Thursday, July 28, 2011

Reminder: Anthropology in Practice Has Moved

Why are you still hanging around here? Come join me at the new Scientific American blog network!

(Note: If you were subscribed through the old RSS feed, you should not be affected.)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Communicating Meaning Online: A Digital Expression of Theory of Mind

© Creative Commons Attribution 2.0
Note: This post originally appeared on Scientific American.

The growth of email, instant messaging, texting, and various other digitally-mediated communicative tools (DMC) has been rapid and pervasive. The majority of people today are comfortable enough to use these communicative tools on a daily basis, particularly among younger generations. DMC appears to be a preferred means of communication. But the popularity of DMC forces us to deal with its main problem: How do these users clarify their meaning, intent, and desires?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Details About the Move to Scientific American (and More)

If you're wondering why things here at Anthropology in Practice have been uncharacteristically quiet this past week, it's because AiP has a new home on the just launched Scientific American blog network! For details about the launch (and if you have the time), you can read community manager Bora Zivkovic's thorough introduction to the new network and its fantastic line-up of writers.

So what does this mean for I'll be re-posting my SciAm material (with a 48-hour delay) mainly for archival purposes but also to hold onto this space. However, there are a slew of new links that you may want to take note of:
Note: Existing subscribers, particularly those who get AiP updates via email, should not experience an interruption in feed delivery. However, existing subscribers who do not rely on email updates, are encouraged to update to the new feed.

In case you missed it, AiP's first post went up on Thursday at high-noon (cue the O.K. Corral music) titled, "Shifting Stigmas: The Act of Crying in Public":
The City That Never Sleeps is also a City That Cries On-the-Go When Necessary: on the subway or the commuter rail, in a park, or while walking down the street, do these private moments become a part of the public experience in part because there aren’t enough private spaces? If this is the case, then why does public crying still feel, well, private?
You can read the rest here.

It was an exceptionally busy week, and Bora has a nice round up on network activities. As Bora notes, the new bloggers are on a posting schedule for the first two-weeks. You can expect AiP to resume business-as-usual after July 15th.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

AiP in the Press

The launch of the Scientific American blog network has attracted a lot of attention—understandably as Bora Zivkovic has done an amazing job assembling a very diverse group of writers. Thanks very much to the following outlets for their recognition of AiP during this move:
This is definitely an exciting time, and I look forward to seeing AiP grow in this new venue.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Shifting Stigmas: The Act of Crying in Public

Jimmy Dugan firmly established that there’s no crying in baseball. But what about in public? In New York City, at some point or another you’re going to encounter a crying person—in fact, you could even be the crier. A few weeks ago, I boarded the subway for a short trip uptown. It was the middle of the day and the car was relatively empty, so I grabbed a seat, put my Metrocard away, and quickly found myself absorbed in detangling my headphones from the mess in my bag. After a few minutes, I felt the distinct sensation of being watched. Looking up, I met the eyes of man who was clearly distraught. It took me a second to realize that he had been crying. His cheeks were red and blotchy and the still wet splotches on his blue t-shirt suggested that I had interrupted some private grief. His hand was pressed tightly over his mouth, and as we regarded one another, his eyes began to fill with tears once more. What do I do? I asked myself. Apparently, nothing—the other passengers in the car did their best to avoid looking at him, busying themselves with eReaders, Angry Birds, and even a good old-fashioned newspaper. But it was too late for me to pretend I hadn’t seen. He knew. And as he roughly brushed away his tears and ran his hands through his hair to feign some sort of normalcy, I was struck by how quickly the moment changed. He went from being vulnerable to utterly guarded in a matter of seconds, adopting the aloofness that New York City commuters wear so expertly. There was no embarrassment or trace of shame in his face, however he may have felt inside. And he nodded to me slightly as stood to exit at his stop, his cheeks still flushed and his shirt still marked by damp spots. The City That Never Sleeps is also a City That Cries On-the-Go When Necessary: on the subway or the commuter rail, in a park, or while walking down the street, do these private moments become a part of the public experience in part because there aren’t enough private spaces? If this is the case, then why does public crying still feel, well, private?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Anthropology in Practice Joins Scientific American

The time has finally come for me to share a secret with you that I've been keeping for months: AiP is moving! To the new Scientific American blog network!The community manager Bora Zivkovic has written an extensive introduction to the new network that also discusses who the new members are—it's worth the read.

The move is a bittersweet one. I am excited to be able share the goals of this blog with a wider audience, but this corner of the Internet has been my home for almost two years. I have selected every element contained in this venue, and crafted the experience for my readers with patience and a fair amount of my heart as well—because this enterprise has always meant a great deal to me. My writing has always been an extension of myself and good friends can likely find traces of their influence in the posts on AiP. Questions they've posed, discussions we've had over coffee and beer—anything and everything can be fodder for writing (which S knows so well). Moments of joy, frustration, love, and even heartbreak are littered throughout this blog, and they serve as a reminder that writing is an intimate exercise. And anthropology in particular, which invites a fair amount of introspection, only enhances this sort of intimacy.

