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  • March 28, 2011
  • 12:39 PM

Does Cooperation Really Make It Happen?

by Krystal D'Costa in Anthropology in Practice

Above: Jim Henson's Anything Muppets sing "Street Garden Cooperation."
What didn’t Sesame Street teach us? Working together (sometimes) makes things go easier—whether you're a part of a group of Muppets who want a community garden, or perhaps hunter-gatherers managing your existence. Humans are the only species to cooperate to the degree that we do, and this cooperation may have allowed for many other derived social traits related to group living to emerge, including generosity, sharing, teaching and learning, and shared intentionality. But how and why did cooperation emerge in the first place? A recent paper in Science by Hill, Walker, and colleagues investigates cooperation in the course of human social and cultural evolution by looking to contemporary hunter-gatherer groups for some of the answers.

Hunter-gatherer societies have long been present in human history. These groups are not static kin-based societies: ethnographic analysis by Hill et. al. show significant and varying shifts in residence patterns, with both male and female dispersal to other groups. The researchers present these findings to counter previously held assertions about the nature of group membership in hunter-gatherer societies:Traditionally, anthropologists have suggested that hunter-gatherer co-residence is almost entirely bases on kinship [e.g., (15, 16)], and evolutionary psychologists have embraces this idea in order to develop "mismatch hypotheses" about cooperation among non-kin in modern societies (17) (1). While John Hawks correctly notes that the definition of "traditionally" may be a bit specific in this case, the implications are interesting for social learning.
Alternative models of residence suggest that group benefits may favor non-kin associations. For example, several unaffiliated males between groups linked via the same female could experience decreased hostilities, open cross group visitation, and overall increased interaction between unrelated parties. Larger and more diverse group membership increases opportunities for introducing innovations and preserving these new ideas across generations:When people reside together, they have frequent opportunities to observe innovations, evaluate their success, and imitate traits judged most successful or common. Our analyses suggest that the increased network size that follows a unique shit in ancestral human residential structure may have left to greater exposure to novel ideas worth copying, and may explain why humans, but not other animals, evolved costly social learning mechanisms (such as high-fidelity over-imitation or conformity-biased transmission) that may have resolved in cumulative cultural evolution (21) (2).It seems that cooperation is the glue that binds societies together—or tears them apart if revolutions are properly understood. Cooperation then is not the byproduct of contact, but a necessary element to human sociality and relationships. However, we all know that cooperative efforts are far from perfect—too much depends on individual personalities and aspirations. Anyone who has attempted to get a work team to to a shared goal has surely experienced this first hand. That is not to say that there are not obviously differing priorities between corporate groups and hunter-gatherers, but the idea that individual personalities need to be managed should not be overlooked. While brief mention is made in the introductory remarks that "norm violators are punished," this paper would have been strengthened with a discussion on how non-cooperative group members are dealt with in these sorts of societies.
In their conclusions, the researchers also briefly touch upon a nagging point that lingered from the onset: the degree to which modern hunter-gatherer societies are related to ancestral groups is complex. We know that cultural contact changes these groups radically, and that for many, their traditions are fading fast or being transformed into theater for tourism groups. The authors acknowledge that:Without causal models of residential association that consider the impacts of technology, warfare, cooperative hunting, territorial inheritance, depletion, and demographic crashes, we should be cautious about the use of specific modern groups as analogs for past patterns (3).Still, they believe that the ethnographic account is robust enough to support their conclusions regarding the development of social structure in relation to cooperation. While we may never know the degree that cooperative tendencies have been impacted by modern contact—even if that contact is simply an awareness of an other—we do know that behaviors change over time as social dynamics shift. While it does seem that cooperation is necessary for group stability, it is unclear what factors decide which behaviors are adopted and which discarded. The correlation between group size and knowledge retention suggests a complex relationship that is not fully explained by cooperation—nonetheless, understanding how the dispersal of kin can impact group dynamics is certainly important in understanding how networks develop.

Cited:Hill, K., Walker, R., Bozicevic, M., Eder, J., Headland, T., Hewlett, B., Hurtado, A., Marlowe, F., Wiessner, P., & Wood, B. (2011). Co-Residence Patterns in Hunter-Gatherer Societies Show Unique Human Social Structure Science, 331 (6022), 1286-1289 DOI: 10.1126/science.1199071

HT: Thanks much to Philip Melton (@PEMelton) for sharing this paper and its supplements!
Notes:1. Hill, Walker, et. al. (2011): 1286.2. Hill: 12883. Hill: 1288
... Read more »

Hill, K., Walker, R., Bozicevic, M., Eder, J., Headland, T., Hewlett, B., Hurtado, A., Marlowe, F., Wiessner, P., & Wood, B. (2011) Co-Residence Patterns in Hunter-Gatherer Societies Show Unique Human Social Structure. Science, 331(6022), 1286-1289. DOI: 10.1126/science.1199071  

  • March 28, 2011
  • 06:40 AM

Domestication of African rice

by Jeremy in The Vaviblog

Is this thing still on? Excellent. A big meeting is scheduled for next week in St Petersburg, Russia, to consider new discoveries about some of the holdings at the Pavlovsk Experiment Station and, perhaps, the station’s future, so it seemed like a good idea to make sure that this site was up and running and [...]... Read more »

  • March 24, 2011
  • 03:21 PM

LabEvoEndo Journal Club: Laura Klein presents on food allergies

by Kate Clancy in Laboratory for Evolutionary Endocrinology

Undergraduate Laura Klein reviews an article on food allergies.... Read more »

Christie L, Hine RJ, Parker JG, & Burks W. (2002) Food allergies in children affect nutrient intake and growth. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 102(11), 1648-51. PMID: 12449289  

Fernandez-Rivas, M, & Miles, S. (2007) Chapter 1. Food allergies: Clinical and Psychosocial Perspectives. Plant Food Allergens. info:/

