Monday, November 29, 2010

Nominate Your Favorite Posts for Open Lab 2010

The deadline for submissions for the Open Lab 2010 competition is tomorrow, Nov. 30, 2010 at midnight PST. Open Lab selects 50 of the best in science writing on the web (plus one comic/cartoon and one original poem) and publishes them in an anthology.

AiP has a strong showing, but if you have a favorite post here that was published between Dec. 1, 2009 and Nov. 30, 2010 please send it along for consideration. You can view what has already been submitted here, and the submission form is here or you can use the button on the right side of the page if you happen to be reading a post that you would like to nominate. 

As always, thanks for your support!

Less Sizest Seating?

Does the newer bench style (right) on some subway cars help fit riders more comfortably?

One of my earliest exercises on AiP was a catalog of subway characters. Included in this list was the Squeezer: the person who tries to fit into a seat though there isn't room to comfortably accommodate the person and the people around him or her. Squeezers can be men or women, and fit or overweight. Essentially, the Squeezer sees an open space and believes that wedging himself into the space is fine even though the experience will not be a comfortable one. I've fallen victim to a Squeezer on a few occasions, and as a result, I admit that I do attempt to expand and occupy all of my seat space rather than withdrawing and making myself as small as possible, which seems to encourage Squeezers. I've also realized that Squeezers are more common on the older trains (above left) where the seats are delineated by an orange border. On newer trains that employ a single unbroken bench for seats, people are far less likely to squeeze into a space that they cannot fit into. Are the newer benches less sizest? Is sizism even a factor here? What are the pros and cons of these different types of seats?

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Anthro Reader, Vol. 17

If you are in the United States, you may be recovering from a food-induced stupor. Here are some Thanksgiving-themed posts to help you along the way:

At the North Carolina State University blog, Matt Shipman investigates the science behind tryptophan, informing readers that we've been mistaken in blaming tryptophan for the lethargy that follows:
Many people gorge themselves at the Thanksgiving table. During the resultant digestive process, the body diverts as much as 50 percent of its blood to the small intestine, to maximize absorption of calories and nutrients. That means there is less blood available for physical activity. Furthermore, most traditional Thanksgiving meals are high in fat and protein content, which actually slows down the digestive process. So your body is going to be diverting blood to the small intestine for a longer period of time.
At Wonderland, Emily Anthes informs readers that turkeys may help with cancer research:
It turns out that as humans domesticated turkeys, selecting birds for faster growth and bigger breasts, for instance, we also concentrated a genetic mutation that makes the birds particularly susceptible to carcinogens in the environment. In particular, domestic turkeys have a mutation that makes them extraordinarily vulnerable to aflatoxin, a substance produced by a variety of species of the fungus Aspergillus. The toxin is most often found in nuts and seeds–turkeys and other birds may be regularly exposed to the toxins through their diets.
Want to know what turkeys eat? According to the USGS WERC blog, they include small pebbles in their diet to help digest food:
All birds have a gizzard, says Casazza. Located in the digestive system just after the stomach, this thickly-lined, muscular pouch acts like a crude chewer. Since turkeys don’t have teeth, they swallow small pebbles and other hard objects that are stored in the gizzard. As food enters that organ, muscle action crushes the food against the pebbles and the masticated food can then be passed back to their stomach.


If you've had enough turkey, elsewhere at Coturnix, Bora tells us that blogging is nothing new:
Nothing new under the Sun. Apart from technology (software instead of writing/printing on paper), speed (microseconds instead of days and weeks by stagecoach, railroad or Pony Express, see image on the left) and number of people reached (potentially millions simultaneously instead of one person or small group at a time), blogging is nothing new – this is how people have always communicated.
The twentieth century has been an exception in terms of communication, he says. The blind trust we have placed in media not a norm—critical thinking is a bit of our legacy, and though we need to relearn this skill, we're moving in that direction thanks in part to blogs.

