The following post has been slightly revised in response to commentary below and elsewhere. I thank all those who commented for the helpful critique.

The question of diversity in science, and more specifically, success for women, is often discussed in relation to bench or lab oriented fields. If you read the blogs that cover this sort of topic, they are very often written by bench scientists, for bench scientists, and about bench scientists. Which makes sense because most scientists probably are bench scientists.

ResearchBlogging.orgBut a lot of scientists are fieldworkers, and the problems, challenges and potentials of fieldwork should be viewed, at least to some extent, separately because of different conditions that may prevail in those areas. I highly recommend that you have a look at these blogs for more discussion of issues faced by women in the field sciences:

Here I want to do two separate but related things. I want to discuss certain aspects of the nature of fieldwork in my area in the 20th century that have had a strong effect on the way women have pursued their careers (or not). Although I characterize this as the situation of the 20th century, this does not mean that the situation has or has not changed substantially since then. Simply put, I’m not discussing the current career related situaton for women in field paleoanthropology here in this post.

The second thing I want to do is to talk about a successful female social scientist with a strong connection to fieldwork in palaeoanthropology, as well as theoretical and administrative contributions. This person is also someone who straddles the boundary between classic mid- to late-Twentieth Century patterns of professional activity (in these field sciences) and more recent patterns. I’m speaking here of Barbara Isaac.

The link between these two topics is a bit tenuous but it is also meaningful. There is nothing stereotypical about Barbara Isaac’s career, and there is nothing short of admirable about her as a person and a scholar. My intention here is to not make strong links between these two parallel topics.

Maybe most scientists are labrats, but just as majority rule in defining normalcy and typicality is damaging in matters of gender fairness and diversity, majority rule in matters of sub field should be viewed with a critical eye. In particular, it may be the case that field sciences are fundamentally different from lab sciences in important ways. Consider the fields of Palaeoanthropology and Primatology. Well known women in these fields include Jane Goodall, Alison Brooks, Sara Hrdy , and Mary Leakey, to name just a few. The significance of these women is not simply that they have been successful. It is much larger than that. People get the “Leakeys” confused, but in my experience with 20 years of teaching introductory classes in human evolution, if you mention Mary Leakey, the average person (students, members of the press, people I’ve just run into) knows that you are speaking of one of the main Africanists who have studied human origins. Many Americans are aware of Sara Hrdy because her books Mother Nature: Maternal Instincts and How They Shape the Human Species and The Woman That Never Evolved: With a New Preface and Bibliographical Updates, Revised Edition have been read so widely, and assigned in so many intro or mid level classes covering the biology of women, or intro bioanthropology. Indeed, people often ask me about her, having read the book at some point in time. The average American may not know who Alison Brooks is, but Africanists acknowledge her as one of the leaders, if not the leader in African Paleolithic archaeology.

For many years I have had the imporession that Jane Goodall is one name that is often recalled when students are asked to name a living famous scientist. In an earlier “edition” of this blog post I made the claim that this was well known, and many individuals objected to this. Since I don’t have the time to investigate further I’ll assume that it might not be the case that Jane Goodall comes to mind when people are asked to name a scientist. (But in my heart of hearts I think her name DOES often pop up.) Surely, dear reader, YOU have heard of Jane Goodall.

My point is that there may be something about the field studies of which I speak that is different from other areas of science. The list of physisists who have contributed to our modern understanding of cosmology includes many women, but the list of people who come to mind when the average American (for instance) is asked to a name famous physicist is (it is my impression) mainly male. I’m arguing here based mainly on my own impressions that the opposite is true with palaeoanthropology and primatology. I could be wrong. But I don’t think so.

Does this mean that these fields are contributing in an important way to perceptions of diversity in the sciences generally? Well yes.

I would now like to make a carefully worded statement about the difference between men and women in traditional 20th century academia in the roles they played in both the professional and personal setting. Listen carefully.

All else being equal, most men in 20th century field sciences had the assistance of highly capable spouses … the proverbial woman behind the man, while most women did not. Women did not typically have this resource available to them. Numerous other barriers to women’s success existed, of course, but this differential is especially interesting in the context of field bioanthropology because of the nature of the pursuit itself. It is quite possible that some areas of science (or other endeavors) had more opportunities for a spouse (usually a woman) to assist the career professional (usually a man) than other fields. For various reasons, field Palaeoanthropology is probably one of these areas.

It is interesting to survey the primary African Palaeoanthropologists of the latter part of the 20th century. I can do part of this informally in my own mind as I recall various conferences, biographies, and obituaries of the day, and collate (again, this is all in my head….) these with acknowledgment sections of major monographs. Bill Howells acknowledged his faithful wife, Muriel, who traveled around the world with him measuring skulls and keeping him in line. C. Loring Brace never forgets, in a public talk to note the contributions Mrs. Brace made to his research efforts. Betty Clark was always there for her husband Desmond, in the field or in the lab. And so on and so forth. You get the picture.

