The Hive Overmind grows: Welcome to The Intersection!

By Phil Plait | March 23, 2009 3:40 pm

I’d like to extend the virtual welcome mat (made of electrons only) to The Intersectionthe Hive Overmind’s Discover Magazine’s newest blog! Actually, it’s not new: written by Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum, it’s actually been around a few years, but it’s new to DM.

The name refers to the intersection between science and politics, and they both have a lot to say about that. Most of their stuff is a lot more measured and stated more politely than mine — though I would never be rude, heaven forbid — but I think you’ll find a lot of what they say thought-provoking to say the least.

I’ve never met Sheril (that’ll happen eventually, no doubt at the annual cotillion DM hosts on its floating sky platform high above the forests of Brobdignang), but I’ve hung out with Chris once or twice in the past; you’ll see his name peppered throughout my blog. He wrote The Republican War on Science and Storm World, two books I highly recommend.

So fire up your feed reader and drop them in. I guarantee you’ll find their blog an interesting read.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: About this blog, Politics, Science

Comments (103)

  1. Davidlpf

    A blog about the intersection of science and politics, that must be a new idea never heard of it before.

  2. Is it just me, or do they look YOUNG? It must just be me getting old I guess. I look forward to reading what they post.

    Nice Gulliver reference by the way! :)

  3. QUASAR

    Your country is governed by criminals just like most this world, and I think you know what I’m referring to! And as scientists, I think you know what our greatest enemy is right now, don’t you? Religion a.k.a. the opium of the people!

  4. I’ll be the first to say that Sheril is quite fetching.

  5. David

    Hopefully the Overmind doesn’t annex many more of the major awesomeness-fields of scienceblogs.com or else the whole internet could be obliterated in the first war between online superpowers, fought over crucial intellectual resources.

  6. IVAN3MAN

    @ Larian LeQuella,

    Actually, the first sign that you’re getting old is when you leave the house still wearing your slippers! :-)

    This has not happened to me… yet!

  7. Charles Schmidt

    That is not true to many young people are in stores shopping wearing house slippers and PJ’s but then they do it because they are lazy.

  8. Dan Izzo

    @ Quasar;

    Off topic much?

    Anyway, this sounds pretty awesome, going to have to check it out

  9. ennui

    and they are both so nicely framed in that picture

  10. IVAN3MAN

    @ Charles Schmidt,

    Or maybe they are crazy?

  11. Electro

    Having not read any of their material, I am supremely unqualified to comment on any of their writings.
    But, as a living breathing male of the species, I look forward to any article with Sherils picture attached.

  12. Hey, [bleeps]! What the [bleep] is up with you [bleeping] troglodytes? Sheril is a blogger, and she is here to blog, not for you [bleeping] misogynist creeps to leer at. Bad words edited by The Bad Astronomer

  13. Tom Woolf

    Is that Seth MacFarlane?

  14. David J Kroll

    Oooh, and Chris is so pretty that I’ll hang on every word that his hot little body pumps out.

    Sounds kind of odd when directed toward a man, eh?

    What the hell is wrong with you people? Is your life so pitiful that the first thing you choose to comment upon regarding an experienced scientist, author, and public policy expert?

    Having not read any of their material, I am supremely unqualified to comment on any of their writings. But, as a living breathing male of the species, I look forward to any article with Sherils picture attached.

    Electro, rest assured this this mindset might be one reason why you are not currently keeping company with a woman of Sheril’s intellect.

  15. Jack Mitcham

    I saw Chris Mooney on Colbert not too long ago. Seemed pretty interesting.

  16. Okay, does anyone else think that Sheril resembles Danica McKellar (formerly of The Wonder Years, occasional correspondent on BRINK)?

    mmmmmmmm……….. wo-man

    J/P=?

  17. Nemo

    Oooh, and Chris is so pretty that I’ll hang on every word that his hot little body pumps out.

    Sounds kind of odd when directed toward a man, eh?

    Now that you mention it… he is pretty.

  18. Hmm, I disagree with a lot Chris says on his blog when it comes to the whole religion vs science thing – he seems much to keen to appease and pander to superstitious ravings for my liking and he seems obsessed with ‘framing’. There is a lot of interesting content there on other subjects though, always worth popping over to see what’s happening.

  19. Oooh, and Chris is so pretty that I’ll hang on every word that his hot little body pumps out.

    Sounds kind of odd when directed toward a man, eh?

    No it doesn’t, David. I’m sure both of them, like any rational human being, would appreciate a compliment. Calm down. The problem is not that Electro and I compliment Sheril’s appearance. The problem is that people like you take issue with it, as if somehow that compliment is “lesser” than a compliment on someone’s intelligence. Remove stick from rear end, move on. Lather, rinse, repeat.

  20. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Well, I hear Mooney has been weaned off of the Kool-Aid Matt Nisbet serves out (how’s that for a frame?), so maybe I will “drop” in.

    as if somehow that compliment is “lesser” than a compliment on someone’s intelligence

    Moreover; looks, first impressions, and pheromones, are important among social beings.

    Even more so in the media business. Ever reflected on why the BAld astronomer presents himself with a still with a cap on this blog?

  21. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    @ Dan:

    Quasar; Off topic much?

    Quasar likes to switch between posturing troll comments and posting sane comments.

    That way he can fail with both being sane and insane, without having to refer to “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”.

