Wednesday Round Up #5

An Interview with the Editor of American Anthropologist about the March 2020 Cover Controversy

We know the role that anthropology has played in the erasure of Indigenous peoples in the Americas through its salvage/savage ethnography project and its continued use of human remains for “research” purposes. Anthropology has consistently erased Indigenous peoples, just as it has consistently dehumanized Black people. Anthropology is founded on the savage slot, and this is a systemic and structural condition that spans beyond our intentions.

Evolution: That Famous ‘March of Progress’ Image Is Just Wrong

Many successful branches of the tree of life have stayed simple, such as bacteria, or have reduced their complexity, such as parasites. And they are doing very well.

In a recent study published in Nature Ecology and Evolution, we compared the complete genomes of over 100 organisms (mostly animals), to study how the animal kingdom has evolved at the genetic level. Our results show that the origins of major groups of animals, such as the one comprising humans, are linked not to the addition of new genes but to massive gene losses.

Do we suffer ‘behavioural fatigue’ for pandemic prevention measures?

The reaction to epidemics has actually been quite well studied although it’s not clear that ‘fatigue’ is the right way of understanding any potential decline in people’s compliance. This phrase doesn’t seem to be used in the medical literature in this context and it may well have been simply a convenient, albeit confusing, metaphor for ‘decline’ used in interviews.

In fact, most studies of changes in compliance focus on the effect of changing risk perception, and it turns out that this often poorly tracks the actual risk.

Dear White Anthropologists, Let Not Symbolism Overshadow Substance

As I, a Black female anthropologist from the Caribbean, sit with and within what certainly feels like a precipice in time, I am reminded of our disciplinary declaration in the nation’s capital only three years ago that, “Anthropology Matters!” But can anthropology matter if Black lives do not matter to anthropology? Interrogating this urgent and existential question will mean a willingness to rethink not only our public relevance in the world but also our very raison d’être within the academy.

If anthropologists have been historically trained to study what makes us human, then the time has come, as Irma McClaurin recently suggested, for anthropology to rethink the very terms of what it means to be human. Anthropology, in this sense, must now preoccupy itself not just with the human, but with the question of humanity. If white anthropologists are truly invested in substance over symbolism, then they will realize that the discipline is far better positioned than most to addressing the crisis of humanity at home.

‘To fail but still mostly be safe’: Lynn Steger Strong wrestles with precarity and privilege

A lot of the novels I grew up reading – the books that I was told were important when I was younger, books written largely by white men, by people whose relationship to agency and power is often very different than the rest of us – teach us that you will hit a point, an achievement, maybe a “dream”, where things shift in some irrevocable way, and then you will be something other, maybe better, on the other side. But I think almost none of life is like that. For the most part, something happens, and then you are mostly still yourself. You have to figure out how to pay your bills and love your kids; you have to decide what to have for dinner, and to clean the house.

Space: The Final Illusion

If we are to have a complete physics, we must unify the geometrical picture of spacetime given by general relativity with quantum physics. There is some theoretical evidence that this project of making a quantum theory of gravity will require space and spacetime to become discrete and built out of finite atoms of geometry.

In the same sense that a liquid is just a description of the collective motions of myriads of atoms, space and spacetime will turn out to be just a way of talking about the collective properties of the large number of atomic events. Their constant coming in and out of being, causing the next ones as they recede into the past, make up the continual construction of the world—also known to us as the flow of time.

Memories Can Be Injected and Survive Amputation and Metamorphosis

Glanzman’s team went back to their aplysia and trained them over two days to prolong their siphon-withdrawal reflex. They then dissected their nervous systems, extracting RNA involved in forming the memory of their training, and injected it into untrained aplysia, which were tested for learning a day later. Glanzman’s team found that the RNA from trained donors induced learning, while the RNA from untrained donors had no effect. They had transferred a memory, vaguely but surely, from one animal to another, and they had strong evidence that RNA was the memory-transferring agent.

Glanzman now believes that synapses are necessary for the activation of a memory, but that the memory is encoded in the nucleus of the neuron through epigenetic changes. “It’s like a pianist without hands,” Glanzman says. “He may know how to play Chopin, but he’d need hands to exercise the memory.”

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