Category Archives: Science

March of progress, reloaded

To compensate for the um, excitement of that last post about project management, I present my readers with this especially striking depiction of the March of Progress image.

 

[March of Progress image]

There are two central points about this image, generally speaking. First, it represents evolution incorrectly. The figures become more upright towards the right side of the image, which is intended to represent progress towards modern-day human beings. Evolution does not progress, let alone towards us. Second, it’s racist. Portrayals of dark-skinned people as primitive had been a staple of racists since well before the late 1850’s; evolutionary biology simply provides a new context for this representation. It remains offensive; those who think it isn’t aren’t taking it seriously enough. Recall the 2009 controversy over the representation of Barack Obama as a monkey—being shot by police. The Tightrope web site (“It’s not illegal to be white. . . yet”) has a t-shirt using a monkey to represent Obama, and if you really think this isn’t racist, you can show the world by buying one. I point out the scientific problems first to pre-empt the inevitable knee-jerk criticism that political correctness is the motivation for my complaints about the image. Even Grand Wizards and Neo-Nazis should object to this image on scientific grounds, although I doubt that the ignorance and intolerance framing their world view does not promote serious study of evolutionary biology.

This instance is especially outrageous because the March of Progress is a march towards whiteness. Astonishing. It’s not my area of expertise, but is it correct that the 4th and 5th figures from the left have hairstyles more likely to be worn by people of African descent? The rightmost woman has hair not in general natural for a person with black skin, because it is brown.

Trowelblazing: Women in archeology (response to a comment on Victoria Herridge’s blog posting)

In an article entitled “Trowelblazers: In search of the female Indiana Jones,” Victoria Herridge writes about Dorothy Garrod’s 1930’s archeological work. The purpose of the article is to highlight Garrod’s gender as a way to discuss the broader issue of women’s participation in archeology. One of the commenters, countertrans, responds in the following way.

I am unsure if i get the point of this article. women have broken every single glass ceiling over the last few decades. we are neck to neck with men when it comes to numerous jobs. I am not one bit surprised that women are doing the same in archeology. in fact a woman was queen to half the world when all these fascinating archaeology was going on. So, this article looks like a shameless self promotion to me. Today when women are breadwinner or co-breadwinner in four out of five families our battle is one of pay equity, paid family/maternity leave and fighting for taking care of our families without the fear of loosing our jobs.

The comment says that women have broken “every single glass ceiling,” which is definitely not true. Nature devotes an entire issue to analysis of gender inequalities in science; the Harvard Crimson describes gender biases among the undergraduates there. Many tech fields have a similar problem. Consider the repeated instances of in-the-open misogyny at tech conferences recently, the latest being the rape joke told by someone from Microsoft, on stage. There is good reason to believe that the differences are not due to intrinsic differences between the genders in analytical reasoning. There is also a question of women’s’ experience. I wish I had scientific literature about this. I think many in academia do not think that women can make a significant contribution, judge them on their attractiveness, and see them as objects of sexual desire. This is a structural feature of the environment; there may be just as many women who treat other women badly as there are men.

Pointing out that a woman is or was a queen is a little funny, because if someone is queen, it follows immediately that the person is a woman, because queens can’t be men. (Sorry, couldn’t help myself.) More seriously, the gender of a country’s ruler is probably irrelevant to whether there is gender equity in science.

Articles like this one are needed because, as in the case of Indiana Jones, there aren’t any female icons for archeology or in general the study of antiquity. Having such icons (and their real-life counterparts) is important in order to help bring girls and young women into male-dominated fields.

NASA’s astronaut corps is for the first time gender-equal (http://msmagazine.com/blog/2013/06/18/nasas-new-astronauts-reach-gender-parity/). Much of the news media coverage on this reports, in a substantive way, on Sally Ride, the first American woman in space. She’s that iconic role-model.

Now for some real shameless self-promotion: everyone should look up Betsy Bryan and Kara Cooney, archeologists from my graduate alma mater.

I am not entirely guilty of shamelessly promoting myself by responding to a blog comment on my own blog, rather than in the comment thread. I couldn’t log in to the original blog, which is required for posting. I figured that, since I went to the trouble of writing this, it may as well be posted somewhere.