  22. The problem is not that Electro and I compliment Sheril’s appearance. The problem is that people like you take issue with it, as if somehow that compliment is “lesser” than a compliment on someone’s intelligence

    That is one startlingly ignorant comment to make. Comments on how hawt someone looks in a context in which their talents and accomplishments with respect to writing, communicating and analyzing science are the issue are more than just crass. They have the effect, whether intended or not, of minimizing those accomplishments and talents. Minimizing in a way that plays into dismissive stereotypes that are (in this particular case) at the root of much gender discrimination in the workplace.

    It is nearly unimaginable that someone would not know this. Which questions the innocence with which the comment was made. If such comments are made willingly and intentionally to undercut Sheril’s reputation here almost as soon as she has started, shame on you.

  23. MattK

    I’ll second Mr.Gunn.

  24. Scienceblogs.com may be a wilder place overall, but at least the sexist jerks get their well-deserved smackdowns faster and harsher than here, as it should be. Is Discover woman-friendly? Or catering to immature droolers and going to allow the level of mysogyny found on YouTube and AOL?

  25. Nat

    I’ll third Mr. Gunn and MattK.

    And spare me the rationalization crap of “compliments” and “social beings.”

  26. Female Scientist

    Thanks for reminding me why I don’t post my picture on the internet. I think you guys should grow the f* up.

  27. The problem is not that Electro and I compliment Sheril’s appearance. The problem is that people like you take issue with it, as if somehow that compliment is “lesser” than a compliment on someone’s intelligence.

    You are severely mistaken, my friend. Your “compliment” is one of context. This is not a Miss America pageant, this is a scientific blogging community. I’d like to see you go to the seminar of an attractive and well-versed female scientist and tell HER during the question and answer session that you think she’s purty. Appropriate? Or completely out of place and disrespectful?

  28. Carey sez: “I’ll be the first to say that Sheril is quite fetching.”

    excuse me, but Sheril is a professional scientist, not an object of drooling pimply-faced boyz to objectify. Or are you trying to remind us wimmin that we are entering a male-dominated bastion and therefore, must be aesthetically pleasing in order to be allowed a voice of our own?

  29. This commenters here are really pissing me off..both on Sheril’s behalf and because it really brings home to me just how hostile things can still be for women in science.

    I see a lot of men over here issuing the appropriate smackdown – thanks guys! It’s good to know that there are some decent male allies out and about. However I don’t see a lot of women chiming in (perhaps for fear of being flamed? perhaps not incorrectly considering that this crap seems to be tolerated by the author of this blog?), so here’s my professional opinion:

    As a woman in science I can assure you that the misogynistic tittie-drooling going on over here would most decidedly NOT be received by Yours Truly as a compliment.

    Attractive female scientist though I may be, I am incredibly irked when I receive these kinds of comments (!=compliments) because it tells me that the commenter is far more interested in imagining me naked than hearing about my science. It is disrespectful to me as a person (I am not your sex toy) and it is disrespectful to the work that I do (please pay attention because my science is pretty damn good). This kind of treatment does not make me want to share my science (because that’s really what we’re here for right?) with this sort of audience – what’s the point if the audience would rather add my image to their masturbation bank than listen to the results of my research?

    Do you see now how this creates an environment that is hostile towards women?

  30. When I first saw the comments about Sheril’s appearance, I was going to comment and smack them down. Then David Kroll did it so well I decided his comment was good enough.

    Of course, what I wasn’t thinking about was that, as host of this blog, it’s my responsibility to say something, even if it’s just “What Kroll said”. I apologize if anyone took my silence for acquiescence. It wasn’t.

    The comments about Sheril’s appearance are in fact out of place here. She is here on Discover as a journalist, a scientist, a writer, and someone whose intelligence and talents are what counts. In fact, women in science have been struggling mightily against sexism for, well, ever, and casual sexism not only doesn’t help but actually contributes to a difficult atmosphere.

    Let me be clear: I think there is room for discussions of beauty and other attributes when it’s called for; examples abound in this blog. But this isn’t one of those times.

    If this issue confuses you in any way, then I suggest opting out of making comments to be sure. And if you want more info, I happened to have written a lengthy post on a similar topic just two weeks ago.

    Some people have taken me to task on other blogs for not deleting these comments, but I prefer they stay up. When people make mistakes, the best thing to do is air them out, not suppress them.

    So I’d like this discussion to continue, but if we could ditch the histrionics for some rationality, I’d appreciate it. We all need to make sure we have all the information before slinging mud.

    Oh, and Mr. Gunn: that was the first thing I thought of after reading those comments above, too.

  31. Thanks, Phil. That’s what I thought. And I also agree not to delete these as they are a great example of how NOT to behave online. A teaching moment.

  32. Thanks Phil, for clarifying…I retract the part of my comment that implied that you are tolerating this nonsense – the rest stands.

    You are right on for not deleting these comments. People who are ignorant enough to leave such comments are done a tremendous disservice when these discussions don’t take place. Good on you.

  33. Exactly. And it’s always helpful when comment threads make it easier to identify who the wankers on the intertubes are.

    “Compliments” on someone’s appearance are obviously appropriate in some situations but these don’t include an arena where intelligence and talent are the driving forces. Nor a field where women are struggling to make said qualities appreciated amid a general miasma of lechery and misogyny.

    Carey, I’m sure that David et al. will “calm down” when you cease being a moron.

