Back from #AmAnth2018, some updates!

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What a conference! I’m always full of excitement & overwhelmed by all the knowledge after attending the American Anthropological Association annual meeting (like in 2015, for example).. and this is my 6th time!

However, this trip has been the best so far. I finished my PhD degree from ASU in May 2017 and haven’t seen most of my colleagues ever since.. until this week! I saw my friends from ASU;  met with my amazing PhD mentor (Dr. Hruschka) and several other professors i’ve worked with before; caught up with my “island friends” (a group of amazing folks who spent 3 weeks with me in 2013 at an NSF-sponsored research methods camp). I even ended up on camera a couple of times!

The SciComm boom

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Camera,lights,action!

Speaking of cameras. It all began with me looking for science communication talks and posters at the AAA. I did the same thing last year but did not succeed. THIS year I noticed a fantastic poster from the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) on engaging religious groups in science communication. And the people next to the poster actually knew about our Science Communication Journal club!! (@scicomm_jc on Twitter). There seems to have been some sort of a shift – suddenly my #scicomm work is interesting to other anthro scholars and that is amazing. That is how i ended up on the first short video interview for the AAA conference + another interview that followed (stay tuned).

In terms of the rest of the conference – it was so overwhelmingly magnificent that I can’t write down everything I enjoyed. So i made a twitter moment instead HERE. I also shared a summary of an amazing public engagement/science session on our scicommjc IGTV (see @scicommjc on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/scicommjc/ but i think IGTV videos are only visible from phone).

What else is new?

Well, we just finished a pretty impressive election project at the Center for the Study of Los Angeles, titled LA Votes. Over 100 students at over 600 polling places around LA County. More than 1,500 exit poll surveys and 600 polling place quality assessments collected. All of this in ONE DAY. This study was no joke.

Our results were then picked up by the Los Angeles Times HERE (woohoo!). Also by LA Taco HERE (weee!). And here is a snapshot from the Election Central watch-party the night of the study. You can’t even tell how exhausted we are with some of my student supervisors 🙂

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With our amazing student supervisors! Election Central.

In the next couple of weeks I am also revising a paper. Feeling quite ready to now publish the third and final paper from my dissertation work! This one is extra fun because it’s my qualitative work aka fascinating in-depth interviews with Eastern Europeans and North Americans about meanings behind healthy eating styles (this stuff but the qualitative portion). Stay tuned.

Lastly, I can’t wait for Spring… because i get to teach again! I’ve missed lecturing like crazy since starting my researcher position at StudyLA, so this is a very welcome addition to a rather busy work schedule. I will be co-teaching an internship class with our center’s associate director and ALSO guest lecturing in the evolutionary psychology class. Now, the latter is pure fun, since the evolution of human food preferences is my #1 favorite topic (you know, this stuff I wrote).

That’s all for the updates, happy upcoming holidays!

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What have I been up to?

Wow, it’s almost April! It’s been 4 months at StudyLA and it’s been a VERY hectic time. In fact, I never thought i’d make fun of my past PhD self thinking I was “very busy” with my dissertation.. Being a research associate at a rather small yet ambitious research center definitely gave some perspective on what “busy” can really mean 🙂

Some of my colleagues have been curious what type of things I do at my first “real” job post-PhD 😀 It’d say that overall, the activities would be similar to a postdoc. Here are some of them:

