[Coral-List] big high pedestal

Szmant, Alina szmanta at uncw.edu
Sun Nov 1 08:35:53 EST 2009

This is a bit off-topic of climate change, but for those young women out there who read these posts, I'd like to add to the history of how much has changed for women over the past few decades only (since you were babies).  Pam and I are from the same generation, so I too experienced many of the negative pressures she describes.  

I spent my formative years in Puerto Rico where women of an social standing didn't work unless they had a small woman-appropriate business, and less fortunate women worked in the service community.  Luckliy for me, my father was an academic scientist, and so he encouraged my intellectual interests even as my mother and her friends teased me about why I was bothering getting a BS degree and wanting to on to grad school when what I needed was a wealthy husband.  In high school, I refused to learn how to type because that would have pigeon-holed me into the secretarial and teacher fields, and my understanding father actually typed my high school papers for me when needed (obviously I have learned how to type since then....).  When I got to college I did have two fantastic women scientist role models who took me under wing, and encouraged me to keep on going and directed me towards summer experiences that openned my eyes to the world of science.  And then I got to meet the incredible Betty Bunce, an important WHOI physical oceanographer who came to visti PR on a big research vessel.  She was in my young eyes, older, weathered, tough, an image that suggested that if you were tough you too could do it.  But I was 19 and not very tough (yet).

Then I went to Scripps where I was part of the first large group of female grad students (7 of us in fall of 1966).   By the end of the first academic quarter (3 months), there were 3 of us left.  Two of the professors I really wanted to work with I learned didn't accept women grad students.  The summer of my first year, one of the other surviving women and I wanted to go on the CALCOFI cruises, but we were told women were not allowed aboard ship because we were disruptive.  The few years before I started grad school, a few women, some secretaries, had been allowed to join research cruises, and a number of affairs and divorces followed, thus creating a barrier for us female students serious about learning science.  There were no women faculty at Scrippps to serve as mentors or role models.  But things were changing slowly.  One of my room mates, Tanya Atwater a geophysicist, needed to direct a cruise to collect data for her thesis, and the captain of the ship refused to accept her as the chief scientist.  This time, that faculty committee supported Tanya and told the captain he could resign (which of course he didn't).  It was a small step but progress is often made in small steps. Women began going on Scripps cruises more and more frequently, and now that wouldn't even be an issue except for balancing genders for cabin assignments. 

In 1970 when the first Tektite II underwater  habitat science missions were selected, a husband and wife team submitted a proposal, and while their work was accepted, they were not allowed to saturate together:  they were split into 2 separate missions because of concerns about how the US Congress and the public would react to a couple co-habiting underwater on the tax roll and what they might do while down there for two weeks (with 3 other people I might add).  So the first all-woman underwater mission was created, which helped lauch Sylvia Earle into prominence as our team leader.  We were photographed, wined and dined, interviewed, called Aquanets (the name of a hair spray) and got tons of attention just because we were women not because of the science we were doing underwater.  Today, no one would try to gender manage a mission, and women (a few) have even made it into space.

Bringing this back to public perceptions and how we go forward:  There are still many people out there, men and women alike, who do not believe that women should be doing all we do these days, and should be at home supporting our husbands and raising the children.  I came across many people like that including 17 year old high school girls, when I campained for Hillary Clinton during the last election.  In my mind, this is part of the general syndrome of general science illiteracy, reactionary behavior, and lack of worldly understanding, that is characteristic of too high a precentage of the US populace.  It all goes back to our education system which in places may be truly great, but in most is pitiful.  Where I now live in a small city of North Carolina, with a significant university, we are still battling against having creationism taught in science classes, teachers telling us we cannot use the work evolution in any guest lecture, and letters to the editor in our local newspaper that are absolutely flabergasting (astounding for non-US readers) in their ignorance when it comes to anything scientific or quantitative, the health care debate, climate change, impacts of development etc etc etc.  The big difference is that women are now everywhere present throughout the system, and just as ignorant as the men who tried to keep us out years ago....

