The #scimom project: We are here!

This post is a contribution to the #scimom blog project, which its originator David Wescott describes as follows:

Online moms have extraordinary power – far more than most people realize. Companies listen to them. Policy makers listen to them. Moms make the overwhelming majority of decisions in life – what to buy, who to vote for, when to get health care, and so on. They do most of the work. They do most of the child-rearing. They're the boss. The problem is a lot of online moms feel labeled, disrespected, and misunderstood.

Science bloggers push the boundaries of ideas. They give us facts, and theories, and great stories about discovery. They celebrate the pursuit of knowledge and help us understand all kinds of important things. The problem is a lot of science bloggers also feel labeled, disrespected, and misunderstood.

I think if moms are making decisions based on the right information and with the right context – the kind of context you can get from science bloggers – the world will be a much better place. And I think if science bloggers understand the perspectives of the REAL influential people in our society, they can help make sure their work has an even bigger impact than it already does.

Of course I know there are plenty of people who are scientists AND moms. But even those mom/science bloggers tend to stick to one community or the other. In my observations over a few years now, these two online communities remain fairly isolated from each other. So I've been working on an idea to get the two communities talking. Here it is, plain and simple.

1) if you're a mom blogger, write a post this month that has something to do about science or science blogging. It could be anything -your love (or hatred) of science or a particular scientist, a hope you have for your child, an appropriate role model, whatever you like. Just make it personal and relevant to your life.

2) if you're a science blogger, write a post this month that has something to do with parenting or parent blogging. Maybe it's something your parent did to get you interested in science. Maybe it's on the science of parenting. Maybe it's your love (or skepticism) of something in the mom-o-sphere. Just make it personal and relevant to your life.

3) if you're a mom AND a scientist, then just write a post this month about how awesome it is to be a mom and a scientist or something like that. Maybe suggest a role model, or a story about why both roles are important to you. Just make it personal and relevant to your life. As far as I'm concerned you make an awesome role model and people should know about you.

4) ask another blogger in your online community to participate. You can call them out in your post like it's a blog meme or you can ask them any way you like.

5) tag your post #scimom and I will keep track of the posts and link to them at Science for Citizens and here as well. If you want to tweet a link to your post, just add the hashtag #sci-mom and we'll keep a tally so people can find relevant posts to read.

6) read a post from a blogger in the OTHER community (i.e. if you're a mom blogger read a participating science blogger's post and vice versa) and leave a comment.

I can remember the moment that I realized there was a presumptive rift between science bloggers and mommy bloggers. It was at ScienceOnline 2010, during an Ignite talk in which some dude was carrying on about how powerful (yet how sadly ill-informed about science) mommy bloggers were as a group.

I believe it was Dr. Isis, who was also in attendance for this jaw-dropping proclamation, who let fly the first profanity (sotto voce, of course -- do not doubt that Dr. Isis has manners). But I had a profanity of my own at the ready, for verily, eye contact with the domestic and laboratory goddess confirmed that I had heard what I thought I had heard -- the dude at the podium had essentially just asserted that we didn't exist.

Because, see, we had thought that we were science bloggers, what with blogging about cool scientific findings and strategies for teaching science, learning science, navigating a scientific career, and living as a scientist in a society populated by lots of non-scientists, and that we were mommy bloggers, what with blogging about the joys and challenges of juggling the young humans we were raising with our careers. But apparently, we either didn't count as mommy bloggers (because of all that science content) or as science bloggers (because of the encroachment of all that kid stuff). No true science blogger or mommy blogger would do it like we were doing it.

Actually, the problem as I see it was that the guy on the podium, trying to make the world a better place by encouraging the science bloggers to reach out and educate the mommy bloggers, was operating from an overly narrow picture of each of these groups. Sadly, experience suggests that he is not the only one.

