Saturday, November 26, 2011

are e-textbooks a publisher bait-and-switch?

Never change textbooks. Changing books hardly ever significantly improves your class, so pre-tenure, it just doesn't make sense to invest that level of time in something that won't pay off.

That said, last year I switched textbooks in Intro to Biological Anthropology. I had inherited the previous textbook, and I had never liked it. It was full of facts, but poor on interpretation. The book did little to help frame the class within an evolutionary paradigm, or to explain why all of the facts they threw at the students were relevant.

Despite these drawbacks, I wouldn't have changed textbooks (after all, I provide the framework in my lectures), if I hadn't wanted to save my students a lot of money. The new book came in a $35 e-text version. All of the other textbooks are at least $100.

So, last year I put the work into converting my class to the next text. This year, when it came time to order my textbook, I found that the publisher had a new edition out, and this edition does not (yet?) have an e-version. The price tag for the new edition? $130!

I don't know if this is a deliberate bait-and-switch on the publisher's part. Perhaps they will create an e-version for this textbook next year, to which my students will have access until they update again. (And gee, nothing ever happens in Bio Anth to make them want to update, right?!) Perhaps it does take more time to get an e-version on-line than to get the physical book to press, but I doubt it. The e-version was little more than PDFs of the physical book, and surely the publisher has those!

I don't have time to make any changes for next semester, especially since I'm teaching a new prep in the Spring, and re-doing the third class significantly, but after this, I'm switching to Open Source resources.

Does anyone have any suggestions where I can find good Open Source readings for Intro to Bio Anth?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

perils of anthropological parenting (aka: my poor kids)

Me: Please keep your pajamas on.

Pumpkin (2 years old): Why?

Me: Because you'll get cold.

Pumpkin: Why?

Me: Because you don't have fur.

Pumpkin: Why?

Me: Because our species is adapted to a tropical climate.

Pumpkin: Why?

Me: Because we're descended from apes.

Pumpkin: Why?

Me: Because apes are restricted to tropical environments.

Pumpkin: Why?

Me: [pause] Biogeographical accident

Pumpkin: Oh.

turns out, toucans can't be trademarked!

I blogged previously about Kellogg's (of Fruit Loops cereal fame) suing the Maya Archaeology Initiative because MAI uses a toucan in their logo.

I don't know if Kellogg got better legal advise, or if the publicity over this poorly thought-out lawsuit changed their minds. But, Kellogg has not only backed away from the lawsuit, they're donating $100k to MAI to build a cultural center in the Peten, and they're going to feature major Maya accomplishments on their Fruit Loops boxes next year.

Wow, what a win!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Pat Shipman has a new blog

Pat Shipman has a new blog about human/animal relationships. Check it out.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

painful truths about grad school

This post about grad school in history has been making the rounds. It basically says the same thing most of us have been saying: there are no academic jobs, current academic lottery winners won't tell you the truth, the opportunity costs are too high, etc. Still, it's a nice re-statement of the problem.

Although I believe everything stated in this blog post, I'll admit I find it hard to quash the dewy-eyed dreamers that come to my office, seeking advice about graduate school. It's hard to tell them "no", without it coming out as either "you're not good enough" (no matter how often I say that's not the case), or "it's only anthropology that's this f#@ked up" (especially since students who are given a pessimistic view of the future by me often find a more optimistic faculty member in another field, and assume that they're better off in history or sociology).

How much reality do you inflict on undergrads?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Madonna Moss' new book

I ran across a nice article about Madonna Moss' new books. I haven't read them yet, but hope to soon. I'll be covering the Northwest Coast in my North American class next semester, which gives me the perfect opportunity. I'm particularly intrigued by references to fish resource management. Has anyone read it yet?

Buttlurch U

Did you see the fake job posted to the jobs wiki?

Buttlurch State University

The Department of Anthropology, Sociology, and Criminal Science at Buttlurch State University invites applications for a non tenure-track faculty appointment in the archaeology of science, global warming, and interdisciplinarity. There is a preference for archaeology of the world, but all areas will be considered. We seek a candidate from a top-ranked graduate program (preferably Ivy League), regardless of publication record or teaching experience. The successful applicant will both complement and duplicate the research interests of the current faculty. Thus, applicants specializing in the archaeology of the past, the prehistory of Delaware, ancient DNA or stable isotopes, and dolphin-human interaction are of particular interest.