So as I take a final look around here, surveying the packed boxes, I am quite honestly overwhelmed as to how far we have come together, Readers—for make no mistake, this is your journey as well. I may have done the heavy lifting, but you came, time and time again. You read, digested, and shared my thoughts. You shared your own. And I have gotten to know a few of you quite well. Thank you for your support. In particular, thank you to those of you who know me personally, and supported me in the early days of writing. While you may not comment publicly, your support has never wavered, and I hope you know how much it has meant to me to see AiP on your iGoogle pages, on the home page of your phones, and to see your Facebook shares.

I hope you will join me at my new digs, which have also been carefully crafted by the SciAm editors. If you subscribed via the RSS, please be sure to update your feed. I would hate to lose any of you in the process of this move.

I am delighted to announce that many friends will also call the SciAm network home, including Eric Michael Johnson, Kevin Zelnio, Hannah Waters, Janet Stemwedel, Jason Goldman, Kathryn Clancy, and SciCurious. But the entire network is a robust and diverse one, and I encourage you to visit and poke around—you may find new material for your RSS feeds. Over the next two weeks, we'll be "unpacking," so please bear with us.

See you on the other side. If you want to bring over a box or two, I'd be much obliged. Here's to whatever adventures await us.

And as always, thanks for reading.

- Krystal

Thursday, June 30, 2011

On My Shelf: Coffee—Philosophy for Everyone: Grounds for Debate (A Review)

Coffee—Philosophy for Everyone: Grounds for Debate | Scott F Parker and Michael Austin, eds. | Wiley Blackwell | 264 pages | $19.95 (Softcover)

About a year ago, I was a three-coffee-a-day person: Two cups in the morning, and one around midday or after lunch. My esophageal lining took a hit—and coffee drinking also took a toll on my wallet since I had long ditched the office sludge for more enjoyable brew. Anyway, I was ordered to lay off of the caffeine for two weeks, and while I resumed coffee consumption in moderation once the mandated fasting period had passed, I thought it might be a good idea to give it up entirely. Much like Napoleon’s Waterloo, I was less than successful. About two weeks into that endeavor, my general misery prompted coworkers to buy coffee for me. I took it as a hint that I needed to resume my affair with caffeine and I’ve never looked back.

Following a legacy of colonialism and linked to power dynamics and capitalism, the coffee bean is curiously intertwined in our history. I’ve documented some of this here on AiP previously, so when Coffee—Philosophy for Everyone: Grounds for Debate arrived in the mail for review, I admit I picked it up with some relish. And I was not disappointed: a quick perusal of the chapters gave me pause on almost every page. The volume is divided into four sections and a diverse assembly of lively authors deliberates the meaning and experience of coffee culture, from why we choose to drink it the way we do to its role in our daily lives to fair trade factors.

Editor's Selections: Professional Potheads, An Affinity for Math, and Give-and-Take

This week in the social sciences on
  • The Neurocritic has unearthed a JAMA study from 1965 on drug culture in the United States. He shares a taxonomy of drug users that is quite revealing about perceptions—some of which haven't really changed all that much. (Fair warning: There's a trippy mushroom on the page.)
  • At Inkfish, Elizabeth Preston reports that Euclid, Archimedes, and Pythagoras don't have the corner on geometry. Amazonian children have a basic grasp of these concepts because they're integral to the ways in which we see the world: shapes and distances are elementary means of viewing, understanding, and negotiating our environments.
  • At Psysociety, Melanie Tannenbaum offers some thoughts as to why same-sex marriage faces such an uphill battle in gaining acceptance. She discusses how intolerance toward ambiguity can motivate strict preservation of normative social codes, which then limits the ability to view alternatives. Melanie shows how reciprocal concessions may be a possible mediator in these sorts of situations.
I'll be back next week with more great reads from

    Wednesday, June 29, 2011

    A Sense of Accomplishment? There's No App for That—Yet.

    © Muppet Wiki
    Admittedly, I'm woefully behind the curve when it comes to Sesame Street. Unfortunately, it doesn't make it into my regular viewing rotation as often as it used to. My 19-month-old niece, however, is a huge current fan, and we recently got to watch an episode together that had some very important lessons for the upcoming generation of multitaskers.

    Telly was struggling to learn how to perform a new pogo trick—the Boingaroonie. And though he practiced, he just couldn't get it right. So he gets an iPogo. That's right. It's exactly what you think it is: an iPogo. And what does the iPogo do? Well, just about anything:

    [Disclaimer: This is a muppet song—and it's catchy. I claim no responsibility if you start humming it on your own.]

    This clip actually dates to November 2010, and when it was released, a lot of attention was given to the fact that Sesame Street was spoofing the popular Apple advertising campaign, which reinforced the power of the handheld device. (Seriously, what can't your iPhone do? Meet a boy named Matt? Don't worry! Apple is working on that.)

