Does Science magazine actually sell many copies at the newsstand?

Jul 16 2014 Published by under Anger

From

we see that Science magazine has really made a mistake with a cover picture.

The Science Careers subsection Editor Jim Austin wondered:

and then later wondered some more:
https://twitter.com/SciCareerEditor/status/489528456783224833

to which I observed that no, he had plenty of company:

Look, I am sure there will be plenty of folks more expert and concise and, dare I say it, civil than I am who will weigh in. But here we are.

This cover is bullshit. It objectifies the female form, whether one considers the subjects to be female or not. It is designed explicitly to draw the infamous male gaze.

It's piggish.

And it ain't subtle either. Even journalists and editors of the usual low-normal intelligence* they tend to exhibit can't fail to miss the implications.

Therefore I conclude it is intentional and consistent with the usual desire of the media to grab attention with the sexxah images.

As far as I am aware, Science magazine does not generate substantial parts of its income from the magazine racks in retail outlets. Right?

So what possible purpose is there for this nonsense?

And you know, when we are just hearing about some poor graduate student having to sue Vanderbuilt for $20M because of their piss-poor response to harassment from a professor there, well...this isn't a good week to pull this.


At a conference the professor "... required the female graduate students to attend a boat party where the male professors became intoxicated and were allowed to make romantic and sexual advances on the students."

Then there's this: The professor "would routinely call her ugly, fat and ... a stupid in front of other students."

The suit alleges he knew the graduate student was a recovering alcoholic and told her he wished she "would start drinking again because she would be more fun," and that "... she would be less stressed out if she had more sex."

So yes, Science Careers Editor Jim Austin, your rag's selection of cover image matters. I'm sorry if it bores you..perhaps what you meant is that you are being boorish? It surely doesn't escape you that if department reading lounges are going to have copies of journals lying around, Science is one of them. Libraries that bother to have display racks will certainly have Science as one of the prominently displayed items. Department mailboxes are filled with copies of Science.

People are going to see this dreck in a professional context and they shouldn't have to do so.

It's kind of like that idiot who used the Graphical Abstract of Elsevier published journals to post cheesecake photos.

It is not okay.
__
*ok, I'm a little sorry for that crack. A little.

46 responses so far

  • Spiny Norman says:

    This has nothing to do with intelligence, DM. Nothing.

    It has everything to do with empathy, compassion, and professional judgement.

    All of which are astoundingly absent from both Science's editorial decision to run with this cover, and from Jim Austin's pathetic, misguided, assholish tweets.

  • gingerest says:

    In addition to the dehumanization that always comes with Headless Photos, I read the gestalt of this cover as blaming trans women sex workers for the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

  • As far as I am aware, Science magazine does not generate substantial parts of its income from the magazine racks in retail outlets. Right?

    Back in the days when Borders existed, I remember being amused to see "Science" and "Nature" for sale in their magazine section (but yes, nowhere else as I recall). But Borders (RIP) would have the least commercial things sometimes. I remember as an undergraduate in Madison, I came across a copy of Moto Kimura's "Theory of Neutral Evolution" (I bought it, of course).

  • devad says:

    Much rabble-rousing about the subjects being headless - has anyone considered the chance this was by their request? Soliciting is technically still illegal in Jakarta, in addition to the many other reasons that come to mind that would make make me request to have my face hidden, were I a trans sex-worker being featured in an AIDS related story on the cover of an international magazine.

    To be honest, if someone asked me to put an image together on the theme of prostitution I'd be hard-pushed to put together a more tasteful version than two pairs of legs with dresses cut above the knee. (I'm open to hear suggestions from said rabble on why I'm horribly mistaken and criminally evil for using the word tasteful anywhere near this conversation.) Of course, this illustration was not required for any scientific purpose, but then science and nature cover images are always style over substance.

    Yes it's meant to be eye-catching but no it's not quite top-shelf material and don't think it'll hog too much market share from more typical "lad's mags".

  • gingerest says:

    You can conceal the faces of people in photographs a lot of ways other than cropping their heads off. Have them look down or away, for example.

  • devad says:

    Sure, so if it was the back of their heads they wouldn't then be "objects"? As long as there's some fraction of the cranium in frame we're good? In fact the girl in the background has a face obscured by the S so great job there Science.

