Own Your Own Conditional Penultimate Paragraphs

There’s an article in Nature this week about how physicists are all territorial beasts with the blood of their colleagues dripping from their manly fangs. And yes, Ad Lagendijk does emphasize the manliness of the fangs – if you’ve got a subscription or a privileged IP address, you can read the whole thing here. If you can’t, don’t worry; it’s essentially a recapitulation of the “there are no women bloggers ’cause the blogosphere is too vicious” hypothesis, but with physicists instead of bloggers, and much less rhetorical panache.

I hate to see people beating dead horses in the pages of Nature, even if the horse is only known to be dead among people who spend way too much time on the Internet, but that’s not what prompted this rant. What bothers me is the structure of the final two paragraphs. After thoroughly establishing the viciousness of the scientific community, Lagendijk concludes by saying:

But I have a different opinion. Science has always been a man’s world. The values and norms that control our disciplines were established by men. In physics there is an alarming lack of female participants; it would be tempting to claim that because of physicists’ typically masculine power games the physics community is not an attractive option for female scientists.

I won’t make this claim, as the widely recognized, severe under-representation of women in physics has been analysed thoroughly, and from many angles, and nobody has found an easy solution. But I will say that to bolster true scientific progress, we should change our norms and values in physics. We should become emancipated.

Seriously: making an argument, and then pretending that the conditional tense absolves you from all responsibility for said argument’s blatant crappiness? Shittiest. Rhetorical maneuver. EVAR. Critical analysis of rhetoric may be in the realm of yucky humanism, but we can all see that the “not made” claim has more passion behind it than the watery, can’t-we-all-just-get-along, “real” conclusion. This conditional slight-of-hand is not what you would call fooling anyone.

It’s tempting to claim that I could write a better essay on science culture with a monkey tied behind my back, but I won’t make that claim. After all, my personal essay underproduction has been studied from many angles (too much nethack? deficiencies of a nerd school education? not enough pay?), and nobody has found an easy solution. But I will say that I should start submitting essays to Nature.


  1. wolfa wrote:

    There’s an interesting, if somewhat dated, book called Beamtimes and Lifetimes by Sharon Traweek, which discusses the exceptionally sexist culture there. You might enjoy it. Lots of libraries have it. If not, I have the most relevant chapter somewhere, I think. Maybe.

  2. yami wrote:

    That’s so wishlisted. Thanks!

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