Now, here comes a statement about this observation that is meant to be dripping in sarcasm and over the top in cynicism. But, some people (owing perhaps to their own biases) will not understand that this is a cynical statement about the patriarchy and how it operates. So, remember, the following statement is not what I or anyone with even a modicum of political enlightenment would ever think. If you do not understand what I am saying in the paragraph you are reading now, then GO BACK AND READ IT AGAIN! And if you still don’t get it, then PLEASE LEAVE NOW. OK, ready? Here goes:

That is, indeed, what every scholar needs: A wife (or two) who knows how to type, edit, wield a caliper, and still have time to do the grocery shopping, have lunch ready at noon, and give birth to and raise the kids.

But the women who are well known in this field come from a slightly different background. Either they powered ahead into the field of study along side their husband (about whom … the husband … I make no claims in this post) in a similar area, as with the archaeologist Mary Leakey, who’s husband was a palaeontologist or primatologist and naturalist Jane Goodall, who’s husband was director of the Gombe chimp field site and a film maker/naturalist, and/or they worked in a field setting for much of their career whereby they actually lived in-country, or both.

Living in-country provides a significant career advantage for anyone. The basic cost of transport and scheduling of research is different, and easier. When Ofer Bar Yosef was visiting Harvard from Israel, prior to being hired at the Ivy League college, he told me “I’ll never take a job here. In Israel, the sites I work on are in my back yard. Nothing is more than an hour drive away!” (Apparently Harvard made him an offer he could not refuse a year or so later.)

Another advantage of in-country work (meaning you LIVE IN THE COUNTRY IN WHICH YOU WORK), when the country is a developing (or in some cases, unraveling) nation, is the basic cost of doing business. Dianne Fossey , Jane Goodall, Shirley Strum (to name a few highly successful women) and a number of men as well have probably benefited significantly from having inexpensive household and professional staff while working in the Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya, and so on. An academic ex patriot’s (an ex patriot is someone who has moved to and works in a country other than their native land) household can be a very easy place to get things done. Excellent libraries may be far away, but you may have a driver and a cook and a cleaner and, as was the case with the Leakeys and many others, a number of technical staff who do not cost much but who can work with the fossils or carry out data collection better than any passing graduate student. Everyone knows, and the people involved readily acknowledge (to their credit) that the big names … Leakey, Walker, and so on, hardly ever actually found a hominid fossil. A hominid fossil found in Kenya is more likely to have been found by Kenyan Kimeu Kimoya than by anyone else.

For the present, I’ll just skip over the part about the subaltern contribution to the career of the privileged. Not because that is not important, but rather, because it is too important to address as an aside. I will save that for another time.

I have two reasons for mentioning all of this. One is simply to point out the nature of these field studies, and to note the fact that some of the successful women in these fields were successful in part because they had the equivalent (more or less) of a spouse, just like all the men in these fields did. (Keep in mind, this all primarily applies to a 20th century context.) The second reason is to mention that Barbara Isaac’s career involved being the spouse (for several years) and being independently successful without the aid of a spouse or minions as highly skilled low-salaried field workers.

Barbara’s career has been fairly low key. She contributed in all the usual ways, as part of a team, working with her husband, Glynn Isaac. Following Glynn’s untimely and tragic death, Barbara edited a volume of his major papers, and shepherded (a mild word compared to the reality) the production of the Koobi Fora monograph. At the same time, she continued work on an important research project that I’ll shift the focus to momentarily, on the role of throwing in human evolution.

Very few people know this, and I’m not going to go into any details here because they would necessarily be too vague, but Barbara Isaac was instrumental in the process of opening up international research in the Republic of Georgia, where the Dmanisi site has yielded important hominid fossils. Barbara stepped aside from that work early on, but it continues today. Barbara also oversaw the repatriation of Native American materials at the Peabody Museum, and served for ten years as assistant director of the Peabody.

I’ve always thought, but some may argue that I’m wrong, that Barbara was also responsible for the branding of African Stone Age archaeology, in a visual sense. Barbara did many of the illustrations for the work at Koobi Fora and for Glynn’s theoretical contributions. The fanciful rock art-inspired figures that play out the various theories of bipedalism, or central place foraging, or acheulean activities of one sort or another seem to have come from her imagination, although they’ve been imitated subsequently many times.

