All scientists are atheists, duh…

According to new research, the battle between science and religion isn’t only socially created. It’s a battle that’s going on in each of our brains.

Basically, one side of the brain is more emphatic while the other side is analytical. When using one of these networks, the other is lessened.

The study suggests a positive correlation with religion and empathy and well as with science and critical thinking. That is, religious people tend to think with empathy, which suppresses the ability to be analytical. Alternately, scientific minds think more critically, which suppresses the ability to empathize.

Statistically, scientists attend religious services almost as much as the general population. Most are some denomination of Christianity.

How can this possibly be? Doesn’t that study show that you can’t be empathetic AND analytical?

Actually, it just means that when you are practicing religion, you’re emphatic and not critically thinking. And it means when you are doing science, your brain shuts off that emotional side and allows you to focus on the data. The way our brains work actually helps us be religious and be scientists!

Interestingly enough, the more religious- or scientific-minded one is, the less they perceive a conflict between science and religion.

Anthropology is by its origins a secular discipline. It’s always striven to become the best it can be scientifically. This is necessary of all science. It should be separated from bias associated with religion, absolutely.

But being a scientist shouldn’t disqualify you from continuing or entering into a relationship with God, the Universe, Creator, etc., and being religious shouldn’t make you fear knowledge. This study shows us that these seemingly conflicting positions can actually coexist in harmony.

Personally, I don’t think believing in evolution means there is no God. I’ve never understood this argument. But then again, I’ve never irrationally believed the literal interpretation of the Bible.

Even if you are a Christian and you believe God created man, could evolution not be the vehicle through which He created us?

The disciplines of science and religion have many similar basic rules. There is a certain degree of faith when it comes to science. Both religion and science cannot be 100% proven – they are both full of theories – and both religious and scientific people have to take these theories on faith. The more evidence there is, the stronger the belief in that theory. Sometimes a theory will need to be reformulated based on the most current evidence.

When I first started seeing the world through scientific eyes, I questioned my spirituality. I so feared a life that meant nothing and a death that meant the end. I struggled to see how I could believe in science and believe in an afterlife or a Creator.

But when I look and see all the discoveries we make every day and think about the multitudes of information we have yet to unlock, the mystery of this perfect universe becomes clear.

There is so much we do not yet know, and both science and religion can work together to further human progress.


Applying social construct theory: Race in the News

This week, we talked about social constructs and why they matter. Just yesterday, a story was published about the social construct of race – so we get to apply some of our learning.

Students in the medical field are taught to “embrace racial stereotypes,” linking races to specific diagnoses. For example, sickle cell anemia is thought of as a black disease.

Medical doctors are trained as just that. Most don’t have a background in sociology or anthropology.



“Right now, students are learning an inaccurate and unscientific definition of race…It’s simply not true that human beings are naturally divided into genetically distinct races,” – Dorothy Roberts, sociology professor and co-author on recent race research.

This is the root of significant issues in modern medicine. Race-based medicine is widely accepted. It is very much the norm.

The article goes on to talk about “White Coats for Black Lives,” which came from the Black Lives Matter movement. It is a group where medical students fight for education about racial justice.

This is a great start to changing medical attitudes toward race. But I think this is also a great opportunity for sociologists and anthropologists to create a bridge with the world of medicine, to infuse medical learning with more holistic human understanding.

Pushing for more racial justice education is great, but if we can bridge this gap in ideology and change the roots of inaccurate belief – that would be real change.

This isn’t to say ethnicity doesn’t play any part in health. It is more likely for African-Americans to have sickle-cell anemia. But it also occurs abundantly in populations of India, Italy, Turkey, Greece and Saudi Arabia.

However, understanding that it isn’t a “black disease” is important. Some could say they understand that, but the term “black disease” is just a harmless colloquialism.

To that, I say, language is not harmless. It shapes our social understanding and attitudes.

“It’s not that race is irrelevant to health, but it’s not relevant to health because of innate differences,” Roberts said. “It’s relevant because racism affects people’s health.” (from

Throwing around terms like “black disease” and “white disease” is not only another form of institutional segregation, but it is also harmful to giving unbiased diagnoses.

This is especially disconcerting considering misdiagnosis is said to happen to every American at least once in their lifetime and is the top cause of malpractice suits.

There aren’t many in the medical community who understand social constructionism, especially as it applies to race. It’s time to restructure “modern medicine,” which to me seems a bit archaic in its racial ideology (among other things).