What prompts a mother to take the life of her child? Eric Michael Johnson has a feature at the Scientific American guest blog that addresses this question, and investigates prolonged stress as a potential explanation. Using a study on stress and rhesus macaques, Eric demonstrates how class differences may add to stress and impact maternal behavior:
The team analyzed the colony’s mortality records covering a period of ten years and found that infants born to low-ranking females were much more likely to die in their first year than those born to high-ranking ones. As a result, low-ranking mothers were living in a state of constant panic. They would watch as their offspring were confronted by dangerous group members but they were powerless to do anything about it. Unable to act while their innate warning system screamed at high alert, their anxiety simply grew, expanding out of proportion as a result of the social inequality.
Eric finds that infant mortality is highest in places where class differences are prominent, as in New York, Colorado, and Oklahoma. Could one of the consequences of inequality be increased rates of infant mortality?

When you're finished with Eric's piece, you may also want to read David Dobb's response at Wired:
I would love to see, for instance, those low-ranking, stressed out monkey mothers in the Maestripieri study split by genotype. For as I noted in an article about stressed-out rhesus moms that Suomi studied, neurotic rhesus mothers in low social positions are more likely to raise neurotic, low-status offpsring if the mothers themselves were a) raised in such circumstances themselves and — a huge and — b) they carry the S-allele of the serotonin transporter gene, which is associated with greater sensitivity to environment in general and social experience in particular. It’s this combination that produces the risk — that creates a disproportionate number of the overanxious, undernurturing moms, the high cortisol levels and low social skills, the self-perpetuating loop of low status and inherited and taught dysfunction.
The two pieces together offer an insightful discussion on nature and nurture.

At the Science 3.0 network, GeneGeek delves into ornithophobia, the fear of attacking birds (think Alfred Hitchcock), but GG has problems with he flapping. She tells us about overcoming her fears during a visit to the Galapagos where she had the opportunity to feed Darwin's finches:
So, at this wonderful house, we were all supposed to put birdseed in our hands and let the birds fly all around us. Really?!? I am proud to say that I did it and it was one of the most scary things I’ve ever done. And I’ve kayaked in white water and over waterfalls, gone hang gliding, and other adventure things.
GG asks whether phobias are adaptive or biologically driven. Why not head on over and congratulate her on feeding the finches and join the conversation?

Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving! See you Monday.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Revisiting The Myth of Yams and Pumpkin Pie

A version of this post originally appeared in November 2009. I've repurposed parts of it with some editing for this holiday season. Happy Thanksgiving!

-- -- --

With the approach of Thanksgiving, elementary school aged children in the United States prepare to play yams in school plays, and sing songs about pumpkin pie and cranberries. They may dress up as Pilgrims in costumes with black hats and large, shiny buckles. And they often mime a feast with Native Americans signifying the beginning of a tradition of giving thanks in November. Their parents are undoubtedly delighted—as they should be: every child needs a picture dressed as a yam. 

"The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth" (1914)
By Jennie A. Brownscombe
These elements of Thanksgiving are the same half-truths that I was taught as a child. I say half-truths because Thanksgiving is a constructed holiday—over the years we have pieced together history and popular customs to create this national festival. It's based on a feast of thanksgiving, a religious event where the celebrants gave thanks to their god(s).

The tradition of giving thanks has been practiced by many: after a good harvest year, for example, was practiced by the Celts—giving us Samhain and ultimately Halloween. In North America, the Pueblo, Cherokee, Creek, and others held harvest festivals. So the practice wasn't unique to the early settlers at Plymouth. In fact, Thanksgiving wasn't declared a national holiday until Lincoln's proclamation in 1863—commissioning a Thanksgiving observance on the last Thursday in November. Prior to this, states held their own thanksgiving festivals, and they weren't always in the fall. In 1941, President Roosevelt signed a bill into law setting Thanksgiving as the third Thursday in November. The move was calculated to help retailers combat the Depression with a longer holiday sales period. (And today the holiday sales period has expanded well beyond the Thanksgiving holiday. In fact, the holiday seems secondary to the sales.)

While the 1621 celebration at Plymouth has long been regarded as the first Thanksgiving, historians now know that in 1619, the settlers at the Berkeley Plantation held a mass of thanksgiving to mark their safe arrival at the settlement. The Plymouth group received better PR in part because they provided us with a physical remnant to hold on to, according to author Jim Loewen [video].

