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  • March 16, 2011
  • 02:03 PM
  • 1,156 views

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
  • 1,022 views

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
  • 847 views

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
  • 1,273 views

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
  • 1,164 views

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
  • 1,547 views

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
  • 1,320 views

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
  • 1,179 views

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
  • 1,617 views

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
  • 1,095 views

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
  • 2,104 views

Building Policies for Stewardship

by Bluegrass Blue Crab in Southern Fried Science

A dream? tomschlueter.blogspot.com 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 »

  • March 9, 2011
  • 08:49 PM
  • 1,463 views

Drugs Misinformation Campaigns, The Untold Story

by Neurobonkers in Neurobonkers

Why the drinks industry has spent millions spreading misinformation about drugs and how it continues to put lives in danger.... Read more »

Halpern JH, Sherwood AR, Hudson JI, Gruber S, Kozin D, & Pope HG Jr. (2011) Residual neurocognitive features of long-term ecstasy users with minimal exposure to other drugs. Addiction (Abingdon, England), 106(4), 777-86. PMID: 21205042  

  • March 9, 2011
  • 02:30 PM
  • 1,272 views

Out of Body Experiences & Soul Beliefs

by Cris Campbell in Genealogy of Religion

Anyone who has watched an episode of “I Survived: Beyond and Back” on the Biography Channel knows that accounts of near death experiences mesmerize the public. They also drive ratings. The typical “I Survived” vignette features someone whose heart has stopped beating and is considered “clinically dead.”
Because everyone who appears on the show  is very [...]... Read more »

  • March 8, 2011
  • 10:09 PM
  • 2,277 views

Public Service Announcement: Drugs Misinformation Kills

by Neurobonkers in Neurobonkers

Today I took a tough... Read more »

Halpern JH, Sherwood AR, Hudson JI, Gruber S, Kozin D, & Pope HG Jr. (2011) Residual neurocognitive features of long-term ecstasy users with minimal exposure to other drugs. Addiction (Abingdon, England), 106(4), 777-86. PMID: 21205042  

  • March 8, 2011
  • 07:27 PM
  • 980 views

The household hero in ancient Greek cult practice

by Nikolaos Markoulakis in Tropaion

I continue my 'investigation' on the ancient Greek household religiosity with my second brief note on the ἥρως οἰκουρός, my translation which seems it is extremely formal, 'household hero'. The formality of my translation has its basis in the use of the term 'hero' derived from the LSJ's entry for ἥρως = heroes, as objects of worship - as part of my conception for 'hero's worship' was to generate a cultural stimulus (not just only in the defence of the city and encouragement of the soldiers but also within the sphere of arts and philosophy) Farnell (1921) clearly identifies it as such. Within the conception of the household religious practice, the hero, "was deemed to help his people". It may Farnell's claim seems outdated but regardless of whether a household hero is regarded a formal presence of ancestor's cult practice or a ghost which haunts that receives worship equals to state's divinities one fact remains unchanged: the 'objects' of private worship can multiply and acknowledged with sacral significance. ... Read more »

Farnell, L. (1921) Greek Hero Cults and Ideas of Immortality. The Journal of Hellenic Studies, 291. DOI: 10.2307/625523  

Rose, H.J. (1957) The religion of a Greek household. Euphrosyne, 95-116. info:/

  • March 8, 2011
  • 04:30 PM
  • 1,530 views

Where in the world did anatomically modern humans come from?

by Razib Khan in Gene Expression

The Pith: I review a recent paper which argues for a southern African origin of modern humanity. I argue that the statistical inference shouldn’t be trusted as the final word. This paper reinforces previously known facts, but does not add much that both novel and robust.
I have now read the paper which I expressed a touch of skepticism toward yesterday. Do note, I did not dispute the validity of their results. They seem eminently plausible. I was simply skeptical that we could, with any level of robustness, claim that anatomically modern humans arose in southern vs. eastern, or western, Africa. If I had to bet, my rank order would be southern ~ eastern > western. But my confidence in my assessment is very low.
First things first. You should read the whole paper, since someone paid for it to be open access. Second, much props to whoever decided to put their original SNP data online. I’ve already pulled it down, and sent off emails to Zack, David, and Dienekes. There are some northern African populations which allow us to expand beyond the Mozabites, though unfortunately there are only 55,000 ...... Read more »

