Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Four Stone Hearth 8

Welcome to Northstate Science and the 8th Edition of Four Stone Hearth, the anthropology blog carnival. We have a range of topics for this edition, all of which have been ordered chronologically (more or less) from our earliest ancestors to computer applications in anthropology. So, let's get started...

Yann Klimentidis starts us off with an article in the current edition of Natural History discussing the reconstruction of hominin faces from the bone structure of the skull. We know that specialists have been able to accomplish this for some time, but new fossils within the last two decades demonstrate the rich array of hominin faces within the last four million years. As Yann points out, the path to modern humans was a well-worn one - it is easy to see something of ourselves in each of the reconstructions (Ken Ham will of course ignore any human characteristics and call every one an "ape", while Bill Dembski will ignore any ape characteristics and use the human characteristics as an example of intelligently designed specified complexity). This particular issue of Natural History is sitting on my desk at the moment so I'll have to take a look!

Afarensis (whose reconstructed face actually appears on page one of the Natural History article cited above) shows us that anatomical structures of the Dikika child have implications for the transmission of cultural knowledge. With the later advent of stone tool production this problem of cultural transmission becomes even more interesting and following John Shea, Afarensis asks what children's activities look like in the archaeological record? An important question given that archaeologists often find tool examples of poor craftsmanship (which further begs the question, are all those imperfect designs we see in nature simply a product of an "immature" intelligent designer still learning the ropes?).

Greg Laden's Evolution...Not "Just A Theory" Anymore asks whether hunting might not serve purposes other than simply caloric intake. Specifically, he questions the possibility that hunting functions prominently in male bonding. And I love this:

When a 19th or 20th century guy archaeologist holds a beautifully made, often phallic-shaped obsidian spearhead in his hands, feeling it’s heft and running his fingers along the still sharp edge, he is bonding with another guy, of a much earlier time period, who could probably have killed his quarry just as effectively with a sharp stick, but opted instead to produce, carry around, display, and use this really cool piece of gear. So it’s a guy thing, and it’s a gear thing. It’s sort of a guys-with-gear thing.

Yep...speaking as a 20th century guy archaeologist, I can pretty much buy that...(wonder if Behe feels the same way about the bacterial flagellum?). Like Greg, I've participated in hunting events with both modern hunters using firearms and aboriginal hunters (Hadza) using bows and arrows. I can certainly understand hunting's social connections.

Tim at Remote Central asks "Who Really Discovered America?".Tim takes up the issue of whether Clovis, pre-Clovis people or European Solutreans were the first to enter North America. This is a hot-button issue as the sudden appearance of Clovis technology in North America without any known lithic pre-cursors has always raised questions (and hackles) amongst North American archaeologists. The hypothesis that European Solutreans got here first also has substantial political implications for Native American land claims. While I don't necessarily agree with the Solutrean hypothesis, I see arguments against it as more political, rather than archaeological, in nature. We chew on Christian creationists and intelligent design activists a lot, but Native American creationism is also a science stopper (and the eight hundred pound gorilla in the room that no one wants to talk about!). In any case, Tim does a great job of laying out some of the issues with regard to peopling of the New World.

Aardvarchaeology introduces us to those Gothenburg Nastys. You know, those grave-like structures containing "...a handful of cremated bones looking a lot like muesli" (and what the hell is muesli?...second thought, I probably don't want to know...). Apparently, these are not the most exciting features to excavate and after reading Martin's post, I can understand why. Geez, and I thought excavating isolated historic refuse dumps was bad...of course neither could be as painful as wading through No Free Lunch.

A.J. Cann at MicrobiologyBytes introduces us to a superb topic that's going make me think twice before picking up that dead chipmunk for my comparative collection: the ancient occurrences of bubonic plague. We all know about the Black Death in the 14th century, but plague has been around for quite a while and can be identified in the archaeological record. More to the point, plague is still with us, and as Cann notes, it would be a good idea if we knew something about its history. (You suppose plague was intelligently designed?). Give this one a careful read...and be very afraid!

Bridging the gap between our evolutionary ancestry and modern conservation problems, raises ethical concerns about the U.S. maintaining chimpanzee populations for biomedical research. Apparently we are the last nation to do so. Of course the issue is where we draw the line between the potential for saving human lives and the ethics of medical experimentation on another animal - our closest living relative.

Several post submittals explore that interesting area between cultural transmission and psychology. Ideas And How They Spread offers us two discussions on the topics of behavior and cultural transmission. In Behavior Trademark Tyrants we find the suggestion that at least three factors contribute to whether or not individuals adopt a certain behavior as a "trademark". The concept of having personal behavioral "trademarks" has implications for cultural continuity and transmission. In a second post you can find of the background for defining a meme. I remember Dawkins posing an interesting discussion of meme transmittal in the PBS Evolution series. Wise Bread posts a discussion on the relationship between food security and generosity. It appears that my willingness to throw change in the Salvation Army Christmas bucket might be closely linked to how satiated I feel at the time. But there are some interesting twists in this connection so take a look. Pick The Brain discusses the distinction between cognition and metacognition and proposes some interesting implications for how we define intelligence and measure success. (I was trying to draw a connection between cognition and intelligent design, but couldn't come up with anything).