Here's a look at the reality behind some other Thanksgiving truths:

Fiction:
The Pilgrims made pumpkin pie, had ham, and ate yams.
Fact:
The recipe for pumpkin pie was unknown to the Pilgrims, and there is no evidence that pigs were slaughtered. Yams were also uncommon. When the Pilgrims got around to celebrating Thanksgiving, they likely ate a variety of seafood, including lobster, as well as venison, plums, grapes, and grains. Learn more about the original Thanksgiving menu here.


Fiction:
The Pilgrims only wore black clothing, with buckles.
Fact:
Black and white were for formal occasions, such as Sunday services. And buckles? Well, they didn't come into fashion until late in the 17th-century.


Fiction:
Saying grace before carving the turkey at Thanksgiving
dinner in the home of Earle Landis in
Neffsville, Pennsylvania c. 1942. Public domain.
The Pilgrims and the Native Americans had a dignified meal where they displayed impeccable table manners
Fact:
Actually, no one used plates or silverware. Instead, they used a cloth napkin to handle hot pieces of food, which was likely just set out on every available surface, including tree stumps, and eaten over three days. The image of a perfect family meal is purely constructed—it was probably a bit more chaotic (like most of our Thanksgivings). 

So who cares? What does it matter if we teach our children that the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock ate pumpkin pie and had cranberry sauce? That they wore funny black hats? These half-truths come to make up our national history. And while it can be difficult for facts to survive the ravages of time, new technologies and methods have made it possible to us to piece together the artifacts we find to paint a picture of the past—an accurate picture. New technologies and methods have made it possible for us to understand what the landscape looked like when early settlers arrived, and how they would have interacted with the land. This information helps us better understand our history as a people and our tendencies as a nation.

In this spirit, as I did last year, I am dedicating this week to history that has survived—history that is around us, that has shaped us, that we walk by everyday without seeing. Our history unites us, as do the half truths. Thanksgiving in the United States is marked by people from different cultures and religions; it is a time to come together under the banner of a shared understanding of a history—and find Black Friday bargain.

Were you ever a dancing yam? What does Thanksgiving mean to you? Share your stories below. Also, if you're interested, you can read a rebuttal of the Thanksgiving "debunkers" here.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Coffee Break

Credit: Wai.ti via Flickr
Regular posts on AiP will resume on Friday, Nov. 26 with a new edition of the Anthro Reader. (In the meantime, send me stuff via email or Twitter!)

American readers: Have a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving holiday!


Friday, November 19, 2010

The Anthro Reader, Vol.16

Lots of folks are at the AAA conference this week down in New Orleans, so I hope we can expect some good write-ups in the coming weeks. In the meantime ...

I have stuff. You have stuff. There's stuff everywhere! The Story of Stuff is a video that takes viewers through the life-cycle of, well, the stuff that we come to own. It's a 20 minute video (which is why I didn't post it here), so maybe save it for lunch. There are also additional—and more recent videos—on the story of electronics, cosmetics, bottled water, and trade.

Brian Switek responds to "Why are there still monkeys?"
During part of the evolutionary history of our species, our ancestors were monkeys. (Just as our ancestors were cynodonts, tetrapodomorphs, gnathostomes, etc. etc. etc. at different points in time.) If we had a complete roll of all the animals which ever existed during prehistory and a few years to do the work, we could trace our direct line of ancestry through a succession of anthropoid primates nested within a tangled tree of diverse species, some related to modern monkeys and others not. We share a common ancestry with all living monkeys, but extant primate species are our evolutionary cousins and cannot be cast as representing our actual ancestors. It may be simple, but this idea of branching is essential to understanding how evolution works.
I'd like to turn this into a leaflet and hand it out.

Thoughtomics has an interesting post on how freshwater crabs have helped researchers understand India's geographic history. It's a really well-written piece showing how the fossil record can reveal clues about the landscape:
They found that the Indian and Southeast Asian crabs living today shared their last common ancestor before the main collision between Tibet and India 35 million years ago. Moreover, the biogeographical models reveal that the crabs spread from India to Southeast Asia. Since freshwater crabs rarely cross open seas, these results suggest that India and Southeast Asia were in contact at some point before the main collision. The crabs clearly favour the double collision hypothesis!
Finally, here's a short post from Ed Yong on the housecleaning tactics of spider mites, who live in close quarters. Here's a hint: it's like cleaning up lint. It's a quick read and an interesting look at the natural world. 

