Phil Plait, supporting Mayim Bialik to promote science is like supporting Bill Cosby to promote education


I love, love, love Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy. I’m especially fond of his full throated condemnation of anti-vaxx pseudoscience.

And I’m deeply sympathetic to the position he’s found himself in. I, too, have written about specific issues and found myself attacked for a tangent that had little to do with the main point. Unfortunately, I can’t agree with his defense of his error in promoting Mayim Bialik as an actress with a passion for science. Bialik, is a fierce proponent of attachment parenting, and especially its pseudoscience offshoots. She is a leading avatar for homebirth, anti-vaxx and homeopathy. Yes, she does have a PhD in neuroscience and she plays a scientist on TV, but that makes her more dangerous not less.

What did Plait do?

A while back I was skimming my Twitter stream, and saw .. a fun graphic created by Elise Andrew of I F’ing Love Science …

The picture is titled “Actresses with a passion for science” and shows five such women: Hedy Lamarr, Lisa Kudrow, Mayim Bialik, Natalie Portman, and Danica McKellar. I know how important it is to have good role models for kids, and how girls need more support in getting into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields. Like it or not, actors and other famous people bear weight, so showing famous actresses who love STEM in my opinion is a pretty good thing.

So I retweeted the picture, adding “Love this” to it.

Then things got interesting.

Within minutes I started seeing responses about Dr. Bialik. Yes, “doctor”; she has a PhD in neuroscience. The thing is, she also holds a number of beliefs with which I and many others disagree, some of them very strongly. For example, she’s a spokesperson for a group called Holistic Moms—they support homeopathy, a provably worthless and arguably dangerous bit of “alternative medicine”. They are also strongly anti-vaccination, and Bialik herself supports anti-vaxxers (she has stated she has not vaccinated her own children, a position I am strongly opposed to).

I knew all this when I retweeted the picture. I’ll admit, I hesitated before doing so, specifically because of this. Is promoting this picture also promoting anti-science beliefs? Looking at the responses on Twitter, a lot of people think so. I see their point, but I also don’t think this is quite so black-and-white.

Why not?

Clearly, she can be a positive role model for science. However, we must have a care. The same people who might be inspired by her pro-science message might look into her more and find that she holds some less-supported beliefs, some that are anti-science.

So is using her in that montage of pictures a good thing or a bad thing? I would argue it’s neither, but the good outweighs the bad. The facts are that she is a scientist, she is an actress, and the picture was about actresses who are scientists. In point of fact, celebrities can be influential, and it’s a good thing that people see science supported by celebrity.

I disagree, but that’s a matter of opinion.

Here, though, is where Plait went off the rails:

But of course we should also be careful not to put celebrities on too high a pedestal. Yes, Bialik has beliefs unsupported by science. But so does everyone…

I doubt that claim is even true, but that’s not the worst part. Many celebrities may have beliefs unsupported by science, but, in my view, they cross a very bright line when they profit from promoting pseudoscience. Simply put, Mayim Bialik shills for Big Placebo. She’s very far over that bright line.

When anyone (especially a celebrity) profits from promoting pseudoscience, the bad emphatically outweighs the good.

Plait claims:

Bialik has done a lot to raise awareness of science and women’s contributions to it. Celebrating her (and the other four actresses) for that is great, and that was the sole purpose of the picture, and it’s appropriate to praise her there.

No one could be more committed to women in science than I am, but women aren’t in such desperate straits that we should be reduced to praising pseudoscience shills. Moreover, including a shill like Bialik insults the intelligence of young women thinking about careers in science. If you wouldn’t use Dr. Oz, another celebrity shill for Big Placebo, to promote a career in medicine, you shouldn’t be using Mayim Bialik to promote women’s careers in science. The graphic would have been equally powerful, indeed more powerful, if Bialik had been left out.

Plait concludes:

That’s what I meant about this not being black-and-white. We’re all shades of grey, and if you really only want to praise someone who is absolutely the perfect icon of science in every way, well, good luck finding them. You’ll be looking a long time.

As for me, I will continue to support science the best I can, and also support women in science. That’s the bigger picture here, and one we should all bear in mind.

But supporting a woman who shills for Big Placebo is not supporting women in science. It’s like saying its still okay to support Bill Cosby as a role model for young men because he’s a celebrity who got a PhD in education.

This is not about supporting science. This is about appropriate role models, and Mayim Bialik is not an appropriate role model for women in science. To insist that she is demeans both science and women.

120 Responses to “Phil Plait, supporting Mayim Bialik to promote science is like supporting Bill Cosby to promote education”

  1. Sadlady
    December 30, 2014 at 11:47 am #

    Dr laura does the same thing. She has a doctorate but not in the the thing she is talking about on the radio. She has a masters degree in in that. Her doctorate is basically for PE

    • The Bofa on the Sofa
      December 23, 2014 at 10:26 am #

      His crap about not realizing that she would use her PhD to bolster her anti-vax views just shows that he hasn’t paid any attention. All he had to do is look at the cover of her book, which has “PhD” listed prominently, despite being a topic that has nothing to do with her PhD.

      But that’s just parenting, and it’s women-stuff-that-guys-don’t-care-about so how can you expect him to know?

