Blog Archives

Communicating Anthropology Goals

Last summer I challenged myself to use Twitter’s social media platform (@jin_verde) to get more information out about the work I do as an ecological & environmental anthropologist. I’m not sure I did a great job promoting my own work – mainly focused on climate change and biodiversity conservation. But I have been consistent in highlighting what scientists in my field do and how they contribute to supporting the well-being of individuals and communities. (And the work of scientists in related fields.) I love finding and sharing success stories, useful links, and serendipitous findings. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of bad news when it comes to climate change and biodiversity conservation. Finding these bright points I like to share is a little more difficult, but so necessary.

It is needed as part of our larger efforts as scientists to share our knowledge and results more publicly. If the federal government is no longer willing to promote science to the public, then we need to do so ourselves. Many already are, but more of us need to be involved because federal agencies are wiping important public information off their websites under orders of their new heads. My goal then this summer is to publish a short essay every two weeks about my research, ideas I’m working on, ecological anthropology methods and processes, and environmental/climate information. I posting this here so that I can shame myself when I don’t follow through.

But there are other ways for scientists, science teachers, and science supporters to get involved, be heard, and make our scientific work known for the benefit of all living beings on this planet. Last Saturday I Marched for Science with my husband and another scientist friend, a marine ecologist, in the cold rain. Yesterday, I braved record-breaking heat (91F, plus humidity) to participate in the People’s Climate March. It’s 2017.  Why do I need to do this? The GOP-led Congress and Trump Administration are pushing our shared planet America first into a dystopic nightmare in the name of Free Market Capitalism. Or Capitalismo Brutal as my husband would say. Resisting actions that place our life support systems – land, air, water – at risk is important. For years we’ve been told to take personal action to reduce those risks at the individual level (e.g. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle), but standing together as a public, as a community, and resisting short-sighted ignorance is equally important.

Last weekend, scientists around the world took the fight for science to the streets. We can also call our legislators, run for office, hold teach ins and give public lectures. Most importantly we can keep doing science. #ScienceNotSilence

There is nothing which can better deserve your patronage, than the promotion of Science and Literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest base of public happiness.

-President George Washington, 8 Jan 1790, 1st State of the Union Address to Congress

A successful catch

Just as March came to a close, Adriane Michaelis, a first year PhD student in the KRAC lab, received word that she’d been awarded a 2015 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship.  The award covers tuition and provides a stipend for up to 3 years of financial support within a five-year fellowship period – a huge investment by the US government in its young STEM researchers.  Essentially, a $34,000 annual stipend and $12,000 cost-of-education allowance to the graduate institution for study leading to a research-based master’s or doctoral degree in science or engineering.  According to the NSF website, they received approximately 16,500 applications for the 2015 cycle and awarded 2,000 fellowships to a diverse group of individuals.

Adriane has proposed to study what factors contribute to effective, and ineffective, community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) of Mozambique’s artisanal fisheries. As part of her comparative ethnographic study she intends to work with local fishermen to develop a community-based monitoring plan and assess the efficacy of this activity in improving CBNRM.  Within a broader framework, Adriane writes “[t]he motivation of this study is to enhance natural resource management dynamics by providing agency to those without. This need is not exclusive to Mozambique, and results can be applied elsewhere, including the United States.  Important to this project will be sharing results with relevant groups, such as community fishing councils (CCP) or the Ministry of Fisheries.”

Artisanal fishers, Maputo Bay, Mozambique

Artisanal fishers, Maputo Bay, Mozambique

The Challenge of Being Science

One of my husband’s favorite reminders of his culture versus mine is that the Spanish work to live, while Americans live to work.  I cannot really argue the point with him.  It’s true.  We Americans are a culture of doers.  And in such a culture, that harmless Monday morning question between colleagues – “So, what did you do this weekend?” – takes on a slightly more competitive and sinister meaning.  As one old proverb states, idle hands are the Devil’s playthings.

