It was such a pleasure to give a book talk at FGCU because I was hosted by two of my favorite people in the world. Dr. Nate Pipitone (Psychology) and Dr. Max Stein (Anthropology) hosted my talk, but my favorite part was just getting to watch them in action and talk research. Nate and I went to grad school together. We were both members of Gordon Gallup's Evolutionary Psychology Lab and did a study together at one point on self-deception and mating success. I wrote about the study in my book, though I wish we'd pursued that thread and did more research. Our second study was so confusing that we never published on it, but after hanging out for a few days, I see our research interests are still in complete overlap, and I want to find a way to do some research with him again. Rule of thumb: When you find collaborators you work with well, keep them in your inner circle and find more ways to collaborate. Do as much as much as you can with them and you will be a happier academic.
Max was once a student of mine. I was on his MA and PhD committees, he was my research assistant in Costa Rica for a field season, we co-authored two papers together, and he ran my lab when I was on my first sabbatical back in 2017. I regret not being able to attend his wedding, but I am so proud of what he accomplished in our program, in his personal life with his cool AF family, and in his job as an Anthropology professor at FGCU. I remember when Max popped into my office as a first year MA student to introduce himself. I was standoffish because it annoyed me, but as I've always told him and all students after, my annoyance was my problem. He was among the few students who ever put themselves out there and made themselves known to all of us. Getting a PhD is not easy, but he did many right things, and that was one of them. I have always respected him for getting his needs met and handling us, as faculty, and all our bullshit that we put on students to see if they can rise to the occasion.
I loved talking to their students. I got to meet with Max's "Medical Anthropology" course at 9am, and I pulled out a tattoo lecture to riff on just in case they were quiet. I needn't have bothered; they'd read my book and had questions the whole class period! It was awesome!! And most of the students who asked questions in both classes came to the lecture. Oh, I went to Nate's "Drugs and the Brain" class and riffed with them right after. As I told Nate and Max knows from experience, I love riffing on pop culture and anthropology with students.
I've gotta work on the talk. It's needs to be updated because I drone on and on in some places without enough imagry, and lord knows I've got tons. Too many tables and graphs. But people liked it, I sold some books, and I gave some autographs (I have to work on that too, make it funny or dorky or something).
Another nice piece recently came about tattooing and immune function that I was interviewed for. This one is in Parade Magazine:
American Journal of Biological Anthropology is essentially the flagship journal of US bioanth, yet until this publication I've never even submitted a manuscript to the journal. The main reason is that I've focused more on evolution or psychological/cognitive anthropology journals or AJHB since I've been accepted there repeatedly already. So I'm very excited to announce that my first submission to AJBA was accepted and has been published as a Brief Communication. Here is a link to the article on the journal website, which is the best place to access it to influence the impact factor (have your interest counted). However, it's gonna be behind a paywall eventually, so hit me up if you need access before I eventually post the PDF to my webpage.
It was painful to watch Alabama loose in the Sweet 16 when we should have at least made the Final 4 (historic year, blah blah), but at least some of our lab members banded together to jointly suffer this ignominious defeat.
It's gratifying to be contacted for excellent pieces like this new one that came out in The Atlantic last week. Katherine Wu digs into the various studies of tattooing and the immune system, including comments from a phone conversation we had a few months ago.
I spent the week of UA's spring break in Samoa to get the project I was awarded NSF funding for in 2020 started finally. I spent 5 weeks this past summer in Honolulu talking with the Samoan diaspora community and had intended to collect similar data in Samoa via coordinated training of research assistants at the Centre for Samoan Studies at the National University of Samoa. However, having only arranged these relationships via email, I could not wrap my brain around how I was going to accomplish those things, and, after chatting with Jessica Hardin, another anthropologist who works with CSS for research in Samoa, I realized the best strategy would be to pay for an extra plane ticket and make the trip to have some meetings in person about the project.
I stayed at the Samoan Outrigger Hotel because it cost about as little as a cheap AirBnB and is located close enough to the Samoan Cultural Village, where Suluape Tatau do hand-tap tattooing, and the National University of Samoa, where I would be giving a talk and have meetings. I went down to the Cultural Village right after I arrived, but no one was tattooing so I popped into a bar overlooking the Village and Apia Bay to see who was around. It was happy hour and full of Kiwi expats talking about their schemes to make money. Felt like a James Michener novel, but I guess everyone needs to make a living.