Barbara’s work with throwing is especially important and underscored a number of her excellent intellectual and personal skills. Here is the basic question: Did throwing things, as weapons, play any role in hominid evolution? It turns out that many of the earliest considerations of this idea, and some of the investigations carried out contemporaneously with Barbara’s interest in this, were kinda nutty. One ‘researcher’ took the opportunity of being a tourist at Olorgesailie — a site excavated by the Isaacs in Kenya at which thousands of hand axes are seen still on the ground, with the tourists walking over them on a wooden catwalk — to pick up an actual hand axe from its place in situ and wing it across the landscape to see what would happen. Crazy people with crazy ideas totally ruined the whole throwing thing, simply because taking a look at throwing would be received like launching an expedition to find Bigfoot. Crazy.

But, the idea is not really so crazy, and Barbara Isaac recognized this because of some work she had done on the question. So, despite the Bigfoot like nature of the throwing hypothesis, she went ahead and assembled a large amount of information in an effort to have a run at the idea. This is how many ideas in palaeoanthropology are addressed scientifically. You can’t run lab experiments for most of these things. So instead you work out a model that described the putative phenomenon, and then apply several lines of evidence to the model to see how stupid the model turns out to be. This evidence can include some experimental work, but it also includes seeking patterns in the archaeological records (objects that can be thrown) looking at medical, physical, or anecdotal evidence (cases of successful homicide by throwing, sports related research), and ethnographic evidence where available. After numerous attempts to make the idea look stupid, if it ends up not looking to stupid, then you may be on to something!

The point here is that Barbara had the cachet in the field, among her peers, to look for Bigfoot and be taken seriously. And when she looked, fully prepared to reject the idea, she ended up making a reasonable argument that throwing was a plausible technique for interpersonal conflict, defense, and hunting. She would not and did not go beyond plausibility, but that is all she attempted. The idea of her work was to demonstrate the implausibility of the throwing hypothesis, and she ended up essentially unable to do so, leaving the idea standing at the end. As plausible. That is good paleoscience.

“Ability to throw was probably achieved at an early stage in human evolution but has received little scholarly attention. Although this ability is poorly developed in apes, anatomical studies suggest that the hand of Australopithecus afarensis was adapted to throw with precision and force. Archaeological evidence and early ethnographic observations are cited in order to demonstrate the importance of the throwing skill in human evolution.”

This of course applies to the use of thrown spears but Isaac looked beyond this to the idea of any deadly projectiles, including basic rocks or the famous Middle Stone Age “spheroids” (rocks shaped by hominids to be round) and such contrivances as bolas. Even to this day, the validity of any claim that a particular artifact is a throwing spear or something similar is very questionable prior to the Upper Paleolithic.

Isaac reviews the ethnographic record and there are a number of examples of cultures in which throwing relatively simple objects for hunting is documented. Most of these are cases of people throwing rocks (as a regular practice) at small things like hyraxes . But there are more extreme cases. The Portuguese encountered natives in the Canary Islands who were able to keep the Portuguese at bay using thrown stones and horn tipped wooden lances.

“In hardly any time at all they had so badly beaten us that they had driven us back into shelter with heads bloodied, arms and legs broken by blows from stones: because they know of no other weaponry, and believe me that they throw and wield a stone considerably more skilfully than a Christian; it seems like the bolt of a crossbow when they throw it…”

(Notice the passive-aggressive “that’s all they know” along with the “They kicked our arses.”)

In addition to the ethnographic record, Isaac reviews the archaeological, human and more broadly hominid anatomical evidence, and looks at chimps. Again, there is general support for the idea.

She concludes, among other things: Stone throwing can be highly lethal, and is widespread in areas where there are no firearms, in the ethnographic record; The anatomy allows for this practice, and there is evidence of this ability in early hominids as distinct from ape models.; The archaeological evidence is suggestive but equivocal to date, owing mainly to a lack of consideration of the nature of the evidence. She also briefly discusses observed sex differences in throwing behavior.

Isaac, Barbara (1987). Throwing and Human Evolution The African Archaeological Review, 5, 3-17

Comments

  1. #1 Nathan Myers
    March 13, 2009

    For a hint of the degree to which throwing affected (or effected) the evolution of humans we need look no farther than the response of the neighborhood stray dog when you reach down as if picking up a stone.

  2. #2 Stephanie Z
    March 13, 2009

    Addressing the content, is there any movement in this field toward formally recognizing the contributions of those skilled technicians?

  3. #3 Greg Laden
    March 13, 2009

    Yes. Kimoya was major-ly recognized in a big ceremony. He and another guy of similar background in South Africa have been given nice retirement arrangements. A different person in South Africa was given a fellowship at a major European university.

    Keep in mind that for all the colonial-esque stuff linked to archaeology and such in Africa, the truth is that the palaeoanthropologists (and some others) have been at the forefront of human rights issues. Glynn Issac was outspoken against Apartheid (his father basically had to leave the country years ago, which is why Glynn grew up Kenyan). Philip Tobias, Francis Thackeray, etc. have taken many personal risks and paid many personal costs on behalf of human rights. Richard Leakey as well. So, yes, they are or have made some significant progress.