  34. S. Rivlin

    Phil, you stated that you have chosen not to delete the sexist comments yet, I understand you did delete a comment by one Comerade PhysioProf that deplored them. How come?

  35. Well, just to toss in my $0.02 on the value of leaving the comments up: The “air it out” argument is all well and good when you are not personally affected by these remarks, but I have to say, it gets pretty tiresome wading through blog after blog full of people arguing about whether or not I should be accorded the same professional respect as a man. How many “teachable moments” do we really need?

    Sometimes, I would like to forget that sexism exists, and just have a nice intellectual discussion where my gender is not an issue. Sadly, there are many places, times, and topics where that can’t happen unless someone actively suppresses all the sexist yahoos.

    This isn’t to criticize your decision, Phil – I think the blogosphere works best with a mix of moderation styles, and if you like to leave things up, then do what makes you happy. But what you gain in the free flow of discussion and ease of moderation, you will lose in the comfort of many of your female readers.

  36. Nat

    THanks also Phil for clarifying. I’ll admit, not being a regular reader of this blog, I took your silence as implicitly agreeing with the jerky comments.

  37. Catharine Zivkovic

    Having not read any of their material, I am supremely unqualified to comment on any of their writings. But, as a living breathing male of the species, I look forward to any article with Sherils picture attached.

    That’s very disappointing. I know Sheril and I can tell you that she would be worth reading even if she weighed 500 lbs, was covered in boils, bald, and with a face so disjointed that even Picasso couldn’t bear it in his worst nightmares. It’s a pity that you will never be able to truly appreciate her intelligence, wit and talent because you can’t see past her photograph. What species, exactly, are you? I thought human males were supposed to be beyond this sort of garbage.

  38. Let this be a lesson to us all: Bloggers work on their own, most of the time, and they usually have a day job. There is no one watching a blog minute to minute, so the lack of action by a blogger regarding comments can never be seen as meaningful. Blogs just don’t work that way. Frankly, I’m a little surprised to see people getting mad a Phil here. Kudos to Phil for cleaning up the mess so nicely.

    I for one am looking forward to reading the new blog, and I assume it is going be great.

  39. Once again Phil, you prove that you and your geek mob think that when it comes to women, beauty over brains every time.

    You don’t even try to get to know her as a scientist. The thread is all about telling her how perty she is, hyuck.

  40. S. Rivlin, did you read what I wrote on PhysioProf’s blog? She used “curse” words, and I have the software set to automatically delete posts like that. Otherwise nanny filters at schools can block the blog.

  41. Maria Brumm, I understand the feeling — I have to deal with a hundred types of bad thinking every day, and I wish it would all go away — but ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away, it makes it worse. Look what’s happening here: some hysteria, some knee-jerking, but also some good solid responses to this.

    I would far rather see a visible reaction and open discussion than let something fester and grow.

  42. S. Rivlin

    Phil,

    Thanks for the explanation.

  43. But, as a living breathing male of the species, I look forward to any article with Sherils picture attached.

    Congratulations. Not only have you come across as a sexist pinhead, but you’ve also managed to marginalize every gay male on the Internet. Way to go.

    Some people have taken me to task on other blogs for not deleting these comments, but I prefer they stay up. When people make mistakes, the best thing to do is air them out, not suppress them.

    Seconded.

  44. S. Fisher

    Chris and Sheril,
    As a reader of your blog over at SB I’d like to welcome you here, and as a male member of the species I’d like to apologize for the awkward welcome of others.

  45. Sheril Kirshenbaum

    First many thanks for our initial warm welcome to Discover. I also greatly appreciate all of the support expressed here, aside from a few troubling comments. I’ll have my response to them posted tomorrow morning, and hope you’ll come visit.

  46. cvj

    Yes, all too familiar. I can’t help but be reminded of this argument not so long ago, which touched on somewhat similar territory.

    Cheers,

    -cvj

  47. I write a blog and occasionally get inappropriate comments. I choose to leave them up, unless they appear to be purely intended to be offensive (only one so far). I try to respond to all comments, but especially to anything that may be taken as offensive, even if somebody else has responded as I would have.

    I don’t think that the lack of a response condones the offensive comment, but it does not help the readers to understand what the blog author’s opinion is. They come here to read what the blog author writes. The comments about another blog author being an attractive female are no more appropriate than comments about me not being an attractive male blogger. This isn’t libel, where the truth of an observation is a valid defense.

    It is expected that heterosexual men will notice an attractive woman, especially in a field with an apparently significant bias against participation by women. It is not polite or professional to comment on that observation. It should not be relevant to the quality of work produced. If we are going to factor attractiveness into the merit of a person’s work, science will be in even more trouble than it is now.

    If I am reading, I am not ogling a picture. If I am ogling a picture, I am not reading. I read science blogs to learn, not to tumesce.

  48. Sheril, I apologize if my comment was troubling to you. I certainly didn’t want to make you uncomfortable. I recognize that I have, and I’m sorry.

    The rest of you, enough with the silly assumptions. The first part of Sheril’s and Chris’s blog that I saw were their pictures in Phil’s post, so that was the first thing I commented on. Then I went on to read some of the posts, which I enjoyed. I would now like to compliment them both on their engaging writing style: Bravo! I’m sorry I did my complimenting out of order.

