The papers love a scare story, this much we know. Every week a different food is denounced as cancer-causing, and we are instructed to avoid it like the plague for the sake of preserving the health of ourselves and our children. The data behind this kind of story is often quite wishy washy. In fact, some papers go so far as to report that the very same things that cause cancer can also protect us against it (here’s a comprehensive list of the every day objects, chemicals and foods that one particular newspaper claims will cause or prevent cancer, or both. And here it is in musical form).
Three model-esque girls in high heels and short skirts strut towards a male scientist in a lab coat. Looking up from his microscope, his chiselled jaw drops as the girls strike a pose in front of him. Rather than the opening of a blue movie, this is the beginning of a horribly misguided advert aiming to tempt girls to pursue science. It gets worse. Shots of bubbling liquid in beakers are cut with make up brushes and nail varnishes. ‘Come on girls!’ the ad cajoules us ‘You CAN do science! Look, it’s a bit like make up!’ This patronizing piece of sexism was taken down within 12 hours of the campaign launch, although naturally it lives on through the power of Youtube. But why didn’t the campaign leaders think to use some of the amazing women working in science today? Jane Goodall, chimpanzee whisperer, for example, or the less well known but equally cool Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard whose studies of fruit flies with genetic mutations provided huge insights into how an embryo develops, and won her a Nobel prize in 1995.