    Perhaps most importantly in the long run is that efforts to get native African countrypeople into good schools and on to earn PhD’s has paid off. Three of the folks in the Congo Memoirs were East African grad students, two of whom have gone on and basically taken a very high (deservedly so) position in their own countries, Mzulendo Kubunjia in Kenya and Sileshi Semaw in Ethiopia.

  4. #4 Iain
    March 14, 2009

    Nice tribute. I was always struck by Glyn’s nice acknowledgement that he did not understand why Barbara would not accept being named as joint author of the Olorgesailie book. (In strong contrast to an author of about the same time who acknowledged his wife for her typing 2 drafts, doing the fieldwork, having the kids, and most of the insights–but no hint of joint authorship.)

    I am a little puzzled by the suggestion that Jane Goodall had a spouse in a related field. That may have been sort of true, but surely her key insights and observations were made before the marriage and after.

  5. #5 Greg Laden
    March 14, 2009

    Iain, I almost didn’t say that about Jane. But nonetheless it is true that her early career was tied up with Hugo’s in such a way for a period of time. The point with Jane is that she went along husband/not, famous husband/not and did her thing. I mean, she could have gone off and become the wife of a kinda well known film maker.

  6. #6 Iain
    March 14, 2009

    Greg
    I think Jane Goodall’s most important initial observations (tool making and using; you can identify individual animals and follow their individual histories; you can get to observe chimpanzees sufficiently closely to see what they are doing) were substantial before her marriage–I mean wasn’t Hugo a National Geographic photographer sent to film her because she had made startling observations? Her mum helped, of course, but … well that is a whole different post!
    Iain

  7. #7 Greg Laden
    March 14, 2009

    Yes, I think so. Hugo showed up after Goodall’s original observations. Goodall’s work and success with the chimp research is independent of Hugo (although he was director of the program for a while) and who knows, maybe Hugo was a distraction in the sense that the films that were made back then were not as important as the scientific work being done.

  8. #8 bmeissner
    March 15, 2009

    I had not known that there was a throwing hypothesis out there, and I am tickled pink to find there is.

    When my youngest son was about 10 months old and not quite walking yet, we had to make sure that all his balls were soft and fluffy. Even a tennis ball could hurt you when he threw it at your face from close range. When he was about 18 months old I watched him throw a big soft foam ball across the room (we are talking maybe 3 meters) and hit his Dad in the face nine out of ten times.

    His strength and accuracy got us thinking about throwing as a human skill. His Dad pointed out that we are so good at it that we don’t even think much about it. We are so good at throwing that a child too young to walk could hurt an adult with a tennis ball thrown from some distance away and a slightly older toddler could hit a relatively small target with accuracy from across the room.

    Which got me to thinking about the usefulness of chasing large carnivores off of kills. You could do it with at least a little better safety if you throw rocks at them.

    Of course this is speculation, but it was based on a few facts that my little boy demonstrated with glee every chance he got when he was a baby. We throw. We are very good at it. I suspect that there is a reason for that. I’m glad to hear that others are investigating this.

  9. #9 daedalus2u
    March 16, 2009

    That is interesting.

    One of the most formidable military formations (at one time) was a collection of archers surrounded by foot soldiers with lances. The lance wielders protected the archers and the archers protected the lance wielders.

    To chase carnivores from a carcass, individuals throwing stones and protected by other individuals wielding spears would be very difficult for an individual carnivore or even a pride to prevail against. The carnivore has to get closer to attack, which opens it up to attack by the spears as well as the thrown stones.

  10. #10 suebella
    March 16, 2009

    in the news recently:
    the chimpanzee who stashed rocks to throw at the people watching him across a moat
    and
    the monkey who killed his “owner” with a well aimed coconut after being beaten

  11. #11 ScienceWoman
    March 17, 2009

    I started to write a comment, but it turned into a post. Ping!

  12. #12 MRW
    March 17, 2009

    “It is axiomatic that if you ask Americans to name a living scientist, Jane Goodall is the most frequently mentioned correct answer.”

    Perhaps it shouldn’t be “axiomatic”, because when people have actually asked the question, rather than assuming the result, Stephen Hawking is usually the most common answer. See, for example, a 2007 Research!America poll has Hawking as the top answer at 8%.
    http://www.researchamerica.org/release_07feb01_bts

  13. #13 Greg Laden
    March 17, 2009

    MRW: It depends on the survey and when, but you are right that it is not currently true. Socially, axiomatic is not true, it’s just what everybody says. For quite some time it was the case. When I say, in my post (above), “correct answer” … I was perhaps being too subtle but this post is not about this question. Many people when asked about a famous living scientist name a dead scientist, such as Albert Einstein or Madam Curie, or if the are being asked about human origins research, for years people thought Louis Leakey and Richard Leakey were the same person. Then, later, they thought that Lois Leakey and Louis Leakey were the same person. (This is not based on any surveys. Just my own interaction with intro students.)

