Did They Fail? Could They Choose?

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<ul><li><p>BOOKS ET AL. </p><p>www.sciencemag.org SCIENCE VOL 327 22 JANUARY 2010 413</p><p>CR</p><p>ED</p><p>IT: C</p><p>AR</p><p>ST</p><p>EN</p><p> BR</p><p>AN</p><p>DT</p><p>/IS</p><p>TO</p><p>CK</p><p>PH</p><p>OT</p><p>O.C</p><p>OM</p><p> Questioning Collapse: Human Resil-</p><p>ience, Ecological Vulnerability, and </p><p>the Aftermath of Empire began as </p><p>a conference session at the 2006 </p><p>annual meetings of the </p><p>American Anthropological </p><p>Association, where schol-</p><p>ars came together to discuss </p><p>the massive popular appeal </p><p>of Jared Diamonds Guns, </p><p>Germs, and Steel and Col-</p><p>lapse ( 1, 2). Their discussion </p><p>ex panded and developed </p><p>into a volume that brings </p><p>together archaeologists, cul-</p><p>tural anthropologists, and </p><p>historians to reanalyze and </p><p>reinterpret Diamonds case </p><p>studies and conclusions.</p><p>In many cases the authors, all prominent </p><p>scholars in the time periods, areas, and top-</p><p>ics they write about, are able to identify and </p><p>correct an array of errors in Diamonds data. </p><p>Questioning Collapse, however, is not a col-</p><p>lection of indignant scholars dwelling on fac-</p><p>tual inaccuracies or Diamond-bashing. The </p><p>volume presents lively debate, critique, and </p><p>engagement not only with Diamonds the-</p><p>ses but, more importantly, directly with the </p><p>serious issues he raises and the roles serious </p><p>scholars should take. The authors contribute </p><p>positively to critical public discussions about </p><p>understanding what the past has to offer us as </p><p>we move toward an increasingly global, envi-</p><p>ronmentally fragile future. Their chapters </p><p>were written for the wider public rather than </p><p>being narrowly focused at specialists and yet </p><p>also have much of value for professionals in </p><p>the authors disciplines.</p><p>The studies in Questioning Collapse </p><p>make clear that environment is not the only </p><p>issue that societies must deal with in order to </p><p>make civilizations sustainable. None of the </p><p>authors disagree with Diamonds claim that </p><p>understanding past human-environment inter-</p><p>actions is important to our future. But they </p><p>do caution that we need to make certain that </p><p>studies and arguments are very carefully con-</p><p>structed, methodologically rigorous, and con-</p><p>scious of all possible nuances and facets of </p><p>the issue. The contributors show how this can </p><p>be done for the societies they study, and they </p><p>explain the implications of Diamonds trou-</p><p>bling propensity to overlook the real and pow-</p><p>erful infl uences of cultural ideologies on the </p><p>paths that civilizations take.</p><p>Diamond conjures a sense </p><p>of crisis, defi ning collapse in </p><p>dramatic ways that ignore how </p><p>societies also choose to be </p><p>resilient, to adapt and change </p><p>in ways that can even include </p><p>abandoning places in favor </p><p>of new settlements or strate-</p><p>gies that better fi t their envi-</p><p>ronmental, economic, reli-</p><p>gious, or other cultural needs. </p><p>Who is to say that a society </p><p>such as Norse Greenland, </p><p>which existed for 450 years, </p><p>was a failure because its inhabitants eventu-</p><p>ally decided for a variety of reasons that life </p><p>could be better elsewhere? Or that the Maya </p><p>abandoning their monumen-</p><p>tal Classic period religious </p><p>centers was a collapse rather </p><p>than a political and social </p><p>shift that was a good decision </p><p>at the time?