loiter

But what about loafing?  Daydreaming?  Being lazy as my dad used to chide me?  It seems that recent studies are showing that downtime from doing boosts creativity.  And creativity is absolutely necessary for good science.  A group of researchers at Leiden University found that meditation helped people come up with creative solutions to experimental problems, even when people didn’t really have much experience meditating.  In the experiment, people meditated for just 25 minutes – practicing either open monitoring meditation, letting their minds wander and being receptive to thoughts and sensations in the moment, or focused attention meditation, where individuals concentrated on a particular thought or object.  Open monitoring meditation assisted with divergent thinking, or coming up with multiple solutions to a given problem; focused attention meditation had no effect.   Chilling out in the name of creativity backed by science.  Breathe in.. 2..3..4.. Breathe out.. 2.. 3.. 4..

Being bored has its creative upside too.  I could have told you that by age 10.  I spent a lot of boring snowy no-school days making artwork or writing stories after a couple hours sledding or skating.  Scientists at Penn State looking into why boredom is good for creativity found that people get creative because they’re bored.  In the study, people watched video clips that influenced them to feel relaxed, bored, elated, or distressed.  Then the researchers gave people three words and asked them to come up with a fourth that linked the first three words together.  The bored study participants did the best at this convergent thinking task to find a single, correct solution to a problem.

So why the focus on being?  It is a topic that came up in recent conversations with a friend of mine.  We were talking about how the mad rush to produce as a non-tenured assistant professor leaves me feeling empty and ultimately unmotivated.  However, over the holiday break I didn’t work.  Well, okay I did about 4 hours worth of work over a 2 week period in reviewing graduate applications for our department.  But back to the no-work.  I hung out with my husband.  I watched Spanish TV without subtitles – they have some very interesting talk shows that skewer politicians and make fun of dating.  Pequeño Nicolás!  I drank good wine and ate amazing bread and cheese.  I connected with real people in a non-work context – family members and new friends.  I enjoyed being.  For the first few days, I was chomping at the bit to do stuff.  Anything.  By the end, I was extremely reluctant to come back to the United States and jump back into work.  I was relaxed, maybe a little bored, and my creativity battery felt recharged.

This spring term, I have been given an opportunity.  A semester without classroom teaching.  In the past I’ve funneled my creativity into student learning but now I need to focus it into my research program – research, grant writing, and article publishing.  So now, as my friend reminded me, the challenge is to continue this relaxed feeling while forging ahead productively.

References:

Playing Inside the Lab on a Very Cold Day

It is amazing what you can get accomplished at work when you all is quiet and distractions are at a minimum.  This past summer I collected some networked type data.  I asked folks at my field site in southern Mozambique to describe the social-ecological system in which they live and how it all connects together.  The interviews are part of a longer-term (I hope) project to map/describe the savanna social-ecological system (SES) of southern Mozambique from the perspective of the people who live and work there.  Maps can then be used as a focal point for discussions about key elements of SES sustainability, building long-term adaptive capacity, locating best intervention sites, identifying risk and uncertainty, potential tipping points, etc..  I got the idea from a paper I read about a Turkish team of environmental scientists who used interviews, cognitive mapping, and graph theory to construct maps of a local lake ecosystem from the perspective of the stakeholders.  They used their mapping method to run policy simulations and facilitate the creation of a participatory environmental management plan.

This afternoon I finally got a chance to play with my data.  It has taken me this long to get to it because I first had to learn how to use the software analysis program, Gephi.  Learning new software, at least for me, takes time, solitude, and a lot of button pushing.  I make a mess, delete, start over, delete, repeat et nauseum. Basically, having interruptions (student or otherwise), or at least the potential for them, does not make for a good learning environment for me.

Gephi is relatively easy, particularly if you want to download large datasets or use the datasets they give you – which are aimed at social network analysis.  However, I chose Gephi because it allows you to look at other sorts of networked data.  Including data like mine, linked social-ecological system elements drawn from TEK interviews.  But to do this I had to figure out how to configure a data set for importing into the software.  Surprisingly, Gephi doesn’t have a tutorial on how to put together a basic .csv (comma delimited) file for importing into their program.  I guess they assume everyone who uses this open source software is in the know.Thank goodness for Literature Geek (a.k.a. Amanda Visconti) and History Blogger.  Both researchers have provided detailed instructions about setting up basic .csv data files in Excel for use in Gephi.

