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A man’s world? Not according to biology or history.

Many of us look at the stranglehold that gender-based oppression has on our societies and wonder if there was a time when men didn’t have this much power, when femininity and masculinity didn’t mean what they do now. When we search for powerful women in ancient history, when we try to identify precedents for equality in the distant past, perhaps we also betray our longing for an alternative in a world in which we fear there may be none.

Patriarchy—giving all power and authority to the father—can sometimes seem like a vast conspiracy stretching into deep time. The word itself has become devastatingly monolithic, encompassing all the ways in which the world’s women, girls, and nonbinary people are abused and unfairly treated, from domestic violence and rape to the gender pay gap and moral double standards. The sheer scale of it feels out of our control. But how old and how universal is it really?

Linda Stone.

Historians, anthropologists, archaeologists, and feminists have been fascinated by this question—and as a science journalist, I’ve been preoccupied with it for years.

In most cases, matrilineal societies are framed as unusual circumstances, “beset by special strains, as fragile and rare, possibly even doomed to extinction,” as Washington State University anthropologist Linda Stone puts it. In academic circles, the problem is known as the matrilineal puzzle. Patriliny, on the other hand, is seen to need no explanation. It just is.

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National Geographic 

New data platform illuminates history of humans’ environmental impact

The human environmental footprint is not only deep, but old.

Ancient traces of this footprint can be found in animal bones, shells, scales and antlers at archaeological sites. Together, these specimens tell the millennia-long story of how humans have hunted, domesticated and transported animals, altered landscapes and responded to environmental changes such as shifting temperatures and sea levels.

Now, that story is available digitally through a new open-access data platform known as ZooArchNet, which links records of animals across biological and archaeological databases.

Making these specimen records accessible digitally helps provide a long-term perspective on current biodiversity crises, such as animal extinction and habitat loss, and could lead to more informed conservation policies.

Erin Thornton.

Zooarchaeological specimens can also provide insights into how, when, and why humans domesticated animals in the distant past. Research by anthropologist Erin Thornton of Washington State University and a colleague on the earliest uses of the Mexican domesticated turkey, the ancestor of modern domestic turkeys, highlights how motivations for raising animals can change over time.

“Our recent work suggests that these birds were first domesticated for their feathers and symbolic links to power and prestige, rather than as a source of food,” she said.

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Zoom in on the body camera debate in Clark County

Body-worn cameras increase the public’s ability to scrutinize police officers and their actions, increasing transparency and accountability. But the cameras and management of the video they produce come with tangible costs, while academic research is mixed about whether they increase the quality of policing.

A fair number of law enforcement agencies in Washington have deployed body-worn cameras, including the Seattle, Pullman, and Pasco police departments.

But some wonder if camera programs are worth the cost.

David Makin.“The cost is a tremendous amount of money to just hold police accountable. We already do have mechanisms in place to hold them accountable,” said David Makin, an assistant professor in the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at Washington State University. “If you don’t trust them, then we’ve already failed. (Cameras) shouldn’t be the go-to for police accountability.”

Law enforcement agencies shouldn’t deploy cameras for the sake of appearances but should, rather, look at how they can “integrate this into what we do so we can do better for our community,” Makin said. “If you don’t do that, then you’re just wasting your money.”

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The Colombian

Martial arts reviewer decries criminalization of doping in sports

In an “Under the Radar” segment, MMA Beat host Luke Thomas reads a letter from Dale Willits, assistant professor of criminal justice and criminology at WSU:

Dale Willits.

“…doping, based on our data, appears to be driven by many of the same forces that drive criminal and antisocial behavior more broadly. However our literature — which is ranging from criminology, criminal justice, and sociology — have all acknowledged that zero-tolerance approaches are not effective in combatting crime and especially not so in combatting drug use. Instead, we argue the point that the criminological literature provides guidance on more promising strategies that could be used instead of the criminalization of (performance-enhancing drugs).”

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MMAFighting SB Nation

This American Lie

A WSU professor asks: do facts still matter in the United States?

Stephen Stehr.
Stephen Stehr

Ten years ago, Washington State University political science professor Steven Stehr got involved in a large-scale National Science Foundation project, training doctoral students in the sciences about how their work could affect, or be affected by, public policy. The idea was to create scientists with a toe in the waters of government.

“As an outgrowth,” Stehr says now, “I became interested in the topic of how knowledge gets used in policy debates.”

The timing was right. Stephen Colbert’s The Colbert Report had made “truthiness” — the comedic notion that if a concept feels true, it’s a legitimate foundation for law — into a buzzword, and senior George W. Bush advisor Karl Rove was credited with dismissing journalists and historians as a powerless “reality-based community.” Stehr’s studies grew into “Is Truth Really Dead in America?,” his presentation for the Humanities Washington Speaker’s Bureau. To Stehr’s mind, the devaluation of truth and facts that’s now taking place in American government and media isn’t really a new phenomenon.

“People have strategically used language, for as long as democracy’s been around, to try and make problems look a certain way,” he says. “Because if you can define what the problem is, you have a big leg up on what solution is applied to it.”

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Humanities Washington Blog