Wednesday, November 25, 2009

evolution, women in science, oxytocin, and grandmothering macaques

Here's a random assortment of interesting stuff I've come across recently....

I really enjoyed this article in Newsweek about teaching evolution to children, as well as this link about how kids just "get" natural selection.

Also in Newsweek, there's a blog post entitled "Is Motherhood Keeping Good Scientists Down? How to Fix Research's 'Mommy Gap.'"

Unfortunately, it brings up a very difficult point:

"It’s not innate gender differences that hold women back (just look at this year’s Nobel Prize winners in science). It’s not even gender bias (OK, maybe a little, but that’s not the biggest problem). It’s that science is demanding and very, very competitive. No matter how family-friendly a given university is, a scientist who chooses to have a baby risks having her next big breakthrough scooped up by a competitor who chooses to spend 24/7 in the lab. Changing that will take more than a handful of policies; it will require changing the nature of the game itself. I don't think that's possible, and I'm not entirely convinced it's desirable. It’s competition, after all, that spurs innovation and advancement."

I do agree that is the problem--there will always be people that are willing to sacrifice EVERYTHING else in their lives to get ahead. Choosing to have a family means (or should mean) that you aren't willing to sacrifice that for your research or career. Furthermore, I disagree with the author here--I think changing of the nature of the game may be difficult (I have no idea if it's possible or not), but I think it would be desirable. I believe maintaining creative, insightful scientists with different live experiences and interests will spur innovation and advancement more than cutthroat, sacrifice-all competition. Any thoughts?

In other news, The New York Times has an interesting article about oxytocin. I absolutely love this quote:

"Above all, be thankful for your brain’s supply of oxytocin, the small, celebrated peptide hormone that, by the looks of it, helps lubricate our every prosocial exchange, the thousands of acts of kindness, kind-of kindness and not-as-nakedly-venal-as-I-could-have-been kindness that make human society possible."

Finally, head over to the Prancing Papio to read about Grandmothering in Japanese macaques.

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