Context and Variation: Kathryn Clancy

The anthropologist Kathryn Clancy, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois, has started a wonderful new blog, Context and Variation.

I came across Context and Variation because Dr. Clancy is featured prominently in a new essay by Dave Munger, Blogging Out of Balance. Munger asks, “In the science blogosphere, men significantly outnumber women. Is this evidence of discrimination?”

In Munger’s piece, Kathryn Clancy provides us insight into what it is like to be a woman doing science blogging:

Kathryn Clancy, an anthropologist at the University of Illinois, recalls her transition from staying out of the limelight, reading academic blogs, to reading blogs focusing solely on science—and writing her own blog. The academic blogs she had been reading were written primarily by women, and discussed career and personal issues along with science. The science-blogging world, by contrast, was dominated by male voices. She thinks this may lead to a hostile environment for women bloggers. Women worry a lot about being attacked and threatened online: “It’s not just a fear of these things, it’s that these things actually happen,” Clancy says. “Women are attacked for taking a stand.” Clancy also resisted starting her own blog for years because she didn’t think her colleagues would approve. She finally began blogging because she felt obligated to as a public service—she had seen too many students ill-informed about science—but she’s still not convinced that it will help advance her career.

Over at Context and Variation, Clancy provides us even more depth in her post Women sciencebloggers, exposure, and my path to blogging. In the first part she tells her story.

After a while I realized that there was this thing called scienceblogging, where people didn’t just write about their lives in academia or issues in the institution of higher education (two very important topics that I still read regularly), but also about the science they do.

And that’s where all the men were. (There were some pseudonymous men, but also men blogging under their real name in a higher proportion, in the neighborhood of academic blogs I originally read.)

I found scienceblogs about denialism, about pseudoscience, medicine, anti-woo, evolution, atheism, science and religion, politics and science. I found researchblogging that cited specific sources. I found shouting matches. I also found lots of cool, sweet, nice, interesting people. And even though the tone was very different, and I often felt as though I had to shoulder my way in, I was hooked. A space where I could talk about science!

But I worried that authors of papers would hate me forever if I said anything bad online about their publications. I worried about employers firing me if they didn’t like what I had to say. I worried about being attacked if I ever revealed experiences I have had over the years with sexism, or observed regarding racism. So I still didn’t do it for a while. I had no idea if blogging under my real name would be safe or not.

It was teaching and her students that made her start her blog, using her own name.

I wanted to make science more accessible and fun, just to show students its potential. I find learning new things in my field and across science disciplines incredibly exciting, and I love reading good science writing. I love the tangents my mind wanders towards after linking something I’m doing in my research with teaching or a blog post I’ve read. And I wanted to see if I could do anything to foster that excitement in my students and a broader lay audience, at least in the topics where I have expertise and personal interest.

Clancy goes on to discuss her efforts, along with Christine Ottery and Jenny Rohn, to promote women doing science blogging. Their main effort right now is a FriendFeed for Women ScienceBlogs. I definitely encourage you to check it out, and to also see what else these women develop.

But Context and Variation is also about anthropology! And here is one of Clancy’s most recent Research Blogging posts, Ladybusiness anthropology: Physical activity and prevention of reproductive cancers.

Friedenreich et al review the literature on physical activity and cancer prevention and find a consistent relationship between physical activity and reduced risk of several cancers. Obviously, I want to focus on breast, endometrial and ovarian cancers, since those are the stuff of ladybusiness.

Let’s hear it for ladybusiness, and also for the exploration of human behavior, reproductive functioning, and the promotion of science literacy. So head on over to Dr. Kathryn Clancy’s Context and Variation blog!

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5 Responses to Context and Variation: Kathryn Clancy

  1. KBHC says:

    Wow, thanks Daniel! I appreciate the plug and the kind words. Let’s hear it for ladybusiness! (I almost think that should be my blog’s tagline.)

  2. Paul Mason says:

    I love the photo in the background of her blog? Where is that?
    Her blog is an intimate blend of personal experience and science–a great online facility for procrastination!

  3. I consider The Clancy Effect to be a characteristically American phenomenon, surpassed, in the world of female bloggers, only by the extraordinary success of Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman. Clancy is the focus of one of my most popular blogposts and, as I have noted, it is very instructive for all academics to follow the trajectory of her decisions, pressures, and activities. The Clancy Effect may represent a new feminist model as well as a new model for pre-tenure female scholars at competitive research institutions. As Clancy herself often suggests indirectly and directly, her strategies for personal & career success are unconventional ones. While I think that Clancy’s brand of neo-feminism is praiseworthy, it is worth noting that most of her Twitter entries don’t relate directly to her often-stated objectives (serious “ladybusiness” & the dissemination of information) but to chatty banter with actual and virtual acquaintances, friends, colleagues, similar to many blogs by men & women not claiming lofty goals. It would be of great interest to conduct a time-energy study of Clancy’s allocations of resources. I suggest that the multi-tasking and juggling required to maintain The Clancy Effect are, ceteris paribus, much more challenging than the demands of The Drummond Effect since the latter’s activities are primarily extensions of traditional female roles: wife/mother taking place against the fabric of a fairy tale (sophisticated urban female become wife of rancher–there’s much more of interest). It remains to be seen whether The Clancy Effect can serve as a prototype for other young professional women or, ultimately, whether it’s replicability matters for Clancy’s, almost assured, increase in prominence.

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