  • I was a lead on a community study in downtown Los Angeles (Pico Union), where I trained & supervised 34 undergraduate researchers in the field. They collected over 400 intercept surveys in under 2 weeks!! I was SO impressed by their work. All the data is cleaned and entered now, and some of these students may be using it for their final papers this Spring.
  • I’ve been one of the mentors for our 15 undergraduate research assistants as they prepared their posters for the Undergraduate Research Symposium at LMU. It was quite busy but extra fun (I LOVE mentoring students, you guys). Among other things, I did mini workshops on data analysis in STATA and on Chi2 statistical tests… which was particularly “fun” considering i’ve always used SPSS before and never needed chi2 for any of my dissertation work :D. I have to say- STATA has definitely grew on me. I may even like it more than SPSS *gasp*
  • I’ve also been learning a lot about automated report generation… StudyLA has a LOT of data- they’ve been collecting public opinion surveys of LA county residents for years now. If a sudden press release, or official study report is requested, how do you produce a professional-looking report of the necessary data ASAP? We use LaTeX, and it’s quite a learning curve. I simply never had a need for something like this before, as any data I had to prepare (for conferences, papers, presentations) didn’t require more than several charts. When you need a 200+ page report, however… automation is absolutely necessary 😀

 

Anyway! Our next big event is ForecastLA– the center’s annual conference exploring “civic and economic concerns, cultural identities, and levels of satisfaction of residents and leaders in the Los Angeles region”. I’ve already written a couple of articles for the corresponding ForecastLA 2018 book, topics including police use of drones and perceived quality of childcare accessibility in Los Angeles (not exactly my main area of expertise, but so good to venture out of it). I’m looking forward to this event, but also know it’ll be a crazy couple of weeks leading up to it!

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LAST BUT NOT LEAST UPDATE! I still keep active with the Science Communication Journal Club (https://twitter.com/scicomm_jc) and we are now doing podcasts!! The first one is now available: https://anchor.fm/scicommjc

For this podcast, my #SciCommJC colleagues and I interviewed the winner of our State Your Mission Challenge, who talked about using cosplay & nerd culture in science communication 🙂

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Introducing: #ResearchMonday Instagram series

Happy October!

So, in my ongoing science communication efforts, I have been experimenting with visual formats for summarizing research/complex scientific concepts in simple-to-understand and fun ways.

Thus, my #ResearchMonday series on Instagram (which, of course, features #ResearchCat). It was during the last live Twitter Chat with our Science Communication Journal Club that I realized something: participants were sharing amazing sources and articles on the topic, but I absolutely knew I was not going to read them in the nearest future considering other priorities. That’s when I wished there could be some simple memes or visual summaries of key points i’d find useful (and that would truly encourage me to read the rest of the paper).

I very much like Instagram’s swiping posts, since it’s fantastic for self-paced story telling. Thus, this is where I’ve been playing with simple overviews of research articles. Click on each to go to see them:

Note: If new to Instagram, hover over the image & note the small arrow buttons on its sides (<)  and  (>). Click these to swipe through the post!

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So far, I’ve been choosing papers I have most expertise in- health and nutrition. However, as you can see I’ve attempted to cover some very different topics as well (conscious AI!) The format is most definitely NOT set in stone, and I’d love any feedback on improvements.

 

Become a Nerd of Trust: Our First Twitter Chat!

So this June I was invited to collaborate on a new exciting project: a Science Communication Journal Club! Since graduating in May, I already took the initiative to develop more science communication skills.. thus I joined immediately! 🎓

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Meet our team!

What is the journal club all about? From our website:

Science Communication Journal Club is aimed at easing the overwhelm associated with your science outreach responsibilities.We summarize the latest peer reviewed literature as well as reports and surveys and deliver them to you in the form of regular Twitter chats and blog articles.

This week, we had our first twitter chat, hosted by Dr. Sherry Nouraini – the club’s creator! The topic was Becoming a “Nerd of Trust” on Facebook (and we discussed this paper),

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Twitter chats can be overwhelming to follow, so I also did a live video on my Instagram page 🎥. I was curious to see if this format adds anything useful, and I believe it did! If someone doesn’t have time to closely follow a busy Twitter conversation for the entire hour, they can tune into the live video while multitasking. + you can make the livestream be viewable for 24 hours! So you can always watch it a bit later.

