Friday, February 26, 2016

Dear Professor Bernard A. Wood, Center for the Advanced Study of Human Paleobiology

Dear Professor Wood,

I am writing to you here openly on my blog because I do not feel that official behind the scenes channels work to correct the behaviors that I have observed in the scientific community in the last five years.  In fact, I have attempted repeatedly to contact members of the scientific community about my concerns, to no avail.  I have even spent more than a few thousand dollars of my own money trying to address these issues in scientific forums. Again, no redress. I am still of a school of thought that believes that Science should ultimately be done in the public service and that members of the public, in this context, should not be using their personal finances to attempt to redress issues of scientific misbehavior.  It is up to the Scientific Community to right itself.

My formal training is as an electrical engineer.  I currently have a break in my career at the moment and am pursuing a parallel matter of concern.

As a matter of fact, I left my last position as a Silicon Valley Radio Frequency Design Engineer in part due to the harassment and hostile work environment that I had been experiencing for almost a year. I am not junior, and had been highly productive in my last position, working independently, producing several patents and innovations, so any notion that discrimination and retaliation only happens to inexperienced or junior female researchers is misguided. In fact, I am just a bit short of becoming a principal engineer, and would have long since been at principal level were it not for the discriminatory and sometimes threatening landscape in which women are expected to conduct their research. It is not the first time that I have had a break or unplanned branch in the road.  Like Professor Rebecca Ackermann, who just wrote a blog post today about her experiences as a woman in paleoanthropology, because of these forced disjunctures, I have lost out on opportunities to publish my work (both patents and papers) and have lost time.

As a Canadian very much immersed in the Canadian Scottish Scientific tradition, I grew up around a lot of physics, engineering, paleontology, geology, entomology and anthropology. Phyllis Munday, Crowfoot, Charles Walcott, Mary Morris Vaux, Edward S. Curtis, Alexander Graham Bell, Frederick Banting, Phil Currie, David Thompson, Gerhard Herzberg, John McCrae, Charles Best, Jane Goodall, Ernest Rutherford and Ursula Franklin were household names when I was growing up. My cousin, in fact, is a personal friend of Phil Currie and worked for him for a number of summers in the field.  I graduated from the same high school in Vancouver, British Columbia as the Manhattan Project physicist and astronomer, Robert Christy.

I should also say that I have been a long standing adorante of many museums: The British Museum, the Glenbow, the Smithsonian, the Field Museum, the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the Royal Ontario Museum, the Royal Tyrrell Museum, the Royal Alberta Museum, the California Academy of Sciences, the Exploratorium, the American Museum of Natural History, the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, the Archeaological Museum of Thessaloniki, the Bizkaia Museum of Archaeology (Bilbao), and the Museum of Anthropology at UBC, for example.

As well, by a lucky coincidence, my Master’s thesis supervisor at UBC (University of British Columbia) in Electrical Engineering, Greg Howard, PhD University of Waterloo, was partly of Ojibwe ancestry. This was a huge influence for me in stimulating my interest in the knowledge systems of Native Americans (and Canadians).

So in my “spare time” at the moment, following up on a long standing concern, I am learning more about Native American culture, language and history. It is hard to face close up the effect on Native Americans and Native Canadians of the residential school system, which attempted to remove children from their parents and traditional teaching systems, physically punished them for speaking their Native languages and robbed them of their traditional religion, and often sexually abused them.

These are the same people, the direct descendants in fact, by only a few generations, of Native Americans who’s images and artifacts are displayed at the British Museum, the Smithsonian, and the American Museum of Natural History. These descendants still struggle with access to education and are underfunded in their efforts to preserve and revitalize their language and culture. When they do attend higher education, they still encounter and have to take classes from overt racists such as Tom Flanagan (remember these are people who are only one generation away from having experienced the residential school system). One of Tom's favorite lines of attack against Native Americans is that their culture is "more primitive" compared to European culture, and therefore, that law of property does not apply for Native Canadians and Americans.   This is an especial favorite of Tom, who used to be highly influential in the Canadian Federal Department of Justice, in refuting Native land claims. Little wonder that some Native People are ambivalent about pursuing higher education.

Talking to Native People, you soon realize that they are very interested in and know a lot about anthropology, linguistics, astronomy, hydrology, ecosystem management and archaeology. They are interested in human prehistory. Were there more funding available, I am sure more of them would love to attend conferences such as the Society of American Archaeologists (SAA), the International Astronomical Union Conferences, or the American Association of Physical Anthropology.

However, just noting an observation I made last night regarding the upcoming SAA conference, it is hard to think about inviting someone from a Plains Native American culture considered to be a true hunter-gatherer culture, to a conference that still frames cultural complexity as having been hard coded to the adoption of “farming”. Yes, still in 2016, we mostly think this. I can direct you to the SAA sessions in which this is still the overt message.  I also ran across several sessions at the 2015 SAA Conference in San Francisco, which perpetuated the same message.

