27 April – 3 May 2015
The Week in Review is a weekly column that highlights some interesting, depressing, and heartwarming events and stories that took place or were published in the past week. Its ambition is not to be exhaustive or to recap major political events; it’s more of a personal take on news or stories that made the author strongly react.
Picture of the week
On the 1st of May, the Front National (FN, France’s most popular extreme-right party) held its traditional defile in Paris. And since these very charming people always have the sense to display their charming personalities and the great respect they manifest to people from different political opinions, Bruno Gollnisch, a prominent representative of the party, started hitting journalists with an umbrella, supposedly to break their microphones after “having had to stand them following him around”. Because you know, when someone annoys you, it’s perfectly normal to hit them and/or the material they carry. Other adherents of the party punched members of the press, resulting in the journalists having to be evacuated by the security services. A beautiful example of the delicacy that is characteristic of the FN and its members.
Discovery of the week
The myth that violence is part of human nature may not be true after all. The Swiss newspaper Le Temps investigated this question based on an upcoming documentary on the benefits of empathy. The documentary, directed by Michel Meignant and Mario Viana, argues that violence towards children fuels the future adults’ internalization and reproduction of violent archetypes. Le Temps interviewed two of the scientists that will feature in the documentary –should it be produced.
The first researcher is Marylène Patou-Mathis who studied the occurrence of violence in prehistoric times. Her findings are both surprising and revealing: according to her, prehistoric societies were largely pacific and conflicts were resolved through collective discussions; ritual killings were also happening but codified violence within a specific framework –hunting, sacrificing one member of the group to save the whole group, etc. Patou-Mathis further explains that violence really emerged as a social fact when societies became sedentary; with increasing demographic pressure and the transition to an accumulative economy (when food and supplies start to be stocked), hierarchies and social violence thrived.
Beyond these findings about the history of humanity, the scientists and the documentary makers highlight the importance of teaching empathy to children from an early age, by avoiding to recourse to educative violence at any cost.
Sexist news of the week
Let’s be honest, I could come up with dozens of examples every week of how sexism –and to be precise misogyny- pervades society. To clarify, that does not mean that every man is a sexist, far from that. But it does mean that both men and women have internalized centuries of degrading women for the sole reason of their being born female, and that women continue to face a differential treatment based on their sex.
This week, a great science blogger for Le Monde, Passeur de Sciences, highlighted one such example of sexism which took place in the rather elitist world of science research. The case itself is not what particularly interests me here, but the readers’ comments are what really caught my attention.
To quickly recap the article, a British evolutionary geneticist, Fiona Ingleby, brought to the spotlight the fact that one of her articles had been reviewed by a peer who suggested to reject the article: one of the central reasons he/she evoked (reviewers are anonymous) stated that since the article was about the different treatment received by men and women in the transition period from thesis to post-doctorate, “one or two male biologists” should have worked on the paper alongside with Ms. Ingleby and her (female) colleague “in order to serve as a possible check against interpretations that may be sometimes drifting too far away from empirical evidence into ideologically based assumptions”.
There are two major problems in this review (regardless of the actual quality of the article): first, it is really fascinating that a reviewer can think that a woman writing on the differential treatment received by men and women cannot stick to empirical evidence but must necessarily be writing from an “ideological” point of view. Secondly, it’s equally flabbergasting that someone would suggest adding a man in the research team to make it less biased; I have never heard a man being told that to make his research less biased he needs to work with a woman, and there are lots of male scientists writing on topics involving women, or how women are treated. Similarly, I don’t think that it’s common practice to tell a Chinese person that if they write about the Opium Wars they need to be working with a white scientist to make sure they are doing their work properly.
Let’s remember that we’re talking about a qualified researcher who knows what science involves, but suddenly since said scientist is a woman she must surely have her hormones going crazy when she studies a topic related to women, and so she must most probably have been ideologically biased (let’s also note that Ms. Ingleby made it clear that her paper had been previously reviewed internally by other colleagues, including men who had nothing to object to the article).
But maybe this reviewer is just an isolated case, you could tell me, and he/she is simply in total denial about the reality of sexism on this planet and could not handle reading a paper that highlighted it?
Let’s admit that it’s the case; then what is amazing is to read all the comments that started to flood Passeur de Sciences’ post: at the time I’m speaking, there are already more than 260 comments on the post about Fiona Ingleby, whereas in average there are from 10 to 50 comments on his posts. And what does the majority of the commenters tell us? That the reviewer was totally right to ask that a man should have co-signed the study, because on this sensitive topic it is probably correct to assume that two distinguished (female) researchers could not manage to do their job properly, without “ideological” bias! There were also the type of comments that are always so dear to my heart, such as “I (a man) have worked in an American lab for decades and have never encountered any discrimination against women”!!! It provokes the same type of reaction in me than when white people tell you that racism does not exist because they have never witnessed it…
Article of the week
24 French female journalists signed an open-ed to denounce the everyday sexist remarks they get from politicians. They expose many examples of how a number of politicians that they had to interview or work with: from a hand casually brushing the hair of the journalist to remarks such as “it’d be better if you had nothing under [your dress]”, these women speak up to deplore the lack of progress when it comes to some powerful men’s behaviors. A much needed reminder that strangely echoes the recent DSK case.
Read the full article (in French) here: http://www.liberation.fr/politiques/2015/05/04/nous-femmes-journalistes-en-politique_1289357
Video of the week
Three weeks ago, I told you about the groundbreaking surgery that the Animals Asia team was attempting to make a lame bear walk again. After a rapid recovery, the bear –called Claudia- started walking again for the first time since her operation.