    • Maria
      December 23, 2014 at 11:33 am #

      I find it interesting that he only refers to two male critics while I am sure you are not the only female critic to have pointed out the error in his logic. Sort of reinforces the “it’s a man’s world” problem with science, doesn’t it. As if the critique by two male scientists holds more sway.

      • MLE
        December 23, 2014 at 4:11 pm #

        Yes, that annoyed me. Who better to critique female role models than oh I don’t know, WOMEN?

  2. Valerie
    December 22, 2014 at 6:41 pm #

    Ug. I don’t think girls need empty encouragement in the form of celebrity role models. Maybe we could put our efforts elsewhere, such as improving education in science and math. Or maybe we could find out why more women opt out of STEM and fix the working conditions.

    Also, it seems to me that we tell girls “you can be anything you want to be… as long as the same percentage of you as your male peers decide they like math and science!” Which is a bit contradictory. I guess I’m more in favor of enabling girls and women in STEM rather than telling them who they should want to be like and what they should want to do.

    • KarenJJ
      December 22, 2014 at 6:50 pm #

      “Or maybe we could find out why more women opt out of STEM and fix the working conditions.”
      I think this is a big one. I very rarely come across another woman in my field that is still working after having kids and from those I graduated with many have moved into the education side of things and away from the technical.

    • Box of Salt
      December 22, 2014 at 7:57 pm #

      Valerie, “I don’t think girls need empty encouragement in the form of celebrity role models”

      We need a female Neil deGrasse Tyson.

      Fixing working conditions will require fixing everyone’s attitudes towards gender roles, and work-family balance – which has the added bonus of benefiting everyone, not just women in STEM.

      • Valerie
        December 22, 2014 at 10:17 pm #

        By “celebrity” I meant fame from something besides promoting or doing STEM- I think it would be beneficial if we had more celebrities like Neil deGrasse Tyson. I think what makes him so great is how well he engages the public in questions of science- to me, this has more value than just existing at the intersection of “celebrity” and “STEM background.”

        Also, I think we agree that the problems are systemic, and not just in STEM. My experience is with academia, but I suppose the issues I’ve seen are universal, or at least apply to any career path that becomes a rat race during the years women are able to start a family. I just find it annoying that there is a drive to encourage more girls to get into science, but we don’t pay much attention to what happens to them once they get there.

        • Box of Salt
          December 22, 2014 at 11:03 pm #

          I think we agree on both counts. 🙂

        • sdsures
          December 23, 2014 at 11:57 am #

          Why can’t we just benefit from Neil deGrasse Tyson’s brilliance as is? Why does a role model for women in science need to be a woman?

  3. Lena
    December 22, 2014 at 8:25 am #

    Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t Bialik the one who’s younger son wasn’t sitting up at 1 year old and she refused to see anyone about it because some kids just develop at their own pace? Even if not, just reading a few posts on her blog tells you a lot about her and how she views the world and her place in it…admirable promoter of science she’s not.

    • Ash
      December 22, 2014 at 11:28 am #

      My boys were physically very cautious, shunning jumping, running, and
      even climbing long after their peers mastered them; and my younger son
      did not roll over unassisted until, wait for it: the day he turned one.
      He apparently has a weak set of core muscles that he now compensates
      for beautifully, without anyone noticing but me and my husband”

      • Lena
        December 22, 2014 at 1:17 pm #

        He didn’t ROLL OVER until 1?! Christ. I don’t know if she’s negligent or just lying. I wouldn’t put it past her to make something like that up just so she could have a “Doctors don’t know everything/mommy intuition is the best” story to tell.

        If it IS true: Mayim? Everyone notices, it’s just that one says anything either because they’re polite or you’re surrounded by people who know better than to try to make you see reason.

        • lawyer jane
          December 22, 2014 at 1:49 pm #

          Actually, my son did not roll over until around 10-11 months. I didn’t worry too much about it because it was otherwise clear that he was progressing physically albeit on the lower end of the curve. The rolling over thing was the only one that he was totally off the curve, but since he was crawling, pulling up, sitting up, and everything else, my doc was not worried. He’s just a cautious kid on the lower end of the physicality spectrum. I definitely am open to getting him some kind of classes or therapy to make sure that being cautious/clumsy does not interfere with his play with peers (his dad remembers being scared of other kid’s rambunctious play, which lead to social problems). But there was no EMERGENCY DELAY EVALUATION STAT needed just because he wasn’t rolling over.

          • Lena
            December 22, 2014 at 2:38 pm #

            Huh, I wouldn’t have thought that he’d be able to sit up, crawl, etc. if he couldn’t roll over. I assumed that that was the case with Bialik’s son–that he was doing none of those things since he still hadn’t rolled over.

            Thanks for the information.

          • Amazed
            December 22, 2014 at 2:41 pm #

            I gather that WAS the case of Bialik’s son since she mentions it after explaining that her other kids were very cautious physically. Plus, this kid DOES have a weak set of core muscles which, by the sound of her writing, didn’t bother her at all. I’d think this played a role in everything about his movements being delayed.

      • Young CC Prof
        December 22, 2014 at 1:36 pm #

        Because letting him learn to “compensate” on his own is obviously better than getting him in physical therapy as soon as delays become obvious.