That's it for this week. I'll be traveling over the weekend and into next week, so I am taking a few days off. I'll be back with the next Anthro Reader, so send me stuff that I can use.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Faunal Friends: Evolution and the Animal Connection


This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.orgI’ll never forget the day S brought home a live chicken. When we lived in Queens, there were a number of fresh poultry and livestock suppliers that catered to the growing West Indian community, but there were definitely a few backyard farmers in the neighborhood. S was at a gas station when he heard a cheeping noise. He knelt down to investigate and when he straightened up, found a chick sitting on the mat in the car. “What was I supposed to do?” he asked showing me the chick. “It jumped in the car.”

His affinity with animals is nothing new. At fifteen, he nursed a pigeon back to health after setting its broken wing. During a trip to Trinidad, he befriended a bull—despite being warned away by my uncles—by sitting in the mud with it for hours and staring into its eyes. And today, we are the proud parents of two cats (we did not keep Chicken Little) who can’t seem to get enough of him. I am definitely second fiddle in their feline minds—though handy to have around when they need to be fed.

S is not alone. Pat Shipman (2010) notes the significance of pets—and animals—in our lives:
In both the United States and Australia, 63% of households include pets, compared to 43% of British and 20% of Japanese households. In the United States, the proportion of households with pets is larger than those with children. (522).
This relationship, dubbed the animal connection by Shipman, may have played an important role in human evolution, linking the traits that distinguish Homo sapiens from other mammals. How is it that some animals transitioned from food to friends, and what is the significance of this relationship?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Evolving Together: Human Interference Not ALL Bad

Is hindsight really 20/20? When we look at the past, we tend to imagine things as we wish they were, and not recall things as they actually were—nostalgia can be problematic. Romanticism of the past has given rise to ideas like the “Ruined Landscape” or “Lost Eden theory” which create pristine images of the past and argue that human activity is largely to blame for the overall degradation of landscapes. There is no denying that humans have had a lasting impact on the environment, however biologist Jacques Blondel (2006) suggests that these ideas overlook the ways human activity has actually contributed to the maintenance, diversity, and embellishment of landscapes (714). Blondel acknowledges that there is a middle ground between these ideas when it comes to the relationship we have with our landscapes—a balance must exist between resistance and resilience, between disturbance and recovery. While Blondel focuses his discussion largely on the Mediterranean, perhaps these ideas can also be applied to our own local landscapes, and help us understand how biodiversity can evolve in these circumstances.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Anthro Reader, Vol. 15

Have you read the latest edition of Four Stone Hearth yet?  Duane Smith of Abnormal Interests hosts the latest round of the anthropology blog carnival, with posts on sexy Neanderthals, confabulation, UK monuments, penguins, Zenobia, language, and my post on football fandom. It's certainly an abnormally interesting collection!

How much of your day do you spend on Facebook? In many ways, it's a record of our lives—our moods, our love affairs, our drunken revelries, our humanity. Max Luere has a video on YouTube detailing the life of one man (in approx. 3 minutes) as told by his Facebook activities. Some of it is painful, some humorous, and some sweet. (Hat tip to Loomnie for sharing the video.)


On Terra Nova, a blog that I recently discovered, has a post exploring the idea of an exodus recession: "an economic downturn caused by the movement of human attention and energy into virtual environments." Author Edward Castronova argues that as people buy into the idea of a robust or ailing economy they tend to act in self fulfilling ways. In an ailing economy, they withdraw from the market, and with the availability of today's technology, they're increasing retreating to the digital realm to socialize and interact in lieu of spending:
Facebook is a great way for people to connect. In some FB games, you can buy someone else a beer. You can poke them, write on their wall, friend them. None of this causes anything in the real world to be moved or changed. There are 500m people on FB, hundreds of millions more on other, similar social networking sites. If you’re friending people on FB, you’re ever so slightly less likely to be sending them a real Hallmark card, ever so slightly less likely to write them a note on paper, ever so slightly less likely to give them a call. That’s probably not going to turn around, either. Our ability to socialize online puts a crimp in our general need to move stuff or change stuff in the real world.
It's an interesting thought experiment.

