Talk: Forecasting to prevent the next viral storm

Nathan Wolfe, Lorry I. Lokey Visiting Professor of Human Biology at Stanford University and Director of the Global Viral Forecasting Network Initiative will give a public talk at UC Davis on May 24, “Before it Strikes: Forecasting the Next Viral Storm.” His talk will begin at 4.10 pm in room 180, Medical Sciences C building on the UC Davis campus (near Tupper Hall and the Genome and Biomedical Sciences Facility).

Primate Center alumna wins Presidential Award

President Barack Obama named Claudia R. Valeggia, who conducted her Ph.D. research at the California National Primate Research Center, as one of 94 recipients of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) Sept. 26. The PECASE is the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.

Valeggia, now professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of PennsylvaniaClaudia Valeggia, said she was “speechless” on hearing the news. “It’s such a great honor, and it’s such a big push for my research.”

Post-election roundup

The Obama/Palin ticket: Law professor Vikram David Amar asks, why not have separate votes for President and Vice President?

Dancing in the streets: Professor emeritus of history Ruth Rosen writes that the last time Americans danced in the streets was 1945.

Conceding gracefully: Bob Ostertag, professor of technocultural studies, asks why politicians seem to give their best speeches when conceding defeat.

Blogviating: More post-election blogging from UC Davis historians at The Edge of the American West.

Obama, Snapple and Rumors

What do presidential candidate Barack Obama and Snapple Iced Tea have in common? Patricia Turner, professor of African American and African studies at UC Davis, will answer that question in a presentation at the American Folklore Society in Louisville, Ky., on Thursday, Oct. 23.

Turner, whose research focuses on urban legends and conspiracy theories, notes that Snapple had to grapple with two false rumors when it became a sensation in 1993. According to one, the company had ties to pro-life extremists. According to the other, it was owned by the Ku Klux Klan. Similarly, Obama has had to confront false rumors that he is Muslim, refuses to pledge allegiance to the flag and exchanges terrorist hand signals with his wife.

Freeman Dyson on campus and on the radio

Physicist, pacifist and all-round big thinker Freeman Dyson gives a public lecture on campus tomorrow, Tuesday Oct. 21 at 7 pm in the Alumni and Visitors Center. Professor Dyson’s topic will be, “The Individual or the Group.”

Dyson, whose interests have ranged from atomic physics to the origins of life and from space colonization to nuclear disarmament, is professor emeritus at the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton University.

Dyson will also be a guest on Capital Public Radio’s Insight show tomorrow afternoon, 2-3 p.m. Tune to 90.9 FM locally or listen to a live audio stream here.

What Women Say and What Men Hear

Faulty male introspection may explain why men so often misinterpret women’s indirect messages to stop or slow down the escalation of sexual intimacy, according to new research by UC Davis communication professor Michael Motley.

“When she says ‘It’s getting late,’ he may hear ‘So let’s skip the preliminaries,'” Motley says. “The problem is that he is interpreting what she said by trying to imagine what he would mean — and the only reason he can imagine saying ‘It’s getting late’ while making out is to mean ‘Let’s speed things up.'”

The earliest whale hunters

Archaeologists led by Daniel Odess from the University of Alaska Museum in Fairbanks have presented the earliest evidence yet of whaling — pictures of people in small boats hunting whales, carved onto pieces of ivory 3,000 years ago. The work was presented at the Society for American Archaeology meeting this week

“An actual picture like that is probably the closest thing that we can ever get to direct evidence for whaling,” says Christyann Darwent, a zooarchaeologist at the University of California, Davis. “It’s an astounding find.”

Using DNA to trace people, past and present

Two stories in the news this week show how DNA analysis revolutionized our ability to identify people and trace their ancestry.

In Thursday’s New York Times, Amy Harmon reported on how police are using “surreptitious collection” of DNA samples to catch a suspect. A soda can offered during an interview; a dropped cigarette butt; even a drop of saliva from a suspect in the street, can provide enough DNA to link a suspect to a crime. In some cases, detectives have even used a ruse such as sending a suspect an invitation to join a class-action lawsuit so he would lick an envelope and return it to them.

Neanderthal versus modern skulls: selection or drift?

SkullsNew Scientist reports on a paper by UC Davis anthropologist Timothy Weaver and colleagues. They compared skull measurements from Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans, and concluded that the divergence between craggy-browed Neanderthals and us could be due to random genetic drift as the populations were isolated from each other. Others have suggested that natural selection — for example, our lighter skulls facilitate language, Neanderthals heavy jaws make it easier to eat a range of foods — drove the differences.

The original paper is available here (subscription may be required).

Two legs are easier than four

Why did human ancestors start walking upright? A new study by anthropologists Michael Sockol at UC Davis, David Raichlen at the University of Arizona and Herman Pontzer at Washington University, St Louis shows that humans walking on two legs use about one-quarter the energy as chimpanzees walking on two legs or four. That supports the idea that humans became bipedal because it is more energy-efficient, allowing our ancestors to forage further.

Some individual chimps used less energy in walking on two legs than others, and that was linked to physical differences. That suggests that bipedalism could have evolved rather easily in a group of prehumans, if some were better two-legged walkers than others.