Anthro in the news 9/8/14

  • Ebola can be stopped according to double docs

The dynamic duo of medical anthropologist/physicians, Jim Young Kim and Paul Farmer, published an op-ed in The Washington Post arguing that Ebola can be stopped if an effective response system is put in place:

“Ebola is spread by direct physical contact with infected bodily fluids, making it less transmissible than an airborne disease such as tuberculosis. A functioning health system can stop Ebola transmission and, we believe, save the lives of a majority of those who are afflicted…To halt this epidemic, we need an emergency response that is equal to the challenge. We need international organizations and wealthy countries that possess the required resources and knowledge to step forward and partner with West African governments to mount a serious, coordinated response as laid out in the World Health Organization’s Ebola response roadmap.”

Jim Yong Kim is president of the World Bank. Paul Farmer is the Kolokotrones University Professor at Harvard University. Farmer and Kim co-founded the nonprofit organization Partners in Health.

  • Indictment of Discovery News

An article in The Guardian provides a damning indictment of Discovery Channel’s unethical interactions with indigenous people and unprofessional reporting. The article refers to a film series about the Matsigenkas in Peru. Discovery is accused of “staging” scenes and story-lines and providing grossly inaccurate translations.  The article draws extensively on commentary from cultural anthropologist Glenn Shepard. He was in Yomibato when the crew arrived and is one of the world’s leading experts on the Matsigenka.

  • Beyond the category of “women and children” in humanitarian aid

Morwari Zafar, Ph.D. candidate in social anthropology at the University of Oxford, published an article in Foreign Policy, arguing for the need to look within the general category of “women and children” when providing humanitarian aid. While she refers specifically to aid in Afghanistan, the message has wider relevance to those hoping to provide effective aid.

  • Human senses are not hard-wired

In an op-ed in The New York Times, cultural anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann reviews new evidence from a cross-cultural study supporting a cultural constructionist view of sensory perception:

“Recently, a team of anthropologists and psychologists at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics and Radboud University, both in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, set out to discover how language and culture affected sensory awareness. Under the leadership of Asifa Majid and Stephen C. Levinson, they made up a kit of systematic stimuli for the traditional five senses: for sight, color chips and geometric forms; for hearing, pitch, amplitude and rhythm variations; for smell, a set of scratch-and-sniff cards; and so forth. They took these kits to over 20 cultural groups around the world.”

Their results provide strong support for cultural shaping of the senses.

  • Mental health care systems in U.S. is failing

Applied medical anthropologist Jennie M. Simpson published an article in The Huffington Post, arguing that the U.S. mental health/behavioral care system needs serious improvement:

“Robin Williams’s death has saddened and shocked many of us, and as the many displays of mourning through social media indicate, Williams’s death has deeply touched so many and brought to the fore much needed conversations about mental illness. Through his diverse work and career, we came to care deeply for Robin Williams, and so it is with such sadness that we reflect on the loss of his life. As an anthropologist whose work has focused on the intersections of mental health and criminal justice amongst homeless individuals, I find this may be an opportune time to examine how we as a country might generate broader social support for the prevention and treatment of mental illness and addiction for all Americans, as right now, our behavioral health care system is failing to reach far too many people.”

  • Recognizing Ishi: His story will never be a happy one but at least it should be told

The San Francisco is carrying a series of historical articles about the city including one on Ishi, the last member of his tribe who was found wandering in the forest and brought to San Francisco where he lived the rest of his life as a kind of living “museum specimen,” giving demonstrations of making tools and teaching anthropologists about his language and culture.

  • I’ll have what she’s having

Alex Bentley, head of anthropology and archaeology at Bristol University, wrote an article in The Guardian about following behavior, or herd behavior, in social media.  The question is:  does a large follower base attract exponential growth in authentic followers? And does it do so even if the followers have been “bought”? Social media marketers vilify the practice of buying ‘fake’ social media followers from dubious “click farms” as not just poor practice but pointless.

Shakira’s Facebook page has a 100 million likes, and the number is growing steadily.

Bentley writes:

“That popularity begets further popularity has long been understood by anthropologists; for generations we have observed how humans follow expert or high-status individuals in small groups and how those in larger groups use popularity in the same way…However, we do not need to invoke any deep psychological reason to explain this phenomenon: it’s simply that the more copies of a thing there are (be that a hyperlink, a photo, a gesture or a buzzword), the more likely others may come into contact with it and so have the opportunity to follow or copy it.”

He mentions the work of evolutionary anthropologist Robin Dunbar who has demonstrated that humans have social brains capable of handling about 150 friends and family – and no more. He claims this is the number of people you can have a relationship with that involves trust and obligation.

In the end, “for the social media marketer, it is true that social following can be a numbers game, but equally, there can be too much of a good thing; decline always follows a peak.”

  • Take that anthro degree…

…and become a television and radio journalist. Zeinab Badawi has a distinguished career in the British news media and is currently the presenter of World News Today broadcast on both BBC Four and BBC World News, and Reporters (BBC News programme), a weekly showcase of reports from the BBC. Badawi was born in Sudan but has lived in Britain since the age of two. She read Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) at St Hilda’s College, Oxford University.  She then earned an MA at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London in Politics and Anthropology of the Middle East.

…and become a marijuana researcher and dean of a nursing school. Melanie Dreher holds several degrees: PhD, RN, and FAAN, among which is a degree in anthropology. She is John L. and Helen Kellogg Dean at the Rush University College of Nursing in Chicago. She has researched marijuana for the last three decades. She will give the keynote address at a drug policy symposium to be held at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst on September 22. The University of Massachusetts Libraries is holding the symposium to launch its new archive on drug policy that will feature the records of the oldest and largest marijuana legislation organization in the country. The records of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana (known as NORML), and those of scholars, will be the bulk of the archive.

…and become a comedian [Blogger’s note: this entry is on hold. Discussion is circulating that the comedian Joan Rivers had a degree in anthropology. In spite wiki stating that she graduated from Barnard College in 1954 with a degree in English literature and anthropology, it seems that this is not confirmed].

  • DNA and the Dorset people

Several media including NBC News covered new findings from DNA analysis about the prehistoric Dorset people of the North American Arctic region. The analysis provides insights into their place in the waves of migration into the North America. NBC News quoted William Fitzhugh, an anthropologist at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History: “One might almost say, kind of jokingly and very informally, that the Dorsets were the ‘hobbits’ of the Eastern Arctic, a very strange and very conservative people that we’re only just getting to know a little bit.” He is one of the authors of the research appearing in the journal Science.

Why they disappeared so suddenly remains unexplained: “The real mystery is therefore why the Dorset disappeared so completely,” University of Waterloo anthropologist Robert Park said in a Science commentary. In other words, DNA analysis can only do so much.

  • Lost and found: Two Maya cities in Yucatan, Mexico

After a two-month expedition, archaeologist Ivan Sprajc of the Slovenian Academy emerged from the jungle with evidence of the re-discovery of Lagunita and another previously unknown city he named Tamchen, Sprajc (Lagunita’s remains had been found much earlier but not clearly documented). “The information about Lagunita were vague and totally useless,” he told Discovery News. “In the jungle you can be as little as 600 feet from a large site and do not even suspect it might be there. Small mounds are all over the place, but they give you no idea about where an urban center might be.”

  • Neanderthal rock art

BBC reported on the discovery of a Neanderthal carving in a rock cave in Gibraltar. Experts agree it was intentional, but not all say that it is “art” — as always, there is disagreement about that question. The BBC article has excellent photos of the site and the carving.

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