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UNIT: Evolutionary Perspectives
1. Was Darwin Wrong?, David Quammen, National Geographic, 2004.
Evolutionary theory is not just an ephemeral guess, but a well-established set of concepts that has come to be critically important to human welfare, medical science, and understanding the world around us.
2. The Facts of Evolution, Michael Shermer, Why Darwin Matters, 2006.
Evolutionary theory is rooted in a rich array of data from the past. While the specifics of evolution are still being studied and unraveled, the general theory is the most tested in science; spanning the past century and a half.
3. Evolution in Action, Jonathan Weiner, Natural History, 2005.
More than 250 scientists around the world are documenting evolution in action. Some of the most dramatic cases are those that result from the ecological pressures that human beings are imposing on the planet.
4. America's Science Problem, Shawn Lawrence Otto, Scientific American, 2012.
For two centuries, science in the United States has been the means by which we have tested assertions of ideology and has therefore been the basis of our democracy. It has also been the leading driver of our economic growth. Yet, despite its history and today's unprecedented riches from science, the United States has begun to slip off its science foundation and is being severely damaged by a coalition of religious fundamentalism and conservative science denialism.
5. Why Should Students Learn Evolution?, Brian J. Alters and Sandra M. Alters, Defending Evolution in the Classroom, 2001.
In explaining how organisms of today got to be the way they are, the evolutionary perspective helps us to make sense of the history of life and explains relationships among species. It is an essential framework within which scientists organize and interpret observations, and make predictions about the living world.
6. No Alpha Males Allowed, Steve Kemper, Smithsonian, 2013.
Karen Strier’s research on the muriquis monkeys of Brazil has underscored the fact that primates are a varied group with diverse social structures and more complex behavior than ever thought before. They may even provide us with insights as to how our own ancestors came to the ground and became who we are today.
7. Love in the Time of Monkeys, Eduardo Fernandez-Duque and Benjamin Finkel, Natural History, 2014.
Since monogamy is the standard among humans, but rare in the rest of the animal kingdom, it is instructive to examine why it exists in a species of monkey where it is apparently related to ecological resource distribution.
8. The 2% Difference, Robert Sapolsky, Discover, 2006.
Now that scientists have decoded the chimpanzee genome, we know that we share 98% of our DNA with chimps. So how can we be so different? The answer lies in the fact that a very few mutations make for some very big differences.
9. Got Culture?, Craig Stanford, Significant Others, 2001.
The study of the rudimentary cultural abilities of the chimpanzee not only sharpens our understanding of our uniqueness as humans, but it also suggests an ancient ancestry of the mental abilities that we and the chimpanzees have in common.
10. Dim Forest, Bright Chimps, Christophe Boesch and Hedwige Boesch-Achermann, Natural History, 1991.
Contrary to expectations, forest-dwelling chimpanzees seem to be more committed to cooperative hunting and tool use than are savanna chimpanzees. Such findings may have implications for the understanding of the course of human evolution.
11. Earthly Delights, Frans de Waal, The Bonobo and the Atheist, 2013.
Where does—or should—our morality come from? Does it come from God or is it ingrained in our very nature as social beings? In searching for answers, Frans de Wall finds tendencies toward empathy in our closer mammalian and primate relatives as well as in ourselves. While the concept of a supernatural source may be very helpful, it is also true that, long before present-day religious institutions our ancestors would have not survived without some sense of right and wrong.
12. One for All, Frans de Waal, Scientific American, 2014.
Although caring tendencies are common in primates, they seem to have become an absolute survival necessity in our human ancestors who came to cooperate with each other on a much more extensive level, shared in a reciprocal manner and identified with others in need, pain or distress.
13. Friends with Benefits, Lauren Brent, New Scientist Magazine, 2014.
Recent research shows that human friendship is of critical importance for the biological, psychological and social health of our species and the converse is also true: social isolation leads to stress, illness and death.
14. The “It” Factor, Gary Stix, Scientific American, 2014.
The once prevailing view that only humans could make and use tools as well as reason using numbers and other symbols has fallen by the way side. The more we learn about the way other primates think, the more we find that the differences between them and us has to do our capacity to engage in shared tasks as evidenced in our ancestors’ hunting large game and building cities.
UNIT: Sex and Gender
15. What Are Friends For?, Barbara Smuts, Natural History, 1987.
An understanding of friendship bonds that exist among baboons is not only destroying our stereotypes about monkeys in the wild, but is also calling into question the traditional views concerning the relationships between the sexes in early hominid evolution.
16. What's Love Got to Do with It?: Sex among Our Closest Relatives Is a Rather Open Affair, Meredith F. Small, Discover, 1992.
The bonobos' use of sex to reduce tension and to form alliances is raising some interesting questions regarding human evolution. Does this behavior help to explain the origin of our sexuality? Or should we see it as just another primate aberration that occurred after the split from the human lineage?
17. The Double Life of Women, Annie Murphy Paul, Psychology Today, 2010.
Women actually have two sexualities, one when they are ovulating and the other during the rest of the month. Moreover, the invisible turns of the reproductive cycle shape the everyday behavior of both women and men as her cycle influences not just her preference in a partner, but her personality as well.
