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
Pornhub compared Gallup's survey of religiosity
to its own records of smut-seekers, and learned that residents of America's most religious cities love themselves some porn
. [Pando Daily] Read the rest
American expat Leigh Alexander has had her first Eurovision party as an embedded foreigner in London. It went well.
It could just be cultural connections that make us identify one song as happy and another as sad. But, explains Joe Hanson, there's evidence that our emotional connections to music are more universal than that.
In this video about evolution, music, and smooshy feelings, Hanson describes a study that asked participants to create short lines of music that matched specific emotions. The results were surprisingly similar, whether the participants were Americans, or people from an isolated village in Cambodia. Read the rest
This article at Lapham's Quarterly by Peter Foges has me rethinking my biases against rose champagne — a drink I tend to associate with undergrads and poorly conceived 7-Up cocktails. Turns out, the history (and the chemistry) of rose are totally fascinating
. Traditionally the quaff of queens (and really, really, really high-class hookers), real rose is surprisingly difficult to make, relying on a process that could, with just a small error, go wrong and leave you with a drink that is red, brown, or even blue. Read the rest
The fight against ingrained sexism in tech culture is gruelling indeed; but what do you do when an off-color joke about "dongles" leads not only to internet drama, but everyone—including the claimed victim—getting fired? Ars Technica sums up "Donglegate"
. Adds Amanda Blum: everyone lost. Read the rest
We're going about this feud all wrong says Matt Novak, who blogs about techno-history at Paleofuture
. "The question is not: Who was a better inventor, Edison or Tesla? The question is: Why do we still frame the debate in this way?" Novak asked in a talk yesterday at SXSW. He's got a damn fine point. The myth of one guy who has one great idea and changes the world drastically distorts the process of innovation. Neither Tesla nor Edison invented the light bulb. Instead, the light bulb was the result of 80 years of tinkering and failure by many different people. Novak's point (and one I tend to agree with): When we buy into the myth, it gets in the way of innovation today. I've only been able to find a couple of small bits from this talk — a write-up by Matthew Van Dusen at Txchnologist
and a short video from the Q&A portion where Novak talks about Tesla, Edison, and the Great Man Myth with The Oatmeal's Matthew Inman
. But, rest assured, this is something you'll see more of at BoingBoing soon. Read the rest
The idea of grief being expressed in predictable emotional stages dates back to the 1960s, writes Claudia Hammond at the BBC. But recent studies in the last decade suggest that reality is seldom so neatly defined. Her story is an interesting history of the science behind a popular idea
, but also makes me curious. Is there a value to the five stages of grief even if they aren't strictly 100% accurate? For instance, if it gets average people to accept their own emotions or to understand that grief can be expressed in different ways, is that valuable socially ... even if the exact framework isn't valuable scientifically? Read the rest
The University of Oregon's Mapping History site could easily suck up all your productivity for a day or two
. Filled with interactive graphs, charts, and timelines, it allows you to explore history in the United States, Europe, Latin America, and Africa. The US section is particularly robust, allowing you to trace everything from the development of railroads, to connections between the growth of the cotton and slavery industries, to changes in life expectancy. Fascinating and fantastic. Read the rest
There is definitely a seasonality to human births, writes Beth Skwarecki at Double X Science. The complicated bit is that human baby season isn't necessarily the same (or as strongly expressed) from place to place and culture to culture. In the United States, significantly more babies are born in July, August, and September. Meanwhile, in Europe, babies seem to make their way into the world in spring. So there's clearly a cultural component to this — but culture doesn't explain it, entirely. Skwarecki's piece explores a messy place where culture, genetics, and circadian rhythms intersect
. Read the rest
Here's a nice reminder that an expert is only "an expert" in their specific, narrow field, and (more importantly) everybody in an expert in something. A Baltimore hair stylist has helped archaeologists better understand how Roman and Greek women achieved some of the complicated, towering hairdos depicted in sculpture and paintings. How? She experimentally demonstrated that the word most scientists had been translating as "hairpin"
probably should be translated as "needle and thread". Read the rest
Martin Douglas's "The Only Black Guy at the Indie Rock Show" is a fascinating longread about race, culture and class, partly a memoir of Douglas's life as a young black kid in a North Carolina housing project who loved indie rock; partly a critique of the way we think about what blackness, whiteness and culture are.
Read the rest
The black kids of my generation and the ones before it were raised with the notion that it’s essential to hold onto one’s “blackness,” and that venturing outside of those boundaries meant you were trying to assimilate to white society, to “be more like one of them.” But essentially every African-American child growing up has an intimate knowledge of some version of the black experience, and the way we dress or the music we listen to still won’t hide the color of our skin. I never saw my interest in alternative culture as a way to obfuscate my racial identity. Aside from the annoyance of being typecast as a fan of a band purely based on superficial concerns, that conversation overlooked the one substantial reason why there are a lot of black people who relate to TV on the Radio’s music: They are a band primarily consisting of African-American men who often explore what it means to be African-American. For a generation of alternative music fans made to believe we were betraying “what it means” to be black, a band had finally come along that made that very idea a theme in its music.
But as TV on the Radio started to grow in notoriety, it still created a schism in my initial attraction to rock music; here was a band that was, for all intents and purposes, “socially acceptable” for black people to like.
There is no single definition of comfort. My newest column for The New York Times Magazine explores the different cultural definitions of pleasant living
, how those traditions affect energy use in different countries, and how globalization changes both the culture and the fossil fuel consumption. Fun fact: Engineers have a unit of measurement that helps them account for clothing when they're trying to figure out what temperature an office building should be. It's called the Clo, and 1 Clo is equivalent to one full business suit. As I discovered, that fact has a big impact on women, business people in the tropics, and basically anybody who doesn't wear a suit to work. Read the rest