Anthro in the news 4/6/15

  • Beyond pabulum: Make the IPCC relevant through social science research

In an excellent article published in Nature, political scientist David G. Victor calls for expansion of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) process to include social science insights into controversial issues and stop providing cooked-down, irrelevant, “pabulum” findings and recommendations. Victor is a professor of international relations and director of the Laboratory on International Law and Regulation at the University of California at San Diego.

Victor, who serves on the IPCC’s Working Group III, brings an insider’s perspective to the workings of the IPCC. He comments that it “…is becoming irrelevant to climate policy. By seeking consensus and avoiding controversy, the organization is suffering from the streetlight effect — focusing ever more attention on a well-lit pool of the brightest climate science. But the insights that matter are out in the darkness, far from the places that the natural sciences alone can illuminate.”

“The IPCC has engaged only a narrow slice of social-sciences disciplines. Just one branch — economics — has had a major voice in the assessment process. In Working Group III, which assesses climate-change mitigation and policy, nearly two-thirds of 35 coordinating lead authors hailed from the field, and from resource economics in particular. The other social sciences were mostly absent. There was one political scientist: me.”

Moving forward, Victor suggests that “…the IPCC must ask questions that social scientists can answer…if it engages the fields on their own terms it will find a wealth of relevant knowledge — for example, about how societies organize, how individuals and groups perceive threats and respond to catastrophic stresses, and how collective action works best.”

Cultural/social anthropologists can answer this call. Let’s hope the IPCC punches in our number. Victor, however, does not include anthropology on his A-list: “As soon as the new IPCC leadership is chosen later this year, the team should invite major social-sciences societies such as the American Political Science Association, the American and European societies of international law, the American Sociological Association and the Society for Risk Analysis to propose relevant topics that they can assess and questions they can answer.”

  • Some bodies are allowed to go home
The remains of Richard III have been reburied without scientists’ complaints. Credit: The New York Times.

Chip Colwell, curator of anthropology at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, published an article in The Huffington Post about how white bodies, such as that of Richard III, are allowed to return home and be reburied without scientists making a claim on them.

The quiet about the reburial of Richard III “…stands in stark contrast to how so many regard the reburial of Native American human remains in museums. Around the world archaeologists have resisted the return of skeletons for decades — arguing that they are needed for science. Even nearly 25 years after the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act became federal law, only 27% of the Native skeletons in U.S. museums have been offered for return. More than 100,000 skeletons continue to sit on shelves. In Europe, only in the last few years have the first sets of Native American remains come home.”

Colwell is the author of the forthcoming book, Plundered Skulls and Stolen Spirits: Inside the Fight to Reclaim Native America’s Treasures.

  • The Battle of Okinawa lives on

The Epoch Times published Paul Christensen’s article that first appeared on in which he writes about the Battle of Okinawa, a long and bloody encounter at the end of World War II. Christensen, assistant professor of anthropology at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, notes that April 1, 2015, marked the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the battle. The death count was more than 100,000 Japanese soldiers 12,000 Allied troops, and 150,000 Okinawan civilians. Moreover, untold people were wounded or captured as prisoners of war. Memories of the battle live on as well as resentment against both Japan and the United States for its continued military presence. The battle is not over.

  • Review of Graeber’s book on bureaucracy in our lives

The Sydney Morning Herald carried a highly positive review of David Graeber‘s The Utopia of Rules:

“Importantly, this book shows that bureaucracies function only because they are supported by veiled threats of systematic, state-sanctioned violence. An unpaid credit card fee will result in a forceful seizure of property by debt collectors. Consuming food or drinks in the wrong location – such as on a train – can lead to fines or even arrest. While some may dismiss Graeber’s arguments as so much anarchist rhetoric, there’s a sinister truth to lines such as ‘police are bureaucrats with weapons’ when you consider instances like the death of Eric Garner in New York last year, who was killed by police mid-arrest for selling loose cigarettes from packages without tax stamps.”

  • New institute in Inner Mongolia recognizes policy relevance of ethnology

The first Institute of Advanced Study on Ethnology and Anthropology in Inner Mongolia opened on March 28, established within Inner Mongolia Normal University. The Institute aims to provide advice and intellectual support from ethnology and anthropology for the region’s policy making regarding and promote better field studies and findings. Policy challenges and opportunities include The Silk Belt and Road Initiative and the China-Mongolia-Russia Economic Corridor.