Let’s move forward to create, instead of a machine, a human mechanism truly worthy of modern living.


Tit for Tat: An argument for body modification

Those youths and their inked arms and pesky lip earrings! These new fads are just crazy…

I’m sure you’ve heard some variation of this at one point or another. When I pierced my own lip in 9th grade, my mom was so upset. She didn’t understand the “why’ in what I had done.

Culturally, piercings, tattoos and other forms of body decoration have existed for thousands of years. Many forms of body modification were independently invented. This tells me I’m not weird for wanting to poke a hole through my face. It’s a natural, visual way to build on our personal, human identities.

Some of those customs may seem a bit strange to you – lip plates and teeth gems. Believe it or not, people in developed countries are displaying even stranger, more complex mods.

But is it really ‘strange’ if it is a reflection of ourselves which is partly shaped by the society we find ourselves in? I think not.

Let’s look at these customs by type.

First, we have tattoos, which most cultures developed independently. In ancient times, they were used to show religious affiliation, social status, coming-of-age rites and more.

Tattoos remain highly spiritual today. The most common tattoos include crosses, angels, angel wings, mandalas, dream catchers,  celestial objects, inspirational quotes and still Japanese Irezumi. These symbols tie our bodies with our spirits, our faith. They tell rather important parts of our identities in pictures and script.

Many people get tattoos with other people or to celebrate or commemorate people and events. This adds an even deeper dimension than the past. We are making this a social activity, and it adds important chapters of our story to the visual representation of it. We are wearing our hearts on our sleeves, literally.

It’s also common for people to get icons from pop culture tattooed, simply allowing them to express their support for a piece of art that has inspired them or shaped their worldview.

Piercings are often lumped together with tattoos, but they serve a much different function. In the past, they served to display status of nobility or military or, for women, status of marriage. These meanings have mostly detached from the art of piercing.

Today, piercings are about attitude. They are meant as a statement and demonstrate counterculture, or going against mainstream. The interesting thing about this is piercings are so common, they are hardly countering anything. They used to. It seems they were successful in pushing against the norms. Even so, they still are meant to represent a free, rebellious spirit. They signal a certain amount of risk-taking and a desire to be unique. In this way of being identity enhancers, they are similar to tattoos.

Both piercings and tattoos also have a sense of sexuality to them. Navel piercings, tongue piercings, nipple piercings – ahem, other piercings – they all send signals to potential mates about the comfortable and in-control sexual identity of the pierced. Lower back tattoos, or the patriarchal-named “tramp stamp,” have the unfortunate labeling power to single out women as “sluts.” This has made the tattoo more popular, however, as a tool to empower women against slut-shaming.

The most important function of both tattoos and piercings may be the surge of body positivity that comes with the rush of the experience. Since when we choose to modify our bodies we are choosing to display something more of ourselves, it has a positive affect on our self-esteem. It makes us more interesting, gives us something to talk about and something to look back on. Instead of thinking of them as modifications akin to breast implants, we should think of them as body additions or body art. They accentuate qualities, not change them.

For these reasons, the regulation of body art in the workplace and military is silly. If someone is good enough to work for a company with mods covered, they are good enough to work with them showing. They don’t denote disrespect or “white trash” or the state of being a “slut.”

One woman may not be able to join the Marines because of her tattoo on her neck. The kicker is, if the women’s uniform wasn’t designed to be lower cut than the men’s, Kate Pimental (the woman) would be all set because her tat would be covered.

If the military is progressive enough to let women in, maybe they should rethink these antiquated policies. After all, mighty warriors of the past were often head-to-toe in tattoos; it seems they were further along than modern America.


Metastasizing numbers in the modern world

Most people describe cancer as a modern disease. This isn’t entirely true. While cases of cancer are certainly more common now than ever, cancer has existed since humans have.

Bioarchaeologists haven’t discovered too much physical evidence of cancer, but this is because the technology hasn’t been around long enough. Paleopathology, or the study of disease in ancient human remains, has made bounds since the development of medical technologies like multidetector computed tomography (MDCT) and x-rays. These along with a standardized technique for visual analysis will help scientists make discoveries about cancer from already known remains.


Even with the major changes in technology, there haven’t been too many discovered cases to date. It’s between 200-300 cases. This is where the argument for cancer as a man-made disease comes in.