Credit: Wally Gobetz
On anthropologyworks, hold on to summer a little longer with an interview with Steve Raichlen, author of The Barbecue Bible. I am a huge barbecue enthusiast, and I'm very particular about how I like my 'cue. And I'm not the only one. Cooking with smoke and fire is popular around the world:
Barbecue is intimately intertwined with human history, in ways both obvious and unexpected. For example, the discovery of eating meat cooked with fire by a human ancestor called Homo erectus about 1.8 million years ago had a profound effect on human evolution. Advanced reasoning, speech, our communal social system, technology, and even the division of labor–all stem from barbecue (in the sense of cooking meat with live fire).
My interest in Raichlen's book is definitely piqued.

© NASA
What would happen if an asteroid hit the Earth today? CFeagans links to an online simulation from Perdue University that lets you explore just that. Of course, he ran his own simulation and shares the following with us:
(T)he impact had the energy of 1,660 megatons of TNT. The average interval between impacts of this magnitude somewhere on Earth is somewhere around 50,000 years. The fireball, at over 500 km away, is well enough below the horizon that Dallas doesn’t suffer any ill effects, but we do get an air blast that arrives 25.3 minutes after impact, raising the wind velocity to about 6.21 mph and the blast can be heard to a level about as loud as heavy traffic. Long before that, however, somewhere around a minute and a half after the impact, an earthquake at 6.6 on the Richter Scale is felt 500 km away, but feeling like a passing truck hitting a pothole in the road nearby.
And for those of you headed down to NOLA for the AAA meetings, David Beriss encourages you to eat the local seafood:
I will continue to eat Gulf seafood.  Despite my misgivings about food regulation in the U.S., Gulf seafood is under more scrutiny now than most of the rest of the food—including, no doubt, imported seafood—that you will find at your local grocery store.  I also believe that we need to make a commitment to local seafood (and to local food in general) if our food system is going to be sustainable over the long term.  We need to make it possible for people to make a living in the seafood industry in this region.  Frankly, I also trust the fishers, shrimpers, oystermen, seafood retailers and chefs who provide these products locally.  I hope you will eat Gulf seafood while you are here.  You also need to be an active voice for strong regulation of the industries that bring us these disasters and for real regulation of our food system.  We need to work to insure the safety of our food.  We also need to make sure that the people who provide us with that food can make a good living.
New Orleans is known for its rich culinary history, and sea food plays a huge part in the cultural experience of the city and the people. I hope those of you attending the AAAs will be able to experience some of this!

To wrap things up, if you're looking for a new book, Barbara King sent the following recommendation via Twitter: She's reading The History of White People by Nell Painter. She says it's "wonderful." The book brings together anthropology and history on questions of race.

For even more "around the web" type features, you may want to visit the following and consider adding these blogs to your reader for regular weekly roundups:
If you know of an anthro/science/history round up or write one not listed here—there are likely many that I haven't named—feel free to add it to the comments below to share with AiP readers.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

On My Shelf: Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species: A Graphic Adaptation (Review)

Charles Darwin's On The Origin of Species: A Graphic Adaptation | Michael Keller (author) and Nicolle Rager Fuller (Illustrator) | Rodale Books | 192 pages | $19.99 (Hardcover) $14.99 (Paperback)

Christmas came a bit early this year when my friend Wendy handed me a brown envelope and said, "I got us a book." (I sometimes get to help her relieve some of the clutter in her apartment.) After peering excitedly into the envelope, I pulled out a slim paperback that changed my view on the power of graphic novels. Michael Keller and illustrator Nicolle Rager Fuller have breathed new life into Darwin's On the Origin of Species with an amazing graphic adaptation that will surely excite an entirely new generation about evolution. I have never read Darwin in this way, and I found myself rediscovering evolution in a very accessible, clear, and thoughtful way.

The chapters cover Darwin's main tenets, taking the reader step-by-step through the theory of evolution. Along the way, readers get a peek into Darwin's conflict and the state of the scientific community at the time. And as an added bonus at the end, Darwin "himself" responds to the advancements in our understanding of evolution that have unfolded since his passing. "Genius! Why hadn't I thoughts of that?!" he says of Mendel's discovery regarding heredity.