Brenna M. Henn, Christopher R. Gignoux, Matthew Jobin, Julie M. Granka, J. M. Macpherson, Jeffrey M. Kidd, Laura Rodríguez-Botigué, Sohini Ramachandran, Lawrence Hon, Abra Brisbin.... (2011) Hunter-gatherer genomic diversity suggests a southern African origin for modern humans. PNAS. info:/10.1073/pnas.1017511108

  • March 8, 2011
  • 01:40 PM
  • 2,030 views

This Is Your Brain on Disney

by Krystal D'Costa in Anthropology in Practice


I've only been to Disney World once. A few years ago, S and I went for the first time and while I may go back, I'm definitely still recovering. Disney marketing isn't kidding when they say it's the happiest/most magical place on earth—it's intense. And the experience stays with you. But people are definitely drawn to the Disney franchise. Disneyland receives approximately 10 million visitors annually (1). And lots of folks are repeat visitors. It may not be for everyone—I know people who absolutely refuse to have anything to do with the magic, as well as some who aren't comfortable around costumed representatives, but they seem to be in the minority given the volume these places experience. Researchers have suggested that Disney generates a successful experience because our brains are responsive and receptive to art, creativity, storytelling, humor, wit, music, fantasy, and morality, all of which may have been important to social development—and feature heavily in the "Disney experience" in a rather amplified way.
Humans have large brains, which are really expensive to produce. Researchers have not yet determined why our brains are so large, but everything from diet to climate change to social competition to changes in gestation has been proposed. Geoffrey Miller, an evolutionary psychologist, has suggested that big brains are a result of sexual selection. He argues that the brain is "an entertainment system that evolved to stimulate other brains" in an effort to attract mates (2). Miller's "mating mind hypothesis" statesthe large size of the brain evolved because mates (in most cases females) favoured a mate (in most cases males) with increased abilities to produce such aspects of culture as art, creativity, storytelling, humour, wit, music, fantasy, and morality (3).These "courtship tools" are meant to attract sexual partners. However, Miller's hypothesis is not supported by the actual development of the human brain, which does not display the characteristics of a sexually selected trait. Two of the the major points of divergence that researchers Palmer and Coe discuss are the lack of sexual dimorphism and the actual growth of the brain. Male brains do not significantly differ from female brains:Although there do appear to be clearly evolved sexual differences in specific parts of the brain directly related to mating (e.g., mate preferences, jealousy), there are no similarly striking differences related to production of and responsiveness to the traits he is attempting to explain (art, creativity, storytelling, humour, wit, music, fantasy, and morality) (4).And if the brain were a sexually selected feature, it would become more prominent after puberty. This isn't the case: The human brain weighs about 25% of its adult weight at birth, and it doubles in weight in about 6 months! At puberty, there isn't another of these types of gains—the brain completes most of its development within the first few years of life.
As an alternative to understanding why specific forms of entertainment are so appealing, Palmer and Coe instead suggest they reflect parenting strategies to influence the behavior of offspring. The "parenting mind hypothesis" proposes that the size of the human brain developed via natural selection in response to parental ability to influence behavior—big brains allowed offspring to store and replicate behaviors modeled by parents that enabled survival and reproduction (5). This latter hypothesis takes into account one possible reason why children develop language skills so early in life: language helps them receive information from their parents, which increases their fitness for survival.
Where does the Disney franchise fit in this discussion? Palmer and Coe propose that Disneyland (which is not Disney World, but the experience is essentially the same, I would imagine: extreme stimulation of the senses) is an extension of the traits that are important to the parenting mind hypothesis:Although Disneyland and fairy tales in general are often mistakenly seen as mere entertainment, they both clearly provide moral lessons. Pinocchio warns children not to tell a lie. Cinderella tells children that virtue has rewards, and the three pigs teach children about planning and industriousness (6).They suggest that our susceptibility to these forms of entertainment allow Disneyland—and other forms of art and entertainment—to exist. But I would amend that to say that our potential susceptibility to these traits allows the Disney franchise and other good examples of art, creativity, storytelling, humor, wit, music, fantasy, and morality—such as movies and plays—to be successful because they help us construct (non-sexual) social connections.
One of the things I wish this paper had discussed a bit more was the connection between relationship building and the traits linked to the Disney experience. Art, creativity, storytelling, humor, wit, music, fantasy, and morality may be important elements in the relationships we develop and maintain—not in a sexual sense, but in terms of network building. The researchers touch upon this briefly in their conclusion, and it seems to warrant exploration because it has broad implications in terms of how our social networks are engaged with these traits. When we experience an instance of storytelling or humor or music with someone else, we're creating a bond through that experience that helps define our places within our network relative to each other. Revisiting these experiences could then be an act of reaffirming ties—which could help us understand why people return to Disney theme parks and other forms of creative etc. entertainment. Thoughts?

