On the sexualization of selling science

September 14, 2015 • 9:20 am

This is a hard post to write, but I wanted to put some thoughts out there, and, more important, get the readers’ take on this issue. It’s about using sex to sell science. And I refer to science websites that have banners or photos like this (click on the banners to go to the sites):


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SciBabe, from the “about me” page

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Clearly, these are sexualized images intended to draw some readers’ (i.e., men’s) attention. My concern is that using semi-provocative images to help popularize science not only tends to demean the seriousness of the message, but also drive away some people who could benefit from learning science. This happens for two reasons: 1) such images turn off people who don’t like this kind of clickbait, or 2) the images could lead people to think that the best way to popularize science, especially if you’re a woman, is to show some skin. Remember that the Internet is an attention-span-limited venue, and many people will either read or skip a site based on a quick initial impression of that site:

Before I give my own tentative thoughts, let me issue some caveats, as this subject is a touchy one:

  • Both of these women have serious messages to convey, and both have substantial scientific training. “SciBabe,” Yvette d’Entremont, has a B.A. in theatre, a B.S. in chemistry, and an MSc in forensic science with a concentration in “biological criminalistics”. I posted one of her videos, a debunking of homeopathy, yesterday, and she’s speaking at the Reason Rally in June. “Science Babe,” Debby Berebichez, who popularizes science mainly through videos and articles. has a Ph.D. in physics from Stanford and has done serious research, though she now works as a risk analyst on Wall Street.  I have no real objections to the content of their sites (well, “The Physics of High Heels” seems a bit “Science Lite” to me), which is generally substantive. I admire both d’Entremont and Berebichez for choosing to take on the difficult task of selling science to an often recalcitrant public. My objection is only to how the sites are sold.
  • I don’t think either of these women have done anything wrong, nor do I want to shame them for dressing as they choose. One could make the counterargument that these images show that one can popularize science and still be “feminine” in the traditional sense—that being able to dress the way you want is “empowering.” My concern is how the images sell the science, what message they convey, and whether they’re tactically effective.
  • The problem that I’ll talk about briefly below is surely societal in nature: that is, people judge other people, especially women, by how they look rather than by the contents of their character and their cranium. Men aren’t usually treated the same way. It seems hypocritical for people interested in science to render judgement based on an initial perception of either a site or a person rather than on what they have to say.

That said, my concerns are severalfold. First, and this may reflect some prudishness on my part, I don’t like to see science sold salaciously. Nor does it have to be: there are plenty of women science popularizers who do an effective job without dragging sexuality into the mix: these include Jennifer Oulette on Gizmodo, Joanne Manaster at Joanne Loves Science, and people like Carolyn Porco, Pamela Gay, and Lisa Randall.

Second, these images are certainly going to turn away part of the demographic who need the message of science. I know this because several people have told me so over the years. Some women in particular consider images like the above as forms of objectification. Some have told me that the images convey the message that to be an effective female science popularizer, you have to show your body. The word “babe,” of course, means “attractive woman”. Others have said that it may convey the wrong message to women contemplating a science career, for they’re already underrepresented among the professoriate and researchers, and images like this convey the attitude that women in science (and women in general) are “always to be SEXY.”

Using sex to sell something is always a double-edged sword: it attracts a certain demographic (mostly lascivious males, I suspect); but it can can undermine your credibility, leading you to be taken less seriously than you should. As I said, that is largely a societal problem, but remember that popularization involves selling science to society as it is now. In other words, the use of sexuality to push science might trigger automatic prejudices against women who wear sexy gear to tout serious subjects.  To me, a good science communicator should appeal to everyone and not offend or alienate part of the target audience. I worry that salaciousness, particularly on the Internet, can lead to instant dismissal of one’s message before it’s even absorbed. It is a tactic that can backfire.

Finally, I reiterate that I am not criticizing these women or their message. I am not saying they are “wrong” in doing what they’re doing. I like what they’re doing. What I am suggesting is that the way they choose to sell those messages may be counterproductive, alienating some of those they want to reach.

Now, readers can weigh in.

216 thoughts on “On the sexualization of selling science

  1. Well, the SciBabe ‘persona’ was a take off of the Food Babe who used her looks to promote pseudoscience.

    It’s tongue and cheek

    You say you don’t care how she dresses and then you do.

    It’s not her problem that your female friends disapprove.

    1. My response is that it’s irrelevant where she got her name when she posts banner photos like that. Also, as I said, my take is that if she wants to be an effective communicator of science, then it is her problem if her methods of promotion alienate women.

      1. I don’t think it’s been shown that this approach *is* alienating women.

        I understand the concern, but as a somewhat long-time follower of Yvette d’Entremont, I can tell you that the only people who seem to complain about the “sexy” persona are people who are already complaining about the content and are resorting to personal attacks when their “sources” get dismantled.

        I would also argue that d’Entremont (I have no experience with Berebichez) is an effective science communicator specifically because she doesn’t really play up the persona. It’s a bit she did to make fun of Vani Hari one time, but I haven’t seen any new content in that vein for as long as I’ve been paying attention to her.

          1. Wait, you’re seriously implying that your site and the comments here are a remotely representative sample and therefore a legitimate collection to use as support for your conclusions?

              1. It has been shown that this is alienating women. Well, it’s only alienating some women. But some of them are women that I (sort of) know, and that’s what’s important.

          2. I can’t say I’m really offended by this approach, but it does seem kind of tacky and unnecessary. Although I wouldn’t avert my eyes should Brian Cox appear in a Speedo, I doubt that it would make his spreading Da Word more effective (I might be too busy ogling;-).
            That “Every Girl can be a Science Babe” just feeds into that whole Princess deal that I tried, mostly successfully, to steer my daughter away from (It warmed my heart to hear her say to a little friend when they were about 7 “My mommy says the stuff they advertise on TV is crap.”) Nobody says that pretty women can’t be scientists, or that they should frumpify themselves, but for CC’s sake why all the babeifiying?? I really don’t think it helps the cause of science.

          1. it alientates SOME women – but most women (in MY experience) dgaf how she looks. We like her message (and those like her)
            if there ARE women (or men) who are offended because she used a hook to attract viewers they can go read Bill Nye or Neil deGrasse Tyson who ALSO have serious science goin on with a different hook. Or Carl Sagan, et. al. SciBabe and ScienceBabe are but two who use sex. There are many that don’t. Let’s not let the demographic go who IS hooked by sex. Get em here – then reel em in with reason.

          2. “You can please some of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”

            But, the question is…are they really doing harm to science, by being attractive women who so happen to science and are not ashamed of it? Is there something truly wrong with being both into being a “sexy” woman and a woman who’s into science?

            All the people saying they will dismiss these ladies because of the sexy (aka, who they are as frickin’ human beings)…you are a part of the problem; not Y’vette and Debbie.

            1. No-one’s suggested that they are harming science. The point is only that they might in fact be unintentionally limiting their own outreach “footprint”.

            2. Well I can tell you that if I went to read some scientific stuff on a lunch break at work for example… I would clearly stay away from these sort of links.
              Weird huh?
              I guess I’m fine with being part of the problem… and not getting fired.

    2. Being a parodic spinoff of some other entity is not always a good idea.

      To folks who watched Saturday Night Live, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s reference to opponents of one of his proposals as “girlie men” came off (mostly) as good natured self-parody. He was quoting a parody of his own image on SNL. But thousands of Californians have never seen Saturday Night Live, and to them it came off quite differently.

      So I don’t think it being a spinoff of “Food Babe” is necessarily good justification.

  2. “I don’t think either of these women have done anything wrong,”
    Really? It is pretty clear you have huge reservations on what was done and calling it ‘wrong’ would be a simple label to summarize that fact (the whole point of words in general). Why does everyone have to tiptoe around about disagreeing with anything, just because it’s done by women?
    Isn’t it slightly condescending to preface any disagreement with all sorts of niceties because of what….? The fear that hordes of them will go on the attack?

    Anyway I think it’s in poor taste and considering how we keep hearing that in this field men are often really sexists towards women… this sort of stuff would seem to re-enforce an objectified way to look at them within the science confines and it doesn’t appear like the greatest idea. So yeah I do think it’s wrong and I also don’t see how anything I might write could “shame” them, they aren’t children, right?

  3. ” I worry that salaciousness, particularly on the Internet, can lead to instant dismissal of one’s message before it’s even absorbed. It is a tactic that can backfire.”
    Agree. I would be likely to ignore a Victoria’s Secret type presentation, assuming – albeit perhaps showing a bias – that such promotion indicated a scam or at best a shallow approach to the subject.
    Does the end justify the means – the end being pulling more people into opening their minds to science? I don’t think so….

  4. The internet is a big place, it has room for lots of tactics to blossom, so if Yvette d’Entremont & Debby Berebichez and others can actually sell science as a positive to some people, then I think they are doing good, and like you said, there are other women also selling science not using the same tactics, so they can pull in the people put off by others.
    Think of it this way: “New atheists” have a strong point against the accommodationists in saying that their tactics work well for some people, and see that others with their more diplomatic ways are also doing good. Different strokes for different folks.

      1. You’ve created an amusing new image for me of the 4 horsemen. I don’t know if it would sell anything, but it would get some double takes.

    1. This aligns with my analysis. As noted in other comments, its their choice and it can only be criticized by its outcome. (Which we don’t know about.)