    However, commentary seemed to overlook the outcome of all those apps: Telly ultimately returns the iPogo, despite being tempted by subsequent generations that can do even more things. He does so because even though the iPogo will pogo for him—at just the right speed if he asks it nicely—and perform the Boingaroonie, he gets no joy from the activity. He feels no sense of accomplishment when he performs the Boingaroonie because he's not actually doing the trick. He's dependent on the technology he possesses. For Telly, that sense of mastery was important. Have we compromised that with our instant mobile search? Want to know how many career strikeouts Billy Wagner had? Or want to learn how to tie a bowline? Well, if you have an iPhone—or an Internet-enabled device—you don't have to wait or seek out a specialized source of knowledge. Does having the answer trump any feelings of inadequacy? Or perhaps that is why we are joined at the hip to our devices: they offer a sense of independence from others and hide the deficits of our understanding.

    The episode also raises the question as to why Telly wanted the iPogo in the first place: He gets sold on the idea—seduced by the power and capabilities it offers. And the scene offers a subtle commentary on the social pressures mobile technology imposes: as an easy way to impress Baby Bear, how does these devices reinforce certain standards for acceptance?

    Telly endorses a sense of accomplishment to a generation that intuitively interacts with touch-screens and regularly Skypes with Grandma. For them, Dino Dan and Dora are available on-demand. In a world with Zippo apps, apps that help you find constellations, and mobile enabled GPS, it's a good reminder that sometimes it's okay to do things for yourself—and it's okay to go against the grain. Sometimes. 

    But the mochachino app really did get my attention.

    Monday, June 27, 2011

    “It’s Hard for Me to Say I’m Sorry”: Rituals of Reconciliation

    Photo credit here.
    Readers may find that the title for this post triggers a certain refrain by Chicago (or BoysIIMen, depending on how old you are). Apologies in advance to those of you who may find yourself humming the chorus on your drive home or while walking through the halls of your workplace or campus. Or while grocery shopping. Or brushing your teeth. (The power of suggestion is a curious thing.) Of course, you may question how sorry I really am considering that I made a conscious decision to use this particular title for the post. And depending on how annoyed you become at the persistence of this suggestion, or how annoying you find Chicago, you may not easily forgive this seemingly small transgression.

    But I imagine you come here, Reader, because we are friends in a strange, disembodied way. And I would hope you would be able to overlook any resulting disturbance to our relationship—eventually. Reconciliation—“the settlement of conflicts or inconsistencies and the restoration of peaceful or amicable relations”—as a means of managing social predicaments in a widespread practice (1). Reconciliation has been crafted into finely tuned rituals that help shape and maintain relationships. It has been institutionalized and sanctioned as a form of mediation. But saying “I’m sorry” seems to be an easier process for some, requiring the use of other non-verbal signs dependent on the right circumstances for others. Are all apologies the same? How do we judge the authenticity of reconciliatory actions? And why do we even need to bother?

    Thursday, June 23, 2011

    Editor's Selections: Lice, Cultural Preservation, Short Farmers, and Chipped-Stone Tools

    This week in the social sciences on
    • At Contagions, Michelle Ziegler explores evidence that Napoleon's armies may have also had to battle a minute enemy: lice, which can carry a host of diseases.
    • Razib Khan documents the benefits of the selective preservation of cultural elements with regard to human evolutionary history at Gene Expression.
    • At Inkfishblog, Elizabeth Preston debunks the notion of robust farmhands, made tough by the labors they performed and working outdoors. They were likely shorter, more prone to disease, and malnourished, believe it or not.
    • And finally, the author of Gambler's House reveals what chipped-stone tools can tell us about our early ancestors.
    I'll be back next Thursday with more selections in anthropology, philosphy, social sciences, and research from

    Four Stone Hearth 120 is Live

    Sam Wise of Sorting Out Science is hosting the 120th edition of the anthropology blog carnival. Why not take your morning coffee/tea/whiskey over there for a quick perusal?

    Thanks for hosting, Sam!

    We're in need of future hosts, so drop me a line if you're interested.

    Wednesday, June 22, 2011

    Internet Week Highlights: Digital Archaeology

    Digital Archaeology, sponsored by Google, during IWNY2011.

    The World Wide Web is only twenty years old. Hard to believe, isn't it? Considering how seemlessly it integrated into our lives on a daily basis. This is the history that the Google-sponsored Digital Archaeology exhibit hoped to revisit. Things we may take for granted today—GPS, texting, intuitive interfaces, sheer portability and speed—owe their existence to the experiments that preceded them.

    The exhibit highlights 28 influential websites calling attention to the need to archive these sorts of records. Creator Jim Boulton points out that as influential as the web has been, there is no trace of the first web page to be found—"not even a screen shot."

    But the exhibit is as much a nostalgic review of hardware as well. Part of the exhibit are the items of the day: An early Powerbook, a Gameboy, a modem—the archaic equivalents of today's tablets and smartphones. These are artifacts that entire generations will only know of by hearsay because they have passed from public memory. What's more, these artifacts trace the ways in which our society has changed by following the technological timeine: the rise of portability, the changing design aesthetics, our literary inclinations.(A Wired accompanied each station, and it grew progressively thinner as the years passed. Wired was once a tome-like production.)