    The point being made on twitter is they're "dehumanised" by not showing their faces, rather than the fact that some portion of their head is not in view. So your proposed solutions don't help with that and would *still* be the worst conceivable image imaginable and incredibly offensive to us all (tut-tut). It's also been pointed out they're focused on the "step" to make the subtitle a pun.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    The theme was not prostitutin but rather HIV/AIDS abatement. There were at least two other pictures on the topic in the magazine that would have been better cover choices.

  • Spiny Norman says:

    We will note for the record that prostitutes were apparently shown, and johns were not.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    McNutt offers up a half-hearted nonpology
    http://marcia4science.blogspot.com/?m=1

  • proflikesubstance says:

    That "apology" makes it clear they still don't understand where they screwed up. At all.

  • Evelyn says:

    devad - aside from my science degrees, I also have a degree in art history and cutting off a model's head from the canvas is certainly recognized as a method of objectification and dehumanization in the field. The reason Manet's Olympia was so controversial in its time was her direct look at the viewer, a challenge to the "male gaze."

    There can be an argument made that Science is drawing attention to dehumanization of sex workers but that's not what the article is about so I am not sure how that relates. What bothers me more is Jim Austin's response than the cover itself.

  • geranium says:

    This is a fascinating conversation. I'm a feminist and consider myself well-versed in issues of objectification and sexism. My instinctual reaction was that Science was using this cover to reference the human, cultural, sex-infused reality of the problem of HIV--with a nod to how this reality is itself permeated by objectification and oppression. In other words, I instinctually assumed I myself was the target audience for this cover, a scientist interested in science but also someone who recognizes male-gaze-type images like this as complicated. (If this image were on the cover of a feminist magazine, for example, such context would already be implicit.)

    In past posts DM has raised some of the most forward-thinking ideas about gender and professionalism in science, he's got my complete respect. But I'm not sure I agree with you on this one, DM.

    It surely doesn't escape you that if department reading lounges are going to have copies of journals lying around, Science is one of them. Libraries that bother to have display racks will certainly have Science as one of the prominently displayed items. Department mailboxes are filled with copies of Science.

    People are going to see this dreck in a professional context and they shouldn't have to do so.

    Couldn't agree more that in a professional context, images of sexual objectification have no place. A SI swimsuit calendar would be egregious, obviously, because it's explicitly objectifying. A publication that reprints the same bikini photos in the context of evaluating sexism would not. And then there's the reality that there are female scientists who do science (and read Science) who also dress like this sometimes. These types of images are... intimately part of our culture. My point there is that perhaps it's not fair to look at images of sexy-dressed women and view them with no agency.

    That said, the tweets by Austin ("you realize they are transgender?" ha ha no homo! BARF) betray a total lack of intelligent consideration. And the headlessness is dehumanizing, agreed. So maybe you are right DM. Really interesting conversation, for sure.

  • AsianQB says:

    Could they not find a picture of a patient in a hospital bed? Have these editors ever even seen a sick AIDS patient?

  • Grumble says:

    Spot on, geranium. I note, with interest, that DM himself posted the cover on his very own blog. Does that make him a sexist monster who propagates sexist imagery and ideas, or simply an analyst of a problem involving sex?

    If the latter, maybe the non-hypocritical thing for him to do would be to lay off criticism of Science for their choice of cover photo.

  • dsks says:

    "My instinctual reaction was that Science was using this cover to reference the human, cultural, sex-infused reality of the problem of HIV--with a nod to how this reality is itself permeated by objectification and oppression."

    Ow c'mon, seriously? You read all that into this cover?

    Grumble, I think you missed Geranium's point about acceptability in context, i.e. "A SI swimsuit calendar would be egregious, obviously, because it's explicitly objectifying. A publication that reprints the same bikini photos in the context of evaluating sexism would not. "

    So we can all take a relax in the absence of hypocrisy.

    Honestly, it wasn't female-form objectification that raised my eyebrow on this one (but then, I'm a d00d so my opinion there is probably not the best metric for gauging offence, which others certainly seem to have taken): it was the association between LGBT and HIV that's struck me as a bit 80's, tired, and tactless.