</p><p>Notably, the authors pay </p><p>attention to the living descen-</p><p>dents of the supposedly </p><p>failed, collapsed societies that </p><p>Diamond profiles. The vol-</p><p>ume does something largely </p><p>long missing (at least in lit-</p><p>erature easily accessible to </p><p>the public), which is to reject </p><p>historical amnesia by bridg-</p><p>ing the gap between ancient </p><p>lost societies and the cul-</p><p>tural inheritors of these tradi-</p><p>tions who are still among us. </p><p>Several chapters highlight the </p><p>continued existence of com-</p><p>munities such as native Eas-</p><p>ter Islanders, the Maya of Central America, </p><p>Native North Americans, and Aboriginal </p><p>Australians and what they have to say about </p><p>their supposed disappearances. These peo-</p><p>ple have not in fact vanished, but what have </p><p>been obscured by narratives such as Dia-</p><p>monds (and, admittedly, by archaeological </p><p>and popular romanticism) are their cultural </p><p>histories and perspectives. One nice feature </p><p>of the book is the inclusion of short profi les of </p><p>living individuals from the areas in question, </p><p>whose words and faces represent the human </p><p>reality of their diverse perspectives.</p><p>Diamond intended Collapse as an envi-</p><p>ronmental wake-up call but missed the crucial </p><p>fact, clearly argued in this volume, that pro-</p><p>posed solutions to our global environmental </p><p>problems cannot succeed without grappling </p><p>with the complex issues of history, coloniza-</p><p>tion, and social injustice that have brought </p><p>us to our current state of fragility and cri-</p><p>ses. Several chapters raise the bitter truth that </p><p>many societies do not have the entirely free </p><p>choice about how they deal with their envi-</p><p>ronment that Diamond assumes. Especially </p><p>today, societies are increasingly constrained </p><p>by being interlaced into complex global </p><p>social and economic networks. Who are we, </p><p>from our positions of power and infl uence, to </p><p>suggest that the people of Papua New Guinea, </p><p>for example, should forbid logging or mining </p><p>on their land when the alternatives available </p><p>to them also will not sustain or improve their </p><p>lives and those of their children?</p><p>We cannot ease our current global envi-</p><p>ronmental crises without understanding their </p><p>complex histories and equitably address-</p><p>ing the socioeconomic problems that create </p><p>and sustain them, and that cannot be done </p><p>without many diffi cult shifts in perspective, </p><p>including about how we defi ne and assign </p><p>blame for societal collapse. Stepping into </p><p>someone elses shoes is easy to recommend, </p><p>but the actual shedding of subconscious cul-</p><p>tural ideas about what constitutes common </p><p>sense and practicality in order to do so is </p><p>much more diffi cult. Even more challeng-</p><p>ing may be the creation and maintenance </p><p>Did They Fail? Could They Choose?</p><p>ANTHROPOLOGY</p><p>Krista Lewis </p><p>The reviewer is at the Department of Sociology and Anthro-pology, University of Arkansas, Little Rock, AR 72204, USA. E-mail: kxlewis@ualr.edu</p><p>Questioning Collapse</p><p>Human Resilience,</p><p>Ecological Vulnerability,</p><p>and the Aftermath of Empire</p><p>Patricia A. McAnany and</p><p>Norman Yoffee, Eds.</p><p>Cambridge University Press, </p><p>Cambridge, 2010. 390 pp. $90, </p><p>55. ISBN 9780521515726. </p><p>Paper, $29.99, 17.99. </p><p>ISBN 9780521733663.</p><p>Icons of collapse. Moai left standing close to the quarry at Rano Raraku, Rapa Nui (Easter Island).</p><p>Published by AAAS</p><p> on </p><p>May</p><p> 14,</p><p> 201</p><p>4w</p><p>ww</p><p>.sci</p><p>ence</p><p>mag</p><p>.org</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>from</p><p> o</p><p>n M</p><p>ay 1</p><p>4, 2</p><p>014</p><p>ww</p><p>w.s</p><p>cien</p><p>cem</p><p>ag.o</p><p>rgD</p><p>ownl</p><p>oade</p><p>d fr</p><p>om </p><p>http://www.sciencemag.org/http://www.sciencemag.org/</p></li><li><p>BOOKS ET AL.