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Doodling the Right Thing

With a few humble doodles, I think Google may have created the most widely-seen, and perhaps the most influential, science communication effort on Earth. Their series of Google search page tributes to female scientists (a few of which I’ve shared above) is a huge win for showcasing the efforts of women in science, which, unless you’ve been living under a very patriarchal rock for the past forever, you know is something the world needs very badly. 

It might seem silly to be talking about a picture like this, but we’re dealing with the Times Square billboard of internet graphics here. Every day, 730 million people visit Google.com a total of 17 billion times. Billion. Granted, not all of them see the same Google doodle, as only a small set of them are “global” doodles, but even if just 10% of daily unique visitors see a particular doodle, and just 10% of those people take the time to figure out who/what they’re looking at, that means 7+ million people a day (and that doesn’t even take into account repeated visits). I suspect that’s a low estimate, too, although I base that on nothing except my own optimism.

For comparison, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey drew just over 3 million U.S. viewers for its final episode. I’ll concede that’s not really a fair comparison, since Cosmos is a highly-produced, hour-long scripted TV series with very broad and lofty goals and a Google doodle is, well, a picture on the internet. The point I’m trying to make is not that Cosmos is less influential than a cartoon, because that’s ridiculous (although I must admit the more I think about it, I really don’t know how ridiculous it is). My point is that a Google doodle about science reaches a metric f**kton of people.

I am having a hard time thinking of another single Internet Thing that has the potential to reach so many people in a single day. No meme-filled Facebook page or educational YouTube channel comes close, and I don’t suspect any traditional science news/media sites are even in the ballpark. 

Google still has a long way to go to bring their doodle gender representation anywhere close to level. According to SPARK, only 17% of doodles between 2001-2013 were women (and 74% of them were white people). I can’t find the numbers, but on the bright side it seems like 2014 has showcased a high percentage of women in the doodles. In addition to monitoring women featured in doodles, the blog Speaking Up For Us keeps a running list of doodle-worthy women.Despite that remaining imbalance, I think this is an incredible effort on the part of Google, and we should demand even more doodles of underrepresented groups (both in science and beyond).

Can something so passive make any difference? To be honest, I don’t know, but I suspect that it does. When people only see one type of person recognized for accomplishing the Great Scientific Things of history, they consciously and subconsciously assume that only that type of person actually accomplishes Great Scientific Things. That is how underrepresented people stay underrepresented, which is the opposite thing we want to happen.

Google doodles aren’t going to cure cancer or send a human to Mars, but they just might help inspire the person who does. Not bad for a drawing.

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I drew today’s Google Doodle celebrating Leo Tolstoy’s 186th birthday. Big thanks to Ryan for the assignment, to Sophia for assistance with parallaxing and other complicated things, to the engineers/programmers who made things move and to everyone who liked it and wrote nice things to me!

Here’s the full interactive version if you missed it on the homepage (you can drag the scenes instead of clicking to see the transitions better).

And here’s an illustrated blogpost about the process (as usual, I did it with my demented method of inking everything separately).

PS. I’ll use this opportunity to plug my debut graphic novella (In A Sense) Lost & Found which is out today. Coincidence?! Yes.

Zainab Akhtar called it in a Publishers Weekly review "an utterly immersive beauty." She’s usually right about everything.

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Google doodles fossil hunter Mary Anning’s 215th birth anniversary

New Delhi: Paying a tribute to British fossil collector Mary Anning on her 215th birth anniversary, Google has posted a doodle that features Anning searching for fossils, with the remains of creatures forming the letters of the word Google.

Mary Anning was a fossil-collecting woman in the 19th century whose discoveries challenged the predominant thinking of her era. She was working class and didn’t start out as a scientist but she was collecting fossils to sell them to make a living and fell into this scientific discovery.

Anning was credited with the discovery of several dinosaur specimens that helped in the early development of palaeontology. It is said that Anning spent a year extracting the dinosaur fossil from 205 million-year-old Blue Lias cliffs on the beach.

Tracy Chevalier’s wrote a novel “Remarkable Creatures” telling the story of Mary Anning. The idea to write this novel came to Chevalier in a dinosaur museum in Dorset, England.

Anning died of breast cancer in 1847. She was 47.

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Google Doodle celebrating the birthday of marine biologist and conservationist Rachel Carson (1907-1964).  

Rachel began her career at the US Bureau of Fisheries before turning to nature writing.  Her fourth book, Silent Spring (1962), documented the effects of pesticides such as DDT on the environment.  The book inspired a grassroots movement to protect the environment that led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970.  The EPA banned agricultural use of DDT in 1972.

In 1980, President Jimmy Carter posthumously awarded Rachel the Presidential Medal of Freedom, saying:

Never silent herself in the face of destructive trends, Rachel Carson fed a spring of awareness across America and beyond. A biologist with a gentle, clear voice, she welcomed her audiences to her love of the sea, while with an equally clear determined voice she warned Americans of the dangers human beings themselves pose for their own environment. Always concerned, always eloquent, she created a tide of environmental consciousness that has not ebbed.

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