Since mid-morning this past Friday, members of NARST have been discussing a post and a response to the organization’s mailing list.
I’ve written before about how I use my blog to communicate; this is an attempt to do that in the context of that discussion.
I’ll lay out my argument in advance, in part because it is simple:
Hazari shared a job post on a mailing list. It was not a blog post, and it certainly was not a blog post on the NARST blog. Here is the job post:
Just wanted to reach out to the community to let you know that we are looking to add a postdoc to help support the STEP UP Project (www.stepupphysics.org). STEP UP focuses on mobilizing thousands of high school physics teachers around the country to support and inspire young women in physics by disrupting normative cultural narratives and creating communal classroom spaces. Anyone who is interested can apply to the listing below (please make sure to mention the STEP UP project in your materials). Link: https://facultycareers.fiu.edu/?posting=517353
I hope that Hazari does not mind my sharing this.
I’d estimate the last 25 posts to the NARST mailing list were job postings. I can’t recall a single posting to the list that wasn’t a job posting (although I am sure there was one).
Mintzes responded with, well, not a job posting, but (I’ll be generous), a criticism:
”….disrupting normative cultural narratives” reeks of a political discourse that favors women over men and minority ethnic groups over Whites. Why is it necessary to push your political agenda in the NARST blog? I agree that women and non-Whites have been at a disadvantage in science and science education, but your abrasive language does little to mitigate these circumstances. I hope your “STEP Up” project is open to discourse even with those whose “narratives” you wish to disrupt.
Reading this makes me uncomfortable, and I said as much in a message to Mintzes, but, that isn’t central to my (simple) argument, which is that Hazari wrote with a job post on a mailing list. Mintzes responded responded with a criticism (which I think may read to an observer as aggressive and as a personal attack). The criticism stood out to me because in all of the time I’ve subscribed to the NARST mailing list, I’ve never seen this type of criticism; it was odd, it felt weird, and I, along with many others, responded (to the mailing list and in private conversations and through direct messages to both of the individuals involved).
I want to emphasize one sentence that Mintzes said:
“Why is it necessary to push your political agenda in the NARST blog?”
This was not a blog post; this was a job posting on a mailing list. From this misunderstanding of the medium, Mintzes’ seemed–for some reason–compelled to make an out-of-place critism (nay, attack). Critique is central to science and to an open culture. But, it has a place; for scientists like Hazari and Mintzes, such a critique (from Mintzes to Hazari, in this case) could come in a blog; it could come in a presentation or a publication; or it could come in direct communication. It should not, though, come in the way it did; it seemed to come from a place of anger; it made me uncomfortable, and I can only imagine how it made others - especially Hazari - feel, particularly as Hazari was sharing good news and a job post for a new project - one which met the National Science Foundation’s review criteria for intellectual merit and broader impacts.
tl;dr: Mintzes misunderstood the medium, and had a heckuva inciting message (and set of responses which followed and which, oddest of all, focused on issues with the term disrupting in the job post, though Mintzes had co-opted a mailing list post). Critique, disruption, and the like are a part of science; knowing the time, knowing the medium, and being aware of the way a message at the wrong time and via the wrong medium (and, maybe, from, a person who seemed to have an axe to grind, and who took this out on a person who not only seems undeserving it, but who seems to be doing impressive work) would be received are a part of being civil, fair, and right.
Mintzes missed the mark on these criteria and should apologize for doing so; I think that would be the responsible thing to do as a member of the NARST organization - and as an adult who can surely recognize when one has clearly missed the mark.
I want to mention that others will critique Mintzes stronger on the substance of Mintzes’ initial post and responses. I think they should. This was the thing that stuck out to me as what was wrong about the process. I don’t think, though, that what Minztes said did not also warrant push back, it’s just that I chose to focus on the process as the simplest issue. Other issues - like why Mintzes thinks “mobilizing thousands of high school physics teachers around the country to support and inspire young women in physics” is abrasive - are more important than the simpler issue I tried to address.