Anthro in the news 4/26/10

• Will China’s one-child policy be history?
Last year the Chinese government commissioned studies to assess possible effects of eliminating its one-child-per-couple policy. Susan Greenhalgh, professor of cultural anthropology at the University of California at Irvine, is a leading expert on the one-child policy and author of Just One Child: Science and Policy in Deng’s China. She comments: “My view is that it will gradually be taken apart, piece by piece, over the next few years…”

• Blood rights and wrongs
The Havasupai Indians, who live deep in the Grand Canyon, issued a banishment order to keep Arizona State University researchers off their reservation. They also were awarded reparation of $700,000 from Arizona State University and granted the return of blood samples they donated for health-related research at ASU starting in 1990. The Havasupai accuse some biological anthropologists and geneticists at ASU of using the samples for research purposes beyond what the original permission agreement stated. The New York Times has produced an informative and moving video on this issue.

• Maasai en garde
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, is Africa’s third fastest growing city. And its crime rate is on the rise. Couple these facts with the situation in rural areas where Maasai pastoralists live: growing poverty, hunger, and loss of their herding livelihood related to loss of land because of the encroachment of farmers and the state’s creation of tourist parks. As explained by Ann May, professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, these forces constitute a strong push and pull effect: in order to earn money to provide for their families and their herds in Maasailand, proud Maasai herders migrate to Dar to work…as security guards. One Maasai guard in Dar said: “People have faith in Maasai because we work diligently, we don’t have greed for wealth, and we don’t steal. So we are trusted.” Another explained: “At least if we are in the city we don’t have to sell the cows back home…It’s not that we like this job but the hardness of life makes us do it. It’s dangerous. We want to be back home. But we have to find a way to look for money.”

• Better chance of finding your spouse online than in a bar
A survey commissioned by reveals that 17 percent of US marriages in the past three years are based on meeting online compared to only 8 percent based on meeting in a bar or club. Still, the majority of marriages, sixty-seven percent, result from meeting through friends/family or work/schools. Susan Froelich, cultural anthropologist at the University of Manitoba who studies online dating, comments that “it’s become hyper-mainstream” in the last five years. Blogger’s note: The survey goes back only three years. It would be great to have more longitudinal data and data disaggregated by age, class, ethnicity, and region.

• Organ donors wanted
In response to the shortage of organs in the United Kingdom, a “public consultation” is underway, run by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, a thinktank, and led by Dame Marilyn Strathern, professor of social anthropology at Cambridge University. While recognizing the large unmet demand for organs in the UK, she poses ethical questions about financial incentives such as cash payments, coverage of funeral costs, or priority for organs in the future: “Offering incentives may encourage people to take risks or go against their beliefs in a way they would not have done otherwise.”

• What do people understand about anti-malarials?
Large-scale use in Tanzania of the anti-malarial drug commonly known as ALu or dawa mseto prompted a study to assess mothers’ perceptions of its efficacy and side-effects. The research team, led by V.R. Kamat of the Department of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, indicates that more and better communication between health care providers and mothers of sick children is needed to improve mothers’ understanding and adherence to the dosage recommendations.

• Musical Instrument Museum opens
The new Musical Instrument Museum opened in northern Phoenix. Arizona. It has acquired 12,000 instruments of which 3,000 are on display. A review in The New York Times comments that “The collection is more socially than musically determined.” No wonder: the museum’s founding director and president, who guided its development, is Billie R. DeWalt, a cultural anthropologist and former professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Blogger’s note: if organizing the displays along social lines is problematic for some viewers, that could be an indication of the need to take an intro cultural anthropology course and learn about why it makes more sense than organizing them by, for example, stringed instruments, percussion instruments, etc.

• Discover your inner bonobo
Primatologist Frans de Waal, now at Emory University, and Japanese primatologists Takayoshi Kano and Takeshi Furuichi have long been champions of the “forgotten ape,” the bonobo. While bonobos are as genetically close to humans as chimpanzees are, they are far less known. Chimpanzees have been more studied, in the first place, and chimpanzee behavior fits more comfortably with human behavior patterns such as male dominance, selfishness, and violence as a way of dealing with competition and conflict. Bonobos, in contrast, are female-led, they share food, and they use sexual interactions to prevent conflict. These interactions can be female-male, female-female, or male-male. Happily, the bonobos’ fan base is growing, a fact that may help promote environmental conservation and their survival. Primatologist Brian Hare, assistant professor of evolutionary biology at Duke University, is quoted as saying “We have a lot to learn from them.” Vanessa Woods, research scientist in Biological Anthropology and Anatomy at Duke, has written a book about the bonobos based on her research in the Democratic Republic of the Congo entitled Bonobo Handshake. It will be published in July by Gotham/Penguin.

• And discover your inner Neanderthal
Researchers are moving closer to showing that we may all carry a bit of Neanderthal in us. So argues Jeffrey Long, a genetic anthropologist at the University of New Mexico. He and his team studied genetic data from nearly 2,000 living people from 99 populations in Africa, Europe, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. The findings, presented by his doctoral student Sarah Joyce, at the meetings of the American Association of Physical Anthropology, indicate interbreeding between modern humans and Neanderthals. Linda Vigilant, anthropologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, comments that the new “information is really helpful” and “it’s cool.”

• All the pigs in China
Whether you knew it or not, researchers have been hard at work trying to discover whether Asian and European pigs share a single origin or have separate, local origins. A new study favors the latter view. It is based on archaeological and genetic data and involves an international team of researchers. Lead author Dr. Greger Larson, in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Durham, England, comments: “The earliest known Chinese domestic pigs have a direct connection with modern Chinese breeds, suggesting a long, unbroken history of pigs and people in this part of East Asia.” The research indicates several centers of pig domestication in China and raises questions about pig domestication across Asia and the Pacific.

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