18. Powers of Two, Blake Edgar, Scientific American, 2014.
Theories abound as to why humans are primarily monogamous since most mammals are not, but pair-bonding does seems to have something to do with the way in which our ancestors cooperated in food-getting and sharing and what would seem to have been the most effective way to raise large-brained offspring in need of prolonged care.
19. When Do Girls Rule the Womb?, Jennifer Abbasi, Discover, 2013.
While demographers have pointed to cultural factors to explain the sex ratio imbalance which favors the birth of boys over girls in such societies as China, India and South Korea, they have not been able to explain why the same trends in sex ratio at birth exist in societies that do not value sons more than daughters and, furthermore, why in certain situations, regardless of cultural preferences, more girls may be born than boys. Perhaps an evolutionary model is in order.
UNIT: The Fossil Evidence
20. Our True Dawn, Catherine Brahic, New Scientist Magazine, 2012.
As paleontologists have searched for fossil remains to establish the timing of the evolutionary split between our ancestors and apes, geneticists have tackled the same problem using DNA. After earlier disagreeing with the fossil hunters, calling for a significantly later time for the split, the geneticists' new molecular clock may well prove the paleontologists right.
21. Welcome to the Family, Bernard Wood, Scientific American, 2014.
Once upon a time, the consensus regarding the ancestry of Homo sapiens was rather straightforward with one genus begetting another in a straight line with very few sidetracks. Fossil finds over the past 40 years, however, have completely shattered this view.
22. The First Cookout, Kate Wong, Scientific American Online, 2012.
Once our ancestors began cooking their food, their brains got larger, their anatomy changed, and they were enabled to hunt more effectively for meat. Without fire, we might not even exist.
23. Rethinking Neanderthals, Joe Alper, Smithsonian, 2003.
Contrary to the widely held view that Neanderthals were evolutionary failures, the fact is that they persisted through some of the harshest climates imaginable. Over a period of 200,000 years, they had made some rather sophisticated tools and have had a social life that involved taking care of the wounded and burying the dead.
24. Neandertal Minds, Kate Wong, Scientific American, 2015.
It has long been held that Neandertals lagged behind anatomically modern Homo sapiens. So far, the functional significance of DNA differences is unclear, but recent discoveries of Neandertal cultural remains seem to have narrowed the supposed mental gap and suggest that factors other than intelligence drove the Neandertals to extinction and allowed Homo sapiens to flourish.
25. Human Hybrids, Michael F. Hammer, Scientific American Online, 2013.
The recovery of DNA from fossil hominins such as the Neanderthals is enabling us to make genetic comparisons with modern populations. From such analyses, we are increasingly able to reconstruct the migrations of ancient peoples, figure out who mated with whom along the way and, perhaps, the implications of such interbreeding for modern human health.
UNIT: Late Hominid Evolution
26. The Story in the Stones, David Robson, New Scientist Magazine, 2014.
Several lines of evidence, including stone tool construction, neuroscience, psychology and archaeology, are being combined to estimate the origins of the distinctly human mental abilities that set us off from our primate relatives and ancestors and enabled our species to survive some very challenging times.
27. King of Beasts, Lars Werdelin, Scientific American Online, 2013.
Africa once harbored a far greater variety of large carnivores than it does today. Competition with early humans for access to prey may have brought about their decline.
28. The Birth of Childhood, Ann Gibbons, Science Magazine, 2008.
Unlike our closest relatives, the apes, humans depend on their parents for a long period after weaning. New investigative technology has allowed researchers to determine when and why our long childhood evolved.
29. The Evolution of Grandparents, Rachel Caspari, Scientific American, 2011.
A marked increase in survivorship of adults in the Upper Paleolithic had far-reaching effects on the nature of society. The appearance of a grandparental generation meant more resources available to the group, significant population increases, and a greater efficiency in the transmission and accumulation of cultural knowledge for future generations. These changes may very well have accounted for our ancestors being the only hominid species left standing.
30. A Bigger, Better Brain, Maddalena Bearzi and Craig Stanford, American Scientist, 2010.
The diverse food-getting strategies employed by dolphin and ape societies are an excellent gauge of their social complexity as well as an example of how brain complexity, social complexity, and ecological complexity are all linked.
31. The Naked Truth, Nina G. Jablonski, Scientific American, 2010.
Recent findings lay bare the origins of human hairlessness and hint that naked skin was a key factor in the emergence of other human traits, such as the ability to cover long distances in the pursuit of food.
32. Long Live the Humans, Heather Pringle, Scientific American Online, 2013.
Modern genomes and ancient mummies are yielding clues to why the life span of Homo sapiens far exceeds that of other primates. The new evidence comes with a warning, however. While certain genes may be contributing to our long-term survival, they may also play a role in causing some debilitating diseases in old age.
33. Searching for the Human Age, Gayathri Vaidyanathan, Discover, 2014.
Some scientists are searching for evidence that Earth has entered the Anthropocene, a new epoch defined by the idea that humans have surpassed nature as the primary shapers of the planet.