    We don't often think too much about the lifespan of digital elements. Perhaps we take their impermanence for granted, accepting that they can disappear overnight. This acceptance manifests as indifference, but perhaps it's time to reconsider what constitutes our history. The few cuneiform tablets that have survived are integral to the documentation of our social development. The web—and these artifacts—have much to add.

    To see some of the artifacts on display, please visit the album. If you'd prefer a more animated review, thedroidguy has a nice walkthrough here:

    Geek Girls in a Geeky World: 21st Century Subcultures

    Ed Note: This post is part of a tandem series with the amazing SciCurious of Neurotic Physiology. Be sure to head on over an read her part of this story. In fact, why don't you do that now?  

    Limor Fried makes the cover of Wired. © Wired

    Geek /gēk/ (noun):
    • A person regarded as foolish, inept, or clumsy.
    • A person with an eccentric devotion to a particular interest that places him or her outside of traditional social boundaries.
    • A carnival performer whose show consists of bizarre acts.

    1915- 20; probably variant of geck (mainly Scots), meaning fool from Dutch or Low German gek.

    I’m a geek girl, though I may not meet the stereotypical criteria associated with this status—i.e., I’m not a socially inept, basement dwelling, sports and pop culture averse, Plain Jane with immense knowledge about obscure/irrelevant topics that no one but a fellow geek would be interested in. At least I don't perceive myself that way, though it's possible that others might. Before we go any further, I want to stress that this is not my perception of what geeks are like. There are plenty of geeks, both male and female, who break this mold. But this is the way geeks are portrayed in popular media and it is the view that is often held by members of the mainstream. It is also a view that many who identify as geeks have come to embrace as their own.

    Sure, I’m a history buff—utterly fascinated by the Dutch heritage in New York City and the ways those early traditions helped shape New York City into the metropolis it is today—and I won’t hesitate to tell you all about grid layouts or old marketplaces if the opportunity arises. My downtime includes video games ranging from SimCity to Assassin’s Creed. (Best.Game.Evah.) Also, I’m a bit of a DC-character fangirl, and I'd be glad to dissect Moriarty with you. And, of course, my head gets turned by technology and science and culture fairly easily. I’m driven to know how and why things work. I like to tinker, and push buttons—literally.But I’m not a fan of being sequestered in the basement. There's no reason to hide my geekiness, but I don’t feel that I need to exaggerate it for recognition or respect. I can be a geek. I can be me.

    As geeks, Daria and her friend Jane (right) stood in sharp
    contrast to Daria's mainstream family. (© MTV)
    However, the badges of subculture identity are important, and polarized symbols have long been held as requirements for group membership and categorization. SciCurious of Neurotic Physiology has an interesting post up on the meeting between geek culture and the mainstream. She discusses the derision expressed by a marketing professional for Game of Thrones fans who elected to appear in “garb” at a publicity event, noting that even as geeks are becoming more visible, they’re still largely on the outskirts of acceptance. (Sci was not in garb.) She asks, “how loud is geekdom speaking?” because “if the geeks are going to inherit the earth, then why is everyone still laughing?”

    Monday, June 20, 2011

    Four Stone Hearth Has a New Home!

    Hosting for the current site for the Four Stone Hearth is set to expire on 06/28/11. It seemed like the right time to move the carnival to a blog, where Afarensis and I could implement some of the suggestions made by readers. Afarensis has set us up at a new address. Please adjust your bookmarks, subscribe to the RSS, and pass the word!

    The new site is live, but still a work in progress. Please feel free to visit and poke around, and share any suggestions you may have.

    Friday, June 17, 2011

    Upcoming Four Stone Hearth

    I'm back to the business of attending the hearth. Many thanks to Kristina Killgrove of Powered by Osteons for hosting the anthropology blog carnival on June 8th—if you haven't, you should head on over and check out the collection.

    The next edition will be hosted by Sam Wise at Sorting Out Science on June 22nd. Please send him your submissions!

    Also, now that I have a few hours to spare, I'll be returning to the suggestions so many of you made to better the hearth—they weren't for nothing! Here's hoping we can pull this together.

    Thursday, June 16, 2011

    Editor's Selections: A Pile of Human Excrement, Echolocation, and Radiated Testes

    New and notable from the social sciences this past week on
    • Do you remember that scene in Jurassic Park where Dr. Sattler digs through a pile of dinosaur droppings to try and determine if there's a dietary reason causing one of the triceratops to be sick? Poop can be very informative. At Powered by Osteons, Kristina Killgrove tells readers how trove of human excrement may reveal a fair amount about Roman culture.
    • Though commonly associated with dolphins and bats, blind humans also use a form of echolocation to enhance perception. At Neuroanthropology, Greg Downey delves into the brain's extraordinary ability to pull information from a variety of sources.
    • At From the Lab Bench, Paige Brown discusses the implications of ionizing radiation on reproductive health—the implications are not just biological, but cultural as well, as limited understanding of nuclear energy can generate a culture of fear that has far reaching effects.
    I'll be back next week with more from the social sciences.

    What Happens in College Should Stay in College

    Kermit as a blonde. Source: MuppetWiki
    The latest scandal to break from Camp Weiner is that he once wore women's clothes. Yep. While he was in college. Are you shocked? I didn't think so—I'll tell you something: neither am I.