    Did I only go to read The Intersection because of the pictures in Phil’s post? Of course not! Would I have read it if it were written by someone less appealing to my eye? Of course! The blog was recommended by someone who’s opinion I value on these matters. On my planet, I like to compliment people. It makes them feel good. If I see someone who is having a bad day, I say something nice to them, and it brightens them right up (sorry about the ungrammatical “them”, but I want to emphasize that I compliment people of both sexes). Despite the negativity that I’ve seen here, I’m going to continue to try to brighten people’s days.

    I understand some people use compliments in a creepy, pick-up line sort of way, and that tone is easier to recognize in person than it is in type. I didn’t convey myself correctly to Sheril, and I apologized to her for that. But whether she is creeped out by it is for her to decide. Not any of you.

    One last thing – after reviewing Electro’s post, it seems more explicitly juvenile than I thought at first. Funny thing, the perspective of the moment. So yeah, I agree that his comment was out of line.

  49. “Whose”, not “who’s”. Dangit.

  50. Amos Zeeberg (Discover Web Editor)

    Thanks to Phil and XKCD for their comments, each eloquent in its own way. We want to welcome the new bloggers warmly and respectfully as the colleagues they are.

  51. IVAN3MAN

    Hey, Amos. When the bloody hell are we gonna get a preview/edit facility here, then? You did say, late last year, that it would be sometime around January/February this year!

  52. Carey, for future reference, it is never appropriate to make a comment on another person’s appearance in a professional setting, which, for Sheril and many others, this is. Had you made that statement at my institution, you would be in violation of the harassment policy. My former boss was a strict enforcer, not surprisingly, he had more female graduate students than are usually found in physics divisions.

    To many women, any personal remark made by a stranger is creepy, regardless whether it is meant to be complimentary, or what the tone is. To be singled out for attention on the basis of appearance is to be at risk.

    I believe you that you meant nothing inappropriate, which is why I’m trying to give you a little more context for this.

  53. Amos Zeeberg (Discover Web Editor)

    Gurp. Sorry, IVAN3MAN. We’re working on it.

  54. IVAN3MAN

    @ Amos Zeeberg,

    O.K.! Thanks for answering. :-)

  55. Brendan White

    @Kaethe

    I think that perhaps your metric is a little imprecise. There are professional situations where that is appropriate, and for Carey this is not a professional situation.

    I do really appreciate how you took the time to write out a clear response and outline in a respectful manner what you had to say. I suspect that Carey’s apology was in spite of the vitriolic nature of many of his critics rather than because of it.

    I wonder what the response would have been had someone said something along the lines of “These two write a great blog, and they’re both good looking to boot.”

    I personally used to be very uncomfortable when Gay men would compliment me on my looks, I got over that, and the notion that all comments on looks were solely about sex (looks and sex are certainly associated) and really I’m a happier guy for it. I’m not defending or attacking anyone’s comments with this paragraph, or trying to invalidate anyone feelings about the issue, I simply want to put out the idea that how you choose to take a comment can deeply impact how that comment affects you, and if you can take it in such a way that causes less hardship to your self that is probably the better way to take it, as I see it. This doesn’t mean that hard working women like out female scientist friends (well most of them, being female does not make you immune from being lazy) should not strive for the higher hanging fruit of academic achievement, I think its pretty clear that we are all better off if they do,. My method will not work for everyone, but if it makes one persons day better I think it will be worth the potential eruption of the spleenetic juices of hate that I might encounter for having put it forth.

  56. Popes

    Just FYI, PhysioProf is a he, not a she as indicated in the comments above, which I mention simply because I was taken aback by the men who smacked down the comment here. I’m used to forums where if misogyny is pointed out at all, it’s by women, who are promptly virtually clubbed into silence.

    The community reaction here was enough to make me decide to bookmark this site to come back.

    Brendan White:
    Your comment is somewhat troubling to me, since it seems to imply that women should just get over it, like you did.

    Two things:
    In the general public, gay men are statistically more at risk of intimidation and violence from straight men than vice versa. I can see a straight man in a regular social and workaday setting working through his discomfort as more an issue of letting go of homophobia than overcoming a sense that he could be attacked/raped/etc. Likewise, I doubt that in situations where straight men are aware of a real threat of violence from other men (prison rapes, for example) those men are able to just “get over” their reactions to “compliments” (read: innuendo), particularly if they have previously been the victims of violence.

    Women’s fear or discomfort reactions to male “compliments” in inappropriate contexts (you know, like in a professional setting or when minding your own business walking down the steet) are going to be more akin to the latter.

  57. Aquaria

    No, Brendan.

    No.

    You’re essentially telling women that well, you don’t have to get upset about these things. Your response is a choice you make.

    Sorry.

    Forget it. That 7 habits nonsense is just that–nonsense.

    It would be different if this were something rare. It’s not. It happens to women in every professional setting, day after day after day after day, and men don’t face that the way we do, in frequency or degree. Do you have any idea how demeaning and demoralizing it is to have remarks indicate to you, time after time, that what you say or think isn’t as important as how you look, or your potential for some humping? Would you make the slightest comment of such a nature about a male co-worker? Very doubtful. So doubtful that the chances are close to non-existent.

    Most people would probably look down on a woman whose first remark about a respected colleague was, “ooh! he’s really hot!” Most sane people would view such a remark as entirely inappropriate, immature and unprofessional. And most sane people would not blame the man in the least if he stated that such a remark was unwarranted. Most sane people would defend him for saying it.