</p><p>22 JANUARY 2010 VOL 327 SCIENCE www.sciencemag.org 414</p><p>of socioeconomic systems that value those </p><p>diverse perspectives, share control and inter-</p><p>pretation of heritage, and (most important of </p><p>all) alleviate problems of social justice. How-</p><p>ever, such actions are not entirely impossible, </p><p>and the suggestions the authors of Question-</p><p>ing Collapse make about how we can move </p><p>in those directions are valuable contributions </p><p>to the effort. </p><p>References</p><p> 1. J. Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human </p><p>Societies (Norton, New York, 1987).</p><p> 2. J. Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or </p><p>Succeed (Viking, New York, 2005); reviewed in ( 3).</p><p> 3. T. Flannery, Science 307, 45 (2005). </p><p> Does the brain have a sex? Until </p><p>recently, most investigators consid-</p><p>ered this question a silly onethe </p><p>answer was no. But advances in neurosci-</p><p>ence, behavioral genetics, and technology</p><p>especially magnetic resonance imaging and </p><p>positron emission tomographyhave cast </p><p>this query in a different light. With increas-</p><p>ing confi dence, scholars and commentators </p><p>have cataloged putative differences between </p><p>male and female brains. These presumed </p><p>differences have panicked </p><p>gender-conscious par-</p><p>ents, prompted redesigned </p><p>schools, and provided </p><p>entrepreneurs with sub-</p><p>stantial profi ts.</p><p>Amid a rising din of </p><p>claims and counterclaims </p><p>concerning this topic, </p><p>Lise Eliot offers a work of </p><p>serious and highly persua-</p><p>sive scholarship. A neuro-</p><p>scientist at the Rosalind </p><p>Franklin University of Medicine and Sci-</p><p>ence, Eliot focuses on a question that lies at </p><p>the heart of the male-female brain debate: </p><p>Why do boys and girls perform differently </p><p>on certain cognitive tasks? Arguing that </p><p>environmental factors are more infl uential </p><p>than intrinsic ones, she repudiates claims </p><p>made by several popularizers of sex differ-</p><p>Unsexing the Brain</p><p>PSYCHOLOGY</p><p>A. Scott Henderson </p><p>The reviewer is in the Department of Education, Furman University, 3300 Poinsett Highway, Greenville, SC 296131134, USA. E-mail: Scott.Henderson@Furman.edu</p><p>10.1126/science.1184327</p><p>ences, including Leon-</p><p>ard Sax (the physician-</p><p>psychologist founder </p><p>of the National Asso-</p><p>ciation for Single Sex </p><p>Public Education) </p><p>and Michael Gurian </p><p>(the family therapist </p><p>turned social philoso-</p><p>pher who coined the </p><p>phrase boy crisis).</p><p>Summarizing an </p><p>exhaustive survey </p><p>of existing research, </p><p>Eliot concludes that </p><p>the brains of boys and girls are </p><p>extremely similar, differing signifi cantly only </p><p>in their size and maturation rate, neither of </p><p>which has a demonstrable impact on cognitive </p><p>functions. In evaluating a range of other traits, </p><p>she emphasizes their difference value (d), a </p><p>statistic that measures the gap between male </p><p>and female performance ( 1). For most cogni-</p><p>tive and behavioral traits, d is small (around </p><p>0.2), which means that males and females </p><p>perform almost equally as well (or as poorly). </p><p>This makes generalizing about certain char-</p><p>acteristics diffi cult unless one concentrates </p><p>on the extremes of a distribution curve, where </p><p>even small differences can add upfor exam-</p><p>ple, the disproportionate number of boys who </p><p>have dyslexia or girls who suffer from anxi-</p><p>ety disorders. Eliot astutely notes that it is this </p><p>headline-grabbing focus on extremes that typ-</p><p>ifi es claims made by Sax, Gurian, and others.