Elsevier and other academic publishers still gouging libraries

30 Jun


This is why I have a strong preference for textbooks published by non-profit publishers.

Originally posted on Why Evolution Is True:

An article by Ian Sample in the June 17 Guardian summarizes a paper by Theodore Bergstrom et al.published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science (reference and abstract below) about how academic publishers price their electronic journals when selling access to libraries (and hence members of a subscribing university).

Although many for-profit academic publishers keep the prices of their library contracts secret (they do this so they can charge different prices to different universities), state universities are required by law to divulge this information under the Freedom of Information Act. Using that , Bergstrom et al. wrote to 55 university libraries and 12 library consortia (e.g., the University of California system) to find out how much they paid for their journals (often sold as “bundles: groups of journals published by a single academic publisher).  They got information for 360 contracts. The the results are disturbing, especially…

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Land of the Beer Tank

25 Jun

Walking into my local grocery store, I noticed a large tube sticking out of a beer display. Looking at the display from the side, I realized what it was: a tank constructed out of Bud and Bud Lite.

Beer Tank

Archaeologists reconstruct past cultural systems based on the material remains they leave behind. I wonder what archaeologists of the future would interpret about the 2014 United States based on the beer tank! This monument to alcohol, commercialism, and militarism is begging for a cultural analysis (and I say this as a proud American).


Don’t Shoot, America!

10 Jun

At its heart, anthropology is a comparative discipline. We examine the minutiae of different cultural contexts and explore variation through time and across space. Doing so allows us to, among other things, shine a light on our own customs and behaviors. Using this perspective we can ask informed questions like “How do our familiar patterns compare to the ‘strange’ patterns of others?” or “Are there better ways of doing things?” Sometimes we end up discovering that we are the strange ones, when compared to global norms.



There was a school shooting near the college where I teach today. Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the event is that it was not unusual. As other developed nations respond with disbelief and horror, I realize that such events have become familiar within my cultural context. A recent headline from the satirical newspaper The Onion says it best:

“‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens


Now that is the anthropological perspective in action! So here’s my question for readers from the U.S. and readers from everywhere else: Why has America become the world capital of mass school shootings?

Guess who’s coming to dinner? Nine billion of your closest friends.

31 May

Humans eat, poop, and die just like all other animals. How’s that for a Saturday morning happy thought? All of the other wonders that “make us human” begin there: culture, art, religion, language, science, etc. You can’t travel to the stars on an empty tummy, so like the humble clam or hummingbird, we must consume energy in order to thrive and, most importantly, reproduce.


You Are Here.

You Are Here.


And, over the last 10,000 or so years, we’ve gotten exceedingly good at transforming nature to meet our caloric needs. So good that we practically can’t stop reproducing! For better or worse, we have a lot of people to feed. We’re likely going to need all of the ingenuity, intelligence, and experimentation that led us into this mess to get back out of it. How do we sustainably feed 9 billion people by the year 2050? The National Geographic Society is working on it, and you can help. Here’s their fundraising mailer:


“When I say food, what do you think of? Your favorite comfort food? Social gatherings? Family traditions? Food is such a central part of our lives. It’s also a critical issue facing our planet.

When we think of environmental threats, we tend to think of energy use, water and air pollution, or industrial waste. But the truth is, our growing need for food and the environmental challenges posed by agriculture are some of the biggest challenges we need to address.

This year, National Geographic is exploring how we can feed two billion more people by 2050 without harming the planet. You can support National Geographic’s programs, including our work toward finding better ways to produce and consume food in ways that don’t harm the planet…

Here’s a sample of the kind of work our grantees are doing, supported by your donation:

  • Helping farmers develop tools for designing sustainable agricultural systems based on the diversity and stability of local ecosystems, in places like Malawi, where agriculture has been winnowed down to the production of primarily one crop – corn.
  • Discovering, recording, and using traditional knowledge about medicinal and edible plants from cultures as diverse as the Sioux in South Dakota and native Jamaicans in the bio-diverse parish of Portland.
  • Examining the trade-offs of organic farming versus genetically modified crops for farmers and the environment in places like India.

Your gift will help us continue National Geographic’s programs, including exploring ways to double the availability of food to feed a predicted population of nine billion, while simultaneously cutting the environmental harms caused by agriculture.

Discovering low-input, high-output food cultivation practices and disseminating them to small farmers across the planet will both reduce agriculture’s significant contribution to climate change and provide a healthier diet for millions of people.

It will also add to our knowledge about how what we put into our bodies contributes to how we feel and function on a daily basis, and ultimately the length of our life” (www.nationalgeographic.com).


If you would like to contribute to National Geographic’s research, here is a link to make a donation. Thanks!

Return of the Jidaigeki

22 May

I’ve mused about the connections between Star Wars and anthropology before; 1) because those connections are culturally relevant, but 2) mostly just because I like Star Wars. A lot. (If you don’t, please bear with me until we return to more “strictly speaking” anthropological topics).




Found an excellent 8-minute video called “How are Samurai Films Responsible for Star Wars?!?” this morning. It succinctly situates Star Wars in the context of 20th Century Japanese and American film history, including plenty of cross-cultural references. Highly recommended if you’re interested in Star Wars, Japanese culture, filmmaking, storytelling, etc. (Do be aware, it contains “strong language”).



Is Cultural Anthropology Really Disembodied?

17 May


American Anthropological Association President Monica Heller comments on Nicholas Wade’s race book which, evidently, demonizes cultural anthropology.

Originally posted on American Anthropological Association:

Today’s guest blog post is by the President of the American Anthropological Association, Monica Heller.

Nicholas Wade’s recent book, A Troublesome Inheritance, is not one I would typically spend my weekends reading, as I don’t have much interest examining theories of everything in this world and little patience for theories as misguided as those examined in his book. But as science editor at The New York Times Wade wields influence, and his book reserves a special role for the American Anthropological Association (AAA), an organization of which I happen to be the current President. Unfortunately, that role is of the bad guy in a narrative opposing two figures: benighted cultural anthropology and « politically incorrect » but scientifically accurate theories of cultural evolution.

Those scientific theories, he says, show that race is a central feature of human biology, and that it has a genetic basis, which then influences social…

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Humans are special because…

15 May

As I’m overly fond of saying, humans are special. Just not for the reasons we traditionally thought we were: created separately from “animals,” center of the universe, all that anthropocentric stuff. I read the following passage in Michael Pollan’s book Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation and found it funny. Maybe you will too:


“‘Homo sapiens is the only animal that…’

How many flattering clauses have philosophers tacked on to that cherished construction, only to watch them eventually crumble? One by one, the faculties on which we thought we could stake the flag of our specialness science has shown belong to other animals as well. Suffering? Reason? Language? Counting? Laughter? Self-consciousness? All have been proposed as human monopolies, and all have fallen before science’s deepening understanding of the animal brain and behavior…perhaps an even sturdier candidate would be this: ‘Humans are the only species that feels compelled to identify faculties that it alone possesses'” (Pollan 2013:55-56).


Anthropology: The scientific study of “the only species that feels compelled to identify faculties that it alone possesses.”


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