      • Amazed
        December 22, 2014 at 1:44 pm #

        Well, of course: with baby and mommy joined at the hip (literally: poor baby is glued to mommy’s marvelous hip ’cause mommy is attached), it makes sense for baby to know that mommy doesn’t really want them to unglue. Of course they’d be physically cautious!

        It’s like buying your baby a jungle of jungle animals: lovely toys if you showed baby how to play with them. Not so if you leave them on baby’s bed and tuck baby between them.

      • araikwao
        December 22, 2014 at 4:24 pm #

        So he’s hypotonic, probably, which can be benign, or not so much. That’s kinda what professionals are for – to work out which, and to help with the problem in the meantime.

        • Mishimoo
          December 22, 2014 at 4:55 pm #

          My daughters are mildly hypotonic, which concerned their teachers but not their doctor as it was somewhat expected – there’s a fair chance that they’ve inherited my joint disorder, which is already noted in their records so that obtaining a diagnosis will be easier if they show more symptoms. Since they’re developing well with their gross/fine motor skills, aren’t dislocating/subluxing anything (yet), and aren’t in pain, it’s not an issue. They’re busy albeit slightly clumsy kids, and seem to get better as they get older. The current opinion is to avoid gymnastics/ballet, and let them be kids.

    • Sarah
      December 23, 2014 at 3:42 am #

      Yes. She is awful.

  4. Red Ear Reviewer
    December 21, 2014 at 4:39 pm #

    Plait apparently wandered unprepared into the arena of child development and attachment pseudoscience.

    Bialik, having written a book about Attachment Parenting (AP), is obviously a strong proponent of this unvalidated parenting method. While its practices seem largely benign, some of its beliefs are not.

    AP has adopted some unconventional beliefs about child development and parenting from “Attachment Therapy,” a brutal therapy denounced by all national mental health professional orgs.

    Some of these unconventional beliefs include:

    — Attachment of a child to its parents begins very early, i.e. at birth or earlier.

    — Attachment forms because of breastfeeding and attentive care (i.e. the “Attachment Cycle”) .

    — An unrecognized, wildly-inclusive diagnosis called “Attachment Disorder” (which can only be treated by Attachment Therapists).

    These beliefs have found their way into child welfare and adoption policies with wide spread and disastrous effects. And surely such beliefs among people who practice AP have played a part in delivering who knows how many children into the hands of abusive Attachment Therapists.

    • KarenJJ
      December 21, 2014 at 5:44 pm #

      A darkness behind the eyes when raging”

      Parenting pseudo-science is the pits..

    • Guest
      December 21, 2014 at 5:57 pm #

      “Can’t float in water”?
      WT actual F?
      Anybody else reminded of this:

    • Mishimoo
      December 21, 2014 at 6:32 pm #

      “Never get sick” as a symptom?
      It also looks like a laundry list of symptoms that you would find in a kid that has been or is being abused…except for the floating one, that’s just weird.

      • An Actual Attorney
        December 21, 2014 at 9:40 pm #

        Or my kid on any given day.

    • Dr Kitty
      December 21, 2014 at 7:11 pm #

      Children who truly have issues because of poor attachment are so obviously disordered that any layman could diagnose it.
      The kids who were adopted after being horrifically neglected in Romanian orphanages, btw, 50% of those kids are FINE.

      Kids are resilient. Even terribly neglected kids can be
      OK. No, your ordinarily brought up child is not a monster.,
      If you have concerns that your child meets the criteria for attachment disorder. You should definitely see a specialist.
      It is more likely that your child suffers from ADHD, ASD or another disorder.
      That’s ok, that is who they are.

      • December 22, 2014 at 2:18 am #

        In fact, my son, who does have ADHD, seemed like a perfectly normal, but slightly scatterbrained, active boy — until it became obvious that some other factors were at play. Today, at 34, like Sir Richard Branson, he’s a successful businessman [although nowhere near Branson’s level ] for largely the same reasons that caused him to have a rocky school career — he likes to say that’s because “he thinks outside the box” but I think it is because he ranges from subject to subject because of his short attention span.

    • December 21, 2014 at 10:24 pm #

      Wow. The majority of that list doesn’t seem pathological at all. And the multiple statement of failure to whatever *on the parents terms* is damn alarming. Sounds like “failure to be just like mommy* envisioned her child” disorder.

      *And daddy, I suppose, but AP is so mother-focused.

      • Red Ear Reviewer
        December 22, 2014 at 4:34 pm #

        Yes, it’s important to note that this crazy list doesn’t even take into account the age of the child. A 2 year old with a temper tantrum is different from a 15 year old.

    • Elizabeth A
      December 21, 2014 at 11:28 pm #

      That is such dangerous bullshit.

      Our family clearly wavers on the threshold of quite terrible attachment disorder. The children fantasize grandiosely, and have not mastered floating, despite swimming lessons. Other symptoms (tantrums, sneakiness, bossiness, charm) come and go.

      But, silly me, I went along thinking I was dealing with children, and we would have a variety of these issues to a greater or lesser extent until they reached the age of reason.

      Except the floating. The whole family is terrible at floating.

    • Poogles
      December 22, 2014 at 4:22 pm #

      Wow, I look at that list of “symptoms” and I am immediately struck by how many of those are the same traits of an “indigo child” – so, on one hand you have some of the AP/Natural Parenting-types claiming their children’s behavior means they are the next step of human evolution here to guide us into a new era and on the hand you have some of the AP/Natural Parenting-types claiming that some of those same behaviours mean their children have an attachment disorder and needs dangerous therapy. Oy.