  • March 24, 2011
  • 03:01 PM

Around the web: put attention where it needs to be put

by Kate Clancy in Context & Variation

Yesterday I submitted a book chapter and a journal manuscript. I have two substantial blog posts I'm working on, but neither will be ready for this week. However, I have been slowly accumulating Posts of Awesome that I'd like to share. I want to highlight people, writing, and topics that need and deserve more attention in the science blogosphere. I mention a lot of these things on Twitter, but I know a lot of my followers don't use Twitter. So here goes.LadybusinessIf you have any interest in pregnancy, labor and birth, I do hope you're reading Science and Sensibility. S&S is a evidence-based blog written by practitioners and scientists, sponsored by Lamaze International. I really like their more technical, informative posts on labor and birth, and today's post on positioning during the second stage of labor is a winner. The writing is always accessible for layfolks, yet still provides great information for scientists and medical folk.Remember that Wax et al (2010) article showing homebirth had a mortality rate three times higher than a hospital birth (and the sensational Lancet editorial)? A lot of folks came down hard on the article when it first came out, myself included, but two more pieces came out yesterday that call into question the authors' conclusions. The first issue is that there were actual mathematical errors in the data (meaning, the data was probably entered into an excel sheet incorrectly), the second is that they fundamentally did the meta-analysis wrong. Wrong. As in, according to one statistician who had no stake in the story or topic, so wrong as to overlook all its other problems.A few more spicy tidbits: cosmetic breast surgery is on the rise, and one county in Florida has a 70% cesarean rate. Seventy. Percent. Due to some smart marketing and bad decisions, a treatment to prevent pre-term birth that used to be affordable is now more expensive than gold.Something a little more fun: older female elephants make better leaders. Here's a video to go with the paper.Finally, this is sort of ladybusiness, but as Dr. Isis points out, it should really be family (or even just human) business: Why it's alright to not be your mother, a guest post on AGORA.Queering biologyThe reverberations from Jesse Bering's post on homophobia as an adaptation continue. And the responses have been brilliant. I especially love Jeremy Yoder's take over at his blog, Denim and Tweed: An adaptive fairytale with no happy ending.And then today, DeLene Beeland shared this great post on Twitter: How to Queer Ecology: One Goose at a Time over at Orion Magazine. This is a beautifully-written, thoughtful takedown of the naturalistic fallacy.Other things to read right nowDanielle Lee has two great pieces worth reading (and I found them both because of Greg Laden): an article on the contribution of Henrietta Lacks, and the Black community, to cell culture, and a profile on Danielle in a natural hair series at read this article today by Gina Trapani on her work to make the technical world more friendly to women and other underrepresented or new folks.An interesting interview and review of the book Consumption, by Kevin Patterson: How western diets are making the world sick.A piece on Impostor Syndrome at SciAm (behind a paywall). I don't want to pathologize all underrepresented groups in science (because frankly, these feelings make sense in the context of environment, even if it's desirable to move beyond them), but issues around impostor syndrome resonate with me.The video for the MLK, Jr session from Science Online 2011 is now up. Alberto Roca, Danielle Lee and David Kroll are the fabulous panelists.Things I wish I didn't have to link toOur amusement with Charlie Sheen just demonstrates how little we care about violence against women -- especially certain kinds of women. Read The Disposable Woman.Skepchick Rebecca Watson shares some of her hate mail, and why she doesn't feel like internetting today: Why I deserved to be called an offensive bitch.Pat Campbell reposted a twelve-year-old manifesto on gender and education that still holds true: The Gender Wars Must Cease.Some LOLz and some cutes: a section I added because the last three links were so depressingThis first link doesn't exactly bring the LOLz, but is an enjoyable read: Female Science Professor continues her series on Academic Novels.Some great apes from Zooborns: a two new baby orangs, and baby chimp. They put my maternal instinct into overdrive.And a LOLcat via Scicurious: I'z in yer papers, messin' wit yer stats.ReferencesWax, J., Lucas, F., Lamont, M., Pinette, M., Cartin, A., & Blackstone, J. (2010). Maternal and newborn outcomes in planned home birth vs planned hospital births: a metaanalysis American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology DOI: 10.1016/j.ajog.2010.05.028... Read more »

Editorial staff. (2010) Home birth--proceed with caution. Lancet, 376(9738), 303. PMID: 20674705  

  • March 22, 2011
  • 12:52 PM

Musical Genes

by Lorna Powell in Elements Science

Lorna Powell tunes into new research that suggests our genes could influence our enjoyment of music.

Related posts:Lung cancer gene means risk for non-smokers too
Whose gene is it anyway?
Smoking can be good for you
... Read more »

  • March 20, 2011
  • 09:29 PM

Japanese Communication Style: Comparing the Disclosure of a Nuclear Crisis to Disclosure of Cancer Diagnosis/Prognosis

by Lyle Fettig, MD in Pallimed: a Hospice & Palliative Medicine Blog

A reporter for the New York Times recently made this statement (see video below):
"I think the Japanese tend to try to maintain a veneer of calm and not breech topics that might be alarming or insulting (emphasis added).  For example, until recently, it was the norm for families not to tell a family member who had cancer (about the cancer) just to save suffering on the part of the family member and we see some of that mentality at play in some of the communications we have seen from Japanese officials who have refused to confirm what turns out now to be a very serious situation at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.  They were very slow in acknowledging some of the dangers."

The earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear plant crisis in Japan have inflicted unspeakable loss and suffering onto the Japanese people.  It goes without saying that there are differences between a government communicating risk of nuclear disaster and a physician or family communicating cancer diagnosis/prognosis with a patient.   The comparison is interesting though, as commonalities exist including asymmetric information,  fear, uncertainty, and the specter of unpredictable complications.  
This comparison started me thinking about cultural differences in communication regarding prognosis and prompted a brief search for research regarding preferences for disclosure of diagnosis and prognosis in a Japanese population.  In reviewing palliative medicine journals regularly, there is a significant amount of HPM research from Japan, so it was no surprise that I found some work on this question.

For example, a survey published (Open Access PDF) in the Journal of Medical Ethics in 2005 asked members of the general population in Tokyo about their preference for information about diagnosis and prognosis in the event of a cancer diagnosis.  Almost all respondents wished for partial or full disclosure of both diagnosis and prognosis.  With respect to prognosis, about a third wished for full, immediate disclosure regarding the prospect for complete recovery and expected length of survival.  Most of the remainder of respondents wished for either gradual, full disclosure or partial disclosure.  The authors note that the results are similar to findings in American and British studies. 

One's preference for disclosure is not the only factor that goes into determining if the information is actually disclosed.  In my practice, I will sometimes encounter a family member who requests that prognostic information be withheld from the patient.  While it is paramount to identify and address the concerns which underlie this request, Americans generally understand the elevated and protected status of the principle of autonomy in our society.  Most people seem to understand the physician's desire to assess the patient's information needs in this context.  How does this work in a society where autonomy isn't quite as prominent?