    The underlying point here is really pretty simple and straight forward: Despite all the biases against women in science during the 20th century, which effectively kept the number of women in science PhD programs and beyond to a low number despite earlier (in life) interest in the field, among the prominent scientists that he average person knew about there was a disproportionate share of women, owing to those women’s incredible accomplishments.

  14. #14 Kate
    March 17, 2009

    If I am understanding your post correctly, which I have to admit was a little difficult to follow, you were making two points. The first was about the nature of gender and academic work (particularly scientific fieldwork), and the other was about Isaac’s throwing hypothesis. I think I understand your intention in the former, but at the same time I was troubled by what you wrote.

    Here is my understanding of your intention: you are trying to show the problematic nature of gender and science, where it is necessary to have a “wife” to take care of home and children (and maybe even secretarial work). You are then trying to demonstrate how some women have transcended this in fieldwork. On the one hand, I don’t disagree with your point about a “wife” — I don’t have to like it, but I do think it’s true that, rather than figuring out how to have husbands become equally involved in parenting and housework, that this work has gotten outsourced to low paid workers like housekeepers, nannies and day care providers. I share a nanny with three other families so you could even say I’m part of the problem.

    Where I take issue, though, is that you imply that when we look to field science the situation isn’t as bad, and you also even seem to imply that working in the field makes it easier and better to exploit low paid workers, thereby gaining more “wives.” I don’t think the situation is better for field scientists, even if women are figuring out ways to do fieldwork. Every mom I know who works in the field finds it excruciating to be away from her kid, and as fun as it may sound to bring a kid to another country to do field research, the profession of the trailing spouse ends up getting ignored or you divide the family. I haven’t been to the field since my dissertation research, but I also am hoping not to have to go back because I couldn’t bear being away from my daughter, but also don’t think it would be good for her to cart her all over my field site. Then you have the lab-based research of my husband which he couldn’t leave, and you have a crummy situation.

    As for the general public knowing who Sarah Blaffer Hrdy is, or Jane Goodall, or Mary Leakey, I would say most of them just know Jane Goodall. Grade schoolers still draw white haired men in lab coats when they draw scientists, so a single anomalous woman in their consciousness doesn’t seem to be solving that problem. Would it be nice for field science to have better representation in their consciousnesses? Of course. Same with race and gender and disability and all sorts of other stuff.

    Before this post gets any longer, I just want to say I do think that you are trying to demonstrate the problems with current science, and I appreciate that. I’m just not convinced that field science has it any better, and even if it were, that the solution to gender discrimination is to move to our field site and exploit low wage workers in order to get our work done.

  15. #15 Greg Laden
    March 17, 2009

    Kate: regarding this paragraph: Where I take issue, though, is that you imply that when we look to field science the situation isn’t as bad…

    I totally agree, and as a field scientist with child, I understand this viscerally. It is actually HARDER to be a field scientist who goes to the field. I’m referring here to people who LIVE in the field.

    I certainly do NOT suggest, and it would be absurd to do so, that the solution to gender biased exploitation is to shift the exploitation. Why would any sane person suggest that? I am suggesting something more serious. And I’m speaking only of the 20th century here (some readers seem to be missing that). I’m suggesting that in the very sex biased world of 20th century science one of the only ways out (and it was a way followed quite inadvertently) was this sort of shift. I also note that that leads to other issues beyond the scope of this post, and I also imply and note here that this was not Barbara Isaac’s modality.

    Indeed, Barbara Isaac’s career is something to be honored and respected, and looked at as a model in many ways. Is this not conveyed by my choice to profile her and all the good things I say about her?

  16. #16 N.S.
    March 17, 2009

    I am familiar with your topic (indirectly), and I second the opinion that Barbara Isaac is a gem.

  17. #17 N.S.
    March 17, 2009

    I also really enjoyed the pun in the title of the post. Still chuckling about it.

  18. #18 tillie
    March 17, 2009

    All else being equal, most men in 20th century field sciences had the assistance of highly capable spouses …

    This has always been true in every field. The promise of the labor saving devices and the freedom that would ensue was a long time in coming! (And we are still waiting.)

    In my first marriage, I was the typist and my husband the PhD student. In my second marriage we shared responsibilities more and I eventually also obtained the degree. My first inclination was to no allow or encourage my daughter to learn to type at all, but this was futile. Now, of course, everyone is keyboard happy. As long as she can write her thesis on twitter she will be fine.

  19. #19 dean
    March 17, 2009

    I had the same inclination to not let my daughter near a keyboard, but this is a different world now, where everyone growing up in a western setting is keyboard-savvy (yet none seem quite to be touch-typing as I was taught it).

