We’ve talked about women paleontologists before. Seeing that their contributions to paleontology are well-established, one would have thought that male paleontologists would think twice before accusing women paleontologists of being ornamental.
But nothing stops sexist scientists from fulfilling their dread destiny as sexist scientists. Last month, the discovery of homo naledi by one Lee Berger, a new species of our genus homo, was exciting enough to cause incontinence in the general population (read: me). Now it turns out that the research on naledi might have been rushed, as The Guardian reports, in order to attract media attention, and that naledi might just be your garden-variety homo erectus after all, the species devastatingly popularized by Friends. One paleontologist objected to involving the media: “Rushing things, in particular to suit film-makers, is very dangerous.” Dude, there are life-and-death professions, and paleontology may be one of them during excavations, but possibly bad research is not “dangerous”.
It seems that “Many senior palaeontologists believe the way the Naledi finds were revealed and analysed – in less than two years – represents a dangerous precedent, ‘a media circus’ that threatens to split palaeontology into old and new schools”.
I want to write an open letter to these old school scientists.
Dear Old School Scientists,
Media Attention = Funding.
Your Friendly Neighborhood Reminder
But that’s not all, oh no. The scientists who criticized Berger’s research decided to critique the non-scientific aspects of his work too – because that will make them look like better scientists than him.
To illustrate: this quote, especially, makes us go aww-poor-male-scientists:
The fact that Berger used women cavers to retrieve Naledi bones – on the grounds that they were the only ones small enough to get into the chamber – has only irked his critics even more. One said: “There are many male cavers who could get in there, but that would have spoiled the publicity stunt.”
Old school scientists: if you think the media circus damaged Berger’s research, that’s fine. I’ll tell you how to protest it in a non-sexist way: create a media circus of your own. Since erectus walked erect, you should declare that you’ll become quadrupedal in protest. Paleontologists crawling around like “women cavers” oughtta do the trick. Plus, it’ll prove to us that male cavers could’ve done the job equally well.