Arch and Anth Podcast

Arch and AnthI was thrilled to have the opportunity to chat with Dr. Michael Rivera on his highly successful and productive Arch and Anth Podcast. Have a listen here.

In this episode you can hear about my recent work with reindeer herders in Finland in collaboration with Dr. Minna Turunen, Dr. Päivi Soppela, Dr. Karl-Heinz Herzig, and Ville Stenbäck.

You can read more about this work here.

You can support and get more amazing Arch and Anth Podcast episodes here.

Human Energy Expenditure in Anthropology and Beyond

Whew! This paper has been a long time coming! Through a series of unfortunate events, it took almost two years for this to go from submitted to published.

This paper covers the current state of human energetics research within anthropology, discusses a couple of new theories in the field, and then provides a bit of a road map for future work.

I wrote this manuscript over the summer of 2018, which was likely one of the best summers I had. I conducted preliminary field work in Finland during May, and then June-August was devoted to writing and weightlifting…though not always in the order. You can read about the weightlifting here.

IT WAS AMAZING! It was one of those times where I felt like I really had the time to think, read, and write without interruption. I was able to truly engage with this manuscript and enjoy the process. It reminded me of writing my dissertation – the last time I was able to focus on just one thing.

However, the smooth sailing ended there. This is a review article, so when I went to submit it, I selected “Review” under article category. What I didn’t know was that meant Book Review and not Review Article, stupid error on my part. I didn’t realize the problem until Adam Van Arsdale asked me how the article was coming…almost six months after I submitted it. We quickly figured out the issue and I resubmitted the article under the proper category. Three months after submission, I still hadn’t heard anything and decided to contact Adam. Turns out there was some glitch and the submission never actually made it to the editor – no idea why. And, so, I submitted it a third time!

At this point, I was convinced this was a cursed article never to be reviewed much less accepted. However, in early April the reviews finally came in, but I had just accepted a new position at Notre Dame and was dealing with selling one house, buying another, and moving from New York to Indiana. I requested and was granted an extension on the reviews, and I resubmitted in September, and the paper was accepted in October. Then from October through to do was the page proofs and waiting.

I must say, though, the reviewer comments were some of the best and most constructive I have ever had. It was how the review process should work, everything the reviewers said was incredibly helpful, insightful, and supportive. Their comments pushed me to think about things in ways I had not before, and I am incredibly grateful to them. I also took this to heart and make sure that I take a similar approach when reviewing articles.

It was a long road to publication, but I am proud of this one.

Yes, we should correct misinformation; we also need to teach others how to spot it

UPDATE: check out these awesome media literacy resources pulled together by the Illinois Civics Hub! Also, check out this amazing website that provides lots of articles debunking pseudoscience and false information.

Misinformation is not new. Deception, whether intentional or unintentional is not even unique to humans (see, for example, Nature’s Cheats).

An amazingly camouflaged (a form of deception) leaf tailed gecko.

However, the landscape of how we create, curate, and disseminate information has drastically changed in the past few decades. Highly accessible internet access, engaging social media platforms, and few-to-no checks on information accuracy have not only increased the amount of misinformation, but have also substantially increased the speed and distance with which misinformation can spread.

The vast amount of information at our fingertips is an incredibly powerful tool, but can also be an incredibly powerful weapon. In the age of COVID-19, we have seen how dangerous misinformation can be (for example, the promotion of hydroxychloroquine despite the lack of evidence), which can lead to real harm (see here and the results of a recent study here).

During crises, people are desperate for information, and this frenzied desire to know more leaves us more open to encountering and accepting misinformation as true (see, for example, COVID-19 Brings a Pandemic of Conspiracy Theories)

Because of the amount and real threat of COVID-19 misinformation, there has been a vocal call for scientists to callout and correct pseudoscience and conspiracy theories (see for example, Pseudoscience and COVID-19 – we’ve had enough already).

Yes, we need to address the problematic claims. However, I think this only addresses the proximate and not the ultimate issue, which is that many, if not most, people struggle to reliably spot misinformation. There needs to be a more concerted effort to train people (friends, family, students) to be more discerning consumers of information.