      I guess a smell test is in order:

      Can science be sold by clowns, politicians, nerds, military, d*gs, barber shop singers, car salesmen, …?

      Well, yes. Possibly using clowns, d*gs and car salesmen would have the same “can be attracted/put off” problem, but so have neutral roles. (An archetype: “Remember that boring math lecturer in high school? Never again math!”)

      1. Bill Nye could be taken for clown (very loosely speaking), so the research has been done for that outcome. I believe he has been very successful in influencing a whole generation.

      2. I don’t know about clowns and science, but atheism (and the scientific view of cosmology) has certainly been well ‘sold’ by many comedians such as Ricky Gervais, Billy Connolly, Dara O’Briain, George Carlin…


    2. Idk about Science babe, but Scibabe is not positive. Her science is completely shallow and she quite regularly sends her followers to other pages to talk crap. Granted, it’s probably because that page is saying something about her.

      If science could be broken down by “class,” Scibabe is a pretty low rung.

  5. I think we should deal with the world the way it is. Not the way we wish it could be.

    These Women picked a target audience and catered to it. Readers of this or any other serious science blog are not the targets.

    Any time you inject personality or other fluff to make your message more attractive you will turn some folks off.

    For example I do not like cats. But I just click past that stuff and ignore it. This site still remains useful despite that silliness.

    I think women should dress and face outward to the public how ever they want to. I am not in charge of dressing them. My job is just to enjoy their choices or not. Easy job. So easy I do not even need to talk about it.

    1. “Readers of this or any other serious science blog are not the targets.”

      What. The. Fuck.

      The original target audience were those who appreciated real science in favor of the pseudoscience of the Food Babe. You know, people who actually knew what FB was spewing was garbage. Not from gut feel, but from being able to read, research, analyze and understand scientific literature.

    2. +1 to James.

      @ChrisCintheD: SciBabe’s target audience was specifically FoodBabe’s audience. I’m not sure what you’re getting at. Suggesting that sciBabe’s target audience should be different from what she thinks it is? Or what?

      Oh, and contra Prof CC’s statement that men aren’t usually judged by their looks – they are. (And – men and women both – by how they speak and deliver their message). This is why TV ads for crap dietary supplements and toothpaste feature ‘professional-looking’ men (or women) in white lab coats. Would you take serious advice from a Robert Redford – or a Groucho Marx?


  6. With one or two posts a month, I wouldn’t worry about them. “Science Babe” seems to be the exception that proves the rule.

    1. Just out of interest, the old saw “it’s the exception that proves the rule” is often misunderstood and used wrongly. The original meaning of “proves” was “tests” so that if an exceptional circumstance to a proposition is encountered and the proposition holds firm then the proposition is said to be proved.

      The following example is taken from Wikipedia:-

      An example of this use in science writing is laid out by Richard Dawkins in The Ancestor’s Tale. Cnidaria is a phylum of animals including jellyfish, corals, and sea anemones. The rule is that all cnidarians, and only cnidarians, have specialized harpoon cells called cnidocytes, which they often use to capture and/or inject venom into prey. There is one exception to this rule. Some species of sea slugs of the nudibranch group have tentacles containing cnidocytes, even though the slugs aren’t cnidarians. But it turns out that the slug eats jellyfish and passes the jellyfish’s commandeered weapons, intact and still working, into its own tentacles. So examining the only known exception really proved the original rule valid after all.

  7. Using sex to sell something is always a double-edged sword: it attracts a certain demographic (mostly lascivious males, I suspect)

    Hmm I interpreted the ads very differently. I thought they were messaging to young women that you don’t have to be a prototypical nerd in order to be a scientist. Ethan Siegel does a male equivalent of this over at his blog; his ‘bio picture’ is always of himself in his latest Halloween costume, again to try and beak the “lab coat and goggles and you must always be serious” stereotype.

    As to whether these cases are successful or whether the consequences of objectification does more harm than the message does good, well I think I will shut up and listen to what others have to say on that, particularly women.

    In my personal preferences LOL I think I must be even more of an old fogie than you Jerry; I generally dislike ALL unnecessary pictures and videos when I’m reading science or news articles, including stuff like this. Just give me text and I’m happy. Though an odd bio picture or header isn’t anywhere near the worst case (IMO); I frankly despise the focus news carriers have put on video content.

    1. I received the message the same way, and I respect these women for using their femininity and sexuality to promote science. They aren’t using ‘sex’ they are attractive, intelligent women who are able to use both of those things to promote science. I find a lot of SciBabe’s followers are women. I don’t overwhelmingly see only men in the comments. So, what are they supposed to do? Dress plainly and not be feminine while promoting science? Why does it even matter what the hell they look like, last time I checked both were intelligent, funny, and able to promote science to those who may not have been interested otherwise.

      1. You can be not plain and you can dress very femininely and attractively without striking the poses at the top of this post which are clearly meant to be lascivious, tongue-in-cheek or not. Women don’t usually do science lying on their backs on a leather couch (unless maybe they’re doing fertility studies) or in high heeled boots scrunched under some fancy machine.
        Full-disclosure, if not full-coverage: In my days in the lab in the 70s, my dresses and my labcoats barely covered my patootie, but I did not find the need to “pose”.

  8. Hmm, there might be a few comments on this one.

    Everyone tends to get judged on their appearance, but for men this usually revolves more around social status and self-confidence rather than just raw looks, though these are all correlated of course.

    However, for things like science communication (and indeed most jobs) competence tends to be equated more with the sort of appearance that men tend to be judged by (social status and self-confidence) rather than with the sort of appearance that women tend to be judged by (raw looks).

    FWIW, I tend to regard this sort of thing as women reclaiming “babe” in much the same way as low-status men have reclaimed “nerd” and “geek”. I may be completely wrong, of course.

  9. Anything sexier than SCIENCE? I think not. If they want to portray themselves that way, then fine by me. One thing is for certain: we need more females in science. They are equally capable scientists (ie. scientist is gender neutral as it should be). Don’t judge a book by its cover! Clearly you have not done that. And I would love to get their opinion, so you should forward this post to them.

    1. “Anything sexier than SCIENCE?”
      Honestly, I find science fascinating but no… I don’t find it sexy at all.
      I typically don’t get aroused by articles on science. I sometimes get the impression that science appeals to a different part of my brain then sex…

      “Don’t judge a book by its cover! Clearly you have not done that.”
      Sure he has, but the point of this article is to discuss the book cover, so how can that be judged without judging it?

      And at the end of the day, no matter how often people are told to not judge a book by it’s cover, well they will often pick which book to read based largely on the cover, as reading the whole book kind of defeats the purpose of trying to pick a book in a reasonable time frame.

      1. Right, the woman you designated “Official Website Sweetheart™” in April.


        I’m thinking there is a bit of a mixed message between this post decrying the use of feminine attraction to sell science vs. your post in April calling Diane Morgan the Official Sweetheart rather than, say, Official Science Satirist or some such.

        I applaud your attempt to evenhandedly address your misgivings about using sex to sell science and simultaneous support of women to decide for themselves how they wish to promote science. Over at the science blog Respectful Insolence, Orac has vociferously emphasized the corresponding point, which is that Food Babe needs to be criticized based on the science, not on her choice to use her appearance as a selling point.

        As with so many things, though, I’d say we need to look to our selves and our own actions first before criticizing others.

        1. IMO, there should be room for everything.

          Science sweeties
          Science geeks/nerds/dorks/hunks
          Science sexy
          Science ultra serious
          Science athletic/macho



          1. The difference, and the point, though is who makes that decision. It’s fine to call yourself “Science sweetie” if you want. But for a male to dub a female scientist as “Science sweetie” rather than credit her science abilities would be sexist.

              1. It is possible to appreciate them for both, yes. But when you name someone *else* “science sweetie” you are elevating the sweetie over the science.

                Think of GW Bush. One of the ways he was a bit of a bully was in assigning people nick names, whether they wanted them or not – a frat boy-level of condescension. A man assigning a women nicknames like “science sweetie” is sexist and different than if a women names herself that. It’s the difference between sexism and self-empowerment, between voluntary and involuntary. Who makes the choice makes a difference.

              2. I see what you are saying. And as PCC repeatedly pointed out, the problem is more with the culture than anything. Calling a woman science sweetie can be seen as objectification, even if it is not, because women are still primarily valued for their looks.

                Anyway, there is only so much that one can fit into a headline. I can call the young Richard Dawkins a “science hottie” yet *still* value him equally for his intellectual contributions. In fact, the two go hand in hand.

        2. Hmmm I had never thought of “sweetheart” as a comment on someone’s looks before. I normally think of it as referring to someone having a pleasant or endearing temperament.

          I vaguely recall Jerry at one time also designated a philosopher as the official website curmudgeon or something like that. So while yes technically ‘sweatheart’ is judging a scientist not on their science chops but on a somewhat irrelevant personality factor, if I’m recalling correctly then he hasn’t been bigoted or one-sided about doing that.

          1. “Hmmm I had never thought of “sweetheart” as a comment on someone’s looks before. I normally think of it as referring to someone having a pleasant or endearing temperament.”

