Thursday, April 28, 2011

Editor's Selections: Dentition, Medical Quackery, Science Writing, Seagrass, and Mutual Aid

So many good reads this week at Here are some of the best:
  • At Lawn Chair Anthropology, Zacharoo discusses dental similarities between Australopithecus anamensis and Nakalipithecus nakayamai, an ape from Kenya dating to nearly 10 million years ago.
  • At Memoirs of a Defective Brain, the Brain cleverly uses a science comic to answer the question about whether the physician Haynemann was a nostrum dealer. (Nostrum was essentially a quack formula sold at exorbitant prices.)
  • From the Lab Bench, Paige Brown documents a disappointing trip to the career office as a young scientist tries to fit a passion for writing into the scientific discipline.
  • Johnny Scallops is back at Chronicles of Zostera with a detailed post on how humans can influence changes to seagrass habitats which can then affect scallop populations, as well as the ecosystem overall.
  • And finally, The Primate Diaries in Exile visits Times Higher Education where Eric Michael Johnson considers what the mutual aid tendencies displayed by bonobos may suggest about our evolutionary history.
Tune in next week for more picks from the social sciences!

Subway Flirtations?

As observed on an uptown 4 train:
Credit: Ryan Uhrich

She: Late twenties/early thirties, black coat and scarf, heels. Wearing headphones and nodding along to whatever she's listening to.

He: Late thirties/early forties. Suit. Standing about 10 feet away, apparently studying her.

The Play:
She's nodding along to her iPod, and he's watching. She nods, even sways for a few minutes, and then looks over—seemingly randomly. Their eyes meet. She turns back to face the track. He sneaks glances at her.

Train pulls into the station. She boards (apparently, she's a camper). He makes it a point to board through the same door, though there was one closer to him.

She takes a seat. He sits across from her. Their eyes meet again. This time he offers a small smile. She does not. But she shifts in her seat.

She pulls out a magazine, and looks up, and then away. Puts magazine down next to her. Adjusts her coat. Removes her scarf. Puts it into her bag.

Meanwhile, neck slightly inclined, he's shifted to see what she's reading. Takes out a newspaper, folds it, and appears to read an article.

She picks up magazine, glances at him. Flips it open, and reads.

He sneaks a glance.

She sneaks a glance.

He sneaks a glance.

She sneaks a glance.

This dance goes on for about four stops.

He put the newspaper away. She glances up then returns to the magazine.

He leans forward, seems ready to say something. Train pulls into the station. He exits.

She looks up as he steps onto the platform. He glances back.

Doors shut. Train pulls out of the station.

Maybe they'll see each other tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Rise of the Hydra? Couple Profiles on Facebook

Hercules slays the Lernaean Hydra.
In Greek mythology, the Hydra was a dangerous water serpent with many heads. Its breath was allegedly poisonous, and for every head you cut off two more would grow in its place. In the last two weeks, three separate couples on Facebook in my network, who don't know each other, have merged their profiles—they've become Hydras in their own way: a single entity, posting under a hybrid name, generating all sorts of confusion as to who is really behind the content (though language is sometimes a giveaway). Networks emphasize the individual's connection to the collective. What are the implications of these dual identity profiles to the larger social group?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Nail Polish and the Policing of Gender Norms

Over the weekend, I stopped in at a large beauty retailer to pick up a few things. While waiting in line to pay for my selections, I took the opportunity to browse the abundant and strategically placed impulse items—mirrors, tweezers, creams, and nail polishes, all artfully arranged to catch the eyes of patrons. Spotting a lilac colored bottle of polish, I flipped it over to read the name: Iris I Was Thinner. It went back on the shelf. Immediately. Flirty, flippant names are common to nail polishes, but I really didn't need a color that essentially told me (and others) that I needed to drop a few pounds. As the cashier rang up my purchases, it occurred to me that I shouldn't be surprised. After all, we're a society concerned with preserving the normative categories of gender, which means, of course, that 5-year-old boys should not paint their toes pink (though perhaps blue is acceptable), and girls and women should wish they were thinner.