There will always be people who want to intentionally spread false information, however, if we give people the tools to identify misinformation, we can limit that spread. Correcting misinformation is like giving a person a fish…they will correct, hopefully, that one falsehood. However, teaching someone to identify false claims will empower them to spot misinformation for life.

I agree with Ron Swanson – fishing is not that hard, but spotting false information can be.

Throughout my career, I have placed greater and greater emphasis on teaching my students to always be skeptical, recognize bias (their own and that of others), assess the agenda of article authors, and to confirm or refute purported facts with additional research. And, semester after semester, it is these lessons that students point to as being the most important and most remembered.

These are not skills anyone is born with; they need to be practiced over and over. Here are some tips and questions you can use to identify misinformation. You can also consult the comprehensive CARS (Credibility, Accuracy, Reasonableness, Support) Checklist.

      1. Always be skeptical! Question everything…always!
        1. Come into all articles with the mindset that the author has to provide some damn good evidence to convince you of their argument, and even when that evidence is presented…question and research it.
      1. Consider the source of the information
        1. What media outlet is reporting it? Where does it fall on this fantastic media bias chart (or see small image below)?
        2. How might the agenda of the media outlet bias the information in the article?

Media Bias Chart

      1. What is the date of publication?
        1. The COVID-19 pandemic is a rapidly evolving situation where new information becomes available almost every hour – often rendering yesterday’s news completely out of date.
        2. If the article is more than a couple weeks old, do a search to see if there is new, updated information.
      1. Who is the author?
        1. Give the author a quick search to find out their background and credentials – especially those that relate to the claims they are making.
        2. Might they have an agenda? If so, what is that agenda? What are they trying to make you think, feel, and do?
      1. How is the information being presented?
        1. How was the evidence gathered? Were links provided to original work?
        2. Does the original work back up the author’s claim?
        3. If only screen shots or simplified summaries of the original work are presented without links, BE EVEN MORE SKEPTICAL. The author is only showing you what the author wants you to see and not the whole story, and you will need to research more on your own.
        4. If you do not have access to the original work, email the author! Scientists love sharing their articles to those who don’t have access. I mean it, we really do.
Be like this hippo!
      1. Does what you are reading confirm what you already believe?
        1. If yes, BE CAREFUL. This could be confirmation bias, which is the tendency to only seek out and trust information you already agree with in order to confirm the beliefs you hold.
        2. Here is some more information about confirmation bias.
        3. Another term for this is apophenia – the tendency to make connections or see patterns between unrelated and random things. This is often how conspiracy theories are generated and spread. This article does a great (albeit long) job of discussing this.
        4. This doesn’t necessarily mean you are wrong in your thinking, but it does mean you need to do some extra research to determine if this is confirmation bias or not. Read articles (from quality sources, see media bias chart above) that promote opposing views. Once you have heard both sides of a story, try to objectively weigh the evidence and decide where your thoughts fall with this new information.
      1. Does what you are reading elicit an emotional response?
        1. If yes, BE EXTRA SKEPTICAL! The author of the article is likely trying to use emotion (and not well researched information) to sway your opinion.
        2. The same advice applies here as it did above. If you find yourself reacting emotionally to something (especially if it is anger or fear), do additional research from quality sources to determine if the original post is misleading you.
This reaction is a warning sign! It means you need to do more research!
    1. Check out the website “About” and “Contact” pages
      1. Do they have a list of reporters? If not, be VERY skeptical!
      2. Is the “About” page comprehensive and give you a good idea of who they are and what their goals are (see #2,4,&5 above)? If not, be VERY skeptical!
  1. 9. Reach out to others!
    1. 1. Still don’t know if what you are reading is true? Start conversations with friends and family who may have more expertise in a particular subject. Make sure you and they are asking questions.
    2. 2. Seeks expert opinions, and get more than one if you can.
  1. 10.  Be wary of video clip times! If you see a video clip that is only 5-10 seconds long or less DON’T BELIEVE IT! That clip was taken out of context! Do some searching to find a more complete video, and then make a judgement about the original shortened video’s goal and potential manipulation.

