A Terrible Cover of Science Magazine & An Example of The Power of Today's Social Media

I checked my mailbox this afternoon, and looked at the cover of my Science magazine and thought: “Whoa, this should have been in a brown paper covering like they had for dirty magazines.” I saw an image on the cover of provocatively clothed women, the title being “Staying a Step Ahead of HIV/AIDS.” Why did this picture need to be on the cover for that story I thought? The image made me think that Science was trying to be incendiary, hip or edgy or something. I put the magazine and my thoughts about it aside; then just before I was about to have a meeting in my office, I decided I needed to put the journal face down and out of view.

I tweeted the joke about the brown paper covering but then decided the cover was still bugging me and tweeted. “When we said we wanted more women in Science this is not what we meant.” and tagged @AAASmember

I thought that would be the end of it, but then Jim Austin (@SciCareerEditor) the Editor of Science Careers (from Science) quoted my tweet and sarcastically replied “Good one.” Shortly after he tweeted, “Am I the only one who finds moral indignation really boring?” I was off Twitter, but Jacquelyn Gill (@JacquelynGill) and others were luckily paying attention. They called him out and the twitterverse went after him and the stupidity of that cover pretty strongly. A few hours later we got a response from Marcia McNutt (@Marcia4Science) Editor-in-Chief of Science magazine, “From us at Science, we apologize to those offended by recent cover. Intent was to highlight solutions to HIV, and it badly missed the mark.”

It was nice of them to apologize especially after Jim Austin’s comments. Read more about the entire exchange from the tweets I highlighted on Storify https://storify.com/LSU_FISH/sexist-and-transphobic-cover-of-science

The cover is still up on-line, and the magazine is still on my desk face down. I was disappointed in Science for publishing a cover that I thought objectified the people in the image, and I was more disappointed by the initial response from Jim Austin. I’m glad the head editor apologized but I was most moved by the quick response from Twitter. In the old days (when they really did put brown paper over dirty magazines) we’d see something like this, maybe shake our fists, maybe even write a letter (like actually write a letter) to the offending party and maybe in 3-6 weeks something would come of it (usually nothing). We might have thought, “well just another example of sexism” and let it slide. Thanks to social media I’m glad at least we all got to vent and share our collective impressions and opinions. I found out I was not alone in being offended, and we all shared a common message that the image was inappropriate. We even got a rapid apology from the editor. And maybe, just maybe, I think the people behind that cover of Science will think twice next time they consider a cover that might be sexist, homophobic, or otherwise just wrong.