  5. Jean Mercer
    December 21, 2014 at 3:23 pm #

    You’d think Linus Pauling could be a role model for boys– but look at all the nonsense he espoused. A specific gender plus a degree in science does not a role model make.

  6. The Bofa on the Sofa
    December 21, 2014 at 10:14 am #

    As I think about it, how can anyone praise Bailick for her “passion for science” when it involves the acceptance of such blatant pseudoscience?

    It’s like praising Ken Ham for his “passion” for science. Yeah, he’s a creationist and everything he believes is non-scientific, but it’s passion, and it’s a scientific topic! Heck, there are creationists with legitimate PhDs in unrelated topics all over. That doesn’t make them role models for science in the least.

    • Box of Salt
      December 21, 2014 at 3:19 pm #

      Bofa, who’s Bailick?

      Do you dislike Bialik so much you refuse to spell her name correctly (in two separate posts now)?

      • Siri
        December 22, 2014 at 3:38 pm #

        Spelling isn’t his bailiwick.

      • The Bofa on the Sofa
        December 23, 2014 at 10:17 am #

        Is that the best you got?

        • Box of Salt
          December 23, 2014 at 2:41 pm #

          criticism works better if you spell your target’s name correctly. That is all.

      • sdsures
        December 23, 2014 at 12:03 pm #

        Dude, maybe he’s not got the time or patience to care.

  7. Guest
    December 21, 2014 at 4:22 am #

    A bit OT, but is that Bialik book cover for real? It’s really touched a nerve with me. Kids obviously coached to look adoringly at mum while mum smiles winsomely at the camera, head slightly on one side? “It’s all about me, everybody, me and how brilliantly I parent. My kids are the supporting role in my life, look how good they make me look.”

    Says it all. I threw up in my mouth a little bit.

    • fiftyfifty1
      December 21, 2014 at 3:03 pm #

      No you fool, they were coached to look at their mother so that their HAIR could be displayed to best effect.

    • Dr Kitty
      December 21, 2014 at 4:01 pm #

      Meanwhile, my thought was that neither child has eye contact with either the photographer or their mother…

  8. KarenJJ
    December 21, 2014 at 3:21 am #

    Phil Plait was very supportive of the McCaffrey’s when their daughter, Dana, died of Whooping Cough when she was 6 weeks old. My own daughter was a few weeks older than Dana when she died. The McCaffrey’s were instrumental in getting free vaccines available for caregivers and parents in our state in Australia as well as bringing attention to the influence of Anti-Vaccination groups in Australia.

    Why he would now support a notorious “parenting expert” and anti-vaxxer, baffles me. I hope he retracts his support.

  9. December 21, 2014 at 12:45 am #

    I absolutely do not pay attention to anything celebrities say unless they are actors–talking about acting.

    It’s amazing how badly educated most actors really are. It seems that many are afraid to know too much because they think it interferes with their ability to assume any role as written in a script.

    • Cobalt
      December 21, 2014 at 1:16 am #

      There are certainly enough script writing errors on any mildly specialized topic to make movies/TV difficult for anyone with any training on the topic.

      • Who?
        December 21, 2014 at 2:02 am #

        It’s true for the legal profession-the programs make it look like slim well groomed people being smart around each other and winning all the time, never worrying about billable hours or winning clients or what happened to that deadly file no one could quite bring to a close.

        Nothing like real life there. Mostly not slim or well groomed (too busy working all the time); usually smart but too preoccupied with billable hours etc for all the witty repartee. And everyone has a loss sometimes.

        It’s way more Kafka than The Good Wife.

      • demodocus' spouse
        December 21, 2014 at 2:27 pm #

        Even in education, all those movies about some teacher making a huge difference in a class by bringing new ideas and enthusiasm. Why didn’t we think of that earlier? The rate of new teacher burnout is huge. As in half are doing something else in 5 years. Yet we all go into teaching with passion, enthusiasm, and full of new ideas from university.
        People think they know everything about teaching, because they went to school. How hard can it be? Teaching is not on the level of being a doctor, of course, but it isn’t just standing there reciting b.s. to students busily scribbling notes they’ll have forgotten by fall.

        • Young CC Prof
          December 21, 2014 at 8:27 pm #

          I freaking hate “Stand and Deliver.” Jaime Escalante was a very real teacher, with unbelievable successes, but if he’d tried to reform math education the way that guy in the movie went about it, he wouldn’t have gotten anywhere.

  10. December 20, 2014 at 7:07 pm #

    As a few people have pointed out, Phil is remarkably judicious about when “the good outweighs the bad”, and it does seem like gender is a bit tipping point for him.

    Now, there are not a lot of famous women in pop-culture terms who are involved in Science, so the pickin’s can be a bit slim, but they are not so slim that a woman who literally knows better is promulgating multiple anti-science lifestyles and viewpoints had to be included in that graphic or that Phil had to basically say “yeah, I know she’s more anti-science in real life than not, but she’s really famous and on a show a lot of people love, so let’s just ignore her anti-science stuff and pretend it’s all okay because hey ladies, you need all the help you can get.”

    She is not a good role model for women in science.


