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.”

Wednesday Round Up #4

Wednesday Round Up #4

Ten Years of the Sun in One Hour – a beautiful and eerie watch of the centerpiece of our solar system

Why Birds Can Fly Over Mount Everest

Wonderful story about the evolution of life and gravity and wood and oxygen and lungs…
Once the secret of how to oxidize lignin was understood, fungal spores and bacteria began to break down all the dead wood that was not already fossilized, using up oxygen in the process, and so the level of oxygen in the atmosphere began to decline rapidly. It went from a high of above 30 percent during the Carboniferous Period (300 million years ago) to around 12 percent at the end of the Permian Period (250 million years ago). This was bad news for most of the life on Earth, because it had gotten addicted to this abnormally high oxygen level. Ninety-five percent of all life on Earth died—strangled by an atmosphere so low in oxygen. It was the largest extinction event in the history of life on Earth.

Some of the 5 percent of life forms that did manage to survive went to Mr. R&D and, using what breath they had left, said, “We need help to survive on this small amount of oxygen.”

My Family Saw a Police Car Hit a Kid on Halloween. Then I Learned How NYPD Impunity Works.

ProPublica Deputy Managing Editor Eric Umansky’s family saw an unmarked NYPD cruiser hit a Black teenager. He tried to find out how it happened, and instead found all of the ways the NYPD is shielded from accountability.

“Bayesian Statistics and Hierarchical Bayesian Modeling for Psychological Science”
An entire class on Bayesian approaches now on YouTube – “This semester’s teaching on Bayesian stats and cognitive modeling is over! Thanks to COVID (ironically!), I recorded all my teaching sessions.”

“Reality” is constructed by your brain. Here’s what that means, and why it matters.

“It’s really important to understand we’re not seeing reality,” says neuroscientist Patrick Cavanagh, a research professor at Dartmouth College and a senior fellow at Glendon College in Canada. “We’re seeing a story that’s being created for us.”

Most of the time, the story our brains generate matches the real, physical world — but not always. Our brains also unconsciously bend our perception of reality to meet our desires or expectations. And they fill in gaps using our past experiences.

All of this can bias us. Visual illusions present clear and interesting challenges for how we live: How do we know what’s real? And once we know the extent of our brain’s limits, how do we live with more humility — and think with greater care about our perceptions?

Rather than showing us how our brains are broken, illusions give us the chance to reveal how they work. And how do they work? Well, as the owner of a human brain, I have to say it’s making me a little uneasy.

Wednesday Round Up #1

I’m starting the Wednesday round up back up. I didn’t post yesterday because of #shutdownstem. For more information on that, see shutdownstem.com.

In the wake of the most recent murders of Black people in the US, it is clear that white and other non-Black people have to step up and do the work to eradicate anti-Black racism. As members of the global academic and STEM communities, we have an enormous ethical obligation to stop doing “business as usual.” No matter where we physically live, we impact and are impacted by this moment in history.

Our responsibility starts with our role in society. In academia, our thoughts and words turn into new ways of knowing. Our research papers turn into media releases, books and legislation that reinforce anti-Black narratives. In STEM, we create technologies that affect every part of our society and are routinely weaponized against Black people.

Black academic and Black STEM professionals are hurting because they exist in and are attacked by institutional and systemic racism. Black people have been tirelessly working for change, alongside their Indigenous and People of Color allies. For Black academics and STEM professionals, #ShutDownAcademia and #ShutDownSTEM is a time to prioritize their needs— whether that is to rest, reflect, or to act— without incurring additional cumulative disadvantage.

I encourage people to watch this short video with Ibram X. Kendi. “I’m not racist” is not good enough. We have to strive to actively become anti-racist.

Kendi’s longer talk here is well worth it. He provides more context and depth to his basic framing, and explains the history with keen insight.

I was also struck by this piece from footballer Liam Rosenior: This is just the beginning, I promise you: an open letter to Donald Trump.

Thank you for shining a spotlight to people around the world who have been sadly unaware of your country and the state it has been in for hundreds of years, and for outing the racist, hateful, bigoted and violent people who not only voted for you but have held the cultural key to an unjust, corrupt and fundamentally prejudiced society and system from the conception of the USA, built on the genocide of Native Americans and the slavery and incarceration of millions of black people.

Thank you for giving us a tangible, symbolic enemy (yourself and your Make America Great Again minions) against which people now have fuel to organise, strategise and mobilise a long-lasting movement and process to change our planet for good.

Ezra Klein interviewed Ta-Nehisi Coates.

“I can’t believe I’m gonna say this,” he replied, “but I see hope. I see progress right now” …
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Wednesday Round Up #118

Those of you looking for our weekly round up, you can now find it at PLoS Neuroanthropology – Wednesday Round Up #118.