            It certainly can be the latter, but characterizing a professional woman to “having a pleasant or endearing temperament” can also be dismissive, condescending and sexist, especially when someone’s one-sided crush on a woman causes them to refer to them as “sweetheart”. Context matters. Now, to be sure, I don’t think our benevolent host meant anything ill by his characterization, but I do think it highlights how easy it even for good people to unconsciously use terms and characterizations in ways that can be sexist. Why highlight Diane Morgan’s wry satire, but then designate her a “sweetheart” rather than “satirist?” Were she not a woman I’m pretty sure he would not have done so. I think it is a trap all to many of us could easily fall into without realizing it, including me.

            1. Why highlight Diane Morgan’s wry satire, but then designate her a “sweetheart” rather than “satirist?” Were she not a woman I’m pretty sure he would not have done so.

              Jerry has applied the similarly-endearing “uncle” epithet upon various men. I don’t see anything sexist or demeaning in his use of “sweetheart.”


              1. Were the two analogous he would have called her “Aunt”.

                And, again, I do want to emphasize that this is one of my absolute favorite websites and I think Jerry is, in the aggregate, wonderful (I’ll refrain from saying “awesome” 🙂 ) on just about every issue – informative, nuanced (in a good way) and self-aware. The point I brought up is a minor quibble. But, that being said, I do think it is a case of unconscious sexism by a person I respect and don’t consider sexist.

  10. I peruse many science websites everyday and I have never seen these. I am not sure they need to promote science that way, but, hey, they are good looking and I am all for showing off what you’ve got to sell anything, especially science.

    Bottom line: a little bit in the noise. However, science is the best and sex is a close second. So, thumbs up.

  11. I tend to agree.

    I am certainly not offended by how they dress or present themselves, but if I saw those sorts of banners floating by on social media I would probably not click through because I would not realise that the content linked to would be serious science and probably assume that the intended target audience is certainly not me.

    Now that I’ve looked at the content they create, it’s good stuff. But the first click means everything on the internet. It’s perhaps not the savviest choice for a science communicator to pick an image that isn’t accessible to the widest possible audience.

    It’s entirely up to them of course.

  12. I regard it as an important part of my job as a professor to make sure I display no romantic interest whatsoever in any student. Using sex to sell science is uncomfortable to me because it harkens back to the bad old days when substantial numbers of male faculty objectified women and had affairs with their students. Of course women are free to dress as they please, but bringing sexiness into a professional workplace always feels wrong.

    I know these webpages are not my workplace, but mixing sexiness and science will regardless feel strange to me, and I would not and will not click on the ads to these sites.

    1. Nice comment, I hadn’t thought about it that way before. Yes this is probably triggering the “no work fraternization” reflex in me. Even if that reflex doesn’t really apply here, it feels a bit like it does.

    2. I think this is where I feel reservation as well. I actually feel guilty for feeling this way because it feels like I’m judging the women for dressing as they choose but if I dressed like that and posed in those ways at work to get people to listen to me, I’d be pretty ticked off.

      In fact, as a woman who has worked pretty much exclusively in IT for most of my career, it brings up a lot of bad memories. Memories where managers (male) would say to me that they didn’t like how I cut my hair (pretty women wear their hair long) or they didn’t like the boots I wore in winter (pretty girls where boots up to their knees with high heels). Or, the women who spread rumours that I was having an affair (hell no I wasn’t – I was in a long term relationship) because they didn’t like the (unwanted) attention the males showed me.

      So, I see this as influencing young women – want a STEM job, dress provocatively. Unattractive? Don’t bother applying.

      Sure, it may not be the intended message, but given how hard it is for women in male dominated jobs, that is the message young women are receiving.

  13. Jerry, I appreciate that you are in explore mode—that you are up front that your thoughts on this at this point in time are tentative, but that there is something here to talk about and perhaps be concerned about.

    My response here is also tentative and exploratory.

    What I am thinking is that while I do find this somewhat off-putting to me personally (a lot of men are actually frightened by overt female sexuality—I’m sure I’m not alone in this) I can see how a woman might want to rebel against being appreciated only for her brains, just as much as women have made it clear that they do not want to be seen only as bodies attractive to men. Do I have to be a mousy, bespectacled brainiac to be a woman in science? or can I be a more rounded human being and fully female in my own way? There is a deep question of the extent that rationality demands coldness and detachment and the extent that the current scientific culture has been shaped by an over riding, dominant masculine culture.

    I don’t have any easy answers but I agree with you that this is worth thinking more about.

  14. I’m offended and, after clicking on their photos to get a feel, their sites feel like porn.

    They’ve both lost credibility in my eyes. I won’t read anything they publish unless it happens to come to me from a source I do respect.

    As a female scientist who recently created a webCV, I thought a lot about whether to include a photo of myself. Eventually I did, but I didn’t place them on the cover page because I want people to connect with my head. I want to be seen for what I think. Eventually I added a few photos on my About page, but chose ones that were 1) professional and 2) slightly nerdy, showing my science geek.

    Several of my male colleagues talk about how women should dress to please them. It’s incredibly offensive and this sort of blatant appeal to porn encourages this! I was recently told that if I wore a baggy collared shirt, that men wouldn’t notice me. To this I said good and wear almost nothing but cozy, flowing garments. I don’t want to think about whether or not I’m giving my colleagues a hard on. I want to engage with people about science!

    Thanks for posting this!

    1. I think comparing these sites to porn is a bit over the top.

      Also, in now wearing “cozy, flowing garments,” aren’t you still allowing men to dictate how you dress, even if only by inverse suggestion?

      I would never deign to tell a woman what she should wear, unless it was someone close to me soliciting my opinion (and even then I find that the better part of valor is reticence). But I will venture this one small suggestion: Maybe you could wear what you feel like wearing, regardless what your male colleagues think. They sound like pigs, anyhow; to hell with them.

      1. I thing “cozy, flowing” garments sounds exactly like what she wants to wear.

        “I would never deign…But…”

        Remember all the discussions here about how nothing good ever follows a “but?”

    2. Isn’t the double standard in attire interesting? When I was at an IT company they practically issued a fatwa against too casual work clothes. Perhaps they were targeting the men who looked like they were going to the beach or the gym but I found women often dress much nicer than men do in casual work environments.

      Every time said fatwa was issued, me and my female colleagues would obsess over how we looked. I’m sure we looked fine but I remember having a conversation in the bathroom with one woman who said she spent 10 minutes in front of the mirror making sure to hide cleavage, wondering if something was too tight, wondering how to strategically place a scarf, etc.

      I even had a male colleague say to me (jokingly but I think inappropriately), “well, we have to make sure you girls don’t dress like whores”. I actually find “girls” more offensive than “whores” in that sentence.

      1. It’s been a while since I worked in an office, but every one I’ve worked in has had such fatwas that really got to the women. In retrospect, it’s pretty clearly nothing more than a petty power game played to terrorize the peons and keep them too worried about inconsequentialities to revolt.

        That it’s far more effective against women than men tells you how much more emphasis on appearance we as a society put on the appearance of women.


        1. I bought a new car at the dealership today. The guy I dealt with is young so not sexist in his treatment of me. His manager – not so much. Now, I didn’t go apeshit on this guy because he’s a product of his generation and he works in the car industry and I was trying to get a deal but he asked me where I worked and I told him and he said “Oh, you’re an IT girl?” I wondered if he would say “Oh, you’re an IT boy” to a man. Then he also said “Women get upset if you do their job for them” referring to his coworker who I have to come in to hear all about the up-sell stuff that I’m not buying. Good grief dude, clean it up!

            1. Ha ha. I have to wait for the evil bank to give me my damn money so I probably won’t pick it up until next week. The dealership also had to order me one. I got the new Mazda CX-3 with technology pakage. It is all wheel drive which will be nice in the winter when my Miata is hibernating.

              1. Yeah the Tesla is too much $$ for me and when I figured out my driving (I keep obsessively detailed mileage records), I realized a hybrid wasn’t going to give me the fuel economy I needed. Maybe next time! There should be better EVs out there by the time I need to replace this vehicle.

              2. Our Miata was unquestionably the worst snow vehicle ever (and I say this as someone whose only vehicle for the better part of 10 years, back when it used to snow a lot more here, was an Alfa spyder), although in its latter years we (by which I mean my One True Love) kind of accidentally sprung for some ice/snow tires meant for keeping a turbo Carrera glued to the road on the way to Whistler in a blizzard. They raised its performance in the snow to at least average for a light RWD car. At least during the one solitary snowfall they ever encountered. THANKS, global warming. Sill, a great car. We put over 400,000 trouble free Km on ours before electrical gremlins set in.

              3. I only drive my Miata in the summer. I have a friend who drives his all year but I don’t want to get it salty or risk people not seeing me.

      2. Perhaps they were targeting the men who looked like they were going to the beach or the gym but I found women often dress much nicer than men do in casual work environments.

        We have the reverse problem, but I suspect that it’s because we have more young women in our office than young men, and ‘inappropriately casual dress’ may owe more to age rather than gender.

    3. Thanks for the candor, Charleen, my opinions (and experiences) fall pretty much in line with yours.

      (Had a look at your website and think you’ve picked just the right images and placement of same to meet modern expectations. Nice job!)

    4. I checked out your CV, and it is impressive. Very diverse. Congratulations. I was especially struck by the theology degree and can’t help wondering how that came about and whether you come to WEIT as a theist. I don’t think there are many religious readers (unless they just don’t surface much). You don’t have to answer. I’m just curious.

  15. Good even handed post. It can be almost impossible to talk about these issues without stepping on toes that you never meant to step on.