Recently, a friend bought a gladiator's outfit for her not quite 2-year-old daughter. She reported that the saleswoman had been perplexed that she was not buying the outfit for a son and that she did not want the goddess costume instead for her daughter. Boys are soldiers, and girls are goddesses. Boys play with trucks, while girls have tea parties. Boys don't paint their nails or wear makeup (we'll pretend that some male performers are born with eyeliner and black nails), but girls can—and once they're women, they can also worry about their weight, whether they're too assertive in the workplace, and whether they're bad moms because they work. For many people these ideas touch on the core of the gender divide, as is reflected in the recent kerfluffle caused by a J.Crew ad featuring creative director Jenna Lyons and her 5-year-old, pink-toenailed son as yet another example of the ways the social order helps shape the expectations associated with gender.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Last Call: Help AiP Make the Stage for Internet Week New York

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! Voting ends today! 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!

Selling the Illusion of Wealth

To round out AiP's discussion on our relationship with fashion, today we're looking at the counterfeit industry. On Monday, we probed the appeal of high-heels. And on Wednesday, we discussed a particular color trend in New York City. As always, comments are welcome.

The battered cardboard box balanced precariously on his small handcart as Asad (1) hurried across the street. The box seemed innocuous enough, but he had lined it with comforters to protect the cargo within and wrapped the exterior with twine to curtail prying eyes. Still to those who know, Asad’s package is a highly recognizable symbol of illicit trade in wealth: the container for fake, high quality designer handbags. Asad was hurrying to his downtown location, where he would meet with other “sidewalk” retailers waiting to show their goods to people who ask. If caught by the police, he would likely have his goods confiscated, and be ticketed. Depending on the number of prior offenses, he could spend a night in jail. Sure there was reason for him to be cautious, but who said selling respectability would be easy?

We Are NY Tech Features AiP

We Are NY Tech ran a feature on me and AiP today! Click here for the full story.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Editor's Selections: Primate Behavior, Unhealthy Behaviors, and Religion and Science

This week in the social sciences on
  • At Laelaps, Brian Switek discusses how our own perceptions color our interpretation of primate behavior, in this case death and mourning.
  • At Science Life, Rob Mitchum explores the ways our environment may encourage unhealthy behaviors.
  • At Lost in Translation, Jon Wilkins explains a popular quotation from Dobzhansky and discusses how one man reconciled religion and science.
Tune in next week for more selections from the social sciences.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Reflections of Gotham: Why Do New Yorkers Wear So Much Black?

This week AiP investigates our relationship with fashion. On Monday, we probed the appeal of high-heels. Today, we’ll discuss a particular color trend in New York City. And on Friday, we’ll explore the psychology behind brands. As always, comments are welcome.

A lone woman in a red coat on Wall Street.

New Yorkers wear a lot of black clothing. Or at least they appear to. During the colder months, jackets tend toward the darker spectrum, with black, brown, and navy leading the way and an occasional lady in red thrown into the mix (who serves to remind us that we’re really in the Matrix). Like tulips, lighter colors do attempt to break through as the weather warms up, but the general fashion trend continues to maintain the more “serious” colors. Perhaps this is a reflection of the business-like nature of the city, where power suits can easily move from the boardroom to a baseball game. But the monochromatic perception that New York City projects runs counter to the life and vibrancy that are inherent to the city. Times Square is awash in color. There are still spaces where graffiti enlivens neighborhoods. And can we really overlook the blooms of Fashion Week? And we have not even mentioned the colors and textures and tastes that our senses are steeped in at any of the restaurants, plays, or museums that make New York City their home. So there is color in New York City, but it seems masked. What is the basis behind this tendency to don darker clothing—or at least outerwear? Why is it that in New York City, despite whatever the color trend for the season may be, black is always the “new” black?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Power, Confidence, and High-Heels

This week AiP investigates our relationship with fashion. Today, we’ll delve into the appeal of high-heels. On Wednesday, we’ll discuss a particular color trend in New York City. And on Friday, we’ll explore the psychology behind brands. As always, comments are welcome.