So here are the initial results from a single mapping interview.

Salema.practice.map

First some translation and the legend.  A machamba is the local Ronga word for agricultural field and esteiras are floor mats handmade from Cyperus papyrus stalks.  The colors denote different types of capital: green for natural capital, red for human capital, and blue for infrastructure.  The purple denotes a process rather than a type of capital (I haven’t yet figured out what to do with this).  I enlarged the nodes for trees and bees because my informant told me at the end of the interview that these elements were “super important for the life of the community.”  The enlarged nodes of hospital, electricity and machamba show that they are sustainable elements, while fire and charcoal are unsustainable elements in this SES.  I provided weights, based on the perceived strength of connections, for each of the edges but they didn’t come out so well – particularly for elements that are connected but there isn’t really any perceived connection strength like charcoal and esteiras (both household money-making activities).  There were also negative weights given to connections between elements that were perceived as bad.  I’d like to figure out how to show good versus bad connections too.

At this point, I am still playing.  While I plan to create individual maps for each informant, my goal is to eventually link all the maps together.  The interviews were long but people provided a whole lot of very detailed information.  I’m looking forward to seeing more results from my playdays.

There’s a map for that!

by Adriane Michaelis

If you’ve been following the blog, you know that we’re wrapping up our data analysis for this semester’s projects. Everyone’s been busy–organizing data, looking for themes, and making some amazing Excel spreadsheets. Now we’re taking that analysis one step further, and trying to visualize the big picture (literally). We’ve moved on to map-making. I’m not talking about applying our cartography or ArcGIS skills (though that may come later), instead we’re using the data we’ve been spending so much time with to create mind maps.

What is a mind map you ask? A mind map is “a graphical organization of ideas and concepts that can be used to facilitate the generation of ideas and the learning process” (thanks to Michael Poh for the succinct definition as well as some examples of pretty creative maps). In the spirit of the semester, see the figure below for a mind map that provides a visual schematic of how to prepare for exams.

Instead of making maps to help us study for the end of semester exams, we’ve been mapping our data for each of the three projects, and maybe, just maybe, eventually creating a super-map that incorporates all three projects (or at least aspects of all three). Through the use of many colors, arrows, shapes, and even illustrations for those so inclined, we’re thinking of different ways to consider and visually depict our data. This can be especially helpful when pulling together large qualitative datasets, and will hopefully help guide the next step, putting all of our analyses to paper…as in writing a paper for each group’s project.

One of the more interesting things about the mapping process is that, though we’re attempting to map other people’s interview responses, perceptions, and ways of thinking about certain things, we’re actually getting a glimpse of how each member of the group thinks (mapping our own minds, one might say). As you can probably imagine, there are a number of ways to approach creating a map of a data set, and you can see different approaches and interpretations in the form that each map takes. This is not a bad thing—we can compare maps and reconsider our interpretations to try and create the most appropriate representation of each analysis.

As a final thought, it’s not so bad to have the task of playing with crayons and colored pencils for a bit. 🙂

Navigating a Labyrinth of Information

by Tarika Sankar

I think I could probably get lost in the oceans of information accessible to a student at a major research university, and spend the rest of my life wandering through the stacks while my family wonders how it is possible to go missing in a library. But that’s close to how I felt last week poring over a small stack of books about Mozambican history and ethnography, and while sifting through journal articles on UMD’s Research Port. There’s just so much research and information, even on a seemingly specific topic like socio-ecological systems in Mozambique, or even more narrowly, the project I am working on, agency in community-based natural resource management. A search of that exact string of text on Research Port returns nearly four thousand hits. Of course, not all of these will be relevant to our research, but it is still amazing to see that so much scholarship has been conducted in this area. Added to all this information related to agency, I’m really intrigued by several books on gender relations, economic success and politics in Africa that I borrowed from Dr. Jen. I’d love to read through these and examine how they relate to our research, but I know I don’t have time to read everything in addition to finalizing my coding from last week, scanning in the relevant chapters, and continuing to add to the literature review.