I have had my status as a "real" science blogger questioned because I don't just blog about scientific research (particularly as reported in the peer reviewed scientific literature). In particular, my "Friday Sprog Blogging" posts have been singled out as "fluff" that doesn't belong on a proper science blog. It is true that these anecdotes and transcripts of conversations of my offspring do not undergo rigorous peer review before I post them, but I suspect that the real worry is that having conversations with kids about science is viewed as less important than making new scientific knowledge, or than reporting on such new knowledge in a blog post. Talking to children, after all, is still mostly seen as women's work. How important could it be?

This is a good question to ask oneself when bemoaning the public's lack of interest in or engagement with science. Those members of the public used to be somebody's kids.

At the same time, I will confess that there have been moments when I have not felt entirely welcome in the mommy precincts of blogtopia. Perhaps part of this comes from having a blog with a mostly professional focus on days that are not Friday. But part of it may be connected to the "mommy wars" that the mainstream media gin up on a regular basis. There is a presumption that factions of mommies are engaged in heated battle over The Right Way To Do It. This imagines that each choice a mommy makes is simultaneously a criticism of those who chose otherwise -- whether those choices have to do with taking on primary responsibility for child rearing and housework in the home or going out to a job, choosing public school or private school or homeschooling or unschooling, feeling torn about daycare or deliriously happy when we drop off our little darlings.

I would like to inform the mainstream media and my fellow mothers that my choices are my choices, not judgments of anyone else's choices. Heck, I'm as likely to judge my own choices harshly as anyone else's. But what can you do when you're operating with less than perfect information (as we all are, all the time)? The best that you can.

This is not to say that there aren't moments when I share a strong point of view. In particular, a post I wrote about the ethics of not vaccinating one's kids provoked a vigorous response -- from science bloggers and mommy bloggers alike. (The science bloggers seemed to agree that I was being too nice, while at least some mommy bloggers seemed to think I was either in the bag for big pharma or thoroughly brainwashed by the medical establishment.)

But here's the thing: I've found that my own parenting has required thinking hard, finding reliable sources of information, being willing to step away from sources of information that haven't stood up to scrutiny, figuring out how to balance long-term and short-term considerations, ... really, what we're talking about here is critical thinking. I reckon that women are no worse at critical thinking than your average member of the general public, and I reckon that women with kids have serious incentive to be better than average at critical thinking, since someone else's welfare may depend on it. (I'm not the only one who thinks critical thinking ought to be part of parenting.)

Mommy bloggers have to wade through the gender smog of our culture that tells them that women in general and mommies in particular are presumed to be silly, frivolous creatures, lacking in intelligence and objectivity (not to mention a sense of humor), a special interest that normal human beings can marginalize as necessary to get stuff done.

Women blogging about science often face similar presumptions.

None of this is to say that there are no mommy bloggers, or woman science bloggers, who aren't always on top of their critical thinking game, or who are mistaken about the facts, or who are mean, or what have you. But I submit to you that these failings are not gender based -- that there are plenty of male bloggers who fail at critical thinking, fact-checking, and human kindness.

Having kids and caring about science are not mutually incompatiblestates of being. And either (or both) of these states can be combined with being a woman, and with blogging.

We are far too diverse for any stereotype of science bloggers or of mommy bloggers to describe us all with any fidelity.

And, despite suggestions that mommy bloggers and science bloggers are two distinct groups, many of us are both. We are here. If science bloggers want to reach mommy bloggers, the first step may be to see us as we really are, rather than trying to communicate with who you imagine mommy bloggers to be.

* * * * *
As with all meme-like things, if you want to be tagged, you are. In the meantime, let me point out a few other mommy/science bloggers whose blogs I enjoy reading:

ScientistMother

PhD Mom

Kate Clancy

drdrA

13 responses so far

  • Carin says:

    Loved the post Janet, thank-you!

  • Laura says:

    Excellent, excellent post. When I first started reading science blogs, I was immediately drawn to the ones that overlapped with the feminist blogosphere and the mom-osphere. As a woman and a future mom (hopefully), I was seeking role models to help me navigate my own scientific career. I'm really glad that you and the other scimoms were there for me to find!

