This episode, we discuss a special topic with a special guest! Michelle Barboza-Ramirez from the Femmes of STEM podcast joins us to discuss the history and unique challenges of Women in Paleontology.
In the news
Muscly Young Sabertooths
The saber-toothed cat Smilodon is famous for its beefy forearms, and this study found that they started that way, as strong-armed little cubs! [Report]
Using the latest in scanning technology, researchers are examining the intricate details of Triceratops braincases, and investigating how they changed as the animals grew. [Report]
Surprises in Dinosaur Poop
A recent investigation into dino-stools found evidence of big herbivores chowing down on rotten logs and small crustaceans, but why? [Report]
Some extremely well-preserved Cambrian trilobites offer a peek at some of the earliest fossilized digestive tracts, and clues to trilobite gut evolution. [Report]
Gender Bias in Science
As Michelle said in the episode, every woman in science has a story. At an individual level, it can be difficult to know if any one story is unique to one person, but when science steps in and takes a data-driven look at the bigger picture, the evidence points out the issue.
People – all people – have a tendency to view women in a different light than men, and this bias, whether we realize it or it is unconscious, affects not only how we treat each other, but also what opportunities are available to different demographics.
Michelle mentioned a few studies on how gender bias negatively impacts women in science in the episode. Here they are:
This 2017 Nature paper found that women are underrepresented as peer reviewers.
This 2016 paper in Nature Geoscience found that advisors, when writing letters of recommendation for students, consistently use different language for female and male students.
This 2012 PNAS study found bias in a very straightforward way: science faculty were presented with identical job applications, some with male names and others with female names, and the male names were consistently rated more highly and given better offers. This bias occurred regardless of the gender of the reviewer.
Women Through History
Ever the historian, Michelle shared with us some stories of prominent female figures in the history of paleontology.
Mary Anning – an inspiring figure from the early 1800s who made incredible paleontological discoveries in the earliest years of the field despite never being properly included among scientific organizations.
Learn more about Mary Anning at Mary Anning’s Revenge (NSFW), UCMP Berkeley, and Trowelblazers.
Marie Stopes – an early 20th century paleobotanist, pioneering British female scientist, and strong campaigner for women’s rights at a time when that was much harder to do than today. Also more than a bit of a eugenicist…yikes.
Learn more about Marie Stopes here.
Tilly Edinger – Through the early and middle 1900s, Tilly Edinger managed, among other things, to found the field of paleoneurology (ancient brains!) and to be the only woman at the founding meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP)!
Learn more here.
There are a bunch of great resources for information on women in paleontology and other fields of science. Here are the ones we mentioned:
The Bearded Lady Project – a documentary film and photographic project celebrating the work of female paleontologists and highlighting the challenges and obstacles they face.
Trowelblazers – an extensive outreach project celebrating women in paleontology, archeology, and geology.
Daring to Dig – an exhibit about women in American paleontology.
Mary Anning’s Revenge – a snarky blog by Amy Atwater and Meaghan Emery about Mary Anning, science, and feminism. (NSFW)
Letters From Gondwana – a blog Fernanda Castro, with a recurring series of posts about historical women in paleontology.
She Found Fossils – a children’s book about women in paleontology, showing history, present diversity, and future of women in paleo in English and Spanish.
Learn More and Get Involved
The broad subject of diversity in science involves everyone, and there are many issues that prevent fields like paleontology from being equally available to all demographics. In a sense, most of us are (knowingly or not) part of the problem, but not enough are part of the solution.
Become part of the solution by learning more! Here’s a bunch more recommendations from Michelle and us.
Project Implicit is a Harvard project that tests your individual biases. Great for facing your own perspective, but be ready to be surprised.
Science Friday did a segment on sexual harassment and gender bias facing women in science.
More on issues facing female scientists in this EOS Feature.
Five Ways You Can Be a Feminist at Work, at The Conversation.
This year at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting, many of these topics were discussed during the Women in Paleontology luncheon, including a spotlight on an historical female paleontologist, a review of more study data on gender bias, and some follow-up discussion. You can watch it here (video by Gabe Santos).
AND be sure to check out that super-special-secret-extra-bonus content we made on Diversity in Paleontology! David took interviews from more than a dozen paleontologists at this year’s SVP conference, and we put together a compilation of diverse thoughts on diversity.