Science in the News

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Re: Science in the News

Postby wildlx » 18 May 2015, 11:45

Early men and women were equal, say scientists
Our prehistoric forebears are often portrayed as spear-wielding savages, but the earliest human societies are likely to have been founded on enlightened egalitarian principles, according to scientists.

A study has shown that in contemporary hunter-gatherer tribes, men and women tend to have equal influence on where their group lives and who they live with. The findings challenge the idea that sexual equality is a recent invention, suggesting that it has been the norm for humans for most of our evolutionary history.

Mark Dyble, an anthropologist who led the study at University College London, said: “There is still this wider perception that hunter-gatherers are more macho or male-dominated. We’d argue it was only with the emergence of agriculture, when people could start to accumulate resources, that inequality emerged.”

Dyble says the latest findings suggest that equality between the sexes may have been a survival advantage and played an important role in shaping human society and evolution. “Sexual equality is one of a important suite of changes to social organisation, including things like pair-bonding, our big, social brains, and language, that distinguishes humans,” he said. “It’s an important one that hasn’t really been highlighted before.”

The study, published in the journal Science, set out to investigate the apparent paradox that while people in hunter-gatherer societies show strong preferences for living with family members, in practice the groups they live in tend to comprise few closely related individuals.

The scientists collected genealogical data from two hunter-gatherer populations, one in the Congo and one in the Philippines, including kinship relations, movement between camps and residence patterns, through hundreds of interviews. In both cases, people tend to live in groups of around 20, moving roughly every 10 days and subsisting on hunted game, fish and gathered fruit, vegetables and honey.

The scientists constructed a computer model to simulate the process of camp assortment, based on the assumption that people would chose to populate an empty camp with their close kin: siblings, parents and children.

When only one sex had influence over the process, as is typically the case in male-dominated pastoral or horticultural societies, tight hubs of related individuals emerged. However, the average number of related individuals is predicted to be much lower when men and women have an equal influence – closely matching what was seen in the populations that were studied.

“When only men have influence over who they are living with, the core of any community is a dense network of closely related men with the spouses on the periphery,” said Dyble. “If men and women decide, you don’t get groups of four or five brothers living together.”

The authors argue that sexual equality may have proved an evolutionary advantage for early human societies, as it would have fostered wider-ranging social networks and closer cooperation between unrelated individuals. “It gives you a far more expansive social network with a wider choice of mates, so inbreeding would be less of an issue,” said Dyble. “And you come into contact with more people and you can share innovations, which is something that humans do par excellence.”

[...]
The study suggests that it was only with the dawn of agriculture, when people were able to accumulate resources for the first time, that an imbalance emerged. “Men can start to have several wives and they can have more children than women,” said Dyble. “It pays more for men to start accumulating resources and becomes favourable to form alliances with male kin.”

Dyble said that egalitarianism may even have been one of the important factors that distinguished our ancestors from our primate cousins. “Chimpanzees live in quite aggressive, male-dominated societies with clear hierarchies,” he said. “As a result, they just don’t see enough adults in their lifetime for technologies to be sustained.”

The findings appear to be supported by qualitative observations of the hunter-gatherer groups in the study. In the Philippines population, women are involved in hunting and honey collecting and while there is still a division of labour, overall men and women contribute a similar number of calories to the camp. In both groups, monogamy is the norm and men are active in childcare.
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Re: Science in the News

Postby Baker » 22 May 2015, 07:49

Oldest known stone tools found in Kenya

When they say oldest, they mean oldest by hundreds of thousands of years!

At 3.3 million years old, they push back the record of stone tools by about 700,000 years.

More significantly, they are half-a-million years older than any known trace of our own branch of the evolutionary tree.

Scientists have long thought that sharp-edged stone tools were made only by members of our branch, whose members are designated "Homo", like our own species, Homo sapiens.


To the untrained eye, they look like undistinguished rocks:

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The big question, of course, is who used them?
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Re: Science in the News

Postby wildlx » 26 May 2015, 05:53

Yup. So, there is a missing link somewhere.
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Re: Science in the News

Postby wildlx » 27 Sep 2015, 21:01

This is even worse than my worse expectations. L'Oréal Foundation’s #ChangeTheNumbers revealed in press conference the results of its international collaborative study with OpinionWay to help understand the causes of disparities affecting women in science and the obstacles they face in their professional progression.

