Friday, October 29, 2010

The Anthro Reader, Vol. 13: Weird Science

Skull done by Master Carver S, 2008.
As it is the Friday before Halloween here in the US, and this is the thirteenth edition of the Anthro Reader [cue spooky music] what better way to bring in the weekend than with some weird science? So turn on the lights, and lock the door tight, we're going to explore the dark recesses of science—but don't worry, I've populated this post with images of pumpkins S and I have carved from the last few years and they'll ward off any danger from the mad science below. (Why pumpkins? You mean you don't know? Click here for information on jack-o-lanterns.)

At Neurotic Physiology, Scicurious shows us that we can learn a lot about adaptive networks from slime molds. What is a slime mold you ask?
They are often described as being a single humongous cell, but from what I understand, the stage where it looks like a mold and does stuff is actually a huge glom of cells, all joined together into one big cytoplasm with lots of nuclei. When it’s all big like that, it has the ability to slime around and hunt for food. Slime molds eat microorganisms that feed on decaying plant and animal matter, so the usual place to find them is among the detritus of the forest floor. 
So now you know. (And if you're thinking of the Blob, you're not too far off.) Sci also has a video of the slime mold moving ... and one of it going through a maze (below). It's pretty weird:

Michael Myers, carved by Krystal, 2009.
Anyway, what can the mold teach us? Well we like to think that we understand networks—we build transportation systems, we lay pipes, and streets. We're pros, no? But our designs often lack the efficiency found in biological networks that occur naturally. Why? Because we're human. As Sci puts it: plans for efficiency often get tossed in favor of what people actually want. So to test the transportation network in Tokyo, scientists placed a slime mold on a map with the borders of Tokyo and used food to mark cities. They slime mold went after the food and withdrew once it got to the edge of the map, leaving filaments connecting the "cities." Researchers used this data to develop a mathematical model for expansion! So the next time you're being chased by the Blob, take notes—you could help with urban planning!

From the Blob we'll move on to carnivorous plants. Do they compete with other organisms in their environment for food? Yup. The pink sundew (Drosera capillaris) and the wolf spider (Sosippus floridanus) compete for insects according to It Takes 30:
They eat the same prey (as measured by what gets caught in the spider’s web or on the sticky leaves of the sundew); the presence of a sundew affects the behavior of the spider (the distance between a spider web and a sundew gets larger as the trapping area of the sundew gets larger, and the web gets larger too); and when a spider and a sundew are put in the same terrarium with a limited food supply, the presence of the spider reduces the number of seeds the sundew can produce.  Poor starving plant.
This post has a really nice discussion on the complexities of competition, highlighting areas open for research in case anyone has an interest in opening a little shop of horrors.

Grim, carved by S, 2010.
Since we're talking about plants, did you know there's magic in kale? At the Smithsonian's Food and Think, Amanda Bensen writes that the Irish used kale for fortune telling—specifically, if a person pulled a kale plant out of the ground on Halloween, he or she would gain insights about a future spouse based on the nature of the plant (shape, taste, etc.) In addition to its fortune-telling powers, kale is also pretty healthy and there are some yummy suggestions on how to enjoy it from Food and Think.

If you decide to go hunting for kale, look out for werewolves. Oh, you didn't think that was an old wives tale did you? It seems that lycanthropy isn't such a stretch after all. Matt Soniak reports of a case where a patient believed he was a dog—and a dead one at that:
Lycanthropy in folklore and horror movies is applied to humans who change into wolves. In the psychiatric literature, though, it is a rare belief or delusion that one has transformed into an animal, or the exhibition of behavior suggesting that belief. Cotard’s syndrome is another rare condition in which the afflicted has nihilistic delusions that lead them to deny their own existence or that of the external world. The syndrome also involves the paradoxical ideation of immortality.
Readers are presented with an interesting case study where the conditions were right for both lycanthropic tendencies and Cotard's syndrome to coexist.Perhaps werewolves are closer than originally thought.

After the blob, carnivorous plants, and werewolves, perhaps some skepticism is in order to balance things out. Bloody Mary is a popular American Urban legend—one that I admit sort of freaks me out. (There's an interesting discussion of Mary here.) But Brad Walters of Cortical Heming and Hawing reports the legend may be the result of an optical illusion! There are a few really neat exercises contained in this post that reveal you have nothing to really worry about.

