You’re also too pretty for math

I wasn’t going to raise this comment en blogge, but with Dr. Isis’ new post, it becomes more relevant. From Rick Fletcher on the “you’re too pretty” post:

It’s a major issue if your department won’t hire your or promote you because you are a woman. It’s no surprise that a retail clerk at a small shop in a downtown area is not the smoothest operator.

25 years ago it was a common response when I was introduced as a PhD chemist: “You don’t seem like a scientist.” Now it’s a common response when introduced, “Why are you single?” People say some dumb things. Not exactly the news.

But again, it’s an issue if the people who matter to your career hold you back because of your gender or appearance. Is that the case? No?

You can’t tweet the science but you can blog your indignation over getting hit on. Check your issues bag, it might be time for spring cleaning.

I already responded in the thread so I won’t rehash here, but via Isis comes this lovely reminder of why it’s more than just the people who hold my career back who matter–it’s an all-too-pervasive attitude, and it’s not just about me. Isis caught this screenshot from the store Forever21 (a store that I think we have in our mall here; I’ll have to see if they carry this particular product):

Yes, for less than $4, you too can tell the girls in your life that they’re too attractive for math. As Dr. Isis notes:

This is the kind of nonsense that frightens me. Washed up old fucks like Harvey Mansfield don’t worry me. I worry more about the small messages that pervade popular culture. The messages that we have to defend our girls against when we take them to the mall or the market.

Things like this make me realize just how far we have to go.

Bingo. *This* is why comments like that matter and aren’t just some kind of harmless flirty pick-up line, or just my “issues” that I need to “spring clean.” It affects all of us, and we all need to be aware of it and respond, rather than sweep it under the rug and dismiss it.

Epidemiological studies–why don’t people participate?

Maryn McKenna was awesome enough to take some time out of her vacation to blog about our recent ST398 paper, finding “livestock-associated” S. aureus in a daycare worker. She raised one question I didn’t really address previously, regarding our participation by kids and workers at the facility (eight kids out of 168, and 24 out of 60 staff members).

(Staph screening is very non-invasive, by the way; it effectively involves twirling a long-handled Q-tip inside the front of your nostrils. Kinda makes you wonder why families would not have wanted to participate. On the other hand, since Iowa is the pig-growing capital of the U.S., they may have been motivated not to want to know.)

I thought I’d chat a bit about enrollment for this project, since getting people to participate is one of the most difficult parts of these types of studies. First, there really wasn’t any mention of MRSA and swine for this particular study, so I doubt protecting the pig industry was high on anyone’s list for reasons not to participate. However, anytime we do these type of studies, we’re relying on the generosity of individuals in the community–particularly when we didn’t really have participation incentives, as was the case in this project, which was done on a shoestring budget. (We passed out mini hand sanitizer bottles for adults, and had some little toys for the children).

We ran into several challenges for the research which limited our ability to enroll children. Along with a swab, we also had a questionnaire for parents and employees to fill out (as well as a third questionnaire for the director of the facility). For parents and employees, we asked about exposures: did they spend time in hospitals, around animals, at the gym? Had they recently had an infection? etc. For the directors, we asked about cleaning routines at the facility, as well as facility size (number of children and employees). So it wasn’t only the swabs, but also a decent amount of paperwork to fill out when you include the informed consent forms. We also had to do all of this at the facility; because of the way we were sampling, parents didn’t have a chance to take the questionnaire home to fill it out and then return it. So only parents (and employees) who had some spare time during either child drop-off or pick-up really had the chance to participate.

This particular study also started in roughly March 2009–right around the same time as the emergence of novel H1N1. There was a lot of news about the swabs that were taken to test for flu, which are more invasive than regular Staph swabs, so perhaps many potential participants had the mistaken assumption that the swab collection would be more uncomfortable than it really is. (When we were able to swab the child participants, most of them giggled and said that the swab tickled).

Finally, I should note that this facility was one of the larger ones we sampled, and to do this, my grad student returned several times during the day to try and catch parents during common drop-off/pick-up times (and employees who worked different shifts). However, even with this, we certainly missed a number of children and employees, such as those who were part-time and simply didn’t attend or work the day that we were there. We did have higher participation rates at some of the other facilities.

So, I think timing and misinformation–rather than any kind of fear of finding out things they might not want to know–led to our lower participation rate at this facility.