This question is addressed in a separate paper from the same Japanese study in Tokyo. (Open Access PDF)   The methodology could have been a little cleaner (and described more clearly).  It appears that subjects who wished for full, immediate disclosure would be less likely to allow their physicians or family to go against that wish (i.e. withhold information about dx/px) than those who wanted less than full disclosure or no disclosure.  However, a significant minority of subjects who wished for disclosure thought it was appropriate for either family or the physician to be given authority to withhold diagnosis or prognosis.

So there is heterogeneity in terms of disclosure preferences as well as the desired role that family and physicians play in the decision to disclose.  Cultural differences aside, I think we see significant heterogeneity in the U.S., too- e.g. patients who want us to tell them their prognosis privately vs. those who tell us to talk down the hall with their loved ones because they don't want to hear it, etc.  I would be curious how many autonomy-obsessed people in the U.S. who want full disclosure immediately would give their loved ones and/or physicians discretion in disclosure. (Not aware of any research looking at this.) 

This brings us to the main barriers to disclosure in any setting:  fear of harming the patient and avoidance of difficult communication tasks.  Does greater emphasis on the collective in Japan make it easier for physicians and families to ignore the results of the above studies, citing the harm, indeed insult that may come through disclosure?  Recent American research (e.g. Coping with Cancer) suggests that end of life discussions may even be salutary for dying patients and their families from a psychological standpoint.  How might this apply in Japan or other cultures? At least one study seems to suggest that psychological morbidity appeared slightly lower in patients with malignant head and neck cancer who were "informed about their condition" vs. those that were not informed (unclear what exactly "being informed" entailed).

In the discussion section of this study, they mention that it is the norm for physicians to ask the patient's family about disclosure of cancer, even if the patient has early stage cancer.  This study was published in 1999, and it sounds like things might have changed some in the last decade based on the articles above as well as what the NYT reporter says.   

Bottom line: The key in any setting is undertaking a skilled process of determining how the information is to be handled, accounting for individual preferences as well as family processes which are both influenced by culture. For American providers caring for native Japanese patients, one might anticipate that a family would expect you to talk to them about how to handle information and may request that disclosure to the patient be withheld.  If approached by a family with this request, I think it's important once again to make sure you fully understand their concerns and explain that you will respect the family's wish if the patient tells you they want to defer to family.

As far as a nuclear disaster goes, if I'm ever in one (let's hope not) give me information that either calms my fears or information that is actionable.  (ABC World News did a great job of sending mixed messages on Friday, verbally telling the U.S. audience....appropriately.... that "we're ok" but displaying an ominous red background throughout the show as well as a map that showed a plume of minuscule but detectable radiation that had traversed the Pacific.)

All pictures from The Big Picture (see link for photo credits)
... Read more »

  • March 20, 2011
  • 02:52 PM

Depressed or Bereaved? (Part 2)

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

In Part 1, I discussed a paper by Jerome Wakefield examining the issue of where to draw the line between normal grief and clinical depression.The line moved in the American Psychiatric Association's DSM diagnostic system when the previous DSM-III edition was replaced by the current DSM-IV. Specifically, the "bereavement exclusion" was made narrower.The bereavement exclusion says that you shouldn't diagnose depression in someone whose "depressive" symptoms are a result of grief - unless they're particularly severe or prolonged when you should. DSM-IV lowered the bar for "severe" and "prolonged", thus making grief more likely to be classed as depression. Wakefield argued that the change made things worse.But DSM-V is on its way soon. The draft was put up online in 2010, and it turns out that depression is to have no bereavement exclusion at all. Grief can be diagnosed as depression in exactly the same way as depressive symptoms which come out of the blue.The draft itself offered just one sentence by way of justification for this. However, big cheese psychiatrist Kenneth S. Kendler recently posted a brief note defending the decision. Wakefield has just published a rather longer paper in response.Wakefield starts off with a bit of scholarly kung-fu. Kendler says that the precursors to the modern DSM, the 1972 Feighner and 1975 RDC criteria, didn't have a bereavement clause for depression either. But they did - albeit not in the criteria themselves, but in the accompanying how-to manuals; the criteria themselves weren't meant to be self-contained, unlike the DSM. Ouch! And so on.Kendler's sole substantive argument against the exclusion is that it is "not logically defensible" to exclude depression induced by bereavement, if we don't have a similar provision for depression following other severe loss or traumatic events, like becoming unemployed or being diagnosed with cancer.Wakefield responds that, yes, he has long made exactly that point, and that in his view we should take the context into account, rather than just looking at the symptoms, in grief and many other cases. However, as he points out, it is better to do this for one class of events (bereavement), than for none at all. He quotes Emerson's famous warning that "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds". It's better to be partly right, than consistently wrong.Personally, I'm sympathetic to Wakefield's argument that the bereavement exclusion should be extended to cover non-bereavement events, but I'm also concerned that this could lead to underdiagnosis if it relied too much on self-report.The problem is that depression usually feels like it's been caused by something that's happened, but this doesn't mean it was; one of the most insidious features of depression is that it makes things seem much worse than they actually are, so it seems like the depression is an appropriate reaction to real difficulties, when to anyone else, or to yourself looking back on it after recovery, it was completely out of proportion. So it's a tricky one.Anyway, back to bereavement; Kendler curiously ends up by agreeing that there ought to be a bereavement clause - in practice. He says that just because someone meets criteria for depression does not mean we have to treat them:...diagnosis in psychiatry as in the rest of medicine provides the possibility but by no means the requirement that treatment be initiated ... a good psychiatrist, on seeing an individual with major depression after bereavement, would start with a diagnostic evaluation.If the criteria for major depression are met, then he or she would then have the opportunity to assess whether a conservative watch and wait approach is indicated or whether, because of suicidal ideation, major role impairment or a substantial clinical worsening the benefits of treatment outweigh the limitations.The final sentence is lifted almost word for word from the current bereavement clause, so this seems to be an admission that the exclusion is, after all, valid, as part of the clinical decision-making process, rather than the diagnostic system.OK, but as Wakefield points out, why misdiagnose people if you can help it? It seems to be tempting fate. Kendler says that a "good psychiatrist" wouldn't treat normal, uncomplicated bereavement as depression. But what about the bad ones? Why on earth would you deliberately make your system such that good psychiatrists would ignore it?More importantly, scrapping the bereavement criterion would render the whole concept of Major Depression meaningless. Almost everyone suffers grief at some point in their lives. Already, 40% of people meet criteria for depression by age 32, and that's with a bereavement exclusion.Scrap it and, I don't know, 80% will meet criteria by that age - so the criteria will be useless as a guide to identifying the people who actually have depression as opposed to the ones who have just suffered grief. We're already not far off that point, but this would really take the biscuit.Wakefield JC (2011) Should Uncomplicated Bereavement-Related Depression Be Reclassified as a Disorder in the DSM-5? The Journal of nervous and mental disease, 199 (3), 203-8 PMID: 21346493... Read more »