  • Grumble says:

    Yeah, but what Science did strikes me more as in the vein of swimsuit-photos-to-evaluate sexism than as swimsuit-photos-to-objectify-women-and-draw-the-male-gaze. The point is that prostitution contributes to HIV/AIDS, so they showed pictures of prostitutes in the region covered by the article.

    Let's say the article were on trauma suffered as a consequence of war. And let's say that Science chose a cover image consisting of a badly bruised child. It might be controversial enough to stir up lots of twitty outrage about using children to sell magazines or attract readers by appealing to our prurient interest in violence, but it would also be an objective depiction of the topic of the research being described. And in that regard no different than the prostitute picture. I don't find either particularly notable or objectionable.

  • geranium says:

    "My instinctual reaction was that Science was using this cover to reference the human, cultural, sex-infused reality of the problem of HIV--with a nod to how this reality is itself permeated by objectification and oppression."

    Ow c'mon, seriously? You read all that into this cover?

    Well kind of. I mean I didn't think all those words out. What I meant was that I "took it" in a particular context (the context of a nuanced, thoughtful, academic perspective). Since I see myself as a member of the scientific community, it makes sense that I'd instinctively extend the identity that I have for myself to this larger community that I take pride in being a part of.

    As this thread clearly illustrates though, it's not so simple.

    I think it's really important to state that I haven't read the article(s) inside. If the appropriateness of the cover all depends on context (which it does), then part of that context is the content, of which I have no knowledge. If it's not largely about the people represented on the cover, then dsks's point about the LGBT/HIV trope is a really important one.

  • drugmonkey says:

    The Special Issue is on "Staying a step ahead of HIV/AIDS". Transgender prostitutes are but one risk community of many that are discussed in the included articles.

    I posted some links to the other pictures in the issue (just had to rescue my own comment from moderation, should appear now) which are equally appropriate to the topic and don't have so many unwanted effects (imo).

  • DJMH says:

    Whatever happened to using cool EM pictures of viruses to illustrate HIV stories? Did that get too ho-hum?

  • Jo says:

    I don't find the cover particularly offensive in the context of the subject matter. Yes, its sensational and it objectifies women. But prostitutes are objectified more by the fact that they are prostitutes than by the fact that they had their heads cropped out of a photo.

    I do find the Twitter comments objectionable. If you're going to sensationalize a subject using pictures of objectified women, at least own it and don't throw the blame onto the readers whom you were deliberately provoking.

    I don't think this is the same as the Graphical Abstract hoohah. You can make a case for sensationalizing a story on the cover of a journal, but there's no place for it in a scientific paper.

  • Spiny Norman says:

    McNutt doesnt give a shit. One of her first acts as Editor was to use the Editorial space to advocate for licensing of the Keystone XL pipeline, justifying her position on the basis of an astonishingly poorly-reasoned and unscientific argument.

    http://comments.sciencemag.org/content/10.1126/science.1251932

    Just a revoltingly corrupt use of the platform.

    Given that, why should she care if y'all are offended?

  • JC says:

    "This cover is bullshit. It objectifies the female form, whether one considers the subjects to be female or not. It is designed explicitly to draw the infamous male gaze."

    I'm trying to imagine a way of showing sex workers that doesn't objectify the female form, since that is what they trade in. Is the implication of your complaint then that there is no way to display prostitutes in a non-sexist way? The picture seems quite appropriate for the story, at least to me.

    I am all for recognizing and calling out the implicit sexism and racism still present in our culture. However, along with that should be more tolerance for those you believe to exhibit it. Certainly I can understand being a little upset at Jim, insofar as you feel complaints are being dismissed. But I cannot imagine for even a nanosecond that the editors were trying to compete with Maxim or something with that choice of image.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Whatever happened to using cool EM pictures of viruses to illustrate HIV stories? Did that get too ho-hum?

    This is a special issue about whole-human level (indeed population level) interventions so....

    Is the implication of your complaint then that there is no way to display prostitutes in a non-sexist way? The picture seems quite appropriate for the story, at least to me.

    Out of all of the articles in the special issue, why are the sex workers the ones selected for the cover shot? Answer that and you will find your way.....

    along with that should be more tolerance for those you believe to exhibit it.

    Why?