While Keller has done a fantastic job distilling Origin and combining the text with primary sources to generate an engaging dialogue with the reader, this work would not be half of what it is without Fuller, whose imagining of Darwin and Origin helps us potentially see the theory unfold through Darwin's eyes. The illustrations are vivid and detailed, and evoke a thoughtfulness reminiscent of the naturalist himself. This promises to be a powerful tool in teaching students about evolution—and may make a handy stocking stuffer for your favorite scientist..

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Thanks for Your Help With DonorsChoose

Credit: Furryscaly
Source: Flickr
The DonorsChoose Science Bloggers for Students drive has come to an end. Thank you so much to those of you who chipped in to help fund science and social science initiatives for students in New York City: Jenny, Dr. Sky Skull, Kristina, an anonymous donor, Kate, and Jungleboy. Thanks to your efforts AiP helped raised $146.00 which will help 317 students! And AiP ranked third in funds raised among the Indy Bloggers who took up the challenge. (Congrats to Kate Clancy who topped our list!)

Overall 472 citizen philanthropists contributed more than $34,000 to help more than 23,000 students this year! Donors who gave through the challenge will receive a unique philanthropic gift code to redeem on a DonorsChoose.org project of their choice—as promised, HP is providing a match. It should be coming via email if it hasn't done so already.

Thank you!

Follow Friday and The No Free Lunch Theory

Readers, do you remember our discussion on Marcel Mauss from a while back? A member of my grad school cohort once referred to him as the “no free lunch guy.” Mauss had some interesting ideas about the nature of gifts:
  1. First, they’re laden with obligations—for both the giver and the recipient.
  2. And second, they’re always trying to get back to the original giver.
Essentially, Mauss wrote that there is honor in gift giving because to be able to give a gift, you have to have the means to do so. It boosts your social capital to give a gift, but it also costs you something to make the offering. Receiving a gift requires the recipient to lower their own capital, as well as incur an expense to returning the favor of the gift to the giver. The giver in turn in obligated to take a turn as a recipient. To do otherwise would be poor form. To refuse to receive:
“is to show that one is afraid of having to reciprocate, to fear being ‘flattened’ [i.e. to lose face]” (Mauss 2000: 41).
It means that you don’t have the means of reciprocating and that you’re denying the giver a chance to advance. To refuse a gift from a recent recipient also means you’re denying the individual a chance to reclaim her status—which was diminished by accepting the gift in the first place. (For more on this, see here, here, and here.) So not only do you have to be someone to give the gift in the first place, but you have to have the means of returning the thing as well. And here you thought gifts are just lovely gestures of generosity when in fact, they’ve apparently got intentions and meanings of their own!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Fan Identity and Team Choice

ResearchBlogging.orgHow does one become a fan? Choose an allegiance? Decide that you’re going to wear bright green, or purple and gold, or paint your face orange and black? In many cases, these allegiances are decided for us—handed down via familial loyalties or decided by geographic boundaries. I raised this question on Twitter a few weeks ago, and the results all indicated that team alliance is linked to one’s point-of-entry into fandom: if you begin watching Team A and learning about the sport via Team A, and your network is tied to Team A, then you’re likely to become a fan of Team A. And like all habits, longstanding fan ties are difficult to break.

But is acceptable to support Team B if you live in Team A territory? Particularly if Teams A and B are rivals? Initial ties are important in this scenario. It’s fine if you move to the Midwest from Massachusetts and want to continue to support a New England team—you’re maintaining loyalty to your geographic origins, and that’s totally acceptable. There’s a reason for you to break with the group. But in the absence of relocation, can you support a team with no apparent ties to the location or network to which you belong?

S is a HUGE New England Patriots football fan. It runs counter to our network where the New York Giants and the New York Jets reign supreme—and an allegiance to either would apparently be preferable to siding with the evil Coach Belichick and his platoon of Patriots. He’s a Met fan in accordance with the reasons given for team attachment by others: he comes from a line of Mets fans, and was raised in close proximity to the former Shea Stadium. There is both a network connection and a geographic connection that ties him to this baseball team, but his football allegiance has raised more than a few eyebrows and subjected him to taunts and criticism from colleagues, friends, and family alike. In football, he’s a displaced fan.