  11. Allie P
    December 20, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

    How are Natalie Portman and Lisa Kudrow scientists again? I’m down with Danica and Hedy, of course… I own one of Danica’s math books and it’s great fun.

    • Robert Vary
      December 20, 2014 at 2:56 pm #

      Natalie Portman has a degree in psychology from Harvard and has co-authored two papers (one in high school, and one in college) that were published in scientific journals. Lisa Kudrow is the daughter of a doctor/headache specialist, has a biology degree from Vassar, and worked on her father’s staff for eight years researching headaches (cluster headaches, specifically) before going into acting.

      They may not have PhDs, but I think it’s fair to say they both have a very strong interest in science.

      • Dr Jay
        December 22, 2014 at 11:17 am #

        A degree in psychology and *two* papers in 8 years? That wouldn’t even get you a PhD by publication here. I think we could stand to raise the bar a little. I’m sure she’s a nice girl and all, but “scientist” is a bit of a stretch….

        • Robert Vary
          December 22, 2014 at 2:08 pm #

          No one said she was a professional scientist, or that she’d earned a PhD. She’s a professional actor, and has been since she was a kid. How many professional actors get any scientific papers published during their acting careers? As I said, I think that at least gets her to count as an “Actress With a Passion for Science,” which is what we was being discussed.

          • Roadstergal
            December 23, 2014 at 10:58 am #

            I guess that gets at the part of the IFLS bit that bugged me. Why ‘actresses with a passion for science’? Why not ‘five female scientists you might not have heard of,’ or something like that, that emphasizes women who are primarily scientists?

          • Robert Vary
            December 23, 2014 at 11:38 am #

            Good question! Those would definitely be important and useful posts to make. I would argue, though, that there’s also value in showing that science and the arts are not an either/or thing. Speaking as someone who majored in a hard science and has spent his entire professional career in science education but also have been active in school and later community theater at the same time, I’ve run into way too many people that automatically go “Oh, I can’t understand any of that. I’m an arts person.” And while it is of course true that not everyone is well-suited to a strong interest in science, too many people buy into the false right/left brain dichotomy. Showing well-known artists (in this case, actors) who also love science helps dispel those stereotypes. This is especially important for young women, as they are all too often pushed by society, implicitly and explicitly, towards arts and the humanities and away from science. This shows you can do both.

            Now, of course, this shouldn’t be the only angle of attack. This should be in addition to, as you say, “Female scientists sou might not have heard of,” or “Scientists who are also artists,” or “Historical female scientists (other than Marie Curie),” or “Artists who use science in their work,” etc.

            Short response: why not both?

          • demodocus' spouse
            December 23, 2014 at 11:46 am #

            And then there’s the turn around, scientists who’re also in the arts. My husband sings with a tenor rocket scientist, an alto nurse, a soprano MD and a smattering of engineers (Not that these folks are especially prominent, they’re just the ones we know personally)

          • Robert Vary
            December 23, 2014 at 12:18 pm #

            Precisely! There are a TON of science people, both male and female, who are also great artists. Even if, professionally, you are one or the other, there’s no reason you can’t love both the arts and the sciences.

          • KarenJJ
            December 30, 2014 at 7:19 pm #

            That reminds me of one of my clients who either took a contract singing opera or a contract doing electrical engineering, depending on what was going on at the time. I adored getting phone calls from him. Even just talking to him over the phone about technical matters, his voice was sublime.

          • Roadstergal
            December 23, 2014 at 11:53 am #

            I do see your point, and it’s a good one – but on the other hand, I still think it does push the stereotype that women aren’t primarily scientists. You can have a ‘passion for science,’ but we know you’re primarily artsy types, ladies, amirite?

            Why can’t we have male scientists promoting the idea that the arts are not incompatible with science?

          • Robert Vary
            December 23, 2014 at 12:16 pm #

            Oh, again, I totally agree. That’s why I think the multi-pronged approach is best (I just didn’t want to go too overboard with possibilities in my last paragraph.) We absolutely should also talk about male scientists who are also artists and male artists who are also into science, though in this case I would want to focus on the underrepresented female role models in science, both as scientists in general and as lying somewhere within the arts/science spectrum.

    • Sarah
      December 20, 2014 at 4:31 pm #

      Kudrow did spend the better part of a decade working in scientific research, I think she qualifies.

  12. Gretta
    December 20, 2014 at 11:20 am #

    I agree… I mean COME ON. He couldn’t find ANY other person to serve as a female STEM role model? MUST we use Mayim freakin’ Bialik??

    • Box of Salt
      December 20, 2014 at 12:41 pm #

      Gretta “He couldn’t find ANY other person to serve as a female STEM role model”

      To be clear – Phil Plait didn’t select them. Elise Andrew did. Click on Dr Amy’s link at the beginning of the post to Plait’s post – he links the Facebook pages with the original material).

      The problem with Plait is that he endorsed the graphic in spite of the fact that he is well aware that Bialik promotes the same pseudoscience he opposes.

  13. December 19, 2014 at 7:56 pm #

    I agree with Cherry ( in her post about this: “Many of us regularly criticize Dr. Oz. He’s profited from promoting quackery. He also has a background in Cardiothoracic Surgery and has done good work helping others. Much of the advice he gives on his television show is based on real medicine and helpful, but because he’s done so much harm in introducing pseudoscience to the public, we don’t include him in lists of people who inspire others to get into the medical field. He doesn’t just have a few bad ideas, it’s many. Same with Mayim Bialik. Why do we say the good outweighs the bad with her but not others like Dr. Oz?”