Facing a potentially overwhelming amount of information—all of which I find interesting and would continue exploring if I had the time—it helps to keep our specific research mission in mind. While sorting through journal articles, I have to keep reminding myself that we are focusing on how the community communicates and interacts with the government and NGOs and whether it has the capacity to act when managing health and environmental issues that directly affect it. It also helps to keep referring back to the raw data that I’ve now become very familiar with from both the wildlife conflict and agency angles, and thinking about how we can situate our research within the larger academic conversation.

While I’m reading (and skimming, to be honest) the sources about gender and resource management, I’ll also want to consider its relevance to our particular topic. It seems like a lot of the research I’ve encountered could be tangentially related to the idea of agency in communities, but I realize now that some kinds of research will be more relevant than other kinds, and that is what I’ll want to look for. As with any thorough and careful research process, it will take time!

Labyrinth sculpture of 250,000 books created for the 2012 London Summer Olympics by Brasilian artists Marcos Saboya and Gualter Pupo (and many volunteers).

Labyrinth sculpture of 250,000 books created for the 2012 London Summer Olympics by Brasilian artists Marcos Saboya and Gualter Pupo (and many volunteers).

Welcome Back

by Bryan Gerard

As the summer ended and the fall semester began, it was time to begin our research with Dr. Shaffer. The research team began to meet to discuss the direction of the study and learn what would be expected in this lab. During the first two weeks we were provided the opportunity to practice both inductive and deductive coding. However, this past Friday, 9/26, we decided to break up the research into several projects (Wildlife Conflict, Health, Indicators of Change, and Agency — also Local Mapping of the Social-Ecological System and GIS). Dr. Shaffer differentiated these projects to enable the research assistants to gain experience in fields that interest us. More importantly, the various projects, while seemingly diverse, also exemplify the interconnectedness of the challenges in an area experiencing a plethora of social and environmental changes.

However, before we focus on the varied projects, we are all coding interviews about wildlife conflict. This has become a major issue for the local population and Mozambican government as elephants from the neighboring reserve have wreaked havoc on the local community, destroying crops, homes, and in several cases killing humans. This work will then be used to write a report for the Mozambican government – which will ideally highlight where and how to make changes.

IMG_7120Anthro Student Researchers at the 26 Sept 14 KRAC lab meeting.

Field Updates (long post)

I’m finally in the field. It was a struggle this year between dealing with personal life issues – some major milestones – and all of the last minute baloney that comes with teaching large courses – final projects, final exams and whinging about grades that would have been better had students put in the time earlier in the term.

This past week I (and my trusty field assistant Jordan) ran a workshop on quantitative and qualitative methods at Universidade Eduardo Mondlane.  Five intense days of lectures and activities that were scheduled to run from 9am to 1pm every day but usually lasted until 2-2:30 as people had questions about coding or interpreting data.  Jordan gave 2 brief lectures in all of it on coding interviews and quant methods (freelists and triadic comparisons).  She did a smashing job and gave me a short break to rest an increasingly sore throat.  Our topics ranged from writing good interview questions to turning interview texts into numbers to visual research methods, social network analysis, and participatory methods.

The Dept. of Biology hosted our workshop and its 15 attendees were faculty, research staff, and graduate students from biology, botany, geography, sociology, economics, environmental education, and agricultural engineering.  One of my best moments came at the end of the workshop when one of the botanists, a professor and research, stated that “Social scientists really have to know a lot.  You use so many different methods and analyze your data in many ways and you then have to interpret what people say.  Plants are so much easier.  Your sort of research is really complicated.  Plants are so much easier.”  She took a lot of notes, and given that her research involves plant distribution, use, and conservation, I think she was very interested in trying out some of the methods we discussed.  I shared her statement with Jordan, who laughed and agreed.  It isn’t just anthropology graduate students who find our tools complicated.  🙂