So this is just one of the many observations I have about how I am troubled with our Western European cultural framing of scientific questions.
This brings me to my adventures with anthropology online.

About five years ago, I inadvertently stumbled on a blog called Dienekes’ Anthropology Blog. It was at a time when I again had some free time on my hands. I had been trying to get back to work after being a stay at home mom with a young child for about five years. It was 2010, just after the financial crisis, a particularly challenging time to go back to work. I had been auditing several graduate level classes in the Berkeley EECS department in my field, but still was having trouble finding a permanent position. Lo and behold, Dienekes’ Anthropology Blog started putting up genetic data which I quickly realized could be analyzed using mathematical methods that are used in communications electronics. Yes, I still had to dig around and find the associated research papers, but that turned out to be not very difficult.

I tried to interact with the community of researchers who were commenting on Dienekes’ Anthropology Blog. Many of them appeared to have expert knowledge and I began to wonder if they were professional researchers. I soon discovered that I was not welcome to interact with this community and started to find myself being harassed. Most of the bloggers were using pseudonyms. I had experienced subtle harassment before in my work, but rarely anything this overt. Given that I was also struggling to get back into my professional career at the time, the overt harassment that I experienced in this community was a bit of shock, and rather depressing.

One favorite topic of this group was the genetically programmed intellectual inferiority of women.    Having long been a victim in my professional career due to this kind of “your brain is smaller” and “you don’t have any spatial ability” thinking, I became deeply intrigued as to the identity of the bloggers.

Luckily, I have a supportive family, and could laugh most of it off. I decided to start my own blog in order to follow my various amateur interests in anthropology, genetic anthropology, and paleoanthropology.

I started to get comments from professional researchers on my blog who mostly posted under pseudonyms. As I live in the Bay Area, it was not that difficult to visit in person some of these researchers. I even asked several prominent researchers what it would take to pursue my interests in genetic anthropology professionally. I soon discovered that this would involve many years at low pay and would require me to do a PhD. I would not get any credit for my Master’s degree in electrical engineering or minor in computer science. I was shocked to discover how long it takes for someone working in anthropology, paleoanthropology, or archaeology to reach a position where they would be paid with a professional level salary. So that pretty much scrubbed the idea of pursuing my interests in genetic anthropology professionally.

I should also add that during this period, on more than one occasion, a few professors in meeting me for the first time, while I was attempting to discuss professional opportunities in their field, took it upon themselves to hold my hand, show me erotic art, and discuss with me the mating habits of bonobos. Some of these men seemed very lonely. Others, I could see, were rigidly devoted to their personal theories. I sensed that a student who did not religiously adhere to their view would not advance in their research group.  Other researchers were very professional and quite open, and it was a pleasure and honor to talk with them.

I continued to do research online, taking advantage of several blogs that were clearly being published by professional researchers. I even managed to do a presentation at the European Society of Human Evolution (ESHE) in 2014.

Truth be told, I also went to the ESHE conference to try to better understand the culture and scientific intent of the paleoanthropology community who I was sure had been blogging online under pseudonyms on Dienekes’ Anthropology blog. I very much enjoyed the ESHE conference. Several professional researchers were very interesting to talk to. (I actually had a quite pleasant scientific discussion with Brian Richmond.) On the other hand, I was a bit disappointed when I discovered that under the guise of talking about my presentation, one prominent American researcher (not Brian Richmond) tried to get me to go back to their hotel room.  I wondered how common this was among this group of researchers.

After the ESHE Conference, Jean-Jacques Hublin, who in truth, had been emailing me under a pseudonym for months before the conference (he had found me through my blog) sent me an email about his meeting on the Island of Kos in Greece in October of 2014. The meeting was with some of the researchers who ultimately would publish the very high profile paper “Massive migration from the steppe was a source for Indo-European languages in Europe”

Having looked at the analysis online, which ended up in the paper, and also having followed the highly ridiculous discussions about male mediated total replacements of the European population during the Bronze Age, I was incredulous when this paper was in fact published in the high profile journal Nature, and also highly promoted in the press. Meanwhile, on the Eurogenes blog, horse borne warriors and fantasies about rape were frequent topics of discussion.

I was crushed and saddened to find out that a group of researchers of this prominence were behaving so childishly and unprofessionally. I emailed Laura Longo, who I had met at the ESHE conference, about my concerns.  I did not hear back from her.  Later, at the 2015 Paleoanthropology conference, I attempted to talk with Zeray Alemseged about my concerns. He told me in person that he did not think there was any problem with any of the scientists at the Max Planck Institute. When I attempted to make an appointment to discuss my concerns, he did not respond to my email.