  • drugmonkey says:

    You can make a case for sensationalizing a story on the cover of a journal,

    Which is why my query about news stand sales is not entirely rhetorical. If they *did* have a lot of rack space in areas where they are competing with other periodicals for attention, heck, even I might support this image for drawing attention to a critical issue of public health.

    I believe, however, that the vast, vast majority of Science magazines being read are purchased by subscription. These sales are therefore based on the ongoing reputation rather than the particulars of any specific cover image. If that is the case, than there is no purpose whatever for a lurid cover. right?

  • JC says:

    "Out of all of the articles in the special issue, why are the sex workers the ones selected for the cover shot? Answer that and you will find your way....."

    Why not? Are you not overreacting yourself by seeing ANY depiction of female sexuality as sexist? If all articles are equally weighted, should they not choose the one on sex workers to highlight?

    ">>along with that should be more tolerance for those you believe to exhibit it.

    Why?"

    Because the ill intentions you ascribe to the editors are false. Even if we were to agree that such a depiction is sexist, the right approach is to make them aware of how it is perceived and inspire a discussion, not to immediately attack them.

    "If that is the case, than there is no purpose whatever for a lurid cover. right?"

    So you would support it as a means to sell magazines? I highly doubt that. But if indeed there is no need to entice readers, why put any images on the cover at all?

  • JC says:

    "Which is why my query about news stand sales is not entirely rhetorical. If they *did* have a lot of rack space in areas where they are competing with other periodicals for attention, heck, even I might support this image for drawing attention to a critical issue of public health."

    Sorry, didn't catch this at first. So you find demeaning women (in your POV) as an acceptable tactic to draw attention to issues you believe are important?

  • E-roock says:

    If they had objectified the male form, which is more in tune with the reality of the HIV epidemic affecting gay men disproportionately (at least in the us), would it be as objectionable? Something symbolic like a disco ball. A condom. A red ribbon. The aids quilt. A non-descript nighttime cityscape. Grindr 's logo. Picture of Times Square from the 80s, The Castro from the 80s. EM picture of the virus or infected T cell.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    JC- I think it is a tactic that has a purpose, whether I agree or not that the world should be like this. In this context I see no purpose whatever. That makes it more objectionable.

  • becca says:

    Yes. Agreed. Worst image I know of for Science cover.
    Also Jim's "defense" basically boils down to "we're not objectifying REAL women (but they fooled YOU haha! 'it's a TRAP'), it's these fake women subhumans who objectify themselves so it's fine to demean them"- which I find incredibly disturbing.

    In one way, it'd be best if Science had used the first image you link to, precisely because it's the most boring... we all have preconceived notions about what kind of person gets HIV/AIDS and Science had a real opportunity to *not* play into stereotypes, which might do some good.

    That said, to link to the trans sexworker notion to HIV/AIDS, I really like the "condomman" pic, though it's a bit oddly composed as an image. That's presupposing that psychology/public health data available suggest that it is actually useful to link trans sexworkers and HIV/AIDS- they are a particular community, with particular vulnerabilities, so this might be the case. But some of the messages (like condomman) work *because* they are more universal. I really would like to know more about what kind of an image the sociological public health data suggest would actually be *useful* given the audience of the magazine, actually.

  • Julian Frost says:

    As far as I am aware, Science magazine does not generate substantial parts of its income from the magazine racks in retail outlets. Right?

    So what possible purpose is there for this nonsense?

    I believe you answered your own question, DM.
    Yes, I'm really that cynical.

  • Jo says:

    > I believe, however, that the vast, vast majority of Science magazines being read are purchased by subscription. These sales are therefore based on the ongoing reputation rather than the particulars of any specific cover image. If that is the case, than there is no purpose whatever for a lurid cover. right?

    It wouldn't be the first time that those in the publishing world are way behind the realities of their own business model.

  • Chris says:

    I feel like there is a lot of circular logic being used in this discussion. For example, I don't agree that using sexualized images of women in bikinis is OK if the article is about dehumanization and sexualization of the female form but not OK in the SI swimsuit issue. Or that it's OK to use these images to sell a scientific magazine on the newsstand (I read it for the articles...) but not in a subscription-based sales model.

