Category Archives: Scrapbook

[scrapbook] Tinbergen on differences and similarities

Oooh, aren't those colours nice. Feel free to steal this. There's no need for us all to make this slide over and over again.

Oooh, aren’t those colours nice. Feel free to steal this. There’s no need for us all to make this slide over and over again.

The amount of times I have read this paper … I should be able to quote it chapter and verse by now.

“The naturalist who studies animals in their natural surroundings must resort to other methods. His main source of inspiration is comparison. Through comparison he notices both similarities between species and differences between them. Either of these can be due to one of two sources. Similarity can be due to affinity, to common descent; or it can be due to convergent evolution. It is the convergences which call his attention to functional problems. “

Tinbergen, N. (1963). On aims and methods of ethology. Zeitschrift für Tierpsychologie, 20(4), 410–433.

[scrapbook] On generalizing from case studies

Köbben (1970 and in other papers) was concerned with the folly of making general statements based on case studies.

In his study of the Siriono of Bolivia, Holmberg (1950) concluded that hunting and gathering tribes tended to be underfed and obsessed by food. From his celebrated study of Western European nations during the 1880s and 1890s, Durkheim (1951 [1897]) concluded that in general social isolation tends to drive a person to suicide. Hauser’s study (1959) of the Thai led him to believe that in general the more atomistic a society, the more it would resist modernization. Raulin (1959), studying the people of Gagnia and Daloa, concluded that uprooted peoples would be more interested in modernization than those still at home in the land of their ancestors.

But, Needham, (1954), studying the Punan of Borneo, concluded that hunting and gathering tribes were usually well fed and unobsessed by food. Asuni (1962), studying the people of western Nigeria, concluded that social isolation had nothing to do with suicide. Adair and Vogt (1949), studying the Zuni, concluded that the less atomistic a society, the more it would resist modernization. De Waal Malefijt (1963), studying the Javanese, concluded that up-rooted peoples would be less interested in modernization than would stay-at-homes.

Köbben, A. 1973 [ 1970] Comparativists and Non-Comparativists in Anthropology. In A Handbook of Method in Cultural Anthropology, Eds. Naroll, R. & Cohen, R. pp. 581- 596.

There’s an interesting discussion of Köbben’s approach to comparison, along with other 20th-century Dutch anthropologists in this chapter:

de Wolf, J. J. 2002. Conditions of comparison : a consideration of two anthropological traditions in the Netherlands. In  Anthropology, by comparison. Eds. Gingrich, A. and Fox, R.G. London; New York : Routledge.

[scrapbook] On the value of comparative anthropology

From: Burton, M, C Moore, J Whiting, A Romney. 1996. “Regions Based on Social Structure.” Current Anthropology 37 (1) (February 1): 87–123.

I often go back to this paper. The analyses themselves are interesting (bottom-up culture regions based on the data rather than geography) but problematic (correspondence analysis on non-phylogenetically-controlled data). But the remarks in the Reply are excellent arguments for comparative analysis.

Scholarly work is by necessity done slowly and carefully. We cannot have an instantaneous image of all of the world’s contemporary societies ready for comparative analysis. There will always be a long lag time from the collection of data to the time when systematic analysis is possible. If our profession allows the findings of long-term projects to be ruled out of court as “old-fashioned,” it will discourage the collection of systematic data in large long-term projects. In our view the trendiness of anthropology is one of the major problems of our field.

And then to end:

The distrust that many anthropologists show toward comparative research is based on misinformation, logical errors, or perceptions of methodological problems that either have been corrected or are in the process of being corrected. While there are always changes in scientific standards over time, the value of cumulative empirical research, which necessarily has a long gestation period, outweighs any possible costs to the use of data that may not have been collected according to a currently fashionable theoretical program. There is no need for false dichotomies between text and numbers, between old data and new data, between description and comparison, or between microscopic and macroscopic approaches.

[scrapbook] Morgan’s Question.

From LH Morgan’s introduction to “Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family“:

The tables, however, are the main results of this investigation. In their importance and value they reach far beyond any present use of their contents which the writer may be able to indicate. If they can be perfected, and the systems of the unrepresented nations be supplied, their value would be greatly increased. The classification of nations is here founded upon a comparison of their several forms of consanguinity. With some exceptions, it harmonizes with that previously established upon the basis of linguistic affinities. One rests upon blood, the preponderance of which is represented by the system of relationship; the other is founded upon language, the affinities of which are represented by grammatical structure. One follows ideas indicated in a system of relationship and transmitted with the blood ; the other follows ideas indicated in forms of speech and transmitted in the same manner. It may be a question which class of ideas has been perpetuated through the longest periods of time.

It strikes me that I am working on both Morgan’s Question and Galton’s Problem.

[scrapbook] suites of correlated characters

The characters used for inferring phylogenetic relationships must be independent of one another (Kluge, 1989). Suites of morphological characters that evolve in concert violate this dictate. Such correlated evolution is most likely to occur when a set of characters underlie a functionally adaptive phenotype or common developmental pathway (Emerson and Hastings, 1998). Such suites of correlated characters can mislead phylogenetic analyses because they track adaptive history instead of phylogeny (Holland et al., 2010; McCracken et al., 1999) or because they are developmentally linked to other characters (Schlosser and Wagner, 2004; West- Eberhard, 2003). In practice, it is difficult to determine the underlying nature of character correlations. This is because a suite of characters that are highly correlated with one another are expected to produce the same result as a suite of independent characters with good phylogenetic signal: strong support for a given clade (Shaffer et al., 1991).

A relevant paragraph that I wish I’d had a couple weeks ago when teaching about the data one can use for phylogeny estimation.

From Eytan et al 2011

on culture and language [scrapbook]

If it can be shown that culture has an innate form, a series of contours, quite apart from subject-matter of any description whatsoever, we have a something in culture that may serve as a term of comparison with and possibly a means of relating it to language. But until such purely formal patterns of culture are discovered and laid bare, we shall do well to hold the drifts of language and of culture to be non-comparable and unrelated processes.

Sapir (1921) Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech.

on the use of anthropology [scrapbook]

From 1936:

“Anthropology shares with history the feature of never having seriously held the opinion it is of practical utility, but of assuming that its end of understanding is sufficient justification in itself.”

A.L. Kroeber, “So-called Social Science”

on cultural determinism [scrapbook]

Benedict, in Patterns of Culture

” Society in its full sense […] is never an entity separable from the individuals who compose it. No individual can arrive at even the threshold of his potentialities without a culture in which he participates.

It is largely because of the traditional acceptance of a conflict between society and the individual that emphasis upon cultural behaviour is so often interpreted as a denial of the autonomy of the individual. […] Anthropology is often believed to be a counsel of despair which makes untenable a beneficent human illusion. But no anthropologist with a background of experience of other cultures has ever believed that individuals were automatons, mechanically carrying out the decrees of their civilization. No culture yet observed has been able to eradicate the differences in the temperament of the the persons who compose it.”

1989 (1934), p. 253

on classification [scrapbook]

Darwin, in The Descent of Man

Every naturalist who has had the misfortune to undertake the description of a group of highly varying organisms, has encountered cases (I speak after experience) precisely like that of man; and if of a cautious disposition, he will end by uniting all the forms which graduate into each other as a single species; for he will say to himself that he has no right to give names to objects which he cannot define.

1871, 1st ed. vol 1, p. 226-7

definitions of evolution [scrapbook]

Evolution is not changes in gene frequencies. Genes are part of a network of developmental causes that lead to the manifestation of traits that have general properties in common across individuals while retaining individual differences. Evolution is change in the frequencies of alternative developmental causes that yield variations in developmental trajectories (a phrase that is more cumbersome than ‘‘changes in gene frequencies’’ but nevertheless more correct).

Source: Michel, GF and Tyler, AN. Developing human nature:“Development to” versus “Development from?”. Developmental Psychobiology (2007) vol. 49 (8) pp. 788-799  DOI: 10.1002/dev.20261