When not working, we’ve been enjoying the World Cup – people here get together to watch everywhere.  Oh, and what is up with Spain?  Boo!  There’ve also been new experiences like going to Xipamanine Market, where you can buy anything from used clothes, to food, to AK-47s, stolen tech, flip flops, capulanas, etc.  listening to new music, making new friends, and trying new foods.  Okay, Jordan’s done most of the new stuff since I lived here for a year and a half and have been coming to Mozambique since 2004.  But for me, it’s fun to see someone encounter Mozambique for the first time.

Initial field experiences from our lab members have been trickling in.  I also prodded Jordan to write a little about her initial thoughts on Mozambique.

From Rebecca at START (19 June):

I am finishing up the third week of my internship and I thought I would send you a quick update on how things are going.

I have thus far been working on several different projects and attending enrichment sessions/trainings that are offered through START. The nice thing about START is that they realize that their internships are unpaid, therefore they offer as many opportunities to their interns as possible to gain stills that are relevant to future employment, so that they can become employable and get a paying position once the internship is over.

Things I have been working on:

  • Literature Review: Learning APA (and becoming a master!)
  • Meetings: Brainstorming, updates, informational – you name it.
  • Interview Transcription: This is a skill that I am learning. It’s not easy and pretty much makes me feel like my brain is leaking out my ears, but this is the tedious end of qualitative methods, is it not?  [Yes, this is tedious but it could always be worse.  I prefer transcription to measuring spines on bryozoans under a microscope and then entering the data into a computer.  Yep, did that for a whole year once.  But that’s what scientists do when they start out – the grunt work.  I’m sure you’re doing a great job though.  You are really detail-oriented and that is exactly what is needed in transcription work.]
  • Proposal Work at START

 Additionally I have begun to reach out to Anthropologists in the government, to set up informational interviews. I haven’t worked on this portion too much yet but plan to in the coming week.

From Maria at SESYNC (4 June):

I started work with Dr. Hadden this week–she’s very nice! Right now I’m doing a lot of background reading–social movements, methods of social movement research and environmental policy. She hopes to interview 10-15 environmental groups this summer and I am to help her prepare for the interviews (writing up profiles for the organizations/people). After they are done, I will be transcribing them. I’m also to do “Protest Analyses”. We haven’t exactly talked details, but I will be using Atlas.ti to code news stories about environmental protest from the past five years and looking to see how media portrayal of protests has changed. Its an interesting complement to my work this past semester with comparing pictures!

SESYNC itself is really great. Their office is in Annapolis, and its super nice (they’re doing some construction/expansion right now, but its very cool). The other interns also seem great–a lot of variety. Materials engineer, marketing, environmental science and policy students…I’m excited to get to know them! We meet either on campus or in Annapolis once a week, which will be a nice break for my independent work.

I’m working on my own for the most part, and Dr. Hadden doesn’t care if I’m physically working in the office or not. Except for the Atlas.ti stuff, because that’s only on the office computer but I haven’t started that yet. None of my roommates are living in our apartment this summer, so I’ve been mostly in solitary confinement. Definitely a weird change, but I’m not that sad about it!

From Jordan in Maputo, Mozambique (18 June):

The first 4 days in Mozambique have been exciting and exhausting. There’s so much I could write about, but I thought I’d make this entry about funny things I’ve learned in Mozambique, so far.

Disclaimer: This is coming from a foreigner who has been in Mozambique for a total of four days.

The first rule I learned in Maputo is to always carry my own packet of toilet paper. It’s not uncommon to come across a bathroom without toilet paper. And don’t flush said toilet paper. If you do, you might clog up the system (this is common in many countries). No one wants to be that person. Also, check to see if you can find a stall with a trashcan inside it. The reasoning here should be evident.