  • March 18, 2011
  • 06:23 PM

Pair Bonding & Ritual Marriage

by Cris Campbell in Genealogy of Religion

Over the past few years, something like a perfect storm has been brewing over human pair bonding and the profound impacts it has wrought on human social structure. This is a welcome development in a field that has long been dominated by those who wish to root the relatively modern idea of marriage in ancient [...]... Read more »

  • March 17, 2011
  • 08:25 AM

From the Archives: Even Trinidadians Are a Little Irish

by Krystal D'Costa in Anthropology in Practice

Ed Note: I'm continuing to showcase some of my favorite AiP posts since I'm on the road this week—this one was one of the first Research Blogging Editor's Selections I was awarded.

Credit: Erik Fitzpatrick/Creative Commons

Happy St. Paddy's Day! This Irish national holiday celebrates Patrick who is—arguably—the most recognizable of Irish saints, known for championing Irish Christianity (and using a shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity). The observance has also been viewed as a one day break from the abstinence of the Lenten season. While it still has religious undertones, for a vast majority of people, St. Patrick's Day is a day for merry-making—jovial gatherings, and free-flowing alcohol are all characteristics of the day. Everyone is supposedly a little Irish on St. Patrick's Day and there is more truth to this saying than most recognize. It's not merely a loophole allowing for the uninhibited consumption of Guinness. The Irish have traveled to all corners of the world, and like other immigrant groups, wherever they have stayed they have left a mark.
With its distinct culture, people, and linguistic markers, the Caribbean might be the last place you would think to look for the Irish. But much in the same way the spirit of the Dutch is alive and well in New York City in street and place names, so too do the Irish have a presence in places such as Montserrat, Jamaica, St. Kitts, and elsewhere throughout the British Caribbean. For example, in Jamaica alone one will find:Irish Town and Dublin Castle in the cool hills of St. Andrew; Irish Pen and Sligoville in St. Catherine; Athenry and Bangor Ridge in Portland; Clonmel and Kildare in St. Mary; Belfast and Middleton in St. Thomas; Ulster Spring in Trelawny, and Hibernia in Christiana ... And then there were the obviously Irish surnames, despite the less than obvious features that went with them: the Burkes, the Collins, the Lynches, the Murphys, the Maddens, the Mullings, the Lanigans, and the Walshes. There were the McCarthys, McCormacks, McDermotts, McDonnoughs, McGanns, McLaughlins, and McMorris's.  How did the Irish come to be here, so far from their emerald island? The surnames above may not carry the prestige of an Astor or a Schermerhorn, but they tell of a history that is no less important. [Left: The flag of Montserrat reveals an Irish connection by featuring Erin, the personification of Ireland, as well as a harp, which is another Irish symbol.]
Following the Battle of Kinsdale, the Irish Clan system was largely abolished and the English had seized most of the land of Ulster. The 30,000-something prisoners of war were shipped off and sold as laborers to the colonies of the Caribbean and the United States. According to one source:The first Irish slaves were sold to a settlement on the Amazon River In South America in 1612. It would probably be more accurate to say that the first “recorded” sale of Irish slaves was in 1612, because the English, who were noted for their meticulous record keeping, simply did not keep track of things Irish, whether it be goods or people, unless such was being shipped to England. The Proclamation of 1625 would make this a common practice. Irish political prisoners would be routinely packed up and sold off as laborers:In 1629 a large group of Irish men and women were sent to Guiana, and by 1632, Irish were the main slaves sold to Antigua and Montserrat in the West Indies. By 1637 a census showed that 69% of the total population of Montserrat were Irish slaves, which records show was a cause of concern to the English planters.Apparently, the Irish were desirable "slave stock" because they could be obtained for free and sold for a profit, whereas traders would need to pay to have Africans "caught" which minimized the profit margin. And because they were "cheaper" in this sense, the Irish often suffered harsher punishments from their plantation masters. It is estimated that between 30,000 and 80,000 Irish were sold as laborers. The population in Ireland was drastically reduced: In 1652, Ireland's population was 616,000, down from 1,466,000 in 1641. Of course, this change was not solely due to to the slave trade—famine, wars, and disease certainly played a role.
Nonetheless, the Irish presence in the Caribbean had been firmly established:Most European settlers on the islands confined themselves to one or another island or group of islands, hence the modern-day expressions Hispanic Caribbean, French Caribbean, British Caribbean, and so on. The Irish, on the other hand, looked for and found new homes wherever opportunities or other circumstances took them. They resided on practically all of the islands of the Caribbean and circum-Caribbean zone, as demonstrated in the papers by Rodgers, Anderson, Power and Chinea, among others. Some of them were undoubtedly trans-colonial, multilingual, and highly adaptable to changing environments.The Caribbean is unique in this way. Its role in the colonial power struggle has brought together people from all different backgrounds, resulting in a cultural mixing not truly seen elsewhere. I can only confidently speak on behalf of Trinidadians where the resulting mix of Africans, Indians, Chinese, and others has created blended cultural artifacts in the forms of food, festivals, music, religion, and clothing. Intermarriage between groups has strengthened these blended artifacts giving them a particular authority in these areas. Trinidadians, being enthusiastic rum connoisseurs have taken to Guinness, that popular Irish brew, and created their own version of the Guinness Float (Guinness and ice cream). Trinis have been known to take their Guinness mixed with carnation milk—a drink I can remember having perhaps a bit early in my forays into drinking. [Right: A pint of Guinness.]
So on this St. Paddy's Day, I invite you to think about the ways we are all connected via histories and relationships that may not be so apparent at first glance. And go ahead and enjoy the holiday however you choose to mark it—after all, we are all a little Irish.
And if you're interested in reading more about the Irish diaspora, there's a great list of resources here that you can check out. I would also recommend—in the name o... Read more »

