Women scientists call out Discovery's dude-fest advertising

Scientists answer Discovery with a video of their own featuring an all-star cast of brilliant women researchers.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
3 min read

The Discovery ad features the tagline "The World is Ours."

Video screenshot by CNET

Discovery unleashed a brand video on Monday featuring footage of the types of subjects it's best known for: a pyramid in Egypt, wildlife in Africa, experiments, fishing, a shark and a bunch of men who host shows on the network.

The ad builds up to the tagline "The World is Ours" and is set to the peppy strains of Hooked on Feeling. But women scientists aren't feeling it.

Marine biologist Ayana Johnson left one of many responses to the video on Twitter: "Yo, Discovery, what is this tone deaf, hyper-masculine nonsense? The only woman in your reel is in a bikini being led through a jungle. What!! It's 2019. Do better."

Women in science aren't taking this lightly. A cross-discipline group of researchers and science communicators, including a herpetologist, paleontologist, conservation biologist, volcanologist and ecologist, participated in a response video set to Eve's Let Me Blow Ya Mind. 

Sarah McAnulty, a biologist specializing in squids and founder of the nonprofit Skype a Scientist, led the video effort. "Discovery made a choice about how to represent science," she tweeted. "We know that the world is, in fact, much bigger than that. We want to remind you all that science is for everyone."

McAnulty refers to the Discovery ad as a "macho-man display of science." She told CNET she furiously texted and Twitter-messaged her colleagues and within 36 hours had the response video together. "They got in their waders, went to their field sites, gloved up, and lip-synced their hearts out," she said.

Discovery didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Science communicator Ashley Gary, an aspiring wildlife host, took part in the video. She said she was inspired by watching nature documentaries on Discovery as a kid and calls the Hooked on a Feeling ad "disappointing." 

"So many girls and women look to that channel for not only entertainment, but information about our world, but yet we weren't included," Gary told CNET. "If no one else will promote us and our work, we'll be our own cheerleader and promote ourselves."

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Volcanologist Jess Phoenix participated in the response video.

Video screenshot by CNET

Volcanologist Jess Phoenix has appeared on Discovery and Science channel shows. The networks have footage of her on active volcanoes, hiking through jungles and working with locals in Tanzania, Ecuador and Indonesia. She said she was "understandably frustrated" by the promo.

"When members of my team have pitched me as a show host to Discovery and other networks, we've been told that their audiences won't believe I'm a scientist." Phoenix said.

Phoenix is also the founder of research and education nonprofit Blueprint Earth, which conducts field research with participants that are mainly women and people of color. "Seeing major networks continue to overlook the enormous pool of talent out there in traditionally under-represented scientists does a tremendous disservice to both scientists and the public in general," she said.

McAnulty points out the work of neuroscientist BethAnn McLaughlin, who is leading the #MeTooSTEM movement advocating for women scientists in the battle against sexual harassment. "These groups make me feel hopeful for the future women in STEM, even if it feels depressing from the trenches right now," McAnulty said.

The Let Me Blow Ya Mind response is fierce and funny. "These women turned one more negative in a long line of exclusionary nonsense into a funny, light-hearted, defiant reminder that women in science are not going anywhere," McAnulty said.

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Now the scientists are wondering if Discovery is listening.