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.orgCinderella got the prince and Dorothy was envied. Why? They donned fabulous shoes. What’s the deal with women’s relationship to their footwear?

Watch Me Walk Away

Click. Click. Click. Click.

With each measured step, my heels echoed with a finality that emphasized my leaving, which was important: I was angry and I wanted to be taken seriously. The sound of my three-inch heels striking the tiles spoke volumes—and did so much more eloquently than I would have been able to at the moment.

I had just had my first turn-on-your-heel-and-walk-away moment. A meeting with a senior vice president at a leading digital agency in New York City had gone horribly wrong: Her team had asked me to consult on a project they were considering, but within a few minutes it became clear that we would not be able to work together. She was rude to her staff and made two disparaging remarks about anthropologists. Annoyed, and believing that her behavior toward her staff spoke volumes about the sort of relationship we would have, I decided I had had enough. So I picked up my coat, turned on my heel, and walked out. It was empowering. It was a moment I’ll likely not forget soon. And it would not have been the same had I been wearing flats.

Many Western women make high-heels a part of their daily wardrobe. The relationship women have with their shoes often becomes the butt of jokes and a point of dismissal, often on the following points:
  • Do women need to own so many shoes? Many men admit to have having 3-4 pairs of shoes: boots, sneakers, and a pair or two of dress shoes in black and brown. Women on the other hand can easily have 3-4 times as many.
  • Do they need to be so high? Culturally, we’re primed to note the Buffy heel and the red sole of Louboutin, but it defies logic: High-heels can damage feet, which were not meant to be crammed into too tight quarters for eight hours a day (at least) or be balanced precariously on skinny supports.
  • Is it really sensible to spend so much on shoes? Forbes reports that women spent $17 billion on footwear between Oct. 2004 and Oct. 2005. More recent data seems to suggest that women aren’t spending quite so much—though popular opinion disagrees (1,2).
I’ve been thinking about this moment with the SVP and my relationship with heels recently. And so it appears have others around me—been thinking about my relationship with my shoes, I mean. I’ve only recently joined the ranks of the well-heeled. I was actually schooled in the “sensible shoe” philosophy, and will admit to be being more at home in sneakers than in three-inch heels. But I’ve found that when you stand at 4’11” in flats, the world tends to overlook you—a point that a few friends have disagreed with, but then again, they’re all taller than 4’11”. Apparently, my rising heel has elicited some commentary between a subset of friends who are rather surprised that a smart, sensible woman such as myself would subject my feet to such a tortuous experience. But I am not alone: on the subway and on the street, on their way to the office or a night out, there appears to be any number of women for whom shoes are an important aspect of dress. While it’s true that an individual woman’s presence is so much more than the footwear she has chosen for the day, shoes can influence our interactions with others: they change how we walk, how we stand, and how others perceive us.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Editor's Selections: Thick Heads, Science Brokers, Bike Lanes and Sustainability, and Gestures

This week in the social sciences on
  • At Neurotic Physiology, Scicurious ponders the curious state of "boneheadedness," seeking to expose any literal truths behind the saying "get it through your thick skull." Scicurious looks at a study possibly linking mastication to skull thickness—in mice—and briefly discusses the role of genetics in determining this particular trait.
  • At Big Think, guest blogger Melanie Gade delivers a series of excellent points to help rethink the scicomm framework. She positions scientists as information brokers whose primary objective is that of translating scientific advice in meaningful ways to the public.
  • The author of Verdant Nation finds interesting parallels in conflicts over bike lanes in New York City and Ottawa-Gatineau, suggesting some commonalities in our resistance to change.
  • In a similar vein, Amy Freitag of Southern Fried Science delivers a powerful discussion on sustainability, challenging long-held assumptions and questioning the romantic view of the local community.
  • And finally, at Litigation Postscript Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm analyzes the meanings behind certain types of hand gestures and discusses what they can add to communication.
See you next Thursday for more selections in the social sciences!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What We Think Others Can See: Perceptions on Shared Information

I came across the following infographic from Pew Internet. It illustrates the information that people believe they've shared online:

Though the data was collected in 2009, it's worth considering as we are still navigating issues of reputation management and digital identity. The information suggests that people are cautious about sharing personal media files (e.g., photos, videos, and personal opinion pieces), but are willing to be linked to employers/organizations—perhaps as a means of establishing authenticity and  building reputation? The data sample are online users, so I would assume that this group is minimally aware of the importance of controlling the information connected to your Google search.