Rodgers, Nini. (2007) The Irish in the Caribbean 1641-1837: An Overview. Irish Migration Studies in Latin America, 5(3), 145-156. info:/

  • March 16, 2011
  • 02:03 PM

Sizing Up Kinship: Larger Groups Win

by Cris Campbell in Genealogy of Religion

There are a number of scholars who claim that “religion” evolved as an adaptation. What kind of adaptation? A group level adaptation. The story usually goes like this: at some unknown time during the middle or upper Paleolithic, certain groups of hominins developed proto-religious beliefs. These beliefs supposedly caused group members to dance, sing, and [...]... Read more »

Hill, K., Walker, R., Bozicevic, M., Eder, J., Headland, T., Hewlett, B., Hurtado, A., Marlowe, F., Wiessner, P., & Wood, B. (2011) Co-Residence Patterns in Hunter-Gatherer Societies Show Unique Human Social Structure. Science, 331(6022), 1286-1289. DOI: 10.1126/science.1199071  

  • March 16, 2011
  • 12:27 PM

On bad first drafts

by Kate Clancy in Context & Variation

From I Can Haz Cheezburger.My blogging mojo has been channeled almost entirely towards a book project I've undertaken with Julienne Rutherford of UIC and Katie Hinde of UCLA (though shortly to be of Harvard). The book is called Building Babies: Primate Development in Proximate and Ultimate Perspective and it will be published by Springer in 2012. Each co-editor has a chapter in there, and then we have a number of other rather fancy-pants contributors as well.The first drafts of the chapters were due yesterday. I did not submit my chapter (er, to myself). I'm running about a week late. I thought I would come clean with this, because there are a number of elements of the writing process that I think remain obscure for students and other junior scholars. And after I share a few thoughts about academic writing, I thought I would show you some of the draft I'm working on.First drafts suckThey really, really do. If you think your first draft is amazing, give it to someone else, and that someone else can't be a pet, spouse or parent. First drafts suck because we write the most obvious things in them, the most vague. First drafts don't have enough context. First drafts are where you use cliches because you haven't figured out how to say what you're saying in a sophisticated way. They are often under-cited. They are out of order. And, they aren't that compelling.This is why so much student writing is bad -- but it's not their fault. Close together deadlines, ones that align with other projects, and little teaching of time management means most students start writing projects just before they are due. So they essentially submit first drafts of papers, with a little copyediting if you're lucky. Plus, somehow a lot of students have picked up this idea that first drafts are better or more authentic than revisions. This is patently false. They are simply the place our favorite worst stuff goes to die (this is why revision is so often called killing our darlings, to use a term from scio11, though its origin is much older).But everyone has bad first drafts, so it is absolutely useless to feel bad about them. Give them to your advisor or your colleague if they have said they will read a first draft (otherwise, revise it after consulting with someone else first). They write bad first drafts too. You have to write a first draft in order to get to the revision, and to me, this was a liberating realization. Get it all out now! Don't worry about using the right word! Just get the words on the page, get about the right content in about the right order, and if something is repetitive, just leave it for now. Because after a little breather away from it, or a look from a trusted colleague or advisor, you will hack it up and remake it into something far better.Revising only sucks sometimesRevising sucks when you get your first comments back from a colleague, because it is terrifying to share that vulnerable, bad first draft with another person (ever had that moment after you print it out or hit send when you realize your prized metaphor was a trembling nod to your failed attempt as a fiction writer?). It sucks at those moments when you feel at cross-purposes with the thesis of your paper. And it's frustrating, also, that revising is the most important yet under-taught skill in academic writing.But here's the thing. Revising can be glorious. If you abandon any sense that you own your words, and remember only to own your mind, it allows you to be merciless in cutting out all the badness of that first draft: the cliches, the vague repetition, the jargon. If you return again and again to your outline, or abstract, or data, or whatever materials you keep to help you remember what the paper is about, you will start to see the right shape of the piece. And then you can also build in the context.The best moments of revision are when you remember why you were writing the piece in the first place. Do you want to produce a fundamental review that will be useful to other practitioners in your field? Do you have an amazing piece of data to share? A well-grounded hypothesis that you want to articulate? What was surprising or compelling about that work when you first set fingers to keyboard?One last thing I'll say about revising is that owning your mind is not the same as owning your ideas. You need to be willing to let go of being right, and you need to be willing to change if the evidence is against you. Accepting reality and working with it in an interesting way is the mark of a good scientist, and a good revision.My first drafts suckThe title of my chapter is: "Inflammatory factors that produce variation in ovarian and endometrial functioning" (eventually, I think, I will need to change the title to better reflect the manuscript). I thought this would be an easy piece for me, since I have been doing a lot of work on C-reactive protein, a biomarker for systemic inflammation, and I have been studying the endometrium and ovaries for many years.I was wrong. Oh, so wrong.A few quick searches pulled up an embarrassingly large number of citations for chemokines and cytokines, for toll-like receptors, natural killer cells, and other immunological terms I barely remembered from high school and college. So I re-drafted my outline, set aside a lot of time for reading (as in, several days straight), and then finally set to work.The problem with the literature on this topic is that it is wholly mechanistic. I can now tell you what interleukins are expressed in the periovulatory phase versus the implantation window, or which ones are suppressed or overexpressed for certain pathologies, but I can't tell you what that means in a broader sense, or what produces variation in any of these immunological factors in a systemic way that might impact local inflammation in the female reproductive system.Here is my section on normal endometrial functioning (alas, given the literature, the section on pathology in the endometrium is far, far longer). First draft ahead! Remember, I am sharing this embarrassingly bad prose for the good of SCIENCE.The endometrium is composed of the functionalis and basalis layers; the functionalis comprises two thirds of the endometrium and is the part that proliferates and sheds each reproductive cycle. The basalis is adjacent to the myometrium, and is the place from which the endometrium regenerates after menses. The proliferative (also known as follicular) phase is when estradiol promotes proliferation of endometrial tissue, where the secretory (also known as luteal) phase is characterized by progesterone control of decidualization and menstruation. The endometrium typically proliferates with narrow, straight glands and a thin surface epithelium, and angiongenesis continues as ovulation nears (King and Critchley 2010). After ovulation and during the secretory phase, the endometrium differentiates: endometrial glands become increasingly secretory, and by the late secretory phase spiral arterioles form. If implantation does not occur, the corpus luteum degrades, progesterone declines, and this triggers a cascade of events to produce menstruation.Menstruation is a key inflammatory process of the endometrium. Menstruation is when the functionalis are shed at the end of the human reproductive cycle. The basalis regenerates over the course of the next cycle. The demise of the corpus luteum and the associated withdrawal of progesterone precipitate inflammatory mediators that cause tissue degradation. For instance, progesterone inhibits nuclear factor κ B (NF-κB), which increases the expression of inflammatory cytokines like IL-1 and IL-6 (Maybin et al. 2011). The withdrawal of progesterone is also associated with an increase in endometrial leukocytes and IL-8, which regulate the repair process (Maybin et al. 2011). At this time other inflammatory factors promote MMP production to break down endometrial tissue (Maybin et al. 2011). Further, it is thought that progesterone withdrawal, not an increase in estradiol concentrations, leads to the repair of the endometrium so that it can resume activity for the next cycle (Maybin et al. 2011). Thus, variation in progesterone concentrations may lead to variation in inflammatory activity, degradation, repair and cycling in the endometrium.First question: why should I care about any of the above? So what if any of this happens? Then, you might not know this, but I do: the only two citations in these two paragraphs are both review papers, and one of the authors overlap between them. Therefore, it's quite under-cited. To be fair, in this section it is less important that I demonstrate the depth of the literature, but a review that only cites two other reviews isn't doing its job.... Read more »

