42. The Woman Who Loves Giraffes

I love the woman who loves giraffes.
Who wouldn’t after watching the documentary The Woman Who Loves Giraffes.

Source: NY Times

The film shines a light on Anne Innis Dagg’s foundational research which was previously hidden from most of the world because of her gender. In doing so, it brings awareness to the devastating reality that giraffes are facing today: Extinction.

In 1956, four years before Jane Goodall studied the chimpanzee and seven years before Dian Fossey worked with mountain gorillas, 23-year-old biologist Anne Innis Dagg journeyed solo to South Africa to study giraffes in the wild. Her story is one of far-reaching scientific discovery, sexual discrimination and environmental alarm.

The Woman Who Loves Giraffes will appeal to zoologists, environmentalists, ecologists, animal lovers, dreamers, bravehearts, human rights activists, feminists, adventurers, and every female, young or old, who has ever been told, “Sorry, no. You’re a girl.”

Prepare to be inspired.

A 30 minute interview with the film’s remarkable star and its director, Alison Reid, and can be seen on YouTube.
YouTube also offers a way to view the film (for a fee), if it doesn’t play in a theater near you.

(Find a list of screenings for The Woman Who Loves Giraffes in New York, Los Angeles, Washington DC, and elsewhere on the film’s website.

The day after I viewed The Woman Who Loves Giraffes,
National Geographic emailed the following short article to subscribers.
The article doesn’t speak to safaris or giraffes, but it aligns perfectly with one of documentary’s themes.

TODAY’S BIG QUESTION:
WHEN WILL SCIENCE CELEBRATE EVERYONE EQUALLY?
Wednesday, February 26, 2020

PHOTOGRAPH BY NASABy Victoria JaggardSCIENCE Executive Editor

Science, as a discipline, is somewhat obsessed with the notion of due credit. Woe betide the news writer who does not note which person is the lead author on a study. That’s one reason I’ve been personally fascinated with recent efforts to bring so-called hidden figures in science into the spotlight.

Stories highlighting marginalized people’s contributions to science have been trickling out for decades, but the term “hidden figures” leapt into our shared consciousness thanks to the incredible 2016 book, and subsequent movie, about the Black women who made vital calculations to send early NASA astronauts into space. Both works catapulted NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson (pictured above) into international stardom in her mid-90s—even though she made her contributions to the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo space programs decades earlier. Johnson, who died this week at the age of 101, was a true pioneer, and her story will resonate for decades to come.

The exponential increase in stories about other hidden figures can be inspiring stuff, although sometimes the patterns that emerge are heartbreaking. The more I read, the more I see two common narrative arcs: People who did the work loud and proud and were persecuted for it (looking at you, Hypatia), and people who did the work quietly and went consistently unrecognized for far too long (over to you, Eunice Foote and Rosalind Franklin).

Still, I have hope for scientists working today, thanks to the efforts of people like Jessica Wade. A woman working in physics, Wade has been adding biographies of notable women and people of color to Wikipedia’s bounty of scientist biographies. And writers such as Angela Saini are really hitting science where it hurts, uncovering the dark history of inaccuracies, biases, and downright bad research practices that led to so many good scientists being stifled. Maybe, as more people like them champion inclusion in science, the need to celebrate hidden figures will become a thing of the past.