Towards a Sociology of Paleontology

I’m at the North American Paleontological Convention right now – perhaps you’ve gotten an email from me and wonder who I am! As you can see from my website and web presence, and hopefully if you look into my publications, I am a sociologist of science. My previous research has mainly focused on health and reproductive biology, but I am turning my attention to paleontology because I am interested in broader analysis of the role science plays in conversations about the anthropocene. I am also a huge paleontology fan, especially a fan of arthropods, and especially especially trilobites. Likewise I am utterly enchanted by the Burgess Shale and its weird animals (Opabinia – most of my students have seen my replica figure from ROM). I am interested in the science-society questions about the anthropocene noted above, and also in asking all kinds of wacky philosophical questions about ancient extinct animals. So I am here conducting interviews with scientists to learn more about their perspectives.

When I applied for a grant for my study, here is what I wrote:

Where transitions between prior epochs were marked by non-anthropogenic causes such as volcanic activity and asteroid strikes, the anthropocene marks time in which human activity has become the dominant cause of geological and climate changes (Lewis & Maslin, 2015). Yet the concept is highly controversial, and thus relevant to sociological study concerning how individuals and communities deploy scientific or other kinds of knowledge to take positions on social conflicts and debates. Paleontology is the study of life before the current epoch, known through tell-tale rocks called fossils. Paleontology produces knowledge about the prior status of the earth in relation to the present, and as such, paleontologists contribute much to social, political, and economic debates about environmental and climate changes and extinction. This study asks, How do paleontologists reflect upon and understand their work as it relates to debates concerning the anthropocene? Stratigraphy, the study of rock layers, highlights the relationship between the fossil record and geologic time. In stratigraphy, layers of rock represent different geological time periods, and different fossils are found in different rock layers. There are special fossils that play unique roles in describing ancient environments called index fossils. They are typically abundant in the record, diversified through time, and highly adapted to specific environments, giving paleontologists who find them instant knowledge of the age of rock layers. The study will specifically concern paleontologists who are experts on a particular class of index fossils: those of ancient arthropods called trilobites, which lived from the Cambrian (521mya) to the Permian (252mya). The “trilobite biostratigraphic scale” (Geyer & Shergold, 2000) is a way to tell time with fossils. But these fossils do not just tell ancient time; it has been shown that trilobite specimens collected today are contaminated with anthropogenic compounds such as plastics and flame retardants (John, M., Babcock- Adams, & Walker, 2017), while mining, urbanization, and climate change have exposed new fossil beds. As such, trilobites materially connect the present to the past. I anticipate that trilobites are important in facilitating our knowledgeable understanding of geologic time and thus the anthropocene. I want to know what paleontologists think about this.

This is why I am at NAPC! If you are interested in my study, I would be delighted to hear from you.

Book Review: Without Apology: Writings on Abortion in Canada by Shannon Stettner

I recently wrote a book review on Without Apology: Writings on Abortion in Canada by Shannon Stettner for Studies in Social Justice. After I wrote it, I decided to adopt the book as a text for my upcoming course in Gender Studies at SFU: GSWS 318-4 Reproductive Rights and Justice. 

Not only is this an important contribution to ongoing struggles for reproductive justice, but it is also an open access book under creative commons license. Adopting this as a text is part of my commitment to using open access resources in my courses whenever possible.

The journal is likewise open access, so you can freely read my review. I’ll add an excerpt here though:

Reflecting on the collection as a whole, I am struck by the ways in which the stories and experiences continue on in the real-time, real world struggle for reproductive justice both in Canada and globally. When I drive on Highway 1 toward Chilliwack from the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, anti-choice billboards pepper the landscape. In Judith Mintz’ chapter, an autoethnography of abortion after emergency contraceptive was ineffective, she writes of calling Motherrisk to discuss risks of birth defects from a failed “morning after” pill. We now know that Motherrisk is embroiled in its own horrific injustices, perpetuated by its flawed hair-testing laboratory that led to state-sanctioned kidnapping of many children in eastern Canada.[i] Worldwide, 25.5% of people reside in countries where abortion is completely restricted and about 14% where abortion is only permitted to save the life of the pregnant person.[ii] As of this writing, Ireland is set to hold a referendum on legalizing abortion. In Trump’s America, undocumented migrant teens in custody are denied abortions.[iii] When the reader sets these facts against the horrific experiences described in the book Canada, where abortion is not even illegal, it becomes clear that global reproductive justice will not rend itself easily or quickly. Without Apology is a commendable survey of abortion in Canada that gives space to a wide range of voices while also acknowledging the work still to be done.

[i] See for example http://www.cbc.ca/news/opinion/motherisk-child-protection-1.4559905

[ii] Approximately 40% of the world’s population lives in countries with permissive abortion laws, where one can legally get an abortion for any reason. See http://worldabortionlaws.com/questions.html for these statistics and how they are measured.

[iii] See http://nationalpost.com/pmn/news-pmn/court-government-cant-block-immigrant-teens-from-abortion

Teaching Feminism and Fat Studies

This term, I’ve been teaching a special topics course in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University entitled “Adipossibilities of Feminist Fat Studies.” To my knowledge, this is the first fat studies course at SFU, although fat activism has taken place on campus for a number of years. With any new course there come many challenges, but this topic itself is also very challenging given current social, political, and economic discourse about fat. I shared the following with my students to set the tone for the course:

  • You do not have a body, you are a body
  • You have experiences, beliefs, and assumptions that are shaped by your embodied, worldly being
  • Your body is a site of politics, history, place, feeling, and memory
  • Your body in-folds your internal and external worlds; every day, you live this involution
  • We can’t talk about fat without talking about intimate places of our being
  • A body gives testimony of trauma and of thriving
  • Not everyone gets to equally enjoy, love, and agentially control their bodies
  • Weight discrimination is real, and intersectional
  • If you google anything to do with fat, it’s not safe to go alone

Fatphobia is real, pervasive, and structural, and can be found everywhere if one is attuned to look. Despite the current climate, I am very impressed with my students’ willingness to look and ability to find.

GSWS 318: Man’s Best Friend: Feminisms Engaging with Nonhumans (SFU Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies course)

I am very excited to be given the opportunity to teach another course at SFU in the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies department this upcoming Spring semester. The course, GSWS 318, is a special topic entitled Man’s Best Friend: Feminisms Engaging with Nonhumans. Here is the course statement:

Feminists are increasingly examining how the power structures that produce unjust oppressions for women and other marginalized Others extend to the nonhuman world. This course explores how feminists have theorized, advocated for, and fostered relations with nonhumans, including animals, organic and inorganic matter, machines, and cyborgs. Informed by feminist ethics, science studies, and philosophy, we ask: How do understandings of animals relate to conceptualizations of sex and gender? Are there feminist obligations to animals, plants, bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protists? How does feminism inform and support animal and ecological advocacy? Can nonhumans teach us about ethics, care, and equality? Specific topics include evolutionary biology, environmentalism, cyborgs, artificial intelligence, animal research ethics, microbes, ‘gut feminism,’ and homo- and trans-sexuality in animals. Recognizing the timely and controversial nature of these topics as well as the role of GSWS in transforming students into critical advocates for change, assignments encourage engagement in public dialogues on human/nonhuman relationships.

Assignments include an opinion editorial, film review, and collaborative advocacy project. The prerequisites are 30 units, including 3 units in GSWS or WS or GDST.

Here is the syllabus. If you are a prospective student and have any questions, please email me at rebecca_yoshizawa@sfu.ca.

#gsws320sfu Twitter feed: What’s going on in the politics of reproduction today?

I regularly tweet articles/news/blogs/etc. that are relevant to the course I am teaching on reproductive politics in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at SFU (my alma mater! #gsws4life). I had the idea to do this as one of the assignments is an op-ed about a contemporary issue in reproductive politics, and I wanted to direct the students to the twitter feed to help them come up with topics. I’m also delighted that my students are joining in on the twitter conversation!