    I just find these things unnecessary. I love good science and don’t care who presents it. I don’t care about your gender or how you dress or even if you have the right degree. But if you draw the periodic table on your boobs then it’s not chemistry I’m looking at.

    Everything else aside I think this is just PR for the presenter. You have to figure out a way to cut through the chaff. I heard SciBabe recently on Ben Greenfield’s posdcast where she talked about her weight loss and glamming as a necessary part of becomeing a public figure. Tough to argue with. But my seven year old daughters are much more interested in the seven women who scraped around in caves to find H. naledi than they are debunking GMOs with cleavage. My wife thinks you must not be as smart if you have to wear tight skirts to talk about chiropractic and essential oils.

    Cara Santa Maria (former GF of Bill Mayer and Talk Nerdy host) talks about being on television as a tech expert and having producers tell her to spice it up or move on. Buttons downs and slacks? Only it those buttons are open and the slacks slip down the hips. And more red lipstick please!

    1. “But my seven year old daughters are much more interested in the seven women who scraped around in caves…”

      I hope you can help them keep that attitude as long as possible! Amazing how having daughters makes one view our sex-sells society in a whole new light. I speak from experience, of course.

  16. If it was someone else that was asking them to sex it up to sell, then I could find fault. However, these appear to be totally their own sites, their own content, and their own choice. Therefore I see two beautiful people doing exactly what they want and being who they want to be. They don’t need to carry the torch for anyone or anything else. I don’t see it as catering to an audience, I see it as being who they want to be. If some don’t like it, so be it. There is enough room for others to make a site they feel attracts a wider audience, it isn’t their responsibility.

  17. “To me, a good science communicator should appeal to everyone and not offend or alienate part of the target audience.”

    I think there is plenty of room for a wide range of tactics. Yes, the tactics these scientists have chosen will limit their potential audience, but they may be able to reach people that more generally appealing scientists, for example NdGT, don’t reach.

    At the same time I don’t think it is inappropriate to criticize their tactics either. I can certainly appreciate that other woman in particular might be critical of their tactics. And I think that is fine. But I guarantee that some percentage of woman will be inspired by these scientist’s tactics.

    “Using sex to sell something is always a double-edged sword: it attracts a certain demographic (mostly lascivious males, I suspect); but it can can undermine your credibility, leading you to be taken less seriously than you should. As I said, that is largely a societal problem, . . .”</blockquote

    I agree, it is largely a societal problem. For that reason I think it is a good thing that some people give society the finger, figuratively speaking, regarding the hang-ups associated with that societal problem. I am not very familiar with these two particular woman but my first impression is that that sort of message is one of the things they are hoping to convey.

  18. I am happy when anybody takes the time and makes the effort to teach science to me. Men who are only interested in ‘skin’ will go elsewhere but maybe a few will stay for the science. I hope

  19. This is one sided, I lack a generic discussion involving the guys who sell science with their looks, if not in the same way. [Say, by having their images associated with their popular science output.]

    Generally I don’t think science should be sold differently than any other commodity. The larger discussion which individuals are turned away/attracted by what messages is perhaps handled best with actual statistics. (Que ad science.)

    The word “babe,” of course, means “attractive woman”.

    It is too close to the infantilizing (or pedophilic?) “baby” to attract me, and it also seems to be its etymology. [ http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=babe ]

    There must be better terms.

      1. And he has been criticized for being too good looking. As if how he looks takes away from his brain somehow. He gets frustrated with people focusing on his looks so I think in this way he’s like a woman….but only just a little as a woman would be told exactly what wasn’t good enough about her appearance as well.

      2. And Brian doesn’t seem to get his hair cut very often or worry about his clothes. Doesn’t seem vain at all: just great enthusiasm and a glorious smile.

    1. It’s pretty well established that men tend to adopted generic references for women that involve something either small and cuddly or edible — chick, honey, doll, sugar, etc. (This is all part of the unfortunate objectification of women, but let’s not get into that now.)

      “Babe” and “baby” are so widespread in American usage that they no longer trigger images of a human infant, anymore than “chick” does young poultry.

  20. Good questions. Who is their audience? Are they targeting their audience appropriately?

    As a former “believer” my impressions and first reactions are still very colored by my former cultural sensitivities. I find these banners distasteful. With some effort, I do however attempt to adopt a more tolerant view.

    Perhaps I’m not the audience. But, in reality, I’m looking for science based content and the banners advertise a different product.

    I personally think these types of banners are off-target, but I try to treat them more as speed bumps, rather than as show stoppers.

  21. Your instincts are good, you cannot post about such topics in any meaningful way without also offending someone. Write in one direction, wrong, write in the other, wrong, too. What determines whether you got it correct are things beyond the text, as measured by the Privilege Index. You gain points by being too pale, or by being straight. Every time you make it around the sun will also add points. This is all bad, because together with “lived experience” a low index confers truth. Especially having a Y chromosome is a problem (or to be precise: is “problematic”). To reduce your index again, consider blogging at FreethoughtBlogs or the SkepChicks (does the topic apply to them?), get a degree in some “studies” and make yourself a name by going after people who were “wrong”. Perhaps you can cite disabilities and other ways how you might be oppressed. That also lowers the index down to more tolerable levels, and accordingly makes what you write more true.

    The reason for this is that there are at least two mutually exclusive interpretations on what scantly dressed women mean, and they are superimposed in the currently fashionable post-modernist social justice ideology (including feminism). You mention them, I just restate: one holds that this is “objectification” and propagating gender stereotypes, which is allegedly a clever way by Teh Patriarchy™ to hold women in place. The other version claims this is empowering, and that denying women to express themselves in such a way was “femmephobic”. As Richard Feynman knew, nobody understands post-modernism.

    I don’t see how this is different, in principle, from pulp covers or centrefolds, even if toned down. On the face of it, the idea is the same: men like to ogle women, and throwing that into the mix might motivate some more people, or a different audience to “buy” it, as an in the age old adage: “sex sells”. It might harden something, but probably not the science, just as that books with such covers don’t exactly convey seriousness. But other demographics might not interpret it that way. In the end, it’s a niche the ScienceBabe has created for herself, and if successful, others might try that approach as well. Whether a woman uses Teh Patriarchy™ in a clever way for her own ends, or whether she is “forced” to be noted is probably unanswerable in a rational way.

    1. One more smaller note: both images, the red dressed preentation above and the one with the shoulder below are different. The upper one seems to be aimed more at men, the one below more at women. I would say the lower one conveys much more that women don’t have to become grey lab rats to make in science, and I like it (we can also no longer dicuss this meaningfully for the same reason as outlined above).

  22. It’s not about selling science for SciBabe; it’s about selling herself as a brand to make a buck. It’s just another scheme that works well on the Internet.

    1. I agree. After thinking about this all morning, that is what most clearly disturbs me about these sites. Not that they use sex to sell science, but that they use sex and science to sell themselves… shameless self-promotion, seeking celebrity status with science merely their chosen vehicle.

      1. Is self-promotion wrong? If one doesn’t promote oneself, who will? In my opinion, there are very few people who do not indulge in self-promotion. Certainly Academia is full of it. What does the motivation of a science blogger matter if the science is accurate? For that matter, how can we even know what a blogger’s real motivation is?

          1. Sorry, I did read the article but I thought I was commenting on a comment by Jamie who had brought up the motivation question. I did a similar thing on another comment. I’ll be more careful in future.

      2. Why should they feel shame for trying to make a living by communicating on the internet? In what way do you, or anyone, not work at “selling yourself” in the pursuit of whatever it is you do to earn a living?

        You think using science is shameful of them? That’s ridiculous. Do you feel the same about all the other variations of journalism as well? Do you level the same criticism at all of the celebrity / big-name science popularizers?

  23. I’m gay so it don’t matter to me. I will say, them ladies is awesome. I love their takedowns of the Food Boob and support for Prof Folta.

    I agree with commenter above: more men in thongs.

  24. I disagree with your use of the word “salacious” in this matter. A dictionary meaning of that word is “treating sexual matters in an indecent way and typically conveying undue interest in or enjoyment of the subject”.

    Their presentation may be more “provocative”, but not salacious. I think their sites are light-hearted ways for people to get scientific information. Having been a fan of SciBabe since her epic takedown of the Fraud Babe, I know that her work has been excellent, and she has gotten me linked to a variety of other sites, many in a more traditional, more serious presentation.

    1. I’m pro-salaciousness — pro-lasciviousness and pro-libidinousness, too (as long as their done in an upfront, good-humored way, as opposed to the perverse, mixed-message way that Madison Avenue does them to sell soap).

      Screw what the dictionary says, how can you have an “undue interest in or enjoyment of” sex? (And if you do, your problem isn’t sex; it’s obsessive-compulsive disorder.)

      Without a undue interest in and enjoyment of sex, most of the Western literary canon wouldn’t exist — and, what the hell, our species probably wouldn’t be around to enjoy it even if it did.

      Those dictionary compilers need to get out of the library and go study the birds & the bees for a while.

  25. Interesting topic. Going to be fun seeing where the comments go.

    First off, it’s ripe for pop psychology, which is usually useless. What someone thinks will be the result, and what actually occurs, are often widely disparate. I’d be more interested in seeing how their click-throughs and time on site compare against the more ‘conventional’ sites. But even that may not reveal much, since the point is to generate an interest in science, and the success of that can’t be determined through those figures; I suspect it would take long-term studies to even suggest how well it worked. Something like “a greater interest in science” is probably going to develop over time from multiple influences.

