Friday, December 24, 2010

The Anthro Reader, Vol. 21

From The Economist
Higher education has been taking a beating. An anonymous contributor to The Economist has a fair amount to say about the worthlessness of the PhD track:
Although a doctorate is designed as training for a job in academia, the number of PhD positions is unrelated to the number of job openings. Meanwhile, business leaders complain about shortages of high-level skills, suggesting PhDs are not teaching the right things. The fiercest critics compare research doctorates to Ponzi or pyramid schemes.
Madhusudan Katti of Leaf Warbler, who agrees that the realities facing the doctoral group are grim, points out a systemic problem that he feels The Economist should have certainly picked up on:
Let me get this straight: we have MORE students enrolling in college, competing to get into overfull classes taught by FEWER faculty every year, and TOO MANY PhDs who would love to have those faculty jobs that are clearly needed to teach all the new students! Does that sound about right? How does this make any kind of economic sense even with a supply-and-demand analysis? Seems to me that the demand is there, as is the supply, yet they aren't exactly meeting up! WTF is that about?!
Fortunately the disillusionment and harsh realities of higher education hasn't tainted the process of research and discovery for a group of eight-year-old children, who have published a study on bees. The study examines how bumblebees choose flowers for foraging. The kids developed the project on their own, with some help from their teacher and a local neuroscientist, and it is a wonderful and fascinating read—particularly as you get to see science unfold through their eyes. The paper is currently free from Biology Letters, and if you have the time I'd recommend you read it.

Have you met the Denisovans yet? You should absolutely get acquainted with these long lost relatives—they're a separate group of humans who coexisted with Neanderthals and likely interbred with our species.
The study shows that Denisovans interbred with the ancestors of the present day people of the Melanesian region north and north-east of Australia. Melanesian DNA comprises between 4% and 6% Denisovan DNA.
Homo floresiensis skull from
"Scenes From Our Evolutionary Past."
Scientists now believe there were four distinct species of humans alive when anatomically modern humans first left Africa, including Neanderthals and Homo floresiensis ("the Hobbit"). Perhaps a bio-archaeologist will treat us to a review of this article—hint, hint. [EDIT: Per a recommendation from BoneGirl below, John Hawks has an excellent write up, and has promised more to come.] I'd really be interested in learning more about how the bones were treated, and the sort of "enigmatic" fossil evidence that set the stage for this idea in the first place.

It is Christmas Eve, so what would The Anthro Reader be without a few seasonal tidbits? For your holiday reading pleasure, I give you the curious evolution of holiday lights from Wired—the bulbs that now adorn our trees replaced the practice of using candles thanks in part to Edison. This unusual article traces the variety of ways we have lit our trees.

And finally, tis the season to recall New York's Dutch heritage! Ephemeral New York reminds readers that two streets named for St. Nicholas are actually in remembrance of the patron saint of New Amsterdam. Hmm, even Santa is a New Yorker, who knew?

From Ephemeral New York
Best wishes for a wonderful holiday season, Readers!

Merry Christmas to those who observe—for anyone interested, you can always track Santa courtesy of NORAD.


  1. For more on the Denisova article/finds, check out John Hawks' blog post: He's a palaeoanthropologist and thus far more knowledgeable about the fossil evidence and lumpers/splitters debate than I am. He has promised to post more on the finds in the coming weeks, and I can't wait to read what he has to say!

  2. Thanks for the tip, KK. I'll be sure to keep an eye on his space.