"the study reveals that 67% of Europeans think that women do not possess the required capabilities in order to access high-level scientific positions. Only 10% of respondents believe that women possess the capabilities for science in particular."
Women apparently suffer the following shortcomings: a lack of perseverance, of rational thought, of practicality, of rigor, of a scientific spirit and an analytical mind.

[]
With these preconceived ideas being very persistent, it is interesting to note that respondents still think that women are much more numerous in science than they actually are.

Respondents estimated that women within scientific fields hold 28% of the highest academic functions within the European Union, however the reality is that women within scientific fields hold only 11% of the highest academic positions.

When spontaneously citing scientific personalities, without any criteria for gender, 71% of respondents gave the names of men and 33% gave women's names; in France Marie Curie being the only woman mentioned spontaneously.

http://www.loreal.com/media/press-relea ... onal-study



An op ed on the subject here: http://www.theguardian.com/women-in-lea ... ntists#_=_
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Re: Science in the News

Postby FranW » 28 Sep 2015, 06:23

Wow. Not a surprise in retrospect, but still a kick in the guts to read it like that.
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Re: Science in the News

Postby Proofrdr » 28 Sep 2015, 13:23

Do you know if there is similar information for the US?
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Re: Science in the News

Postby wildlx » 29 Sep 2015, 10:14

I don't think so. L'Oreal only made enquires in UK, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, and China. Actually I was talking with colleagues at the lab and they were surprised and said that they wouldn't expects such high numbers in Portugal (we have above average women in STEM). Not sure if that is true...
Anyway there is another piece on the study here http://www.cell.com/crosstalk/public-pe ... -to-change

The L’Oréal Foundation recently released a report on the global perceptions of women in science that might help us address this question quantitatively.

The report (run by Opinionway for L’Oréal and released on September 16) surveyed about 6,000 people, about 1,000 each from the UK, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, and China. The data are broken down by gender and location.

Some of the findings may not come as a much of a surprise

- When asked to think about what job a woman scientist would do, 15% to 16% of people said biologist, 10% physicist, and 3% said mathematician, regardless of gender.
- When asked to name three scientists who made a big breakthrough, 75% of men and 68% of women gave the names of male scientists, with the overwhelming majority choosing Marie Curie as the sole female name (apart from in Italy, where neurobiologist Rita Levi-Montalcini is more well-known).
- When asked about whether a particular breakthrough was from a man or a woman, 77% of people (78% of men, 75% of women) thought a man, rather than Cecilia Payne, discovered that the composition of stars is 98% helium and hydrogen. But interestingly, only 52% of people (54% of men, 49% of women) thought that a man, and not Mary-Claire King, discovered the BRCA genes (though throwing the word ‘breast’ into the question might’ve thrown people off).

But what surprised me (though perhaps it shouldn’t have) was the almost total lack of a difference in the men and women’s answers.

The only obvious place there was a significant difference was when people asked which gender they associated with each scientific profession. 29% of male respondents chose a woman, which is almost expected, but only 52% of female respondents responded for their gender. I find this shocking because our perception that scientists are male is so entrenched that almost half of all women still did not immediately think of a woman scientist.

Perhaps most worth noting is that, when asked to identify a field that women are well-suited for, only 10% of respondents, regardless of gender, picked science.
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Re: Science in the News

Postby Proofrdr » 29 Sep 2015, 12:17

Those are depressing results. I think it's fairly safe to assume that the results would be no different in the US.
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Re: Science in the News

Postby Baker » 05 Oct 2015, 07:32

Holy shit.
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Re: Science in the News

Postby wildlx » 04 Dec 2015, 09:22

It's time to celebrate the fact that there are many ways to be male and female

It’s the first thing we want to know when a newborn arrives. We state it on every form we fill out. We mark it with pronouns, names, clothing, and hairstyle. It’s the first thing we register about a person.

Sex categories – whether you have female or male genitals – are fundamental for reproduction. They are also the principal way we carve up the social world. No surprise then that scientists and the general public alike often assume that sex categories are no less essential to how we think, feel, and behave, taking it for granted that there are female and male natures subserved by a “female brain” and a “male brain”, respectively.

But research published yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), led by one of us (Daphna Joel), puts another nail in the coffin of this persistent view.
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