That’s right – we’ve moved over to PLoS Blogs! Well, for the most part. Greg and I will be doing our main blogging over there now. More in just a bit about the move.

Here’s the link to our main Neuroanthropology page there. Please update your subscriptions. We really look forward to having you over there. This is a very exciting move for all of us.

Suggestions for the Wednesday Round Ups???

I just posted the latest Wednesday round up. Since coming back from a summer hiatus, I’ve tried to mix things up a little bit. Well, really added more features – a photo at the beginning, video in the middle, a personal note, a poem or some literary tidbit at the end. Do you like these additions? Have any other suggestions for the Wednesday round ups?

Also, how important is the Wed round up for you? It takes a fair amount of work to put together, rarely posts huge numbers… I guess my question is whether it’s too long. Would you prefer to have shorter round ups? Or any other ideas?

Please leave a comment, or send me an email if you want. daniel.lende over at gmail dot com

Wednesday Round Up #117

This week the top, then anthro, mind, and alcohol and drugs as a chaser. I stuck the mini-reflection piece after the top. And there’s a little poetry at the end.

The photo is an x-ray of a dozen roses, taken by Hugh Turvey. You can see more of Hugh Turvey’s work over at CNTV.

Thanks to my graduate assistant Naheed Ahmed for helping put this one together.

Top of the List

Rebecca Seligman & Ryan Brown, Theory and Method at the Intersection of Anthropology and Cultural Neuroscience
Abstract for a strong article on how the fields of anthropology and neuroscience can collaborate in understanding the human brain and its socio-cultural context.

Floyd Bloom et al., A Judge’s Guide to Neuroscience: A Concise Introduction
Can the field of neuroscience help the legal system in determining a defendant’s culpability? This question along with others is explored in a comprehensive introduction to neuroscience.

Philip Swift, The Octopus: Eight Footnotes
Tentacles galore! Octopus references in Japanese culture, anthropological theories, and the World Cup.

Melody Dye, Don’t Bite: In Sum, Dear Readers
Irresistible discussion of “self control” based on research with children and their ability to refrain from eating cookies. Really, you need to give in and go read it!

Jef Akst, I Hate Your Paper
Ever had a paper rejected by a journal for unfair reasons? In this article, Akst examines problems with the peer review system and possible solutions.

Impact Lab, Top 10 Photos of the Week
Some funny pictures of cowboy training, a “green” RV, stadium seating in North Korea, and more… I needed that after the rejection.

Neuroantropologia
Get your neuroanthropology in Italian, flavored towards the neuro side.

Bill Yates, Neuroscience of Murder and Aggression: Part 1
A commentary on the TEDs talk by Jim Fallon, the neuroscientist who found that he had neurological traces of a pattern found in murderers. It provides a nice discussion of multiple causation, cultural reinforcement and cultural buffering.

Livia Blackburne, How Language Affects Thought — plus book giveaway!
Discusses two recent studies where studies in which subjects’ natal language affected ability to answer time related questions after answering spatial ones (English v. Mandarin Chinese) and gender-related associations with words that had grammatical gender in Spanish and German.

Rob Mitchum, The Disparity of Pills
Covers a recent study that explored disparity in medication use by patients based on ethnic group. The take-away: even allowing for income, education and access to insurance, the statistical difference between majority and minority populations persisted, suggesting that pharmaceutical access is affected by other, possibly harder to quantify, factors

Interlude

I woke up too early, thoughts of my class, posts, emails, and articles cluttering my mind. I sat at the computer, no coffee, and soon after got the Blue Screen of Death. Would that my mind could suffer that same crash, rebooting against the clutter, or at least finding sleep. But such design is not my or Microsoft’s strength. But at the least I can wish for purity of purpose.

Anthropology

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Wednesday Round Up #116

I took the dogs outside this morning, and the air turned liquid. Drops of rain fell in the trees, Tampa’s humidity condensed amid leaves and branches. The stars gleamed hazy through the trees, and the two dogs sniffed their way around the yard. A frog called beside the house. I walked down the driveway, looked at the other neighbors’ trash, and still I smiled.

I found this apropos photo, a Cuban tree frog photographed by James Snyder in southern Florida, and originally featured on National Geographic’s Daily Dozen. Find out what he had to say about the shot over at Neatorama.

This week I’ve done my favs, then an excellent selection on culture and cognition. After that some health, some anthropology, some cognition, some A. afarensis tool use. Cannabis and the Last Word, a poem this time, finish it off.

I had a lot of help from my new graduate assistant Ethel Saryee in putting this round up together. So thanks to her!

Top of the List

Brian Mossop, The Brains of Our Fathers: Does Parenting Rewire Dads?
Uh oh, my sons have reprogrammed me! Must be why I love playing video games with them… (Not sure my wife will buy that…) Very nice piece on neural plasticity, development, and father-son relationships over at Scientific American

Melody Dye, A Thinking Machine: On Metaphors of the Mind
Are we pre-programmed spreadsheets or search algorithms? Metaphors matter, because they can dictate our assumptions.