    It's not that I think it's in line with his character, or that nothing concerning his sexual tendencies or preferences in general could surprise me. Rather, it's that I think what happens in college should stay in college. In the American system, the four years of undergraduate education is the first time individuals step out as adults. It is the tail end of an extended period of adolescence. It's a period when these new young adults are figuring out who they are, how to deal with the new-found ability to make their own decisions and do what they want, and working out the boundaries of their personality. Bottom line: people do some crazy things during those four years, and that's largely okay.

    Wednesday, June 15, 2011

    To Be or Not to Be Monogamous?

    What does it mean to be monogamous? Is it:
    • Sexual exclusivity between two partners?
    • A two-party partnership, characterized by cooperation where resources are shared and children are produced?
    • A genetic commitment to producing offspring with a single partner?
    • A social system in which only two people at a time are contracted by marriage ?
    Or is it perhaps some combination of these four?

    For some people, establishing yourself in an exclusively committed relationship where you wake up next to the same person day after day is the realization of a major social milestone. For others, it sounds like a prison sentence. Monogamy is a great socially sanctioning agent: it awards status, recognition, and offers commentary on one’s character. It’s a marker of adulthood and maturity. And by and large, we're taught by social standards, it is something to aspire to. But as countless people—from celebrities to our neighbors—have demonstrated, it’s not for everyone.

    Monday, June 13, 2011

    Weinergate: Private Records in a Public Age

    Marquise de Pompadour
    Anne Boleyn

    You can find me over at the Scientific American guest blog today, where I tackle the moral outrage over Weinergate, and the role technology plays in judging these offenses. Here's an excerpt:
    History is littered with private indiscretions made public—some have just been more public than others:
    • It is believed the Leonardo da Vinci was a passionate instructor to his students; one in particular remained in da Vinci’s favor for 26 years.
    • Cleopatra made no secret of the nature of her political alliances, which included a close friendship with the notable Marc Antony.
    • Alexander the Great’s conquests included two wives, a mistress, and possibly his life-long friend Hephaestion.
    • Catherine the Great masterfully orchestrated a series of lovers, one of whom may have had a hand in the death of her ill-fated husband, Peter.
    • Letters revealed that Franklin Delano Roosevelt got quite friendly with his wife’s social secretary Lucy Mercer.
    Rep. Anthony Weiner (D) of New York, who tweeted and emailed photos of himself in various states of undress and arousal to several women, joins the ever-growing ranks of political figures whose extramarital pursuits have been made available for public scrutiny. However, unlike George Washington (a purported womanizer), Thomas Jefferson (who fathered several children by Sally Hemings), Warren Harding (had trysts in a White House closet), or even John F. Kennedy ("Happy Birthday, Mr. President"—though his relationship to Marilyn Monroe has never been confirmed), Weiner’s indiscretions will not be whispered about. Rather, he must contend with life lived in the age of media—where so many details of our lives, already public, can be collected and shared at the push of a button not just by newspersons but by regular folk too.

    It is unlike anything anyone in his position has experienced before. The scandal that surrounded Bill Clinton doesn’t even come close, although the American public sat rapt as he proclaimed "I did not have sexual relations with that woman," and waited expectantly for the admission otherwise to come.

    As an audience we’ve been here before. And yet, each time it happens, it seems to come as a surprise. We are at once irate and nonplussed. "How dare a person in power betray our trust?" we ask even as we turn a blind eye at the fissures in our own social circles. What’s the real reason behind our moral outrage? And what role does technology play in it?
     Read the rest here.

    Saturday, June 11, 2011

    AiP Makes the Semi-Finals for the 3QD Science Writing Prize!

    Once again, you've done it. You voted. And now Power, Confidence, and High Heels is in the semi-finals for the 3QD science writing prize

    Whether High Heels goes on to compete for the top prize is up to the 3QD editors—the field will be narrowed to six, from which Lisa Randall will choose the top three. It's an honor to have made it this far and to be listed in such esteemed company. I'd like to extend a heartfelt congratulations to my fellow semi-finalists, many of whom are good friends of mine.

    Regardless of the outcome, one thing is certain: this will not be an easy selection process.

    Friday, June 10, 2011

    Presenting the Evolution of Communication

    Yesterday, I presented the Evolution of Communication during Internet Week New York. These things are always a bit of a learning experience, and this was certainly no exception. I spoke a little too quickly, but I can correct that for next time. Also, I struggled with the amount of detail to include—the academic in me wanted to get into morphological changes that would have encouraged speech, but that wouldn't have necessarily held the attention of this crowd. All in all, it wasn't a bad effort, and I enjoyed myself immensely, and I actually got some favorable press.

    Thanks to those of you who helped make this happen. I truly appreciate your support, and hope that anthropology will continue to make public appearances—there's no reason that anthropologists shouldn't be engaging with the public. Believe me, they're interested!