Hello Readers! A Call to Delurk

Hi there, Readers! Every few months I try and get you to delurk—reveal yourselves and your interests—and I have little success. But I try anyway. After all, I've revealed myself to you, and I'd love to know who you are too. 

Traffic has been high lately in part because I've been active elsewhere on the web, and I'm glad you've all found your way back to AiP. If you're a new Reader, please take a moment and say hey, tell me where you hail from and what you're interested in—what appeals to you about anthropology or if you liked a specific post—here. Most importantly, welcome! Glad to have you here.

Longtime Readers I know you're still there, and I know that life keeps you busy. I won't call anyone out by name, but there are some regular voices I haven't heard from in awhile. In case you're wondering, bloggers do notice who's around and things get awfully quiet when you disappear. As I said, I know some of you are in school, are teaching, etc., but I'd definitely like to hear from you. 

To facilitate commenting, I've permitted anonymous posting—just keep it clean, please. I will delete your comment if you're unnecessarily rude. Looking forward to hearing from you!


Update 11/10/10: I am THRILLED that so many of you have responded. I love hearing from you—it makes me feel less like I'm speaking into a void. And many of your have interesting projects of your own to share, which is fantastic. Keep talkin'.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Anthro Reader, Vol. 14

This edition: elevators, Facebook, PPD, and Coca Cola. Let's get to it!

Elevator from The Overlook Hotel in The Shining.
See, elevators can be scary places.
DId you ride in an elevator today? I have a guest post at Scientific American that explores our relationship with these mechanical necessities:
Have you ever tried to avoid someone on the elevator? Maybe you let the door "accidentally" close before they could board? Or maybe you timed your arrival at the elevator bank to “just” miss the car? Or are you someone who holds the door only to find you're rudely ignored? No eye contact, no thank you, no acknowledgment of any sort. Do you press the “Door Close” button repeatedly?
Anthropology is everywhere, folks. You heard it here first!

I strongly suggest you visit Fran Barone's analog/digital where she has posted excerpts from a conversation held at the Open Anthropology Cooperative that delved into the depths of Facebook and explored three propositions about the social network:
1) That Facebook radically transforms the premise and direction of social science.
2) That Facebook is a medium for developing a relationship to god.
3) That Facebook, like Kula, is an ideal foundation for a theory of culture mainly because Facebook and Kula are practically the same thing.
Be sure to read Part II of this discussion as well, and if you're so inclined, head on over to the OAC and add your own thoughts.

Emily Anthes has a new post at Slate discussing post-partum depression in dads:
PPD for dads remains understudied, under-recognized, and controversial. Even among scientists who research the baby blues in new fathers, there's debate about whether "postpartum depression" is the right term. One researcher told me that when talking about men, he prefers "depression during the postnatal period." Whatever you call it, distress after a baby is born is much easier to explain among moms. Pregnancy and childbirth, of course, are hugely taxing and exhausting for women. And, of course, these processes can wreak havoc with a woman's hormones and, thereby, her psychological wellbeing.
It is a thoughtful piece that draws attention to what has been a largely silent struggle for some new dads.

Coke Classic © Coca Cola
Do you have a preference for Coca Cola over Pepsi? Or vice versa? Or perhaps you're a fan of Mexican Coke—long held to be made with sucrose and not high fructose corn syrup. It's supposed to be tastier. Well Jonah Lehrer of The Frontal Cortex says the taste difference is in your head. Jonah discusses how brands can trump taste:
For whatever reason, certain brand names are able to excite our nostalgic emotions, and those emotions influence our preference. (The scientists argue that the hippocampal activation is a sign that we’re accessing these commercial memories.) The end result is a strong preference for Coke, even though it tastes identical to Pepsi.
And finally, a walk down memory lane from Ephemeral New York: Times Square in the 1940s.
From Ephemeral New York.
I expect to be back on track next week with a new post on sports (baseball may be over, but at least one person is watching football in my household), Twitter, and possibly another book review for you as well.

Please share with me anything that you're reading or that you've written—I need material for the Anthro readers! Contact me via email or on Twitter

DonorsChoose Finish Line Up Ahead—Can You Help?

The Science Bloggers for Students campaign at DonorsChoose is winding down—just a few days left until Nov. 9th. Thanks so much to everyone who has participated through the AiP DonorsChoose page so far. You've made such a difference for these kids! We've raised a total of $146.00 that will help 317 students, and possibly more in the future as the materials the teachers requested are used with subsequent classes.