Paul Thagard, Why Cognitive Science Needs Philosophy and Vice Versa
Cognitive science and philosophy NEED each other. In this article (pdf), critiques of rationalist, analytic, and postmodern approaches while talking about how to do synthesis.

Awkward Family Photos – Hall of Fame
Oh, these made me laugh!

PZ Myers, Ray Kurzweil Does Not Understand the Brain
Pharyngula takes the computer guru to task for claiming he’ll be able to reverse engineer the brain in a decade. My favorite line:

To simplify it so a computer science guy can get it, Kurzweil has everything completely wrong. The genome is not the program; it’s the data. The program is the ontogeny of the organism, which is an emergent property of interactions between the regulatory components of the genome and the environment, which uses that data to build species-specific properties of the organism.

Vaughan Bell, A Gut Reaction to Moral Transgressions
Mind Hacks on how gut feelings and reactions can be the “unrecognised basis of moral judgements and social customs”

David Harvey, RSA Animate – Crises of Capitalism
An animated Marxist perspective! The graphical animation alone is worth it, but Harvey’s analysis is as illustrative as the drawings.

Psychology around the World

Ed Yong, Genes and Culture: OXTR Gene Influences Social Behaviour Differently in Americans and Koreans
Not Exactly Rocket Science on some intriguing research: “In both cases, the G carriers were more sensitive to the social conventions of their own cultures. But the differences between these conventions led to different behaviour.”

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Wednesday Round Up #115


I’m baaack… The last Wednesday round up was May 5th. I am now safely esconsed in Tampa, and getting started at the University of South Florida. Definitely excited about what’s to come, with a great anthropology department, an emphasis on integrated neuroscience research, and a lot of support for interdisciplinary work.

It’s also been a lot of fun for Greg and myself to get back in gear with Neuroanthropology.net. There’s even better stuff to come, believe me. But for now it’s time to get back to the Wednesday round ups.

I’ll probably play around with things a little bit over the coming weeks. I haven’t used photos that often before, but a little image always brightens the day. Today’s comes from Pedro Gaspa, it’s called Retorcida; here’s his Flickr site. I also might try some longer and more integrated descriptions. Yesterday’s post, Death Becomes Us, actually started as a short meditation on a collection of links, but then ballooned into something robust enough for a short post.

And if you have any ideas for how to make the Wednesday round up better, or even reads that you might want to suggest, just send them over to encultured . brain @ gmail . com – yeah, take out the spaces.

And now below – some favs, mind, misc, anthro, video games, and addiction. Doing some of my consistent interests this time round. Plus a new surprise at the end. Enjoy!

Top of the List

Paul Rozin, What Kind of Empirical Work Should We Publish, Fund and Reward?
The esteemed psychologist, who really has been one of the most interdisciplinary minds of the past couple decades about human behavior, publishes a critique (pdf) of the narrow, lab-based, experimental-focus of psychology. Descriptive work is needed! (And I’d add that ethnography is a fundamental way to begin that descriptive work.)
For commentary, see Mind Hacks and Culture & Cognition

Culture Evolves
Website for one of the Royal Society’s 350th Anniversary Summer Science Exposition, which focuses on a group of leading researchers on how culture evolves. That evolution comes in two varieties, first research that shows cultural traditions in animals and second cumulative progress and change in human culture. You can access lots of information on some of the main case studies, including chimpanzees, meerkats, and laboratory microsocieties.
Andrew Whiten, an esteemed scientist in this area, provides a nice video introduction to the whole Culture Evolves project

Stephen Colbert, Threat StandDown – Monkey Terrorism
Very humorous video over at Colbert Nation, debunking the monkeys trained by Taliban to be terrorists story promoted by, well, you can guess it…

Angela Stuesse, African Human Rights Defenders or Colonialists? Seeking Justice in Equatorial Guinea
Angela’s a new colleague of mine at USF. Here she writes about corruption and poverty – the president of Equatorial Guinea is giving 3 million dollars away for an international prize competition even as his country suffers greatly. Includes some striking photos.

Mind

Daphne Merkin, My Life in Therapy
In this NY Times Magazine essay, Merkin describes her encounters with therapy over 40 years of treatment, and reflects on what makes therapy tick and why she continues to go. This is a follow-up piece to her earlier essay, A Journey through Darkness, a haunting account of her life-long struggles with depression

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Wednesday Round Up #114

First off I want to thank my great student assistant Casey Dolezal for all her hard work supporting the Wednesday round-up since last September. She’s been a huge help!

And now onto the news. I’ll start with the good part. I am taking an associate professor position in anthropology at the University of South Florida starting in August. I’m really excited, as I’ll have a wonderful new set of colleagues, graduate students (finally!), and access to great people working in the medicine, public health, and neuroscience. Should be a big benefit for pushing forward with interdisciplinary work of all sorts!

