“Women don’t understand fracking”

A leading female scientist and chair of UK Onshore Oil and Gas has said women are opposed to fracking because they “don’t understand” the science and “follow their gut instinct” rather than the facts.

When I first read this I actually sympathised for a moment because Averil Macdonald blamed this situation on the lack of women studying and working in STEM, which is a well known problem and a national shame. She also went on to say that “More facts are not going to make any difference… What we have got to do is understand the gut reaction, the feel. The dialogue is more important than the dissemination of facts.” Well, it might be a surprise to find a scientist saying something is more important than the facts, but if she’s saying that women have stopped listening to the evidence because they don’t trust the source, I thought, that does have to be dealt with.

Macdonald’s comments were prompted by the latest Nottingham University survey on public perception of fracking revealing that 31.5 per cent of women believe that shale gas exploration should be allowed in the UK compared with 58 per cent of men. These figures compare with “a plurality of [all] respondents, 46.5%, remain[ing] of the view that shale gas should be extracted in the UK [which] is by far the lowest percentage since the University of Nottingham Shale Gas Survey began.” This last point is of course bad news for UK Onshore Oil & Gas, who are by definition pro-fracking.

It occurred to me that Macdonald could be trying to exploit the hot topic of women in STEM to garner female favour for fracking. I even started thinking that her comments were aimed at trapping liberal men into siding with her so that they can be seen as feminist by supporting women in STEM. But there are plenty of women against fracking who do very well understand the science, obviously, so for her to take this position is patronising of women, and is anyway a distraction from the environmental issues of fracking which are that it causes earthquakes, puts chemicals in the ground, and may even cause children to be born prematurely.

Macdonald was also talking to the Times originally, who are intensely pro-fracking. The original article describes her as “the new champion of the shale gas industry, leading a push to persuade women that the process is safe and will benefit Britain’s economy as well as help to meet climate change targets.”

Well, it doesn’t seem to have worked. There’s a great comment on a Huffington Post article about this: “…what Macdonald really said is men are more gullible, easily persuaded by data they wouldnt never [sic] admit they dont understand, and look at short term gain. She also said women are less gullible, more apt to question the validity of data generated by and for the benefit of a particular industry, and look at long term consequences rather than short term gain.”

I’m not surprised to hear that more men than women support fracking, incidentally. Isn’t it, symbolically, a masculine procedure? Drilling into mother earth (wonder what Freud would say?), thrusting a massive penis substitute deep into the ground and ejaculating polluting substances all to demonstrate your total POWER over the very soil we walk on? Put it away, for God’s sake.