  20. #20 Lys
    March 17, 2009

    Thank you for making this point regarding the role of the “woman behind the man” in so many cases. Obviously this is changing (and you make clear what century you are writing about) but women, me included as recently as the last month, are still queried as to reproductive plans. “I know I am not supposed to ask about this but ….” How many men hear this during an interview? How many women? Don’t tell me, I know the answer.

  21. #21 Kate
    March 17, 2009

    Greg: But are there really that many people that LIVE in the field? I don’t know a single one. I understand that you intend to discuss an approach that is in the minority in science, but you are discussing a minority approach within field research!

    Here’s the thing: I think you are making your point more clear as you comment, but in the original post it is very hard to understand that your intention is to point out Isaac’s interesting strategy… instead it kind of seems like you are pointing it out as one of only a few viable strategies for women in 20th century science.

    Is Isaac to be respected and honored? Yes! But is she a model for female field researchers? Maybe she is A model, but not THE model, not to mention one that most women I know would have a hard time following today.

    Finally, you say “I certainly do NOT suggest, and it would be absurd to do so, that the solution to gender biased exploitation is to shift the exploitation. Why would any sane person suggest that? I am suggesting something more serious.

    I think you are overestimating how clearly you convey this in the text of the post — sure, why would any sane person say this, and yet it seems like several people have misunderstood the post. And what is the more serious thing you are suggesting?

    The bottom line is that academic science isn’t well structured for anybody. Family or no, male or female, etc, it is set up so that you always feel as though you have to work, and you have more work than any single person could ever hope to do well. So you suck at service or teaching or both, or you go to the field less than you’d like, or you outsource your labwork to grad students. That’s why there were work-wives and why they still exist, either in actual wives or low paid workers.

    And even with all this work I could never hope to realistically do well, I am at a university that has been whispering of possible furloughs. Perhaps the conversation should not be in how 20th and 21st century science are different, but how we haven’t come that far at all.

  22. #22 Glen
    March 17, 2009

    Keyboard? Are you talking about the numbers on the screen of my iPhone?

  23. #23 xavier
    March 17, 2009

    Your paper started off with problems with spaces, and now has problems with space cadets who can not do a very good job reading (“ping”).

    What role did the Intifada have on Isaac’s thinking up of throwing? It may have been about at the same time.

  24. #24 Irish
    March 17, 2009

    @ScienceWoman (inre: “Ping”).

    Holy crap. You’ve got more sock puppets over there than I have socks. And I have a lot of socks.

  25. #25 Karen
    March 17, 2009

    I think sciencewoman blog got mad at you for not mentioning them specifically. Hey girls, we don’t need the sissy fit stereotype coming down on us, OK?

  26. #26 Greg Laden
    March 17, 2009

    I was always struck by Glyn’s nice acknowledgement that he did not understand why Barbara would not accept being named as joint author of the Olorgesailie book.

    Iain, that was one of the first things I ever read in the field of palaeoanthro … the acknowledgment section of that monograph. Then, six months later I met Barbara. I had wandered into the lab sort of accidentally (my first time in the renovated space, literally only days before having been admitted as a grad student) and there was this woman standing there with her hands on her hips looking around very thoughtfully. There was another grad student looking person or two also wandering around aimlessly. Suddenly, the woman was instructing all of us and within a half hour or so we have moved every piece of furniture moved into place, and from then on we had a functioning lab. At some point later there were introductions.

  27. #27 Greg Laden
    March 17, 2009

    tillie: My first inclination was to no allow or encourage my daughter to learn to type at all, but this was futile.

    My experience exactly. Well, I did see the point of her learning and encouraged her to learn, but only after carefully thinking about it, and making sure to let her know why she should not TELL anyone that she can type.

  28. #28 Greg Laden
    March 17, 2009

    Kate: But are there really that many people that LIVE in the field? I don’t know a single one. I understand that you intend to discuss an approach that is in the minority in science, but you are discussing a minority approach within field research!

    It might be that the number is larger than you are thinking (in African paleo/anthro) but yes it is very small.

    I’m not suggesting that having a spouse or two, or having low-wage employees is a strategy that anyone should use. I’m talking about what has happened. (Not universally.)

    I think Isaac is a model. And, just to make this quite clear, Barbara had neither spouse typing her work nor low wage laborers and assistants washing her clothes and measuring her artifacts (or whatever). Unless you count me. I was a low paid worker for her for a while during the repatriation project, but I don’t think use of graduae students in work study positions is the point here…. (that’s for another time, I guess)

    it seems like several people have misunderstood the post.

    Obviously I was wrong to assume that the utter absurdity of the idea would be clear to anyone reading it. But also, you probably should not rule out willful misreading. Sorry to make that accusation, but in time it will be clear that this is the situation. Say no more.