Naturally, the "Don't Know" column holds special interest, but that email addresses lead the category is not at all surprising. Email addresses are collected by virtually every online service, and increasingly many offline businesses as well. This seems to be the piece of information that may most easily slip from the user's control. I did find it interesting that even among this group the percentage of people unsure whether media images of them are available is lower than the percentage of people who are unsure whether home address and telephone numbers are available. I'm curious whether the "Don't Knows" are a subset of slightly less tech savvy users—if so, it's interesting that even they have given thought to the ways they are represented by media.

Four Stone Hearth News: Afarensis Returns

I'm delighted to welcome Afarensis back to the Hearth. Serving as admin in his absence made me very aware that the Hearth truly works best when we as a community are invested and involved—from assuming hosting duties, to promotion, to sharing feedback, we'll get what we put into this. In that spirit, I'm thrilled to report that I've passed along the feedback you shared with me about shaping the Hearth, and Afarensis has already begun to implement changes. But he needs help—in fact, he's asking for some volunteers to help make some language changes right now! I'm also pleased to share that he has extended an offer to co-admin the Hearth with him, and I've accepted pending the completion of some independent projects that need my attention. In the meantime, I encourage you to share your thoughts and ideas, and volunteer to host.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Death and Community

Earl died.

I heard the news this morning. And I only learned of his passing because I opted to walk to the LIRR. Earl was a can collector—he spent sleepless nights following his wife's death collecting cans, spending the pocket change he received for his efforts on a cup of coffee, but really he was looking for a means of staving off loneliness. Earl was a part of my community. He was someone I looked for on early mornings—a signal that I had made it to a "safer" zone on my morning walk to the commuter rail. (My neighborhood is relatively safe and quiet, but there's a zone of moderate to heavy commercial activity that can at times make anyone a little anxious about personal safety.) He generally had a smile and a wave for me when we our paths crossed, and though we saw each other infrequently, I generally had a sense that he was a part of my routine. A fixture if you will allow it: I knew he'd be there, in the supermarket parking lot most mornings unless he was unwell, either unpacking his cans or walking the lot with his hands in his pockets waiting for the depository to open. His passing has sent ripples through my sense of my network, but I am also aware of how quietly and how quickly those ripples smooth themselves away and how the network, how my sense of community, works to resettle itself around his absence.

Bateson feeding on algae earlier this year.
I had been thinking a great deal about communities and networks lately. And Earl drives home these musings as his death comes on the heels of the death of another: Bateson, the last remaining shrimp in my ecosphere died last week. Two years ago, S purchased an ecosphere for my desk at work. It was populated with five shrimp, one of which seemed to molt more frequently than the others. I named this shrimp Bateson because in his molting I saw properties of schismogenesis. He was the only one to survive the months on my desk until last week when I discovered his tiny pink body tangled within the algae that cohabited his world.

I am not trying to equate the death of a man with the death of a shrimp, but with news of Earl's passing, the empty ecosphere on my desk seems especially lonely. Networks are imbued with lives and a resiliency of their own. When death removes a member, the network sews together the hole left by the departed. The network is reknitted and life continues. But in my empty ecosphere, where the algae is poised to claim the small globe, there is no reknitting. Things are forever changed. The algae will now fill the space vacated by Bateson, and a new balance and order will be established. And it is a reminder that a loss to one's community, even if that community attempts to patch itself together, leaves a mark.