  • Take that anthro degree and…

…become a politician. Nicholas William Peter “Nick” Clegg is a British politician who since 2010 has been Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Lord President of the Council (with special responsibility for political and constitutional reform), as part of the coalition government headed by Prime Minister David Cameron. Clegg has been the leader of the Liberal Democrats since 2007, and a member of parliament (MP) representing Sheffield Hallam since 2005. He was previously a Member of the European Parliament and an award-winning journalist for the Financial Times. Clegg attended the University of Cambridge, the University of Minnesota, and the College of Europe. He earned a degree in social anthropology at Robinson College of the University of Cambridge.

…become a mobile retailer. Music lover Kristin Poch owns, and drives, the first mobile record store in Calgary, Canada. Her shop is stocked with a turntable and some seats so customers can test out the 600 vinyl discs in her van. Poch says her father inspired her to open the Beatnik Bus: “He was always collecting an inventory to open up a store,” she said. “About four years ago he had a massive heart attack, which forced him into retirement and the dream of opening a store was not a reality anymore.” Poch, who recently graduated with an anthropology degree from the University of Lethbridge, saw an opportunity, and moved ahead to launch her store on wheels.

…become a cartoonist. Canadian writer and cartoonist, Kate Beeton is one of the most popular webcomic artists of all time. Her webcomic Hark! A Vagrant took the world by storm with her funny, original, and subversive takes on everything from history and literary classics to superheroes. Beeton has a degree in history and anthropology from Mount Allison.

….become a pantomime artist actor and writer. Beverly Roche, who is based in Indianapolis, Indiana, is the creative force behind Mime’s the Word and Literature Takes the Stage. She has been a professional actor for 25 years, and a mime for 10 years. She has also been with Arts for Learning for 10 years. She has a B.A. in cultural anthropology from Indiana University –Purdue University Illinois, completed a two-year program in Neighborhood Playhouse Technique, and trained in playwriting with James Still.

…become a journalist. David Moberg, a senior editor of In These Times, has been on the staff of the magazine since it began publishing in 1976. He previously worked for Newsweek. Moberg completed a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Chicago and has received fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Nation Institute for research on the new global economy.

  • Who made that? Contested creator of Neanderthal flutes

The Daily Mail picked up on research by Cajus Diedrich from the Paleo-Logic Independent Institute of Geosciences. In a paper published in the Royal Society of Open Science, he took a look at several “musical instruments” attributed to Neanderthals. One in particular, the Divje Babe Flute, is often said to be the world’s oldest musical instrument. It is a cave bear femur, pierced with two holes, and was found in 1995 at the Divje Babe Archaeological Park near Cerkno in northwestern Slovenia. Diedrich says analysis of the bone shows the holes are teeth marks, and the shape is just the result of the bone not breaking when it was chewed. He writes, “These are not instruments, nor human made, but products of the most important cave bear scavengers of Europe, hyenas.”

  • Woof, woof: Feeling better all the time

The Citizen-Times (Asheville, North Carolina) reported on the growing popularity of therapy dogs in hospitals and clinics, hospice care, and prisons. Many studies show that frequent human interaction with animals can lower blood pressure, decrease anxiety, reduce loneliness and improve mental outlook and quality of life. The article quotes biological anthropologist Brian Hare associate professor at the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at Duke University and co-author of The Genius of Dogs: “No other species can read our communicative gestures as well as dogs can.” Hare runs the website which helps pet owners better understand how their dogs think.

  • In memoriam

James Nelson Anderson died in March 2015. He served in the U.S. Marines from 1952-54, and retired from the Marine Reserves as a Major in 1965. His Marine Corps service inspired a lifelong curiosity and passion for exploring other cultures, and influenced his decision to become an anthropologist. Anderson was a professor of social and cultural anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley from 1964 to 1995. An early proponent of environmental anthropology, he focused on how people of Southeast Asia lived successfully within their environments long before the term sustainability was coined. He documented traditional medicines, plant use, and home gardens in the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia, and investigated population and migration patterns from Southeast Asia in a globalizing world. He nurtured and mentored generations of scholars and advocates who continue to work on addressing environmental crises, human rights, and social justice.

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