  • The Mother says:

    I am a physician, mother and mom blogger. When I started blogging it was primarily about the kids and my homeschooling efforts; I quickly realized that the mom-blogosphere is sadly lacking in elementary scientific literacy. I began regularly adding science/medicine posts, usually either tying what the kids were doing into some basic scientific principle or breaking down the latest study for the layperson to understand. It has lost me a few readers, but the ones who have hung in there are worth it--and learning a few things.

    I love the idea and will regularly use the #scimom tag when my two hats overlap.

  • gerty-z says:

    great post! Love the #scimom meme, and just so you know, Friday Sprog Blogging is one of my faves 🙂

  • PeggyL says:

    What could be more important than talking about science with small human beings?

  • Thank you so much for this, Janet. This has been a thoroughly enjoyable and very humbling project. And thanks for so graciously leaving out that I was the guy who gave that presentation at Science Online 2010!

    There's no doubt my presentation should have been clearer on a number of issues. And I never wanted to give the impression I didn't think people like you existed. I'm so sorry for that. I've always thought the key to brining the two communities closer together is to amplify voices like yours. You and Dr. Isis and so many other mom scientists rest firmly in both worlds, but as you and other commenters note we see friction and even isolation. You should be celebrated, not dismissed.

  • Anne says:

    Two years ago your blog was my introduction to science blogs - I fell on to it looking for sciences and ethics issues for my scientific writing course. I kept coming back to read because of the inclusion of mommy blogs - love Fridays. Thanks for doing a spectacular job.

  • Deb says:

    I'm so glad I found your blog in time to see this. I was actually looking at your sprog blogging and it was obviously good timing.

    I blog exclusively about science for little kids. The Australian blogosphere is smaller and a little behind the US, I'm a generally uncomfortable fit with Mummy/personal bloggers because I have a similar audience and friends there. Science bloggers don't take me very seriously - they look and say it's a good idea, but don't see a reason to read or hang around. So hello, and thanks for those links. I look forward to finding some more people I might fit in with.

  • Cloud says:

    You did a much nicer post for this meme than I did!

    I am a scientist who is a mother and blogs. My blog has a lot of interests, but the mother part dominates, probably because my kids are still very young and I am still figuring out what being a mother means to me. As I get more comfortable as a mom, I find that other topics are making it into my posts more often. I occasionally blog about science, but I can't talk about my own work because I work in industry. So I am mostly a "mommyblogger" and I read a lot of other parenting blogs. But I don't hesitate to post comments from a scientific perspective when another mommyblogger is talking about vaccines, or high-fructose corn syrup, or something like that. I've gotten a lot of nice emails and comments about those comments- maybe because I'm seen as a member of their community sharing what I know, not an outsider coming in and telling people how it is.

    I think scientist-moms, and not just the ones who blog, are sort of invisible. Many times I have been confidently told that it is "impossible" to combine motherhood with a career in science. I am always surprised to hear that not only is my life impossible, but the life of many other women scientists- including some Nobel laureates!- is impossible. So I started a list of scientist moms on my blog. I'll shamelessly plug it here, because I want as many young women scientists as possible to find it and realize that no, it is not impossible to combine motherhood and science. It is sometimes hard, and there are systemic changes that would make things a lot better, but there are plenty of us doing it. So here is the link:
    http://www.wandering-scientist.com/2009/11/yes-virginia-there-are-scientists-who.html

  • [...] identify with. On the other side of the coin, you can also find posts on being a scimom by Dr. O, Janet and Gerty-Z, as well as other links within those referencing the #scimom hashtag started at It's [...]

  • KateClancy says:

    Just dropping by to say, I see my tag and will eventually write something. I am trying to think through what possible contribution I could make, though, after this beautiful piece you've written!

  • [...] up of two themes going on in the bloggy world.   One about being a mom and a scientist (thanks Janet for the shout out) and another about being a mom who doesn’t really do it [...]