Maybin JA, Critchley HO, & Jabbour HN. (2011) Inflammatory pathways in endometrial disorders. Molecular and cellular endocrinology, 335(1), 42-51. PMID: 20723578  

  • March 16, 2011
  • 08:26 AM

Living Dinosaurs: The Evolutionary History of Modern Birds

by A. Goldstein in WiSci

In the 1860s, Thomas Huxley discovered fossils that led him to propose that modern birds evolved from ancient dinosaurs. Yet in the centuries following his discovery, the origins of modern birds remains greatly debated. In their new book Living Dinosaurs: The Evolutionary History of Modern Birds, researchers Gareth Dyke and Gary Kaiser set out to [...]... Read more »

OSTROM, J. (1976) Archaeopteryx and the origin of birds. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 8(2), 91-182. DOI: 10.1111/j.1095-8312.1976.tb00244.x  

  • March 14, 2011
  • 04:06 PM

Mural Magic of Mushrooms

by Cris Campbell in Genealogy of Religion

Cognitive archaeologist David Lewis-Williams has long argued that the spectacular Paleolithic paintings in European caves such Lascaux, Chauvet, and Altamira were created by early shamans who were experiencing altered states of consciousness (“ASC”). Because Paleolithic rock art around the world displays the same or similar types of symbols, which Lewis-Williams calls “entoptics,” he contends that [...]... Read more »

  • March 12, 2011
  • 08:45 AM

The evolution of female intentionality

by Vahid Motlagh in Ideas for a deeper sense of life

One of the critical aspects regarding the “evolution itself evolving” is the emergence of the female expressed and not simply silent intentionality.In my recent article about the alternative futures of Asia in the year 2060 I highlighted the rise and contribution of female consciousness as a mega trend which will continue to reshape our world in the coming decades. Even a critical question that is raised today after the domino revolutions across the Middle East and North Africa is that if and how we will see a more female active participation in these backward societies.To make better sense of the future enhanced female consciousness one need to take into account the explosive knowledge about the human brain and the intriguing differences between males and females which in turn may provide some new insights about the possible future courses of artificial evolution.Scientific American, for instance, reports that among female mammals, specifically rats, stress tends to bust the learning curve while a mild level of stress could indeed boost the learning curve of male rats. This may explain, in part, why our world male dominant innovation system is much more productive during and after major conflicts and wars. Presuming a more peaceful and less stressful world one can expect more female-like learning in the future and thus more expressed female intentionality.Jerome Glenn and his colleagues in their State of the Future reports continuously measure and monitor the exterior indicators such as the rising trend showing more women participation across the world in terms of their percentage share in governments and parliaments. I might add that one of the emerging powers in the BRIC countries, that is Brazil, is now led by a woman, Dilma Vana Rousseff , and her intentions which are hard to uncover and measure.But there are some more meaningful aspects of a female intentionality which are too hard to measure and monitor, that is their mental models, the interior world, or according to Richard Slaughter’s favorite integral terminology, the upper left (individual) and lower left (collective) quadrants.Another line of interest is the relationship between emotion processing and the human perception and cognition. It has been evident through the cognitive science findings that a specific brain area called the amygdala is essential to our perception, memory and learning. Greater activity in the amygdala implies increased “likelihood that event of affective importance reach awareness” (Adam K. Anderson and Elizabeth A. Phelps, 2001). They suggest that the amygdala can do some significant modulation of the attentional blink through influencing neuronal plasticity. This means that a robust and healthy amygdala, after identifying a single target stimulus, has less transient impairment in awareness for a subsequently presented second target.Moreover, anatomical comparative studies of amygdala between men and women demonstrate that women have larger orbital frontal coritices than men, resulting in highly significant difference in the ratio of orbital gray to amygdale volume (Gur RC, Gunning-Dixon F, Bilker WB, Gur RE., 2002). This increased orbital volume relative to amygdale volume in women compared with men supports the hypothesis that women have greater tissue volume available for modulating amygdala input.Apart from the neuroscience findings, genetics offer yet another interesting perspective. Contrary to the common beliefs about men being more perfect relative to men, genetically speaking men are imperfect because Y chromosome is (or at least seems to be) a shorter and damaged version of the X chromosome during the course of natural evolution. Russ Hodge in his 2010 book, Human Genetics, points out the fact that women have two copies of X helps their "immune system" to become "more robust" relative to men. On the Y chromosome of men, at this point of natural evolution, there are 16 genes of the same genes on the X chromosome, which do still hold and are present. On Kangaroo males only one gene has been left that is Y chromosome is becoming too short that one might wonder that if the next distant generation will have any at all! Grasshopper males have already lost the Y chromosome and they are recognized as males by having only one copy of the X chromosome. Among the geneticists and from a natural evolutionary point of view it is plausible that in distant future human males may lose the Y chromosome completely, a scenario that will have for sure some psychosomatic consequences for future males. X-inactivation is a relatively known phenomenon, a process by which one of the two copies of the X chromosome in female mammals in inactivated. But the implications of the Y chromosome disappearing is yet to be known.On the other hand, scientists have found that natural selection is acting now to cause slow, gradual evolutionary change in specific traits with medical significance. The descendants of the women in the Framingham Heart Study, a project of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and Boston University that began in 1948, “are predicted to be on average slightly shorter and stouter, to have lower total cholesterol levels and systolic blood pressure, to have their first child earlier, and to reach menopause later than they would in the absence of evolution.” (Byars, Sean G. , Ewbank, Douglas, Govindaraju, Diddahally R., Stearns, Stephen C. , 2009). The authors also conclude that “age at first birth and age at menopause appear to be changing so as to lengthen the reproductive period. And fertility is the driving force behind evolution in modern populations.”James Dewar (2011), a scenario planner from RAND and the author of Assumption –Based Planning said, in a personal correspondence to me, that “it's fun to create and read assumption-busting scenarios. The one that interests me at this point is a largely female world. Males are really rather redundant in reproduction. Physical strength is much less important than it used to be. Choosing the sex of children will obviously become quite easy in the foreseeable future. I can imagine a world in which men are increasingly in the minority of the population.”Currently "SRY protein or gene" is used to determine for sure if an individual is male or female. This protein is normally located on the Y chromosome. However, there are rare disorders too, notably, shemales who have female bodies with male genitals, sometimes because the SRY protein jumps to the X chromosome. Of course, such humans are not “recognized” at all, at least when you see and have to fill out the usual forms in paper or electronic copies. There are only two options to check: male or female. No one can be sure that if the scenario of shemales becoming more recognized by others will be plausible or not in distant future, in particular when considering the fact that reproductive technologies may realizethe artificial evolution sooner than currently expected, mobilizing future people to play with multiple genders too. Until some decades ago sexuality was viewed as merely being hetro but now thanks to the scientific investigations, at least scholars do recognize asexual, hetrosexual, homosexual, and bisexual classes or categories. Maybe in the future the current dichotomy of female vs. male (which already ignores the genetic trichotomy) will be challenged fundamentally as humans start to play with genes more often.Although it might seem that we know a great deal about genes, unfortunately it is not the case. Only a small percentage of the human genome (less than 2 percent) encodes proteins, and most mutations do not affect these encoding DNA or genes. The total human sequence consists of approximately 3.2 billion base pairs. Until very recently the non-encoding part of the genome was called junk DNA. But the new findings suggest that some of this junk are there for some special purposes. These parts which are called epigenes have a role in expressing genes which means they influence and set the observable characteristic or phenotype of the organism. The epigenetic... Read more »