    This would still have to be compared against the negative results as well, of which there are at least two possibilities: that the sites actively turn people away from science, and that the sites undermine the ability for women to be treated positively in science fields. I’m inclined (pop psy, pop psy) to not worry about the first too much, because I doubt the sites or the ads could generate much in the way of a negative reaction on their own – I think you’d have to be inclined in that direction and willing to see them as supporting evidence that science wasn’t useful or whatever.

    That leaves the second, and again, determining the effect could be difficult. Human sexuality leads to gender distinctions all by itself – to an uncertain degree, any attractive woman will generate more attention to her appearance than to whatever education, skills, and accomplishments she has (which may also include other women having negative reactions over this appearance.) There will always be the sexual aspect in human interaction, so I think the question is, do sites like this encourage the idea that women can be smart and sexy, or do they promote the idea that sexy is more important? (And it’s not like there’s a shortage of sites dedicated to the latter, so we can’t assume a neutral starting point.)

  26. Once science steps into the entertainments industry arena it is forced to play by it’s rules
    In the case of men it is more often either masculinity or the eccentricities of dress and manner that entertainment companies can latch onto and exploit. In the case of women it is more often the glamour angle that is exploited. Just count the number of good looking men and women “professors” in any science fiction feature at the cinema. Sadly, to the industry anybody else in science is just a talking head between commercials (unless they are a psychotic mass murderer like Hannibal Lecter…… now that’s an idea)

  27. This is a legitimate concern. Although in my view, many, if not most Americans have a complete disdain and distrust for science. Any way we can popularize chemistry,physics or other scientific fields needs to be considered. Every on air or internet ‘science’ personality has a style, from Bill Nye’s bow tie to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s larger than life personality. In this current case they happen to be smart, well spoken and beautiful women. If it helps expose more people to, and promotes a greater understanding of science in the real world I am for it. As examples, Scibabe’s early 2015, weekly woo on the bullshitproof diet is spot on as is her June blog post on anti-vaxxers…

  28. I can’t help but think of Jacklyn Glenn while reading this post and the comments. I realize that there are potential pit-falls to using sexuality to market something, but I can’t help but remember when Jaclyn Glenn first became popular on YouTube. Many atheist, agnostic female bloggers and commentators thought it was great that a young, attractive woman would post videos extolling the virtues of non-belief, even going as far as applauding her for using her good looks as a device. However, a lot of that support stopped if Glenn ever posted a video with which they disagreed. Then, some of those same, supportive bloggers became very, very critical of Glenn and resorted to calling her every epithet imaginable that’s ever been attached to female promiscuity. So, Jaclyn Glenn’s use of sexuality as a device to market her videos was fine with those bloggers, right up until the moment she was disagreeable.
    I suppose one could argue that this practice makes it easy for your critics to marginalize your position, but that only holds in a society that generally views sexuality in a negative, or at least taboo, manner. The use of sexuality as a marketing tool is superficial, if not crass. But I sometimes feel that overtly negative reactions to displays of sexuality aren’t a far worse problem. In reacting negatively to displays of sexuality, aren’t we, in effect, reaffirming a shame based code of morality?

    1. Regarding your last sentence, yes, exactly.

      Also, the more directions rational, evidence based, science based, criticisms of woo, urban myths and other inaccurate crap comes from, the further the Overton Window on such issues moves in the propr direction.

      And more closely related to your point, the more often that women who are comfortable being seen as sexy while they demonstrate their legitimately impressive intellects are seen doing that, the sooner our society is likely to reach a point where men that tend to treat woman who look sexy as good for nothing but looking sexy will be marginalized by the rest of society.

    2. I find the kind of comments Jaclyn Glenn gets on her site/YouTube are full of creepers talking about how they are masurbating to her image or how hot she is. I find that really disturbing. Good for her if she can filter that out, but is she really getting the audience she wants?

      Young women often make this mistake. They will use what it takes to get noticed but they will attract the wrong crowd and need to deal with that. And of course, in the back of their heads is the ever asked question, “what will happen when I age and don’t have these looks?”

      1. I understand what you’re getting at, but there is a context in which your comment reduced all of Ms. Glenn’s fans, of which I am one, to sub-simian sexual predators and labeled the entirety of her YouTube channel a mistake because she won’t hide the fact that she is an attractive woman.
        It’s not that I think you wan to shame Jaclyn Glenn or repress her sexuality, but I also think that your comment, which is at a minimum condescending to Glenn and her supporters, is an example of what I described earlier in which the negative reaction to sexualization is really worse than the sexualization itself.

        1. I didn’t say all the comments on her site, in fact I didn’t specify and you assumed I meant all of the comments on her site. I am sickened so much by the comments on her FB that I don’t read them anymore so if you and others are commenting normally, people like me won’t see them because they are hidden by the obnoxious comments these people put and turn off other people.

      2. The one thing I remember about Jaclyn was that she had a podcast titled something like, “Jack Off to Jaclyn,” and explicitly encouraged guys to masturbate thinking about her…for I honestly don’t remember what reason.

        It was…strange, to say the least. But if she likes the thought of random Internet creepers masturbating to her, who am I to criticize her for her kink? Plenty of people have much weirder ways of expressing themselves….


  29. Maybe people will just have to admit there isn’t a “One size fits all” way of promoting science, or anything for that matter.

  30. As a woman, the pressure to be pleasing to men is constant. There is nothing neutral about having your value in science judged by this. I certainly could have posted alluring and provocative photos of myself on my webCV, and even the ones I did post elicit emails from strangers about my appearance. Deep down that cuts at my heart.

    The world is better than this, right? But, the message I get from sexualized science communication is normative; women learn how to be from watching other women. The signal this sends to me: I should be sexier and sexy matters as much as science.

    This is especially so now that I know from reading the comments on here from men that they seem to appreciate the “approach.”

    That’s another normative signal. Maybe I should get off here and take some sexy selfies.

    1. Also, many women posting sexualized images of themselves, proclaiming their empowerment are actually doing so to please men. They know men like these images and they are saying, “hey I’m cool with it, it’s okay.”

    2. Oh and I so agree with you that women learn how to be from watching other women! That is such a true statement.

  31. I prefer a “yes,and…” approach to science communication and skeptical activism. Like GEICO commercials, different approaches will reach different audiences. If some people are turned off by these women’s brand, there are, as you point out, plenty of others to whom they can turn.

  32. I agree with almost all your points, Jerry, but think you’re unnecessarily sweating this. So long as there are other science outlets out there — and you’ve cited a few — the marketplace of ideas can sort this out.

    P.S. One of the women popularizers you cited, Lisa Randall — who best as I can tell has never flaunted or sexualized anything — happens to be my secret crush (well, I guess not so secret now). Ever since I saw her climbing that wall on the Science Channel — the old Science Channel that showed some actual, you know, science, instead of the UFO-style nonsense it specializes in now — I’ve … well … you know … never mind, I think I will keep it secret.

  33. While part of me agrees with your prudish side, I see it more as a “fight fire with fire.” Check out the bull that FoodBabe spreads. “Blatantly wrong” is a phrase that comes to mind for most of it. Misleading at best. Yet the masses are listening to her.

    Science isn’t particularly sexy except to those of us with a deep-seeded love for it and who are never willing to accept something at face value. SciBabe takes science and puts it into a package that intrigue many who might otherwise cruise on by and believe the pseudo-science rhetoric and out and out BS spewed by these idiots who /think/ they know what they’re talking about. I can’t even choose an example there are so many.

    Personally, I’ll use every “asset” in my arsenal and if that include a little sex appeal so be it. I have a functioning, well educated brain and Im not afraid to use it. I’m also not afraid to use my cleavage, or bat my eyelashes. The feminist movement made it forbidden to show that a woman can have both a body and brains that rock the world. I’m more of the “lipstick” or “stiletto” feminism frame of mind: whatever works to get you to listen to my message.

    1. I think that the “whatever sells science” trope is also lame.

      I’d like to see the empirical evidence that they’ve effectively “sold” science. What does that even mean? Does it mean more people going into science? Does it mean more young girls having a positive self-image and then going into or doing science? Or does it simply mean the # of clicks you get?

      The sociology literature would say that women have to be overly competent to be deemed even close to the competency level of a less qualified male. Throwing on a short skirt and batting your eyelashes is going to get you that science job? That raise? Young girls to go “hey, mom, I wanna do science because Ms. Babe on Youtube can do it”? There is plenty of literature on women in science and the issues faced by these women. Much of the problem deals with our culture and the images we see as young children. Those develop into normative values. Science should be beyond politicization and sexualization, and if it’s not then it is up to us to make it so.

  34. As a female scientist interested in pursuing a career in science communications once I’m done with this PhD I would hate to see this become the norm. What worries me is that female science advocates start to only be successful if they show some leg and cleavage too. I would rather be taken seriously for what I have to say than for what I look like.

    1. And I think even Carolyn Porco feels pressure in that she isn’t a regular woman who is married with children. I remember her making a remark like this and being attacked viciously on Twitter – I came to her defence of course because no one messes with my favourite female scientists!!

  35. While this is a refreshing change from the old stereotype of the Faustian mad scientist a la Victor Frankenstein or Dr. Jekyll or Professor Moriarty (of the Sherlock Holmes) series, I think a better antidote has already been provided by Carl Sagan and Neil DeGrasse Tyson.
    This sort of thing probably appeals mainly to the nerd/geek squad, the sort of folk being affectionately parodied in the sitcom “Big Bang Theory”.

