Home > Burns My Shorts, Gratuitous Sexism, Naming Experience > So Just What Is Nature Doing???

So Just What Is Nature Doing???

Maxine Clarke commented on this blog:

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 😉

This is puzzling…surely if Nature had already updated its mission statement, it would not need to write an editorial about updating its mission statement, right?


And yet, here’s the mission statement found online, as also posted here by Maxine:

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.

Nothing to be unhappy about with that. So what’s up with the editorial? What is it that is being modified with the [sic]? The original mission statement. But why bother with the original mission statement, if a new mission statement already exists? Well, because, according to the editorial:

we print [the original mission statement] every week in the Table of Contents.

So, yes, Nature has a nice online mission statement that’s all friendly and inclusive. Yet…they can’t quite bear to let go of that quaint, original, sexist one. There it is, upfront every week in the printed journal. True, changing the wording would be changing a historical document. (Though perhaps one can argue about the meaning of the phrase “historical document” when it you are printing it afresh each week.) What to do, what to do, if you want to keep printing this bit of the sexist past without having to take responsibility for it? I know! [sic]!
Well, I’m sorry, but much of my original critique remains unchanged. I don’t care if you have a nice new online mission statement. If you want to keep printing your old sexist one every week then contextualize it as a historical document and explain that it is sexist and outdated and was outdated at the time it was published and is included here only as another example of how women were explicitly excluded in the past. And contextualize it that way every time you print it, every week, not once in an editorial. That tiny little [sic] does not do the job. What it does is say “we know this is wrong but we don’t care, we are going to keep printing it anyway”. Continuing to print it uncontextualized each week says “we revere this bit of our history so much that we want you to read it every week. And we don’t really care all that much that it is sexist, ’cause we think it rocks so much!”
As I said in a comment, imagine the historical mission statement said “for scientific white men”. Would you still feel comfortable printing it every week? Would you feel that just inserting a little [sic] after it was a sufficient gesture to allow you to keep printing it unmodified? I’m guessing it’s less likely the answer would be yes.
UPDATE: Please read Bill’s very good and in my opinion definitive post on this topic.
SECOND UPDATE: Do go check out the original mission statement in all its glory on the web. You won’t want to miss the extra two references to men and scientific men in the plan for accomplishing the mission. No word on whether they will be sicced.

  1. August 20, 2007 at 1:33 pm

    Bingo. If you reprint it every week, it’s not a “dead” text. Unless it was handed down from a mountain in a thundercloud, it’s not sacred text, either–it was written by human beings, and it can be rewritten by human beings.

  2. August 20, 2007 at 1:53 pm

    In Defamation law, in the USA, each republication of a libel sets the clock back to zero for the one year Statute of Limitations.
    If women scientists in the USA are being defamed by Nature, each new issue is a new chance to file in court.
    IANAL (I am not a lawyer). TINLA (This is not legal advice).
    Just saying…

  3. August 20, 2007 at 2:12 pm
  4. August 20, 2007 at 2:12 pm
  5. August 21, 2007 at 12:30 am

    Zuska, I had the same wtf? reaction to the editorial. The “Maxine” response seemed a bit weak over at Nature, but…okay, they just didn’t make clear that this was some unimportant nod to the past. Then we get to Bill’s sleuthing.
    I’m back to wtf? land now. I really don’t get all this. or perhaps I do. IME, those who want to get all cute about their anti-discrimination stances are those who don’t really believe it.

  6. August 21, 2007 at 12:32 pm

    I’m a bit late to this discussion, but I have to say that Nature’s pleading that the original mission statement is a historical document that should be preserved is bogus, at best, and ingenuous at worst. That’s what libraries are for, both the corporate and public kind. Libraries of record like the Library of Congress and NYPL Research library preserve historical documents for just this reason–and so nobody else has to. A mission statement should reflect the current purpose of the organization, not its history; that’s why they’re periodically revised. It serves nothing in the realms of historical research to keep printing an offensive statement simply as a tie to the past, when a tag line like “Since 1869” on the masthead does the same thing. Nature’s reprinting that crap because they still mean it.

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