Motlagh VV. (2010) Asia's Exotic Futures in the Far beyond the Present. Journal of Futures Studies, 15(2), 1-16. info:/

Gur RC, Gunning-Dixon F, Bilker WB, & Gur RE. (2002) Sex differences in temporo-limbic and frontal brain volumes of healthy adults. Cerebral cortex (New York, N.Y. : 1991), 12(9), 998-1003. PMID: 12183399  

Acevedo BP, Aron A, Fisher HE, & Brown LL. (2011) Neural correlates of long-term intense romantic love. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience. PMID: 21208991  

  • March 11, 2011
  • 06:23 PM

The Magic of Contagion

by Cris Campbell in Genealogy of Religion

What makes people pay large sums of money for apparently mundane objects such as JFK’s golf clubs ($772,500 at auction) and rocking chair ($453,500)? Although a portion of the price is related to investment value, this cannot account for the exorbitant amounts paid for these items. Something else is at work. According to a study [...]... Read more »

Newman, George, Diesendruck, Gil, and Bloom, Paul. (2011) Celebrity Contagion and the Value of Objects. Journal of Consumer Research. info:/10.1086/658999

Curtis V, & Biran A. (2001) Dirt, Disgust, and Disease: Is Hygiene in Our Genes?. Perspectives in biology and medicine, 44(1), 17-31. PMID: 11253302  

  • March 11, 2011
  • 03:56 PM

Penis Spines, Pearly Papules, and Pope Benedict's Balls

by Eric Michael Johnson in The Primate Diaries

The latest stop in the #PDEx tour is being hosted by A Primate of Modern Aspect:A new study in the journal Nature has generated a great deal of titillation this week as Cory McLean and colleagues have revealed a sequence of DNA that promotes these penis spines, a sequence that humans appear to have lost. The genetic mechanism involved has already been explained extremely well by Ed Yong and John Hawks. However, the interpretation of what the loss of this DNA reveals about human evolution is perhaps the most provocative claim and has resulted in a flurry of media attention. "Simplified penile morphology tends to be associated with monogamous reproductive strategies in primates," write the authors. According to their study, the loss of these spines would have resulted in a reduction in sexual sensation (because the spines are thought to be connected to nerve endings) and would therefore have allowed our ancestors to engage in more prolonged sexual activity that the authors associate with pairbonding and the evolution of social monogamy (citing Owen Lovejoy's Ardipithecus ramidus paper from 2009 as a model).As Nature News wrote in their summary of these results:It has long been believed that humans evolved smooth penises as a result of adopting a more monogamous reproductive strategy than their early human ancestors. Those ancestors may have used penile spines to remove the sperm of competitors when they mated with females. However, exactly how this change came about is not known.Read the rest of the post here and stay tuned for the next entry in the Primate Diaries in Exile tour.McLean, C., Reno, P., Pollen, A., Bassan, A., Capellini, T., Guenther, C., Indjeian, V., Lim, X., Menke, D., Schaar, B., Wenger, A., Bejerano, G., & Kingsley, D. (2011). Human-specific loss of regulatory DNA and the evolution of human-specific traits Nature, 471 (7337), 216-219 DOI: 10.1038/nature09774... Read more »

McLean, C., Reno, P., Pollen, A., Bassan, A., Capellini, T., Guenther, C., Indjeian, V., Lim, X., Menke, D., Schaar, B.... (2011) Human-specific loss of regulatory DNA and the evolution of human-specific traits. Nature, 471(7337), 216-219. DOI: 10.1038/nature09774  