    I’m somehow reminded of the joke about the New York Post headline reading “Social Survey shows that sex sells newspapers. See page 4.”

  36. Looking through some of the social media comments and comments here, I have decided that people are still idiots. It is like they skipped over all the caveats being added and the numerous times where it is said he isn’t judging them for it. He just has reservations about the sexualized images and how it reflects back on the message and can confuse people. I can’t say I blame him because, as I have said when I started, people are idiots.

    Personally speaking, I also don’t care what they look like. As long as they have something interesting to share or some good data, I don’t care if they walk around in gaudy 70s clothes and clashing colors with afro hairstyles and a front row of missing teeth. But no where anywhere did I get the impression that he was shaming them for what I do. Anyone who thinks that seems to be totally overreacting to what he is specifically not saying.

  37. I’ll just go ahead and be reductionist here: If more people who would not ordinarily read two sentences of science-based writing are doing so as a result, then the approach is a net win.

    To amplify that; popularizing science is a good thing. Would Yvette d’Entremont’s excellent takedown of Vani Hari garnered nearly as much attention if it had not been SciBabe taking down FoodBabe?

    I don’t care…not a whit…if people think she should be “above” using that approach. The growing fascination with and power of Ignorance as Virtue needs to be fought on every battlefield that exists.

    1. Yes but Diana and Jerry have said, what might be happening is that the sexual titillation causes X men may read a science site they otherwise wouldn’t, but simultaneously causes Y women (and men) to not read the same science site when they otherwise would have. Is X about the same as Y? Greater? Smaller? It is not at all clear that in terms of a communication strategy, that it creates more audience than it turns away.

  38. When I hosted a BBC TV science magazine show, I occasionally would check out what comments were being made about the topics we chose to cover etc. In the main, the comments were almost exclusively about topic. However, once there was a discussion about whether I was ‘cutely geeky’ and a reference to the ‘thinking mans crumpet’ (this is England) and I found it strangely disconcerting to realize that there were clearly some lonely amateur astronomers out there who fantasized while watching reruns…

  39. And to the gazillions who will say “it’s up to them” or “of course they can choose to do what they want”, well no kidding.

    The point, though, is that I would prefer a society where people try to change it for the better, not one where people manipulate the messed-up parts to their advantage and (inadvertently or not) just keep (and enhance) the sexualization of women ever-present in society (and its damaging effects like lower pay, few promotions, etc. that are due to implicit bias that is FUELED by what people see as young children).

  40. Jerry,

    I think there are two things that allow a more charitable view: 1. SciBabe and ScienceBabe are guilty of bad web design, rather than bad methodology, 2. They are earnestly trying to reach out to a large section of the society that still believes rather strongly in the antiquated notion that femininity precludes scientific pursuits.

    1. I think SciBabe and ScienceBabe err at the design of their websites. I don’t think anyone finds large photos of authors on the homepage tasteful. Unless you are famous for your looks and a large number of people are familiar with seeing you, I don’t see any reason for including one’s photo so prominently on one’s webpage or book cover. Perhaps justified are the covers of the popular-math books of Danica McKellar (a person who has published serious math, but is infinitely more famous for her prominent role in the TV show, Wonder Years). Their argument that traditional notions of ‘the babe’ can coexist with scientific learning by itself is a positive one. The weird banners and other elements of design on their websites don’t do justice to this. It reminds me of Dawkins’s old website, which had all the trappings of the websites of churches and self-help authors (http://oraclemania.blogspot.com/2009/12/adventure-48.html).

    The society (as it exists today, etc.) consists of a pretty large non-fringe group of people who enforce the notion that femininity is at odds with an interest in STEM, with the latter being the domain of nerdy misfits. As a result, you have a substantial number of girls who have been taught, at home and in school, that the pursuit of ‘the babe’-ideal precludes serious science and vice versa. For evidence, look no further than the ubiquity of this trope in movies and TV shows.

    SciBabe and ScienceBabe are perhaps earnestly trying to appeal to this group. The blending of Barbie-type visuals with science may be viewed as an attempt to reach out and break a very mainstream stereotype.

    As to the hypothesis that such an approach actually works, perhaps social scientists must design studies and analyze the data.

    I would like to hear your thoughts about Danica McKellar and her book titles and covers.

  41. The “seriousness” of the message has led to the common conception that science, scientists and it’s popularisers are humourless, droll social misfits that filter everything thru a colourless, lifeless lense that strips Nature of it’s wonder.

  42. SciBabe is sexy because she’s smart. So is Neil DeGrasse Tyson. He will occasionally capitalize on the sexy stuff, too. Nothing wrong with being smart AND attractive. They’re dispelling old myths that scientists have to be dull, boring, and unattractive. They can be either, or anywhere in between.

    I think they both also make more women comfortable about going into STEM.

  43. I am of the opinion that overtly projecting a sexy persona, even to get attention to a good cause, contributes to the objectification of women and that it is a negative thing on the whole.
    It adds to the broad cultural front that permits some of us to take it further such as to ogle and comment on a woman for their looks rather than their brains and the content of their message. This enormous problem creates a broader permissive environment that lets Lotharios to take it still further, by making more abrasive or even threatening comments or worse. The predators hide in the shadows. The other part of this is that other women often participate in opinions about looks rather than message. Men are not the only ones who are guilty here.
    Just look at recent happenings in the run-up to our presidential election for an example of how this causes important issues to go in the wrong direction. For example, we hear over and over again about ‘the Donald’s recent comment about how Carly Fiorina looks. Notice there was NO coverage about what she says on the issues?
    The Science Babe is actually a very minor contributer to this issue since she really does not play up the sexy all the time. She generally just gets right down to business and we can concentrate on what she says. But there is a real problem with objectification of women in science, business, and politics.

    1. Are there any societies in which a person’s appearance (including sexual attractiveness) is not a factor in how they are perceived? Some societies, like ours, are more obvious than others about it and some may have quite different concepts of attractiveness but it seems a generality in human societies. It may be like trying to take greed out of economics.

    2. “I am of the opinion that overtly projecting a sexy persona, even to get attention to a good cause, contributes to the objectification of women and that it is a negative thing on the whole.”

      In a nutshell! Well said, Mark.

  44. I’ve absolutely thought this from the get-go, but the more I’ve read SciBabe’s page in particular, I think she’s much less interested in science and much more interested in becoming a celebrity.

  45. “I don’t think either of these women have done anything wrong, nor do I want to shame them for dressing as they choose.”

    And yet… the whole article is a passive-aggressive set of apologetics shaming these intelligent women for having agency of their own image. Listen, if anybody would have the socially defined role of being upset over Yvette acting sexy, it would be me and Derek. Why? Big brother and boyfriend, respectively. Notice that NEITHER ONE OF US are the slightest bit perterbed by this. Why? Because Yvette is an adult with total agency over her own body, as it should be. She doesn’t put on a “sexy act” just for her page banner. This is part of who she is, and always has been. I applaud her for reveling in her own body without letting society dictate how and when she does it. And, if you didn’t notice, she posts pictures of herself without makeup, with bed-hair, cuddling with her puppy. Why? Because self-agency and self-determination, that’s why.

    There are tons of “nonsexual” science figures. Why do scientists have to pretend that they’re not multi-dimensional human beings when discussing science? Science IS passionate, intense, and fully human. That’s part of Yvette’s message.

    Honestly, I wonder if your essay is the product of a society that is inherently uncomfortable with women controlling their own sexuality on their own terms. Women can be sexy when they’re selling cars, hamburgers, men’s cologne, or nachos. They can’t be sexy when discussing “serious” things, right?

    It’s kinda sad that the idea makes you uncomfortable, bro.

    1. You clearly didn’t read the website’s rules before posting because this violates the standards of not dissing the host AND being rude. And really, the issue is not whether YOU have a problem with it, but whether some people do. Judging by the women, scientists or otherwise, who have posted here, some people do. That was my point.
      I’ll let this comment go through, though it’s beside the point, but you’re not posting here any further.

    2. “…the whole article is a passive-aggressive set of apologetics shaming these intelligent women for having agency of their own image.”

      If Jerry had bent over backwards any further to avoid casting aspersions on these women he’d have landed on his head and concussed himself. I suggest you try reading for comprehension, bro.

  46. These two women should post what they wish and appear how they wish. They demonstrate to all that stereotypical scientists are not the be all and end all of science, they write well, they combat pseudoscience, and they are often humorous. Since they make the choice as to how they appear then there is no reason to complain. As to alienating part of the target audience, all blogs alienate some, especially those who might be most in need of the message, simply because the message contradicts their beliefs. There are enough blogs on science that one can always find another more suitable if one doesn’t like their styles.

  47. As you said yourself, there are plenty of science popularizes who do not use sexuality (or femininity) in their presentation of science. Those who do are reaching a separate audience, one I suspect is equally composed of young women who do not see themselves represented in other forms of science presentation.

    To phrase the point another way, most readers take women seriously to the extent that they downplay being feminine. That is wrong, and women should push the idea that they can be both serious and feminine (including sexy if that is part of their personality). If they are taken less seriously at the moment, perhaps they can see to it that future women are taken more seriously despite being “sexy females”. No one attacks Robert Baaker or Bobak Ferdowsi for presenting as dynamic individuals with life outside of science; so it is not a matter of professionalism, it is simply a matter of being uncomfortable with the kind of life women in heels and tight dresses represent. Which seems to me to be a problem with the reader, not the women themselves.

