What is forensic anthropology?

Forensic anthropology is the study of skeletal or other discovered remains to determine cause of death.

Kathy Gruspier is a foresnic anthropologist in Toronto. I had the pleasure of attending a lecture by Ms. Gruspier some years ago, arranged by the Canadian Science Writers’ Association. It was very interesting but not for the squeamish. She has done forensic work for some of our most gruesome and notorious murders as well as for bodies found in the woods. In the last few years, she has been visiting other countries to help with the study of mass graves.

She has worked gathering evidence of crimes against humanity for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, as part of the Canadian government’s team in Kosovo and for the United Nations in East Timor. In the last two years she has participated in gathering evidence for the upcoming UN tribunal in Cambodia.

Kathy has published widely in physical anthropology and forensic journals and is currently completing a book (with co-author M.S. Pollanen) on the Forensic Pathology and Anthropology of Mass Killing (CRC Press).

Unusual conference location

In my search for a polyamory logo to illustrate an article about denunciations of same-sex marriage, I came across a nice expanding heart. It illustrated a polyamory conference that is going on right now…. in French Lick, Indiana. It’s tempting to think that the organizers were attracted by the name of the town.

Dinner with science bloggers!

…and real scientists, in town for the American Society for Microbiology general meeting. I was honoured to be invited. Larry Moran and Tara Smith organized a dinner of science bloggers previously acquainted only over the Web. We met at the University of Toronto. The picture shows some of us sitting on the steps in front of the Medical Sciences Building: Larry Moran of Sandwalk, Jonathan Badger of T. Taxus, Andrew Staroscik of Mixotrophy, Tara Smith of Aetiology, and John Logsdon of Sex, Genes, and Evolution. Chris Condayan, the ASM public outreach manager, was off recording an interview with Eva Amsen of Easternblot. (He interviewed several people for a podcast on the ASM’s Web site.)

Eight of us walked down to Baldwin Street for Indian food and a long, chatty, interesting dinner together. The food at Matahari restaurant was both good and unfamiliar. I had a good time and I think everyone else did, too. Here’s

Absurd argument for bigotry

A news article states that European conservatives, encouraged by American visitors, is using the tired old “slippery slope” argument. It goes something like this: “If you let your kids eat peas, before you know it they’ll be out grazing on the lawn.” Here’s the link:

According to leaders of a recent conference dominated by “pro-family” Europeans and Americans, Europe’s increasing acceptance of same-sex unions is the top of a slippery slope that will ultimately leave the institution of marriage meaningless.

“Once same-sex marriage is institutionalized, other forms of marriage will quickly be affirmed as well, such as polygamy, polyamory, endogamy and child marriage,” Bull said. He added: “Make no mistake. Marriage as we know it will be destroyed if we make all relationships legal.”

So if you let same-sex couples who love each other make a legal, public commitment, then polyamorous people who believe in sex for fun without monogamy will bother to get married to do their orgies? It’s not my cup of tea, but I don’t think I would bother.

Living the Scientific Life: Gay flamingoes raise born-again chick

Grrlscientist has a fascinating article about a mated pair of male flamingoes that desperately wanted to be parents. (Birds often pair up by performing an elaborate greeting ceremony together; physical mating is relatively unemotional for them.) These males were known to chase other flamingoes from their nests and steal eggs.

Science has come to their rescue. An orphaned chick was placed in an empty egg shell, whence it could “peep” and greet its prospective parents. The loaded shell was placed in the males’ nest. They bonded with the chick in the egg and when it broke loose, they adopted it. Now everyone’s happy.

Follow the link to read the fascinating details.

Japanese royalty honours Linnaeus

Coturnix’s Blog Around the Clock article of yesterday, about the birthday of Linnaeus, has gathered a nice comment from MartinC:

Mrs MartinC, who works as a preschool teacher here in Stockholm, was out yesterday with her class for a nature walk to the local park – where the Stockholm Botanical Garden is located – when she noticed a crowd of Japanese journalists. She asked one of them what was happening and suddenly found herself and class whisked to the front and introduced to the Emperor of Japan, King of Sweden and their wives, the Empress and Queen! Apparently the Japanese regents are visiting this week to mark the 300th anniversary of the birth of Carl von Linne.

Isn’t it nice of them to consider a seminal scientific discoverer worthy of recognition?

Here’s a note about the celebrations:

The birthday party will continue for more than a week in Linnaeus´s home province of Småland and in Uppsala north of Stockholm…. Linnaeus will be celebrated with a festival of 18th-century music, the premiere of the film Mr Flower Power, a postage stamp, an anniversary coin, a tulip festival, music, thousands of flower children, dance performances, a memorial ceremony in Uppsala Cathedral and a conferment of doctoral degrees at Uppsala University. Thousands of guests have been invited from many different countries. The local authorities in Älmhult and Uppsala have put their heart and soul into hosting a gigantic birthday party!

Linnaeus´s birthday on May 23 begins with a solemn commemoration in Uppsala Cathedral, which was consecrated in 1435. Guests of honour are His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf, Her Majesty Queen Silvia, Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Victoria and Her Royal Highness Princess Madeleine, together with Emperor Akihito of Japan and Empress Michiko. A wreath will be laid on Linnaeus´s grave; specially composed music will be played…

The Japanese Emperor´s interest in science and in Linnaeus is well-known. In an article in the journal Science in 1992 he mentioned both Linnaeus and his pupil Carl Peter Thunberg. The Emperor´s interest in Linnaeus was demonstrated most recently during the Swedish state visit to Tokyo in March. In conjunction with that he visited the Linné 2007 exhibition at Japan´s National Science Museum, where he received the anniversary Linnaeus Medal. The fact that the Emperor is coming to Sweden so soon after this visit is considered to be unique.

Anders Björck says,

“I am incredibly proud that the Emperor of Japan, himself a scientist, is coming to participate in this, the greatest jubilee ever organised in Sweden for a scientist.”

Tangled Bank #80 at Geek Counterpoint

Here is your fortnightly round-up of science writing and medical blogging in online articles. Tangled Bank 80 is hosted by Geek Counterpoint.

Linnaeus is 300

Carl Linnaeus,* the Swedish naturalist, classified about 5,000 species of animals and plants with his invention, the binomial system–in other words, he gave them each two names, Genus and species. Going by their characteristics, he grouped organisms into Kingdoms, Phyla, Classes, Orders, Families, Genera, and Species.

Since this was the 1700s, he was merely cataloguing God’s work. But since he used similarities for grouping the species, and detailed similarities come from common descent, we found later that his groupings reflected evolutionary development. (Superficial similarities can be caused by similar lifestyle because “form follows function.”) As often happens, his detailed study enlightened others who followed.

Bora (who should be working on his thesis} has collected links to articles about “Linnaeus” and his birthday.

*von Linne in later life–follow link for explanation

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