Laying to rest a foundational myth

    The widely accepted “Man the Hunter” theory proposes that during human evolution, men evolved to hunt while women focused on gathering and domestic duties such as child-rearing. However, as reported in Scientific American, it turns out that recent research is challenging this view.

    Scientific studies indicate that women are physiologically better suited for endurance tasks, which is crucial for hunting. Also, although ignored for societal reasons (read: the patriarchy) archaeological records and ethnographic studies demonstrate that women have a longstanding history of participating in hunting activities.

    I’m pleased that our 12 year-old daughter inhabits a world where female footballers are allowed to compete in the same way as men in most areas of life. There is still a lot of inequality, but it helps when we dismantle these foundational myths.

    Mounting evidence from exercise science indicates that women are physiologically better suited than men to endurance efforts such as running marathons. This advantage bears on questions about hunting because a prominent hypothesis contends that early humans are thought to have pursued prey on foot over long distances until the animals were exhausted. Furthermore, the fossil and archaeological records, as well as ethnographic studies of modern-day hunter-gatherers, indicate that women have a long history of hunting game. We still have much to learn about female athletic performance and the lives of prehistoric women. Nevertheless, the data we do have signal that it is time to bury Man the Hunter for good.

    […]

    So much about female exercise physiology and the lives of prehistoric women remains to be discovered. But the idea that in the past men were hunters and women were not is absolutely unsupported by the limited evidence we have. Female physiology is optimized for exactly the kinds of endurance activities involved in procuring game animals for food. And ancient women and men appear to have engaged in the same foraging activities rather than upholding a sex-based division of labor. It was the arrival some 10,000 years ago of agriculture, with its intensive investment in land, population growth and resultant clumped resources, that led to rigid gendered roles and economic inequality.

    Now when you think of “cave people,” we hope, you will imagine a mixed-sex group of hunters encircling an errant reindeer or knapping stone tools together rather than a heavy-browed man with a club over one shoulder and a trailing bride. Hunting may have been remade as a masculine activity in recent times, but for most of human history, it belonged to everyone.

    Source: The Theory That Men Evolved to Hunt and Women Evolved to Gather Is Wrong | Scientific American

    Male bias in scientific trials

    Wow, this excerpt from Pain & Prejudice is pretty hard-hitting, especially around the paternalistic tendency treating women as ‘walking wombs’.

    In the early 20th century, the endocrine system, which produces hormones, was discovered. To medical minds, this represented another difference between men and women, overtaking the uterus as the primary perpetrator of all women’s ills. Still, medicine persisted with the belief that all other organs and functions would operate the same in men and women, so there was no need to study women. Conversely, researchers said that the menstrual cycle, and varied release of hormones throughout the cycle in rodents, introduced too many variables into a study, therefore females could not be studied.
    Source: The female problem: how male bias in medical trials ruined women's health | Women | The Guardian

    Saturday strikings

    This week's roundup is going out a day later than usual, as yesterday was the Global Climate Strike and Thought Shrapnel was striking too!

    Here's what I've been paying attention to this week:

    • How does a computer ‘see’ gender? (Pew Research Center) — "Machine learning tools can bring substantial efficiency gains to analyzing large quantities of data, which is why we used this type of system to examine thousands of image search results in our own studies. But unlike traditional computer programs – which follow a highly prescribed set of steps to reach their conclusions – these systems make their decisions in ways that are largely hidden from public view, and highly dependent on the data used to train them. As such, they can be prone to systematic biases and can fail in ways that are difficult to understand and hard to predict in advance."
    • The Communication We Share with Apes (Nautilus) — "Many primate species use gestures to communicate with others in their groups. Wild chimpanzees have been seen to use at least 66 different hand signals and movements to communicate with each other. Lifting a foot toward another chimp means “climb on me,” while stroking their mouth can mean “give me the object.” In the past, researchers have also successfully taught apes more than 100 words in sign language."
    • Why degrowth is the only responsible way forward (openDemocracy) — "If we free our imagination from the liberal idea that well-being is best measured by the amount of stuff that we consume, we may discover that a good life could also be materially light. This is the idea of voluntary sufficiency. If we manage to decide collectively and democratically what is necessary and enough for a good life, then we could have plenty."
    • 3 times when procrastination can be a good thing (Fast Company) — "It took Leonardo da Vinci years to finish painting the Mona Lisa. You could say the masterpiece was created by a master procrastinator. Sure, da Vinci wasn’t under a tight deadline, but his lengthy process demonstrates the idea that we need to work through a lot of bad ideas before we get down to the good ones."
    • Why can’t we agree on what’s true any more? (The Guardian) — "What if, instead, we accepted the claim that all reports about the world are simply framings of one kind or another, which cannot but involve political and moral ideas about what counts as important? After all, reality becomes incoherent and overwhelming unless it is simplified and narrated in some way or other.
    • A good teacher voice strikes fear into grown men (TES) — "A good teacher voice can cut glass if used with care. It can silence a class of children; it can strike fear into the hearts of grown men. A quiet, carefully placed “Excuse me”, with just the slightest emphasis on the “-se”, is more effective at stopping an argument between adults or children than any amount of reason."
    • Freeing software (John Ohno) — "The only way to set software free is to unshackle it from the needs of capital. And, capital has become so dependent upon software that an independent ecosystem of anti-capitalist software, sufficiently popular, can starve it of access to the speed and violence it needs to consume ever-doubling quantities of to survive."
    • Young People Are Going to Save Us All From Office Life (The New York Times) — "Today’s young workers have been called lazy and entitled. Could they, instead, be among the first to understand the proper role of work in life — and end up remaking work for everyone else?"
    • Global climate strikes: Don’t say you’re sorry. We need people who can take action to TAKE ACTUAL ACTION (The Guardian) — "Brenda the civil disobedience penguin gives some handy dos and don’ts for your civil disobedience"

    Gendered AI?

    Another fantastic article from Tim Carmody, a.k.a. Dr. Time:

    An Echo or an iPhone is not a friend, and it is not a pet. It is an alarm clock that plays video games. It has no sentience. It has no personality. It’s a string of canned phrases that can’t understand what I’m saying unless I’m talking to it like I’m typing on the command line. It’s not genuinely interactive or conversational. Its name isn’t really a name so much as an opening command phrase. You could call one of these virtual assistants “sudo” and it would make about as much sense.

    However.

    I have also watched a lot (and I mean a lot) of Star Trek: The Next Generation. And while I feel pretty comfortable talking about “it” in the context of the speaker that’s sitting on the table across the room—there’s even a certain rebellious jouissance to it, since I’m spiting the technology companies whose products I use but whose intrusion into my life I resent—I feel decidedly uncomfortable declaring once and for all time that any and all AI assistants can be reduced to an “it.” It forecloses on a possibility of personhood and opens up ethical dilemmas I’d really rather avoid, even if that personhood seems decidedly unrealized at the moment.

    I’m really enjoying his new ‘column’ as well as Noticing, the newsletter he curates.

    Source: kottke.org