Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Four Stone Hearth 102: At the Hatter's Tea Party

Mad Hatter: Would you like a little more tea?
Alice: Well, I haven't had any yet, so I can't very well take more.
March Hare: Ah, you mean you can't very well take less.
Mad Hatter: Yes. You can always take more than nothing

Welcome to the Hatter's tea party! Anthropology has brought some guests to the party—science, technology, and culture—to help us better understand the social fabric. Grab a cup, and settle around the table. And pass Science the butter, please.

Eric Michael Johnson continues to wander in exile. His latest stop is over at PLoS blogs where he has a feature on the WEIRD evolution of human psychology. What does he mean by WEIRD? Research subjects in psychological experiments that are meant to show human universals are traditionally pulled from Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) societies. These subjects have specific experiences as a result of their WEIRD status that colors their perspectives:
When these affluent American and non-Western populations are compared there are important differences in domains as seemingly unrelated as visual perception, fairness, cooperation, spatial reasoning, moral reasoning, reasoning styles, and even the heritability of IQ. In all cases American undergraduates didn’t simply differ, they differed substantially. 
Eric uses this information to lead readers through a discussion on the confirmation bias: the tendency to favor interpretations that support our beliefs even when the evidence to suggest this is true is actually weak to nonexistent.

Kris Young at Ge-Knit-ics reports on Berkeley's personalized medicine project, which offers personalized genetic testing for all incoming freshmen. The gene analysis is meant to encourage students to begin thinking about their genetic dispositions with regard to health and lifestyle choices they may make. However, Kris notes that genes may also reveal a good deal about ancestry as well:
Suppose a student whose parents are of European ancestry discovers from the “Bring Your Genes to Cal” project that they have the ALDH2*2 allele. Not only does it mean that they will have an adverse physiological response to consuming alcohol, but that the student’s ancestry could be called into question. Potentially, these tests could reveal more information than either the student or the school are prepared for.
The takeaway—in my opinion—is that genetic testing shouldn't be undertaken lightly. Participants need to be prepared for all sorts of information to be revealed.

Patrick F. Clarkin who blogs about biological anthropology, war and health, and growth and nutrition has a great post on SUDS (Sudden Unexplained Death During Sleep) in Asian men. SUDS presents a mystery:
Hmong men in Huay Nam Khao refugee camp,
praying for a peaceful life
. Credit: Bangkok Post
From Patrick F. Clarkin's blog.
The vast majority of SUDS cases are males (75-100% in various studies), young adults (average age of 30-34), with no previous history of health problems (Munger 1987). In addition, it appears to be largely concentrated among, if not exclusive to, persons of East and Southeast Asian origin. Family members who witnessed a SUDS case reported that victims had difficulty breathing, made groaning sounds, and were generally unresponsive.
Kevin points out that these sorts of experiences occur in many cultures, but was associated with originally associated with the Hmong in particular—a view that probably derived from the "American view of the Hmong as exotic newcomers from the highlands of Laos, but was also fed by the Hmong animistic spiritual beliefs of the phenomenon (Fadiman 1998)." But as Kevin reveals, SUDS may be more than culture-bound. He explores potential causes for SUDS, including a genetic predisposition and environmental factors.

Next up, let's extend a hearty congratulations to Julien Riel-Salvatore of A Very Remote Period Indeed who has a forthcoming paper on Neanderthal innovation that has already received a fair amount of media attention! He's been taken to task for saying: "this study helps 'rehabilitate' Neanderthals by showing that they were able to develop some of the accoutrements of behavioral modernity independent of any contact with modern humans." So he's set out to preemptively address some concerns and questions. The piece should be read as a complement to the information circulating in the media about his paper.

Mad Hatter: Clean cup, clean cup. Move down. 

You heard the Hatter! Now, let's all shift round the table! Quickly, quickly! Does Technology need a new cup?

Can crowdsourcing help us find
patterns for rare diseases?
Anne Buchanan at The Mermaid's Tale has an interesting post that suggests crowdsourcing may help the NIH get to the bottom of medical mysteries:
The huge numbers of people who populate the web, and perhaps intensely when they have a medical dilemma that concerns them, provides a potentially unique way in which repetition can be ascertained.  People seem to find each other, and relate their stories.   Of course, these are informal and not rigorous by normal clinical standards, but experience shows that sense can be made of the data, at least to some useful extent.
Anne suggests that crowdsourcing would allow doctors to take advantage of large population samples to discern patterns among people who suffer from rare diseases, which is an interesting proposal for the use of this kind of technology.

Francis Deblauwe at Digging Digitally reports that the iPad may change archaeology! Or rather the where and when of recording data in the field. Are you an archaeologist currently using a tablet or have plans to take one into the field? I'm interested in learning what your experiences are with the device.

Marcel at Hazelnut Relations announces the launch of the Alpine Archaeology Blog which is part of an e-learning course on archaeological methods and techniques in alpine environments. The blog is an experiment testing the use of digital media in the classroom and is meant to be a medium of exchange for educators, students, and the interested public. Fair warning however if you do head over to Alpine Archaeology after reviewing Marcel's description: much of the blog appears to be in Swiss, so you may have to use Google to translate the page if you're interested in participating in this exercise. (Isn't there a WP plugin for translations?)

Here on Anthropology in Practice, I looked at a recent Pew Internet Project study on the rise of apps culture and asked whether the pervasiveness of apps and mobile culture could help minimize the double digital divide—a topic that continues to lurk in the shadows of my mind.

Mad Hatter: Oh yes mustard! That'll do... Mustard?
Don't let's be silly. Now lemon, that's different..

Mustard? Lemon? Does culture have a preference?

Daniel Lende sends us two posts from Neuroanthropology. The first reports on Shannon Lee Dawdy who has been named a MacArthur Fellow for her work on New Orleans which
“integrates the intellectual life of the community with the story of the adventurers, entrepreneurs, and smugglers who resisted governance, providing a markedly expanded narrative of the colonial dynamics and structure of the region.” Daniel gives a nice overview of her work, complete with a video clip he found.

His second post is an interview with Dan Hrushka who recently authored Friendship: Development, Ecology, and Evolution of a Relationship. As I have this book waiting for me on my desk currently for review, I was excited to get this "insider's" peek with the author.

Bonn also has an interview up at time travelling. He shares some words from Jigger Geverola, a post-dictatorship political detainee, who has been imprisoned on charges of rebellion and arson since May 2004. Bonn tells us
More than 6 years ago, he was caught together with Ronald Sendrijas while visiting his parents in Argao, Cebu, Jigger’s hometown. Sendrijas was later released after spending years in jail but a few months after his freedom, unidentified assassins gunned him down–a fate shared by many activists and journalists in the Philippines these days.
Geverola ends with a message for activists.

Mad Hatter: Do you care for tea?
Alice: Why, yes. I'm very fond of tea.
March Hare: If you don't care for tea,
you could at least make polite conversation!

Oh dear. If tea isn't your thing, perhaps some ale is in order? (Just don't let the Hatter know!) The Moore Group has some handy instructions for "Viking" ale that we may want to consider. In addition to barley, it looks like you'd need some ling heather and bog myrtle—probably best to gather all your ingredients before you start.

March Hare: Why don't you start at the beginning?
Mad Hatter: Yes and when you reach the end... Stop.

Well, all good things must come to an end. Don't bother with the cups, Hare and Dormouse will tend to them. Thanks to all who responded to my (late) pleas for posts. The next spot for FSH appears to be open. Why not let Afarensis know you'll take it?

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