    The bottom line is that academic science isn’t well structured for anybody. Family or no, male or female, etc, it is set up so that you always feel as though you have to work, and you have more work than any single person could ever hope to do well. So you suck at service or teaching or both…

    Amen, sister. To coin a phrase….

  29. #29 Greg Laden
    March 17, 2009

    NOTA BENE:

    I have read through Science Women’s blog and the comments there, as well as here. It is quite possible that the internet is not ready for the sort of subtlety one gets when I pound you over the head with a big giant sledge hammer of cynicism. Like I’m doing right now. Pound pound pound. But, it is also true that this Barbara Isaac post is huge and complex and all over the place. It should have been three posts, but I wanted to put something together in response to a request to submit to the upcoming Diversity in Science carnival. So there you have it.

    So, having gone through the comments, which I do truly appreciate even if they were delivered in some cases in a manner that one would never use in a professional setting or face to face conversation (snark snark!), and I’ve revised the offending post to the minimal extent that I feel is necessary. I’ll probably take up some of these issues later and take another run t them.

    So everybody now has to go back up to the top of this thread and RE-READ THE WHOLE THING!!!! See if you can spot the changes. Report back.

    Onward.

  30. #30 D. C. Sessions
    March 17, 2009

    a minion of workers

    Silly me, I just figured that Greg had misspelled “a minyan of workers” — ten of them, in other words.

  31. #31 José
    March 17, 2009

    It is quite possible that the internet is not ready for the sort of subtlety one gets when I pound you over the head with a big giant sledge hammer of cynicism.

    That’s why emoticons were invented. Although, I admit I can’t ever bring myself to use one. I feel all dirty inside just thinking about using them. Maybe I need therapy.

  32. #32 Greg Laden
    March 17, 2009

    Me? Misspell something? Inconcievable!

    But I did change my mind. The post, which has now actually been revised four times if you count the strange bit about the spaces, reads: “aid of a spouse or minions as highly skilled low-salaried field workers.”

  33. #33 D. C. Sessions
    March 17, 2009

    The bottom line is that academic science isn’t well structured for anybody. Family or no, male or female, etc, it is set up so that you always feel as though you have to work, and you have more work than any single person could ever hope to do well.

    At the risk of competing with Our Host in the writing-for-misunderstanding sweepstakes:

    Don’t expect this to get any better before universities can’t find replacements for retiring faculty.

  34. #34 Greg Laden
    March 17, 2009

    Don’t expect this to get any better before universities can’t find replacements for retiring faculty.

    Huh?

  35. #35 Stephanie Z
    March 17, 2009

    The best and fastest way for working conditions to improve is to have employers competing for employees.

  36. #36 Greg Laden
    March 17, 2009

    No, I think D. C. Sessions is saying that universities should not replace retiring faculty.

  37. #37 D. C. Sessions
    March 17, 2009

    Huh?

    Basic economics: when the supply is plentiful, drive the “price” down until the supply declines to an equilibrium point.

    Academic economics dictates that there are a lot more grad students than faculty positions — which means that it’s a buyers’ market. What’s potentially worse is that the very best are also the ones least likely to walk away from the table (passion can be that way.)

    In a situation like that, “buyers” can pretty well dictate terms. And they do. As the late Randy Pausch put it [1], “If you want to know how I made tenure as young as I did, come by my office any Friday at 10 pm and we can talk about it.”

    [1] Exact wording TTBOMR.

  38. #38 Greg Laden
    March 17, 2009

    Academic economics dictates that there are a lot more grad students than faculty positions — which means that it’s a buyers’ market.

    What I don’t get is this: Why is this utterly obvious fact lost on everyone in the system?

  39. #39 D. C. Sessions
    March 17, 2009

    No, I think D. C. Sessions is saying that universities should not replace retiring faculty.

    Greg, I think I should stay away from your blog for a while.

    Between the two of us, I think we could get a critical mass of misunderstandability/miscomprehension going that could suck in all sentient life in the Universe.

    (Thanks, Ms. Z.)

  40. #40 Greg Laden
    March 17, 2009

    Hey, I was being snarky! Obviously!!!!

    Does no one get snark anymore? Jeeshh..

  41. #41 D. C. Sessions
    March 17, 2009

    Why is this utterly obvious fact lost on everyone in the system?

    Never underestimate the power of human self-deception. A corollary is that, contrary to what we might expect, the more intelligent the person the more vulnerable they are [1].

    Ask yourself: whose self-interest is served by admitting this bit of economics?

    [1] Greater intelligence just makes for more convincing rationalization.

  42. #42 D. C. Sessions
    March 17, 2009

    Hey, I was being snarky! Obviously!!!!

    Does no one get snark anymore? Jeeshh..

