Thursday, March 31, 2011

Editor's Selections: Living Dangerously, Cognition, Heritability, and Irrational Behaviors

This week in the social sciences:
  • Tim De Chant explains why humans tend to settle in dangerous places.
  • The host of Serious Monkey Business considers the evolutionary benefits of cognition in group settings.
  • Jeremy Yoder discusses the difference between heritability and heritable.
  • Jason Collins maintains that humans aren't irrational - in most cases, anyway. Rather, they're subject to time inconsistencies.
I'll be back next Thursday with more selections from the social sciences!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Why Do We Hurry to Wait?

Creative Commons, Credit.
While traveling a few weeks ago, I had ample opportunity to observe the art of waiting. Or rather, the art of not waiting. New Yorkers aren’t known for their patience—something that became painfully obvious when I got frustrated with the service S and I received at a south Florida restaurant. (If it takes more than 10 minutes for a server to come by and get drink orders after the customer has been seated, there is something wrong. We left, by the way, as even the normally unflappable S was perturbed, and were seated and served almost immediately—at the establishment just next door. (1)) While it may be that New Yorkers generally have little tolerance at being made to wait—and really, when you live in a culture of 24/7, the expectations are rather high—perhaps there are certain situations in which we’re all a bit impatient.

Let’s consider the airport, for example. So you’ve made it through security with your carry-ons and your assorted electronic devices, managed to get your shoes and belt back on, and are milling about the boarding area. So are most of the other people waiting to board that flight. They’re waiting in various forms. Some may be reading. Some may be occupied by their assorted electronic devices. Some are chatting animatedly or trying to restrain young children from escaping into the crowd. And some—though this number is small—are simply sitting, seemingly staring off into space, but quite possibly making astute observations about their nearby seatmates. And then the gate attendant arrives, and the mood of the crowd shifts. People start to pack up their modes of entertainment, and start to look expectant. It’s almost time for the event to begin! Soon we will be able to board and take our pre-assigned seats!

The boarding process is no secret: parents with young children or those needing assistance are allowed to board first, and then the plane is filled with passengers seated in the rear leading the way. So then why do people anxiously begin to wait to board in front of the gate attendant’s kiosk before the attendant has even announced boarding will begin? All it takes is one person too. One single person who has packed up his gadgets or book, armed with his carry-on, standing expectantly in front of the kiosk will attract others—and as the crowd grows, so does the tension. People begin to glance at phones and watches, they sway back and forth, they sometimes glare at the attendant. I guess no one wants to be left behind. But we all have assigned seats! So why the rush to wait?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Reminder: Four Stone Hearth to be Hosted by Mick Morrison on Wednesday

Just a quick reminder that Mick Morrison has graciously offered to host the anthropology blog carnival on Wednesday/Thursday (he's on Australian time). Please send him your posts if you have not done so already. 

Like many, Mick is wondering whether the carnival is still relevant in a social media saturated world. We've discussed some ideas for preserving the carnival, but until Afarensis returns—which should be soon—our hands are tied.  If you have any thoughts that you'd like to share, please don't hesitate to reach out though—and if you'd like to host, please let me know.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Does Cooperation Really Make It Happen?

Above: Jim Henson's Anything Muppets sing "Street Garden Cooperation."

What didn’t Sesame Street teach us? Working together (sometimes) makes things go easier—whether you're a part of a group of Muppets who want a community garden, or perhaps hunter-gatherers managing your existence. Humans are the only species to cooperate to the degree that we do, and this cooperation may have allowed for many other derived social traits related to group living to emerge, including generosity, sharing, teaching and learning, and shared intentionality. But how and why did cooperation emerge in the first place? A recent paper in Science by Hill, Walker, and colleagues investigates cooperation in the course of human social and cultural evolution by looking to contemporary hunter-gatherer groups for some of the answers.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Editor's Selections: Music, Kinship, and the Mighty Brontosaurus

This week in the social sciences:
  • Lorna Powell of Elements reports that music lovers may be genetically inclined to this disposition.
  • At Genealogy of Religion Chris Campbell tackles the argument that religion is a group level adaptation leading to sustainable large groups. Chris suggests a better understanding of kinship may be helpful in this discussion.
  • Brian Switek of Dinosaur Tracking traces the rise and fall of Brontosaurus in popular imagination.
I’ll be back next Thursday with more selections from the social sciences!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Help AiP Make the Stage for Internet Week New York 2011

AiP has a panel in the running for the big stage during Internet Week New York. The Evolution of Communication will trace the social ripples of communicative technologies through history (and prehistory if time allows) investigating what exactly is new about new media.