    So why expect women to just take their lumps and let it go, when most people would be horrified and feel a man can be justifiably outraged to be treated like a piece of meat.

    Commenting on women’s looks in regards to their professions (even on a casual blog like this) has to stop. If you don’t understand why, then please–please–take a basic women’s studies course. Try putting yourself in our shoes, if you can figure out how a pair of slingback pumps works.

  58. Popes: I went back to PhysioProfs page last night and looked around, trying to figure out what I had seen that made me think he was a she. Then I saw the title, and laughed out loud: I had somehow interpreted “Blogging While Female At Discover Blogs” as referring to PhysioProf himself!

    So again, in case PP drops back by here, there you go. Sorry for any confusion.

  59. @Aquaria:

    Sweetie, I think you are using just a litte tiny bit too much hyperbole there. You are certainly entitled to your opinion and I think that’s adorable but I don’t think that “most sane people” feel the way that you have described.

    Regardless, this isn’t a workplace, it’s a public forum and Sheril Kirshenbaum put herself out there into the public eye. Ultimately, I think that probably Sheril Kirshenbaum really is enjoying this dialogue because that gets eyeballs. Sex sells, controversy sells.

    Stay sexy San Diego,

    Communibus Locis

    p.s. You can say that I’m really hot and treat me like a piece of meat anytime but I’m drawing the line at the slingbacks…unless they are Manolo Blahniks.

  60. Brendan White

    @Popes, I understand the Human urge to ascribe attributes to a situation from previous situations, but the way you put it makes it sound like you think Women are not cognitively or emotionally capable of getting past situations in their past. I’m pretty sure they are. My comment was specifically regarding Carey’s first post. It was innocuous, it posed no threat to anyone socially, sexually, or physically, or to anyones job. The problem is that assuming the worst does have big drawbacks for you, and you can go situation by situation and figure out if its safe (A guy sitting across the aisle on a half full bus saying that he likes your shoes is a lot different than a guy in a trench coat sitting in an alley saying that he likes your mouth). Tensing up and feeling stressed leaves you very well prepared if you think that someone or something is going to leap at you and grab you, you can better throw punches and run faster, however tensing up is death socially, its exhausting and you are far more likely to do or say something you will regret. I am really a firm believer in the mantra that “rationally analyzing the situation then responding is better than knee jerk irrational behavior” and if there is a gender disparity between the two modes of action I would expect the lower testosterone levels women have to give them a leg up.

    @Aquaria I’ve never read that (those?) books, so I don’t know what to say about them. I do know that you are in no position to tell me what I have found to work and in not position to assume things about what difficulties I can or cannot empathize with because of my experiences, because you have no clue what has or has not happened to me, you are just making an assumption.

    You may be surprised to note that boys (just like girls) take day in day out pressure from bullies while in school. The reason I suggest occasionally taking your minor lumps (not serious demeaning comment, like referring to you as if you were a piece of meat, but rather more innocent ones, like “I like what you have done with your hair” or “those new glasses look very fetching on you” or “I love your sling back pumps, how on earth do you get them on? Do they come in my size?”) as not lumps at all is because, not only is it a better plan to trust people and give them the benefit of some serious doubt for their sake, its also better for yours, even if when they say “nice pumps” they are actually thinking about getting you in bed you, YOU, will be happier, healthier, and more fulfilled if you take it as “I like your shoes”. You did get them because you thought they looked good right?

    Defensive people are less likely to analyze whats going on and MORE likely to get taken advantage of. Yes day after day pressure can be hard, it takes some work to change how you see things, that doesn’t mean its impossible or that its not good for you to do it.

  61. Popes

    Brendan:

    It’s ridiculous to suggest that women’s discomfort with sexual or flirtatious innuendo in professional situations is due to a sexual abuse situation in their past. Most women just don’t like it, for the reasons that a myriad of posters have already explained. Rereading it, my original point was not as clear as it should have been because I was doing two things: responding to straight men “getting over” feeling uncomfortable when hit on by gay men and also trying to overemphasize the perceived power differential women feel when commented on by men. That led to integrating the concept of potential violence that was never in the original comment, so my apologies for muddying the issue in that way. My comments are absolutely valid as they stand, but they do not work well to elucidate why the original comments made here were inappropriate. (They were in response to your comment exclusively, not the larger issue.)

    To clarify my response to the larger issue (not that most of this hasn’t been said already):
    1) A power differential exists between men and women in society. (If you disagree with point one, I can guarantee we’re at an impasse and you’ll have to go to Feminism 101 to get anything out of this whole thread.
    2) That power differential is manifested in many ways. One way is the fact that men feel entitled to publicly comment on a woman’s physical appearance in situations in which said physical appearance should have absolutely no relevance.
    3) To many women, those comments reinforce an idea that men first look to see if a women is “attractive enough” to bother listening to and to establish that her primary worth is in her physical body, not her intelligence. Can you see why a professional woman in a professional setting would not appreciate such comments? Even if she is “attractive enough,” what happens if steps out the expected hawtchick rank and file by doing something crazy like getting older? Gaining weight? Wearing frumpy (read: non-sexualized) clothing? Or–insanely enough–what if she just wants the chance to be evaluated solely on her intellect and the contributions she can make as a professional?
    4) In addition, such comments help breed antipathy to intelligent women in male-dominated fields by encouraging society at large to believe that intelligent, successful women who are attractive get where they are based on looks. Men’s success is much more rarely attributed to their appearance, unless they are in appearance-driven industries such as entertainment industry.