The appointee will have a 4-4 teaching load and will be expected to teach the same courses every semester: Complex Societies of Delaware (online), Primatology Lab, Pirates & Globalization, and a freshman writing seminar on the Archaeology of Cetaceans. Buttlurch University places a strong emphasis on teaching, with a 150-1 student teacher ratio and the expectation that faculty will pass everyone who pays tuition. The successful candidate is expected to hold an ethnographic field school every summer, run Buttlurch University’s CRM program, conduct NAGPRA compliance, and serve as the department chair after completing their first year (4 year appointment).

We strongly encourage applications from women and members of minority groups (heterosexuals preferred), even though we’re pretty much old white guys and don’t have room for more. Applicants will need to upload the following to our on-line jobsite: cover letter, CV, research statement, dissertation prĂ©cis, teaching philosophy, plans for publications over the next 7 years, graduate and undergraduate transcripts, student evaluations, course syllabi, and 8 to 10 writing samples. You will also need to upload four letters of recommendation (these may not be sent directly by letter writers). For full consideration, all materials must be postmarked by yesterday. Preliminary Skype interviews will be conducted, followed by interviews at the Annual Meetings of the Archeaology Society of Delaware.

Please note that applicants will receive no verification that their application has been received, but in about eight months, all but one of you may get a snarky email indicating that “one of the other applicants was a better fit.” You were actually the lucky ones.

This is REALLY, REALLY funny. If you are editing the wiki, please leave it here? Us poor, unemployed suckers who are looking for jobs in this economy can really use the free entertainment-- and a little levity never killed a wiki. Plus, I don't think anyone will mistake it for a real posting.

There is a VAP currently in this position.
11/12 contacted for additional references and asked for high school transcripts
11/12 - request for urinalysis received.

That bit about the "VAP currently in this position" sent me over the edge.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

horses were spotted before domestication

Ancient DNA studies shows that "leopard spotting" was one of the phenotypes of Paleolithic horses in Europe, as shown in some cave paintings.

I don't much care what this says about the painters, but I think it's interesting commentary on the pre-domestication phenotypes of horses. We generally think of coat colors and patterns as being more variable in domesticated animals than non-domesticated, since animals may be bred for a certain look, or they may react to the relaxation of natural selection against brightly colored or patterned animals who were too easily spotted by predators. Had I thought about the issue, I would have assumed leopard spotting was an example of coat variation that occurred after domestication, like spots on dogs. Well, I would have been wrong.

Monday, November 7, 2011

progress in gaining life balance

I posted a week ago about picking life priorities, in an attempt to gain more work/life balance. I'm proud to report that I've made some progress in achieving one of my priorities: spending more down-time with my spouse.

I talked to three other young families at Tiny U, and we're going to share daycare so that we can have a date-night with our SOs once a week. Each family will take turns hosting all of the kids (there are 7) at their house every 4th week, and the other 3 weeks can just drop their kids off at someone else's house for a couple of hours. (And then all three of the free couples will head to the only decent restaurant in town. Maybe we should just carpool.)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

is there a niche for anthropology as the "interesting science"?

This article from the New York Times got a lot of circulation this week: "Why Science Majors Change their Minds (It's Just so Darn Hard)"

The article is poorly titled. Yes, there is some indication that science majors switch to the social sciences and humanities because the grading is easier in those fields. But the article suggests that the real problem is that the natural sciences, math, and engineering just aren't that interesting. Or, more accurately, that the way they are taught at most universities, as huge lecture classes involving no real-world applications, is not nearly as interesting to students as the more discussion-based courses in more applied fields.

An illustrating anecdote from the article:

MATTHEW MONIZ bailed out of engineering at Notre Dame in the fall of his sophomore year. He had been the kind of recruit most engineering departments dream about. He had scored an 800 in math on the SAT and in the 700s in both reading and writing. He also had taken Calculus BC and five other Advanced Placement courses at a prep school in Washington, D.C., and had long planned to major in engineering.