Monday, April 11, 2011

On My Shelf: Social Bioarchaeology

Social Bioarchaeology | Sabrina C. Agarwal and Bonnie A. Glencross, eds. | Wiley Blackwell | 496 pages | $99.95 (Softcover)

At a moment when tensions within anthropology are still simmering close to the surface, Sabrina Agarwal's and Bonnie Glencross' edited collection of social bioarchaeological essays highlight the importance of collaborative efforts within the discipline. The volume is definitely not light reading, however, it represents a carefully curated exhibit on the development of biological archaeology and traces its relevance to current research.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Editor's Selections: Pigs' Blood, Yawning, Sexy Clothes, and (Home)Buyer's Remorse

New and notable this week on

  • The next time you light up, you may be smoking pigs' blood. Hadas Shema of Science Blogging in Theory and Practice looks at the way research can be sensationalized to sway public opinion.
  • Domesticated dogs do it. I know my cats do it. And apparently, chimps do it too. What exactly do they do? Well, yawn, of course. Jason Goldman of The Thoughtful Animal explores empathy and contagious yawning in chimp communities.
  • Menstruation is often treated as a handy scapegoat for emotional fluctuations in women. While hormonal variations linked to menses can influence behavior, can these variations also make women buy sexier clothes? (Yes, I'm serious.) Kate Clancy of Context and Variation dissects a study on the connection between sexual competition and ovulation, encouraging readers to think critically about the data they are presented with.
  • Homes often retain traces of their previous owners. For non-smokers purchasing the home of a cigarette smoker, however, these traces may be detrimental to their health. Dirk Hanson of Addiction Inbox reports that the former homes of cigarette smokers retain elevated levels of nicotine in the air and dust for extended periods after the home had been sold. This may be something new buyers may want to consider in their home selection process.
I'll be back next Thursday with more selections from the social sciences!

Friday, April 1, 2011

NYC BigApps 2.0 Brings Data to the Public

Last night the winners of NYC BigApps 2.0 were announced. This fabulous initiative makes information from the NYC Data Mine available to the interested public to develop apps to help better the quality of life in New York City. Entrants compete for cash prizes, exposure, and the opportunity to meet the Mayor. The submissions were impressive—and the winners certainly deserving.

Notable apps that may interest New Yorkers include:
Mayor Bloomberg looks on as
is named Best Overall Application.
Roadify: Grand Prize, and Second Place Popular Choice
Roadify combines New York’s best commuting resources into one free service that’s with you wherever you go. Whether you’re looking for that free parking spot a neighbor just left or trying to get a better idea of when your bus or subway is showing up, Roadify’s got you covered.

Parking Finder: Third Prize, and Investor's Choice Winner
BestParking takes the hassle out of finding parking in Manhattan and Downtown Brooklyn via, our iPhone app, and our Android App. Over 100,000 New Yorkers rely on BestParking each month. Student Winner Grand Prize, and Honorable Mention
Get a text message when you check into a restaurant that is at risk of being closed for health code violations.

NextStop: Honorable Mention
NextStop is an iPhone app for New York City Subway riders who don't like to waste a minute. At a quick glance, it tells you when the next train is scheduled to arrive based on your current location, selected station, or pre-defined favorites. With this information in hand, it's easy to figure out the quickest route between point A and point B.
Of course, there were many that didn't make the cut, including CitizeNYC City Pulse ("neighborhood-level views on the most pressing questions of the day") and ("Free and cheap events ... including: street fairs, parades, dances, grand openings, cultural events, parties, lectures").

Congrats to the winners, and really, all the participants. As Mayor Bloomberg told attendees, "Don't take anybody's word for anything. When they say it can't be done, and it makes sense, it probably can. And actually maybe somebody else has already done it. Just don't accept conventional wisdom." These are exciting times for innovation. There are vast opportunities to change your world—and the data to do so is at your fingertips.

Four Stone Hearth 115: Ring of Fire

Mick Morrison has Four Stone Hearth 115 up and has even managed to work in a Johnny Cash reference. So why not grab your coffee and head on over?

The Hearth needs a host for April 27th. Any takers?

Have a good weekend, Readers.