    Finally, the one point I don’t think anyone has yet raised. A COMPLIMENT is something that is given privately and personally to someone else, not something slapped on a message board or announced in front of a group of people. The first has a reasonable potential to be well-received. The second does not. To pretend otherwise is to be willfully obtuse.

  62. Popes

    Gar.

    To cut off the criticism before it comes, please understand that the “compliments” to which I referred are the kind that are flirtatious or sexual in nature–the ones under fire in this thread. Non-flirtatious, non-sexual compliments are generally perceived as appropriate in any venue.

  63. Brendan White

    I’m not arguing that they should have to put up with innuendo, I’m arguing that if the comment is not outwardly sexual and hostile that they should not assume that it is. I think that non-sexual compliments should be allowed, I also think that testing the waters of flirtation should be allowed (but not up and down the power ladder). If I am working with a woman I should be allowed to test the waters of flirtation,if the behavior is not reciprocated I should stop immediately, the same rules should apply at a night club; this does not mean innuendo or sexually suggstive coments, I should not offer to mash her potatoe or give her a backrub, I should be able to give her a wry smile and say something like “how did you end up so clever”. I said it on the post on this in the other blog, when you prohibit that kind of behavior you are likely to see a prohibition economy of sorts form around that behavior, with only those who disregard the standards and norms partaking and thus having less competition, and conversely more sucess.

    I’m sorry that I seem to have misunderstood your comments. I feel that my comments were geared pretty heavily towards the original coments made and as such any comment in response to them should probably refference the original comments fairly heavily, if not to talk about them, then to distinguish the subject matter from them.

    1) I agree in general terms. Not every Man is above every woman on the power scale, this is not the middle east. (I’ll give you something like 7 times out of 10)
    2) I agree, but with the caveat that I feel that most women feel entitled to make non-sexual coments on the physical appearence of men, so for the purposes of my response I will take that to mean that some Men feel that they are entitled to make sexually oriented comments about a womans physical appearance in public.
    3) Back to an ideal world, I agree that undue pressure should not be applied, but an occasional comment should be allowed, I should also be able to coment on the appearence of men occasionally too. My Coworker Colin stopped wearing classes and switched to contacts, he looks horrible, I tell him every day (Although I would not tell a woman that); Another coworker Ali used to be a competative figure skater and grew up putting on enough makeup that the judges could see it across the ice, from age 6 to age 19, one day she got up late and did not have time and only applied light makeup, I told her that she looks good with less makeup and that she sho

  64. Brendan White

    I’m not arguing that they should have to put up with innuendo, I’m arguing that if the comment is not outwardly sexual and hostile that they should not assume that it is. I think that non-sexual compliments should be allowed, I also think that testing the waters of flirtation should be allowed (but not up and down the power ladder). If I am working with a woman I should be allowed to test the waters of flirtation,if the behavior is not reciprocated I should stop immediately, the same rules should apply at a night club; this does not mean innuendo or sexually suggstive coments, I should not offer to mash her potatoe or give her a backrub, I should be able to give her a wry smile and say something like “how did you end up so clever”. I said it on the post on this in the other blog, when you prohibit that kind of behavior you are likely to see a prohibition economy of sorts form around that behavior, with only those who disregard the standards and norms partaking and thus having less competition, and conversely more success.

    I’m sorry that I seem to have misunderstood your comments. I feel that my comments were geared pretty heavily towards the original comments made and as such any comment in response to them should probably reference the original comments fairly heavily, if not to talk about them, then to distinguish the subject matter from them.

    1) I agree in general terms. Not every Man is above every woman on the power scale, this is not the middle east. (I’ll give you something like 7 times out of 10)
    2) I agree, but with the caveat that I feel that most women feel entitled to make non-sexual coments on the physical appearence of men, so for the purposes of my response I will take that to mean that some Men feel that they are entitled to make sexually oriented comments about a womans physical appearance in public.
    3) Back to an ideal world, I agree that undue pressure should not be applied, but an occasional comment should be allowed, I should also be able to comment on the appearence of men occasionally too. My Coworker Colin stopped wearing classes and switched to contacts, he looks horrible, I tell him every day (Although I would not tell a woman that); Another coworker Ali used to be a competitive figure skater and grew up putting on enough makeup that the judges could see it across the ice, from age 6 to age 19, one day she got up late and did not have time and only applied light makeup, I told her that she looks good with less makeup and that she should stick with it, because she “definitely [has] the skin for it”; now she looks human every day, It was a compliment, and a comment on her appearance, and it was totally non-sexual and she was better off for not having flown off the handle. Our humanity may be inescapable, the best we can do is try to set up systems that self correct for the errors in judgment that we work into the system.
    5)Final point is also a point of agreement, as adjusted by your follow up post that is. Flirtation should not happen in front of other people, the pressure and embarrassment could be substantial and a detriment. I might actually go further than you here, and say that if it is sexual you shouldn’t say it to your coworker unless you have a flirting relationship going for a significant length of time.

    I feel like there is a problem that people are willing to assume the worst of what men say, and in the end that becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. In my post on Sheril’s treatment of the subject I said explicitly that one example she gave was of unacceptable behavior, yet still I was criticized for defending the guy, about whom all I had said was that his behavior was unacceptable. If you choose to take offense at everything someone says no matter what they say it will be offensive. I do not expect you (generalized, not you specifically) to suffer for my irrational behavior, I should not have to suffer for yours (This time I mean you explicitly … no, just kidding, still generalized you).