The second rule I learned is that you should speak Portuguese or travel with someone who speaks Portuguese (the official language) when travelling in Mozambique. There aren’t many Mozambiquans who are fluent in English, although many can hold a short conversation. But when you need someone to tell you where you can buy a bottle of wine, or you’re trying to understand how much said wine costs, finding a Mozambiquan who can tell you (in English) is a gamble. So learn some Portuguese before you travel, or carry a Portuguese dictionary if you don’t want to be attached at the hip to your Portuguese-speaking travel companion (shout out to my travel companion!). Here are the words I’ve learned so far, spelled according to what I’ll call Jordan-phonetics.

  • Bom dia: good morning
  • Bom tarde: good not-morning (I think it means good afternoon) [that would be boa tarde]
  • Ob-ri-gado: Thank you (I use this one a lot, especially since it’s the only word I remember consistently)
  • Tudu beng: How are you? [tudo bem]

o   Ee tu: and you? (you ask this when someone manages to ask how you are before you ask how they are) [e tu?]

  • Esto beng: I’m well (there are many ways for people to respond to “tudu beng”. My rule of thumb is to smile like I know what they’re saying, hope they added “ee tu” somewhere in there, and respond with “esto beng”) [Estuo bem]
  • Na-o falu Por-tu-gesh: I don’t speak Portuguese [Não falou português.]

Here are the phrases I want to learn next:

  • I’m sorry (I need this one several times a day) [desculpa me]
  • How much does this cost? (not everyone has a cash register, yo) [Por favor, cuanto custa?]
  • Do you speak English? (I usually ask this in English, but in an effort to be less obviously foreign, I shall learn the translation) [Fala ingles?]
  • Where’s the bathroom? (I probably should’ve learned this one first) [Onde esta es la banho? o toilet?]

[Jordan has the phonetic spelling here. Pretty awesome for someone who doesn’t speak the language and was thrown to the lions 4 days ago.  She has been really taking it all in stride and is not afraid to just dive right in.]

Finally, I’m beginning to learn the road rules here. Roads are always interesting in other countries, and Mozambique will not let you down. There are very few roads with lines or stoplights here. The strategy works well for Mozambicans; everyone knows which side of the road to drive on, when to swerve out of someone’s way, and how to just generally keep from causing a traffic accident. But as a foreigner who is used to stop lights, pedestrian crosswalks, and cars that stop just to let you cross the road, it’s a bit terrifying. But then again, it’s an adrenaline rush…kinda like cliff diving, but with cars. From what I can tell, the rules of the road are as follows:

  1. Drive on the left side, not the right.
  2. When there is no one on the right, you can drive there too.
  3. Passing is fair game almost any time.
  4. If you’re driving down a narrow road, be ready to swerve as far to the left as possible when another car (coming in the opposite direction) gets within 10 feet of you.
  5. When you see pedestrians in the middle of the road, slow down enough so as not to hit them, but drive fast enough to hurry them along. (Side note—if you see someone running across the road, they’re probably a foreigner. Mozambicans generally walk).
  6. If you ride a motorbike, you do what you want.

I hope you enjoyed today’s “Taste o’ Mozambique”. We’ll be back soon with another entry.

From Alyssa in The Gambia (17 June):

I figured you would be interested in having a link to my summer blog. I started this site when I went to Gambia last time and will continue to use it over the next few months.

http://seahawkinthegambia.tumblr.com/

I am on it, slowly slowly…

These past two weeks I’ve been wearing my “program assistant hat” much more than my “research assistant hat.” My primary responsibility has been to train nineteen University of The Gambia students in SPSS (for those who don’t know – a statistical program utilized to store and analyze data in the social sciences). The students have been doing very well, reaffirming my conceptions of UTG students as passionate and engaged learners.

The purpose of training the students is to utilize their skills in a nearly decade-long project surveying Gambian high school students on their health, social lives, and risky behaviors. Each survey takes approximately three hours to administer and contains over 550 variables in the SPSS database. This summer, 300 surveys are being collected and in an effort to enter all of the data before leaving The Gambia, I have been working with three shifts of UTG students over eleven hour workdays.

