Men [Sick]

Have you read the Nature editorial? Have you read my earlier post about it? Maybe what you are wanting is a deeper textual analysis of the editorial itself. You’ve come to the right place.
Men [sick]
Our 1869 mission statement is out of date.
That’s what the bitchy, complaining women are making us say.
It was 1833 when the English polymath William Whewell first coined the word ‘scientist’. Over subsequent decades, the word gradually replaced such commonly used terms as ‘natural philosophers’ and ‘men of science.
Scientist, you see , actually means “men of science”. So even if we changed our wording, we’d still be talking about men. Hah! Just wanted you to know.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, this last phrase was already out of date: pioneering women such as Mary Fairfax Somerville and Caroline Herschel were proving their worth as astronomers, mathematicians, botanists and palaeontologists.
I know! We were surprised, too, but we Googled women in science and read the Wikipedia entry. Turns out there actually WERE some women around back then.


The original mission statement of this journal, first printed in Nature’s second issue on 11 November 1869, was therefore running behind the times when it referred to ‘Scientific men’ — even though, to be fair, the word ‘scientist’ did not enter general circulation until the end of the nineteenth century. In other respects it is well worded — which is why we print it every week in the Table of Contents.
Okay, ONE point to the bitchy feminists. Even though, to be fair, it was perfectly acceptable to explicitly exclude women from our scientific societies, take credit for their scientific accomplishments, and/or classify their scientific pursuits as “non-scientific” when we initially wrote our mission statement. Which certainly makes “scientific men” a catchy phrase, don’t ya think?
The statement expresses two purposes for this publication. The first is “to place before the general public the grand results of Scientific Work and Scientific Discovery; and to urge the claims of Science to a more general recognition in Education and in Daily Life”. Today this is as important as it has ever been — although members of the public have important considerations to lay before scientists, and Nature reflects them also.
Blah, blah, obligatory words about pretending it matters to the majority of the scientific community to communicate with the non-scientific public even though the entire promotion, tenure, and grant-awarding system offers no credit for this type of work. Oddly enough, women are often interested in doing this kind of work. You know, all that outreach crap to young girls…
The second thrust was expressed as follows: “to aid Scientific men themselves, by giving early information of all advances made in any branch of Natural knowledge throughout the world, and by affording them an opportunity of discussing the various Scientific questions which arise from time to time.”
I’m telling you, when we wrote this paragraph, we just sat around and howled for 15 minutes. It was a totally Freudian slip to characterize the second purpose – the one having to do with “scientific men” – as “the second thrust” but once it was in print we fell in love with it.
In printing the statement verbatim every week as we have done, making it clear when it originated, we have hitherto assumed that readers will excuse the wording in the interests of historical integrity. But feedback from readers of both sexes indicates that the phrase, even when cited as a product of its time, causes displeasure. Such signals have been occasional but persistent, and a response is required. There is a convention within the English language by which writers quoting text can indicate their view that a particular phrase is inappropriate. That is to insert sic, a Latin word meaning ‘thus’, after the phrase — in effect expressing the sentiment ‘alas, dear reader, this is what was said’.
We thought our readers would be pleased with a weekly, in-your-face reminder of the history of discrimination built in to the journal from its earliest beginnings. But the harridans have been storming the gates, and they’ve even managed to round up a few men. So we are going to resort to an incredibly ridiculous use of a Latin word as a means of pretending to address their concerns while simultaneously trivializing and dismissing them. There is a convention among sexist English speakers – intentional and unintentional – of pretending that language issues are trivial while defending unto the death the continued use of sexist language by any means available. Historically, women were denied access to education, and the study of Latin was thought inappropriate for them. This contributed to their being shut out of science because many scientific works were written in Latin. So it’s just kind of ironic, isn’t it, that we’re going to use a Latin word to deny them access to our mission statement, isn’t it?
This is what we will do in the mission statement from now on. The small, belated change takes place against the vast backdrop of a scientific world where the upper echelons of academia, academies and prestigious awards are still numerically greatly dominated by men, and where outright discrimination can still rear its ugly head (see page 749). In this context, the insertion of a Latin word in a couple of paragraphs may be a tiny step: but it is at least one in the right direction.
Who needs outright discrimination? It’s so much more pleasant and civilized to discriminate while pretending to be inclusive. It’s just one tiny step sideways, but in the right direction to deflect real and meaningful change. It’s just our small way of saying “patriarchy RULES!”

