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Commission campaign for girls in science sparks outrage

The European Commission has launched a three-year campaign to get more teenage girls to study and work in science, but the approach taken has angered many scientists.

The campaign, called “Science: it’s a girl thing!” and launched in Brussels on 21 June, aims to make science subjects attractive to girls in order to increase the share of women in research careers, which is now only about 32 per cent in Europe.

However, the campaign’s visuals and introductory video have been criticised by scientists for stereotyping science with “girly” attributes, amongst other things through the use of pink lipstick as a visual element in the campaign’s logo. For example, a molecular biology PhD student wrote on her blog Baking Biologist: “I’m offended as a woman that they think the only way to get girls into science is to trick them into thinking it’s all pink and fluffy!”

Twitter users said the video was at best ironic. But the Commission’s spokesman for research wrote on Twitter, that the Commission did not intend it to be irony. “Hope was to get young people onto site. That seems to be happening,” he said.

The campaign uses a public website with video profiles of female scientists, whom the Commission aims to promote as role models. The website also includes a quiz “revealing which science career best suits each girl’s interests”.

The Commission says that the first phase of its campaign is targeted towards teenage girls because “young people typically make critical career decisions between the ages of 13 and 17”.

A travelling exhibition will visit Austria, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland between September and December 2012 as part of the campaign, before being extended to all other EU countries. It will offer activities “demonstrating the connection between science and music, cosmetics, food, fashion and more”, such as making lip balm or identifying food aromas.