Archive for the Science Category

Ill Winds: On Fan Death

Posted in Asia, Culture, Geography of Madness, Press, Science, Uncategorized on June 14, 2017 by frankbures

lead_960Had a nice interview with Katie Heaney for her story at The Atlantic:

Is My Electric Fan Going to Kill Me in My Sleep?

When I was a kid, someone told me that running a fan too close to my face was dangerous to my health, and I’ve kind of believed it ever since. For the 20-some years since, I’ve assumed that person was one of my parents, but when I mentioned this to them recently, neither had any idea what I was talking about. “That doesn’t sound like something I’d believe,” my dad said, and he’s right, it doesn’t. But I know someone in my home once told me to move my fan further away from my bed so I wouldn’t get sick overnight, and if it wasn’t my parents, then who was it? My best guess at this time is a paranoid babysitter. No matter that I never encountered any substantiating evidence; the idea of a fan’s concentrated breeze making me sick held enough intuitive sway in my childhood psyche that it stuck there. Even though I know now that it isn’t exactly true, I wonder if there’s something to the idea—it had to come from somewhere. Right?

In fact, many cultures across the globe have their own stories of wind-based illnesses, says Frank Bures, author of The Geography of Madness. In his book, Bures writes that some ancient Chinese medical texts warned readers of “wind insanity” and even “wind stupidity.” Variations on these beliefs persist today, too; in Italy, people wear scarves around their necks to protect against colpo d’aria (a hit of air), and in the Czech Republic, some people fear the wind from air conditioners and refrigerators, believing they cause rheumatism, among other health issues. Most (if not all) Americans have been told not to go outside with wet hair lest we “catch a chill”—a belief in a cause-and-effect model with little scientific backing. Perhaps the most extreme form of these supposed illnesses can be found in Korea, where they call it something else: fan death, or the belief that running a fan in an enclosed room will actually kill you.

Read the rest here.

 

Teaching a Stone to Fly: The World Rock Skipping Championship

Posted in America, Clips, Culture, Outdoors, Science, Travel on May 30, 2017 by frankbures

From Minnesota Monthly:

Late one afternoon last summer, our family arrived at a campsite on the western shore of Lake Michigan. We had been driving all day, across Wisconsin on our way further east. The four of us—my wife and two daughters, ages 7 and 10—set up our tent, made dinner, then went down to the water. Two-foot waves were rolling across the lake, a taste of what lay ahead: We were going to the Mackinac Island Stone Skipping Competition—the oldest, most prestigious rock-skipping tournament in the United States, if not the world. Every Fourth of July, elite skippers (many former and current world-record holders) take turns throwing their stones into the waters where lakes Huron and Michigan meet, also known for having rolling, two-foot waves crashing on the beach.

I looked down, saw a decent skipping stone, and picked it up. My daughters were watching. The older one spoke up.

“Are you prepared for the fact that you probably won’t win?” she asked.

I threw the stone.

“Four,” she said. “But it caught a wave.”

My shoulders sagged.

“Don’t doubt yourself, Daddy!”

Her younger sister looked at her. “But you doubted him,” she said.

“That’s different.”

Prepared or not, I knew I had a knack for skipping. Some years earlier, I’d been driving through the mountains when I stopped at a roadside lake. The water was smooth as glass. I bent down, picked up a wide, flat stone, and sent it skimming across the water. It went on for what felt like forever, until it finally hit the rocky shore on the other side.

Behind me, a young boy spoke up.

“Wow,” he said. “You must be the world-champion rock skipper.”

I wasn’t. At least not yet. But I’d been skipping stones my whole life, ever since I was around my daughters’ ages, always getting better and better. There was almost nothing I loved better than the feeling of knowing—even before it hit the water—that you had a perfect throw, one that defies nature by making a stone both fly and float.

Mackinac, I had learned, was the place where such things were decided. These were my people—the ones who could spend hours on a beach looking for just the right stone, who would fill bags and boxes with skippers from secret locations, who would throw until their arm gave way, lost in the simple sorcery of stone skipping.

Read the rest here.

Paperback Writer: Geography of Madness

Posted in Books, Clips, Culture, Geography of Madness, Science on May 12, 2017 by frankbures

Paperback Release

I’m very happy to announce the publication of the paperback edition of The Geography of Madness by Melville House. The past year has been full of fascinating conversations on everything from missing members to the mysteries of PMS. It seems like the tide is turning toward a more nuanced, less mechanistic, view of how the body and mind interact. If Geography helped advance that discussion, I am glad.

Below is a roundup of reviews and interviews that have come out since the hardcover publication, for which I’m deeply grateful. I want to thank everyone who bought and read the book. I hope it rang true on some level.

Interviews
The Atlantic: Diseases You Only Get if You Believe in Them
Toronto Globe and Mail: Penis thieves? Voodoo death? Frank Bures suggests such maladies aren’t all in our heads
Meaning of Life TV: Culture-bound syndromes
Rain Taxi: The Fluidity of the Human Brain
The Isthmus: On the trail of penis thieves

GoMmech.indd

 

Reviews
New Scientist: Stolen penises and other exotic psychological tales
The Australian: From penis thieves to voodoo
The Guardian: Is your penis really shrinking?
Maclean’s: Penis thievery and other strange syndromes
Star Tribune: “Ambitious and exhaustively reported, this thoughtful book examines culture, beliefs and madness.”