  65. Brendan White

    Gah, double post! Any chance someone could delete the post made at 11:44 and this one made right now? Thanks!

  66. Popes

    Brendan:

    The comments section of a blog post is a public forum. Since we both agree flirtatious or sexual comments (including commenting on someone’s hawtness) are inappropriate in front of others, it is therefore agreed that the original comments in question on this blog, however “complimentary” or mild or innocent or however you want to label them, were inappropriate.

    Fin.

    I have no desire to engage your messy syntax, lack of understanding of systems of oppression, gross assumptions about what I believe/how I react when I feel the line of appropriate behavior has been crossed with me, or your personal beliefs about what you “should be allowed” to do in professional settings.

    Over and out.

  67. Luna_the_cat

    I haven’t been on Discover blogs very much, so I’m not familiar yet with the commenters. Am I to gather, then, that Communibus Locis is the local idiot troll?

    @Communibus Locis — at risk of troll-feeding, you really are an idiot schmuck. In retrospect, I’m quite positive you took that patronising tone deliberately, to wind up Aquaria and “put her in her place.” “Oooh, look how *adorable* that sweet little Aquaria is when she gets all hot-n-bothered!” Yeah, and up yours, too. Aquaria made a good, sensible, sane and thoughtful post. You showed YOUR true colours, didn’t you. As being just the opposite. Creep.

    And yes, as a female in what was — and to a lesser extent, still is — a male-dominated field — indeed, I second all those who have been pointing this out, comments on a woman’s looks in the context of any professional activity are creepy and a subtle way of saying that the work is less important than the appearance for them purty females. It isn’t a “compliment”, it feels a lot more like a way to relegate us to a “not really taken seriously” category. One or two are enough to make you uncomfortable. A lifetime of them is simply rage-inducing.

  68. If physical objectification of women (or men for that matter, though that is much less common) in an intellectual forum is inappropriate, then why are we also not up in arms about LarianLeQuella’s comment, “Is it just me, or do they look YOUNG?…”

  69. D.

    One way to not accidently offend people is to not comment. An off-topic comment posted in a public forum is more about the poster than anything else.

    Brendan & all, please talk about this issue of complimenting the appearance of females with some female relative, and listen to what they say.

  70. Luna_the_cat

    ~@Karen James: I don’t think that carries the same level of offense because, rather than target one group of people who will never have a chance to move out of that role, it is a stage which every human being on the planet moves through, and out of. And, it is an experience that pretty much every human being on the planet will also have in common, to hit that stage of your life where you will be reading things written by, and/or working with, people who are (at least potentially) the age of your children — and then everyone also gets to experience that impulse to exclaim “[they're] so young!” .

    On the other hand, with only a very small number of exceptions, born female stays female, and having the experience of being devalued on that basis is not is not only NOT shared by at least half the planet, it will also not necessarily disappear at any point. And yes, there is also a power disparity attached which isn’t necessarily like that of youth.

  71. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    And spare me the rationalization crap of [...] and “social beings.”

    Read again, there are no rationalizations, only facts. Why would anyone want to avoid them; more importantly, how do one avoid them?

    It is another thing entirely to not like them, or that it’s brought up, but that wasn’t the issue discussed in that comment.

  72. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    “Compliments” on someone’s appearance are obviously appropriate in some situations but these don’t include an arena where intelligence and talent are the driving forces.

    As I commented on use of compliments (which not all of the statements here are, but some, see Carey’s clarification; which is pretty much what I originally read into it), let me put it that compliments on appearance in arenas of intelligence and talent are large factors are less important, and often inappropriate for obvious reasons.

    But here we were discussing a media situation, where intelligence and talent often aren’t decisive factors.

    [Now I'm sure I have to head off the obvious reversion used when emotions ride high, that such a claim would imply something about the individuals in question. Of course it doesn't.]

  73. Brendan White

    @Popes
    You have misrepresented my position in order to make it fit, then called the whole thing settle prematurely. Comments about someones physical appearence are not necessarily flirtatious.

    @D. The disagreement is not about how women do take things like this, its about what way women should take things like this if they want their own best interests served. The system we have now only serves women feeling hurt and alienated it would seem. Is that what you want?

    @Torbjörn Larsson It seems like many people are willing to ascribe various meaning to various statements of fact, it can cloud the issues and “invalidate” rational and productive approaches sometimes.

  74. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    @ Carey:

    I understand some people use compliments in a creepy, pick-up line sort of way,

    I was trying to come remember where I saw that on a blog latest, and I believe it was directed to erv over at Scienceblogs. (Or rather before she joined that hive mind.)

    It was sort of paedophilic in your face, and there was no ambiguity about the details. I believe we all ignored the old man. (Perhaps after some tell of, I can’t remember.) So yes, it happens too often.

  75. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    @ Brendan,

    Point.

  76. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Um, point taken, I mean.

  77. Jacques Meade

    Jesus H. Christ! Some people always have to make a mountain out of a molehill! :roll:

  78. zar

    # Jacques Meade Says:
    March 26th, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    Jesus H. Christ! Some people always have to make a mountain out of a molehill! :roll:

    Seriously! You point out to a guy that he’s being inappropriate and sexist and he gets in such a tiff! Jeez. Males are so sensitive.