    Here's the video for those of you who missed the live feed yesterday and want some lunchtime viewing material:

    Editor's Selections: Torture, Rituals, and the Berenstein Bears

    Apologies for being late. Without further ado, here are this week's selections in the social sciences on
    • What's the deal with religious ferver? Does it make us more inclined to torture? Tom Rees investigates these questions at Epiphenom.
    • Cris Campbell of Genealogy of Religion traces the role of agriculture in ritual, and proposes that we actually have very little to worry about if we should ever encounter one of the Children of the Corn.
    • Kristina Killgrove of Powered By Osteons corrects Papa Berenstein of the long-running children's series, The Berenstein Bears. He tells Sister that only trees have annual rings, but it seems that humans also have annual rings that can be roughly correlated to age.
    I'll be back next week with more from the social sciences.

    Thursday, June 9, 2011

    The Evolution of Communication—Today!

    I'm presenting The Evolution of Communication today at 3 pm on the AOL Broadcast Stage at IWNY HQ. If you can't make it in person, you should be able to watch live. And if you'd like to tweet along, the hashtag for the presentation is #iwnyevol.

    Thanks so much to everyone who voted! Team Anthropology (and Team Science) FTW!

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011

    "What Have I Done?"—The Nature of Regret

    We've all been there—the "Oh, [expletive]" moment. Perhaps the door just shut and your keys are still sitting on the counter. Or you get to the subway/bus stop just as your mass transit mode of choice is pulling away. Perhaps you've left your wallet at home, and there are blue lights flashing in your rear view mirror. Or maybe your expletive moment is a bit darker: a broken promise, a hurt friend, or a damaged relationship through some fault of your own. After all, regret is all about you and what you could have done differently.  It can certainly vary in intensity, but we've all been there a time or two. Regret is a hard emotion to avoid. It is a curious emotion—a mixture of disappointment, shame, sadness, and self blame, and it can be both a hindrance and provide a much needed push in the face of opportunity. Does the experience of regret serve a purpose? Is it a necessary element of sociality?

    Monday, June 6, 2011

    "High Heels" Needs Your Vote

    The esteemed 3 Quarks Daily is once again seeking the best example of science writing online. And this year, I was honored to learn that a Reader nominated Power, Confidence, and High-Heels. The competition is steep, including writing by Brian Switek, Hannah Waters, Jason Goldman, Eric Johnson, Kevin Zelnio, and others—truly there's no shortage of excellent writing to choose from. I'd very much like to make it to the next round, but I need your help: will you vote for me? (All you'll need to do is click. There's no registration. No demands for your first born. Nada.)

    The nominees will be narrowed to a selection of 20 via popular vote, from which American theoretical physicist Lisa Randall will make her selections. Winners receive a cash prize, and major kudos! Public voting ends on Wed. at 11:59 pm EST.

    Catch Me If You Can During Internet Week

    Internet Week is underway here in New York City. Thanks to all of you who voted, this year I'll be playing a larger role and presenting The Evolution of Communication on the AOL Broadcast Stage. I'll be speaking on Thursday at 3 pm. If you can't make it in person, you should be able to watch live.

    The hashtag for the presentation is #iwnyevol for those of you who would like to tweet along.

    Thursday, June 2, 2011

    From the Archives: One (Facebook) Friend Too Many?

    Ed. Note: Following some technical difficulties and with Internet Week looming, I've decided to pull a few of my favorite tech-related posts to share with you while I wrap up prepping for my own talk next week. This post was originally published on June 4th, 2010.

    How many Facebook friends do you have? 500? 2500? 5000? Why stop at all? Why not 10,000? Well, actually, Facebook caps the total number of friends you can have at 5000, so it might make for some awkwardness as you explain to friend no. 5001 that while you're connected, you can't acknowledge your deep and meaningful relationship on Facebook. So what would you do? Start a new Facebook profile? (If you do, don't let Facebook know.) A recent article in the New York Times explores our need to connect expansively and discusses the strategies employed by a few to keep their numbers high.

    Editor's Selections: Stalkers, Ghostbusters, and Shamanism

    This week in the social sciences on

    • What comes to mind when you hear the word "stalker"? Though men are typically associated with the act, Rita Handrich of The Jury Room discusses traits common to female stalkers.

    • The author of Genealogy of Religion suggests that we make a better attempt to understand Gozer the Gozerian. He uses this infamous Ghostbusters character to support the historical analysis of religions, proposing that we can overcome our hesitation to discuss current religions by thinking critically about those that have come before.

    • Franco Bejarano of Culture Potion explores the childhood classic Hansel and Gretel and finds possible evidence of shamanistic traditions in the depiction and demise of one of the lead characters.

    I'll be back next week with more from the social sciences.

    Wednesday, June 1, 2011

    #NYCscitweetup Is Tomorrow! And You Should Come!

    It's almost time! Tomorrow, the science community in New York City gathers to talk science over beer. If you're in town, please stop in—it's a very low-key and open affair. If you have an interest in science, are a scientist, a science journalist, are married to/in a relationship with a scientist, are crushing hard on one, or just want to hang with science-minded folks (who continue to have super smart conversations after the beer has been flowing for a bit), come on by.

