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Skeleton of Homo naledi are pictured in the Wits bone vault at the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, on Sept. 13, 2014. The fossils are among nearly 1,700 bones and teeth retrieved from a nearly inaccessible cave near Johannesburg. The fossil trove was created, scientists believe, by Homo naledi repeatedly secreting the bodies of their dead companions in the cave. Analysis of the fossils -- part of a project known as the Rising Star Expedition -- was led in part by paleoanthropologist John Hawks, professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. (Photo by John Hawks/University of Wisconsin-Madison)

Skeleton of Homo naledi are pictured in the Wits bone vault at the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, on Sept. 13, 2014. The fossils are among nearly 1,700 bones and teeth retrieved from a nearly inaccessible cave near Johannesburg. The fossil trove was created, scientists believe, by Homo naledi repeatedly secreting the bodies of their dead companions in the cave. Analysis of the fossils — part of a project known as the Rising Star Expedition — was led in part by paleoanthropologist John Hawks, professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. (Photo by John Hawks/University of Wisconsin-Madison)

The sexism in science is too real.

UK paper The Guardian, has published a piece in which science editor Robin McKie blames women for doing a rush job on a project to create a “media circus” around the discovery of thousands of bones in a site in South Africa. Bones that would later turn out to belong to a previously undiscovered species of human, the Homo naledi.

And now instead of encouraging the science community to celebrate this, McKie alleges that paleontologist Lee Berger’s enlistment of women on his team was intentional and detrimental to the overall findings for the publicity on National Geographic.

McKie even pulls an anonymous quote to back his notion,

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.”

But the original posting on Berger’s Facebook post for help doesn’t even specifically mention needing females only. The requirements sought were the following:

Dear Colleagues – I need the help of the whole community and for you to reach out to as many related professional groups as possible. We need perhaps three or four individuals with excellent archaeological/palaeontological and excavation skills for a short term project that may kick off as early as November 1st 2013 and last the month if all logistics go as planned. The catch is this – the person must be skinny and preferably small. They must not be claustrophobic, they must be fit, they should have some caving experience, climbing experience would be a bonus. They must be willing to work in cramped quarters, have a good attitude and be a team player. Given the highly specialized, and perhaps rare nature of what I am looking for, I would be willing to look at an experienced Ph.D. student or a very well trained Masters student, even though the more experience the better (PH.D.’s and senior scientists most welcome). No age limit here either. I do not think we will have much money available for pay – but we will cover flights, accommodation (though much will be field accom., food and of course there will be guaranteed collaboration further up the road). Anyone interested please contact me directly on lee.berger@wits.ac.za copied to my assistant Wilma.lawrence@wits.ac.za . My deadlines on this are extremely tight so as far as anyone can spread the word, among professional groups.

Berger even goes on to say that one of the candidates was a male but could not physically perform the tasks. It just so happened that out of the people willing to do it for basically free, women were available and met the req’s.

12-Lindsay-Eaves-in-the-Rising-Star-cave.-cc-Ellen-Feuerriegel_Wits-University

So to say that this scientific breakthrough might have been botched because no able bodied men were picked is ludicrous and insulting to the women in the science community who already have to deal with sexism in their day to day work. Sexual harassment pervades the field much like most other fields in which hard working women are objectified and not treated with the same respect as fellow male colleagues give one another. And this report,shared by Jezebel, from the Academic Field Experience Study found that last year that, 71 percent of working women had experienced being targeted or assaulted while on the job.

Women in science like Caroline VanSickle, have responded by pointing out that many of this generations discoveries had as much to do with the female gender as males.

'Rising Star' hominid fossil excavation expedition collaborator Marina Elliott at the University of the Witwatersrand's Evolutionary Sciences Institute, South Africa; 3 September 2015 - Photo by Brett Eloff.

‘Rising Star’ hominid fossil excavation expedition collaborator Marina Elliott at the University of the Witwatersrand’s Evolutionary Sciences Institute, South Africa; 3 September 2015 – Photo by Brett Eloff.

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Sabina Ibarra

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