Needless to say, these days have been exhausting, but it is exciting to observe the students’ progress and help them to successfully enter enough data each day to keep up with the flow of incoming completed surveys.

For Americans, living in Gambia is constantly one massive exercise in patience. Changing the abbreviation GMT to “Gambia Maybe Time” may be funny, but it is also a reality. Things just tend to move at a slower pace here, often frustrating Westerners. But it’s important to recognize that in keeping with the worldview of many if not most Gambians, God is in control. If a scheduled meeting doesn’t happen today or a professor doesn’t show up for class or you’re running two hours late…it just means that all of those things were meant to happen. It isn’t a human’s place to argue with the way things are, so they accept the amount of work that is successfully done each day and only make long term plans with the caveat – inshallah, or God willing – added to the end.

I think that living here in 2011 made me a bit more understanding on days when things didn’t go my way back home, but it’s nice to have this refresher course and remind myself that I can always be a little more patient, and it’s not always my place to question why things aren’t happening at the pace I would like them to. This data entry process has been tedious at best, but it is absolutely worthwhile and it is meaningful work that the UTG students and I are doing.

In both of the predominant local languages, Wolof and Mandinka, a common greeting is to ask someone how the work is – “Naka ligeey bi?” – in Wolof. The response is a phrase that I tried to make my personal motto throughout my first year of graduate school – “Mangi ci kowam, ndanka ndanka” – I am on it, slowly slowly. This phrase is a great reminder to take a breath, slow down, and realize that the things I’m stressing about probably aren’t as serious as I am building them up to be in my head.

As long as I am on it ndanka ndanka, I will continue to make progress…and probably maintain a bit more of my sanity along the way.

Updated Happy News

Both Katie Chen and Raquel Fleskes successfully defended their honor’s theses. Katie’s thesis explored food security and how differences in data sets at the national and local levels could affect food aid. Raquel’s thesis involved the creation and analysis of new lab activities for a new course in our department – ANTH 222: Introduction to Ecological and Evolutionary Anthropology.


 

Chen, K. 2014. A comparison between local and national data: how food security definitions, dimensions and interpretations can impact aid. Honors Thesis written for the Department of Anthropology, University of Maryland. 38 pp.

Organizations around the world define “food security” in a variety of ways, but usually derive their version from the World Food Summit in 1996. Food security from this meeting is defined “as existing when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. This definition varies from organization to organization, and in this thesis I to compare the definitions from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP), and the World Health Organization (WHO) in order to understand how the definitions are shaped and how this impacts the information they collect. In an extensive search through documents, survey data, reports and published works, I found that the surveys conducted may not give an adequate idea of what food security is. I also compare Dr. Shaffer’s socio-economic household survey conducted in Tanzania to the information collected by the FAO to see if the datasets are comparable and representative of food security definitions.


 

Fleskes, R. 2014. Facilitating a deep learning approach for university students in an interdisciplinary lab setting: a case study approach to the formulation of the Introducation to Ecological and Evolutionary laboratory course at the University of Maryland.  Honors Thesis written for the Department of Anthropology, University of Maryland. 171 pp.

In interdisciplinary higher education, the challenge for educators is to understand how to design a curriculum that teaches course material effectively, while still encouraging deep learning and interdisciplinary thinking in the classroom. We present a case-study illustrating how this was accomplished for the Introduction to Ecological and Evolutionary Anthropology (IEEA) laboratory course at the University of Maryland. Laboratory session styles varied between activity-based, discussion, station, and out-of-the-classroom formats and contained critical thinking and application-based questions. A pre- and post-test on learning objectives were distributed at the beginning, middle, and end of one academic semester to assess if students were learning course material. Additionally, student opinion surveys on the quality of the laboratory course were distributed to assess student-perceived effectiveness of the course. Over three academic semesters, laboratory activities were either modified or implemented, leading to improvement in the student opinion survey. The IEEA curriculum design provides framework for how educators in higher education can enhance course effectiveness and student opinions to facilitate deeper learning and interdisciplinary thinking for in their classrooms. [a good portion of the thesis is appendices containing the labs and related materials]


Also, Raquel was accepted into UPenn’s PhD program for molecular anthropology.  She will be studying under Dr. Theodore Schurr.  Congratulations!