UNIT: Human Diversity
34. Skin Deep, Nina G. Jablonski and George Chaplin, Scientific American, 2002.
Although recent migrations and cultural adaptation tend to complicate the picture, human skin color has evolved to be dark enough to prevent sunlight from destroying the nutrient folate, but light enough to foster the production of vitamin D.
35. How Real Is Race? Using Anthropology to Make Sense of Human Diversity, Carol Mukhopadhyay and Rosemary C. Henze, Phi Delta Kappan, 2003.
The authors claim that race is not a scientifically valid biological category. Instead, looking at it as a historically specific way of thinking about categorizing and treating human beings, race can be seen as a cultural invention.
36. The Tall and the Short of It, Barry Bogin, Discover, 1998.
Rather than being able to adapt to a single environment, we can, thanks to our genetically endowed plasticity, change our bodies to cope with a wide variety of environments. In this light, research suggests that we can use the average height of any group of people as a barometer of the health of that particular society.
37. Dead Men Do Tell Tales, William R. Maples, Random House Inc, 1994.
This classic piece by Maples maintains its relevance as a plea for the continued and expanded use of forensic anthropology. There are just too many stories yet to be told and so much justice yet to be carried out.
38. Evolution: Why Are Most of Us Right-Handed?, Jason G. Goldman, Body Matters, 2014.
Right-handedness in humans may be related to the fact that our ancestors became upright in posture, made tools, and came to communicate with language. Although the minorities of people who are left-handed do not seem to be at a disadvantage, the fact that the left part of the brain controls the right side may have something to do with the fact that most of us did become right-handed.
39. Still Evolving (After All These Years), John Hawks, Scientific American, 2014.
Many people argue that our technological advancement -- our ability to defy and control nature -- has made humans exempt from natural selection and that human evolution has effectively ceased. However, human populations are continuing to evolve today. Unlike the distant past, where we must infer the action of selection from its long-term effects on genes, today scientists can watch human evolution in action, often by studying trends in health and reproduction.
UNIT: Living with the Past
40. The Perfect Plague, Jared Diamond and Nathan Wolfe, Discover, 2008.
Globalization, changing climate, and the threat of drug resistance have conspired to set the stage for that perfect microbial storm; a situation in which an emerging pathogen—another HIV or smallpox perhaps—might burst on the scene and kill millions of people before we can respond.
41. The Inuit Paradox, Patricia Gadsby, Discover, 2004.
The traditional diet of the Far North, with its high-protein, high-fat content, and shows that there are no essential foods—only essential nutrients.
42. The Food Addiction, Paul J. Kenny, Scientific American Online, 2013.
During millions of years of evolution, the major concern of humans was not suppressing appetite, but getting enough food to persist in lean times. Perhaps, says the author, our feeding circuits are better at motivating food intake when we are hungry than they are in suppressing food intake when we are full—and therein lies the problem: the brain regards the overeating of high-calorie food as tremendously beneficial.
43. Curse and Blessing of the Ghetto, Jared Diamond, Discover, 1991.
Tay-Sachs disease is a choosy killer, one that has targeted Eastern European Jews above all others for centuries. By decoding its lethal logic, we can learn a great deal about how genetic diseases evolve—and how they can be conquered.
44. The Evolution of Diet, Ann Gibbons, National Geographic, 2014.
The transition from the Paleolithic way of life, in which our ancestors hunted for meat and gathered vegetables, to one with agriculture and processed foods, has had a lasting impact on human health. Questions arise, however, as to the degree to which humans have adapted to the changing circumstances or are simply going to suffer the consequences of abandoning the “paleo-diet.”
45. Ironing It Out, Sharon Moalem, Survival of the Sickest: A Medical Maverick Discovers Why We Need Disease , 2007.
Hemochromatosis is a hereditary disease that disrupts the human body's ability to metabolize iron. To understand why such a deadly disease would be bred into our genetic code, we need to take a closer look at European history, the bubonic plague, and medical practices that were discredited.
46. Why We Help, Martin A. Nowak, Scientific American, 2012.
The author observes that there has been a pervasive selfishness among humans over the past 5,000 years of history, ever since the development of agriculture. Yet, an understanding of our behavioral roots in ancient hunter gatherer societies, combined with more recent analyses of game theory and computer simulations of human social interaction, indicate that it has been cooperation and reciprocity driving the evolution of life and of humans, not selfishness and "tooth and claw" competition.
47. Don’t Swallow Them, Caroline Williams, New Scientist Magazine, 2013.
We are constantly being bombarded with health advice, but not all of it is based on rigorous scientific evidence. In considering the circumstances in which our ancestors evolutionarily adapted, when they could not possibly have followed such rules, we have to wonder where some of those ideas came from.
48. The Evolution of Inequality, Deborah Rogers, New Scientist Magazine, 2012.
Humans lived in egalitarian societies for tens of thousands of years before the development of agriculture. Maintaining a level playing field was a matter of survival. Then, with agriculture, wealth and authority became more centralized, and the more hierarchically organized societies eliminated the more egalitarian ones. A "survival-of-the fittest" social structure is, therefore, not inevitable, but is a matter of choice.