SoS 72 – Hackademics: Ethical Research and International Student Advising with Dr. Pablo Nepomnaschy

Sausage of Science Logo“I realized that I profited from studying a group of people, pursing my own interests, my own questions, using my own methods, and (without intending to do so) I was perpetuating a colonial way of doing science that was not there to serve the populations that I studied. And it was a shock to me.”
In our latest installment of #Hackademics, Dr. Pablo Nepomnaschy discusses de-colonizing research and navigating academia if you or your mentee are an international student.

The Making of Meaning

Sausage of Science LogoSausage of Science Episode #71: The Making of Meaning with Dr. Jeff Peterson

“So it’s interesting thinking about with humans and dogs, how they share these ways of making meaning at a semiotic level, at an indexical level…”

Hear more about semiotics, human evolution, and dogs here.

With a Side of Knowledge

Cara With a Side of KnowledgeBack in early March I was interviewed by Ted Fox for the With a Side of Knowledge podcast.

South Bend was getting what we all thought would be the last snow of the winter (we are expected to get 3-5 inches of snow tomorrow…April 17th). Spring Break was just two days away, and I had planned a cabin retreat to re-focus my energy on research. An official pandemic would not be declared for another two weeks.

When I returned from that cabin retreat to a different world. The severity of Covid-19 was finally being recognized, Notre Dame made the call to shift to remote instruction, and there was a run on toilet paper.

Listening to my interview now, I feel nothing but gratitude. I am grateful to have opportunities to talk about the work I love. I am grateful to have a job that supports me in doing the work I love. I am grateful for a job that continues to support me working safely from home.

This past month has been filled with difficult transitions, but today this podcast made things a bit easier for me.

How the Sausage of Science is Made

Sausage of Science LogoChris Lynn and I recently wrote an article for Practicing Anthropology discussing the how and why we podcast for the Human Biology Association. The short and sweet answer is that it is a labor of love. We love what we do and all the amazing people we get to interact with, and we want to share that through the Sausage of Science.

This article also provides a brief road map of how to go about making your own podcast if you are interested. Here is the link the article abstract, feel free to contact me for a pdf. Also, here is a link to the blog post Chris wrote about the article!

Debunking a Bad Science Website

While teaching today I needed to find a picture of a fossil ape skull(Sivapithecus) next to a modern ape skull (orangutan). I found the perfect image and put it up on the screens, but it turns out that though the picture was exactly what I was looking for, the website was spouting extremely bad, debunked science conspiracy theories.

Bad Science

This little gem of a quote can be find on this site, “70 Million Years Ago Caucasian Human Race has a long blond hair, blue eyes, fair skin with a small nose that is similar to the Barbie of Today.”

The students were both amazed and appalled by this. I thought out loud, “Next semester, I should totally have students find and debunk these terrible ‘science’ websites.”

Students loved the idea, and relished the thought of debunking some of the bad science that is all over the internet. Identifying and critiquing misinformation is ridiculously important these days, and I didn’t want to shut down an opportunity for my students to learn and practice this skill. So, I gave them the option to either complete the book review I had originally assigned, or do a review and debunking of a “bad science” website. Here is the link to the assignment.

About half the class decided to stick with the book, and the other half are going for the website.

I very much look forward to seeing what the students come up with.

BABIES!

BabiesMany years ago (when I was a graduate student), I played a super minor role in some research looking at the developmental timing of gait in children. This was done in Herman Pontzer‘s lab back when he was at WashU and in collaboration with Libby Cowgill and Anna Warrener. A publication came out of it, which was great as a grad student, but it was never work I thought much about once it was done.

Fast forward about 9 years when Libby calls me while I am at a train station getting ready to head to New York City, and says she was contacted by a Netflix producer who wants us to recreate the data collection for a documentary on babies (documentary is also called Babies), and Libby wants me to come out and help.

I was pretty reluctant to agree for a few reasons:

  1. This was a traumatic data collection for me. Getting screaming toddlers to walk across a force plate was the worst, and I didn’t particularly want to relive it. I do not have the temperament to work with kids, and I felt horrible during every moment of that data collection.
  2. The filming was immediately coming off the heels of my on campus interview at the University of Notre Dame, and I was going to be stressed an exhausted.
  3. I had no desire to be on camera for the world to see – especially if I was to be recreating a data collection I hated.