Carl at Hot Cup Of Joe has a fabulous discussion (and the only linguistics submittal) of the perceived threat of linguistic diversity. In the concern over illegal immigration and the rising use of the Spanish language in the U.S. there plenty of concerns over the potential loss of "American" culture. Of course, Carl points out that the cultural door swings both ways and the perceived loss of culture to immigration seems unfounded. We may also be ignoring a great opportunity if Americans fail to consider linguistic diversity as a positive force:

In the United States, we appear to be slow to figure out what Europeans have long understood: speaking and writing in only one language is a limiting factor in economics, academia, and politics.

I remember hooking up with a number of students from the U.K. as I was traveling across Tanzania and simply marveling at their ability to collectively strike up a conversation with fellow European travels in about seven different languages. I wish I had spent more time studying French in college.

Kambiz from gives us an introduction to new software for the Mac OS X system that has some significant application anthropological organization and research. Read Kambiz's post to understand more of the connection to anthropology. All I can say is I wish they had a version of this for the Windows operating system!

Finally, many of you are no doubt familiar with discussions taking place on the subject of open access, i.e. the extent to which journal publications should be publicly available as opposed to costing small fortunes to have regular access. At the request of Afarensis and Kambiz, I am also including some recent posts on the subject of open access, in something of a "mini-carnival". Kambiz was gracious enough to supply the general summaries, so I can't claim much credit for working on anything that follows:

The Open Access Issue: Some Recent Comments From the Blogosphere

Joshua Rosenau at Thoughts From Kansas comments on this issue. Here are some snippets from his post on the topic:

Scientists give those publishers their research, typically signing over copyright for that work to the publisher. In many cases those scientists also pay page charges to those same publishers, so that those publishers can have the privilege of taking those scientists'
work from them.

Scientists are beginning to feel that this situation is not equitable, and that the restrictions on accessing those publications online hurt not only authors, but researchers in the field. Congress has heard those complaints, and is pushing for NIH funded research to be made available free of charge on some schedule...

...Whether they are stupid is a harder question. Right now, a chunk of most federal grants winds up going to pay fees to publishers. Those publishers also sell advertising, and charge truly astounding subscription fees. They hire professional editors, and can afford various sorts of specialists. They do not pay their peer reviewers, they don't pay the authors, and they give relatively little back to the scientific community. The exorbitant subscription fees mean that academic libraries are forced to cut subscriptions for interesting but lower profile journals in order to maintain subscriptions to the really essential journals.

The publishers walk away from that system as winners. Society loses.
Researchers have a harder time finding existing research, and the public at large has no way to access most original research. This means that even the scientifically literate public could not evaluate new research that could help them make medical decisions, or be more active participants in policy discussions.

Rex of Savage Minds outlines why Big Content has an issue with this:

The problem, of course, is that Big Content's business model faces a strategic challenge in the digital age. Suddenly we can distribute our creative work across the Internet and make it available to everyone, solving many of the problems associated with distribution.

Afarensis also outlines the problem, and gives us some relevance to what's happening within anthropology itself:

The big publishers argue that Open Access threatens their livelihood. Open Access advocates argue that since most of this research is funded through taxpayer efforts the results of that access should be freely available to the public. A group of anthropologists, for example, is working hard to force the American Association of Anthropologists to adopt an open access model.

Lexis2praxis shows how this movement is uniting anthropology together:

...sometimes cultural anthropology seems, by nature of the discipline, prone to elitism and inaccessibility...

....It seems like anthropologists would be at the forefront of the movement to "share knowledge", but this is certainly not the case among all of the ranks. Recent actions by the AAA have set anthropology that much farther back when it comes to making our presence, and contributions, known to the public and, well, more useful rather than holed up in universities to filter down through other disciplines, and even then so gradually because in many ways we are isolated even in the academic universe.

The web and Open Access Publishing could be a way out of this, and also a way for anthropology to be at the forefront of a movement that could change academia's attachment to elitism and cater to its more "humanistic" foundations. Yet, we have a fragile presence in these areas and therefore are left unrepresented.

One thing the AAA did well, however, is to spawn a movement. I doubt there has ever been this much discussion among anthropologists regarding the goal of the discipline and whether we should embrace Open Access Publishing.

And Kambiz criticizes some of the approaches the PR consultant is taking:

This is pretty pitiful, it is actually despicable for publishers to be doing that. Peer-review can still flourish, if not be more critical and constructed under an open access model. More people can read it, more people can comment on it, more people can know about! They have lost focus of what they are in the business of, to document and disseminate knowledge. Not keep it locked away! Don't they understand the more they keep this information from the public, the more misconception will brew about?

Again, my thanks to Kambiz for providing the information. I have found this all to be an interesting discussion on the issues surrounding Open Access and I am sure there will be more to come.

Thanks for stopping by to read the current edition of Four Stone Hearth! The next edition will be February 14th at Boas Blog. Don't forget to stop by and see what's new and exciting in the world of anthropology...


Kambiz Kamrani said...

Awesome round up thanks for all the hardwork!

CFeagans said...

I'm sneaking online while at work, but I'll give it a more detailed look later tonight -ditto what Kambiz said: awesome roundup!

Marc said...

Wonderful job. I really enjoyed the overview and plan to read a couple of the other bloggers' websites.

Marc said...

Wonderful job. I really enjoyed the overview and plan to read a couple of the other bloggers' websites.

Jenya said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
afarensis said...

I also stumbled across this three parter on open access too late to include

Maria said...

Thanks! Great job.

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