Gender in Science Talks


Attention Fellow Astronomers!

If you'll be attending the upcoming AAS 223 in Washington DC, could you help me collect data for a project? This is for my "AAS Hack Day" idea.

The project stems from an anecdotal observation I made at a recent meeting I attended: the gender ratio of speakers did not appear to be the same as the gender ratio of the people who asked them questions. Part of this was due to a good mix/balance of age and gender in the talk lineup, and part of it because "gray beards" (with a known gender skew) often ask questions from the audience. This begat a slew of other questions: e.g. do women prefer to ask women questions? Do some subfields have better gender parity in speakers vs questioners? Does the questioners gender ratio match the AAS attendance as a whole?

Data is clearly needed to study this...

So I'm reaching out to you, dear colleague. I need 2 things:
1. Help me collect data on the genders of speakers versus questioners!
2. Help me spread the word so I can sample many different sessions/subfields!

The data I need is simple:
  • AAS Talk # (e.g. 123.45)
  • Gender of the speaker
  • Gender of the people who ask questions (a simple string of "MFMFMMFF" etc. is fine)

You can get me the data any way you like! Tweet it at me (@jradavenport), facebook msg me, email me (jrad - a t -, scribble it on a cocktail napkin, carrier pigeons.... or best of all use this handy webform (many thanks to Morgan Fouesneau for putting this together!)

I'll be posting more about this study of gender equality in scientific talks in the future, and will be shamelessly posting reminders/pleas for help throughout AAS223! If you have any thoughts on the project please let me know!

And please, if you like this idea (even if you're not attending AAS), share it online with your fellow astronomers! Thanks!

TwainBot: Early Lessons

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Today TwainBot hit the 100th tweet in Tom Sawyer. It's been about two weeks since the project was launched and I wanted to jot down a few thoughts/lessons learned so far. Some are obvious, some were expected, some I found subtle or surprising....

1. Uptime is difficult, especially for sloppy side projects in new languges. So far TwainBot has gone down twice and missed tweets (I caught it up manually). Once was due to coding errors (my bad) As every sysadmin or dev knows, you are garunteed to release code with bugs, and probably they will cause your system to crash in ways you didn't expect. TwainBot is very robust because it is very simple, and it saves things to dropbox so I can check on it in real time. Still I forgot to ensure that *every* tweet was correctly binned to 140char, and in a few cases (about a half percent of the tweets) my logic statements screwed up and put a few too many chars/words in. This causes the Twitter API to crap out and return an error (smart), but I didn't catch them in any kind of error trap. A programming 101 mistake (facepalm) that was trivial to correct.

2. Uptime is difficult, especially for the Pi. Of course, the Pi is not a server. Heat is an issue. A book is not a good case for a computer. The first tweet of day #2 TwainBot failed. I was home sleeping in on that Saturday morning. At first I thought I had screwed up my cron job and it wasn't scheduled properly, but I couldn't remotely access TwainBot for some reason. Instead it turned out I had cooked the Pi (hah). It overheated and shutdown (showing a red light on the board only). Cooling is a real issue, even for this mini computer. The book is now open, and so problem solved... for now. From reading about the Pi I expect more performance/uptime issues in the future, including possible HD failure. More redundancy is needed, and I'm updating my scripts to push/pull more from dropbox, allowing me to remotely intervene and push new code as needed as I'm traveling a lot next year.

3. A year is a long time. This is a long endeavor, and that's a commitment of time and brain power to run for me. For the audience there's a constant interaction needed to keep up as well. I failed to appreciate this point at first. Some people will follow and read a few tweets due to novelty/amusement. Some will think "Neat! But I'm already behind, screw this." A serious question remains: is this project interesting to anyone half way through? How could I make it more approachable? Is there a way to catch up (you know... besides reading the book) that I can implement? Twitter followers have been joining and leaving, at nearly a constant rate since day one. Time will tell if that means I'm net losing people due to lack of interest, or if interest can really only be fleeting for TwainBot, which brings me to my next point...

4. What is success? TwainBot is an art project, first and foremost. Still, what do I want at the end of the year? 10k followers? 10 followers? The struggle to maintain an audience I think is partially related to a lack of a clear end goal on my part. A lot of people have asked "why are you doing this?". The answer is because I wanted to create something. I didn't go in to this with a motivation beyond creating something to share with people. My end goal now is to talk to as many people as I can about it, to have conversations about what it means to read a book at a very different pace than normal.

5. Everyone (especially on the internet) is a critic. Some people hate destroying books physically. Some people hate "destroying" the art, by stuffing a classic in to a medium it was never designed for. This goes directly back to #4. I want to have these conversations, and every snarky (or positive) comment on the internet is a tiny conversation people are having about the project. Ultimately that's the goal, that people will think more about the intersection between literature and technology.

...and to read books, because they're awesome.

New Project: Mock Twain

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Today I'm excited to announce the public release of a new project I've been working on: Mock Twain! 

I started the associated Twitter account about a year ago to just mess around, sending occasional Twain-inspired quotes. A month ago I came up with the idea to tweet an entire book, and immediately using Twain as a source sprang to mind!

It's a simple enough idea, mixing a new-world digital medium with old-world art/content. Implementing it was also remarkably easy... and thus TwainBot was born! You can follow Mock Twain via Twitter (below) or check out the project's blog (new link on this site, to the right of my [ Press ] link)

Here is the executive summary:
  • TwainBot will tweet the entire text of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
  • The "bot" (running on a RaspberryPi inside a hollowed out Mark Twain book) sends about 10 tweets a day, via python/tweepy
  • It will take about a year to tweet the entire book

Fisheye Gamma Ray Photo

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Cross-post from Common Observer

A neat image came up on the fantastic Astronomy Picture of the Day that caught my eye. Here is a picture of the Milky Way as seen from Earth orbit... in gamma ray light! The image from the Fermi Space Telescope is of course in false-color, but is nonetheless striking!

What is so fun about this image is that it contains both the Milky Way AND the Earth! The ring around the edge of the "photo" is actually our planet, glowing in gamma-ray wavelengths. In essence what we're seeing is a kind of wide-angle (or fisheye) effect. Here is perhaps a more familiar (and more extreme) example of this wide-angle effect, in visible light, and with a more worldly setting...

Besides study the fascinating physics that goes in to producing gamma rays throughout the Milky Way's disk (and well beyond!) this image is a brilliant visual reminder to me that our home, Earth, truly belongs to the cosmos. Rock on, NASA.