Speaking of the supernatural, if you or someone you know has seen a ghost, don't panic. Before you call in Ghosthunters or Ghostbusters or Zak Bagans, you may have experienced an infrasound:
It's noise at a low enough frequency that you don't consciously hear it, but your ears still sense it. The process of receiving sensory input without your conscious mind understanding where it's coming from wreaks havoc with your emotions. Specifically, researchers found that sounds between 7 and 19 Hz it could induce fear, dread or panic.
Scaredy cat by Krystal, 2010.
Infrasounds occur naturally in nature—the rumbling of volcanoes, earthquakes, strong ocean waves, and even winds can generate an infrasound. For this reason, it may be advantageous to perceive these sounds: Would you want to hang around if a volcano was going to erupt? It probably wouldn't do much for your survival rate if you did. But how would infrasound make you see a ghost?
Infrasounds can be "powerful enough to resonate with the average human eyeball, causing 'smeared' vision. This is a phenomenon where the eye vibrates just enough to register something static -- say, the frame of your glasses or a speck of dust -- as large, moving shapes."
So there's some truth then to the idea that plumbers make excellent ghosthunters.

On that note, I'll leave you with some words from President Franklin Roosevelt:
We have nothing to fear but fear itself.
It's okay if you need to sleep with the light on though. Roosevelt didn't say anything about that.

See you all next week, folks!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Anthropology of Coffee ... in Five Minutes

I had the amazing opportunity to present at IgniteNYC last month to help kick off the Web 2.0 expo in New York City. Armed with 20 slides that auto-advanced every 15 seconds and working with a time limit of 5 minutes, I presented on the coffee series that has become so popular here at AiP. 

Five minutes is really a heartbeat. I remember getting to the end and realizing that it was almost over, and trying to process that I had gotten through it! Here's the video of my presentation:

You can view some of the other members of my speaker cohort here, including Esther Dyson, Molly Crabapple, Alex Howard, George Haines, Brian Schechter and Aaron Schildkrout, Mark Drapeau, Laurel Ruma, Alex Kilpatrick, Amanda Parkes, Lara Lebeiko, Mike Dewar, Mike Rugnetta, and Paul Marcum.

On My Shelf: Friendship: Development, Ecology and Evolution of a Relationship (Review)

When you are friends you can fart together.
It might be smelly, but it's the truth. Friends can laugh at such informalities. Daniel Hruschka plumbs the depths of friendship across cultures and finds that while there are particularities to the word itself, the intent seems common enough. At its core, the sentiment expressed above is important to friendship: it embodies closeness, trust, and love. When you have friends, you have access to a powerful network of allies that can surpass family in some cases. Indeed, friendship is integral to the social fabric of our lives.

Because the bonds of friendship are often marked by supportive reciprocal actions, friendship itself has been discussed in terms of the economy of a relationship. Hruschka outlines three existing theories that are guided by the notion that friendly relationships are inclined towards balance: "a norm of reciprocity, an urge to balance favors, and a concern about the shadow of the future" (21). However, he finds that these theories fail to account for increased degrees of sharing and helping between friends—which appear to be intrinsically motivated. While there is a certain degree of reciprocity in friendship, the ethnographic record reveals that friendship is not motivated by the stringent promise of reciprocal returns. Friends do not give with the expectation that they will be compensated immediately nor do they hold onto old hurts and keep score. Friends are helped because they are an extension of ourselves—our bodies recognize this with the release of a chemical called oxytocin, which is known for its role in maternal bonding and activity but also may have a part to play in partner recognition and minimizing fear of contact:
Many of the effects observed in humans and other mammals are likely related to the way that oxytocin modulates neural circuitry underlying fear and affiliation in humans, essentially reducing activity in the amygdala and decoupling the amygdala from other brain regions so as to modulate fear responses. Moreover, its activity in reward centers indicates that oxytocin (and its chemical cousin vasopressin) also plays a role in the motivation to approach particular partners. Its action as a moderator of both social inhibition and approach may make oxytocin a particularly important chemical messenger in the cultivation and maintenance of social relationships (37).
This chemical recognition itself as trust, giving us the last of the three components of friendship implied by the quotation at the top of the page. An increase of oxytocin in the bloodstream increases an individual's willingness to take social risks with and for that partner. There is an honesty to friendship that cannot be faked. It is at once empowering and makes one vulnerable.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

[Repost] Spitting on the Bat and Other Baseball Rituals

I originally published this post last year under the title, "Did You Spit on That Bat? Rituals and Superstitions in Baseball." It's one of my favorites and since we are fast approaching Halloween, I'm sharing it again. It has been slightly edited from the original version.

