science.

— 500 Women Scientists Leadership Team