    I'm also excited to announce that BetterBio will be joining us tomorrow! BetterBio is a non-profit committed to providing a new forum for clear, engaging journalism on the impact of science and biotechnology in our communities. Their mission is to involve individuals traditionally ignored by existing media outlets—inner-city youth, low-income women, and disenfranchised ethnic communities—through training in critical thinking and creative skills inherent to both journalism and the scientific method.

    BetterBio founder and executive director Khadijah M. Britton, J.D.will be on-hand to talk a it about BetterBio—and announce a surprise for #NYCscitweetup attendees! Please try to join us by 8—World Science Fair attendees should look for Khadijah after they arrive.

    Please join us at:

    126 Front Street
    Brooklyn, NY
    6:30 - 11:00 pm

    View Larger Map

    For details about this and other Science Meetups, you can:
    Hope to see you there!

    From the Archives: The Psychology of Liking

    Ed. Note: Following some technical difficulties and with Internet Week looming, I've decided to pull a few of my favorite tech-related posts to share with you while I wrap up prepping for my own talk next week.

    We all know that person on Facebook. The one who Likes everything—let's call him Mike. Whether your cat got sick or you got a raise or went for a walk or had sushi for dinner, are feeling blue or just biked five miles, it's all Likable to Mike. How can we understand Mike's affability? As we use social media tools more frequently to connect with and communicate with others, the act of Liking is a means of creating alliances. But can Mike over-use this tool?

    The Facebook Like button began as a quick and easy way to interact with others. If someone posts anything mildly positive, all Mike has to do to acknowledge the moment is click the Like button and his commentary and recognition are duly noted with a thumb's up sign. The Like button lets Mike reaffirm his connection online. It tells the person that he is an active node in the social network, and that he wants to be connected with the poster. Liking presents a means of belonging or securing attention online. To Like something announces Mike's presence loudly and connects not only to the poster, but also to the poster's connections. The entire network is made aware of Mike's relationship to the poster.

    However, it's important to Like appropriately, which unfortunately many in the social sphere don't seem to understand. If Mike Likes simply for the sake of Liking, he can quickly be labeled an interloper. In the absence of a close relationship, Liking every single thing that someone posts sends a message of being inauthentic, particularly if Mike Likes statements that warrant some sympathy. If the relationship is not a close one, then Liking major events (e.g., an engagement, new job, new home, obvious excitement) adds to the connection. Liking the random, everyday events shared by a poster is reserved for more familiar connections. It is noticeable and a bit strange when someone within the network with weak ties to the poster, Likes or comments on a post.

    As the Like feature filtered through the web, Liked items have become an extension of one's digital persona. The items affiliated with your Like "signature" construct your reputation online. Liking items that others within your network already Like, reaffirms your connection with the group by identifying points you hold in common. So there may be pressure to Like. Some of this pressure may account for large responses to major events; there may be certain points that even peripheral members of the network need to acknowledge. This could then lead to a shaping of Liking so that you choose to Like only items that create a specific image of you. If you over-Like—both personal items and items from the web—then there can be questions about the nature of your digital profile.

    Take a moment to consider what you may have Liked lately, and the message that your Likes may be sending about your personality.  Do you pay attention to who Likes your statuses? What's your reaction when it's a peripheral member of your network?

    Friday, May 27, 2011

    3 Quarks Daily Science Prize

    The science and culture blog 3 Quarks Daily, which is somewhat of a fixture in the science writing community, recently announced the 3rd installment of its science blogging prize, to be judged by physicist and writer Lisa Randall.

    Somewhat to my surprise, someone has nominated "Power, Confidence, and High-Heels" for the competition, and I'm thrilled that readers would put forth AiP in such esteemed company. If you have a favorite science post—from AiP or elsewhere—head on over and share your nomination. Details are here, and you have until 31 May, 11:59 pm EST.

    Thanks, as always, for your support, and for reading.

    Thursday, May 26, 2011

    Editor's Selections: Language, Corruption, Picky Eaters, and Magic

    This week in the social sciences on
    • Ingrid Pillar of Language on the Move discusses how English can be both empowering and limiting through the experiences of Australian immigrants.
    • With great power comes great responsibility—and temptation. Michael Kraus of Psych Your Mind delves into the relationship between power and corruption.
    • The author of This Is Serious Monkey Business reports that orangutans are not picky eaters. Why is this important? Well, it could help preservation efforts as these primates lose their natural habitat and find themselves in captive/semi-captive environments.
    • Franco Bejarano of Culture Potion explores the use of magical clothing in folklore, tracing similarities in stories through different geographic locations.
    I'll be back next week with more from the social sciences.

    Friday, May 20, 2011

    Social Signs

    New Yorkers are a busy bunch—sometimes we need a little direction in life.

    The City can be a dangerous place after all: Ice can drop on you at any time (during the winter months), and who knows what lurks in the Gap!

    Ice has been cleared for falling in this area only ;)
    Step over, not into the Gap—if you'd like to keep your foot.

    And how else would traffic patterns be maintained?

    Seems simple enough ...
    And it works!