The crack of the bat, the smell of sausage and peppers, and the vendor's cries of "Beer here!" and "Pretzels!" will soon be nothing more than distant echoes—the ghosts of a season past. American baseball fans are saying their final farewell to summer with the Fall Classic. Just as spring training marks the coming of long, lazy summer days eating hot dogs and pretzels, yelling at the umpires, and singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," October ball means hot chocolate and gloves, jackets, and blankets (though there is still considerable yelling at the umpires and booing the opposing team). Once a World Series champion is declared, the non-contenders lick their wounds and turn their thoughts to the next year. The fans begin to dream of spring. Until that point, however, baseball is littered with small rituals and superstitions meant to appease whatever gods are watching, and more importantly, the fans. If you do happen to tune in to watch this year's contenders, pay attention to the guy on the mound. If he's pitching a good game, take note of whether any of his teammates talk to him. And try and see if anyone steps on the foul line. And when the camera pans to the dugout, note whether the guys seem to sit in the same place. In the stands, check out whether the fans have signs and how they're wearing their hats when their team is down.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Anatomy of a Superstition: When Your Eye "Jumps"

The eye sees all, and can possibly warn
of danger in Trinidadian folklore.
Credit: Wikipedia
Trinidadians have a rich collection of superstitions, many of which found their way to the island via colonialism. These beliefs reflect the ways ideas and explanations have been blended here—and elsewhere—in the face of globalization. There is one, however, that I have grown up with that seems unique to Trinidadians. It concerns an involuntary eye spasm known colloquially as when your eye "jumps." The superstition has multiple parts and meanings depending on which eye is affected:
  • If your right eye jumps, you are going to hear good news. If your left eye jumps, you are going to hear bad news (Roberts 1927: 161).
  • If your right eye jumps, someone is speaking well of you. If your left eye jumps, someone is saying bad things about you.* (If you think of the name of people you know, when you name the right person—who is speaking badly about you—your eye will stop jumping) (Roberts 1927: 161)
  • If your right eye jumps, you'll see someone you haven't seen in a long time.
  • If your left eye jumps, a loved one/friend is doing something behind your back.
  • If your left eye jumps, a love one/friend may be in trouble.
*There seems to be some confusion with this particular version of the superstition since I have also seen/heard it reverse (i.e., right eye = someone speaking ill of you). It is included here in the parallel form to match the other suggestions.

There are additional variations to this theme, but all emphasize the dichotomy between the left and right eye in relation to bad versus good events. The eye has long figured in superstitious lore—for example, the idea of the "evil eye" may date to 600 BC, and since this only marks documented reference to the belief, it may in fact be older than that. As a source of vision, awareness, and knowledge, it is no surprise that beliefs relating to the eye tend to suggest a forewarning.

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.orgSuperstitions are often met with a certain degree of scorn. Rational folks are often quick to dismiss them. But still they lurk in the background until the opportunity arrives when they can suggest a potential "What if?" Historically, when discussing superstitions scholars (e.g., Matthews 1945; Roberts 1927) have categorized them as "primitive" beliefs of "simple" people, and overlooked the insights they may offer on the way people view the world. While many superstitions have religious or supernatural undertones, many others offer interesting observations on life in a particular location. And if you dig deep enough, there are sometimes suggestive details that can explain why some superstitions persist.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Anthro Reader, Vol 12

Another week, another Reader! After getting off to a rough start this week—I left my wallet at home on Monday, did not have my commuter's pass and had to get off the LIRR at an unknown station, and was majorly late to work—I was glad to find some super things on the web. So, this week zero-sum relationships and baseball fans, the culture of poverty, and a little horn tooting.

As always, folks, you're invited to share anything of interesting you may stumble across in your web travels with me for the Reader, either via Twitter @anthinpractice or through email.

Let's get to it ...

Unfortunately for me, the postseason means watching the last of baseball from my sofa, gritting my teeth, and hoping for a NL champion when the dust clears. The winter months are just around the corner though, so I'm glad it's been an interesting series because these have been some fantastic final games. Channeling the spirit of baseball, Patrick Clarkin has a great post on group identity and fandom. A long time Red Sox fan, Clarkin explores the depths of connectivity that can spur violence, dividing families and provoking even normally mild mannered folks. It boils down to an Us v. Them opposition in which there must be a winner:
Conflict is more likely to arise when interactions between two parties are zero-sum, and one party’s success (+1) necessitates another’s failure (-1). Most sports work this way, except those that allow a draw. Baseball games cannot end in a draw, and in theory two teams will play for eternity until one of them wins…  unless it’s an All-Star game. Obviously, many types of interactions are not zero-sum, and it is possible for parties A and B to both gain something. This is a non-zero sum interaction (+1 & +1 = +2). Trade works this way, as does any form of cooperation, whether between genes, cells, individuals, or groups (Wright 2001). When two groups are interdependent, attitudes toward each other tend to shift toward the better.
As teams are eliminated in the march to the World Series, it is interesting to note the expansion of Us and Them as sides are chosen for the final showdown. 