The thesis of our course is that reproduction is not merely ‘natural’; ethical and political issues attend every facet of the instantiation of new human beings in this world. If the twitter feed is any indication of the significance of reproduction today, it relates profound and ongoing struggles over who gets to reproduce with whom, when, where, and how.

GSWS 320: A Womb of One’s Own?: Feminisms Engaging with Reproduction (SFU Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies course)

I am very excited to be given the opportunity to teach a course at SFU in the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies department this summer. The course, GSWS 320, is a special topic building on my research on reproduction and reproductive politics. It is entitled A Womb of One’s Own?: Feminisms Engaging with Reproduction. Here is the course statement:

In this course, we develop tools to analyze narratives, issues, practices, and arguments regarding reproduction. We define reproduction not simply as a biological fact of life, but a ‘naturalcultural’ phenomenon where biology and culture collide in the continuance and dynamism of humans through generations. Students learn how to think critically about a wide range of issues in reproduction using tools provided by feminist theorists and researchers. Recognizing the topical and controversial nature of debates on reproduction as well as the role of GSWS in transforming students into critical advocates for social change, assignments encourage students to engage in public dialogues on reproduction. Topics include biomedicine, reproductive politics, reproductive technologies, and gendered, racialized, and sexed roles.

Assignments include an opinion editorial, film review, and collaborative multimedia project. The prerequisite is 15 credits.

Here is the syllabus. If you are a prospective student and have any questions, please email me at rebecca_yoshizawa@sfu.ca.

New Publication: Postpartum Women’s Perspectives on the Donation of Placentas for Scientific Research in Campinas, Brazil

The article resulting from the collaborative study I conducted in Brazil is now available online first. It is currently open access. It will be published in the Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics. 

Postpartum Women’s Perspectives on the Donation of Placentas for Scientific Research in Campinas, Brazil

Abstract:

Little is known about public perspectives of scientific and therapeutic uses of placentas. Gaps in knowledge potentiate ethical and clinical problems regarding collection and applications. As such, this study sought to assess the perspectives of placenta donation of a sample of women. Postpartum women’s perspectives on placental donation were assessed at the State University of Campinas in the Centro de Atençäo Integral a Saúde da Mulher (CAISM) maternity hospital using a cross-sectional survey (n = 384) and semi-structured interviews (n = 12). Surveys were analyzed quantitatively and interviews were analyzed qualitatively using grounded coding; results were compared. The average age of respondents was 27. Fifty-six percent had more than one child, 45% were Caucasian, 38% were mixed-race, 74% identified with a Christian faith, 52% had high school education or higher, 13% regarded the placenta as spiritually important, 72% felt that knowing what happens to the placenta after birth was somewhat or very important, 78% supported the use of the placenta in research and medicine, 59% reported that consent to collect the placenta was very or somewhat important, 78% preferred their doctor to invite donation, and only 7% preferred the researcher to invite donation. Interviews suggested women appreciate being part of research and that receiving information about studies was important to them. Informed by these results, we argue that women support scientific and therapeutic uses of placentas, want to be included in decision making, and desire information about the placenta. Placentas should not be viewed as “throwaway” organs that are poised for collection without the involvement and permission of women. Women want to be meaningfully included in research processes.

Authors: Rebecca Scott Yoshizawa, Maria José Duarte Osis, Simony Lira Nascimento, Silvana Ferreira Bento, Ana Carolina Godoy, Suelene Coelho, and José Guilherme Cecatti

I would like to thank the anonymous reviews and editors of the journal for their incredibly thoughtful comments. Their contribution raised the quality of this article immensely.

I’m very excited about the contribution this research makes regarding public perspectives of the use of human placentas in scientific research and medicine. They survey instrument that was developed for this study can be deployed in other locations toward the development of locally-appropriate protocols and practices regarding human placental donation, collection, and research. Please contact me if you are interested in collaborating on a survey of another population!