How does AiP get on the big stage? Well, that's where you come in, Readers. Please follow this link and vote! You'll need to register and confirm you aren't a bot, but it should be a relatively painless process.

Thanks for your support. Here's hoping to see you during Internet Week!

Bone Girl Hosts 114th Edition of Four Stone Hearth

In case you missed it, Bone Girl hosted the most recent edition of the anthropology blog carnival, Four Stone Hearth. Kristina put together a nice collection of posts—happily, including one of mine!

If you would like to host the carnival in the coming weeks, please contact me.

Assorted Mentions: AiP Around the Web

AiP has been mentioned by the following sources recently:

  • Andrew Sullivan of the The Atlantic's Daily Dish shared AiP's discussion on payphones.
  • The UKRC has compiled a complete list of women in science blogging—building on the original undertaking by UK Guardian blogger Martin Robbins.


I'm excited to announce that The Open Laboratory 2010 is now available in print (or for download if you prefer)! This collection of "the best of science writing on the web" includes my Fulton Fish Market post, as well as posts from Eric Michael Johnson, Brian Switek, DeLene Beeland, Hannah Waters, Dr. Sky Skull, Scicurious, Kevin Zelnio, and some of your other favorite science writers!

Thanks so much to Jason Goldman for his hard work as editor! It was no mean feat to coordinate a review of the 900 submissions and then make the final call on the posts that made the cut.

By the way, nominations for The Open Lab 2011 are open! So if you've read something here on AiP that you particularly like, please take a moment, and submit the post for consideration in the next anthology!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Ashes to Ashes: Communitas and Religious Symbols

Ash Wednesday in Canary Wharf. Photo © Mazur/ (1).

Western Christians are in the midst of the Lenten season—the 40 days (or 46 if you count weekends) leading up to Easter. On Ash Wednesday, I discussed the actions of a local homeless woman, who used the observance to help her connect with passersby: she would say “I went to church too” as she asked for help. While that post focused on the efforts undertaken by that woman to render herself visible, readers rightly commented that Ash Wednesday is also an exercise in visibility. Reader Will Hawkins specifically posed the following (note: spelling has been updated):
I would love to read more about the idea of wearing the ashes throughout the day. Since it is part of a religious ritual, there must be components of belonging and value.

How does it differ from other outward symbols of religiosity like the Yarmulke or the Hijab? Does it differ at all? If they are indeed similar, why has France banned one and not all three?
Religion is a slippery slope to climb in the public eye, but Will’s questions echoed a conversation S and I had following that post. While I am certainly not a religious scholar, we can investigate the power of symbols and the role of community in these types of observances.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Editor's Selections: Urban Health, Research Biases, Penis Spines, Ecstasy Propaganda, and Scallops

This week in the social sciences on
  • In many urban settings, we've come a long way from open sewers and tenement style housing. However, we have yet to fully understand the impact of changes to urban ecosystems and their faunal residents on human health and well-being. Tim De Chant discusses the implications of wildlife diseases, and raises possible means of managing risks.
  • As much as researchers try to be objective, they are often swayed by their contexts. This includes not only their own personal beliefs, but also the positions larger state and national standings. Amy Freitag presents a clear dissection of First and Third World designations and highlights how this can color both research questions and findings.
  • Sex can be a motivating factor for any number of causes, but could it be the basis for pairbonding? Researchers recently argued that the loss of penis "spikes" would have allowed for longer instances of intercourse, which would have aided in the emergence of social monogamy. However, in the latest installment of the PDEx tour, Eric Michael Johnson raises some issues with this argument and demonstrates that there is no correlation between penis spikes and primate mating systems.
  • There are many repercussions to bad science, but it is particularly devastating when bad science becomes a part of propaganda. Neurobonkers shows readers how a poorly constructed study on ecstasy use has been leveraged by governments to control the use and distribution of the drug.
  • While bad science often reflects a poorly designed research experiment, that is not to say that there aren't any number of challenges to be found in the research process itself. Using a scallop population believed to be at risk from algal blooms, Johnny Scallops discusses an instance where lab generated results fall short of accurately reflecting real world events.
I'll be back next Thursday with more selections from the social sciences!

From the Archives: Even Trinidadians Are a Little Irish

Ed Note: I'm continuing to showcase some of my favorite AiP posts since I'm on the road this week—this one was one of the first Research Blogging Editor's Selections I was awarded.

