anthro in the news 8/1/16

Listen to the data: Police in the U.S. fatally shoot more blacks than whites

Source: Creative Commons, Lorie Shaull
Source: Creative Commons, Lorie Shaull

The Chronicle of Higher Education carried an article describing findings from a county-level quantitative analysis by Cody Ross, a doctoral candidate in anthropology at the University of California Davis. His research confirms that blacks, unarmed or armed, are more likely to be shot and killed by police than whites. In his paper, he examines the independent effect of a range of county-level indicators and finds several clear associations including between the higher the level of inequality within a county and more killings, and greater racial segregation and more killings. These findings contradict those of Harvard economist, Ronald Fryer, who used a different data set based on police reports and found that police officers are less likely to fire their weapons at blacks than at whites.

In the field: Preventing and dealing with danger

41Ftg6Ts0KL._SX269_BO1,204,203,200_Two social anthropology doctoral students at the University of Cambridge, Corinna Howland and Christina Woolner, published an op-ed in The Guardian about how universities must do more to prepare students to prevent and cope with danger during fieldwork. They write: “No risk assessment or training course can ever address all fieldwork complications. But increased attention to student preparedness and support, and a willingness to engage in difficult conversations, will promote safer, and ultimately better, research.” Their suggestions: talk openly about difficulties, encourage early visits, provide alternative mentoring support, develop contingency plans, and cultivate local networks. [Blogger’s note: Nancy Howell’s ground-breaking report, Surviving Fieldwork, published in 1990, would benefit from a re-study including  attention to recently discussed problems such as sexual harassment by supervisors and options, such as those mentioned in this op-ed, for prevention and coping].

A census reflects and constructs society

SBS (Australia) reported on the challenges of recording ethnic and other aspects of social diversity in the upcoming 2016 Australian census. It quotes social anthropologist Luis Angosto-Ferrandez of the University of Sydney: “Censuses are not only just a tool that captures reality but, to some extent as well, really creates reality. And that’s why they are so important.”

A lens too wide: Medicalization of “prediabetes”

Isabel Beshar, Ph.D. candidate in medical anthropology at the University of Oxford, co-authored an op-ed that appeared in The Chicago Tribune arguing that “prediabetes” is over-diagnosed in the United States:In medical anthropology, this phenomenon is known as ‘medicalization’ — the process by which normal bodily functions, characteristics or metrics become pathologized…It is normal — indeed, it is statistically likely — to have blood sugars that temporarily read in the prediabetes category.” Further, “Diabetes is a serious and life-altering disease…we are in desperate need of strategies to cope with it. But increasing the scope of the precondition is not necessarily the answer. We need to focus our attention and treat those who are suffering — not carelessly widen our lens.”

Documentary on the world’s largest fish market

Tuna at Tsukiji market. Source: Creative Commons
Tuna at Tsukiji market. Source: Creative Commons

Japan Today reported on a documentary about Tsukiji, the world’s largest fish market which is located in Tokyo. The film, Tsukiji Wonderland, goes behind the scenes at the market, recording the daily routine and seasonal patterns. In November, the market will move from its current location to Toyosu, about 2.3 kilometers to the southeast. The documentary, which will capture the last images of Tsukiji before its relocation, includes an appearance by cultural anthropologist Ted Bestor of Harvard University. While Bestor expects a number of things will change or be lost with the relocation, he believes core elements of Tsukiji culture, such as various kinds of kinship among professionals including a genealogical one and “senpai-kohai” (senior-junior) relationships, will remain: “It’s not a sentimental goodbye to Tsukiji. It’s looking at people and their working lives. Their working lives continue whether, as you say, they are in this box or another box.”

Take that anthro degree and…

…become a craftsperson/artist. Leslie Masson combines her interests in art, early cultures, and archeology in creating art using pop tabs, milkweed fibers, and mud. She is currently using milkweed fibers to develop a hand print design, “…what early humans around the world used to leave their mark on rocks and in caves.” She also serves on the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center board. The Center, located on 170 acres in southwestern Colorado, offers experiential education programs for students and adults. Masson has a B.A. in social and cultural anthropology from the University of California Berkeley.

…become an administrator. Mark Anthony Borg is administrative director at the St. Thomas Institute in Floriana, Malta. He has a B.A. in anthropology from the University of Malta.

…become president of a medical school. Daniel Wilson is the incoming president of New Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, California. He was previously vice president for health affairs and dean of the College of Medicine at the University of Florida Health Science Center in Jacksonville, Florida. Before that, he was chairman of psychiatry at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, where he expanded the full-time faculty from three to 30, raised clinical service and revenue six-fold, and grew the research portfolio from zero to $17 million. He has a B.A. in anthropology from Yale University, a medical degree from the University of Iowa College of Medicine, and a Ph.D. in biological anthropology from the University of Cambridge.

The parka advantage?

The Telegraph carried an article describing archaeological research indicating that a survival factor for modern humans, compared to contemporary Neanderthals, was stitched clothing. Among other evidence, 56 human sites contained wolverine remains, the fur of which is still used by Arctic peoples for ruffs on their parkas. No wolverine remains were found at Neanderthal sites “Wolverine fur…provides excellent protection from the wind, sheds hoarfrost particularly well and is extremely durable,” says lead author Mark Collard, professor of archaeology and Canada Research Chair in Human Evolutionary Studies at the Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada. Chris Stringer, research leader in human origins at the Natural History Museum in London is quoted as saying: “It’s not going to be the whole story about how humans replaced Neanderthals but their ability to keep warm could have certainly given them the edge. Keeping children warm particularly is likely to have led to many more surviving childhood which would have improved population size.”

Revisiting an evolutionary perspective on male menopause

The Australian Financial Review published a piece that discusses some of the evidence for, and evolutionary implications of, what is called andropause or male menopause. It mentions a study by Lucio Vinicius and Andrea Bamberg Migliano of the anthropology department at University College London, published in the journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution, in which they propose the concept of “reproductive market value” to explain different late-life outcomes for older men in traditional societies.


Biological anthropologist Linda Fedigan, professor emerita at the University of Calgary, has been appointed as a Member of the Order of Canada for her contributions to advancing the understanding of the behavior and society of several primate species and for her dedication as a mentor to the next generation of primatologists.

In memoriam

Jean Briggs, cultural anthropologist and Inuit language expert, died at the age of 87 years. She taught at Memorial University for 47 years before her retirement and was known as an ardent environmentalist. She is the author of a classic ethnography Never in Anger: Portrait of an Eskimo Family, based on research and fieldwork on a remote Arctic shore in the mid-1960s. Her second book, Inuit Morality Play, won two awards. In 2015, Briggs helped to complete a dictionary of Utkuhiksalingmiut Inuktitut, a major contribution to the preservation of the Utku language.

Elaine Combs-Schilling, cultural anthropologist and associate professor at Columbia University, died at the age of 67 years. Her research on the transformative power of rituals produced a book, Sacred Performances: Islam, Sexuality and Sacrifice, and several articles and chapters. Her latest interest was in the performative ability of opera to create and transform patterns of cultural understanding as seen in late eighteenth century operas composed in Vienna preceding the French revolution.

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