In the livestream, I summarized the paper, and then expanded on some of the posts in the chat (as well as my own answers and interpretations of the paper). I believe it’s a great accompaniment to the chat and I plan to do the same next month!👍

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My Twitter/Instagram setup! I had the livestream going on my iphone, TwitterDeck on my Mac, and also opened @scicomm_jc Twitter on my iPad

 

Take-home points

Now, there will be a summary post on this month’s Twitter conversation soon (posted on the club’s website), but here’s my short overview:

Facebook can be a FANTASTIC intervention point to dispel scientific misconceptions, because so many people use it for news and to share articles.. many of them being poor sources. And you as a scientist have an advantage- people in your FB network actually KNOW you personally, so we’d expect they trust your expertise. And yet….. I feel like some serious barriers for scientists to use FB are:

  1. Time commitment (indeed! the article discusses this a lot)
  2. Cognitive burden (i stress this!! Would you rather engage the public on Twitter or your own relatives and friends?? After all, you can simply block rude individuals on Twitter and forget about them.. But things can get exhausting with family, especially on controversial topics like genetic engineering of foods)
  3. Lack of incentives (both the paper and I emphasize this strongly). See:
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I’ve been doing a lot of job applications lately, and some of them specifically ask for my Twitter account. So they surely do care whether you are engaged in science communication. Well, nobody’s going to ask you to show your personal Facebook account- so unfortunately Twitter provides you with more incentives from this perspective.

Join us for the next Twitter chat on October 3rd!

Hello, Los Angeles!

My 5 years at Arizona State University have been quite amazing and I will miss Phoenix dearly… However, it’s time for new beginnings.

Hello, LA! This week, I relocated to Los Angeles with my husband, who got a lecturing position in the area. Transition stages are always rough, but I am excited to be pursuing research and teaching opportunities in California.

I haven’t even been here for a full week, but already I met new fantastic people. Yesterday, I went to the Versatile PhD meetup. It was refreshing to make new academia (and non-academia) friends and hear everyone’s research stories. And it is a small world- one of the attendees studies the cultural history of Eastern Europe and probably knows more about my hometown of Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine than I do.

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West Los Angeles Versatile Phd- August Meetup in Marina Del Rey

Note: aside from exploring career paths in the area and working on some more science communication content this month, I also desperately need to get used to the infamous traffic of LA… Wish me luck.

What is epidemiology (in ~ 7 minutes)

EXCITED to have my second science communication video out today!

This was a collaboration with ASU’s Risk Innovation Lab, as I co-wrote the script with Dr. Maynard. In addition, I used the great video making setup in the lab’s facilities (instead of suffering in my own home with a small unstable whiteboard and terrible lighting).

 

The Process. To produce such videos, you first need a good to-the-point succinct script. This is the toughest part for me personally. Once you have that, you need to create the drawings to go along (I enjoy this part the most, though that’s not the case for everyone). Then you’re ready to film!

If you have professional lighting equipment, great camera, and a sturdy whiteboard, you can do it in < 2 hrs, which is how long it took me  (my first video took much much longer- in fact I had to re-record sections on the next day). This part is probably the most tedious and frustrating– for one, try writing in a straight line and with good enough handwriting!! Then you have to record the voiceover- so, read the script you wrote. This can take many tries, but it seems like the simplest part to me!

Finally, you need to edit the video- so, take your recordings and synchronize them so that the images go with the script perfectly. This is not as horrible as you might imagine (iMovie makes it straightforward), but it does take some time. Overall, this video took me about 7 hours to make. My previous one (HERE) took about 16!!

I am very happy with this work (especially the epi detective with a sizable mustache), but I wonder about one element. Originally, I wrote the p-value explanation a bit longer. We then shortened it, but I am curious which version does a better job explaining the concept. Here’s the first writeup:

One standard practice in analyzing data is to look at the P-VLUE (or probability value) to determine if the findings are true or are simply due to chance.

For this, a p-value cut off is set at 0.05: this means that the probability of findings being caused by random chance is 5% or less. P-values above this 0.05 threshold, meaning the probability of chance findings is more than 5%, are considered NOT statistically significant.

