Dinosaur Skeletons Are a Hot Comity — It’s Too Bad Science Can’t Afford Them

Dinosaur Skeletons Are a Hot Comity — It’s Too Bad Science Can’t Afford Them

Edited June 17th, 2018 -- Corrected typos.


June 4th came and went, and with it, an almost complete dinosaur skeleton to a French art collector. 


The beast that lays nine meters long (almost 30 feet), and two-and-a-half meters tall (8.2 feet), went on auction in Paris, France on Monday, June 4th.  Some believe it could be the skeleton of a species that has yet to be identified, and it’s about 70% complete.  According to Quartz, this skeleton was excavated between 2013 and 2015 in Wyoming, USA.  


It sold to the aforementioned art collector for $2.3 million. 


The auction was criticized before and after it took place by many scientists.  The nonprofit organization Society of Vertebrate Paleontology argued in a letter that “scientifically important vertebrate fossils are part of our collective natural heritage and deserve to be held in public trust”, rather than left in the hands of any private ownership.  Why was this point argued?


The fear is that privately auctioned off skeletons can become lost to science — especially those of major discoveries as the Society believes it to be.  “…There is no guarantee,” said Voa News, quoting the organization. “That privately held pieces will be open to all scientists for research purposes.”  


That being said, Reuters reported that the unnamed buyer of this skeleton plans on lending it to a museum, and that will allow it to be studied by scientists.  



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But these kinds of auctions are becoming more and more popular and common according to the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, David Polly, the president of the organization, told Nature.  In fact, the auction house that sold off this latest skeleton sold a Mammoth and another dinosaur previously, according to the Reuters’ article mentioned early. 


The more common these auctions become, and the higher the price margin goes, the less access scientists will have to the Earth’s history.  Even if the particular buyer of this skeleton does give scientists access to it, that doesn’t mean that every private buyer will.  The auction house also claims that some of the proceeds from this auction will go to two charities working with endangered wildlife, but the Reuters article that reported on that claim doesn’t mention which charities.  


The solution to this would be calling off these auctions, or giving more funding to museums and scientists so that they could afford these purchases.  Neither of which seem like they’re goals within reach at the moment. 



Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of FemSTEM.com. She studies English and is a huge fan of all things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.


A Brief History of Maryam Mirzakhani: A Wonderful Mathematician

Posted in July 2017

Last week, on July 14th 2017, the world lost Maryam Mirzakhani to Breast Cancer.  She passed away at the young age of forty.


Mirzakhani was, of course, most known for her mathematics. Her legacy includes being the first woman to win the Fields Medal back in 2014, an award given to those who are incredible mathematicians under the age of forty.  It’s considered to be the most prestigious award a mathematician can hope to ever receive.


Born in 1977 in Iran, she spent much of her time in her home country, going to schools specifically for children that had special talents.  She specifically attended Farzangehan School, an all-girls middle and high school where the children take classes as though they were already attending college.


Throughout her career, she was recognized for the joy that she had for math, her humility, and her overall brilliance.  The New Yorker wrote an article about her, quoting a few scientists on the qualities they saw in her.  In reference to her mathematical ability, one mathematician (who also won a fields the same year Maryam Mirzakhani had) said of her:  “[She] was a master of curved spaces. […] Maryam proved many amazing theorems about such shortest paths—called ‘geodesics’—on curved surfaces, among many other remarkable results in geometry and beyond.”  (Manjul Bharagava to the New Yorker)


In 2013, Mirzakhani was diagnosed with breast cancer, and it quickly spread to her bone marrow.  Despite this, Bharagava continued to tell the New Yorker that she was still producing some of her best mathematical work throughout her illness.


Unfortunately, as one might expect, Mirzakhani left some family behind.  A husband named Jan Vondrák, who is a computer scientist and mathematician himself, and their daughter Anahita. Their daughter, who is currently six years old, considered her mother’s work art — often calling her mother’s work “paintings”.


In STEM, math almost seems to be the subject people avoid the most.  Though math is technically in every aspect of STEM in one way or another, math can be extremely intimating to many people.  Mirzakhani was a fantastic example during her lifetime for everyone in this matter.  She’s quoted as saying:  “You have to spend some energy and effort to see the beauty of math”.


Maybe all of us can step back and see the beauty in Maryam Mirzakhani’s honor.




Historical Accuracies: Dorothy Vaughan's Actual Timeline At NASA


Hidden Figures was a movie that took the world by storm, telling the stories of three women who worked at NASA.  Unfortunately, the movie is not something you can take literally.  It has a few inaccuracies to the story, including parts of the story of Dorothy Vaughan, who was played by Octavia Spencer.


Dorothy Vaughan was born in 1910, and was hired into NACA approximately twenty years before the movie Hidden Figures takes place.  When Vaughan was hired in during the forties (December of 1943) it was still NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics).  NACA wouldn't become NASA until 1958.  Vaughan retired from NASA in 1971, and passed in 2008.


Before she worked for NACA, Dorothy Vaughan was a high school math teacher at Robert Russa Moton High.  She left, believing her job at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory would only be temporary during WWII.


In 1941, two years before Vaughan moved to the Laboratory, Executive Order 8802 was signed into law.  This order prohibited employment discrimination (as far as race, religion, and ethnicity) in the US, and as a result, Vaughan was one of the first African-American's to be hired as mathematicians and scientists.


Vaughan really was the head of the segregated West Area Computers like the movie portrays her.  Mostly, it's the timeline that's off as far as the movie's accuracy goes.


She was the head of this group from 1949 to 1958.  This group was dismantled three years prior to the movie's timeline.  When NACA became NASA in 1958, this group and other segregated parts of the facility were abolished.  Most of the women who worked in the WAC were transferred at that time, including Vaughan.  They were transferred to the ACD (Analysis and Computation Division), which was a racially and gender-integrated group that turned to working on electronic computing.


This makes another inaccuracy in the movie's timeline.  Since the WAC was abolished in 1958 and Vaughan moved on to electronic computing then, the IBM conflict in the story isn't quite accurate.  In fact, the electronic computer FORTRAN, was purchased and developed prior to the sixties.


Not only that, but the movie portrays Dorothy Vaughan as figuring out how the FORTRAN worked while the men were not looking.  In all actuality, programming like that was considered 'women's work' at the time.


The timeline inaccuracies were obviously meant to keep the movie more condensed.  Dorothy Vaughan really did work with Katherine Johnson (who liked the movie quite a bit) and Mary Jackson during that time, but many of the events that took place during the movie happened before the sixties.


There are other inaccuracies, such as Johnson's trips to the bathroom were actually Jackson's problem, and Glenn was never meant to orbit seven times around the Earth, as well as others.



Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of FemSTEM.com. She studies English and is a huge fan of things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.