Wednesday 28 May 2014

wrong wrong not even nearly right

I was caught on the hop a bit by Rachel Carson's birthday yesterday. Never shy of jumping on a women-in-science bandwagon, I had Carson as a shoo-in for my series of posts about Women in Science but there are lots of women waiting in the wings of my attention. When Google wrong-footed me by putting a tributary logo on the front-page I tried to put something together before I went off to work. But the basic data I was scraping off the interweb was just bonkers, so I realised I'd have to either a) cut and paste from Wikipedia or b) take some time (company time even) to find some authoritative sources that would out-shine the internally inconsistent tosh that people were posting.  The problem is that I'm not the only one who thinks Rachel Carson is a shoo-in for a science essay. President Jimmy Carter thought it would garner him some votes to confer her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1980 - he was on a wildlife roll that year with Ansel Adams and Roger Tory Peterson both on the list at least they were alive to appreciate it. There are lots of posts out there by earnest young women who are re-churning each other's Miss-information (cheap shot).  I was curious about her two older siblings particularly the brother who seems to have been conspicuously un-present when Father Carson got sick, died and left his widow and single parent daughter without a source of income.  Rachel elected to give up her PhD to earn a living writing to support her family.  That may well have been a good thing because she doesn't seem to have found her true feet in the world of research but was a superb interpreter and editor of other men's flowers. I think that's important: you can find a place in science that is valuable and fulfilling without being very good at the bench.

This has been widely propagated:
Father: Robert Carson (1864-1935)
Mother: Maria McLean Carson (1869-1958)
Sister: Marian ( d. Jan 1937)
Brother: Robert McLean Carson (b. circa 1939)
So the brother was born 4 years after his father died when his mother was 70 years old. hmmm, I don't think so!  And her sister was NOT called Tristan, which is a funny name for a girl if you think about it for 30 seconds.  Prezi encourages the creation of material where glitzy appearance beats content into a corner.  Is it my imagination that Prezi (TM)  presentations take such a heckuva long time to load that the site requires the services of an entire hydro-electric power-plant in Northern Finland?

So, as with a lot of things, getting the correct information and avoiding error requires a certain amount of work and critical thinking.  And you want to go easy if you think about parroting Wikipedia which leaves a nice quote about Rachel Carson when she has barracked and besieged by Big Chem and The Man:
former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson - in a letter to former President Dwight D. Eisenhower - reportedly concluded that because she was unmarried despite being physically attractive, she was "probably a Communist"
but the citing footnote says
Lear 1997, pp. 429–430. Benson's supposed comments were widely repeated at the time, but have not been directly confirmed.
Back in the 1960s "Communist" was the USAniversal pejorative for people of whose life-style or politics you disapproved: much like many young people today use "Gay".  But the latter label is possibly more appropriate for Rachel Carson.  Here is an essay suggesting that Silent Spring was born out of the gender politics frustration Carson developed at feeling obliged to look after her orphaned infant nephew in Maryland when she would much rather be either writing or hanging out with her friend Dorothy Freeman in Maine. "If our planet is to be saved from the arrogance of men, it is refreshing to realize that we just may owe that salvation to the passionate love of post-menopausal women for each other, and for their children and their birds".
Now here's the funny thing - Google doesn't want their clients to be shocked into finding a suggestion that Rachel Carson was of a lxsbxxn persuasion.  L*****n is one of those forbidden words, like amateur, that Google protects us from like a Victorian father. Try a bit of word completion:
Rachel Carson life
Rachel Carson legacy
Rachel Carson lesson
Rachel Carson lesbnodontgothereyoullbeutterlycorrupted

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