Greg Downey’s top 10 of 2009

At the risk of being accused of self promotion (but, of course, what else is blogging?), I’m going to offer my own top 10 list of myself for 2009. These are the most read posts I wrote during the course of the year. Of course, by ‘most read’ I mean that people clicked through to them. In a few cases, I’m fairly certain that a substantial majority never actually read the longer ones through to the end.

That said, I’m pleased that some of my longest, most substantial posts seemed to attract the most readers. I think it bodes well for and the willingness of people to consult serious work on line, or at least as serious as I can manage here. Thanks for all your support in the past year, and I’ll keep trying to produce the goods in 2010.

1. What do these enigmatic women want? — Right after the new year, in a fit of irritation with a piece about women’s sexuality research in The New York Times, I dashed off this snide little piece, and it’s had great legs (no gender-related pun intended). Every once in a while, some other blogger notices it and links to it, so it keeps getting little bumps up in the standings.

2. Lose your shoes: Is barefoot better? — In July, I test drove a chapter from the sports book I’m working on, exploring the pitfalls of barefoot running and the effects of shoes on our feet. A few barefoot running advocates and podiatry websites have linked to this posting, which I think is more about the intertwining of biology, culture and behaviour than about condemning shoes or anything. But then again, as an anthropologist, I should be suspicious about authors’ claims to authority over what they write.

3. Fear of Twitter: technophobia part 2 — I spent way too much time putting this post together, inspired mostly by a cartoon about Twitter and irritated yet again by the Baroness Lady Susan Greenfield, PhD, serial technophobe and media addict. Although I have zero vested interest in Twitter, I wound up defending what is likely an annoying social networking technology by arguing it was no more vapid or shallow than most human communication.

4. Talent: A difference that makes a difference — With likely some of the most complicated diagrams we’ve posted at, this post explored one of the central components of my current research: how cultural definitions of ‘talent’ wind up turning into real psychological and neurological differences between people.

5. Throwing like a girl(’s brain) — I wrote a chapter on throwing for a forthcoming book on biocultural approaches to sport, and I found the subject so interesting that this post was one result. I’ve still got enough notes for part 2, which I hope to get posted here soon. Again, I’m fascinated by how sports can help us to better understand how the human nervous system functions and can grow more skilful (or, for that matter, inept).

6. Is Facebook rotting our children’s brains? — The first of my posts inspired by irritation with the techno-fear-mongering of Baronness Susan Greenfield, this one after she drew enormous international media attention by revealing — without evidence — that this latest wave of innovation real was the long-awaited, much-anticipated and often-declared Techno-Apocalypse.

7. Charlie Rose is on the brain — A brief post which I, lamentably, haven’t really followed up on. Charlie Rose was doing a series on the brain, but then I got totally distracted by other things. Like life. Life. Yeah, I remember when…

8. Evolution of altruism: kin selection or affect hunger? — Walter Goldschmidt’s book (and an email from him) inspired me to re-examine the question of how altruism developed through natural selection. Goldschmidt offers an innovative theory that substantially departs from the more calculating ‘kin selection’ explanation.

9. SurveyFail redax: Downey adds to Lende — Following up on a post by Daniel on research ethics problems for online researchers, this post discusses my views on research ethics, evolutionary explanations of human sexuality (especially something like written erotica), and the science-humanities divide.

10. Paleofantasies of the perfect diet – Marlene Zuk in NYTimes — A post I quite enjoyed writing based on a NYTimes article and on questions I often get in my human evolution class about ideas like the ‘Pleistocene diet’. I’m deeply dubious about the concept and do my best to poke holes in the possibility that anyone might actually want to pursue a Pleistocene regimen. I’ll be back to this topic soon, too.

Thanks again for coming by our little virtual neck of the woods and paying us some attention. Here’s hoping that 2010 brings all sorts of fun new stuff, and lots of irritating NYTimes articles to get the blood boiling enough to dash off a few decent posts.

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Trained as a cultural anthropologist at the University of Chicago, I have gone on to do fieldwork in Brazil and the United States. I have written one book, Learning Capoeira: Lessons in Cunning from an Afro-Brazilian Art (Oxford, 2005). I have also co-authored and co-edited several, including, with Dr. Daniel Lende, The Encultured Brain: An Introduction to Neuroanthropology (MIT, 2012), and with Dr. Melissa Fisher, Frontiers of Capital: Ethnographic Reflections on the New Economy (Duke, 2006). My research interests include neuroanthropology, psychological anthropology, sport, dance, human rights, neuroscience, phenomenology, economic anthropology, and just about anything else that catches my attention.

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