  1. August 19, 2007 at 9:59 pm

    The Nautilus entry about the editorial in question is here.If you’re looking for a conversation, Nature blogs are a good starting point — there are real people writing ’em and they do seem to listen.

  2. August 19, 2007 at 10:17 pm

    Point taken. But if their original message had mentioned “white men” I would expect them not to hide that fact. At the least they should have it on their website to show how things have changed.
    But, I defer to your point.

  3. kevin
    August 19, 2007 at 11:39 pm

    John — don’t be stupid. All that “no longer acceptable” stuff from earlier editions is not being continually republished in the first few pages of ever edition. You can be sure if the *did* republish some of that stuff, even as just part of some kind of “historical perspective” or whatever, they would have a big fat disclaimer at the top saying “this, dear readers, is a bit of shamefully and strikingly racist, (cruel, sexist, or whatever) piece of research from our past; we include the original version unedited here for the sake of historical accuracy, but of course recognize how morally wrong the ‘men of science’ were being.”
    And revising a mission statement is not “revising history”. No one ever suggested hiding the old statement, or deleting reference to or mention of it, or lying about what the old statement said.
    How about this:
    – change “scientific men” to “scientific men and women”, and publicise the change, including a real discussion of how and why the old statement was stupid and wrong, and how it does matter. Put the new statement on the web site, with a link to a “history of the mission statement” containing both the old and new, describing how the old statement was sexist and wrong, and how it took them all of N decades to admit it and fix it.
    Admitting you were wrong in the past is not “revising history”, it is acknowledging past mistakes. And part of this is to stop making the same mistakes in the future.
    -Kevin

  4. August 20, 2007 at 5:21 am

    I see that they’re using a new and special meaning of sic that nobody else uses.
    Other readers in the first thread have already pointed out that it’s supposed to mark spelling and grammar errors, not “inappropriateness”. Apart from that, I though the point of using it was to dissassociate yourself from an error in words that are not your own — which you are reproducing faithfully without alterations, because you don’t have the authority to alter them, because they’re not your words.
    A mission statement is not a quote. A mission statement is something which is continuously being said by the magazine. It’s like a blog tagline. The words belong to the magazine, and the makers of the magazine can change them whenever they want. For them to use sic instead of changing the words is beyond ridiculous; it’s as if I proofread my post and put sic after all the errors instead of correcting them.

  5. August 20, 2007 at 6:36 am

    It might be an idea to read the Nature site before you opine. As I mentioned at the blog from which you found this information, Nature’s mission statement was updated years ago and is available at the “about the journal” page free access. See http://www.nature.com/nature/about/index.html
    What has changed is that we have put in a correction to the original mission statement written in 1869.
    Try coming over and reading the source first, “then” write your post 😉

  6. Maxine
    August 20, 2007 at 6:44 am

    Nature’s mission statement
    First, to serve scientists through prompt publication of significant advances in any branch of science, and to provide a forum for the reporting and discussion of news and issues concerning science. Second, to ensure that the results of science are rapidly disseminated to the public throughout the world, in a fashion that conveys their significance for knowledge, culture and daily life.

  7. August 20, 2007 at 7:53 am

    Maxine, if that’s true, then the Nature editorial is horribly misleading, since it claims that the 1869 statement is printed verbatim every week. Or do you print both the revised and the 1869 statement every week? If so, why?

  8. August 20, 2007 at 8:19 am

    “Men and women”, “he or she”, and other self-consciously inclusive mashup terms make for terrible writing, whatever else they do. Our language – or more correctly our culture – is desperately in need of a non gender-specific pronoun. If we can come up with “blog” and “podcast” we should be able to fix a serious flaw that divides people and clunks up our writing.
    Nature should say “men and women” and get somebody to work on that pronoun.

  9. Kaleberg
    August 26, 2007 at 6:40 pm

    Maybe they had a gender clause somewhere. You know:
    The masculine shall include the feminine, and the singular shall include the plural.
    It’s sounds very mystical, and it appears in many legal documents where they use he instead of he, she or they. It was more popular back when masculine and feminine were considered genders rather than sexes, and some people knew the difference.

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