    I think it’s been observed already that your attempts at rhetorical devices in a text-only medium are not always successful.

    If you meant that the “Profzi scheme” is a “Well, DUH!” topic in academia, I apologize. My only real contact with career academia has been through my daughter, who is on the lifer track. It’s apparently not a topic of conversation in her circle.

    Me? I’ve been industrial for thirty-some years and missed the acculturation.

  43. #43 Greg Laden
    March 17, 2009

    I think it’s been observed already that your attempts at rhetorical devices in a text-only medium are not always successful.

    Actually, you can now officially kiss my ass.

    When you factor in motives for that alleged observation over recent months, some of which I know and you don’t, and the seemingly incomprehensible lack of understanding of the most obvious concepts by those making that assertion (clearly indicating that they really are making this up) no, that observation is not valid and you don’t get to come on my blog and lay it on me as though it was some kind of established fact.

  44. #44 Stephanie Z
    March 17, 2009

    Greg, I don’t know that D.C.’s being sarcastic, but people have been missing him doing it all day.

  45. #45 anon
    March 17, 2009

    I believe you meant “expatriate”; an ex-patriot is something entirely different.

  46. #46 D. C. Sessions
    March 17, 2009

    that observation is not valid and you don’t get to come on my blog and lay it on me as though it was some kind of established fact.

    First things first: I apologize. No qualifiers.

    Secondly: Thanks again, Ms. Z.

    Finally: Some of that “industrial” career has involved information theory, semantics, and also very precise legal/technical communication. I do not trivialize the difficulty of communication, for any of the parties involved.

    Be well, Greg. Enjoy the pasta.

  47. #47 Greg Laden
    March 17, 2009

    Wait a minute, how do you now about the pasta!?!?!? Was that you following me around in the grocery store!?!?! Did you see that deal on out of date tuna fish?

  48. #48 D. C. Sessions
    March 17, 2009

    Wait a minute, how do you now about the pasta!?!?!? Was that you following me around in the grocery store!?!?!

    I’m quick, but the injuries this last year have reduced my super-speed to the point where I have to rely on l33t hax0r sk1llz. Look around next time for the security cameras.

    Did you see that deal on out of date tuna fish?

    See above. And here’s a tip: if someone claims to be selling you out-of-date tinned tuna, they’re lying. The dates on tinned tuna qualify them for inclusion in time capsules going into salt mines — and they’ll still be theoretically edible when erosion exposes the capsule.

  49. #49 Stephanie Z
    March 17, 2009

    D. C., happy to do it. It’s rather nice to smooth the path of communication for someone who takes it at face value.

  50. #50 D. C. Sessions
    March 17, 2009

    It’s rather nice to smooth the path of communication for someone who takes it at face value.

    I wouldn’t claim to go quite that far!

    Well, that’s the funny thing about overinterpreting what someone writes. Sarcasm is all well and good, and I’ve been known to do a bit of mockery in my day — but in general, it’s a very good idea to take people at their word unless you have damned good reason to believe otherwise. As in, you’ve known each other for a long time and have established a degree of rapport.

    So — considering the number of thermal neutrons [1] circulating in the blogosphere, I truly appreciate a chance to just exchange packets with someone else who is willing to have a conversation rather than an exchange of verbal artillery.

    Once again, Ms. Zvan, it’s been a pleasure.

    [1] Ask me someday about the neutron metaphor for human interaction.

  51. #51 the real me
    March 18, 2009

    Wow: re: fanatical sciencwomen…

    Greg, is this what a silverback has to put up with every time the moon waxes, then wanes into a warm spring?

    I think the only way you can win this one is to step out of science altogether, so that the girlzz can do all da’ maths and stuff, and gitz da gud jobz…

    Oh, wait: if we leave the bonobos to have the entire field/s/s of science, they will all be too busy sniffing each others buttz and gg rubing–getting no maths done!

  52. #52 R.V.
    March 20, 2009

    Have you ever heard about the great zoologist Libbie Hyman or Rachel Carson, whose book ‘Silent Spring’ is an environmental claim? Both had a great science career and they were single!!! Nor known scientist husband, date etc.
    Please don’t blame women scientist!!

  53. #53 Greg Laden
    March 20, 2009

    R.V. You’re going to have to be more specific in your claim: Who is blaming “the women scientists”? And for what exactly?

    I didn’t happen to mention Carson or Hyman because they are not so much palaeoanthropologists.

    Both of these women were very successful (financially) as writers (relative to other writers, at least) and were therefor not as dependent on the established academic patriarchy as they might have otherwise been.

    It is not really fair or appropriate to say that Caron did not have a husband (or date?). Well, yes, that’s true, but it obviates what she did have, which was complicated.

The site is undergoing maintenance presently. Commenting has been disabled. Please check back later!