The flight there is super long, and Samoa is 18 hours ahead of US Central Time, so I left on Sunday at 2PM, but I didn't arrive in Samoa until Tuesday afternoon. But I didn't have any appointments until Thursday, so I tried to find everyone on Wednesday. I walked around looking for NUS and CSS for several hours, and I finally found everyone I was looking for after getting thoroughly sunburned and foot-blistered. My stupidity for forgetting a hat, sunscreen, or my already broken in slides. I found Dionne Fonoti in CSS and the main offices and met a few other folks over there. Then I walked down to the Cultural Village and found Ata Sulu'ape tattooing. Junior (Paul) was in Pago Pago, and their father Alaiva'a was at home. Ata told me their father doesn't come down to the Cultural Village anymore, and I didn't have a car so didn't seem him while there. However, right as I was leaving, his daughter Patricia saw on FB that I was in Samoa and sent a message, leading me to realize I could have reached him through the daughters. I didn't think of it though, so next time.
On Thursday, I gave a seminar talk about the research I've done and tried to describe the goals and methods I am planning for the Samoa project. The seminar was very well attended with lots of great questions and several people excited to potentially work with me. More on that in a paragraph or so.
On Friday, I had some meetings to determine, now that my plans were somewhat clear, how CSS and I could help each other. Much of it revolved around who would be available to take on extra work. I'd be training and paying the person or people, but NUS does have have biological anthropology. They have cultural and language studies and archaeology. There was a medical doctor who is president of the Malofie Association, which is an association of people with the pe'a. I've been trying to catch up with him ever since, but he's super busy as a surgeon and director of the teaching medical program.
On Saturday, I had a fruitful breakfast meeting with Dionne, her partner, and Greg Jackmond, the archaeologist at CSS. We talked a lot about the tatau project and generally got to know each other, but I also got the opportunity to hear about some amazing archaeology and bioarchaeology material they have that they're looking for help analyzing. So now, as part of our exchange, I'm trying to find students and colleagues who could help them with this analysis or who may be interested in doing archaeology research there. Contrary to my beliefs that anthropologists have been studying Samoa ad nauseum forever, it's really that anthropologists have popped in now and again and written books but never maintained a constant presence. The archaeology that's been done there has languished since the 1970s, save the occasional study to reify the Lapita story of peopling the Pacific. It's really still unknown why people migrated there or spread out and migrated from there to other Polynesian Islands. However, they have LiDAR data indicating Savai'i was once extensively inhabited, and there is tons of evidence of prehistoric habitation that is completely unexplored.
Sunday is the day of the Lord, so no meetings. Frankly, most Samoans are so booked up with chief, village, and church responsibilities on the weekends that they're more busy than during the workweek. So I spent Sunday watching Alabama play basketball (in March Madness, the Saturday night game in Alabama was Sunday morning in Samoa) then went to a hike up to Robert Louis Stevenson's house and grave again. I'd been there last time but got caught in the rain. This time I walked in intense sun and got another sunburn.
Monday was the day I was supposed to leave, but since the flight was at 8pm, I had time for some more meetings, which was providential. I had breakfast with Bernadette Samau-Sila, who is a Lecturer in Finance and Marketing. She's Samoa-born but raised and schooled in New Zealand. Shes a qualitative researcher whose methodology is perfect for the study I've proposed, which is why she reached out. She's done some research on the malu and just loves research, and I'm really looking forward to combining our ideas to make this project better.
I headed back over to NUS with her after breakfast and went to see Greg's LiDAR maps, which I then played with for several hours until I needed to get to the airport.
One of the things I've learned about working with private industry is that academia doesn't always move fast enough for marketing purposes and that business people don't have any idea how slow science can move. Of course resources can make a big difference, and I am grateful to Napoleon Fireplaces for the support they provided for us to replicate our 2014 study with their electric fireplace. This project has gone faster than our original study, which took 5 years from inception to publication, but it's been a year since Napoleon got us the funds and can't wait to hear what we've been up to. How do we find a happy medium? We make a promo video for the company to send to its annual conference and share where we are now, data were have also now been published as an abstract in the American Journal of Human Biology. Actually, the advertising agency Hoffman York that has Napoleon as an account and recommended highlighting the health benefits of electric fireplaces found and liaise with me. They brought a crew to town and filmed the ad.
There are two sides of this that I want to highlight. This is the kind of ad or promo that a student interested in film or communications might do as a project, so it's a great way to inculcate interdisciplinarity in a lab and in training students. It then has a mutual benefit of highlighting the project and work of the student researchers and provides a learning experience for the student doing the film. The idea of doing an ad for the Fireside Relaxation Study came up last year from Hoffman York, but it was actually Journalism & Creative Media major and HBERG member Miriam Anderson who first began such a project and came up with the idea independently. MIriam had been in the process of filming when the semester ended and our schedules changed. I hope to reconnect and finish the piece for both of our sakes in the near future and share the finished product here and our other socials.
