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The Finkbeiner Test

We all know it: women are a minority among scientists. Journalists love to write about them, but stories of women scientists tend to focus on the fact that they are women to the detriment of the actual science they are doing. Media profiles often put female scientists on a pedestal, as in "OMG, she's juggling her research career with raising kids!"

Ann Finkbeiner, my colleague at Last Word On Nothing, has had enough. As she explained here yesterday, she plans to write about an impressive astronomer and “not once mention that she’s a woman.” It’s not that Finkbeiner objects to drawing attention to successful female scientists. She’s produced many of these stories herself. The issue, she says, is that when you emphasize a woman’s sex, you inevitably end up dismissing her science.

Finkbeiner, a freelance science writer, inspired Christie Aschwanden to come up with the Finkbeiner test, to judge stories about women in science, although it would work with other professional profiles as well.

To pass the Finkbeiner test, the story cannot mention

    The fact that she’s a woman
    Her husband’s job
    Her child care arrangements
    How she nurtures her underlings
    How she was taken aback by the competitiveness in her field
    How she’s such a role model for other women
    How she’s the “first woman to…”

In other words, writing about female scientists should be like writing about male scientists. Then the actual science can be the focus. In the essay at DoubleXScience, Aschwanden links to examples of stories that pass the test, and to those that don't. Link  -via Not Exactly Rocket Science

(Image credit: Flickr user International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center. The subject is Mexican agronomist Monica Mezzalama.)


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When articles are written that stop pointing out "The first black (man OR woman) to do blah blah blah.", it will be a sign we are moving forward.

Another giant step will be when divorce proceedings do not mention the gender of the petitioner or respondent, and that decisions on alimony, child custody and support are made without the judge knowing the gender of either party.
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I would think the gendered pronouns would be okay, and even proper. Finkbeiner just wants to see an end of females treated like a rare and precious occurrence in science.
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I assume "can't mention the fact that she's a woman" doesn't apply to the use of feminine pronouns. Mention, no. Passively acknowledge, yes?
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In an APA style reference list, you're supposed to provide initials instead of the first and middle names for authors. That's to help provide a gender neutral reading.
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