Anthropology and the “Scars of Human Evolution”

Misshaped skull from the front sits on a shelf in blue light

Two anthropologists, Rachel Caspari and Karen Rosenberg, discuss the Scars of Human Evolution. In a live interview for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (below), they address questions such as, “what are the downsides of evolution?” The chat covers the costs on our bodies, health, reproduction and on our aging populations. Caspari and Rosenberg pose an argument that runs counter to the way in which many people think about human evolution. That is: evolution is not always geared towards perfection. Humans have made excellent strides towards improving our quality of life, to make evolution “workable,” but we don’t often stop to think about the trade offs of evolution. All species have these evolutionary imperfections, but “It may be because humans are cultural animals, we’re able to ameliorate the effects of some of those [issues].”

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Divorce, Parenting and Drug Use

This is the worst use of science I’ve seen in the past couple of weeks. Oxford ethicist Brian Earp argues that couples should use the drug ecstasy to help protect the “adult pair bond” for the sake of their children. He incorrectly draws upon anthropology and evolution to make his case. Encouraging open debate about drug use and questioning the deviance and stigma attached to it is aligned with anthropology and social science principles in general. However, arguing that ecstasy is the answer to parenting and relationship problems is highly problematic.

Social science has shown that parents divorcing is not detrimental to children per se – the psychological damage is a result of parents adopting poor conflict resolution strategies. Pamela Kinner published a robust review of the literature and she conducted studies of divorced children which shows this is the case. Read Kinner’s Australian research: 

Sociology Conundrum: Which Came First, the Chicken or the Egg?

Close up of a chicken's head with its eyes seemingly accusingly with the title Sociology Conundrum -Which Came First the Chicken or the Egg

Jemaine from Flight of the Conchords says, 'which came first the chicken or the egg?'Sociology text books often use the “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” conundrum to socialise students about the structure versus agency debate. That is, do societies shape individual choices, or do individuals have power and influence over the way in which societies are organised?

John Macionis and Ken Plummer talk about this as a classic question that relates to the way we see history: as the outcome of human action. How does the education system work? We need to understand not just the laws that make education mandatory, but also the legislators who provided the legal framework for how teachers are accredited, for the topics and texts that make up the curriculum, how exams are then tallied across the state, and thus impact on the educational, economic and health outcomes of every young person. This is the ‘chicken before the egg’ argument. You can’t have an educational system (or society) without individuals making decisions that determine the outcomes and mobility of others. Continue reading Sociology Conundrum: Which Came First, the Chicken or the Egg?