Fans united for the last seventh inning stretch at Shea before it was torn down:

Next up, the NYT ran an article on the Culture of Poverty. The article states that a new generation of scholars are resuming poverty studies by "rejecting the notion of a monolithic and unchanging culture of poverty" and attributing "destructive attitudes and behavior not to inherent moral character but to sustained racism and isolation." While the discussion is interesting, it sparked some responses from the blogging community which felt that the article could revive some of the original problems associated with this concept—essentially, that the poor are solely responsible for their own woes.

In response, Daniel Lende offers a great analysis of the "culture of poverty" debate at Neuroanthropology:
This reduction of culture – shared and meaningful – to individuals and beliefs will do little to change the pernicious social logic that sees the main route out of these types of neighborhoods as “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” It goes against the dominant narrative of the American dream, where an individual person comes here and does well for him or herself.
In addition to Daniel's post, you may want to read "Moving Out of Poverty" by Duncan Green who blogs at Oxfam's From Poverty to Power. He writes:
Oscar Lewis was wrong: there is no ‘culture of poverty’: ‘Poor people are not listless, passive and alienated. ‘Instead, they take initiatives, often pursuing many small ventures simultaneously to survive and get ahead. Some do manage to move out of poverty. In country after country, when we asked movers to name the top three reasons for their move out of poverty, the answers most frequently emphasized people’s own initiative in finding jobs and starting new businesses.’ In contrast, the reasons for falling into poverty are more varied.
Then, head on over to The Atlantic where Ta-Nehisi Coates draws on his own experience to highlight how embedded behaviors and beliefs can come to be—and the ways these ties can be restrictive:
I suspect that a large part of the problem, when we talk about culture, is an inability to code-switch, to understand that the language of Rohan is not the language of Mordor. I don't say this to minimize culture, to the contrary, I say it to point how difficult it is to get people to discard practices which were essential to them in one world, but hinder their advancement into another. And then there's the fear of that other world, that sense that if you discard those practices, you have discarded some of yourself, and done it in pursuit of a world, that you may not master.
Altar, Trinity Church.
And to wrap things up, I want to share two things of my own. First, I wrote up a history of Trinity Church at The Urban Ethnographer. I enjoyed writing it, and as an accompaniment I created a photo essay on Facebook which has some great images.

I also had a feature in the Smithsonian Food and Think blog's "Inviting Writing" series. I shared the story of my first Halloween in The Candy Drawer.

See you guys next week!

DonorsChoose Update: Hurray for Current Events and Understanding Ecosystems!

Credit: bfick, Creative Commons
Thanks in part to the efforts of Dr. Sky Skull two more classrooms on the AiP DonorsChoose page has been funded!

Ms. R's class at PS 1 in Brooklyn will be able to get classroom copies of the Weekly Reader! And Ms. L's class at the Bronx Academy of Letters will be able to get an aquarium kit for what is sure to be a fantastic project! 

I'd also like to thank the anonymous donor who contributed to Digging for Rocks, and Kristina who also contributed to Digging for Rocks and Bones, Bones, and More Bones as well! And thanks to Dr. Sky Skull for supporting the earth science request of Ms. C and Ms. W's request for a printer. I hope we can help these classrooms as well.

To date, donors through AiP have raised $146.00 and touched the lives of 110 students. The Science Writers for Students initiative runs through Nov. 9th, and there are still lots of classrooms that could use some help. Please take a look, help if you can, and spread the word. I understand that by now you've probably got a bit of DonorsChoose fatigue, but please remember that you're making a huge difference for these and future students.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Is It Time for a Social Media Vacation?

Credit: Cynicald
Do you reach for your smart phone as soon as you wake up? Take it into the bathroom with you? Do you absolutely need to know what’s happening on Facebook, Twitter, and on email ALL the time? Are you starting to feel overwhelmed because you’re constantly connected?

Or maybe you’re just tired. Between Facebook, Twitter, and email (and those are just the big ones), it can be hard to keep up—and since they’re all on your phone, you can be connected … anywhere and anytime! We’re constantly plugged in and it can be exhausting.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

DonorsChoose Featured Project: Science Teacher Needs Help!

Thanks to your help, the kids at PS 163 in the Bronx were able to obtain copies of the Harry Potter series, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and assorted Goosebump titles! These kids, who are in a high poverty district and already face many obstacles to success, will now have access to one potential escape that may open the door to increased literacy and excitement about education. And because these are reusable items, future generations of kids will also be able to enjoy these books in Ms. B's classroom.

I'd like to extend the same opportunities to the kids at JHS 8 in Jamaica, NY in Mrs. C's class. Mrs. C is trying to get some earth science kits to provide students with hands on experience identifying rocks and other minerals. I think this is a great way to help urban kids connect with their environment—particularly in NYC, which has a rich geological history!

