Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Not so fast there, pardner.

I met with my mentor the other day (all undergraduate anthropology majors at ASU have a randomly-assigned mentor) to discuss my future. As you might know from a previous post, I've been feeling a certain urgency to get moving toward grad school, so I thought I would float a few of my ideas with Dr. Schwartz.

He listened to my concerns and my ideas, and then said what he had already told me six months earlier: "You need to figure out what you want to do, and then go for it."


He's right, of course. I pointed out to him that even though I like the idea of doing something in Anthropology that can make a difference (e.g., Medical Anthropology), it still didn't excite me as much as reading about new discoveries such as the Olmec writing or the Dikika child.

So, even though I feel as though I must apply to graduate school Real Soon Now, perhaps I'm being a little hasty. I've decided to continue on at ASU for a while, taking interesting courses and hoping I get that one big inspiration. I have already pre-registered for next semester, signing up for two courses:

  • ASM 246 Human Origins (taught by Donald Johanson!)
  • ASB 362 The Neolithic Revolution and Its Consequences
My wife will shoot me if I don't drop one of them (she feels that a full-time job, three kids, one wife, and an ongoing research project with Dr. Martin means I can only handle one course at a time), so I better figure out which one has to go. If I win the Lotto between now and then however, I might actually add another course!

I can still change my mind, of course... applications are not due at NAU until February 15th.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Elephants join an exclusive club

I read with great interest this news item from Science Magazine's website: Jumbo Reflections.

It seems that researchers have run some experiments where they put a full-length mirror (which in this case is pretty darned big) in the elephant pen at the Bronx Zoo, and led three female Asian elephants up to it.

All of them seemed to recognize themselves, but one more than the other: After seeing her reflection, she reached the tip of her trunk up to her own face and touched a white mark the researchers had placed there... in a spot she could not have seen it otherwise. Until now, only humans, apes, and dolphins have demonstrated self-recognition.

The researchers propose that self-awareness is a necessary prerequisite for empathy and altruism, behaviors possibly seen in elephants.

The most startling idea in the new article for me was this:
If the findings can be replicated in other elephants, it would be a striking example of convergent evolution, Gallup1 says. "In evolutionary terms, primates and elephants separated an awfully long time ago," he says, but social intelligence evolved in both lineages.
The complete report is published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

See a movie of Happy looking at herself in the mirror (the camera is behind the mirror).

1. Gordon Gallup, Jr. is an evolutionary psychologist at the SUNY Albany, and previously published a paper on self-recognition in Chimpanzees.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Medical Anthropology in the Spotlight

Medical Anthropology is a rapidly growing field, with more and more programs popping up at Universities around the country (Arizona State's SHESC has just proposed a new Ph.D. program in Social Science and Health). It is becoming clear that culture, health, and health care are highly interconnected in both developing and industrialized countries, and it is exciting to see it receiving attention outside of the field of Anthropology.

That's why I think the most recent issue of the journal PLoS Medicine is such a treat! The theme of this issue is "Social Medicine in the 21st Century," and it features research articles and essays which examine the importance of considering the cultural and social effects on health and health care.

The Research Articles are going to keep me busy for a long time. I'm particularly interested in one piece which examines the impact to Tuberculosis care in the aftermath of armed conflict , and I also can't wait to read the article which looks at the connections between health and socioeconomic status in India.

There is an incisive opinion essay by Arthur Kleinman and Peter Benson which emphasizes the need for medical providers to have "cultural competency." Here's the opening paragraph:

It is clear that culture does matter in the clinic. Cultural factors are crucial to diagnosis, treatment, and care. They shape health-related beliefs, behaviors, and values. But the large claims about the value of cultural competence for the art of professional care-giving around the world are simply not supported by robust evaluation research showing that systematic attention to culture really improves clinical services. This lack of evidence is a failure of outcome research to take culture seriously enough to routinely assess the cost-effectiveness of culturally informed therapeutic practices, not a lack of effort to introduce culturally informed strategies into clinical settings.

The authors go on to outline their recomendations for a systematic approach to including cultural knowledge and context into everyday medical practice.

Kepe in mind that you can read all of the articles in PLoS Medicine in their entirety, as it is an online, open-access journal. Check it out.