  79. Nat

    Read again, there are no rationalizations, only facts. Why would anyone want to avoid them; more importantly, how do one avoid them?

    It is another thing entirely to not like them, or that it’s brought up, but that wasn’t the issue discussed in that comment.

    In the context of these types of discussions, statements of the “fact” that humans are social beings are shorthand for an argument that goes, “Well, it’s natural for people to notice physical looks” to “It’s ok to mention another person’s looks” to “why are they getting so upset, all I did was talk about their looks” to “my my they’re hysterical”.

    Of course none of this is relevant in a discussion about science and public policy.

    Now, you didn’t make such an argument in your comment. In fact, it’s hard to see any argument at all in what you wrote.

    And let me end with one final “fact”: humans are conscious beings who choose their actions. They are free to choose not to comment on another person’s looks in contexts where it is, at best, irrelevant.

  80. Brendan White

    @Zar
    “Hey, [bleeps]! What the [bleep] is up with you [bleeping] troglodytes? Sheril is a blogger, and she is here to blog, not for you [bleeping] misogynist creeps to leer at.”
    “I think you guys should grow the f* up.”

    Telling people they have behaved inappropriately and insulting them for it are different things, One has a high probability of improving the situation, the other is for the sole amusement of the poster and engenders great deals of hostility.

    @Nat
    Yes, the rationalizations that start at that fact can be taken to a point where they obfuscate the truth of the matter with regards to other sides of the situation. I for one think that obfuscating the truth is not the way to stop the process of obfuscating the truth. You push to far and pretty soon hard facts start to disagree with you, and you have introduced a serious weakness into your position.

  81. You misogynist losers are still babbling on and on and on trying to justify piggish behavior? This is really not that complicated.

  82. Brendan White

    @ Comrade PhysioProf
    You continue to insert Ad hominem attacks (probably a straw man too) and cloud the issue. If its that simple explain it simply so that the logic of your position is clearly displayed. If the reason for your feelings is too far from reason for you to articulate (and no, insulting us is not articulating your position) then you should keep it to your self until you can figure out how to contribute in a manner that will have any affect other than hardening hearts against you.

    The principle at the heart of all I have said here is that we should take the time to act rationally, and that knee jerk reactions are one of the baser instincts that we must rise to overcome. If you really disagree with this then let me know why. Please Defend the knee jerk reactions (Like your needlessly fowl language) that are making things harder for every single person involved.

  83. D.

    Brendan @ “@D. The disagreement is not about how women do take things like this, its about what way women should take things like this if they want their own best interests served. The system we have now only serves women feeling hurt and alienated it would seem. Is that what you want?”

    Young women receive enough unsolicited comments to learn how they should take things like to serve their interests. Is your proposed change to the system we have is that women should change themselves and not complain? Go tell that plan to some female relative and listen to what she says. Really. I’d bet you a nickle that she’ll say something like Sheril.

  84. Brendan White

    @D. So your argument is that people never develop irrational behavior patterns?

  85. Weaves

    The behaviour of certain males in these comments is appalling. There is no justification for your pathetic comments and attempts to justify demeaning women.

  86. Brendan White

    @Weaves, I can’t figure out if you are attacking other folks, or straw manning me, you should be more specific.

  87. Mark Sletten

    Ahhhhh, human sexuality… where reason, intellect and instinct intersect; some listen and learn, some don’t. On a brighter note, this discussion might help the folks from the TX Board of Ed gain insights toward a better understanding of human evolution (or lack thereof).

    –Mark

  88. Douchey France

    Is it the comment (“Sheril is quite fetching”, e.g.) the problem, or is it the thought itself?

    That is, most of us agree that this is an inappropriate context to mention a person’s attractiveness. However, the thought itself is okay?

    It seems like the fellows who remarked on physical appearance are being pilloried for expressing an honest, if facile, reaction to a photo. Are they smacked down for thinking thoughts, or for being vocal about them?

  89. Discover, it is way past time to end this comment thread – and many of the above comments should be deleted.

  90. Brendan White

    @Silver Fox, Did you read the bloggers comment “Some people have taken me to task on other blogs for not deleting these comments, but I prefer they stay up. When people make mistakes, the best thing to do is air them out, not suppress them.“?

  91. Cara

    If I am working with a woman I should be allowed to test the waters of flirtation

    No, Brendan, you *shouldn’t*, you pathetic over-entitled little twerp.

    Good grief. You and your adolescent evo-psych crap go take a long walk off a short pier.

    Sheril, hang in there.

  92. Brendan White

    And Gay men shouldn’t be able to hit on me, and women shouldn’t be able to flirt with men, in fact lets just remove sexuality all together, it will only require multiple lobotomies per person. Good luck living in a fantasy world. I took the time to explain why I hold my position, The proper way to deal with a disagreement is to reach down into the argument and address it. The only people who need to argue with insults and without addressing the reasons laid out by their opponents are the people who have no support for their position.

  93. if she doesn’t care about looking good then she wouldn’t have chosen a picture that looks so good. Surely she has worse pictures of herself, and the fact that she chose a good one means she cares about looking good. I am sure she cares about being respected for her mind as well but lets get real here. Anyone who’s work is at all visible and in the media ALWAYS gets more of an audience if they look better. maybe it’s shallow and unfair but this is part of our human nature and it in no way demeans her to comment on her good looks.

    Good grief!

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