Tag Archives: Anthropology

Garbology for research on condom use

Recently I completed a systematic review of research explaining patterns of condom use in five East African countries. The most basic conclusion is that researchers failed to answer this vital question. The most informative projects employed ethnographic participant-observation, and future researchers should emphasize this methodology – as opposed to the current focus on surveys, on which people demonstrably lie in large numbers. All of this is detailed in my comprehensive report, which is freely available online.

Nonetheless, participant-observation has its weaknesses, and one of these is in producing stats. Numerical evidence of trends is important for understanding whether a public-health program is working, and it’s something that policymakers and journalists expect. Since asking people directly about their sex lives yields disastrously unreliable answers, less-direct methods are needed. Continue reading


President Coyote

Watching the presidential debates, it occurred to me that Donald Trump was Coyote. His legacy would be disruption of the Republican Party and, what troubled me, of our political norms.

By ‘Coyote,’ I’m referring to the character in various Native American tales – specifically those in which Coyote is at once tricky, buffoonish, eager, self-involved, persuasive, unreliable, and unfortunately consequential. Regardless of his intent, he engenders chaos, entropy, and lost opportunities.

Then ‘we’ elected Coyote to be president. Surprise! Continue reading

My new book: Moral Compromises in Mazatlán!

My new book: Moral Compromises in Mazatlán!


Social marketing

What is social marketing?

Social marketing is using the techniques of marketing to change behaviors – influencing people to change their practices rather than simply to buy products. It has been used to help people quit smoking, use different light bulbs, and study more effectively. It could help people choose less-polluting transportation here in Jakarta.

When to use social marketing?

„If motivating people to change is:

  • Easy or unimportant, then education might be appropriate – for example, providing information about train schedules or the location of bicycle lanes works for people who already are committed to these forms of transportation. But generally (and sadly) education is less effective than marketing or force. Continue reading

Were Cro-Magnons smarter than us?

As an article from the Daily Mail points out, early Homo sapiens had bigger brains than we do. Cro-Magnons, living in Europe perhaps as early as 45,000 years ago, had 10 percent more brain than the average human today. (Neanderthals had bigger brains, too, but, unlike those of Cro-Magnons, theirs grew in a differently shaped skull.)

So does this mean that Cro-Magnons and other big-brained earlier humans were smarter than us? Not necessarily, but it also doesn’t mean that they weren’t smarter. Continue reading

Ancestral women moved among stable male bands?

Recent research regarding two long-extinct hominin species has received a lot of press lately. Much of it has ridiculously over-interpreted or misinterpreted the published findings. What Sandi Copeland and her collaborators argue officially (article here) is that these species preferred for females to move into new groups after childhood, much like “chimpanzees, bonobos and many human groups”; males, in contrast, mostly remained part of the band into which they were born.

Maybe so – but this impressive research is preliminary. It represents only an initial step in demonstrating that this pattern occurred. And, despite some fun headlines, the species involved are not necessarily our ancestors. So here’s a list of concerns to temper the fanfare: Continue reading

Is Sarah Palin white? Nerd Nite video

On March 23, 2010, I gave a presentation at Nerd Nite in Washington, DC. The promo read: “No matter how funky Justin Timberlake is, races are not genetic categories. As the great sociologists Rodgers and Hammerstein averred, ‘You’ve got to be carefully taught.’ Hurray for education in the USA! Racial stereotypes seem to be one of the few things that almost every American learns, making race socially but not genetically ‘real.’ We’ll consider all that, including who can jump.” Continue reading