 

For want of a nail…

Listserves drive me crazy, even when I have all the posts condensed to a daily digest form.  However, they occasionally bring me important information about what my peers are working on, job, conference, or workshop opportunities, new articles, relevant news, and networking possibilities.  Today I received notice about yet another looming battle in ongoing war against science – in this case, it would be more accurate to say social science –  in the United States.

Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, introduced HR 4186 on 10 March 2014 – they’re calling it the FIRST Act.  It’s a budget bill that provides funding to the National Science Foundation so scientists can do basic research, discover, invent, and teach the next generation of scientists along the way. Rep. Smith states,

To remain globally competitive, we need to make sure our priorities are funded and that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely. The FIRST Act keeps America first in areas of science and research that are crucial to economic growth. Our bill focuses taxpayer investments for basic research in critical areas such as biology, chemistry, physics, computer science, engineering and mathematics. Advances in these fields drive innovation, create jobs and keep our economy strong.”

Don’t get me wrong, we should scrutinize how taxpayer dollars are spent so that monies are spent wisely.  But science is more than STEM, and social science is just as crucial to economic growth and the competitiveness of our nation as any of the biophysical sciences, mathematics, or engineering.  New inventions and technologies are great, but real people with different sorts of values, ethics, risk perceptions, vulnerabilities, economic status, genders, ages, ethnicities, etc. have to actually use them, and maybe even understand what they’re for and why they’re important.

HR 4186 targets the Directorate for the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE) at NSF in particular by cutting it’s funding budget 42%.  As highlighted in Nature News Blog, “it seeks to cap SBE funding at $150 million per year in 2014 and 2015, well below the directorate’s actual 2014 budget of $257 million.”  This translates into smaller pots of money available for researchers – both established researchers as well as young scientists applying for funds to conduct their dissertation field work.

As for the proposal peer-review process, Rep. Smith states,The FIRST Act does not change NSF’s peer review process. But it does expand accountability and requires transparency so that only high quality research receives taxpayer funds. Finally, the FIRST Act reauthorizes and streamlines federal investments at the NSF and NIST by funding research and development to address national needs.”  Okay, but how does that translate into reality?  Basically, the SBE would need to justify that every awarded grant is in one of 6 national interest areas: economic competitiveness, health and welfare, scientific literacy, partnerships between academia and industry, promotion of scientific progress and national defense (Nature News, 2014).  Which means that researchers need to provide this in their proposals.  Does that mean we get more than ~15 pages now to explain everything?  Or do we have to cut out some of the hard, important stuff on theoretical underpinnings and methods to make room?   I like that Rep. Smith specifically cites the waste of $340,000 for early human-set fires in New Zealand.  It’s clear that he doesn’t see any connections between fire, changing climate patterns, and what we could learn from history or other cultures.  Again, this sort of change will make it tougher for many social scientists to get funding for research.

Lastly, grant recipients are capped at 5 years and proposals to 5 citations regardless of discipline.   Long-term research and complex projects just got more difficult.  That includes longitudinal studies with different populations and research on human-environment interactions.  And only 5 citations?  Just to repeat, FIVE citations.  WHAT??????  Are they crazy?  I guess that means we have to cut out all that boring, hard stuff on theoretical support for our ideas and methods on how we actually intend to carry out the research.  There’s more problems with the bill being introduced, but I need to cool off a bit.  How does this work in the interests of making sure taxpayer dollars are well spent?  Anything could be proposed.  <snark> I guess we’ve now seen the edge of the universe, no need to stand on the shoulders of giants to look any further. </snark>

Internet rumor has it that George Washington, our first president, once said, “There is nothing which can better deserve your patronage, than the promotion of science and literature.  Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness.”  As a scientist, and an anthropologist, I couldn’t agree more.

For Want Of A Nail. Scott Gustafson, 2010

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