Scientopia – A New Platform for Scholarly Blogging

Lots of people are pointing to the new collection of blogs over at, which came to life in part due to the problems over at ScienceBlogs. Scientopia is ad-free, and also explicitly about science:

Scientopia is a collective of people who write about science because they love to do so. It is a community, held together by mutual respect and operated by consensus, in which people can write, educate, discuss, and learn about science and the process of doing science. In this we explore the interplay between scientific issues and other parts of our lives with the shared goal of making science more accessible.

Scientopia has global categories in Brain & Behavior and in Humanities & Social Sciences, as well as other ones like environment & biology, medicine & pharma, and information & communication. No way (yet, I am hoping) to go directly to those categories – they are simply collections of relevant pieces right there on the front page of Scientopia blogs.

I particularly wanted to do a shout-out to the blog The Urban Ethnographer. It’s fabulous to see anthropology right there in the middle of Scientopia. Krystal D’Costa’s most recent post is Meeting Montauk: The Summer Trade, which takes us out to the eastern tip of Long Island to examine tourism, fishing, and life in a beautiful little town.

On the brain side we’ve got some favorites who’ve migrated over from ScienceBlogs. So Scicurious has her own blog now, Neurotic Physiology, with her most recent post being the irresistible What Is Sweeter Than Cocaine? DrugMonkey is also there, and is looking at the recent debate on synthetic marijuana.

Child’s Play is all about development and cognition, and their latest post is Don’t Bite: A Cognitive Primer, which examines delay of gratification with a focus in this post on cognitive control and neural architecture.

That, and more, over at Scientopia.

Writing: Brains, Science, and Words

As a follow-up to the Virginia Heffernan piece, here’s something in a rather different tone. As I was exploring the reactions to Heffernan’s take on science blogging (a take with numerous faults, yes, yes, but also some valid points), I came across two things that delighted me, as they actually focused on writing.

Livia Blackburne has an engaging blog over at A Brain Scientist’s Take on Writing. Her most recent post, The Power of Touch, moves from touch to the scaffolded mind and onto touch imagery, including coverage of recent experimental data. She’s also has a post on fMRI and reading, which she then uses to discuss how to think about narrative in novel ways. And there’s some good comments on that post as well.

Over at Not Exactly Rocket Science, Ed Yong started a post where science writers of all stripes have shared their getting-started stories in On the Origin of Science Writers. Ed, whom I admire for how he does science journalism, starts off with his, then Carl Zimmer follows with the next one, and from there you’ve got another 110 stories to explore.

For the anthropologists who might be feeling left out, I wrote a little (well, a lot!) about how we can reach a broader audience, and much of that has to do with the way we write. Some of the ideas are, I hope, equally relevant to science writing.

Four Stone Hearth brought to you by Zenobia

That's MacTut, laddie!
Zenobia: Empress of the East is hosting the latest edition of Four Stone Hearth, the anthropo-carnival. It it’s 97th edition, the carnival this time brings us a pile of good stuff, and although Judith admits she prefers her subjects long dead, and buried in hardened volcanic ash, she brings us a wide range of the fun and fascinating. From Pompeii to monkey adoption, prognasticating octopus to the first cuneiform tablet ever found in Jerusalem to King Tut’s surprisingly small penis, you know that Four Stone Hearth is going to bring you the best of virtual anthropology. And the best is damn good.

So if you’re wondering whether Tut was cursed to be both under-endowed and Scottish (ouch), whether passive sentences are really hard to understand or if it’s just the ‘paper-airplane effect’ in action, or if the Dutch truly have found the answer to the question of overcoming human differences — orange — the what are you still reading this for!? Get ye to Four Stone Hearth!

And by the way, am I the only her person who winds up shouting at the television set, ‘Caster Semanya’s GENDER was never in question! It was her SEX, dammit!’ simply because I hate the way that the word ‘gender’ seems to have simply become a euphemism for whether someone has a winky or not? Okay, maybe it’s just me.

Empathy and Neuropolitics

Interesting new piece by Gary Olson, professor of political science at Moravian College. It’s called Empathy and Neuropolitics, with the tagline, “This is your brain on neoliberal culture. Any questions?”

Here’s the abstract:

Mirror neurons, the brain cells believed to be the basis for empathy, have recently been identified in the human brain. And yet we’re left to explain the disjuncture between this deep-seated, pre-reflective, moral intuition and the paucity of actual empathic behavior, especially in certain cultures. I suggest that answers may be found in the bidirectional connection between culture and brain development.