But as Mr. Moniz sat in his mechanics class in 2009, he realized he had already had enough. “I was trying to memorize equations, and engineering’s all about the application, which they really didn’t teach too well,” he says. “It was just like, ‘Do these practice problems, then you’re on your own.’ ” And as he looked ahead at the curriculum, he did not see much relief on the horizon.

So Mr. Moniz, a 21-year-old who likes poetry and had enjoyed introductory psychology, switched to a double major in psychology and English, where the classes are “a lot more discussion based.” He will graduate in May and plans to be a clinical psychologist. Of his four freshman buddies at Notre Dame, one switched to business, another to music. One of the two who is still in engineering plans to work in finance after graduation.

Mr. Moniz’s experience illustrates how some of the best-prepared students find engineering education too narrow and lacking the passion of other fields.

This article reminds me of an article I read a few years ago (which of course I can't find a link to now! Can anyone help?) that suggested many women leave science careers because they don't find them very interesting. Women with top SAT math scores are more likely than men with top SAT scores to also have top scores on the verbal component of the exam. In other words, women with highly developed math skills are more likely (for whatever nature/nurture reason) to also be excellent students in other fields. There are fewer men for whom this is true. Therefore, women who started in math, science, and engineering fields often found they were more interested in the social sciences or humanities, and they also had the skill-based to thrive in those fields. So they switched. Men were less likely to switch, as they were more likely to lack the skills needed.

Anecdotally, I had many undergraduate friends who started out in math, science or engineering (my then-boyfriend was a computer engineer). Those who also had strong analytical and verbal skills (a group that did not include said then-boyfriend), did indeed switch to the humanities/social sciences or double-major. Most of these friends were male, not female. Dr. Mr. Palimpsest also fits this pattern, starting out as a physics major and deciding that anthropology was just more interesting.

Anthropology seems an ideal destination for smart, motivated, but dissatisfied science students. We straddle the divide between the natural and social sciences. A student with highly developed math and science skills can put them to use here, analyzing DNA, running stable isotope analyses, or building computer models. Yet, our research is clearly applied, hands-on, and critical to our comprehension of all that it means to be human. How much more interesting can it get?

So what can we do to bring in the dissatisfied math, science, and engineering students? I have two suggestions:

1) We shouldn't hide the scientific or technical aspects of our field. Here at Tiny U, my biological anthropology class is often used as "non-sciencey" option for students trying to get their general education science credits. They're often appalled when they find out how much real science (and gasp! even some math!) is involved. But I've had math and computer science majors tell me they've learned more in my class than in any other natural science class they've taken. We should revel in our science, and not have it a secret discovered only by those who happen to take the class to fill a gen ed requirement.

2) We must make students aware of the applications of anthropology. I've had a number of students tell me they like anthropology, but they're majoring in psychology or sociology because anthro is "all research and no practical application". We need to make it clear that anthropology is not just the study of the exotic or the distant past, with no current applications. Anthropology gains if we clarify that it is hands-on and practical for our modern world.

Friday, November 4, 2011

"Break yourself of linear manuscript writing"

I frequently re-write my articles because the "main point" of the conclusions doesn't match the "main point" of the introduction. While writing up the results, my ideas about the purpose of the paper change, so I have to go back and re-structure the initial argument.

Apparently, I'm not the only one to have this problem, based on the post "Always Write the Results First" by Dr. Isis. She recommends that we put together articles in the following order:

1) data figures and tables
2) outline the argument
3) gather supporting citations [I never do this, but I can see the appeal]
4) write results and discussion
5) write methods
6) write intro and abstract

I'm embarrassed this never occurred to me before.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

black rat commensalism

PLoS ONE has an interesting article by Aplin et al. on the history of commensalism in black rats. The team studied mtDNA in rats and found three lineages that relate to prehistoric and historic periods of human population and trade expansion. So, commensalism occurred independently multiple times, and is clearly important for understanding black rat adpatation and biogeography today, as well as the importance of rat-carried pathogens in human history.