On January 17, 2013, journalist Ann Finkbeiner wrote a blog “What I am not going to do” in which she said that she would be writing an article on a prominent astronomer’s research without referring the astronomer’s gender, spouse, childcare arrangements or how the researcher was taken aback by the competitiveness of the field or nutured students. Finkbeiner objected to the common practice of focusing on the fact that a researcher is a woman rather than on her work. After reading Finkbein’s blog post, fellow journalist Christie Aschwanden reposted it on her own blog and proposed the Finkbeiner Test. To pass the test, she said an article on a female scientist must not mention the following facts:
1. The fact that she’s a woman
2. Her husband’s job
3. Her child care arrangements
4. How she nurtures her underlings
5. How she was taken aback by the competitiveness in her field
6. How she’s such a role model for other women
7. How she’s the “first woman to…”
What is another way to tell if an article is gender biased? Aschwanden suggested reading a post about a female scientist and then mentally switching the gender to male. If the descriptions or observations made about the female scientist sounded ridiculous when said about a man, then those comments should not be in the article.
The assignment this week was to write a reverse Finkbeiner. In other words, write an article about a male scientist that would fail every one of the seven rules of the Finkbeiner test. I decided to write a reverse Finkbeiner obituary for Albert Einstein in response to the obituary written in the New York Times for rocket scientist Yvonne Brill.
On April 18, 1955, Dr. Albert Einstein (known affectionately as “Albertl “ by his wife) passed away as a result of an abdominal aortic aneurysm, after refusing treatment. He leaves behind five children; father to Lieserl, Hans Albert, and Eduard (called “Tete” by his loving father) by his first wife and stepfather to Ilse and Margot by his second wife. Mileva Maric, his first wife, was a successful physicist who, to Albert’s life long sorrow, divorced him after he made some poor personal decisions. Albert’s second wife, Elsa, was also his cousin, meaning that his children Ilse and Margot were also his first cousins once removed.
Image owned by Wikipedia (CC0 Public Domain)
Albert is remembered by his family and friends for his strong sense of humour, which was often risqué. He loved a gag gift given to him by an engraver friend—a nameplate which said Albert Ritter von Steissbein—(translated politely, it means “Albert, Knight of the Coccyx”) and had it posted to the door of his home. Albert also loved sailing, although he never learned to swim, and spent many enjoyable hours on board his sail boat “Tennif.” He was quite musical, playing the violin and piano and often joined in local recitals, sometimes with his friend, the famous physicist Max Planck (the Father of Quantum Theory). His family reports that, in his spare time, Albert was an accomplished builder of houses of cards; he once built one 14 stories high! Another aspect of Albert, fondly remembered by his friends and family, was his complete disregard for his personal appearance. Albert’s typical attire was an undershirt, baggy pants held up with rope, and sandals. He never wore socks, commenting that if he wore shoes, why should he bother with socks?
Albert’s career was checkered. He moved from tutoring school children to working as a clerk in the Swiss Patent Office (thanks to the help of one of his father’s influential friends) to lecturing at several academic institutions in Switzerland, Poland, and Germany before immigrating to the United States. Once in the States, Albert took a position at Princeton University in New Jersey where he remained for the next 23 years, nurturing his students and, without meaning to, becoming their male role model. However, no matter where Albert worked, his family remained his main focus and the center of his life.
Albert’s family is rightfully proud of his accomplishments, especially his invention and patenting of two innovations—a refrigerator which operated on alcohol and a transistorized hearing aid. They are also extremely proud of his earning a doctorate in physics, especially since he was a high school drop out before listening to his parents and returning to earn his high school diploma. And, although he’s not the first man to win the Nobel Prize in Physics, the prize for his study of the photoelectric effect is a source of pride and comfort for his family and friends, as is his work on the theory of relativity, however, Albert himself commented that his enjoyment in life came from those he loved and from music. He often said that if he hadn’t become a physicist, he would have become a musician.
After writing my reverse Finkbeiner obituary for Einstein, I discovered another version online.