ASM assumes your mom is dumb

Update Monday, June 20th at 8 AM: ASM has removed the video from YouTube. Scroll to the end of this post to see ASM’s responses on Twitter.

Update Monday, June 20th at 11 AM: ASM has edited the video to make it solely about explaining your science to a lay person in 30 seconds. See new version here

I’m a bit upset tonight because of a video by the American Society for Microbiology (ASM). It was brought to my attention by a tweet by @Yersinia / Jane EB Smith:

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So I checked out the link, and it leads to a video that ASM has uploaded to YouTube called “Can you explain your science in 30 seconds to your mom?(UPDATE: link no longer works; video has been removed). The video was created by two ASM staff members (a video producer and a media specialist) during last week’s ASM Microbe 2016 meeting in Boston. It starts with a cartoon of a young male scientist and a voice over with the challenge to “explain your science in 30 seconds”, followed by a dramatic pause, followed by: “TO YOUR MOM?”

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The two ASM staff members then enter the Boston conference building and challenge 8 young scientists to do an elevator pitch. Most of them fail the test. But one scientist does really well, and she wins the contest.

But back to the title of the video. The question apparently assumes that moms are, well, not that smart. And that moms will look completely puzzled when you tell them your science. And that moms wear purple flowery dresses.

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Since the ASM conference was during the Father’s Day weekend, why didn’t the video makers use the title “Can you explain your science in 30 seconds to your dad?” Did they think that that challenge would sound easier?

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Anyway, it’s just a little annoyance. Just one of those many tiny disappointments women in science feel almost daily. By itself, it’s not even worth mentioning. But all these tiny sad moments do add up, especially when we see that biology labs and conference halls are filled with at least 50% women, but when the speaker podiums and panel tables only filled up with less than 30% women.

Dear American Society for Microbiology, I really love you for all you have done for women in science, but this video sets you back at least 20 years, and is a disappointment for the many women who are a member of the ASM.

Next morning update: ASM has removed the video. They don’t offer any apologies to moms, but they will try to do better in the future. Here are their replies on Twitter.

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And here is their official reply on the Youtube comments: Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 06.03PM, Jun 21 1.png


9 thoughts on “ASM assumes your mom is dumb

  1. Hold on – yes, not great to use the mom trope. But, nowhere in the video is it stated or implied that moms are dumb. It IS implied that your mom is a lay person (which of course is why the mom trope is not ok). There’s a leap, though, between lay person and dumb and you’re writing this as though there isn’t.


    • But there is something very denigrating about the wording. If the word “mom” in the title is replaced by the word for a person of a certain faith, sexual orientation, or race, it would absolutely sound as an insult, and nobody in the right set of mind would ever phrase it like that.


      • Yes, because typically doing so is in and of itself denigrating. As I said, the assumption made in the video is that “your mom” is a lay person. Certainly some implicit bias there. But your assumption is that lay person = dumb. Please take responsibility for what you bring to the table.


  2. My Mom is a biologist who worked for years as a science educator. She can explain science to the idiot who made that video.


  3. I always suggest to my students that they explain things to “their mom” (or their dad). I do not do this because I assume that mom is “dumb”. Quite the contrary. I assume that moms are smart, and interested in what you are doing (so are dads and others but ‘mom’ is often the person that my students talk about the most and the person who most frequently asks them what they are doing at school – this is just my experience in my own lab). If a student talks about his/her dad the most, then I use ‘dad’ as the example.

    You have enough respect for mom that you will give her a clear answer, but without the use of jargon or assumptions about her knowledge of things specific to your discipline, and, you will clearly articulate why your work matters because you care about what your mom thinks. You wouldn’t give her the rushed or poorly thought out answer that you might give a stranger whose opinion does not matter as much to you. Most moms and dads are *not* in the same specialization as students…but that doesn’t make them dumb.

    I have always been proud of the technique of asking students to explain their work to somebody who they really care about and respect, but is not in their discipline (such as their mom or dad or somebody else). It saddens me that folks imply from this that the underlying assumption is that “mom is dumb”. I guess I can see where the grey haired mom in the purple dress is a little over the top though. Maybe the video was too obnoxiously stereotypical… I can’t evaluate it given that it has been taken down.


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