  48. http://www.projectimplicit.net/index.html

    “Project Implicit is a non-profit organization and international collaboration between researchers who are interested in implicit social cognition – thoughts and feelings outside of conscious awareness and control. The goal of the organization is to educate the public about hidden biases and to provide a “virtual laboratory” for collecting data on the Internet.”

    See this site:


    Take the test and see if you actually do judge others by implicit associations. We create the society in which we live, and the images we see shape our view of the world. Asking the question about whether the images noted in this blog post are a net positive or negative for science is a valid question. I do not think we know the answer.

    1. I took the tests for gender/work and religion/goodness, but I have some reservations about the results. The major problem with such tests is they don’t actually test how we treat other people, they use speed of word association as a proxy for that. Its a common problem with a lot of psychological studies of bias, its the ‘looking under the lamppost’ problem; we do word association tests because we can, not because its necessarily a good proxy for public behavior. I still support such tests though; they’re a step in the right direction, even if the results have limited value.

      The minor flaw was that I found myself making more errors in two instances due to syntax rather than content. I almost always flubbed the term following two terms with the same first letter. And I almost always flubbed the end of a sequence of 4-5 terms in the same category. (example: I, I, I, I, E, I’d miss the E). I expect they randomized the questions so that when they mash my answers in with everyone else’s, the overall demographic trends that emerge are reproducible. But it does mean individual data points in that trend line may not be all that accurate.

      There was IMO another problem specific to the religion test, which is that I suspect its measuring my familiarity with the words/terms rather than my bias towards them. In my case Jewish was ranked highest followed by Christian, then Muslim/Hindu were lumped together. My background is Christian (1-20) and atheist (21+). I suspect the reason Jewish ranked so high is the very mundane and boring explanation that in my life, I’ve encountered and used the word “synagogue” a heckuva lot more often than I’ve seen or used the word “dharma.” So I process ‘synagogue’ faster – due to familiarity rather than psychological favoritism.

      1. Oh, it’s one of those?

        They’re a joke. Whatever they’re measuring isn’t what they think they’re measuring.

        First, they train you to recognize one particular association. During this time, all they measure is how quickly you are at learning that association. Then, they invert the association. Now, they’re measuring the time it takes you to unlearn the first association and learn its inverse.

        If they really think that some sort of subliminal preference is going to meaningfully alter those learning curves…well, to even have the slightest hope of that, they’d first have to establish a baseline of how long it takes you to do the non-prejudicial test. And that’s going to take time, for starters, and involve things like having you match up words and colors, including the word for one color being rendered in a different color. To make matters worse, you’re going to be improving your skills at this type of test all the time…and fatigue is going to play a role, as are distractions…and…

        …and, by this point, it should be obvious just how likely it is that the subliminal effect is getting washed out in all the noise.

        What’s the saying around here? If it ain’t in the percentages, it ain’t there?


  49. As a woman in a sci-tech university that only recently put toilets for women in the engineering building, I find the pornification of women in science just another day in the office for the good old boys network who think 1. women don’t belong in the lab, and 2. If they are there, they exist only to be ogled at and harrassed (and they should put up and shut up with such treatment). Yes, this network exists and it is best exemplified by the underhanded, truly nasty aggression of Tim Hunt. Shirtstorm guy was just clueless, but cluelessly buying into the same mindset.

    Want to do women a science a favor? Just treat us like human beings for a change. Oh, and stalling for twenty years to put in a women’s bathroom because “well, we can’t see why we need it”– is totally not cool.

    1. I read a piece on Tim Hunt – I think it was in the Washington Post – that detailed his actual comments and concluded that the furor was really misplaced. It seems he is a sincere feminist and his comment was taken out of context.

    2. I wouldn’t throw the term “clueless” around in connection with Tim Hunt until I’d made an effort to distinguish who he is, what’s he done, and what he said in Korea from the outrageous slander and libel perpetrated against him by Connie St. Louis, Deborah Blue, and Charles Seife. Seife has also been one of Folta’s main attackers, it seems there’s never been a witch hunt he didn’t like.

      1. I think she meant “clueless” with regards to the guy who wore the shirt with the semi-naked women on it to his most important international media day at work.

    3. LOL with the bathroom – I once moved to a building where I worked that was used by a start up. They had a woman’s washroom but no tampon dispensers. We had to ask they put those in. I guess my lack of tampon purchasing power pales in comparison to you not having a bathroom though. 🙂

  50. One of your complaints is that people who could very much benefit from learning science will not learn that science if it’s being sold to them in this way.

    You really think that if one website seems unappealing to a person that they then won’t be able to learn science from any website?

  51. I can see that you’re trying to be soft with your message and to assure us that you’re not trying to slut shame or anything like that. But I don’t buy the premise. If people are upset with the way that SciBabe and Science babe choose to present themselves, that’s the complainers’ problem. Society needs to change not by stifling women’s sexuality but by accepting it. And I think it says something that you have chosen to side with the complainers on this issue

    1. “Society needs to change not by stifling women’s sexuality but by accepting it.”

      Oh, trust me, it does. Society not only accepts, it encourages, dictates, and demands it.

  52. First, of course, the women can and should do whatever they damned well want with or without my or anybody else’s approval — just to get that out of the way.

    I think, for me, my judgement would come down to how much these women are putting on an act for their audiences and how much they’re simply being themselves.

    While it’s perfectly legitimate to adopt a stage persona for educational and didactic purposes…I do think it’s worthwhile questioning the choice of an adopted persona. And I don’t think a more-sexualized-than-average persona is necessarily the most effective one to adopt for science outreach.

    On the other hand, if this is the women being themselves, if they’re as openly and unabashedly sexy in their day-to-day activities, all the more power to ’em. In that case, putting on a non-sexy act for public consumption would be counterproductive.

    But I suspect that the sexiness is the act, and I think I’d personally be more comfortable with the women in their own skin, so to speak.

    …and, of course, on the gripping hand, as I put it at top, my opinions on the matter really don’t. Matter, that is.


    1. I had a similar thought. What women need to be is themselves and I’m not really seeing a lot of women comfortable with being themselves. It could be age – you get more “screw you I’m wearing what I want and it isn’t high heels” when you get older.

      1. Sometimes it is. There was a burlesque TV game show somewhere sometime, and few, if any, of the women were conventional ingenues. More than one was, politely, old and fat.

        And they were an absolute riot! Letting it all hang out, reveling in their own sensuality and sexuality, and having an absolute blast at it.

        I’d like to think that somebody could do a comedic burlesque science show that included real science — but it would absolutely have to have real people, beautiful and ugly, in roughly the same proportions as the population itself.

        What I get from these women…isn’t that. I think they could probably do that, or something similar, and I think they might even be unconsciously groping towards it. If so, I hope they figure it out.

        In the mean time, I think they’re stuck in an uncanny valley.


    2. “On the other hand, if this is the women being themselves, if they’re as openly and unabashedly sexy in their day-to-day activities, all the more power to ’em.”

      Like you, I doubt this is actually the case. Buying groceries? At the dentist? Riding the subway? At the parent/teacher conference? Uh, huh. Right.

      1. Yeah, that’s what I was thinking.

        Again, nothing worng with a sexy stage persona, either…but I think there’re more effective sexy stage personae that they could have gone with. Or, perhaps, split the science from the sex show, or…I don’t know. What they’ve come up with seems too forced. It’s that uncanny valley again. They’re straddling two worlds, and both are suffering from the lack of full attention.

        Another part of it…these women would be just as sexy in the proverbial sackcloth lab coat. They don’t need to play to the stereotypes to be sexy. They could simply do the science the exact same way they would at the office and get the message across: yes, sexy women do science; the science matters more than the sex; they don’t let their youth and beauty distract them, so why should you be distracted by their youth and beauty; and, no, it’s not cool to infantilize them because they’re sexy — they’re professionals deserving of respect for what they’re doing, not platitudes because you’d like to bed them.


    3. “…and how much they’re simply being themselves.”

      Did one of their family members not address that question at #50?

  53. It seems to me you’re missing a major point in respect the particular kind of science these babes are promoting. Many people come to the subjects of biotechnology and healthy eating – whatever that means – because of concern over their personal health, fitness, and weight. I think this is especially true of women and weight. So an attractive woman advocating for science-based food and food production systems isn’t just presenting a rational argument, she’s showing the results of the approach to food she advocates.

    People want to see images of the authors of books, articles, and videos about health, fitness, and diets because they want to see the evidence. While this is all shallow and inconclusive, we live in a country where 80% of people think food should bear DNA labels.

    So the babes are meeting the people where they are. Don’t shoot the messenger.

  54. Those two pictures could work if they were sexy in a “campy” or ironic sense, if they were staged/edited a little differently they would be totally fine.

