Wednesday Round Up #8

The Flawed Reasoning Behind the Replication Crisis

This is why better theory and a wider range of evidence and samples matter (both of which anthropology can provide) – you need to think about whether your theory is good, and how much it might relate to the larger claims studies often make.
The mathematical lens that allows us to see the flaw in these arguments is Bayes’ theorem. The theorem dictates that the probability we assign to a theory (Sally Clark is guilty, a patient has cancer, college students become less theistic when they stare at Rodin), in light of some observation, is proportional both to the conditional probability of the observation assuming the theory is true, and to the prior probability we gave the theory before making the observation. When two theories compete, one may make the observation much more probable, that is, produce a higher conditional probability. But according to Bayes’ rule, we might still consider that explanation unlikely if we gave it a low probability of being true from the start.

‘Time for a new vision’: violence is a public health issue that requires community driven solutions

Today, the US is talking seriously about investing in alternative public safety strategies that decrease the impact of law enforcement in our communities. Many communities are questioning the outsized role of law enforcement: addressing social challenges, like mental health and homelessness; or the need for taking action against those involved in non-criminal or non-serious activities, like sleeping in a car; or using lethal force in nonviolent situations or like using a possibly counterfeit $20 bill.

This is essential. However, communities can go even further. Law enforcement’s role in addressing violence, or possible acts of violence, must also be reimagined. Violence is a public health issue that requires health-based, community driven solutions. Investments in careful, timely interventions by trained community members such as Joseph increase safety, decrease violence and therefore the need for incarceration, while also mitigating the need for police involvement.

Articulating Anthropology’s Value to Business

Ultimately, getting the word out that anthropologists are experts at the skills, concepts, and methods that are gaining momentum and value in the business world remains the responsibility of anthropologists. We can accomplish this through professional collaborations with psychology and sociology colleagues who already actively engage with business, by developing partner projects with industry groups, by promoting the value and relevance of anthropological perspectives, and by training students how to apply their skills in the business world. We should seize this opportunity to grow our discipline, find jobs for our students, and make significant changes to the world.

Nostalgia Reimagined

How can we make sense of the fact that people feel nostalgia not only for past experiences but also for generic time periods? My suggestion, inspired by recent evidence from cognitive psychology and neuroscience, is that the variety of nostalgia’s objects is explained by the fact that its cognitive component is not an autobiographical memory, but a mental simulation – an imagination, if you will – of which episodic recollections are a sub-class. To support this claim, I need first to discuss some developments in the science of memory and imagination.

How the geometry of ancient habitats may have influenced human brain evolution

Now MacIver is back with an even more provocative hypothesis: the geometry of certain habitats shapes evolutionary selection pressures in predator-prey contexts. “The basic idea is that open spaces—open grassland, flat plains—are just speed games, favoring the predator, since they are larger,” MacIver told Ars. “Closed spaces—dense forests or jungles—favor simple strategies of running for cover. Using a complexity measure, we show both of these habitats have low complexity.” That complexity measure is lacunarity, a geometric term for describing how patterns fill space.

The complexity “sweet spot,” according to MacIver, is a landscape like the one featured in The Hobbit chase scene, or like Botswana’a Okavango Delta, both of which feature an open grassland and moss zones dotted with clumps of trees and similar foliage. “In this zone, neither speed games nor running for cover maximizes survival rate,” said MacIver. “But planning—by which I mean imagining future paths and picking the best based on what you think your adversary will do—gives you a considerable advantage.” And that planning requires the kind of advanced neural circuitry typical of the human brain.

Why Hundreds of Mathematicians Are Boycotting Predictive Policing

“Given the structural racism and brutality in U.S. policing, we do not believe that mathematicians should be collaborating with police departments in this manner,” the authors write in the letter. “It is simply too easy to create a ‘scientific’ veneer for racism. Please join us in committing to not collaborating with police. It is, at this moment, the very least we can do as a community.”

Some of the mathematicians include Cathy O’Neil, author of the popular book Weapons of Math Destruction, which outlines the very algorithmic bias that the letter rallies against.

If you’re not terrified about Facebook, you haven’t been paying attention

We have already been through the equivalent of a social media pandemic – an unstoppable contagion that has sickened our information space, infected our public discourse, silently and invisibly subverted our electoral systems. It’s no longer about if this will happen all over again. Of course, it will. It hasn’t stopped. The question is whether our political systems, society, democracy, will survive – can survive – the age of Facebook.

Genetic impact of African slave trade revealed in DNA study

A major DNA study has shed new light on the fate of millions of Africans who were traded as slaves to the Americas between the 16th and 19th centuries.

More than 50,000 people took part in the study, which was able to identify more details of the “genetic impact” the trade has had on present-day populations in the Americas.

It lays bare the consequences of rape, maltreatment, disease and racism.

More than 12.5m Africans were traded between 1515 and the mid-19th Century.

Some two million of the enslaved men, women and children died en route to the Americas.

Who Gets to Study Whom?

“The instinct was not malicious,” says Ron Kassimir, of the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), referring to this effort. “But it developed into an unspoken idea that scholars from the developing world should study their own.”

It’s this idea that concerns Kalinga. “I have never met a white student … who was told to study their own,” she says.

This issue matters for young scholars of color like Kalinga, who feel like they are denied the freedom of scholarship enjoyed by their white counterparts. Until all researchers have that agency, some critics argue, the field will continue to suffer from a lopsided view of the world in which the dominant voices—particularly when discussing Western nations—remain those of white, Western scholars.

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