    Dare I say Phil is hesitant to criticize women in general? Some fairly deserve it, yet he gives them a pass or praises them. That’s simply not helpful.

  14. fiftyfifty1
    December 19, 2014 at 7:03 pm #

    “Many celebrities may have beliefs unsupported by science, but, in my view, they cross a very bright line when they profit from promoting pseudoscience.”

    yes, but her profiting from her promotion of pseudoscience is not the only reason Bialik’s example is especially egregious:

    -it’s not just one area of pseudoscience, it’s multiple areas (anti-vax, homeopathy, homebirth, AP)
    -She intentionally uses her degree to give weight to her beliefs (e.g. backs up her pseudoscience claims about AP and child brain development by saying she has a PhD in neuroscience.
    -Her pseudoscience is especially anti-feminist with disproportionate harm to women (NCB, lactivism, AP) so it’s especially hard to see her held up as a role model for women.

  15. mem_somerville
    December 19, 2014 at 4:56 pm #

    Just recently Slate went all out to deny James Watson the oxygen of using his celebrity to make absurd claims. In fact, the Watson story is a good example of the scientific community denying cred for stupid beliefs–it has obviously worked. And his science accomplishments were far superior to Bialik’s. It pains me to have to diss him, but it’s the right thing to do.

    Plait just gave this woman the floor, because she’s a woman. As a woman in STEM, this doesn’t help me in any way.

    • Sarah
      December 20, 2014 at 5:50 am #

      Hell, I’m a woman not in STEM and it doesn’t help me at all, either.

  16. fiftyfifty1
    December 19, 2014 at 4:28 pm #

    “supporting Mayim Bialik to promote science is like supporting Bill Cosby to promote education”
    Or more to the point: supporting Mayim Bialik to promote science *to women* is like supporting Bill Cosby to promote education to *black people*.
    The unspoken assumption is that women should be grateful to have Bialik as a role model because beggars can’t be choosers and that black people should be grateful to have Cosby as a role model for the same reason. Nope, I’m sorry. Beggars CAN be choosers. It’s an insult to us to stoop that low.

    • Dr Kitty
      December 19, 2014 at 4:43 pm #

      So well said.
      We’re not so desperate that we’ll claim all comers.
      I don’t want Bialik as a role model for women in STEM any more than I want Wakefield as a role model for how to get your medical research published.

    • mostlyclueless
      December 20, 2014 at 11:52 am #

      Regarding your last two lines, I would argue that as a woman in science I’m far from being a beggar — I have many excellent female role models and mentors!

  17. Dr Kitty
    December 19, 2014 at 4:24 pm #

    Here is why Dr Bialik is not a good role model.
    Instead of pursuing her field of research (which I understand is about appetite in Prader-Willi Syndrome), she went back to acting ( I assume for the $$$).
    And then she traded off her PhD to make her book about AP and all her CAM and anti-vaxx advocacy seem more credible and make more $$$.

    That’s not the female STEM role model I want for my daughter, thanks.

    Maggie Aderin-Pocock
    Sallie Davies
    Elspeth Garman
    Sandy Knapp
    Anne Glover
    Those are role models.

    All the fabulous people I listen to on the BBC Podcast “The Life Scientific”, who describe their absolute passion for their chosen field and the joy they get from advancing knowledge and understanding. Those are the people I want my daughter to aspire to be like.

    The point, surely, for our daughters is not “you can be a successful Hollywood actress and still be into science” it should be “you can be into science and be the best in the world in your field and happy and fulfilled in a job you love!”

    Phil Plait totally missed the point.
    The world doesn’t need more little girls who think STEM is a cool hobby to have when you’re an actress or a pop star, the world needs more little girls who think STEM is the pathway to the career of their dreams.

    If you have access to BBC podcasts, I thoroughly recommend this.

  18. just me
    December 19, 2014 at 3:34 pm #

    I don’t get it. How could anyone with her training not know that homeo is bs? I mean, she must have had *some* chemistry along the way. Idiocy among the educated is far more alarming to me than that amongst every day people. No excuse.

  19. Amy Tuteur, MD
    December 19, 2014 at 3:18 pm #

    A tweet from Phil Plait:

  20. Lombardi
    December 19, 2014 at 3:16 pm #

    He never hesitated because he wasn’t aware of her background in the anti vacc, homeopathy, AP, and Natural Mothering movements. I have never seen a blog post of his evaluating a parenting book. I am guessing he has never taken a close look at the natural parenting advice industry and had no idea of her preeminence in it. Now, instead of of saying “Opps I screwed up I didn’t know” he is back-peddling and excuses making. Well I am disappointed.

    • Poogles
      December 19, 2014 at 7:48 pm #

      “He never hesitated because he wasn’t aware of her background in the anti vacc, homeopathy, AP, and Natural Mothering movements.”

      According to Phil, he WAS/IS aware of her background in those areas (quoted above):
      “For example, she’s a spokesperson for a group called Holistic Moms—they support homeopathy, a provably worthless and arguably dangerous bit of “alternative medicine”. They are also strongly anti-vaccination, and Bialik herself supports anti-vaxxers (she has stated she has not vaccinated her own children, a position I am strongly opposed to).