  • March 11, 2011
  • 03:56 PM

Penis Spines, Pearly Papules, and Pope Benedict's Balls

by Eric Michael Johnson in The Primate Diaries in Exile

The latest stop in the #PDEx tour is being hosted by A Primate of Modern Aspect:A new study in the journal Nature has generated a great deal of titillation this week as Cory McLean and colleagues have revealed a sequence of DNA that promotes these penis spines, a sequence that humans appear to have lost. The genetic mechanism involved has already been explained extremely well by Ed Yong and John Hawks. However, the interpretation of what the loss of this DNA reveals about human evolution is perhaps the most provocative claim and has resulted in a flurry of media attention. "Simplified penile morphology tends to be associated with monogamous reproductive strategies in primates," write the authors. According to their study, the loss of these spines would have resulted in a reduction in sexual sensation (because the spines are thought to be connected to nerve endings) and would therefore have allowed our ancestors to engage in more prolonged sexual activity that the authors associate with pairbonding and the evolution of social monogamy (citing Owen Lovejoy's Ardipithecus ramidus paper from 2009 as a model).As Nature News wrote in their summary of these results:It has long been believed that humans evolved smooth penises as a result of adopting a more monogamous reproductive strategy than their early human ancestors. Those ancestors may have used penile spines to remove the sperm of competitors when they mated with females. However, exactly how this change came about is not known.Read the rest of the post here and stay tuned for the next entry in the Primate Diaries in Exile tour.McLean, C., Reno, P., Pollen, A., Bassan, A., Capellini, T., Guenther, C., Indjeian, V., Lim, X., Menke, D., Schaar, B., Wenger, A., Bejerano, G., & Kingsley, D. (2011). Human-specific loss of regulatory DNA and the evolution of human-specific traits Nature, 471 (7337), 216-219 DOI: 10.1038/nature09774... Read more »

McLean, C., Reno, P., Pollen, A., Bassan, A., Capellini, T., Guenther, C., Indjeian, V., Lim, X., Menke, D., Schaar, B.... (2011) Human-specific loss of regulatory DNA and the evolution of human-specific traits. Nature, 471(7337), 216-219. DOI: 10.1038/nature09774  

  • March 11, 2011
  • 02:59 PM

Penis Spines, Pearly Papules, and Pope Benedict’s Balls

by zinjanthropus in A Primate of Modern Aspect

The following guest post by Eric Michael Johnson is part of the Primate Diaries in Exile blog tour. You can follow other stops on this tour through his RSS feed or by following him on Twitter. If this is your first time visiting A Primate of Modern Aspect make sure to browse some of the [...]... Read more »

McLean, C., Reno, P., Pollen, A., Bassan, A., Capellini, T., Guenther, C., Indjeian, V., Lim, X., Menke, D., Schaar, B.... (2011) Human-specific loss of regulatory DNA and the evolution of human-specific traits. Nature, 471(7337), 216-219. DOI: 10.1038/nature09774  

  • March 10, 2011
  • 02:20 PM

Depressed Or Bereaved? (Part 1)

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

My cat died on Tuesday. She may have been a manipulative psychopath, but she was a likeable one. She was 18.On that note, here's a paper about bereavement.It's been recognized since forever that clinical depression is similar, in many ways, to the experience of grief. Freud wrote about it in 1917, and it was an ancient idea even then. So psychiatrists have long thought that symptoms, which would indicate depression in someone who wasn't bereaved, can be quite normal and healthy as a response to the loss of a loved one. You can't go around diagnosing depression purely on the basis of the symptoms, out of context.On the other hand, sometimes grief does become pathological - it triggers depression. So equally, you can't just decide to never diagnose depression in the bereaved. How do you tell the difference between "normal" and "complicated" grief, though? This is where opinions differ.Jerome Wakefield (of Loss of Sadness fame) and colleagues compared two methods. They looked at the NCS survey of the American population, and took everyone who'd suffered a possible depressive episode following bereavement. There were 156 of these.They then divided these cases into "complicated" grief (depression) vs "uncomplicated" grief, first using the older DSM-III-R criteria, and then with the current DSM-IV ones. Both have a bereavement exclusion for the depression criteria - don't diagnose depression if it's bereavement - but they also have criteria for complicated grief which is depression, exclusions to the exclusion.The systems differ in two major ways: the older criteria were ambiguous but at the time, they were generally interpreted to mean that you needed to have two features out of a possible five; prolonged duration was one of the list and anything over 12 months was considered "prolonged". In DSM-IV, however, you only need one criterion, and anything over 2 months is prolonged.What happened? DSM-IV classified many more cases as complicated than the older criteria - 80% vs 45%. That's no surprise there because the criteria are obviously a lot broader. But which was better? In order to evaluate them, they compared the "complicated" vs "normal" episodes on six hallmarks of clinical depression - melancholic features, seeking medical treatment, etc.They found that "complicated" cases were more severe under both criteria but the difference was much more clear cut using DSM-III-R.Wakefield et al are not saying that the DSM-III-R criteria were perfect. However, it was better at identifying the severe cases than the DSM-IV, which is worrying because DSM-IV was meant to be an improvement on the old system.Hang on though. DSM-V is coming soon. Are they planning to put things back to how they were, or invent an even better system? No. They're planning to, er, get rid of the bereavement criteria altogether and treat bereavement just like non-bereavement. Seriously. In other words they are planning to diagnose depression purely on the basis of the symptoms, out of context.Which is so crazy that Wakefield has written another paper all about it (he's been busy recently), which I'm going to cover in an upcoming post. So stay tuned.Wakefield JC, Schmitz MF, & Baer JC (2011). Did narrowing the major depression bereavement exclusion from DSM-III-R to DSM-IV increase validity? The Journal of nervous and mental disease, 199 (2), 66-73 PMID: 21278534... Read more »

  • March 10, 2011
  • 07:00 AM

Building Policies for Stewardship

by Bluegrass Blue Crab in Southern Fried Science

A dream? We as humans and especially here at SFS like to picture an ideal government and hope that as we learn more about science and political theory, government can take steps in that direction. By any measure, governance within the United States is far from meeting the theoretical ideal. Implementation and [...]... Read more »

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