So we have a lot of work ahead of us to re-direct public thinking to be enlightened.  There is general agreement that we need to start with the younger generation (and I include college age kids in this mix because they are still reachable) because the older folks are hopeless and not open-minded enough to reach with logic and factual information.  But until every one of us re-examines are lifestyle in the context of how every breath we take, every item we own, every activity we do, contributes to changes in Earth ecosystems and thus to climate change, we will not be in a position to bring about the changes needed.  I believe most of us are caught up in the quote I liked the best of those posted by Eric Borneman:

"Every morning I awake torn between a desire to save the world and an  inclination to savor it. This makes it hard to plan the day." E.B. White

Dr. Alina M. Szmant
Professor of Marine Biology
Coral Reef Research Program, Center for Marine Science
University of North Carolina Wilmington
5600 Marvin K. Moss Lane
Wilmington NC 28409
Tel:  (910)962-2362; fax: (910)962-2410;  cell:  (910)200-3913
From: coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov [coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml..noaa.gov] On Behalf Of Pam Hallock-Muller [pmuller at marine.usf.edu]
Sent: Saturday, October 31, 2009 10:42 AM
To: Bill Allison
Cc: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov; Faerthen Felix
Subject: Re: [Coral-List] big high pedestal


I get almost nauseated every time I hear/see someone "blame" scientists
and teachers for the lack of science education.

Americans have long been schizophrenic about education and intellectual
issues in general (read Wallace Stegner), and science in particular
(think Scopes Trial). As a child in rural America, I recall neighbors
discussing higher education as something only men who were disabled
(e.g., polio victims) or inept would pursue; a "real man" worked with
his hands. School was for the 3 Rs. The anti-intellectual/anti-science
undercurrent in America was reinforced in the late 1940s into the 1960s,
with the government-sponsored campaigns and regulations aimed at getting
women out of the workforce (where they were encouraged to go during
WWII) and into the “consumer force”. Women who sought higher education
were tracked into elementary education, where they were told not to
worry their pretty little heads about science and math because it was
“too hard”. Public university degree programs were legally allowed to
reject women until 1972 (I was rejected from at least one graduate
program specifically because they did not accept women - they told me
that in the rejection letter). Thus, despite the “space race” and an
emphasis on science and math in the 1960s, education programs were
turning out eager young elementary teachers who had been taught that
science and math were “too hard”, which too many promptly taught their
students, both boys and girls. Combine that with the reluctance of
teachers to even mention anything related to evolution or reproduction
to avoid the wrath of parents and administrators, and we now have a
largely science-illiterate nation.. (My sister, one of those elementary
teachers, was forbidden by her Principal from showing fossils to her 5th
grades because he claimed that "fossils are only theories".)

By the 1980s, the anti-education undercurrent was greatly reinforced by
an ever growing portion of the American population with minimal
education in science and math. That “upwelled” into the election of a
leader whose attitude towards the environment was “if you’ve seen one
redwood tree, you’ve seen them all”. For much of the past 30 years,
anti-intellectual, anti-science attitudes have been mainstream
nationwide. This has been especially true the past 8 years, when beliefs
and “gut-feelings” consistently trumped evidence and expertise.

For example, here in Florida, many public schools essentially stopped
teaching science for six years starting in 1999 because science wasn't
initially included on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests. I
personally had a 15-year outreach program "killed" outright by the FCAT
- my group was not longer welcome at schools except one day per year for
the "Great American Teach In", where we compete with every other
possible topic for half-hour blocks of classroom time (as compared to
the previous program aimed at reinforcing specific learning units).

Individuals and groups interested in power and resource dominance are
threatened by an educated and informed populace/workforce. Now the
"mainstream media" is completely owned by those groups and daily
reinforce the "belief" that belief is more important than evidence. And
that is who is "informing" the American public on global change issues.

Scientists are "voices crying in the wilderness", except the wilderness
is now urban.

Pam Hallock Muller

Pamela Hallock Muller, Ph.D., Professor
College of Marine Science
University of South Florida
140 Seventh Ave. S.
St.Petersburg, FL 33701-5016
Phone: 727-553-1567
FAX: 727-553-1189
e-mail: pmuller at marine.usf.edu
Website: http://www.marine.usf.edu/reefslab

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