      I knew all this when I retweeted the picture. I’ll admit, I hesitated before doing so, specifically because of this.”

      • Lombardi
        December 20, 2014 at 9:37 pm #

        Yes, he said that after the Twitter spear exploded with complaints. I am saying he lied in the his response.

        • Box of Salt
          December 21, 2014 at 3:17 pm #

          Lombardi “I am saying he lied in the his response”

          That just makes it worse. He could have gone the “mea culpa” route, and retracted his support of the graphic, and found other women in science to support instead.

  21. Roadstergal
    December 19, 2014 at 2:16 pm #


    • Trixie
      December 19, 2014 at 3:00 pm #

      I’m a Vera Rubin fangirl.

      • Roadstergal
        December 19, 2014 at 3:01 pm #

        As a biologist and a fan of genetic modification, I admire Barbara McClintock.

    • Young CC Prof
      December 19, 2014 at 4:25 pm #

      There is an xkcd for everything.

    • Amy
      December 19, 2014 at 7:40 pm #

      OMG, Emmy Noether is one of my all-time favorites. As a math teacher, she’s one of the women I always mention– along with Ada Lovelace and Maria Agnesi.

  22. Box of Salt
    December 19, 2014 at 1:58 pm #

    I too disagree with Plait “So is using her in that montage of pictures a good thing or a bad thing? I would argue it’s neither, but the good outweighs the bad.”

    In Bialik’s case, the bad outweighs the good.

    I also can’t quite follow the logic in promoting “famous actresses who love STEM” as role models for kids, especially girls. These women have (or had, in Lamarr’s case) careers in acting, not in science or engineering.

  23. Mel
    December 19, 2014 at 1:39 pm #

    Phil, come on, man.

    We’ve got LOTS of women in the biological sciences. We have LOTS of women in the physical sciences, too.

    Is there still work to be done? Of course, but there are hundreds of better role models than Bialik.

    Plus, on a basic level, this is demeaning to kids in general. I got my love of science from my great-uncle Tom, an elderly gruff skeptical pathologist who wore either khaki or olive green work clothes and picked up roadkill if it was fresh to cook for dinner. He also helped me identify my first mushroom…and I wanted to know as much about plants as he did. And so a plant ecologist/educator was born….

  24. December 19, 2014 at 1:11 pm #

    With that particular set of pictures you could have played a famous Sesame Street game: which of these things is not like the others? Further – it is not uncommon for scientists (or others) to hold inconsistent sets of beliefs and demanding that a person give up certain beliefs in order to persue STEM is unrealistic. Mayim might hold her beliefs with respect to parenting as a direct result of childhood indoctrination – in which case, they may be more similar to having a religion or a faith. The line she steps over is in failing to recognize or be transparent about the nature of those beliefs. Given that there are entire communities that are built up around these belief systems – perhaps applying the lens of religion is helpful in better understanding their existence and those who practice those beliefs.

    • fiftyfifty1
      December 19, 2014 at 4:20 pm #

      Although she herself doesn’t see it religion. She sees it as neuroscience.

  25. The Bofa on the Sofa
    December 19, 2014 at 12:58 pm #

    Jeez, even Orac went off on Bailick (after I told him about her). Homeopathic, anti-vax, complete loon who is trying to ride her fame and her neuro PhD to be an authority on bullshit. And this is what Phil thinks is a good scientific role model for women?

    She’s bad news. I have NO respect for her at all.

  26. Ellen Mary
    December 19, 2014 at 12:45 pm #

    Plait is responsible for the laziest journalism I ever read, even among the lower bar in anti-antiVax journalism (where it is easier to get published as long as you rally the crowd). He is all bluster. Apparently y’all like bluster but he is light on facts & they are often wrong when he bothers with them.

    So to find him disappointing as a journalist is no surprise to me. I am surprised y’all are surprised. Objectively, one either makes their argument with facts & reason or they do it with bombast & emotion.

    • Box of Salt
      December 19, 2014 at 2:03 pm #

      Ellen Mary “Plait is responsible for the laziest journalism I ever read”

      From your comment, I take it you either don’t read or don’t understand the articles he publishes on astronomy. (I will admit I haven’t read much since he switched over from Discovery to Slate, and therefore can’t judge for sure the quality of his current posts).

      • Ellen Mary
        December 19, 2014 at 2:59 pm #

        I have only read him @ Slate & I am not even one little bit interested in astronomy, so no . . . I didn’t say I knew the totality of his career, just that when I read very lazy journalism, he is often @ the helm.

        • Trixie
          December 19, 2014 at 3:01 pm #


          • Ellen Mary
            December 19, 2014 at 3:14 pm #

            Maybe I will feel compelled later to dredge through his Slate catalog & pull out examples for you, but let’s remember I was giving my subjective impression in a ComBox. You are free to come to your own subjective impression while you are dredging through the Slate archives.

          • Trixie
            December 20, 2014 at 10:34 am #

            I mean, I wasn’t the one who made the claim.

          • December 20, 2014 at 1:01 pm #

            For someone who posts here fairly regularly, I find it hilarious that you post claims and then say you can’t be bothered to post citations. You already know how that goes down.