Can you guys help me get through the final push? I have three projects left on my page, and they're big ones, but we can do it. And they're really good projects that emphasize science and social science:

My students would make great excavators in class. We don't need to go out into the field. Please help us bring this project to our classrooms.
Your kindness and generosity will allow my students to bring Social Studies and their community to life for them! They will learn more than what books have to offer; you will help them see that there is more to their community than the corner they wait for the bus on, or the corner store they buy milk for their breakfast at. They will learn about the fire station 2 blocks away and the crossing guard who helps their friends get to school safely. You will help open up their hearts and minds! 
We feel being able to have a life size tangible skeletal system and smaller skeletal systems for the students to touch, observe and feel will provide a "real world" experience for our students. Your donations will help us create an engaging, challenging lesson for our current students as well as future students in years to come.
Please donate—even a buck helps—or spread the word. Remember, donations made through the AiP Donor's Page are eligible for a match from HP. Once the initiative ends, you'll receive a code you can use to contribute to a project of your choosing.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

C is for Cookie: Cookie Monster, Network Pressure, and Identity Formation

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.orgIt’s not quite news that Cookie Monster no longer eats cookies. Well, he eats ONE cookie. After he fills up on vegetables! Vegetables!! Understandably, the public was outraged, and in response, Cookie felt the need to clarify: He still eats cookies—for dessert—but he likes fruit and vegetables too. Cookie Monster needed to reassert his identity, so he did what anyone would do: He interviewed with Matt Lauer.* The message was plain:He’s a Cookie Monster and  Cookie Monsters eat cookies. They dream of cookies. They would bathe in cookies if they could. They can’t get enough of cookies. (Om nom nom!) But can Cookie Monsters eat fruits and vegetables too?

Sure, I can understand why Cookie has been dissuaded from pursuing his pastry delights with abandon. We’re in the midst of an obesity epidemic and children are most threatened. As adults, they’ll face a number of complications, including increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, and other woes. Cookie Monster IS a role model. Sesame Street has been a beacon in children’s education for decades, and the habits children learn in their early years will likely follow them through their lives. So Cookie has given up his plate of delicious cookies, practices restraint, and eats more leafy greens in the hopes that young children will do the same. Now I watched Cookie Monster devour plates of cookies when I was growing up, and I have to tell you … I don’t tend to devour plates of cookies now as an adult. I learned healthy eating habits from my parents. I understood that Cookie Monster was meant to eat cookies in a way that I wasn’t. (And truthfully, how many of those cookies actually made it into his mouth anyway? Most wound up as crumbs all over his fur, which was more reason NOT to devour cookies as he did.) But I suppose that having Cookie model moderation may support parental messages at home. As I said, I get it.

Cookie Monster raps about health foods.
(They taste so good!) © Sesame Street
However, are we forcing our standards on Cookie? Forcing him to change who he really is? Cookie Monster actually begin singing (really, rapping) about eating healthy foods in the late 80s. There was no uproar then perhaps because the shift seemed less radical. Who cared if he was a closet veggie eater? But is it acceptable for Cookie to change? Is Cookie Monster's identity caught in flux as a result of conflicting messages about who he is and who we as a society, as his network, expect him to be? And in all seriousness, what kind of message does this send to children? That they should repress who they are in favor of the norm? That there is an ideal to strive toward? That once they’ve established an identity, they can’t change? Cookie Monster’s cookie/vegetable dilemma provides a good opportunity to investigate the mechanisms of identity formation.

On My Shelf: Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World (Review)


The present is certainly bleak, but all is not lost. That's the message in Don Tapscott and Anthony William's new book, Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World. A few weeks ago, I wrote about the DIY revolution, and the potential it has to reshape industry. Tapscott and Williams have harnessed DIY methodology and expanded notions of crowd sourcing to present potential new solutions for remedying the sweeping global crisis. They propose a vision of super collaboration and sharing, which is at once broth frightening (Open access?!) and exciting (Open access!), requiring us to let go of current notions of privacy and possessiveness which have represented the industrial way of thinking.

The bottom line? DIY collaboration has immense potential.