The other side is that working with private industry means there is funding specifically for marketing and people who can produce such ads quickly, on behalf of the company. This ad is being produced in addition to the funding and fireplace they provided. In both cases, I think it's important to engage the public in various culture ways with scientific findings. I don't make any money from working with Napoleon. The fireplace they donated sits in a small office in my lab, where our experiment takes place. This is applied anthropology and one means of making an impact on our world through our discipline.
Our new paper mentioned in the previous post is out, Open Access, in the Nature subsidiary journal Humanities & Social Science Communications. We're pretty stoked to have open access in a Nature journal. Is that big time? It is in my head!
Furthermore, I'm really proud of the students in my lab who stuck in there for Zoom meetings over the course of a year as we figured out how to do a scoping review, write it up, and get it published.
Here is the DOI for the paper, where everyone can read it: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41599-023-01511-6
My friend Becci Owens, Associate Professor of Psychology at University of Sunderland specializing in evolutionary psychology, had started working on a scoping review of psychological studies of body modification a few years ago but was stalled. I volunteered my lab to help her finish it. It took us about a year to discover that a "scoping review" is a real thing and not another word for a systematic review. After developing a coding system for the corpus of articles Becci had gathered, I googled scoping reviews and found the articles by Nunn like this one that describe scoping reviews in detail and realized that I'd led us all astray for a year. When we refocused on what a scoping review actually is, it became apparent that we simply needed to describe the basic patterns of how psychology studies of tattooing have been conducted.
When we started, we noticed that so many of the studies looked for correlations between tattooing and negative personality traits and risk behaviors, despite the fact that most of the same articles and other contemporary sources note that no correlations between tattooing and negative personality traits how been found and that the primary correlations are with openness to experience and youth. So, our secondary objective was to try to understand why so many studies reify tattoo stigma by studying it as though it were a negative behavior and trying to understand causes of such poor behavior. In examining the group of studies that included tattooing as a "stigma" variable in this way (the largest category by far), it became clear that there was a temporal factor. Early studies were looking at penal and mental health populations, seeing lots of tattoos among patients relative to the general population, and trying to determine if marking the self is some aberration of fragile identities. Later studies seemed to indicate that tattooing itself is not a negative behavior but let's just throw it in anyway because we wonder if it might be a useful way to identify people at risk for mental fragility in the general population. But, though I paraphrase, what the hell is that anyway?
I have long argued that such studies should just use the Big 5 Personality Inventories because what they're interested in is not risk-taking behavior so much as openness to experience. It appears that by the 2000s, scholars such as Viren Swami had laid to rest with explicit studies saying that all tattooed and non-tattooed people are the same, but even then his titles were ambiguous, leading people to potentially think there are differences if they don't read further (which, shocker, many people don't).
Anyway, it became apparent that studies shifted from the above to social psychology studies that look at tattooing in much more interesting ways, such as how tattooing can have different meanings or impacts depending on the type of job you have or how tattooing may intersect with multiple marginalities to influence how people are treated in healthcare settings. These more granular studies are much more interesting.
When we looked at the history of the discipline of psychology, the studies we note start after the first renaissance, which was much more recent than generally assumed--tattoos were only out of fashion for about 15-20 years. The pattern of psychology studies also follow the general patterns for research foci in the field of psychology.
As of earlier this month, the article entitled "Deviance as an Historical Artifact: A Scoping Review of Psychological Studies of Body Modification" researched and written by Becci, me, Alex Landgraf, Steve Filoromo, and Mike Smetana, has been accepted for publication by Humanities and Social Sciences Communications.
Click here to read a preprint of the whole paper.
The ad might seem a little cringe, since I'm far from famous, which is what is implied. However, my research has gone viral internationally, so I am known, but so is any anthropologists whose work has been published around the world. This is the type of hyperbole that is par for the course in promoting music, so it is fitting here. And, frankly, I find academics too reticent to market themselves and their work. If it because of concerns with hyperbolic headlines spreading misinformation, then I can sympathize and agree. However, if the concern is about being taken seriously, I think the real underlying fear is that there is not enough substance underlying the flash. So this ad made me chuckle more than anything, and apparently it worked. There was a great crowd in attendance, lots of folks came up and talked to me after, and we closed the place down shooting the breeze. Thanks to Lawrence and Janek and Monday Night Brewing Co.!
Christopher D. Lynn
I am a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Alabama with expertise in biocultural medical anthropology.