anthro in the news 10/12/2015

 

Caption: Artemisia annua which yields an anti-malarial drug [source: Wikipedia].
Caption: Artemisia annua which yields an anti-malarial drug, source: Wikipedia
Nobel Prize catalyzes controversy in China

 

The New York Times reported on reactions in China about its first Nobel prize in science which was awarded to Tu Youyou, a retired researcher who worked at the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences) in Beijing. The award recognizes her role in extracting the malaria-fighting compound Artemisinin from the plant Artemisia annua. It is the first time China has won a Nobel Prize in a scientific discipline. Bu the award has refueled a longstanding debate in China between Western science approaches to medicine and Chinese traditional medicine. Critics of the award say that it valorizes Western science while seeming to recognize traditional Chinese medicine. The article quotes Volker Scheid, an anthropologist at the University of Westminster in London who refers to Chinese traditional medicine:  “It’s part of the nation, but the nation of China defines itself as a modern nation, which is tied very much to science…So this causes a conflict.”

 


source: Wikipedia

Guinea elections

The New York Times carried an article about the presidential election in Guinea, noting that ethnic clashes marked the last presidential election threaten to resurface. President Alpha Conde is running against seven candidates in the West African nation that has been hard hit by the Ebola crisis. The main opposition leader, Cellou Dalein Diallo, is the same man he ultimately defeated in a 2010 election marked by clashes between their supporters along ethnic lines. The article quotes Mike McGovern, a West Africa expert and associate professor of anthropology at University of Michigan: “What Ebola has made clear is many ordinary Guineans’ deep mistrust of government.”

Continue reading “anthro in the news 10/12/2015”

anthro in the news 9/28/15

Mural in New York City, September 2015 (Source: Anthony DelMundo / NY Daily News)

What the Pope said

Two media sources included commentary from anthropologists about the Pope’s messages during his visit to the United States. The Real News Network (TRNN television) provides a transcript of a panel discussion in which Nancy Scheper-Hughes, professor of medical anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley discussed the Pope’s language about and position on capitalism and how his message does or does not resonate with poor people in Latin America.  KNPR (Nevada) aired a discussion about the implications of the Pope’s U.S. speeches for the state of Nevada, including insights from Kevin Rafferty, archaeologist and professor at the College of Southern Nevada where he chairs the department of human behavior.

 


Hostess Cupcake (Creative Commons, public domain)

Food studies and activism rising

KQED (California) reported on the rising popularity of food studies courses and degree programs on U.S. campuses as well as student food activism. The piece mentioned Emory University’s Peggy Barlett, professor of anthropology, who has introduced several food courses including the Anthropology of Coffee and Chocolate and Fast Food/Slow Food. Indiana University, which established the first Ph.D. in the anthropology of food in 2007, reports an upswing in the addition of and student interest in food-related courses; food was a university-wide focus during the spring semester.

 

Continue reading “anthro in the news 9/28/15”

anthro in the news 8/10/15

  • Politics and dirty water: A recipe for poor health

An article in the Mail and Guardian (South Africa) describes the role of politics in the mishandling of water treatment in South Africa  It is includes comments from Mary Galvin, associate professor in the department of anthropology and development studies at the University of Johannesburg. She says municipalities ignore both directives and incentives to improve their treatment works.

  • The life of flags
House in Memphis, Tennessee. Credit: Thomas R. Machnitzki.

Robin Conley, assistant professor of anthropology at Marshall University in West Virginia, is lead author of an article in the Huffington Post about the Confederate flag controversy in the U.S.: “Recent challenges to displays of the Confederate flag have created an ironic outcome; its presence is in fact more ubiquitous than before the challenges began. This resurgence is not just found among those championing the Confederate flag as a symbol of state’s rights, or a symbol of a southern identity (that may or may not include an overtly racist agenda). Every time the use of the flag is questioned or criticized, for example when a picture of two white men waving the flag proudly is recirculated as a reminder of the hatred that potentially drives their actions, it appears again. Thus, in efforts to assure its invisibility, it has in fact become even more visible.” Continue reading “anthro in the news 8/10/15”