Cited: Craig T. Palmer, Kathryn Coe (2010). Parenting, Courtship, Disneyland, and the Human Brain International Journal of Tourism Anthropology, 1 (1), 1-14 : 10.1504/IJTA.2010.036843


Notes:1. Palmer and Coe 2010: 22. Palmer: 23. Palmer: 34. Palmer: 45. Palmer: 56. Palmer: 10
HT to Jason Goldman for originally suggesting this article.
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Craig T. Palmer, Kathryn Coe. (2010) Parenting, Courtship, Disneyland, and the Human Brain. International Journal of Tourism Anthropology, 1(1), 1-14. info:/10.1504/IJTA.2010.036843

  • March 8, 2011
  • 11:01 AM
  • 1,361 views

Bittersweet Adaptation: How Genes For Survival May Be Giving Us Diabetes

by A. Goldstein in WiSci

The famous phrase has it that evolution is a process of the “survival of the fittest.” However, it should be noted that this doesn’t imply some great evolutionary gymnasium, with species pumping and sculpting themselves into the most sexually appealing shapes of the day. Rather, the phrase means something more like “the survival of the [...]... Read more »

  • March 8, 2011
  • 10:11 AM
  • 1,544 views

The Science of Dating: Pick-Up Lines

by Ben Good in B Good Science

As a bit of a break from my usual blogging routine, this weeks blogs will all be on a theme. The science of dating, moving from pick-up lines through to the biochemistry of long term relationships. I will go through the staggering amount of research in this area and attempt to find out if you can use … Read more... Read more »

BALE, C., MORRISON, R., & CARYL, P. (2006) Chat-up lines as male sexual displays. Personality and Individual Differences, 40(4), 655-664. DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2005.07.016  

  • March 7, 2011
  • 10:00 AM
  • 1,720 views

Defending Your Territory: Is Peeing on the Wall Just for the Dogs?

by Jason Goldman in The Thoughtful Animal

Welcome to Territoriality Week! Every day this week, I'll have a post about some aspect of animal or human territoriality. How do animals mark and control their territories? What determines the size or shape of an animal's territory? What can an animal's territory tell us about neuroanatomy? Today, I begin by asking two questions: first, what is the functional purpose of establishing territories? Second, to what extent can we apply findings from research on animal territorial behavior to understanding human territorial behavior?



It seems that everyone becomes an amateur animal behaviorist while walking their dogs. They notice that their dogs tend to pee on - well - just about everything, and infer that Fido is marking his territory. That most people are familiar with at least the basic principles of animal territoriality would suggest that the study of animal territoriality is fairly well established. Indeed, behavioral biologists and ethologists have been interested in animal territoriality since at least the 1920s. The main purpose of animal territoriality, it would appear, is excluding others from certain geographical areas through the use of auditory, visual or olfactory signals or by the threat of aggression. While there are certainly variations, territoriality seems to exist throughout the vertebrate phylum. While many of the early studies of territoriality focused on birds, later researchers investigated territorial behaviors in fish, rodents, reptiles, ungulates (hoofed animals, like cows), and primates. Territories may be held by individuals, by pairs, or by groups. They may be defended against anyone, against only members of the same species, or against only members of the same sex.

Why would territoriality be so widespread in the animal kingdom (at least among vertebrates)?
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Edney, J. (1974) Human territoriality. Psychological Bulletin, 81(12), 959-975. DOI: 10.1037/h0037444  

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