    Femora and Cream Calls for Posts for Four Stone Hearth

    Femora and Cream will be hosting the next Four Stone Hearth on May 25th—please submit new and notable anthropology writing that you may have stumbled upon (you can also nominate your own work).

    And if you haven't already, you may want to read some recent editions of the carnival:

    Thursday, May 19, 2011

    Come to the #NYCscitweetup on June 2nd

    Every month or so, the science community in New York City gathers to talk science over beer. The event—or TweetUp if you will—began as a means of connecting the online science community offline, which is why it bears a hashtag in its name. While the gathering is still in its infancy, turnouts have been fairly moderate—and certainly enthusiastic.

    The next one is scheduled for June 2nd, and will likely be held in DUMBO, following the World Science Fair "Women in Science" panel that will take place at the Galapagos Space. If you're a local, consider saving the date—it's a very low-key and open affair. If you have an interest in science, are a scientist, a science journalist, or just want to hang with science-minded folks (who continue to have super smart conversations after the beer has been flowing for a bit), come on by. 

    For more details, you can:
    The meetup will be at
    126 Front Street
    Brooklyn, NY
    6:30 - 11:00 pm

    View Larger Map

    Hope to see you there!

    Editor's Selections: Modern Day Alchemy, Sex Bias, and Learning

    On ResearchBlogging this week:
    • Can gold fight cancer? Possibly! From the Lab Bench under the Research/Scholarship heading Paige Brown reports how the Xia lab uses alchemy to create gold nanocages, which can then be used for diagnostics and drug delivery.
    • Under the Anthropology heading, Kate Clancy of Context and Variation investigates how sex bias can impact parental investment, which in turn can have serious effects on their children's development.
    • Also under Anthropology, Jason Goldman discusses learning processes at the aptly named The Thoughtful Animal. Are humans unique in the ways we retain and recall information? The short answer is yes, but Jason drums up a few examples where other species come close.
    Come back next week for more ResearchBlogging picks in anthropology, philosophy, and research!

    Wednesday, May 18, 2011

    Science and Technology in Television Cartoons

    ThunderCats (ho!) © Warner Bros

    ThunderCats. Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles. He-Man. Denver the Last Dinosaur. Ghostbusters. Duck Tales. Voltron. Inspector Gadget. The Pink Panther. She-Ra. Tail Spin. Transformers. GI Joe. Smurfs. Muppet Babies. Scooby Doo. Bugs Bunny Road Runner Hour. The Snorks. Gummi Bears. Batman. Johnny Quest. Chip and Dale's Rescue Rangers. The Jetsons. Iron Man. Darkwing Duck.

    If any of the above sound familiar, you probably spent a few Saturday mornings in front of the television waiting for the next installment of saving the world, solving mysteries, helping friends, fighting crime, and/or just generally having adventures. And you weren't alone. I asked Twitter followers to name their favorite Saturday morning cartoon last night, and got a flurry of answers in no time—and I'm still humming the Muppet Babies theme to boot. The Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles appear to have been a favorite. As were the Thundercats and Scooby Doo. But the golden age of Saturday morning cartoons is long gone. Changing educational standards, marketing regulations, and lifestyles helped put this particular tradition to bed. The rise of specialized cable networks also moved these programs away from the pedestal of Saturday. And as they are accessible at almost any time, they seem to have lost some of their magic. It became sort of like eating an entire box of cupcakes as a kid (bear with me): It seems like a good idea—cartoons all the time!—but you can get pretty sick pretty quickly. How many times can you watch the same programming before losing interest?

    Tuesday, May 17, 2011

    The Evolution of Communication—AiP Makes the Stage for Internet Week!

    Readers, you did it! AiP has earned a spot on the Big Stage during Internet Week thanks to your votes! Thank you!

    Date: June 9th
    Time: 3:00 pm

    Internet Week HQ at Metropolitan Pavilion
    125 W. 18th Street
    New York, NY 10011

    Tickets are available here.

    It may also be live-streamed—will post more details once I have 'em.

    The American Public's Fascination With the Undead

    "Braaiiiinnns ..." Zombies on the hunt for a meal, Night of the Living Dead.
    May is Zombie Awareness Month—just in case you were wondering. Don’t roll your eyes: yes, we need a whole month of preparedness. I too was skeptical, but as the inimitable Christie Wilcox tweeted in response to my disbelief that May would be so used:

    I think I must be. Prepared, that is. Surely the plethora of zombie movies, books, survival guides, and even exercise regimens have given me a sense of how to survive the coming zombie apocalypse. If you’ve seen even one zombie movie, I’d be willing to bet that you’re pretty prepared too. If you haven’t, go watch Zombieland. It provides a fair list of “rules” that should boost your chances of survival. For example, "When in doubt, know your way out" and "check the backseat" make a lot of sense. Then again, those might be things you should be doing anyway. And yet, they keep coming: Wikipedia lists seventeen zombie movies scheduled for release this year—and there are already films on the docket through 2014.

    Zombies aren’t pretty creatures. Popular media depicts them in assorted states of decay. They shamble. They’re insatiable cannibals. And, well, they’re dead. So why can’t we get enough of them?