Search for children assists paleontologists

This is something that blew my mind last week. Some paleontologists are convinced that there were fewer dinosaurs than we thought – that some different types of dinosaurs were just the adult form of another one, despite the fact that they look completely different. It’s explained in this 20 minute TEDx talk:

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To completely spoil the video, Jack Horner (the paleontologist inspiration behind Jurassic Park) believes that:

  • the Dracorex, Stygimoloch and Pachycephalosaurus were the same dinosaur
  • the Triceratops, Nedoceratops and Torosaurus were the same dinosaur
  • the Edmontosaurus and Anatotitan were the same dinosaur
  • the Nanotyrannus and Tyranosaurus were the same dinosaur

and he deduces this through cutting open dinosaur skulls and bones at the Museum of the Rockies where he is the curator. Those skulls/bones of the suspected “younger” dinosaurs are spongy while the “older” ones are more solid. If other museums were happy for scientists to cut open their dinosaurs perhaps this would’ve been discovered sooner.

But perhaps there’s another angle. If women were more involved in the science of paleontology earlier on, perhaps this would’ve been discovered sooner.

Part of the basis for the theory is that no child dinosaurs (ie. small / less-developed specimens) of the now-suspected “older” dinosaurs have been found to date. To my admittedly non-expert mind, this is pretty damning evidence right there. According to Wikipedia, the Torosaur (for example), was first discovered in 1891. Somehow, it has taken over a hundred years for a dinosaur expert to come up with evidence to support the simple theory that the reason there are no child versions found in all this time is that there are no child versions, ie. that it is an adult version.

Horner himself puts forward the explanation that scientists just like to name things – the more dinosaurs, the more chance for names. However, attempting to put on a feminist-shaped hat, I would also think that an alternative explanation is that the predominantly male dinosaur collectors  of the early years of paleontology were not interested in looking for child dinosaurs – the only interesting dinosaurs were the big ones, that probably also turned out to be the male ones. I wouldn’t blame the individual collectors for this – I would think it likely that this was the culture of the industry at the time. Hence, it’s only as the industry changed, and more women came into it for example, that such thinking changed – thinking that enabled a real interest in finding child dinosaurs and explaining what happened to them. (And I realise that I’m falling for a stereotype here that women would be more interested in dinosaur children than men would be, but I suspect it’s true all the same.)

This is merely a hypothesis, and informed merely by personal speculation and a few web searches today. For example, an article from 2010 in Wired trying to identify significant female paleontologists in the face of a complete lack of their public presence. Also, a blog post from a female paleontologist describing how it has traditionally been a male-dominated profession (the photos of Paleontologist Barbie are worth a look, too). In any case, I wonder if there will be further breakthroughs due to the changing gender mix in science.

Division of Labour

It’s something that I think all couples, and in particular, all parents grapple with: how to fairly divide up the housework. I know that some of my friends have also written about it.

One of the best things I’ve ever read about the division of parenting and housework between the sexes was on the New York Times, and if you’re interested in the topic, I recommend you go read it right now. It’s well researched, balanced and insightful.

And in that article, there’s a reference to something that blew my mind. It’s research done by Professor Esther Rothblum at the San Diego State University. Rothblum’s work, published in 2005, compared the amount of hours spent on housework between the sexes, taking into account whether they were gay or straight.

Given that the typical study into sharing of housework finds that men spend much less time doing housework than women, I expected that heterosexual men also on average spend less time doing housework than homosexual women, or even homosexual men. However, that’s not what Rothblum found when she looked at gay and straight couples’ division of labour.

The research concluded that on average 6-10 hrs of housework per week was performed each by lesbians, gay men, and straight men, and 11-20 hrs per week for straight women. (“6-10 hrs” and “11-20 hrs” were different responses in a survey.) A corollary would be that heterosexual couples spend more time in total on housework than gay couples.

Why might this be so? It’s not clear. Rothblum doesn’t go into that aspect in her study, as she seems more interested in the relative share between partners than the absolute numbers.

However, some possible explanations that come to mind are:

  • There may be some kind of cultural pressure that applies in the female heterosexual community, but not in the homosexual community or the male heterosexual community, that requires women to keep their house to a higher standard. (But can such communities be distinct enough for this effect to have significant force?)
  • When straight couples have children, it is known to reinforce traditional gender roles, resulting in women spending more time on household duties than they did prior to children. Perhaps gay couples are less likely to have children and this reinforcing effect is then less likely to occur.
  • Straight men may be, on average, so bad at housework that more time is required by straight women to keep a house to the same standard as that of a gay couple’s, even when straight men spend the same amount of time doing it as, say, gay men. (But if they are “practicing” for the same amount of time each week, why would they be worse?)
  • Men are likely to overestimate the amount of time spent doing housework on a survey, and surveys were used in this research. But does this apply only to straight men and not to gay men?
  • About 200 people in each category were surveyed, and perhaps not enough people were included to get a representative result of the whole country. Although, the women’s results were statistically significant (p < 0.0005).

Still, this is a counter-intuitive finding, and it would be interesting to see if other research reinforces the conclusion. If valid, it may go some way toward defending (heterosexual) men against the charge of not pulling their weight around the home.

But in any case, these results describe average situations across a large number of couples. There’s no “right” figure, of course. Every couple needs to find their own balance, taking into account their own unique circumstances. Which is why, I guess, it’s interesting for us all to write about it.

Division of labour

I’ve recently been doing a gender course at work. I don’t think it’s because I have been singled out as having gender issues. Perhaps it was just that when people were being nominated, my name was an easy one to say. (I don’t think Lleieusszuieusszesszes Willihiminizisteizzi Hurrizzissteizzi ever had that problem.)

After hearing all about someone else’s view of gender issues, it’s really solidified my own view.  I hope I can explain it clearly here. Now, I haven’t experimentally verified this, but it is a testable hypothesis, and seems anecdotally true.

Of all the various personal characteristics, there are those that are directly related to reproduction, and all the rest. For those not related to reproduction (such as height, empathy, strength, ability to multi-task, focus, risk-taking — you get the idea) the characteristics are normally distributed for both genders. This is shown in the following diagram:

The difference between the genders is less than the difference within the genders
The difference between the genders is less than the difference within the genders

The diagram shows how for any particular (non reproduction-based) characteristic, the degree to which it appears in any gender is normally distributed across the population. The conclusion here is that the difference between the genders (as represented by the difference between the average degree of that characteristic for each gender) is less than the difference within a gender (as represented by the spread of degree of that characteristic within any particular gender).

So, treating people in the workplace (or, really any place) as if characteristics that they hold fall anywhere along the spectrum covered by both genders is a good way to ensure that you cover any particular gender well. Certainly, it’s a better approach than relying on characteristics to fall close to the average for a particular gender. In other words, and from the perspective of the male-dominated industry that I’m in, trying to accommodate both men and women is also a good way to ensure that you accommodate a broad spectrum of men.