Tuesday, March 14, 2017

10 Reasons Spider Monkeys could be the #2017MMM Champions

Most of the winners of March Mammal Madness tend to be large-bodied, terrestrial mammals, so it might be easy to overlook a twenty-pound, arboreal frugivore. But don't let their small size, endangered status*, or predominantly vegetarian** diet fool you! They are fierce competitors!

So, here are 10 reasons why spider monkeys are awesome and have a real shot at being the #2017MMM champions.

Adult Female Margarita at Brookfield Zoo.

1. They are smarty-pants! They are highly encephalized, with very large brains for their body size

2. We've observed them using tools, and they have a number of social traditions.

3. They have self-control. On inhibition tasks, they perform comparably to chimpanzees and orangutans (and better than capuchins and macaques)!

4. They are speedy and FLY through the trees. I'm pretty sure that they only way I was able to follow spider monkeys is that they let me tag along.

5. They are ferocious killers. Seriously. Male coalitions engage in territorial raids and lethal aggression, and there are observations of infanticide as well.

6. Their prehensile tail assists in semi-brachiation, but can also be used as an extra hand. I used to know a captive spider monkey who would use her tail to check my pockets for hidden snacks. Their tail even has "fingerprints" (aka, dermatoglyphics) to help them grip!

Look at that those tail "fingerprints!"


7. Although they are highly arboreal and dependent on tropical forest, they can travel on the ground. When males engage in raids, they walk silently, single-file on the ground (just the way chimpanzees do on raids)!

8. Although there is limited evidence for this, reports from a re-introduced population in Barro Colorado Island suggest that they may swim short distances between islands!

9. They tend to be lefties, just like me! In humans, unexpected left-handeness can provide a strategic advantage in sports and competition.

10. They are so darn cute. Yes, I know that MMM is about combat, not a #cuteoff, but since animals use a variety of tactics to win these battles, surely charming the opposition is a legitimate strategy?

Infant male Judah (ca 2010). Isn't he the cutest?!

*Most Ateles species are endangered, but they range from vulnerable to critically endangered.
**Spider monkeys are predominantly frugivores, but in addition to fruit they do eat leaves, flowers, and insects. Most of the insects they consume, like fig wasps, are within the fruit they eat.


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Resistance is Never Futile





Saturday, we made history, and it was one of the most amazing days of my life.

The train downtown

I saw the pictures on social media of women on planes, on trains, in buses, and at rest stops, all traveling to DC. When I waited with friends to take the train in Chicago, we watched our already-filled train speed past us, and boarded a second train, which quickly filled up. It was like the march was began right on the platform into Union Station. The city was alive with a stream of signs and hats, and men and women pouring through the loop to get to Grant Park.

At the Rally

During the rally, we were far enough that we couldn't see or hear anything actually going on for the rally. We stood, and chatted, and took pictures and admired signs.We watched the helicopters swirling above. I speculated about how someday, when the kids of the future learn history from virtual reality holodecks, they might be stepping into our pictures and video and virtually marching with us.

" We all move forward when we recognize how RESILIENT and STRIKING the women around us are. "--Rupi Kaur



We had no idea what was going on, and no one around us could get a connection to access social media on phones. After the "march" was supposed to happen, some people cutting through the crowd said there were tweets saying the march was cancelled. But eventually the crowd started to move, the marshalls told us to turn around, we followed the crowd, and we marched.

The giant IUD was one of my favorite "signs"


We marched, and we chanted. "This is what democracy looks like," "Our bodies, our choice/Her body, her choice," "Black lives matter," "We're here, we're queer, we're fabulous." The atmosphere felt positive, energetic, inclusive, intersectional. There were certainly a whole lot of white ladies, but there were women of different races and ethnicities, men, and range of sexualities and identities. There were babies, and older kids, and plenty of grandmothers. There were signs in Spanish and Arabic. It was an amazing and unforgettable experience.

My run buddies double as march buddies


And then when I went home and caught up with social media, I saw my friends posting from cities all over the US. I saw pictures and video of marches from different cities, different states, and different countries. We marched in every state! There was a tiny town in Idaho, where half of the town's 63 residents came out to march! We marched all around the world, on every continent! Even some penguins turned out!

From: https://twitter.com/VeraMBergen/status/822885195464458241


I hope we can hold on to that momentum and the motivation, because things are getting scary FAST. The current administration is doubling down on outright lies, cracking down on scientific research and communication, and going forward with the Dakota Access Pipeline. In just four days, there's been a terrifying move to suppress facts, suppress science, and endanger womens' rights, indigenous rights, and the environment.

We still have more work do on building a intersectional movement. But as we do that, we need to continue to keep resisting. There is so much that is frightening and overwhelming, and I'm not quite sure how to cope with it. But we need to keep up the calls, the e-mails, the protests, and reminding everyone we know that this is not normal.