Anthro in the news 4/20/15

  • On human understanding

Tanya Luhrmann published an op-ed in The New York Times exploring how people around the world can use multiple angles that might include both Western scientific ways of thinking and “belief”-based thinking. She cites the work of psychologist Cristine H. Legare and colleagues “…who recently demonstrated that people use both natural and supernatural explanations in this interdependent way across many cultures. They tell a story, as recounted by Tracy Kidder’s book on the anthropologist and physician Paul Farmer, about a woman who had taken her tuberculosis medication and been cured — and who then told Dr. Farmer that she was going to get back at the person who had used sorcery to make her ill. ‘But if you believe that,’ he cried, ‘why did you take your medicines?’ In response to the great doctor she replied, in essence, ‘Honey, are you incapable of complexity?’”

  • Not a “medical moon shot”

An article in The New York Times reviewed Partners in Health’s aspirations and challenges in addressing Ebola in West Africa:

“Partners in Health, a Boston-based charity dedicated to improving health care for people in poor countries, signed on to the Ebola fight last fall with high ambitions. Unlike Doctors Without Borders and other relief agencies that specialize in acute response to crises, Partners in Health pledged to support the deeply inadequate health systems in Sierra Leone and Liberia for the long haul. Its leaders also publicly criticized the low level of care provided to Ebola patients and promised that its treatment units would do better. “’Let’s have a medical moon shot,’ the group’s co-founder, Dr. Paul Farmer, said last October.  But the medical group, which had never responded to an Ebola outbreak before and had rarely worked in emergencies, encountered serious challenges.” [Blogger’s note: Nonetheless, without a doubt, PIH did save lives. Whether or not they will be able to effect long-term preventive changes awaits to be seen.]

  • Take that anthro degree and…

…become a community life director and chef. Liana Hernandez is the community life director and executive chef at the YWCA in Tucson, Arizona. Having studied anthropology at the University of Arizona, she gained from it an understanding of the imbalance that exists between marginalized communities of color and the dominant ones in the U.S. This insight, coupled with a strong sense of social service, drives her work at the YWCA where she says she is “setting the table for change,” an image that she takes seriously. Continue reading “Anthro in the news 4/20/15”

Anthro in the news 4/13/15

  • Why some women choose to be circumcised

The Atlantic carried an interview with Bettina Shell-Duncan, professor of cultural anthropology at the University of Washington, about common misconceptions about female genital cutting, including the idea that men force women to undergo the procedure. Shell-Duncan favors the term “cutting” rather than “mutilation,” which sounds derogatory and can complicate conversations with those who practice FGC (female genital cutting). She challenges the widespread belief among outsiders that the practice is forced on women by men whereas her research suggests that elderly women often do the most to perpetuate the custom. In Shell-Duncan’s experience, most people who practice FGC recognize its possible health consequences, but they think the benefits outweigh them. Shell-Duncan recently joined a five-year research project, led by the Population Council, whose goal is reducing female genital cutting by at least 30 percent across 10 countries over five years.

  • Where do break-through insights come from?

An article in The Telegraph (U.K.) presents a counter-argument to the big push to teach STEM fields in favor of a curriculum that values creativity and critical thinking. Many examples exist of innovators who gained insights from non-STEM fields. Notably, “…Financial Times journalist, Gillian Tett, perhaps the only mainstream journalist who predicted the financial crash, saw the risks of collateralised debt obligations by drawing on lessons on group dynamics from her PhD in anthropology.

  • Partners in Health volunteer is Ebola-free

The Boston Herald reported that a volunteer from the Boston-based nonprofit Partners in Health (PIH) who was sickened with Ebola while volunteering in Sierra Leone has been released from the hospital and deemed Ebola-free. The article quotes medical anthropologist Paul Farmer of Harvard University: “We’re cheering here in rural Liberia and in Sierra Leone, and are sure our co-workers in Boston and Haiti and Rwanda and Peru and elsewhere are too.” Farmer is co-founder and chief strategist for PIH. Continue reading “Anthro in the news 4/13/15”

Anthro in the news 2/16/15

  • Cultural anthropology expertise essential

An article in The Guardian on global mental health aid following disasters and crises noted that: “The best experts to bridge the gap between international and local experience are those who might not have a health or psychology background, but have deep knowledge about cultural differences: anthropologists.”

