Science is a girl thing, just not like this

With their “Science: It’s a girl thing” campaign, I’ll give the European Commission (EC) a bit of credit for trying to do something good: tap the power social media and online video to encourage girls and young women to get interested in science and scientific careers.

But they couldn’t have gotten off to a worse possible start.

The EC (which helps create and implement policies for the European Union) launched the campaign Friday morning with a teaser video featuring a male scientist, three teenage girls, and a lot of pink, lipstick and giggling. See for yourself:

Twitter was ablaze with commentary from the moment the video launched, and that commentary can be summed up in one word: FAIL. Science journalist Maryn McKenna, who writes the Superbug blog for Wired, published a small sampling of the Twitter-verse’s reaction Friday afternoon; you can follow the reaction yourself via the hashtag #sciencegirlthing, or scroll down to the bottom of this post.

And if Twitter is not your thing, Google News has plenty more for you. My favorite headline: “Who put this lipstick in my science?

The reaction was such that before the business day closed on Friday, the EC had pulled the video from YouTube (the link above goes to a re-post of the original).

The irony here is that recent research studies have shown that the image of the girly-girl scientist—the image that the EC spent what I assume to be many, many euros to promote with this teaser—actually discourages young women from pursuing science careers.

And what’s truly sad is that campaign’s teaser and overall packaging have distracted from its other videos, featuring women in science—astrophysicists, biologists, engineering—talking about their motivations and encouraging others to join them in the scientific ranks. (McKenna suggests following the Twitter hashtag #realwomenofscience to learn more about, well, real women in science; the EC has since come out in favor of the hashtag #realwomeninscience.)

By 3:30 Friday afternoon, just before it was pulled, the teaser video had been viewed more than 67,000 times; the other videos were averaging 200 to 300 each. As of 10:00 Monday morning, they were up to an average of about 1,500 views each.

You can tell where I stand when it comes to the teaser: It’s offensive. It’s a disaster (though as my editor points out, it has gotten people talking). And it’s a huge missed opportunity. The intention was good, and the execution all wrong.

But what do you think? And how can we better encourage girls and young women to join the ranks of scientists? Tell us in the comments or on our Facebook page. Or tweet us (@science4care) with the #sciencegirlthing, #realwomeninscience, or #realwomenofscience hastags.