Credit: Erik Fitzpatrick/Creative Commons

Happy St. Paddy's Day! This Irish national holiday celebrates Patrick who is—arguably—the most recognizable of Irish saints, known for championing Irish Christianity (and using a shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity). The observance has also been viewed as a one day break from the abstinence of the Lenten season. While it still has religious undertones, for a vast majority of people, St. Patrick's Day is a day for merry-making—jovial gatherings, and free-flowing alcohol are all characteristics of the day. Everyone is supposedly a little Irish on St. Patrick's Day and there is more truth to this saying than most recognize. It's not merely a loophole allowing for the uninhibited consumption of Guinness. The Irish have traveled to all corners of the world, and like other immigrant groups, wherever they have stayed they have left a mark.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

From the Archives: The Unglamorous Life of a Pay Phone

Ed Note: AiP is on a break this week, but tell me, when was the last time you used a public pay phone?

These days it seems that everyone has a cell phone. Most of us walk by public pay phones without a second glance in their direction. I definitely do—until Wednesday, when I stumbled upon a couple actually using a pay phone! Yes, they were likely tourists (I made that assumption based on their attire), but hey, it turns out that those ugly, dirty booths, kiosks, and stands actually do work. Well, sometimes. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

From the Archives: Finding Traces of New York's Dutch Heritage

Ed Note: I am traveling this week, so I thought it would be a good chance to share with you some of my favorite posts from the archive. I've selected posts that represent the things that excite me about New York City and anthropology. Hopefully, you'll enjoy these selections too.

The Jansson-Visscher 1656 Map, Dutch North American
colonies; reprinted 1685. Public domain.
While we tend to think of the history of New York City in terms of the English settlement, the truth is the city's foundation is decidedly Dutch. I say this without any disrespect to the original inhabitants of the land that so enraptured the early Europeans, but it's true. And it is the Dutch I wish to speak of today. Believe it or not, much of the New Amsterdam colony has remained—names of places in and around the city, as well as throughout much of the New England region, remind us of our Dutch heritage: Stuyvesant, the Bouwerie, Greenwyck (Greenwich Village), Breuckelen (Brooklyn), Parelstraat (Pearl Street), Fresh Kills, Gravesende, Van Cortland, Nieuw Haarlem (Harlem), Vlissing (Flushing), Lange Eyelandt, as well as Roode Eyelandt and many more, attest to a Dutch presence in our history. And the truth is that had we solely been an English colony, the flavor of New York City would be immensely different today. While the English Puritans were establishing mono-cultures to the north in Boston and the surrounding areas and to the south in Virginia, New Amsterdam was already a bustling model of diversity. As a port settlement, its main concern was business (which remains true today), so people of many different backgrounds, religions, and races—and characters—settled here from its earliest inception.

AiP Will Be Back After These Messages ...

I'm traveling this week, and not quite able to post as I normally do, so I've decided to feature some of my favorite posts from the archives—though I may have something new up on Friday if all goes as planned. If I'm slow to respond to comments this week, bear with me—I'll get back to you as soon as I can. Have a wonderful week!

Four Stone Hearth 114 to Be Hosted by Bone Girl

Reminder: The 114th installment of Four Stone Hearth will be hosted by Kristina at Bone Girl on Wednesday. Please send your submissions to her.

If you would like to host a future edition of Four Stone Hearth, or have ideas about how to possibly improve the carnival, please contact me—I will pass all suggestions along to Afarensis.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Exercises in Visibility

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. One of the local churches near my job offers ashes in the morning for folks who have to get to work, so it's not uncommon to see a flood of people downtown sporting a dusty cross on their foreheads throughout the day. I've written before about a particular homeless woman who roams the neighborhood demanding assistance from people she encounters. I use the word "demanding" intentionally because she attempts to be manipulative in her comments, saying things like "Handsome/Beautiful, can you buy me a hot dog? I'm hungry," with the added compliment of  "Are you a model?" or "You're really pretty" or "I like your tie." 

In recognition of Ash Wednesday, she added "I went to church too." It had no effect on any of the ash-marked pedestrians who streamed around her. In fact, they seemed to cut a wider path to clear her. I'm really interested in the steps she takes to become visible because it becomes a clear challenge when people are obviously working to not see her. She's not visible while I've seen others who aren't as aggressive get far more attention and assistance from others in the neighborhood. I'm wondering at what point does it become enough. She might have better luck staking out a new area—one where people don't quite know her personality.

