I'm really enjoying Jason Colavito's reviews of The History Channel's hilarious/infuriating hit show Ancient Aliens
. What makes them better than the average blog? Colavito is an author who has written extensively about the anthropology of pseudoscience, and the connections between pseudoscience, religion, and science fiction. So his recaps are less about debunking the claims made on Ancient Aliens
(because, really, that's just too damn easy) and more about exploring where those claims come from, pop-culturally, and what makes them so appealing, to begin with. Fascinating stuff. Read the rest
Zabulon Simintov, an Afghan Jew, prepares for prayers at his residence in Kabul
Reuters has an absolutely fascinating profile of Zabulon Simintov, the last known Jewish person living in the entire country of Afghanistan. There were several thousand Jewish people in Afghanistan at the turn of the 20th century, but most of them (including Simintov's wife and daughters) eventually moved to Israel. Read the rest
What's it like to live and work in the world's most famous physics mecca? Suzanne Moore went to Geneva, Switzerland to meet the scientists who study particle physics at CERN, home of the Large Hadron Collider and the Higgs Boson — and also home to a multinational population that can reach 10,000 at different times of year. There's a kindergarten at CERN. And Halloween parties. And, of course, the much-noted tendency toward Comic Sans Powerpoints
. In other words, CERN has a culture. This is its story
. Read the rest
TIL: There are studies that suggest new babies really do smell different, and seem to trigger special brain chemical pathways in women. But, simultaneously, the smells we more consciously associate with "new baby" — i.e., the new baby smell used in baby products and baby-fresh scents — varies widely by culture. Make of this what you will. Read the rest
The rape and murder of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student last December drew worldwide attention to India's struggles with tradition, women's rights, and street harassment. In a piece for the Wall Street Journal, Krishna Pokharel and Aditi Malhotra add another layer to that onion, following the story of Punita Devi, the wife of one of the convicted rapists
. She, too, is suffering from the fallout of her husband's choices — and in ways that come back to those issues of tradition and equality. Living in a rural area where widows lose both their honor and any viable means of financial support, Devi is facing a future where she expects to be turned out of her in-laws' home, cannot return to her parents, and is judged and punished ... not for being the wife of a rapist, but for being nobody's wife. Read the rest
I'm utterly fascinated by the way culture affects the outcomes of mental illness — whether that's in terms of prevalence of specific disorders, how we interpret and treat those disorders, or even how seemingly innate symptoms express themselves in wildly different ways
. Case in point: The voices that schizophrenics hear. In the US, those voices seem to talk a lot about violence — what a person should to do themselves, or to others. In Chennai, India, on the other hand, schizophrenic patients report that voices most commonly command them to do household chores. The disturbing content comes in the form of sexual comments or directions to drink from the toilet. Read the rest
Thanks to that whole "mental" part, mental illnesses are often heavily influenced by the cultures and societies in which people live. Case in point: The way people with schizophrenia interpret their own hallucinations has changed over the course of the 20th century
, keeping pace with changes in technology. Where people once believed that demons were speaking to them, they came to think of those voices as emanating from secret phonographs. Today, people with schizophrenia are likely to imagine hidden cameras taping them for a reality show. The paranoid delusions are always there, but the context changes. Read the rest
New York-based filmmaker Bassam Tariq shares the most beautiful images from his story project, 30Days/Ramadan
, where photos from the Muslim holy month of Ramadan reveal that media stereotypes of Muslims aren't nearly as colorful or interesting as snapshots from within the community.
Since 2009, New York City-based twentysomething comedian Aman Ali and photographer Bassam Tariq have spent the Islamic holy month of Ramadan visiting mosques around America and documenting Muslim culture in the US. They've also guest-blogged individually and together for Boing Boing in the past. Bassam today sends word that with this year's incarnation of the project, they're trying to "curate some of the best and most powerful user uploaded photos during Ramadan from the world." Check it out: 30daysramadan.com.