    1. Sarah Silverman does sexy in a campy way. She cracks me right up when she does this as she’s playing on stereotypes.

  55. Freedom of speech also means freedom to express yourself if no harm is inflicted. You can walk, ignore, criticise… if it makes you/me feel uncomfortable because a chosen career, profession, interest, hobby has an element (a perception) that it is starting to feel like a car sales yard, tainted, enhancements of little value, it is still not their problem.
    All these women have shown me is you can be bright, succeed academically and be attractive and, live with yourself.
    Science is (stating the obvious)can and has to be inclusive to all women, shapes, sizes choice of attire, what they think of football. I cannot think of why it shouldn’t.
    We don’t put these restrictions on males and I’m darn sure there would be a few in science who think they are to sexy for their bodies. If you don’t do science in A, B, C clothing no one is going to listen. If one of these women were to be peer reviewed and it was found to be good science, would it be rejected because it was presented in a red dress? So no, they can be as sexy as they like, science in this case, has to live with it.

    1. Freedom of speech means the government can’t put you in jail because of something you say. I don’t see how freedom of speech has anything to do with this. No one (or at least, not Jerry) is suggesting that these websites be made illegal, or that these women should be arrested.

      1. Freedom of speech ALSO means freedom to express yourself.. in some countries to dress pose or even be educated, means risking death and sometimes at the hands of your own family. In other words, these young scientist have the freedom to do as they please.
        “no one is suggesting that these websites be made illegal, or that these women should be arrested”
        If you think I think that, it is a figment of your imagination, mine is an opinion on whether ‘sexy detracts from the message’ I hold the view they can do as they do regardless of science or anything else and/or what I think. If it was pointed out by evidence that the message is lost they may change their format.. or not.

  56. “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” –Hollywood maxim

    Now that you have mentioned it, I’m going to have a look–maybe two, maybe more . . .


  57. I take these things as being a parody.
    Quite what it’s a parody of, I’m not so sure – Nigella Lawson’s “Food Porn”, perhaps. Which from the extremely small attention I’ve paid to it, prompts a replay of the famous Crocodile Dundee “call that a knife?” scene, but with a yard-long black rubber porn prop.
    Maybe it’s the Jon Culshaw / Infinite monkey Cage podcast playing in my ear, but that Croc Dundee alternative scene is hard to get out of my … errrr, head?

  58. I’m a scientist and female (phd in math) and I love both of their websites. They’re definitely presenting an attitude and that attitude includes a level of sexiness, but I respond positive to it. I like the stay for the dirty jokes tagline for example, and the overall snarkiness. It’s okay if a particular message packaging turns some people off. People are different. That’s why you need lots of different people with diff personalities sharing science in diff ways.

  59. My favorite online physicist blogger, Bee Hossenfelder, had something to say about the subject:

    That’s why I disapprove of so-called advice that women [in science] should talk and walk and act like men. Because that’s exactly the opposite from what we need. Science stands to benefit from women being different from men. Gender equality doesn’t mean genders should be equal, it means they should have the same opportunities.

    So please go flip your hair if you feel like it, wear your favorite shirt, put on all the jewelry you like, and generally be yourself. Don’t let anybody tell you to be something you are not.


  60. Personally, I’ve seen SciBabe here and there on the internet for many years, but I don’t remember ever checking out her website. I love beautiful women. (I’m old, but I’m not blind.) I visit the sites of several scientists who happen to be both female and beautiful, but this kind of hyper-sexualization turns me off. As I said, this is just I personally.

  61. I think I found the SciBabe site because first I read somewhere some BS from the Food Babe, which lead me to the Scibabe. So for me it was, from the beginning, as many already said here, sort of a parody of the Food Babe (like the Food Hunk, which is also quite good). I never felt that her banner was some sort of sexy clickbait. And aside from those sexy pictures in the banner, the other pictures of her she has uploaded are 99% absolutely non-sexy. You also almost don’t find creepy comments or anything like that at all, so to me it is clear that pleople who check her site are doing it for the science and BS-exposing content.
    About alienating some of those people the SciBabe and ScienceBabe are trying to reach, this probably has not been said more often about a scientist and science popularizer than about Richard Dawkins (of whom I am a big fan) for being (on the minds of some) too rude and too strident to many people whom he could would otherwise reach.

  62. I can’t judge these web sites on the personality, qualifications or anything else of the women involved. But coming across a site with a banner as those being discussed I’m afraid I just move on. Obviously in these cases I may well be missing out on some great science, but initial impressions are not of serious science. I feel the same when I come across sites with way too many adverts for who knows what. Prof Coyne has consciously refused to go down the advert route which not too long ago was democratically agreed to be a distraction well avoided. The Scibabe (et all) sites, in my opinion, have banners that equate to unnecessary and off putting adverts.

  63. Glad to see someone bringing this up for discussion as it seems to be a trend on the rise. I personally find it a little troubling as it reinforces the notion that women must be attractive and sexy above all else.

    I’ve noticed some newer women trying to become science communicators who are also using pictures emphasizing their attractiveness. Even so far as one promoting the other by saying she’s great and super hot. Can’t help think that if a male promoted her that way it might be problematic.

    I’m slightly concerned about the sheer volume of people, male or female, trying to throw their hat in the ‘science communicator’ ring of late. Are people genuinely interested or are they just trying to make a name for themselves? Will they try to be more outlandish or rude or sexy just to distinguish themselves? There are already too many that seem to take pleasure in shaming anyone who is anti-science. Posting photos of how you schooled and shamed some random person in a comment section is only self-serving. The big fish (the charlatans and spreaders of misinformation) are fair game, but do they really need to go fishing for easy targets?

  64. I am inclined to agree with Prof. CC on this. In a way, it’s a little like promoting music in the schools by arguing that it’s good for the brain–it is true, but it’s a distraction from the idea of doing music for its own sake.

    In another way, it’s totally different from that. For one thing, I haven’t seen “hot babes” promoting music lessons (although classical music ensembles consisting of women definitely exploit their glamour to help sell their CDs). But more important, the “sex sells” approach seems to reduce science to the level of designer jeans and expensive cologne, not to mention motorcycles (but not cowboy boots, to my knowledge). The idea seems to be that science is really a rather dull affair and needs a little help to reach the broader public. We should be working on finding the causes of that situation instead of taking the Cosmopolitan Magazine approach.

  65. #iamanengineer

    IMO sharing the opinion that women should not use sex to promote a science-based website is only one step away from saying that women can’t possibly be good at science because they are attractive.

    It’s part of who they are, and they are free to use it as a hook — and just as any other marketing hook it will appeal to a segment of the population and be a turnoff to others. Those others can gain a science education somewhere else, there are lots of options.

    And I gotta say, one of the first things I learned (as a trained scientist) was not to make snap judgments based on first impressions. When Sci Babe posts on facebook — her pictures have words associated with them. I read the words.

  66. Just two observations.

    First, if you think there’s any endeavor where both men and women aren’t judged by others on their appearance, you are not discussing the human species. Anyone who claims they don’t assess how someone looks, in any context whatsoever, is either lying or lacks any sense of introspection.

    Second, we have big, complicated brains. It’s quite impossible to only have one thought at a time about a person. Deciding that a man or woman looks good or bad does not preclude evaluating what that man or woman has to say fairly. While it might create an obstacle to being taken seriously from the outset (either way, for both women and men), it’s a temporary problem.

    OK, one more observation. There is nothing in the slightest bit counterproductive in using sex to sell science. None of the prudes (yes, everyone who objects to the above ladies is a prude, without exception) who complain about mixing sex and science are going to spurn science as a whole in consequence. No one’s brain works like that.

  67. I can see how this would be a topic of discussion, but I like the fact that she is presenting a fun side to science education. Mostly of which is herself, including her dirty jokes.

    Science can be boring. As a woman, I’m not at all offended that she prefers to wear a sexy dress with a lab coat to remind people there’s a beautiful personality there with a brain.

    1. I wish she would have asked to come on the site and talk about her decision about how to present herself rather than resort to a social media vendetta. I think it would be a good dialogue for both sites.

      1. As I said above, Scibabe is always negative and generally brings nothing useful to a discussion. She plays on people’s anger and promotes bullying. She is like the Donald Trump in the presidential election. Hopefully her fame is short lived.

        1. I heard her interviewed on the Ben Greenfield Fitness podcast where she talked about losing weight because she is now a public figure. I interpret this as meaning that she has thoughtfully crafted a public persona. I would love for her to come on WEIT and talk about her decisions. No one here will argue that she can’t decide on whatever she wants. But I think the whole line of argument is a ruse. No one stumbles onto her site, sees her laid out on the couch and thinks, “this is probably a good place to learn about science”. My daughters would never see her and think “gee I can mix chemicals and wear a bustier at the same time! Cool!” And as another poster mentioned, if I opened this at work I could very possibly get to have a little closed door chat with HR about what is appropriate. I frankly think this is a well orchestrated plan to become a public figure.

          1. Well, it’s sad to hear that you work at such a Big Brotherish establishment. I hope you don’t think that has anything to do with the rest of us.

            1. From all the comments, pros and cons, and nuances, it’s clear that this very precisely has to do with all of us.

              My libertartian bent agrees with your sentiment. But at work – where people trade me money for time – I enjoy that they regard some things as possibly offensive and inappropriate. Along with too much cleavage they also ‘encourage’ us to avoid religious and political adverts and knick-knacks in our cubes and offices. This saves me from having to hear someone’s testimony about Jesus all day and from reading John 3:16 on everyone’s monitor while they they explain how to ship 15 million brown people back to Mexico. It also keeps tool posters – the ones with the sweaty face and the big jugs hanging down over the handle of the jack-hammer – off the walls. I’m happy to keep work as work.


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