Anthro in the news 4/5/10

• You can get what you want
Many families in the United Kingdom with sons but no daughters increasingly seek high-tech services to ensure that they have a daughter.  An article in the Guardian profiles two English families with multiple sons who went abroad and paid substantial amounts of money to have a daughter.  The most frequent destination is the United States where sex selection is legal in every state  (sex selection is not legal in the UK).  A doctor at one US clinic reports that “business has gone wild.” Will the UK sex ratio start to tip toward more males than females? Probably not soon, since studies indicate that most UK families desire a balanced number of sons and daughter, or even more girls. So why do so many British people spend around $40,000 for a process called Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (in which the mother is implanted with a fertilized ovum of the desired gender)? A researcher (un-named) in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Guelph, Canada, is studying parents’ desires to have a child of a particular gender. These  desires and the severe disappointment related to failure, are called Gender Disappointment (GD) or Extreme Gender Disappointment (EGD). GD and EGD are characterized by feelings of  sadness, guilt, and desperation especially among women.

• User anthropology
An article in the New York Times Magazine entitled “Can Cellphones End Global Poverty?” profiled British researcher Jan Chipchase for his role in promoting “user anthropology.” Employed by Nokia and trained as a designer, Chipchase travels the world, along with teams of social scientists including cultural anthropologists, to learning about human behavior. The goal is to inform the company about how to design products, from software to laptops and cellphones, that respond to people’s on-the-ground needs and preferences.

• Dangerous women in Chechnya
An undergraduate student at the University of Chicago majoring in anthropology co-authored an op-ed in the New York Times on Chechen women suicide bombers. Along with others involved in the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism, she analyzed every Chechen suicide attack since they began in 2000. Twenty-four Chechen women have carried out suicide attacks, constituting forty percent of the total number of suicide attackers.  The women’ s motives appear to derive from their experiences with Russian troops, particularly as widows of men who have been killed. Recommendations include holding fair elections, adopting international standards of humane conduct among security forces, and equitable distribution of oil revenues so the Muslims benefit.

• Women the stronger sex
Two animal researchers at the University of Cambridge discovered that men have weaker immune systems than women. They use evolutionary models to explain why: men had to compete for females so they put their energies into that pursuit, leaving their bodies less able to fight off infections.  David Begun, professor anthropology at the University of Toronto, offers a different explanation for women’s superior immune defenses: they developed this capacity in their role as primary child care-givers. Constant exposure to viruses from children may have, he suggests, helped women develop the ability to fight them off.

• Not a friendly takeover
Human skeletons unearthed in Peru tell a tale of death by the Spanish conquerors that involves guns, steel lances or hammers, and possibly light cannons. Melissa Murphy of the University of Wyoming is leading the research team. They analyzed 258 adult Inca skeletons from a burial ground. “The nature and patterns of these skeletal injuries were unlike anything colleagues and I had seen before,” she comments. Findings are published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

• Maya ruins okay after concert stage collapses
A prominent item in the mainstream media this week was about Chichen Itza, a 1200 year-old Maya site in Mexico and the scene of a concert by Sir Elton John. Following the collapse of the under-construction stage, a spokesman for Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and Archaeology reported that the ruins had not been damaged.  Three workers were injured.

• Angkor collapses due to climate change
A prolonged drought, interspersed with intense monsoons, led to the demise of the city of Angkor in Cambodia during the 15th century. Decades of drought strained its ability to survive. Occasional but massive monsoons flooded the city’s irrigation system with mud and debris, making it difficult for the nearly one million residents to obtain water. A study by a team of US and Asian researchers, sponsored by the US National Science Foundation, has used the method of tree-ring dating to demonstrate these trends over many years. Michael D. Coe, emeritus professor of anthropology at Yale University and noted archaeologist, comments “…that is the exact scenario for the city’s collapse.” Findings are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

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