In other words: researchers across various scientific fields have arbitrarily decided that out of 100 findings, they are comfortable accepting that 5 of those will actually not be true but will be caused by random variations. And this amount of error is the most they are willing to accept (thus the 0.05 cutoff value).

So, which explanation leaves a non-expert with a better understanding (in the video, it starts at 4:13)? Let me know if you have an opinion, because I honestly can’t tell which is more effective.

Addicted to “Food Addiction”

I recently wrote a short article on “food addiction” for the Risk Innovation Lab’s CrisBits blog (collaboratively published by Arizona State and Michigan University!). This piece mainly focuses on the scientific side of the issue- I really wanted to broadly cover research on the topic, since so many popular articles on food addiction focus on singular studies (and end up being extremely misleading). Yet I also really wanted to address the topic from an anthropological perspective.

… the notion of addictive foods attracts us on a much deeper level as well

So why are we.. almost addicted to the belief that “food addiction” is a thing? If you read my CrisBits article, you’ll see that there is (as of now) no actual evidence for any food ingredients causing addictive-like responses in humans. The field is highly debated, though: there’s plenty of scholars arguing pro and against. On top of that, the media often does a horrible job sensationalizing food addiction research (well, I suppose it does a great job sensationalizing, but a horrible job communicating the results correctly). All of that can surely create the illusion that science actually supports the food addiction theory. However, the notion of addictive foods attracts us on a much deeper level as well…

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The allure of addictive foods

There is a strong cultural appeal in the idea that certain “bad” foods or their components can cause dependence and are thus dangerous (e.g. MSG, casein, gluten). This view of overeating as addiction includes the need to “detox” and instead eat a “clean” diet (e.g. this: The Diary of a Sugar Addict in Detox).

These are not just modern health trends, but a manifestation of a need to understand our world by imposing structure and thus meaning on the untidy experience that is reality. Structure is created by categorizing things into clean/unclean, healthy/unhealthy, pure/dirty- and things that don’t clearly fit into such categories are considered unclean and dangerous. Anthropologist Mary Douglas makes this point in her seminal book, Purity and Danger, as she examines food taboos (cultural rules about what not to eat). Douglas points that prohibited foods are considered “polluting” because they defy easy classification into culturally important categories. The current unease with genetically engineered foods is a fantastic modern example: as a technology that blurs the lines between natural and unnatural domains, it is indeed often termed by opponents as “genetic pollution” or “contamination”.

…prohibited foods are considered “polluting” because they defy easy classification into culturally important categories.

The categories we create to make sense of the world have strong moral overtones, as they allow us to essentially define right and wrong. Indeed, the word “addiction” itself is connected to the moral disapproval of socially undesirable behaviors (e.g. drug abuse). Psychologist Paul Rozin points out how the fear of sugars in American diets, for example, reflects the Puritan belief that things that are very pleasurable must also be bad.

Religious Scholar Alan Levinovitz also emphasizes that people frame eating in terms of morality and religion. He discusses how concepts of healthiness reflect the “myth of paradise past”- the idealistic belief that things were better, healthier, and even morally superior before. From such perspective, novel changes to foods represent our fall from grace- whether via agriculture (e.g. as in paleo diet ideology) or industrialization and technology (as with processed and genetically modified foods).

So, that’s my little anthropological view of food addiction beliefs as a cultural phenomenon. Hope you enjoyed it!


P.S. You might see news reports on studies about food addiction.. but keep in mind that no clinical diagnosis for “food addiction” exists, and most such research uses a self-report questionnaire: the Yale Food Addiction Scale (YFAS). This tool uses DSM-IV’s generic criteria for substance abuse to measure addictive-like eating.

Most importantly, it does not validate the existence of “food addiction” as a true disorder (DSM diagnostic criteria is intended for trained clinicians, not a checklist for self-diagnosis via a simple questionnaire). This is a critical issue to consider, as most food addiction research with humans is based on diagnosing food addiction this way.