With these rock and mineral kits we will be able to set up a group project of stations for the students to rotate through; at each station they can handle and examine the various minerals and rock formations which make up the earth, perform easy experiments to learn about the different attributes, and interact and teach each other. They will see magnetic and fluorescent qualities,and how rocks form soil, something "city kids" might otherwise not experience. Hopefully this will be so much fun that they will be hungry for more science experiments in the future! This is important because this type of exploration fosters the analytical, problem-solving thinking that helps students succeed, both in school and in LIFE! 
Donations of any amount are welcome, and will be a big help. This project is eligible for a match, so every dollar donated actually counts twice! We don't have far to go to reach the goal. Please help.

There are many other projects listed on the AiP DonorsChoose page, including

Mobile Site Link Updated

Apologies. I changed the URL for the mobile site and did not update the redirect, so some users may have had an issue accessing the site via their iPhones and Androids. This has been corrected, but please let me know if you have any issues. The updated link is also accessible here:

If you'd prefer not to view AiP via the mobile site, you can simple stop the mobile page from loading and/or bookmarking directly.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Recycling for Profit: Rise of the Can Collectors

The bottle depository at
my nearby supermarket.
You can tell it's the night before the recycling is picked up in my neighborhood not by the number of blue recycling bins on the curb (many of which are placed on the curb in the morning before the homeowner leaves for work), but by the rattle of pushcarts that punctuate the stillness. The number of people seeking recyclable cans and bottles to return for a profit seems to have increased, including a range from dedicated collectors to those whose "amateur" efforts involve allowing their own cans and bottles to accumulate for several weeks before bringing them in to the bottle depository or working with neighbors to generate a large enough supply for a sizable return. Who are these people, and why do they persist with this dirty, smelly endeavor?

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Anthro Reader, Vol. 11: The History Edition

The past is present.
There is indeed truth to that quotation from The National Archives. So, let's go back in time with this edition and take a look at who we were and how we've come to be.

First, some local stops. Traffic has always been a problem in NYC. The Tenement Museum blogs about this awesome traffic sign they unearthed:

Credit: Tenement Museum
Isn't the mascot awesome? Joe Klarl posts that The Tenement Museum believes the sign dates to the 1970s/1980s when New York City first launched its "Don't Block the Box" campaign to help with traffic flow. I think the toothed car is awesome, and quite typifies the vehicular denizens of the streets. 

Next, Ephemeral New York has a post up about long forgotten New York airports, including the four runway Flushing Airport:
“Flushing Airport was opened in 1927 as Speed’s Airport (named for former owner Anthony “Speed” Hanzlick),” states “It became the busiest airport in New York City for a time."
Flushing Airport took a hard hit when nearby LaGuardia opened—and quite frankly, it's a surprise to me that LaGuardia could put anyone out of business because I view it as a tiny, local air strip. Yes, it's actually more than an air strip. Yes, I am biased in favor of JFK. I grew up 15 minutes from JFK, and convenience has definitely won my heart over.

In the northeastern United States as we head into fall and winter, there are bound to be quite a few rainy days ahead. I admit that I've never given my umbrella much thought—I mean, it's a good, sturdy umbrella, but I haven't invested much thought into the history. Angus Trumble has a post up at the Paris Review about his chance discovery of an umbrella museum in the town of Gignese in northern Italy—turns out this region gets a third more rain than London. Readers are treated to a delightful account of the history of the language of umbrella makers:
As with so many other northern Italian industries (most famously the glass factories of Venice) the relevant production techniques, recipes, and other trade secrets were jealously guarded and protected with much paranoia, even ruthlessness. To that end the ombrellai used an in-house language known as Tarùsc, which seems to have existed in one form or another among the hill-dwelling people of Piedmont and the southern cantons of Switzerland since at least pre-Roman times. And while it came to be associated almost exclusively with the ombrellai, it was also used for related purposes by smugglers, thieves, spies—indeed a comparatively large proportion of the population whose occupations were covert.

According to local folklore, il Tarùsc was a very shy, small bad-tempered gnome who lived on the slopes of Mottarone and Motta Rossa. He was surly, difficult, and misanthropic. Nevertheless from him the ombrellai learned the art of making the shapeliest, lightest, most lissome and elegant umbrellas in all the world. And in the process Tarùsc taught the ombrellai how to speak his own strange tongue. He had a long red beard; wore green clothes, red shoes, and a tricorn hat that doubled as a knapsack. His extreme shyness did not prevent Tarùsc from engaging in spiteful little pranks, such as tripping people on mountain paths, wolf-whistling, and other impertinent behavior. If you found yourself targeted in this way, the only solution was to scatter a sack of rice as near as possible to the site of the affront, so that gathering it all up again, grain by meticulous grain, he was distracted all through the night, long enough to forget all about you and move on to his next hapless victim. 
It's a fantastic read and highly recommended—and a good reminder of how we've come to be globally connected by small, everyday items.