Some scientists argue that cancer is a modern disease because of several factors, including but not limited to:

  1. the low number of ancient finds
  2. the Industrial Revolution
  3. the obesity epidemic
  4. tobacco use
  5. increased exposure to carcinogens

These factors have one thing in common – civilization. However, what they fail to consider is the expanded lifespan of the modern individual compared with an ancient human and the advancement of medical diagnoses.

cancer mummy

The Siberian Ukok princess died from cancer about 2,500 years ago.

In ancient times, many people went through life without being diagnosed or treated, and they didn’t live long enough for it to have such intense effects. After all, cancer is more likely to develop the older you get. Another flaw with that argument is ancient people were exposed to plenty of carcinogens.

Some radical views suggest cancer is entirely man-made, asserting “there is nothing in the natural world that can cause cancer.” Obviously, this is simply scientifically false. You can be born with cancer. The sun causes cancer, genetics cause cancer and so do chemicals.

You might be thinking, chemicals you say? Aren’t those man-made? Some are, but 99% of the chemicals that get into our systems are naturally occurring.

Understanding this and studying how cancer evolved is essential to modern America. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the US, the most common forms being breast and lung cancer. One death out of every four is due to this disease. By looking at its evolution, we can try to understand genetically what makes those genes expressed. Studying cancer from this perspective can help develop new treatments, creating a better future.

Medicine and treatments aren’t the only part of surviving cancer. It’s also about the patient’s mental state. Many cancer victims blame themselves. They wonder what they did to deserve it. I hope this information can put that critical voice to rest.

Further Reading:

Read about the Ptolemaic period Egyptian mummy with prostate cancer.

Check out this slideshow of cancer in an Egyptian skeleton.

More about the evolution of cancer.


I feel like a hero – and you are my heroin

That’s right. The heroin epidemic is so out of control in the US, The Cincinnati Enquirer has their own Terry DeMio to report on all things heroin-related.

In more than half of the states, heroin use is on a steep incline.

From 2000 to 2014, there has been a 138.8 percent increase in drug overdoses. 61% of overdoses in 2014 were opioid/heroin-related. Prescribed medications such as fentanyl are becoming more prevalent, and that drug is 50 times more powerful than heroin.

Perhaps most alarming is the numbers in New Jersey, which has been coined Herointown by a group of journalists in the area. This project includes a page dedicated to every person who died from heroin in the state since 2004 and includes more than 5000 people’s names, ages, hometowns and years of death.

And that is only the deceased victims in a single state. Think of how many people are living with this addiction right now.

Besides the visible symptoms like shortness of breath, dry mouth, small pupils, sudden changes in behavior, disorientation and droopy appearance, heroin causes lasting bone damage.

  1. Osteomyelitis

Osteomyelitis is correlated with drug abuse involving a needle. This is a bone infection that travels through the blood stream. Because it is most likely to affect the spine in adults, it can cause lifelong disability. If caught soon enough – which is unlikely to be the case if you are a drug abuser – the infected bone can be removed through surgery.

2. Osteoporosis

Opiate abuse has been linked to osteopenia, which means a decrease in bone density. Eventually, this can take a turn for the worst, becoming osteoporosis. This can cause the bones to become so brittle, a simple fall can cause them to fracture.

3. Arthritis

Because addicts usually also suffer from malnutrition, their joints usually weaken. The nutritional deficiencies negatively affect the body’s ability to repair itself, causing osteoarthritis.

4. Poor Posture

Opiate users are known to have poor posture. The weakening of the muscles that support the spine can increase pain and the risk of injury just from doing everyday activities.

5. Partial Paralysis

The atrophied muscles and bone diseases associated with heroin use can lead to paralysis of the affected areas.

If all of these horrible things – and loads more, by the way – are possible, why are the numbers increasing so dramatically?

Simple economics. The US has seen a decrease in cocaine and Oxycontin use. These drugs have become more expensive and harder to get. More people are turning to heroin, the cheaper drug that can be purchased for only $9 a dose.

However, it isn’t only the poor picking this poison. Remember Cory Monteith from Glee? He died about three years ago from a heroin overdose, horrifying fans across the world. He just didn’t seem like the type.

The truth is, “the type” is everyone. Drugs don’t discriminate. For the wealthy, it is easier to stay on the drugs without being noticed. This is because the malnutrition associated with heroin addicts isn’t from the drug itself. It is from the lifestyle that goes with it, and a poor addict will choose drugs over food.