        • Box of Salt
          December 19, 2014 at 5:19 pm #

          Ellen Mary “I didn’t say I knew the totality of his career”

          Yet, you think you know enough about his career as a blogger to describe him as lazy. I’m with Trixie: dig up some specific examples.

          Or does your criticism “even among the lower bar in anti-antiVax journalism (where it is easier to get published as long as you rally the crowd)” stem from your own opinion of vaccines?

          I’d appreciate some clarification, Ellen Mary. You wrote ” he is light on facts & they are often wrong when he bothers with them.” Is that because you yourself think the science supporting the safety of vaccines and dangers of vaccine preventable diseases is wrong?

          Or are you going to show, with citations, which facts Phil Plait gets wrong?

          To be absolutely clear: I’m asking for links both to those facts Plait published which you are incorrect, and to the original research that shows he is factually wrong.

          • Box of Salt
            December 19, 2014 at 5:20 pm #

            ^those facts you think are incorrect

            Apologies for poor editing.

          • Trixie
            December 20, 2014 at 10:36 am #

            That would be hard, y’all.

          • Ellen Mary
            December 20, 2014 at 12:13 pm #

            Oh wait, am I not going to get my PhD from SOB now? Whatever shall I do? It doesn’t matter what I think of vaccines, there are facts attendant & he gets them wrong more often than other writers in the Genre, say Tara Healle or Paul Offit.

            I didn’t even have to dig. His last article @ Slate has more than one correction, notably one from Twitter, where he missed a major new development & then had to be be called out by a reader. Seems lazy to me. I wasn’t making a science claim, I was making a science journalism claim. He doesn’t mainly interpret research, his articles are more about the social aspects of the debate.

          • Ellen Mary
            December 20, 2014 at 12:15 pm #

            It just doesn’t have the gravitas for me to spend even an hour painfully cutting & pasting for you. It is JMO, take it or leave it, this is a comments section, not a manifesto, or even a blog.

          • fiftyfifty1
            December 20, 2014 at 12:51 pm #

            Ellen Mary: “…[a bunch of hot air]…”

            Box of Salt: That’s a bunch of hot air.

            Ellen Mary: You have no right to criticize me. It’s just my OPINION! Wahhhhh.

          • fiftyfifty1
            December 20, 2014 at 12:53 pm #

            “I’m too busy and important to have to back up my claims with proof”


          • Box of Salt
            December 20, 2014 at 1:02 pm #

            No, I simply asked you to locate and post at least one specific instance where Phil Plait posted something you considered incorrect about vaccines, and a link to the research which led you to believe that he was factually incorrect.

            “I didn’t even have to dig. His last article @ Slate has more than one correction”

            Post the link, Ellen Mary. If you’re calling someone else out for laziness, you need to avoid the same problem. “His last article on Slate” right now is “Detecting an Exoplanet Without a Telescope” (Dec. 20 2014 7:30 AM). That’s not about vaccines.

            Show me where he has an uncorrected error on the facts about vaccines.

    • Trixie
      December 19, 2014 at 2:50 pm #

      You’re heavy on the y’alls, today.

      • MLE
        December 19, 2014 at 6:14 pm #

        She’s never struck me as a y’all type either (speaking as a Texan). It’s a bit incongruous.

  27. fiftyfifty1
    December 19, 2014 at 12:44 pm #

    having trouble getting first link to work, the “promoting mayim bialik” link. But my computer is screwy so maybe it’s me….

    • Vg2010
      December 19, 2014 at 1:04 pm #

      doesn’t work for me either

    • Vg2010
      December 19, 2014 at 1:04 pm #

      never mind… now it works

  28. fiftyfifty1
    December 19, 2014 at 12:40 pm #

    It makes me mad that the dialogue about women in STEM is being led by non-scientists like Elise Andrew. They set the bar so low and since they don’t have any real science training they probably don’t even realize it. Phil Plait, in contrast, is a scientist and he does realize it. He could have put a stop to this meme, but instead he perpetuated it. Seriously, are women so pathetically bad at science that we need to accept Bialik as a role model? What an insult!!

    • Amy
      December 19, 2014 at 7:46 pm #

      Completely agreed. And honestly, most of the most accomplished people in STEM fields aren’t famous. With the exception of Neil DeGrasse Tyson, I can’t think of any “big names” in STEM that the general, non-science public knows. The only other one I see in mainstream media is Bill Nye the Science Guy.

      As an educator, when I promote my field, I promote it on its own merits. Calculus and number theory are COOL. They don’t need celebrity spokespeople. They need engaging teachers who can expose young people to all the beauty and possibility therein.

      • Amy M
        December 20, 2014 at 9:49 am #

        True. I work in a STEM field, and individuals are well known in their specific fields to others in that field. Recently, a guy with a “big name” in the field I work in (MS) gave a talk at our headquarters—it was a really interesting talk, but it would be fairly meaningless to anyone who wasn’t interested in MS.

  29. Cobalt
    December 19, 2014 at 12:32 pm #

    Yeah, he’s got himself stuck pretty good. Should have paid more time into that hesitation.

  30. Roadstergal
    December 19, 2014 at 12:21 pm #

    Oh, _Phil_. I love you, but yeah, I can’t agree with you on this. It’s like promoting the Food Babe because she has a computer science degree. No.

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