New Scientist was wrong for that Serena tweet


In a world where everyone and their best friend seem committed to offering their irrelevant opinions about Serena Williams’ body, and trying to discredit her body of work, it was naive of me to expect that the flood of well-wishes surrounding her recent pregnancy announcement would drown out any negativity. Not so.

You see, much like the case of that other stellar King known as Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter, black joy seems to catalyze a reaction in which those always willing to manifest their unscrupulous agenda break into hives if they cannot have at trying to drag these women down.

In this case a heading, so subtle in its framing of the story that no doubt the tweep assured themselves they weren’t doing anything wrong. Yesterday I stumbled across this tweet from New Scientist:

Over a year ago I had a chat with a senior clinical researcher whom I respect so much. She also happens to be a white woman. We spoke about the dynamics of recruitment in clinical research: everything from bedside manner, personal researcher ethics, ethics application processes, and working relationships between scientists and NHS staff. Something this Doctor said has stayed with me. I paraphrase:

Furaha, we in the Scientific community are fully and directly responsible for the mistrust and even disdain a lot of people in ethnic minority and marginalised groups have for science and scientific research. Historically ‘science’ means a white man in a white coat poking, prodding, cutting their bodies and taking whatever he wants. We did this. So it is our responsibility to make amends, and to apologetically and patiently accept when certain populations don’t want to have anything to do with us or our research.

Why do I bring this up? As a black female scientist, it has become increasingly clear to me over the years why science needs to be consciously transparent not only in methodologies, but in communication thereafter. We cannot afford screw ups. We have many bridges to build from scratch.

Recently Cosmo et al. told us that white women are more beautiful than black women based on ‘science.’ A few years ago Satoshi Kanazawa, an academic, claimed black women are less attractive than others. #fakenews that should never have been published because no, it is not science and it tarnishes an already side-eyed reputation.

When the GOAT announced that she is with child, we diligently put the numbers together: She won the Australian Open in January 2017 with a baby in her belly.

I half expected it, and stumbled across ‘it’ in the comments section of a Buzzfeed article:

Trust the wailers to always use any and every opportunity to try to discredit Serena. And before you ask, yes.

What I did not expect however, was New Scientist to subtly feed into this narrative. Now, their one-minute video clip actually suggests that no, pregnancy likely did not help Serena win the Australian Open. So what’s my issue?

Well, a few things actually:

  1. When handling a case such as this, a black woman whose body and image has been so severely policed and hated upon, respectfulness and sensitivity are key. The video clip begins with how pregnancy ‘could’ help, and only in the second half does it become clear that it probably didn’t help. So in conclusion, the GOAT won because she is the GOAT. They should have made that clear from the start.
  2. So why use a title that is so obviously intended to elicit a subjective response in readers? Standard practice in Science is to use conclusive titles.
  3. Lastly, browsing through the New Scientist timeline it becomes clear that it is indeed their common practice to use conclusive titles. Why then was this particular story headlined so irresponsibly?

Yes, this is a big deal. And I smell a rat called clickbait. And on the back and pregnancy bump of this particular black woman who has already faced so much unfair media scrutiny?!?! Serena’s self-esteem is so admirable that I’m convinced she belongs next to Venus and Mars. But her self-esteem should not be taken for granted. She is undeserving of all the negative media attention she has gotten over the years.

Serena is stellar, and irresponsible scientific communication sucks.

Casual racism and sensationalism should never be welcome in science. We need to be responsible with how we frame and present our stories.

New Scientist have left this tweet up over 24 hours later despite getting dragged on twitter. No clarifications, nothing. To me that speaks volumes. Peak arrogance.

Update, New Scientist have deleted their old tweet and tweeted this:

Dear editors and publications, hire diverse staff!