Biologist Ruffles Feathers on Facebook

The blogosphere voices widespread condemnation for a sexist comment made by a researcher attending this week’s annual Society for Neuroscience conference.

By Bob Grant | October 19, 2012

Maestripieri's ire-inducing Facebook postNeurobiologist Dario Maestripieri is catching major internet flack for an opinion he recently expressed on his personal Facebook page. In an entry he posted this past Sunday (October 14), the University of Chicago researcher and fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science lamented what he perceived as a lack of "beautiful women" the Society for Neuroscience's annual conference in New Orleans, Louisiana. "There are thousands of people at the conference and an unusually high concentration of unattractive women," Maestripieri wrote. "The super model types are completely absent. What is going on? Are unattractive women particularly attracted to neuroscience? Are beautiful women particularly uninterested in the brain?"

Academic bloggers wasted no time in condemning Maestripieri's post. "There is a very simple response here. Don't do this," wrote DrugMonkey. "It's sexist, juvenile, offensive and stupid. We should not tolerate this crap."

"I want the sexist behavior to stop so scientists who happen to be women can concentrate on the business of doing science (rather than responding to sexist behavior, swallowing their rage, etc.)," agreed San Jose State University philosophy professor Janet Stemwedel on her blog Adventures in Ethics and Science.

Maestripieri appears to have a habit of judging the looks of those around him. In March, he published a blog on Psychology Today's website entitled "The truth about why beautiful people are more successful," in which he discussed informal surveys he conducts on the attractiveness of fellow airline passengers flying in first/business (F/B) class or economy (E). "A few times, as I boarded a plane and walked to reach my seat in the last row I mentally assigned an attractiveness score, from 1 to 10, to the people sitting in F/B class and calculated an average," Maestripieri wrote. "Then I did the same for some random people sitting in the middle of the E class. Every time I did this, the average score for the people in the F/B class turned out to be higher than the average score for the people in the E class." He then cites research that supports the idea that more attractive people have easier rows to hoe: making an average of 3-4 percent more, getting hired sooner, and being promoted more quickly than people with below-average looks.

"[Maestripieri is] well aware of how hard someone in his position has had to work in order to rise to the top of an extremely competitive and demanding field," wrote Erin Gloria Ryan on Jezebel. "So it's confusing to me that he would fail to grasp the fact that women in his field had to perform similar work and exhibit similar levels of dedication that he did."

Maestripieri closed the Facebook post that is drawing the collective ire of the internet with a simple, yet apparently ineffective statement: "No offense to anyone."

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Avatar of: JakersUB


Posts: 1

October 19, 2012

No, Bob, Maestripieri did not "ruffle feathers". He made a completely unacceptable and uncalled-for comment.

I wonder what possible thought process might have led him to conclude something so asinine, and further to decide that it was appropriate to make public in a forum like Facebook.

Perhaps he has spent too much time studying the stresses and costs involved with macaques, and needs to spend more time learning human primate social norms.

I'm not sure if you're bending over backwards to appear neutral on this topic, Bob, but the tone of your article comes very close to implying that you condone Maestripieri's comment.

There is no neutral stance on this sort of comment. At all. It is sexist, insulting to Maestripieri's colleagues, and not to be tolerated. Had Maestripieri made a similar comment during a faculty meeting or in a classroom, it is very likely that he would be facing censure or pressure to leave UChicago.

I for one hope that he finds the wisdom to step down and allow one of the many, many talented young neuroscientists to take his place.

Avatar of: Krisra


Posts: 1

October 19, 2012

Dario Maestripieri....he's one to talk.  I would give him a minus score for attractiveness.  Very likely THE most unattractive man I have ever seen - both inside and outside.

Avatar of: Paul Stein

Paul Stein

Posts: 237

October 20, 2012

I don't know what the big deal is all about.  The good doctor is obviously an expert in the field, and I guess his salivation simply wasn't going very parasympathetic at the Society meeting. 

From page 50 of his c.v.:


November 4, 2003: Men drool over women.  NewWomanOnline

November 4, 2003: Making men drool.  Evening Standard – U.K.


Avatar of: ac


Posts: 5

October 20, 2012

Umm...I don't know how I feel about this. If he is commenting from the point of view of a guy looking to have some fun at the conference with some "hot chicks", it it inappropriate. If on the other hand, he is making an observation from a scientific point of view, as he seems to be interested in this topic, then it is perhaps a legitimate scientific question. Why success and attractive looks seem to be associated to some extent. I guess we don't know for sure what he means. But I'd hate to be interested in a legitimate scientific question and be inhibited by political correctness when I know that I don't mean anything bad by it. (As for my observation, scientists actually tend to be attractive)

Avatar of: gyan


Posts: 1

October 22, 2012

what can be human life increase......means- increase in age or long lifes secret ?????  can do this ?can humans live even  three hundred years in modern age.    satisfy me.

Avatar of: Bikerclaire


Posts: 1

October 24, 2012

Oops, he didn't really think that one through before posting did he? It's quite depressing to know that being bright and interested in a subject is not enough to engender basic human respect from this man. If I ever met him I'd know I'm being viewed as a potential mate (and this judged on looks not character), so not really any different from any man really, but most don't voice it, that's the difference. I feel I need to ward him off already!

Going back to his informal study - isn't it obvious that his 'test' had a massive great hole in it? He could so easily have unconsciously picked better looking (to him) people in first/business class and less in economy? He should have picked them when he didn't know what class they were in, then found out later. That's just sloppy!

From his blog -

"I fly frequently and at some point I began to notice that the passengers who sit in F/B class seem better-looking than those sitting in Economy (E). This applies to individuals of both genders and of any age, including children and people in their 70s."

Right so you're rating the attractiveness of children? Eh? You're on VERY dodgy ground there! I think you should stick to over 18's in the future. Just saying. 

Avatar of: Barbara1


Posts: 1

October 24, 2012

The man's a louse.

O would some power the gift gie us to see ourselves as others see us.

Robert Burns, "To a Louse."

I observed that a large number of attractive young women are now in the field of neuroscience. Who would want neuroscientists dressed as models? It takes models days to make up for those sessions and they usually starve themselves to look like that. I guess he missed me. I usually get criticized for looking too nice to be taken seriously. As for the first class people being more attractive, maybe they are just wearing more expensive clothing or just look better in the bigger seats.

In any case, the 'study' was scientifically flawed and makes him look like a poor scientist in addition to being a louse.

Avatar of: AlanB


Posts: 16

November 21, 2012

He did nothing wrong. He is entitled to voice his thoughts on his FB page and if his FB 'freinds' don't like it they have the option of unfreinding him. On the other hand, turning an honest persons rather ungenerous opinions into news is offensive to me. There are plenty of sexist women - and women scientists too - whose derogatory opinions about men don't get published and exposed in this way.  Real discrimination is one thing - and it does happen to women a lot in science - but this wasn't it. Its not an excuse to get enraged and thereby start throwing around demands, many being more shortsighted and immaturely righteous as well as opinionated than the original comments, and certainly not a means to demand censorship of a neuroscientist. 

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