Facts are verifiable. Science is real. We are entering a fascist, authoritarian rule and this is not normal. Resistance is never futile, and we have to keep at it. Let's keep on holding onto those truths.

Here are a few of the resources I've been drawing on to keep up with action items.

Action Checklist for Americans of Conscience

Action for a Better Tomorrow (IL)

It's Time to Fight

Indivisible Guide

Women's March 10 actions/100 days


I'm going to keep scrolling through the amazing footage of the marches, and singing this song when I need motivation.


Sunday, January 8, 2017

Science, Politics, and Remaining Sane in a Dystopian Wonderland

Right now, we're at a risk of entering a stage in US politics where the administration is explicitly anti-science, and anti-education. At this point, debates about whether or not scientists should engage in political activism are largely irrelevant, because science, education, and pretty much everything anthropologists do will be under attack.

The issue I struggle with is figuring out how to stay motivated, engaged, and actually make a difference. It's hard to stay sane when we're experience nationwide gaslighting. Since November 9, I've felt like we collectively fell down a rabbit hole and emerged in a ugly dystopian Wonderland where up is down and nothing makes sense anymore. As someone who values facts, evidence, and reason, it's a struggle to remind myself that I am still sane, when it seems like the world around us has decided to dispense with facts and reason.

But despite that, WE CAN'T GIVE UP. Nearly everything I care about is under threat, and we  have to fight to protect it. Here some of the ways of the Trumperdink* administration threatens the work I do:

*Many thanks to Cary Elwes for the appropriate nickname
  • Under a Trumperdink administration, environmental protections will be dismantled, climate research will defunded and banned (and climate scientists may face persecution), and destructive resource extraction will increase. This will intensify the rate of global warming and ongoing mass extinction--and that's going to determinentally effect spider monkeys and bonobos and all the other primates I love.
  • Under a Trumperdink administration, public education, both at the K-12 and universities levels, are going to be under assault. Betsey DeVos is anti-public education, and anti-teaching evolution. Teaching evolution is going to be under assault, so biology teachers, biologists, and anthropologists are going to face more obstacles to our teaching and our research.
  • Women, ethnic and religious minorities, gay, transgendered, and disabled people are already facing increased risks of harassment and violence. As a women of color, I'm increasingly scared for my own safety. Since my newest research project is looking at stress and resilience in female scientists of color, this is obviously going to have an impact on our research participants, and they research itself.
  • The biggest sources of scientific funding come from the government (NSF, NIH, NASA), and in an explicitly anti-science political climate, they are going to face even more cuts. 
  • Public universities have been facing systematic budget cuts because states refuse to adequately fund them. The combination of lack funding sources, and lack of resources to hire teaching faculty, means the job market for scientists and academics is going to get even worse. It's already been difficult and grim. Right now, my future is very uncertain. And I fear the jobs in science and academia will dry up entirely, and staying in science will require competing for the few international jobs available. 
Add that to the fact that I am terribly afraid that we are heading down a dark road may lead to erosion of  our rights, and potentially genocide or nuclear war. I am afraid, it's been hard to focus on my work, and I feel divided between my desire to stay informed and remain politically active, and my need to stay sane and preserve my emotional energy for the upcoming years.

One of my biggest fears is that I'll give in to hopelessness and apathy, and that will pave the way for much worse. My biggest fear, beyond the fear of mass deportations, internment camps, genocide, or nuclear war, is that when it comes down to standing up for other people's rights, and protecting myself, is that I will choose the cowardly option. 

So for now, I'm going to focus on preventing us from reaching that point. I'm going to join the people who are standing up, speaking out, and mobilizing to protect us. I've been calling my representatives again and again, and we saw last week that this works. I'm starting to become involved in local grassroots political activism, and need to learn more about government at the local level. The past semester, in the 21st Century Scientists working group, we've been talking a lot about how to communicate science across political and tribal identities. I'm still struggling with finds ways to put this into practice, but a common theme we've been discussing is the importance of storytelling and establishing common emotional ground. I hope I can find ways to adequately put this into practice. 

Another way that I've finding hope and establishing sanity is reading quality journalism (like Teen Vogue!), and occasionally detaching from social media to read fiction.  I've been processing the current political situation is to think about so many of my favorite books, both fiction and non-fiction, that dealt with individuals facing oppressive regimes. 

Here are few really important pieces I've read online. I suggest that if you haven't, you should book mark some of these to read, and re-read, to keep yourself sane and motivated.
I've heard so many friends say that they're losing hope, or that they are coping with the political situation by disengaging with news and social media. Please stay engaged, and stay hopeful. Here's one reason to stay hopeful: the 115th Congress is the most diverse we have ever had. We still have a long way to go, but let's do our work to support them.

The women representing us (Shared from Rep. Cheri Bustos on Twitter)