In that same vein, you may also want to check out the history of denim jeans at Socyberty, which traces the pants from their origins as work clothes to casual wear:
The actual jeans cloth originated in Chieri, a town close to Turin, Italy, in 1600s. It was traded through the harbour in Genoa, a naval power and the capital of an independent republic. The were first made for the Genoese Navy because  the sailors needed all-purpose pants that can be worn both wet or dry, with legs that could  be easily rolled up to be worn while mopping the deck. These jeans were washed by hauling them in big nets behind the ship.  The sea water would naturally fade them. History has it that the name “jeans” was derived  from blue de Genes, or blue of Genoa. The raw fabric material came from of Nîmes (France) de Nîmes , which eventually evolved into the word “denim.”
Just something to think about the next time you get dressed for a casual Friday.

And that's it for this week. For even more history, you can also visit the October History Carnival hosted by Katrina Gulliver at Notes from the Field.

As always, you're invited to send me stuff for the Reader! Really. I want to know what you're reading. When you see something neat, either shoot me the link on Twitter @anthinpractice or drop me an email. I'll save it, take a look, and possibly add it here.

(PS - As you may have noticed, I decided not to put the Reader under the fold. Do you have an opinion one way or another? I'd like to know.)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Ways to Connect to Anthropology in Practice

Are you connected to Anthropology in Practice? Join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Networked Blogs.

Anthropology in Practice also has a mobile site for iPhone and Android users! Visit AiP from these devices and you will automatically be redirected to AiP's mobile site. Once there, you can bookmark the page on your smart phone for immediate access to recent posts, @anthinpractice Tweets, the Facebook page, and more!

As always, you feedback is welcome. If you encounter any problems or have suggestions, leave me a comment below or drop me a line.

DonorsChoose Update: Students at PS 163 Are Funded!

Ms. B asked for help getting books for her students at PS 163, and I'm thrilled to say that her project was funded—with help from Kate Clancy and Dave Pentecost who donated through the AiP Donor's Page!!

Thanks in part to Kate and Dave, the kids in Ms. B's class will get to enjoy the Harry Potter series, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, and titles from Goosebumps! Thank you! You've made a huge difference to these kids! And as an added bonus, HP will match your contributions at the end of the drive—AND you'll receive a portion of that match to donate to project of your choice.

The DonorsChoose Science Bloggers for Students initiative will run through Nov. 9, and there are still lots of classrooms out there that need help. I'll be featuring other NYC schools in the coming days, but feel free to visit the AiP Donor's page and support a classroom in need.

[Update: Here's a note of thanks from Ms. B!]
Dear David, Jungleboy, Ms. Carmichael, Jonathan, Maria, Kate and Anonymous Donor,

Thank you so much for your donations to my classroom. I can't wait to show my kids these books and have them experience the excitement of reading. It doesn't have to be boring, you just have to connect with the material.

They have already been pleading with me to get some scary books. They ask for mysteries, but our classroom library is deficient in those sorts of books. So I made a Donors Choose project to give them the books they want to read. I am so excited! They are going to fight over these books and it will be a fight i will be happy to have!

My kids don't get to go to the public library, their parents often work beyond the operational hours, so the classroom library really has to supplement their needs.

Thank you much, words cannot express my gratitude.

With gratitude,
Ms. B.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Seeking Authenticity in Facebook Profiles

I was chatting with a friend who is in the process of job hunting the other day and he told me that he friended a recruiter on Facebook. Perplexed, I asked if he was concerned about the information the recruiter might see. "No," he said. "I'm not really the drunken reverie poster." He also does not use features such as lists to organize contacts and restrict access to parts of his profile.

This exchange suggests to me that the boundaries between online social networks are still in flux. So far, the general suggestion has been that users should use LinkedIn for professional contacts and keep Facebook for personal ones—or make use of the lists feature to set privacy settings accordingly. We've heard the horror stories about the times when friending a supervisor went astray (seriously, Google Facebook fired—there's even a group!), and we're learning that HR is increasingly reviewing the social media profiles of applicants before they're even invited for an interview. Sites like Facebook allow users to craft a personalized image of themselves—does this personalization suggest a more authentic self? And if so, does that make Facebook a more desirable point of contact for a more "complete" view of a person?

Monday, October 11, 2010

DonorsChoose NYC Education Drive: PS 163 is Looking for Books

The Mouse and the Motorcycle. Island of the Blue Dolphins. Hatchet. Catcher in the Rye.

What books do you remember reading in school? Solid reading and comprehension skills are an important part of success later on in life.