And more: “Since the Ebola outbreak there is a growing recognition of this discipline’s role in emergencies. The American Anthropological Association has asked its members to become more involved in the West African countries hit by the disease. It argues that if anthropologists had been more involved from the start of the outbreak more people wouldn’t have caught the disease due to misunderstandings over traditional burials and conspiracy theories about westerners spreading the illness.”

[Blogger’s note: I am happy to report that my Institute, at the George Washington University, co-hosted the meeting in November in Washington, D.C., that was supported by the American Anthropological Association, the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, and other organizations. See the You Tube videos, Part 1 – Panel 1 and Part 2 – Panel 2 of the event and the recommendations].

  • Hope for return to Chagos
Diego Garcia

The New African magazine published an article by Sean Carey, of the University of Roehampton,  summarizing the current status of the Chagossians’ claims for the right of return to their homeland. Carey discusses the legal shenanigans at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and other parts of the Empire. Leaders of the return movement are cautiously optimistic.

  • No religious basis for anti-vaxxers

An article in The New York Times reviews the issue of formal exceptions in New York state, allowing parents to not have their children vaccinated for medical or religious reasons. Recent outbreaks of measles and mumps in ultra-Orthodox communities in the Brooklyn area have prompted discussion among rabbis about possible underpinnings for anti-vaccine attitudes in interpretations of Jewish law. At one school the proportion of students receiving vaccine exemptions more than doubled to 12 percent during the 2013-14 school year. The article quotes Don Seeman, a rabbi and professor of Jewish studies and medical anthropology at Emory University: “I don’t think there’s much rabbinical support for not vaccinating…What does exist in certain communities is a lot of anxiety about science and the risks we are exposed to through technology.” The texts of most major religious were created before vaccinations were invented, so interpretations have to rely more on teachings about health and well-being in general. Continue reading “Anthro in the news 2/16/15”

Anthro in the news 2/9/15

  • Financial benefits of migrant work in the UAE, yes but…

Laborers from South Asia form the majority of construction workers in the UAE. Source: The National.

The National (Abu Dhabi) and The Hindu (India) carried articles about findings from a recent study of workers from India in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The headline in The Hindu reads: “UAE great destination for Indians to get richer”

The study, conducted by the Center for Global Development in Washington, D.C., involved interviews with 1,500 Indian workers to measure the effects their working here has had on their families at home. One finding is that the laborers earn salaries two and a half times more than what they would earn in India. And remittances they send home improve their families’ situation.

A more critical perspective comes from Jane Bristol-Rhys, associate professor of anthropology at Zayed University. She has studied migration in the UAE since 2001 and has written a book about it that will be available this year. Bristol-Rhys says the study was limited in its scope:

“The study seems to have focused narrowly on financial gains, but what about the emotional impact? In India many children are seeing their fathers only once in two years. The study has not taken this into account…The study also seems to have ignored work done by anthropologists in India as well as the UAE for the past 20 years. These have not been referenced. We know that the individual families are benefiting but is the community benefiting? The local villages do not benefit. Instead, the government takes a large chunk of the remittances that are sent. The people working in the Gulf are also under pressure to bring back gifts with them. In many cases, they take loans to go work and then have to stay for two-three contracts to earn the money back.”

[Blogger’s note: studies also exist documenting the harsh living and working conditions for immigrant labor in the UAE, indicating that it’s not clearly a “great destination” – it’s a very tough destination].

  • Misunderstanding: Ebola’s shadow epidemic in Dallas
From left: Carolyn Smith-Morris, Adia Benton, and Doug Henry. Source: Dallas Morning News.

The Dallas Morning News reported on a panel presentation at Southern Methodist University by three medical anthropologists: Adia Benton, an assistant professor of anthropology at Brown University, Doug Henry, associate professor of anthropology at the University of North Texas, and Carolyn Smith-Morris, associate professor and director of SMU’s health and society program.

While Dallas’ Ebola “outbreak” may have ended last fall, scientific exploration of what happened in the city has only begun, especially among medical anthropologists. In a two-hour discussion, the three experts sorted through how the crisis evolved, how people responded, and the language they used to describe what happened. They agreed that what took place was an “an epidemic of misunderstanding.” Continue reading “Anthro in the news 2/9/15”