    Like several commenters, I was taken aback when I retrieved this issue of Science from my mailbox. And, yes, when I read that the cover picture was of transgender women, I had to take a closer look. As far as I can tell from my perusal of that article, these transgender sex workers were mentioned in just one or two lines in the story. It seemed to me that needle trading programs and ensuring access to antivirals were the key changes that helped to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS.

    It seems that the challenge people are having is defining what is offensive and why, and why such offensive images should not be used. There is not an easy answer here. For example, many news outlets have been using images of badly hurt children in their coverage of the recent violence in Gaza. Those images do offend and disturb me. But they also get across the message that people are suffering. On the other hand, if an article is about child pornography, I don't think that very many people would be willing to argue that the best image to accompany the article would be said child pornography. How and where do we draw that line? Perhaps one answer is whether the subjects in the image are being exploited for someone else's gain?

    I think we need to get past the moral outrage and be able to suggest some kind of objective standard for decisions like this. Otherwise the "other side" will always just accuse the offended parties of being "too sensitive" and "missing the point".

  • Dr Becca says:

    Chris,

    1. I believe what you are attempting to describe is a double standard, not circular logic.

    2. Not all image placement is equal. Putting an image on the cover of a magazine has a very different intention than an image that is embedded within an article inside that magazine.

    3. Accusations of being "too sensitive" and "missing the point" do not hold water.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Or that it's OK to use these images to sell a scientific magazine on the newsstand

    I didn't say it was "OK", I said that at least there would be a purpose. A purpose with a clear business goal.

    Under a subscription model of circulation, even this thin excuse is absent.

  • JC says:

    "Under a subscription model of circulation, even this thin excuse is absent."

    Believing that they felt they needed an excuse is to assume that they also felt they were flouting some social norm or expectation. I don't disagree with yours and others' right to be offended by it, but I think it's a relatively subtle offense.

    "3. Accusations of being "too sensitive" and "missing the point" do not hold water."

    In such a disagreement, I think the only deciding is societal norms. If the majority are not offended, then you probably are being "too sensitive" (whatever that means).

    I guess all I'm trying to argue is that I agree that the "moral outrage" here seems a bit over the top. A better approach than scolding those who you feel are the guilty is to express in a civil discussion why you feel the way you do, determine if others agree (or if they disagree, why), and either convince them of your point of view or at least ask them to respect it.

  • E-roock says:

    JC - Did you ever stop to consider that sometimes societal norms are correctly objectionable?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Did all that, save the civil part, o tone troll.

  • JC says:

    "JC - Did you ever stop to consider that sometimes societal norms are correctly objectionable?"

    Yes, after posting that I realized my error.

    "Did all that, save the civil part, o tone troll."

    Yeah, and that's my point. When one side eschews civility, why should the other even bother?

    "Not really. There are boatloads of selfish privileged white dudes who don't give a shit about anybody else's concerns @SciCareerEditor"

    I'm really just annoyed by your indignation, which I think is uncalled for here. But probably I'm arguing at this point for its own sake. Oh well, back to doing science instead of talking about Science...

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Jim Austin's asshatery wasn't "civil" in the least.

  • Dave says:

    I love it that DM gets angry at the world whenever he accidentally gets a boner.

    The cover photo is stupid not because DM found those women sexy, but because it implies that 'loose' women, prostitutes in particular, are driving the HIV epidemic. It reflects the bad old mid-1980s days when AIDS was seem as some sort of moral failing. 'Nice people don't get AIDS'.

  • E-roock says:

    The headline and the imagery are particularly offensive.... Get it.... "Staying a step ahead" .... the loose women are stepping toward the viewer....

    http://assets.nydailynews.com/polopoly_fs/1.1369296!/img/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/article_970/std12n-3-web.jpg

    The other irony is that in the bad old 80s, it was usually the affluent white male who had access to medications and care. And The Band Played On mostly tells their stories (in a kind of lurid way), more interesting from a scientific perspective(in case any has the time or inclination to read a book anymore) is Impure Science (unfortunate title), by a historian about the scientific discovery process and how politics and society influenced the direction of science re HIV.

  • An artist-blogger who's thought very hard about how images work and effective ways to use them has a good discussion here.

  • King Frank says:

    Derp derp derp.

    Fuckmonkey look stupid.

  • Spiny Norman says:

    Mirror, King Frank. Get a mirror.

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