Moon Girl, the Devil Dinosaur, and other Child Scientists

moon-girl-and-devil-dinosaur

While procrastinating from studying for midterms, I decided to read a Marvel comic called Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, about a girl who is pseudo-alien and has a pet dinosaur: it was just as strange as you might imagine.

The aforementioned girl is a 4th grader and scientist whose name is, I kid you not, Lunella Lafayette. She has countless successful inventions that she uses to save the day. Lunella works on complex scientific theories and prefers science to people. She is also the self-proclaimed smartest person in the world, which is endearing coming from a nine-year-old, but loses that cuteness when it is said in awe by an adult in one of the later frames. Then, it is no longer adorable. In fact, none of the comic is. Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur (feel free to laugh at the name again) is built upon the faulty and dangerous myth of the child scientist. The problem worsens as it all but declares that only the smartest people in the world are allowed to work in tech.

There is a belief that anyone who goes into a STEM field is a child prodigy who has been engineering in a child sized lab since before they could talk. This is especially true of areas involving computer coding and engineering. If one believed this myth, they would think that everyone in Silicon Valley played solely with circuit boards and never bothered with trivial things like trains or dolls. This is ridiculous. I’m a computer science major, and I don’t know anyone like that. I personally loved my Thomas the Train engines, and never really liked the circuit board I got for Chanukah when I was 14. And that reality does not make me any less committed, or any less worthy, of going into STEM.

Stories like this comic, like the legends told of the giants of today’s tech industries, tell kids that only those who are born knowing how to code are allowed to work in tech. Questions like, “How old were you when you wrote your first computer code,” “How many years have you been interested in tech,” or “What’s your IQ?” are gateway questions to a field that should be open to all. Tech is not only for those who are considered or consider themselves to be the smartest kid on the block. Science is not forbidden to the sixth grader who turned their back on biology and only discovered their love for physics as an eleventh grader. There should not be a cutoff age or intelligence level for pursuing a career in tech.

Yes, stories about children obsessed with science exist to validate kids who prefer science to books or toys or even other children. But they can’t come at the expense of any other kid by saying, “Only for them. Not for you.” These myths are what bar people, especially women, from tech. And even those who break through these walls and ceilings still have the shards biting them, the nagging thoughts that say, “But you don’t want it as much as they do.” That is an empty statement—it means absolutely nothing. The only measure of how good you are in your field is how good your work is. That’s all.

Perhaps the most poisonous aspect of all of this is that Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur is aimed at kids, kids who are constantly asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Rare is the child who answers, “Software Engineer.” But stories like this certainly don’t help. Children see characters as people, as possible friends. And when nine, ten, eleven years olds see that the people who go into STEM are geniuses who have underground labs that stretch the length of a city block, the narrative that is created in their mind is that engineers start early. If you’re thirteen, it’s too late. You should have cared about science when you were younger. If you didn’t, clearly you’re not passionate enough. Would you be interested in being a doctor instead?

That is not meant to put down doctors in any way (who probably are the real smartest people in the world). But no one expects the ten-year-old who wants to be a doctor to have already treated their first patient. Why should that same ten-year-old have to already know HTML? Why do they have to prove their passion? There is enough of a double standard in the tech world already, between men and women. Another one should not have to be institutionalized in elementary school children.

My point is not to get the comic canceled (although maybe they should think about changing the name). If I wanted to do that, I would write a polite but strongly worded letter to Marvel, instead of a think piece in a Yeshiva University newspaper. Instead, I hope that, as you decide on your major, if you notice yourself saying, “I’m not smart enough for that,” or, “There are people much more passionate in that field than I am,” check yourself. Is that true? I hope not, since you should not be held back from pursuing something that is interesting to you simply because you missed the boat back when you had braces.

There is nothing wrong with taking Intro to Computer Science to fill your math requirement, falling in love, and switching your major. You are not less committed if you decided to join an engineering program when you were a high school senior because it’s a well-paying field. You don’t have to pass a passion test to enter. You won’t be a lesser engineer and you certainly are no less worthy. The time in which you realize your dreams—whenever that is—is the perfect time to pursue them.