"Science, it's a girl thing!" says EU Commission, holding lipstick and bunsen burner

If we cut between them really fast, they look like the same thing!

Three women march towards the camera, immaculate in high heels and mini dresses. They pause to smoulder in an end-of-the-catwalk way at a man in a lab coat, who looks up from his microscope (startled? In awe?) at these confident young minxes. The camera focuses in on one of their shoes.

The video continues, cutting between a fashion shoot and "science things" (which include a big letter H with the word 'hydrogen' next to it) really really fast. Look girls, they're basically the same thing!

Believe it or not, this is a video from the EU Commission which is trying to overcome stereotypes about women. It's trying to get women into science. The guy in the lab coat is actually supposed to be thinking "oh no, these women are going to take my job". He's supposed to be thinking "wow, I never thought of women being scientists before, but now I see them in the lab, doing catwalking, I can really visualise it".

The EU Commission may as well have put a lipstick on a string, and filmed 18 year old models doing a belly crawl after it  from the nail parlour (or wherever they would normally be) to the lab bench. But that's not what they think they're doing:

“We want to overturn clichés and show women and girls, and boys too, that science is not about old men in white coats," said Geoghegan-Quinn, European Research, Innovation and Science Commissioner speaking at the European Parliament in Brussels yesterday.

She said that the "Science, it's a girl thing!" video is a taster for a campaign to get more girls into science, and that the campaign will cover 27 EU member states for the next three years. Cover them with pink, sparkly, make-up related science.

To be fair to the EU Commission, flagrant hypocritical misogyny is something gender-targeted campaigns have always had to skirt around.

It's like this: "We're trying to overcome stereotypes. Yet we're targeting a whole gender - women in general. We need to find a way to appeal to the whole of womenkind. Yet we don't want to use stereotypes. Yet we need to appeal to a whole gender. Yet we don't want to use stereotypes."

It's difficult. Solution? Don't do it. This kind of campaign insults women who are interested in science already and can more than hold their own with the boys. They're the ones we need to think about.

UPDATE: Great summary from James Monk:

UPDATE 23.06.2012 13.10: The original video has been made private on YouTube, but you can still watch it as part of (female) astronomer Dr Meghan Grey's reaction vlog here:

Science, it's a girl thing! Photograph: Getty Images

Martha Gill writes the weekly Irrational Animals column. You can follow her on Twitter here: @Martha_Gill.

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A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear