Wednesday, March 3, 2021

The perception of odor pleasantness is shared across cultures

The perception of odor pleasantness is shared across cultures. Artin Arshamian et al. bioRxiv, Mar 2 2021.

Abstract: Human sensory experience varies across the globe. Nonetheless, all humans share sensory systems with a common anatomical blueprint. In olfaction, it is unknown to what degree sensory perception, in particular the perception of odor pleasantness, is dictated by universal biological principles versus sculpted by culture. To address this issue, we asked 235 individuals from 9 diverse non-western cultures to rank the hedonic value of monomolecular odorants. We observed substantial global consistency, with molecular identity explaining 41% of the variance in individual pleasantness rankings, while culture explained only 6%. These rankings were predicted by the physicochemical properties of out-of-sample molecules and out-of-sample pleasantness ratings given by a separate group of industrialized western urbanites, indicating human olfactory perception is strongly constrained by universal principles.

The intellectual tools that are needed for the eliciting of nature's secrets may have derived from the Stone Age art of reading tracks

Tracking Science: An Alternative for Those Excluded by Citizen Science. Louis Liebenberg et al. Citizen Science, Mar 3 2021.

Rolf Degen's take:

Abstract: In response to recent discussion about terminology, we propose “tracking science” as a term that is more inclusive than citizen science. Our suggestion is set against a post-colonial political background and large-scale migrations, in which “citizen” is becoming an increasingly contentious term. As a diverse group of authors from several continents, our priority is to deliberate a term that is all-inclusive, so that it could be adopted by everyone who participates in science or contributes to scientific knowledge, regardless of socio-cultural background. For example, current citizen science terms used for Indigenous knowledge imply that such practitioners belong to a sub-group that is other, and therefore marginalized. Our definition for “tracking science” does not exclude Indigenous peoples and their knowledge contributions and may provide a space for those who currently participate in citizen science, but want to contribute, explore, and/or operate beyond its confinements. Our suggestion is not that of an immediate or complete replacement of terminology, but that the notion of tracking science can be used to complement the practice and discussion of citizen science where it is contextually appropriate or needed. This may provide a breathing space, not only to explore alternative terms, but also to engage in robust, inclusive discussion on what it means to do science or create scientific knowledge. In our view, tracking science serves as a metaphor that applies broadly to the scientific community—from modern theoretical physics to ancient Indigenous knowledge.

Keywords: citizen science, tracking science, Indigenous communities, citizenship, immigration, inclusive

Examples of Tracking Science

The definition of tracking science describes, among other things, what Indigenous communities in Africa have been doing for more than 100,000 years (Liebenberg 19902013a2013b). Tracking science does not propose a relativist version of Indigenous knowledge that fails to make distinctions between evidence-based scientific knowledge and mythology. Instead, it attends to the empirical elements of knowledge production across diverse sets of people that, in practice, may contribute to the larger body of scientific knowledge about the world. For example, we do not think that we should “abolish the distinction between science and fiction” (Woolgar 1988, p. 166), but should consider the politics and power involved in determining what scientific facts come to be accepted, much as science studies scholar Bruno Latour suggests (Latour 20032005, p. 87–93). Tracking science addresses this issue by recognizing diverse epistemological traditions without reducing them to the stale knowledge-belief binary opposition. In this context, Hansson (2018, p. 518) explains that:

“the discussion is often couched in terms of comparisons between ‘indigenous belief systems’ and modern science. This is a misguided and unfair comparison. In particular, the common comparison between modern science and the magical and religious thinking in indigenous societies is remarkably misconceived. Religious and spiritual thinking in traditional societies should be compared to religious and spiritual thinking in modern societies. Similarly, modern science should be compared to those elements in traditional societies that are most similar to modern science.”

We do not seek to reproduce the bifurcation Hansson describes, and acknowledge that the lines between scientific and religious thinking are often not as clear as this characterization. Nevertheless, we insist that similar elements of knowledge can be commensurable across societies. Tracking science is what Indigenous communities depended on for their survival for millennia—evidence-based scientific knowledge that had an objective correlation with the real world. Furthermore, in contemporary times, Indigenous communities have been involved in scientific research as well as biodiversity and environmental monitoring in as far afield as the Kalahari in Africa (Stander et al. 1997Liebenberg et al. 2017Keeping et al. 2018), the Arctic (Danielsen et al. 2014Johnson et al. 2015), and Australia (Ansell and Koening 2011Ens 2012), to name but a few examples. See also the video and article by Cross and Page (2020): Indigenous trackers are teaching scientists about wildlife In today’s world, Indigenous farmers who follow ancient traditions in performing advanced plant breeding and agricultural experiments maintain crop biodiversity by in situ conservation, which is much more efficient than storage of seeds (Altieri and Merrick 1987Hanson 2019). Other examples include Aboriginal burning practices offering alternative fire regimes that have been incorporated into rangeland management in Australia (Verran 2002Cook et al. 2012), the use of fire to manage natural resources by the Kalahari San (Humphrey et al. 2021), and local farmers contributing to soil science in the Philippines (Richelle et al. 2018).

Within the modern urban and rural context, tracking science could become the contemporary equivalent of Indigenous knowledge, local knowledge, or even vernacular knowledge (see Richelle et al. 2018), where urban and rural communities discover and develop their own scientific understanding of their environment—without the constraints of citizenship. This has been happening in the United Kingdom, and probably other parts of the world, for more than a century (Pocock et al. 2015). The Biological Records Centre, established in 1964 in the United Kingdom, is volunteer led and involves an estimated 70,000 people. Their datasets are long-term, have large geographic extent, and are taxonomically diverse. Significantly, many recorders undertake individual research projects on their own or with others, or make observations on novel interactions or behavior. They publish these in various journals and newsletters. We suggest that what the Biological Records Centre has been doing is closer to the definition of tracking science than the dominant, but not only, participatory models of citizen science, in which it is presumed that the research endeavors in which community members participate should be planned and led by professional scientists.

Perhaps one of the most inspirational scientific papers was published by The Royal Society in the journal Biology Letters. This paper, “Blackawton Bees,” describing an original discovery on the vision of bumblebees, was designed, conducted, and written by a group of 8-10-year-old children outside of London, UK. The children asked the questions, hypothesized the answers, designed the games (the experiments) to test these hypotheses, and analyzed the data. They also drew the figures (in color pencil) and wrote the paper. The paper was inspired not by the scientific literature, but by their own observations of the world. In a sense it reveals science in its truest (most pure) form (Blackawton et al., 2010).

Our definition of tracking science would also incorporate the work of eminent independent scientists who changed how we think about the world in which we live, and produced groundbreaking scientific innovations working outside the domain of institutionalized science. These would include the 19th-century naturalists Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, co-discoverers of natural selection, along with 20th-century giants such as Rachel Carson, Jane Goodall, and Albert Einstein. Tracking science therefore provides both opportunities and role models for young people who want to go beyond the confines of participatory citizen science. It has the potential to generate a recognized knowledge network wherein their aspirations and explorations may result in unexpected innovations in science and technology. 

Anticipating Peer Ranking Causes Hormonal Adaptations That Benefit Cognitive Performance

Anticipating Peer Ranking Causes Hormonal Adaptations That Benefit Cognitive Performance. Carsten K. W. De Dreu, Klarita Gërxhani, Arthur Schram. American Behavioral Scientist, March 3, 2021.

Rolf Degen's take: The mere anticipation that ones performance will be ranked by a peer decreases testosterone and increases cortisol, enhancing cognitive achievement

Abstract: Performance ranking is common across a range of professional and recreational domains. Even when it has no economic consequences but does order people in terms of their social standing, anticipating such performance ranking may affect how people feel and perform. We examined this possibility by asking human subjects to execute a simple cognitive task while anticipating their performance being ranked by an outside evaluator. We measured baseline and postperformance levels of testosterone and cortisol. We find that (1) anticipating performance ranking reduces testosterone and increases cortisol, (2) both these hormonal responses benefit cognitive performance, which explains why (3) anticipation of being ranked by a peer increases cognitive performance.

Keywords: performance ranking, testosterone, cortisol, hormonal response, cognitive performance

Men and women’s perception of difficulty in identifying fake news is similar, while women are more concerned than men about the pernicious effects of misinformation on society

Gender Differences in Tackling Fake News: Different Degrees of Concern, but Same Problems. Ester Almenar et al. Media and Communication, Vol 9, No 1 (2021), Mar 3 2021.

Abstract: In the current media ecosystem, in which the traditional media coexists with new players who are able to produce information and spread it widely, there is growing concern about the increasing prominence of fake news. Despite some significant efforts to determine the effects of misinformation, the results are so far inconclusive. Previous research has sought to analyze how the public perceive the effects of disinformation. This article is set in this context, and its main objective is to investigate users’ perception of fake news, as well as identify the criteria on which their recognition strategies are based. The research pays particular attention to determining whether there are gender differences in the concern about the effects of fake news, the degree of difficulty in detecting fake news and the most common topics it covers. The results are based on the analysis of a representative survey of the Spanish population (N = 1,001) where participants were asked about their relationship with fake news and their competence in determining the veracity of the information, and their ability to identify false content were assessed. The findings show that men and women’s perception of difficulty in identifying fake news is similar, while women are more concerned than men about the pernicious effects of misinformation on society. Gender differences are also found in the topics of the false information received. A greater proportion of men receive false news on political issues, while women tend to more frequently receive fake news about celebrities.

Keywords  disinformation; fake news; gender; misinformation; perception; Spain

Check also... From 2012: Predicting the Importance of Freedom of Speech and the Perceived Harm of Hate Speech. Daniel M Downs, Gloria Cowan. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, Volume42, Issue6, June 2012, Pages 1353-1375.

And De Keersmaecker, Jonas, Dries H. Bostyn, Alain Van Hiel, and Arne Roets. 2020. “Disliked but Free to Speak: Cognitive Ability Is Related to Supporting Freedom of Speech for Groups Across the Ideological Spectrum.” PsyArXiv. March 9.

Menarche downward trend, from more than 16 years in the mid-1800s to below 13 years by the 1980s, has been observed worldwide, irrespective of socioeconomic status, race or ethnicity

Trends in age at menarche in low- and middle-income countries. Tiziana Leone, Laura Brown. N-IUSSP, Mar 1 2021.


Menarche (first menstrual bleeding) serves as a critical marker of puberty, and the associated physiological and social changes that collectively symbolise sexual maturation, adulthood and fertility. From the adoption of adult behaviours and the beginning of sexual life to the shame and stigma which could lead to dropping out of school, the process and timing of puberty can have dramatic consequences in girls’ lives (Coast, Lattof and Strong 2019, Šaffa et al. 2019).

Average age at menarche has been recorded in some European countries and the United States since the mid-1800s. Evidence suggests a downward trend from more than 16 years in the mid-1800s to below 13 years by the 1980s (Euling et al. 2008). This trend has been observed worldwide, irrespective of socioeconomic status, race or ethnicity (Wronka 2010, Buttke, Sircar and Martin 2012). A study describing the mean age at menarche using World Fertility Survey (WFS) data from 1950 to 1980 in Sub-Saharan African countries showed that age at menarche was undergoing a transition similar to that of European countries in the nineteenth century and was generally linked to an improvement in young women’s nutrition and health (Garenne 2020).

Age at menarche is influenced by a unique set of genetic, socioeconomic, and environmental factors (Buttke, Sircar and Martin 2012). However, its implications on subsequent health outcomes are poorly understood. Much less is known about changes in the timing and determinants of age at menarche in low- and middle-income countries. Until recently, this has been due to a lack of suitable data.

Timing and determinants of the age at menarche are key to understanding the potential linkages with health outcomes later in life and also important because of the repercussions on sexual initiation and age at marriage, and consequently on fertility. Research in high-income countries shows that early menarche has been linked to an increased risk of several adverse reproductive health outcomes, including breast cancer, endometrial cancer, and miscarriage (Buttke, Sircar and Martin 2012). Early puberty has also been associated with mental health problems in middle adolescence, with the longer-term impact unknown (Coast, Lattof and Strong 2019). Eating disorders, lack of self-esteem and mental health problems in general are often associated with an early age at menarche. All these factors have implications for health at older ages.