However, Libby said she didn’t want to do it without me, and I adore Libby. Also, how often does the chance come along to be in a Netflix documentary?!?!

Despite the stress and exhaustion of an on campus interview followed by delayed and cancelled flights, I made it out to Columbia, MO just in time for filming. It was a process unlike anything I have ever seen or done before. We had to repeat the same scenes over and over again all while trying to act natural. It can be a frustrating process. Fortunately, all the kids were great and happy to participate. Some of the footage was just fantastic. the best part may have been joking around with the sound guy. He had us mic’ed up the whole time and could hear (and regularly reacted to) the snarky comments Libby and I would make during this process.

This was an opportunity I never saw happening for me, and I was reluctant at first, but I am really glad I did it. It was such a unique experience to see how days of filming gets cut up into a 10 minute segment. It also brought about some wonderful connections with folks for potential future projects, so well worth it!

Here is the trailer for the documentary. The series comes out on Feb. 21.

Ocobock deadlifting

What you won’t see it in the documentary is where they have Libby and I lifting together in a gym. The director told me to deadlift and keep deadlifting until the long, moving shot was done. I was pulling 225lbs, and lost count after the 12th rep. I believe once the shot was done, I fell to the floor exhaling a long string of curses. This shot never made it past the cutting room floor…so, here is a picture of me deadlifting 135lbs for my biomechanics class last year.

Science on Tap: effective public engagement or preaching to the choir?

Science on Tap CapSci LogoAs many of you know I expend a lot of time doing and thinking about science communication and outreach. I founded a Science on Tap series in Grand Rapids, MI when I had my first faculty position at Grand Valley State University. I remember the first event – only 12 people showed up. It took time, but the audience grew with every event. My final Science on Tap before moving to a new position in Albany, NY, drew a crowd of over 300 people. We had to turn people away at the door…for a science event…in a local pub! Granted, I had brought in the county medical examiner – turns out people really love hearing how other people die.

As this event grew, so too did my suspicions that Science on Tap was not reaching the audience I hoped it would reach – an audience that was mistrusting in science. I had always envisioned this event as a mechanism to change the hearts and minds of a doubting public.

When I moved to Albany, NY, I founded a Science on Tap series there as well. I hadn’t initially planned on it, but the 2016 election put into sharp focus that we need more outreach, not less. That series eventually merged with the March for Science effort to form a nonprofit organization – CapSci. Despite great support and very large audiences, I still had my concerns about who that audience was and if I was really achieving the goal of improving trust in science and scientists.

That February, I attended the SEEPS meeting where I presented on my outreach efforts, and serendipitously met Pat Hawley. I told her about Science on Tap, and that I suspected it was just preaching to the choir. “Let’s find out!” she exclaimed. And, so began a wonderful collaboration. Pat has done lots of work on science education and educational psychology. She designed a survey that looked at demographics, religious affiliation, political affiliation, trust in science, and level of scientific knowledge and I implemented the data collection. We collected data from 10 different Science on Tap events that covered a range of topics from climate change to dark matter. We wanted to know who was attending these events and how event attendance impacted trust in and knowledge of science.

That publication just came out!

Here are the big take aways:

  1. My suspicions were confirmed! We are preaching to the choir – people who are already interested in and trust science attended
  2. We need to assess outreach efforts to determine if we are reaching our intended audience and our intended goal
  3. We need to work creatively to reach those who mistrust science because they are unlikely to attend events like Science on Tap
  4. Knowledge about the nature of science decreased after attending an event! That’s not good, but we think a part of that is how we as scientists explain (or don’t) uncertainty in our work. Uncertainty in everyday life is rarely a good thing, and people transfer those negative feelings when they hear about uncertainty in science

Recommendations based on this work:

  1. Embrace & explain uncertainty in science – we need to make clear that uncertainty is standard in our work, and it is what drives our questions and innovations
  2. Make personal connections…why science matters in ever day life. People will care about the science if they know how it affects them
  3. Hone communication skills…get rid of jargon – we need to be better at speaking to a wide range of audiences, not just our academic colleagues
  4. Know your audience & know your goal – and the best way to do this is to conduct similar types of assessment in your own outreach efforts