The bad part, at least for you guys, is that I’ve decided to take a hiatus from doing the Wednesday round up until early September. Basically Casey has spoiled me! So now I want to have another student to help out, and that won’t happen for a few months. But it’s also because I have to move to Tampa over the summer, as well as push forward with our volume on neuroanthropology (yes, Greg and I are plugging away on that!) as well as my own book on addiction. That’s an extremely full plate! I’ll still be doing the occasional post, along with Greg and Paul and others, so no worries – there will still be plenty of good content flowing through here.

Top of the List

Palgrave Macmillan, BioSocieties, Special Issue: Drugs, Addiction and Society
An excellent special issue that is entirely free right now! Here is the opening overview “Drugs, Addiction and Society” (pdf) by Deanne Dunbar, Howard Kushner and Scott Vrecko.
Kushner kicks the issue off with “Toward a Cultural Biology of Addiction” and David Courtwright finishes with “The NIDA Brain Disease Paradigm: History, Resistance and Spinoffs.” In between there is neurobiology, history, development, public health, and more!

Vaughan Bell, The Politics of Social Engineering
Politics, social engineering and the use of mimes as a traffic calming measure in Bogotá!

Mara Altman, Rutgers Lab Studies Female Orgasm Through Brain Imaging
This newspaper reporter donates an orgasm for science! A very effective mix of personal experience, reporting, and science writing about neuroimaging and the state of the art in research on orgasms.

Christina Pikas, Review of an Article Using Bibliometric + Qual Methods to Study Sub-Discipline Collaboration Behavior
Pikas reflects on a piece where the authors coalesce network analysis of the co-authorship network with qualitative interviews with the scientists to look at intergroup collaboration, migrations, and exchange of services or samples.

NDtv, James McKenna: The Last Lecture Series
Featuring Professor James McKenna, Professor of Anthropology and the director of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Lab. As a world-renowned social scientist, a teacher of Irish tap dance, and one of Notre Dame’s most beloved teachers, Professor McKenna has impacted the lives of many. Here he shares his wisdom in an online video.

Power Trip

Ed Yong, Power Breeds Hypocrisy – Powerful People Judge Others More Harshly but Cheat More Themselves
Five experiments show that powerful people are more likely to behave immorally but paradoxically less likely to tolerate immorality in other people.

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Wednesday Round Up #113

This week I do a mini feature in the top of the list on behavioral health, then give some other favs, before giving a quite nice collection of video game links – and believe me, it’s about more than just video games. Then it’s anthropology and the mind. Enjoy!

Top of the List – Behavioral Health

All right, let me start off by saying that behavioral health matters. It really matters. Recent research is showing that “bad habits” add up to have a big impact. And the latest research doesn’t even include things like injury & violence, which are the greatest mortality threat for healthy teenagers and young adults, or depression, which has a large impact on behavioral health as well. Onto the links.

Harvard Press Release, Four Preventable Risk Factors Reduce Life Expectancy in U.S. and Lead to Health Disparities
Smoking, high blood pressure, elevated blood glucose and overweight and obesity currently reduce life expectancy in the U.S. by 4.9 years in men and 4.1 years in women.

For similar research, the Associated Press gets in on the fun with Bad Habits Can Age You by 12 Years, Study Suggests. Those habits are smoking, drinking too much, inactivity, and poor diet.

Over at Brain Blogger, Jennifer Gibson reports on Health Behaviors More Important than Socioeconomic Status, where longitudinal research shows that it’s actually health behaviors that have a greater impact on morbidity and mortality that overall socioeconomic status.

Other Top Pieces

Katie Moisse, Good Teachers Really Do Make a Difference
Science shows that teachers play a leading role in helping kids’ reading skills soar.

Ian Sample, Chimps’ Emotional Response to Death Caught on Film
Chimpanzees grieve too. Features a powerful video.

Tara Parker-Pope, Little-Known Disorder Can Take a Toll on Learning
Auditory processing disorder, and how hearing affects so many things related to learning

Charlie Rose, Charlie Rose Brain Series
The PBS series on the study of the human brain is now online, with great videos freely available. Top scientists and researchers are interviewed.

Vaughan Bell, Cultures of Foreplay
Cultural variation in common or acceptable sexual practices and it touches on how foreplay differs between societies.

Video Games

Associated Press, Justices Take Case on Video Game Law
Supreme Court will consider the issue of violence in video games and the scope of free speech when considering a California law that aimed to limit the sale of violent video games to minors. The video game site Kotaku also covers this in US Supreme Court to Review Game Ratings Law, where lots of readers weigh in with their opinions. And over at NPR’s The Diane Rehm show there was an excellent program today on Violent Video Games.

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