</p><p>If, as Eliot maintains, there are so few </p><p>hard-wired differences </p><p>between male and female </p><p>brains, why do the cogni-</p><p>tive abilities and interests </p><p>of boys and girls diverge by </p><p>mid-to-late adolescence? </p><p>Why, for instance, do boys </p><p>typically outperform girls </p><p>by 35 to 40 points on the </p><p>math section of the Scho-</p><p>lastic Aptitude Test (SAT)? </p><p>According to Eliot, this can </p><p>be partially explained by </p><p>demographic factors. Signifi cantly more girls </p><p>than boys who take the SAT come from low </p><p>socioeconomic backgrounds, the variable </p><p>that has the greatest infl uence on standardized </p><p>test results. Eliot also discusses how test tak-</p><p>ers can be affected by stereotype threatthe </p><p>tendency for individuals who are negatively </p><p>stereotyped to underperform on various tests. </p><p>Thus, at least some of the performance dif-</p><p>ferences identifi ed by researchers are more </p><p>apparent than real.</p><p>Nevertheless, Eliot acknowledges that </p><p>bona f ide cogni-</p><p>tive gaps do exist </p><p>between boys and </p><p>girls. These gaps are </p><p>initially quite small</p><p>girls begin talking a </p><p>couple of months ear-</p><p>lier, for example; boys </p><p>tend to have better spa-</p><p>tial reasoning skills by </p><p>age five. These differ-</p><p>ences quickly lead to </p><p>positive feedback loops: </p><p>Children enjoy, and </p><p>therefore practice, skills </p><p>and activities they are </p><p>good at, and this practice </p><p>results in improved performance. As Eliot </p><p>phrases it, the brain wires itself in large mea-</p><p>sure according to the experiences in which it </p><p>is immersed from prenatal life through ado-</p><p>lescence. Parents and teachers, however, </p><p>are frequently ignorant of these dynamics, </p><p>misinterpreting the ever-widening boy-girl </p><p>achievement gaps as the basis for self-fulfi ll-</p><p>ing prophecies and stereotypes.</p><p>Only two weaknesses detract from the </p><p>books many strengths. The titleperhaps </p><p>chosen for marketing appealmisleadingly </p><p>suggests the opposite of Eliots thesis. More </p><p>problematic, Eliot mentions her own children </p><p>throughout the book, sometimes to illustrate </p><p>substantive points. This kind of anecdotal evi-</p><p>dence is at odds with her otherwise scrupu-</p><p>lous marshalling of experimental data, and it </p><p>also raises the ethical issue of whether chil-</p><p>dren are truly able to give permission for hav-</p><p>ing their lives revealed in a book written by </p><p>one of their parents.</p><p>Eliots pedagogical prescriptions are </p><p>straightforward and logical. She sees few </p><p>merits and several disadvantages to single-</p><p>gender classrooms and schools. Instead</p><p>given her contention that virtually all skills </p><p>can be learnedshe urges parents and edu-</p><p>cators to take advantage of the brains plas-</p><p>ticity by providing children with a wealth of </p><p>experiences, especially ones that will stretch </p><p>them beyond their natural aptitudes. Consid-</p><p>ering the nonsense already in print (much of it </p><p>erroneously presented as scientifi c fact), Pink </p><p>Brain, Blue Brain should be required reading </p><p>for anyone who wants a more thoughtful con-</p><p>sideration of how the brains of boys and girls </p><p>dobut mostly do notdiffer. </p><p>References and Notes</p><p> 1. The difference value is given by the mean score of males </p><p>less the mean score of females divided by the standard </p><p>deviation of both groups.</p><p>Pink Brain, Blue Brain</p><p>How Small Differences Grow </p><p>into Troublesome Gapsand </p><p>What We Can Do About It</p><p>by Lise Eliot</p><p>Houghton Miffl in Harcourt, </p><p>Boston, 2009. 432 pp. $25. </p><p>ISBN 9780618393114.C</p><p>RE</p><p>DIT</p><p>: N</p><p>. C</p><p>AR</p><p>Y/S</p><p>CIE</p><p>NC</p><p>E</p><p>10.1126/science.1185957</p><p>Published by AAAS</p></li></ul>

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