I attempted to reason with the online Eurogenes blog community and ended up enduring extreme harassment and racism. You can read, in part, about that here:

and here:

I have not published the full transcripts of some of these exchanges, nor some of the email attacks upon me, but I did capture them. They are truly shocking, racist, and sexist.

I should also mention that the author of the Eurogenes blog, who is most certainly an author on the “Massive migration from the steppe was a source for Indo-European languages in Europe” paper, continues to have a warning against me in the comment notification of his blog. It says “And do not ever, under any circumstances, reply to Marnie, or comment moderation is back on.**”

The researchers on the “Massive migration” paper are associated with the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, as well as the Max Planck Institute. I notice that some of them are going to be at the Society of American Archaeologists Conference. Some of this research was funded with National Science Foundation funding. One does wonder about the scientific integrity of the entire scientific endeavor when one is subjected to these kinds of online attacks and smear campaigns.

In addition, I tried to contact the Ombudsperson at Harvard Medical School, the University of Berkeley, California and the National Science Foundation.  The Ombudsperson at Harvard Medical School did not seem particularly concerned that professors at Harvard Medical School were blogging on a forum which sometimes harasses the public.  Neither the NSF, nor UC Berkeley appear to have a reporting mechanism for members of the public to report their concerns.  In fact, when I contacted Berkeley, I was immediately forwarded to someone who's primary job seems to be reputation control for the university.

It did not end there.

In the Summer of 2015, in an attempt to continue my research, which in part used research material from archaeoastronomy, I decided to attend the IAU conference on Indigenous Astronomy in Hilo Hawaii. Can you imagine my bad luck! Who should have been an organizer of this conference but none other than Timothy Slater.

Needless to say, many of the presentations at this conference were wonderful. But when I raised the issue of cultural complexity among Plains Hunter Gatherers, I met with resistance by most of the conference organizers, including from the very well known archaeoastronomer, Professor Clive Ruggles, who, contrary to many other researchers, feels strongly that the Plains Native American Medicine Wheels were not used to measure the solstices.  One linguist at this IAU Conference told me that I could not publish or do research on Native American archaeoastronomy or linguistics without a PhD. Timothy Slater himself, who in addition to being a sponsor of this conference, also receives significant funding to develop K-12 STEM education material, told me to my face that the only reason that there are not more women in Silicon Valley in engineering and computer science positions is because women are not getting degrees in STEM. When I tried to explain to him that there were other issues as well, such as unconscious bias and discrimination, he was completely resistant to this.

Perhaps someone should let Timothy Slater know that much of the research and development done in Silicon Valley is done by people with Master's degrees.  Furthermore, an abundance of research shows that many women graduates with STEM degrees do not find employment.  Even straight out of school, women STEM graduates experience a more difficult job market than men.  And the current job market for male STEM graduates is not very good.

I have never heard back from any of the researchers I attempted to contact at this conference. Even Sharon Schleigh, another of the IAU Indigenous Astronomy conference organizers, and CAPER team member, who sent out an invite for paper follow-ups from the conference, never responded to me when I sent her an email proposing a short paper about unpublished material related to Blackfoot Native Canadian numeracy and calendar keeping.

I only discovered a month ago, at the end of January, that Timothy Slater has a very problematic sexual harassment history.  Frankly, reflecting back on the IAU Indigenous Astronomy conference, which cost me about $1,500 of my personal money to attend, I have come to deeply wish that I had not attended this conference. It was like staring into the abyss of the kind of thinking and behavior that still to this day, continues to destroy Native American culture and push women out of Science. Perhaps I should write to the NSF and ask for a refund for my $1,500.

All of this is to say that Professor Ackermann's observations that anthropology and paleoanthropology, as well as science in general, does seem to have a pervasive cultural bias, gender bias and discrimination problem, is very much supported in my own experience. I would not have said this five years ago. Yet, based on my experience with these fields in the last five years, it is now my view that the culture in these fields limits both the career advancement of women and other non-traditional students, and also further reinforces a culture that is hostile to non-traditional scientific viewpoints. These biases also mean that women in associated STEM fields have very negative, exclusionary experiences when they attempt to engage with the anthropology, archaeology and paleoanthropology scientific community, at least in my experience.

My daughter is attending summer camp at the Royal Tyrrell Museum this summer. It may be her last summer there, as I am increasingly of the opinion that a career in science or engineering for a woman is a fool’s errand. I have already cancelled my memberships with the Exploratorium and the California Academy of Science. My only recourse at this point, is to take action so that my scientific experiences, and those of my daughter, will be in the outdoors and directly with indigenous people, without the mediation of a broken, arrogant, wasteful, self-serving and discriminatory system, that seems unable to right itself.

Yours sadly,

Marnie Dunsmore
San Francisco, California and
Calgary, Alberta

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