At PS 163, Ms. B is trying to get her students excited about reading in an environment where they are encouraged to do everything but read:
Ninety-nine percent of the students at my school live below the poverty line. Their parents work into the night and they baby-sit their younger brothers and sisters. They have a hard life, school should be a place where they can get some relief. Reading is one of those places where you can get that relief.
Ms. B is collecting funds through DonorsChoose to purchase new classics, such as the Harry Potter series, the Goosebumps series, and the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series to help excite a new generation of kids about reading. 

She only needs $82.00 to fund her project. You can help! Donate as little as $5.00 to help Ms. B and her class!

This project is a part of the DonorsChoose Science Bloggers for Students Challenge, which will run through Nov. 9th on Anthropology in Practice. While AiP's Education Drive is focused on NYC schools, feel free to donate to any school you would like to support. Click on the banner above or this link to view additional projects. Oh, and HP will match your donations!!

What Are Those Darned Neanderthals Up to Now?

Scene from the Neanderthal diorama at the American Museum of Natural History.
Not shown: Male Neanderthal figure holding tool.
The Neanderthal story is quickly becoming a favorite serial—who knows what new drama the day will bring! Once regarded as brutish and stupid, it was accepted that they could not compete technologically and socially with early modern human (EMH) populations and were eradicated as the latter spread throughout the globe. But in the last few years, the reputation of our Neaderthal cousins has changed. In fact, we've learned that they were surprisingly like us in many ways: they painted shells for jewelry, provided care for those in need, and had a sophisticated tool industry (see more here). Their diorama at the American Museum of Natural History shows them in a family unit. Their genome has revealed few conspicuous differences, instead demonstrating that Neanderthals may have in fact left a trace of themselves in our own genes.

The Neanderthal story stimulates the imagination because for all the similarities and newly credited skills the fact remains that they disappeared completely (in geological terms), leaving the earth to Homo sapiens. And I think part of the reason we're so intrigued is that on one level we wonder as a species whether we could disappear in the same way—gone but for a few instances in the fossil record. The Discovery Channel has done an excellent job of presenting the disaster possibilities: an asteroid could strike, global warming could do us in, the sun will eventually die, and so on. All the scenarios present events with immense environmental impact that would threaten our ability to find sustenance and cripple our overall well-being. A recent paper in Current Anthropology proposes that Neanderthals fell victim to one such devastating environmental event—volcanic activity—and illustrates the ways the fallout from the event would have made their environment inhospitable.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Anthro Reader, Vol. 10

This Reader covers a look at green spaces in NYC, Clovis culture, an explanation on why we need anthropologists, and more. Onward!

First a bit of urban anthropology: Emily Anthes has a great post up at Wonderland that describes a project looking at backyards in New York City. Researcher Evan Mason has determined that tiny residential yards in New York cover an area roughly the size of 62 Central Parks! Now Mason is investigating the ecological benefits of the these spaces, and Anthes has a really nice interview with her. Here's an excerpt:
Credit: Wonderland
I think there are a lot of New Yorkers who want to be green. They might look at a small bit of open space in front of or behind their house and say, ‘Well what good could this do?’ But the more information we have about the environmental benefits of these spaces, the more we see that cumulatively, tremendous benefits can be realized. It’s a nice way of doing something for the environment that does something for you as well. Does it really make me feel good to recycle a can? No, not really. It doesn’t enhance my life. But if I can do something good for the environment and sit outside on a gorgeous day like today—even if it’s a little space—how great is that?
 Mason is apparently looking for photos of backyards—you can find her contact info at Wonderland.

A Clovis Point.
Credit: Wikipedia
CFeagans has new post up at A Hot Cup of Joe. It provides a look at some new research on Clovis. Previously it had been proposed that the Clovis culture disappeared after Earth was struck by several comets. The resulting environmental effects is thought to have create stress for PaleoAmericans. However, new research reveals that Clovis sites may have only been occupied once, which makes it harder to argue that the culture collapsed:
The authors stress that, when it comes to Paleoindian sites, single occupation is the norm. It isn’t unusual for either a Clovis or a post-Clovis site to show evidence for only a single occupation. Archaeological sites generally follow the rules of superposition, with oldest materials at lower strata and younger material at higher strata. Sites like tells in the Near East or Mesopotamia often have multiple levels of culture that demonstrates successive occupations through time at the same site as newer cultures build on the ruins of older ones. Not so, however, with most, Paleoindian sites.
It's definitely some food for thought for your Friday.

I've borrowed the following photo from Fran Barone at analog/digital. It explains why we'll always need anthropologists:

Credit: Analog/Digital

As one reader commented, "Humanity: always up to something." But feel free to share your own interpretations below or on Fran's blog.