The political theorist William Connally has defined neuropolitics as “. . . the politics through which cultural life mixes into the composition of the body/brain process. And vice versa.” In this context, I hypothesize that the neo-liberal ideology justifying free market capitalism is one of the most potent empathy “bracketing off” elements of that culture and hybrid cultural/neurobiological imprinting can override the neurobiological traits that should bring people together. The dominant culture’s social engineering undermines and attenuates both the acceptance and institutionalization of empathy on a grand scale, while channeling its expression toward system maintenance behaviors.

There are outstanding exceptions, but too many cultural psychologists and other subspecialists have followed too many anthropologists in failing to unpack the meaning of culture itself. Following Gramsci, I argue that power and class realities have not received sufficient attention in explaining what I’ve described as a societal-wide cultural deficit disorder. This pathological condition has structural roots in the socio-economic system which influence the brain’s mirror neuron network. Cross-cultural studies offer a promising avenue for aiding our understanding of this process.

Gramsci and the encultured brain, that’s quite a mix!

Gary Olson’s website

Online paper Empathy and Neuropolitics

Royal Society Neuroscience and Cognition Articles Free

For the month of July 2010, Royal Society Publishing is providing free access to all their neuroscience and cognition articles.

To give you just one example, here is Joan Chiao & Katherine Blizinsky’s 2010 article (pdf) (sometimes problematic link…). The abstract reads:

Culture–gene coevolutionary theory posits that cultural values have evolved, are adaptive and influence the social and physical environments under which genetic selection operates. Here, we examined the association between cultural values of individualism–collectivism and allelic frequency of the serotonin transporter functional polymorphism (5-HTTLPR) as well as the role this culture–gene association may play in explaining global variability in prevalence of pathogens and affective disorders. We found evidence that collectivistic cultures were significantly more likely to comprise individuals carrying the short (S) allele of the 5-HTTLPR across 29 nations. Results further show that historical pathogen prevalence predicts cultural variability in individualism–collectivism owing to genetic selection of the S allele. Additionally, cultural values and frequency of S allele carriers negatively predict global prevalence of anxiety and mood disorder. Finally, mediation analyses further indicate that increased frequency of S allele carriers predicted decreased anxiety and mood disorder prevalence owing to increased collectivistic cultural values. Taken together, our findings suggest culture–gene coevolution between allelic frequency of 5-HTTLPR and cultural values of individualism–collectivism and support the notion that cultural values buffer genetically susceptible populations from increased prevalence of affective disorders. Implications of the current findings for understanding culture–gene coevolution of human brain and behaviour as well as how this coevolutionary process may contribute to global variation in pathogen prevalence and epidemiology of affective disorders, such as anxiety and depression, are discussed.

Here’s a whole list copied of what is freely available in just one journal:

Autism and talent(freely available)
Predictions in the brain: using our past to prepare for our future(freely available)
Mechanisms and functions of brain and behavioural lateralization(freely available)
Sensory learning(freely available)
Neuroeconomics(freely available)
The neurobiology of violence(freely available)
The neurobiology of addiction(freely available)
Japan: its tradition and hot topics in biological sciences(freely available)
The sapient mind: archeology meets neuroscience(freely available)
Perception of Speech (freely available)
Stem cells and brain repair (freely available)
Models of natural action selection (freely available)
Mental processes in the human brain (freely available)
Social intelligence: from brain to culture(freely available)
The use of artificial neural networks to study perception in animals(freely available)
The neurobiology of social recognition, attraction and bonding (freely available)

Link to Royal Society Publishing Neuroscience and Cognition articles.

Chains of Difference

Chains of Difference: A Community Clinical Anthropology Project is an effort to use anthropology to bridge our differences. Two of its key efforts are combining education and anthropology to help us deal better with the problems that can arise from our very diversity, and the idea that amateur anthropology – learning about and practicing anthropology outside formal settings – can be crucial to this process of negotiating our differences.

Here are three aims from their Welcome post:

-The discussion of contemporary dilemmas that stop us from learning more about each other across difference (religious, class difference, cultural, generational, etc): what can we actually ask each other about diversity and how to do it?

-The ideia that making anthropology a practise accessible to all can enhance inter-cultural relations and promote cooperation across difference

-The aim of passing direct knowledge of the practise of amateur anthropology across generations rather than relying on indirect educational means (e.g. internet). Adults trained in amateur anthropology can ideally pass the knowledge onto children and encourage them to pursue knowledge on questions of difference across diversity from a very early stage.

Chains of Differences is a project initiated by Pedro Oliveira, a Portuguese clinical psychologist
with a PhD in social anthropology recently completed at Brunel University.

Alongside Chains of Difference, Oliveira is starting a post-doctoral project focused on bring together clinical psychology and anthropology through “running multi-family groups and researching them simultaneously through an action-research ethnographic methodology.” He would love to get feedback on this project, so you can find the complete description of his proposed work here.

Link to Chains of Difference Facebook Group.

Link to Chains of Difference blog.