Read the rest
"Baader-Meinhof phenomenon": That's the colloquial name for a funny thing that happens when your brain collides with popular culture
. You know how sometimes you'll hear about something for the first time — a new ukelele duo, perhaps, or a scientist whose work you weren't previously familiar with, or some obscure underground subculture ... Boing Boing is full of opportunities for the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon to kick in — and then, suddenly, that new-to-you thing seems to be everywhere
? That's what we're talking about. Scientists call it the frequency illusion and Pacific Standard
magazine helpfully explains how it works. Read the rest
And that's true even if the savings account doesn't have enough money
in it to cover a full degree — or even a semester. A study from Washington University in St. Louis has attributed this effect to aspirations. A kid who grows up knowing that their parents and others expect high education — and who grows up thinking about higher ed as an option for them — is more likely to go. That makes sense to me. Anecdotally, my grandparents sold a cow when I was born and put the money into a savings bond college fund. It wasn't much when I turned 18. But it was part of creating a family culture that made college something I planned on doing. The catch to this idea, of course, is the rising cost of college. I was lucky enough to attend school in a time and place (1999, Kansas) where my freshman year only cost me about $2000 a semester. Read the rest
The crowds at San Diego Comic-Con, with more than 100,000 attendees, represent only a portion of those who would attend if they could: tickets were sold out in an hour or two in 2012, and within minutes in 2013.
Founded in 1970, San Diego Comic-Con has since exploded into an astounding pop culture festival, attracting more than 130,000 visitors and the attention of Hollywood studios, publishers and retailers alike, all eager to cater to their most dedicated fans.
"Comic-Con is an incredibly fantastic melting pot and passionate center for people who love cult pop movies and pop culture experience," Hobbit and Lord of the Rings star Andy Serkis told Reuters. "There isn't another place in the world that tops it."
Following is a selection of photos (taken by Heather Beschizza and myself, where not otherwise indicated), which offer just a tiny slice of the costumed revelry--and sheer chaos--that fills the show floor's million-square feet.
Read the rest
Seriously now. Why don't people in central Oklahoma have basements to protect them from tornadoes? The answer, according to the engineers and geologists I spoke with for a column at Ensia magazine, is almost entirely cultural. In fact, people who study disasters say that all natural disasters are really cultural ones
— created when environmental forces run headlong into complex human social systems. And that presents an interesting question: How do you protect people from tornadoes in a state where most people don't want a basement? Read the rest
At The Conversation, neuroscientist Melissa Hines talks about what little biological basis there is behind the idea of heavily gender-coded toys for children
. It's true that male and female fetuses are exposed to different hormones before birth and that might affect what kinds of toys they're interested in later. But it's also true that there is natural variability in both hormone levels and interests within
the sexes and (intriguingly) human babies all
prefer reds and pinks, regardless of their sex. (Meanwhile, human adults prefer blue colors, regardless of sex.) Read the rest
Quora has a great thread
happening that encourages people to point out the contradictory, surprising, and downright strange tendencies within their own cultures. Naturally, one of the first posts by an American mentions that great disconnect wherein extreme violence is a-ok, but women's boobies are dirty. Read the rest
A previously unknown connection between Czech dissident Vaclav Havel and American psychologist Timothy Leary is revealed by an inscribed copy of Leary's 1977 Neuropolitics.
So, here's a new writing nightmare. What do you do if, after your book is published, and the reviews start to come in, it slowly dawns on you that you've accidentally written the wrong book ... a book which you would not actually agree with?
That's how I felt after interviewing Curtis White, author of The Science Delusion — a book that has been widely reviewed as containing some good points, buried under a lot of angry rants and straw men. According to White, however, those reviews have all completely missed what he was trying to do and trying to say.
All the invective? White thought he was just being funny and satirical, like Jonathan Swift. The over-generalizing about what all scientists believe and what the culture of science is like? He thought it was clear that he just meant the subset of scientists who don't think there's any value other than entertainment in art, that philosophy is dead, and that culture has no affect on how we interpret science or what we do with it. The weird, pseudo-Deism? He thought he was explaining that science is part of culture, that the questions being asked and the way answers are interpreted are culturally bound and and we have to take that into account. The humanities triumphalism and points where he totally dismisses science and acts like he doesn't understand why somebody would find meaning in being curious about how the mind works? Not what he meant at all, apparently. Read the rest