Readers, you know I'm a big fan of the oysters in the waters around NYC. I'm thrilled that they're making a comeback, as are the waters they live in. A post from Heather Goldstone at Climatide warns that we're not out of the woods yet though. The rising acidity of oceans makes it harder for shellfish to draw the calcium carbonate they need from the water to create shells. It's troubling—and a reminder of the direct relationship we have with our environment.

Colleen Morgan talks about Bahamian ship graffiti on Middle Savagery:
Graffito of early-19th-century British warship,
New Providence. Credit: Middle Savagery
In many cases ships were etched into the plaster and stone walls of these small buildings, and from these drawings she makes inferences about the ships that are depicted in the graffiti. There were almost 100 instances of this type of graffiti and sloops, warships, and schooners were drawn in such a way that indicated that the inhabitants of these buildings (presumably enslaved people) were “familiar with ship construction and rigging.”
The images are certainly thought provoking. They constitute a record that may yield very interesting insights into the Transatlantic trade from voices that have largely been missing.

Now a time waster: part of the appeal of Hogwarts is that technology is really second-fiddle to magic! But what if ... ? That's the question this fun distraction from Vulture aims to answer. Readers can get a glimpse at the Facebook profiles and Twitter streams of our favorite students from Hogwarts.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Anthropology in Practice Needs Your Help for NYC Students!

On AiP, one of the issues that concerns me is that lack of resources available to students. While I find the greatest danger in the inequitable divide of technological resources, any deficiency is a disservice to young minds. That is why AiP will be participating in DonorsChoose this year. is an online charity connecting individuals, like you, to classrooms in need. The average public school teacher spends $500 - $700 on classroom supplies out of his/her own pocket, and students still go without critical supplies they need to learn. So this website is great, because teachers can post requests, like microscopes, DNA kits, even field trips to the zoo, and you can help fund them!

Earlier this year, a coworker of mine brought in her child's school supply list. It included basic supplies meant to be shared by the class: paper towels, pencils, notebooks, printer paper, etc. It was eye opening and alarming—if schools need dictionaries and thesauruses for students, what else are they lacking?
While I've chosen to target New York schools, you can donate to any project you like—it all counts! And whatever you can contribute to creating a better learning environment is helpful.

What can you do?
  1. Donate! As little as $5.00 can go toward a classroom in need.
  2. Spread the word! The DonorsChoose banner at the top of the page will be available from October 10th through November 9th. Share the link with others and let's make a difference!

Digital Literacy at What Price?

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.orgA cultural and cognitive shift is well underway in terms of how we access and process information via digital media. And a recent study confirms our suspicions: though we are becoming more tech savvy, it may be at the expense of creative and critical thinking. Researchers from the University of Israel (2009), tested digital literacy with a group in 2002. In 2007, they tested this same group again and found statistically significant changes on the test scores.  Is this further proof of the widening double digital divide?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Baseball's Last Day (for 2010)

Mets fans know disappointment. And in fitting Mets fashion, the last game of 2010 ended in a loss after 14 innings. To the Nationals. The last place team in our division. I can't say that I was surprised, but I admit I had a small inkling of hope that was dashed with that final out.

Following another terrible season, Mets ownership decided it was time for a change, and they released manager Jerry Manuel and general manager Omar Minaya. At a press conference COO Jeff Wilpon said,
"We failed. Today, we let our GM and manager go. We are all responsible here. Ownership is responsible. Our general manager and manager are responsible."
Sitting next to his father, the team's CEO, the pair acknowledged that things were broken, and expressed a hope for fixing the team, and the relationship with the fans, who have also started to show signs of losing faith—attendance has taken a severe dip in the last year at the new ballpark in Queens.

On that last day, the ballpark was far from full. There was no surging crowd from the 7 train. And few jubilant faces. The atmosphere was heavy with sense of exhaustion. But the few who came still held their heads high and wore their team colors. A few months ago, I asked why—I examined baseball fans and disappointment, asking why sorely disappointed fans hang in there. It's a responsibility, I argued. And I hold to that feeling. And it seems I'm not alone. In all shapes and sizes, in all ages, they turned out to bid baseball goodbye. Here's a look at the final scenes of the Mets 2010 season.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Anthro Reader, Vol. 9

It's Friday! And that means another round of the Anthro Reader. This time I cover the Alamogordo chimps, homegrown gardens, serotonin and depression, fireflies, and a new planet that could be the new Earth.

But first, my fellow Scientopian Scicurious had an idea to look at the articles in an issue of Women's Health magazine and examine the information that they were offering to women. The analysis range from good to ridiculous to scary. Sci has helpfully collected the posts for your review. It's worth a read.

Also, be sure to read the 102nd edition of the anthropology blog carnival, Four Stone Hearth, right here on AiP.

Alright. And away we go.