What can you do about this problem now?

As fellow blogger Patricia Byrne writes: “Stop the silence.”

When you notice symptoms, start the conversation. Don’t let the people around you suffer just because it might be embarrassing or a hard thing to confront.

Saving lives begins with you.

Further Reading:

Learn about who is using heroin in this USNews article.


You might want to stand up for this…

We briefly talked about sedentism in yesterday’s discussion about the Paleo diet. It’s important to understand how detrimental this lifestyle of inactivity really is to our health. It is correlated with heart disease, diabetes, cancer and obesity.

It has even affected the evolution of the human skeleton.

If you compared your bones with your ancestors’ and even a chimpanzee’s bones, you would notice a stark difference in the density of the bones. Our skeletons have become lighter and contain less spongy bone, which results in a higher risk of osteoporosis, a bone disease that makes your bones brittle and fragile, which ultimately leads to fractured bones.

If we think about the history of the modern human lifestyle, the changes in our bones are entwined with the effects of improvements in agricultural technology. Our hunting-and-gathering ancestors were extremely active when procuring suitable nutrition, and they were always looking for food. About 12,000 years ago, they made the switch to farming, which led to a surplus of food, which led to what elitists would call “civilized society.” This meant people could sit down a lot longer, and it’s only gotten worse since then.

The average American can spend up to 22 hours sitting or being inactive per day. This means we aren’t putting enough stress on our bones for them to grow stronger.

Bioarchaeological evidence shows the Neolithic Revolution brought with it a decline in oral health, a decrease in skull size and increases in both nutritional deficiencies and infectious diseases.


We’ve all seen the ‘Got Milk?’ ads, so we all know how important it is to drink our milk to allow for strong bones.(updated 5/11/16)

So why aren’t we also emphasizing providing our bones with necessary activity as well?


Don’t have a cow; science has your back(fat)

If you’re like me, you’ve tried all the diets – from Weight Watchers to Atkins and everything in between. And, like me, you probably rebounded off these fad diets pretty hard. (I lost more than 30 pounds on Atkins in two months before gaining back about 45.)

That’s because – according to shiny, new facts – these diets are not sustainable as a lifestyle. When you’re trying to lose weight, you need to be realistic about the long-term. As with most things, biological anthropology can help with that.

One diet I never got into was the Paleo diet. If you haven’t heard, this diet asks participants to only eat meat (lots!) and other foods that could be hunted and gathered by our ancestors over the last two million years.

hunting and gathering

I do some hunting and gathering myself from time to time.

The problem with this is, we’ve been evolving for about 20 million years. Two million years is a sliver of time in comparison and probably didn’t have a huge effect on the evolution of the human diet. If we go back to our beginnings, our diet should mostly consist of vegetables.

That doesn’t mean we should be folivores, or vegetarians. Meat was essential in providing sufficient energy to evolve our big brains. It is still an important part of the human diet. However, the problem lies in modern domesticated bovine – cows. They are full of unhealthy fats, which contribute to high cholesterol and heart disease. Leaner, wild proteins from sources like deer are superior.

Obviously, this isn’t realistic for everyone. So, what can we do with this knowledge? Base your diet around mostly vegetables. Then, add some fruit and proteins from seafood, nuts and seeds. Eat red meat in small portions unless you’re getting it from a lean, wild source.

Keep in mind, our ancestors were extremely active. Strong, nomadic hunter-gatherers. Like with any lifestyle change, exercise is vital to maintaining a healthy mind and body. Even with our new-ish sedentarianism, we should all be getting at least 150 minutes of activity in per week!

If this selection of food isn’t cutting it for you, don’t worry. It isn’t the only option. (Although, the exercise still applies.)

Biological anthropologist Stephen Le released a book this month about our more recent ancestors and how we should emulate their diets. He doesn’t mean the general human population, either. His book calls for you, the individual, to find your regional roots and to adopt the ancestral menu of that region.

Those are your only two options.

Just kidding. Those are just suggestions scientists have provided evidence for. The bottom line is the modern human diet is at the core of our health crises.

There is so much dissent when it comes to nutrition and diet and what works versus what is good for us. But most scientists say the same thing: Everyone’s body is different based on genetics and environment. Do what works for you. If you listen to your body, it will tell you what it needs.

Further reading:

Also check out this interesting multimedia piece by National Geographic, “The Evolution of Diet.”

Paleo Recipes