Lack of diversity is one of the major issues in the sciences in recent times. We’ve discussed diversity in palaeontology in previous podcasts, but in this episode Elsa takes a look at the legacy of racism and colonialism in palaeontology and museum collections, and what efforts are being made to address these issues.

Colonial attitudes towards people of non-European descent have meant that their natural heritage was often plundered and sent back to Europe and the United States to fill museum shelves. Researchers continue to benefit from these resources. How should we change our scientific practice to recognise this legacy and avoid making the same mistakes now and in the future?

In the first part of the episode, Elsa speaks to Christa Kuljian, a historian of science and author of Darwin’s Hunch, based at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. She’ll examine the legacy of racism in science, focusing on palaeoanthropology in South Africa, including figures like Robert Broom and Raymond Dart. We’ll hear how attitudes toward different races shaped the research and conclusions of past generations of scientists.

In the second part, Rob Theodore, Exhibitions and Displays Coodinator at the Sedgewick Museum in England, talks about the legacy of colonialism in museum collections. We’ll find out about the ways in which specimens were collected in the past, and how this was related to contemporary events and attitudes. We’ll also find out what moves being taken to decolonise museums and refocus public outreach to recognise the past and move positively into the future.

Direct download: Ep117.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:22pm UTC

When we think about the Ice Age or the Pleistocene, we generally think of large animals: wooly mammoths trudging through snow, sabre-tooth tigers taking down their next meal, and big bison out on the steppes. These are really interesting things to think about, but what else can we learn from the Pleistocene other big animals and their extinction?

We can also use the Pleistocene (which is relatively similar to the modern world in terms of continental layout, landscapes, and ecological niche availability) to explore questions of palaeoecology, biotic interactions and how changes in the environment can affect the local fauna. The relatively young age of the Pleistocene means that the available data is very different to palaeoecological studies of the Cretaceous or Eocene. This means that it is more appropriate for drawing comparisons to what's happening today or what might happen in the future with climate change.

Joining us in this interview is Dr Jacquelyn Gill, an Associate Professor at the University of Maine, who works in palaeoecology. We talk about the different data available, the importance of understanding palaeoecology, including a recent paper from her group on seabird ecology in the Falklands, and what this might mean for the future.

Direct download: Ep116.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:12pm UTC