Editor's Selections: March Madness Explained, Territoriality, and Genes

This week in the social sciences on
  • Melanie Tannenbaum explains the psychology behind why we’re likely to choose to pay more for tickets closer to an event at
  • At The Thoughtful Animal, Jason Goldman asks readers to consider whether territoriality in humans is really that different from that of other animals.
  • At the Wiley-Blackwell Life Science Blog, Allison Goldstein traces the genetic history of type-2 diabetes.
I’ll be back next Thursday with more selections from the social sciences!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

This Is Your Brain on Disney

I've only been to Disney World once. A few years ago, S and I went for the first time and while I may go back, I'm definitely still recovering. Disney marketing isn't kidding when they say it's the happiest/most magical place on earth—it's intense. And the experience stays with you. But people are definitely drawn to the Disney franchise. Disneyland receives approximately 10 million visitors annually (1). And lots of folks are repeat visitors. It may not be for everyone—I know people who absolutely refuse to have anything to do with the magic, as well as some who aren't comfortable around costumed representatives, but they seem to be in the minority given the volume these places experience. Researchers have suggested that Disney generates a successful experience because our brains are responsive and receptive to art, creativity, storytelling, humor, wit, music, fantasy, and morality, all of which may have been important to social development—and feature heavily in the "Disney experience" in a rather amplified way.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Behind-the-Scenes at the American Museum of Natural History

Reception in the Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs at the American Museum of Natural History's Dinosaur Tweetup.

The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) had a hand in raising me. I literally spent summers there as a kid. The rotunda Barosaurus and I are old friends—it was under his watchful eye, after all, that I had my introduction to evolution, science, and natural history. With two working parents, the museum was the best way to spend my days and I roamed the Hall of Mammals and the fossil halls freely, soaking it all in. As I grew older, it was frequently my escape. And it still is. After a long week, or a particularly rough day, all it takes is quick run uptown on the C train to make me feel better. Leisurely afternoons in the Hall of Pacific Peoples—which often feels like another world—and the fossil halls are my favorite things. This place played a huge role in the ways I think, write, and talk about science. And last night, the AMNH Dinosaur Tweetup took me behind the scenes and showed me some of the ways the spaces I love came to be.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Tweets from the Streets: An Exercise in Awareness?

These days it seems that everyone is using social media—and thanks to the efforts of three interns at BBH, a TriBeCa-based advertising agency, everyone now includes four homeless men.

Underheard in New York is an amazing project aimed at connecting the public with the stories and lives of the homeless. BBH asked three of its interns to do "do something good—famously," and the trio came up with the idea to purchase prepaid cell phones and set up Twitter accounts for four homeless men—Danny, Derrick, Albert, and Carlos—who tweet their daily activities from waking up in a shelter to finding warmth on the subway to attending HRA interviews. The idea behind the project is to raise awareness about homelessness, and to encourage the general public to see homeless individuals as people, which is an issue that AiP has explored in terms of invisibility and homeless strategies for dealing with this response.

Editor's Selections: Obsidian Blades, Racial Ancestry, Online Self Esteem, Carnivores and Communities, and Home

This week in the social sciences on

  • Julien Riel-Salvatore has a short, but fascinating discussion on the merits of obsidian blades at A Very Remote Period Indeed.
  • With typical flair, Scicurious of Neurotic Physiology tackles a recent digital media study investigating self esteem and online presence, highlighting areas for skepticism that are worth noting.
  • DeLene Beeland explores how the nature of social communities can impact preservation efforts with regard to carnivores at Wild Muse.
  • At Language on the Move, Ingrid Pillar muses on the meaning of "home," and the ways language can help and hinder ties for transnationals.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Four Stone Hearth is Live at Femora and Cream

Just a reminder that Femora and Cream has the 113th edition of the anthropology blog carnival live. Please head on over and give it a look—you're bound to find some interesting coffee break material.

If you'd like to volunteer to host the carnival, please contact me—I'm filling in temporarily for Afarensis, and looking for future hosts. The next carnival will be hosted at Bone Girl.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Talking About the Asmat

I recently attended The Man Who Ate Michael Rockefeller—a really insightful play about the complexities of contact between anthropologists and the communities they study. This Saturday, I'll be joining the director and cast for a panel following the matinee show. I'll be speaking with a group of about 25 theater and anthropology students from Lafayette College in Easton, PA, and any of the audience members who would like to hang around. If you're free, consider taking in the show and joining the discussion. And then say hi afterward. Hope to see you there!