Anthro in the news 4/28/14

  • Graeber is an activist, not an anarchist

PBS interviewed cultural anthropologist David Graeber, professor at the London School of Economics, in its Making Sen$e segment on Switzerland’s basic income debate and its appeal in the United States. The conversation focused on how a basic income would liberate wage slaves. Here is a snippet:

So you like this idea?

“I think it’s great. It’s an acknowledgement that nobody else has the right to tell you what you can best contribute to the world, and it’s based on a certain faith — that people want to contribute something to the world, most people do. I’m sure there are a few people who would be parasites, but most people actually want to do something; they want to feel that they have contributed something to the society around them.”

  • It’s only a game

Boston’s NPR interviewed Alan Klein, professor of sociology-anthropology at Northeastern University in Boston, about his new book Dominican Baseball: New Pride, Old Prejudice. The interview explores aspects of the unique relationship between American baseball and the Dominican Republic.

  • Take that anthro degree and….

…invent Nikwax and develop a successful business in waterproofing products with positive social and environmental effects. Michael Brown earned a degree in social anthropology and linguistics in 1977. Unsure what career to pursue, he found the answer in his favorite pastime – mountain trekking and the great outdoors. Unhappy with the waxes then available for leather boots and encouraged by a shopkeeper who agreed that the available products were not right, he developed his own waterproofing compound. In the decades since, Nikwax has established a leading position in the market for waterproofing products for the outdoor market. The company employs 125 people in the UK, US and Poland and has annual turnover of £10m. Nikwax was a winner of a 2014 Queen’s Sustainable Development award and was a three-time previous winner of Queen’s Awards for International Trade. It rejects the use of harmful raw materials such as PFCs and flammable solvents. In its production processes it recycles waste, harvests rainwater and has invested in solar power. It runs workshops with local primary schools on science and sustainable business.

  • It’s a gut thing

An article in Science reported on a study of the gut bacteria of Hadza people, hunter-gatherers living in Tanzania, finding that they completely lack a bacterium that is a key ingredient in most probiotic foods and considered healthy. Moreover, the Hadza do not suffer from colon cancer, colitis, Crohn’s, or other diseases of the colon that are found in modern Western humans.

An international team collected and analyzed the bacteria in fecal samples from one of the last remaining hunting and gathering communities in the world, the Hadza people of Tanzania. Stephanie Schnorr, a graduate student at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, was in charge of asking the Hadza for fecal samples. She collected samples from 27 Hadza, aged 8 to 70 years.

When Hadza bacteria were compared with those in two groups of farmers from Africa, researchers found that the Hadza were the only people who lacked a type of bacteria commonly added to probiotic drinks—known as Bifidobacterium—perhaps because it is associated with dairy products, which the Hadza do not consume. The Hadza also had high levels of bacteria like Treponema, which is considered a sign of disease in Western populations because different types are linked with systemic lupus and periodontitis, as well as syphilis. Yet, the Hadza experience almost no autoimmune disorders, obesity, or diabetes, which are associated with imbalances of different types of gut bacteria.

Alyssa Crittenden, a nutritional anthropologist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and lead author of the study, is quoted as saying: “We must redefine our notions of what is considered healthy and unhealthy, since these distinctions are clearly dependent on diet.”

Other scientists have questioned the validity of the findings on the basis of how the samples were stored before their analysis.

  • Neanderthal update

These days, it seems as if the name Svante Pääbo is synonymous with the Neanderthals. He led the effort to sequence the Neanderthal genome and has more or less owned the field of Neanderthal studies since then. The New York Times published a review of his book, Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes [note: an earlier review appeared in The Guardian].

Pääbo published an op-ed called, “Neanderthals are People Too”, in The New York Times, drawing on material in his book.

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