 

Further discussion
Slate: We’re not scientists, but PMS is real.
Vox: Of course PMS is “real.”
New York: Yes, PMS IS Real

 

Reviews in other languages:
Enfermedades que tienes sólo si crees en ellas
Più crediamo di essere stressati più lo siamo veramente
Kroppen, själen, penistjuven
Er zijn ziektes die je alleen hebt als je gelooft dat ze bestaan

Creepy Clowns, Pizzagate and American Panics

Posted in America, Asia, Clips, Culture, Geography of Madness, Science on May 4, 2017 by frankbures

526388637From Powells.com

To a village dweller on Hainan, the Great American Clown Panic of 2016 would certainly seem strange, while the 1985 ghost panic of Hainan would make a certain amount of sense. This was largely because they had heard the stories about genital-stealing ghosts before. Older residents “vividly remembered previous epidemics in 1948, 1955, 1966 and 1974” that had also affected hundreds of people. Our culture is the ecosystem of narratives that we belong to. One study found that the difference between victims and non-victims was 100 percent of victims had prior knowledge of the danger of the fox ghost, and 100 percent of them had a fear of death due to genital retractions. Culture-bound syndromes and mass panics emerge from the stories that we believe could be true.

Dark CarnivalFor the same reason, the clown panic makes a certain kind of sense to us: we have heard this story before. “The story always sounds real,” says Robert Bartholomew, author of Outbreak! The Encyclopedia of Extraordinary Social Behavior and many other books on the topic. “A pedophile or sadist trying to lure people into the woods. Yet when you look into it, these stories go back for centuries. Folklorists have a name for them: bad clown narratives, or killer clown, phantom clown, stalking clown. For me, phantom clowns are the bogeyman in another guise. They are living folklore. They are a modern myth in the making.”

Clowns, in our culture, have a long and complicated history. According to Bartholomew they were viewed positively until the late 1800s, when they began to appear in operas as murderers. Around the Great Depression in 1930, traveling circuses hit hard times, so they spun off into smaller sideshow carnivals. These were called “Dark Carnivals” (like the Ray Bradbury novel of the same name) and there clowns were dark, creepy, and scary.

Read the rest here.

Clowns._America

At Arm’s Length

Posted in America, Clips, Culture, Science on March 22, 2017 by frankbures

Cutler2016123 copyFrom The Rotarian:

Some years ago, my wife and I went to the south of Thailand to teach English at an elementary school. It was a poor school in a small town. The principal did his best to accommodate us, building a room for us to live in at the school. It had a bathroom and a shower and many, many photos of the school’s owner. By local standards it was luxurious.

By our standards, however, it was missing one main thing: privacy. A buffer zone between ourselves and everyone else. The room was situated right next to the principal’s office, and our shared wall stopped about a foot short of the ceiling. Our bed sat against one side of this wall. On the other side was the principal’s desk. It felt, in a way, as though we were in bed with him.

This was not the first time I had noticed cultural differences regarding personal space. mar17-coverWhen I lived in East Africa, I saw how my need for space seemed strange and possibly hostile in a very people-oriented culture. But Americans have long been notorious for the vast expanses of personal space we need. An article titled “Understanding American Culture” on the International Student Guide to the USA website advises: “Americans tend to require more personal space than in other cultures. If you try to get too close to an American during your conversation, he or she will feel that you are ‘in their face’ and will try to back away. Try to avoid physical contact while you are speaking, since this may lead to discomfort.”

Read the rest here.

Is Our Depression Culture-Bound?

Posted in America, Clips, Culture, Science on January 22, 2017 by frankbures

cover_2From Poets & Writers Magazine:

Growing up, I only knew that my grandma had been “sick.” Later I heard more, and learned that she had taken her own life. But it wasn’t until I started researching a book about culture-bound syndromes that I uncovered the fuller version: Late one night, in 1968, my grandma woke up, opened a bottle of barbiturates, swallowed them all, then climbed back into bed. The next morning my grandfather found her body next to his. She was fifty-six years old. They had been married since she was sixteen and he was nineteen.

At the time the doctors said she had a nervous breakdown, or sometimes that she was depressed. But that meant something different to the doctors than it meant to her family. And as I researched my book, it started to become clear that even today it probably means something different to everyone around the world.

Rates of depression vary widely. In Korea or Japan you have a one in fifty chance of having experienced major depression over the past twelve months, while in Brazil your chance is one in ten. Symptoms vary too. According to Handbook of Depression, a textbook on mood disorders, Koreans and Korean Americans experience manifestations that others would never consider related to depression: constipation, abdominal cramps, heartburn, stiff joints, sore muscles, and increased heart rate. In cultures where excitement and happiness are considered normal, people with major depression show low energy and blunted emotional response. In cultures where emotional control is considered the norm, the opposite is true: Intensified emotional responses are a common symptom of depression. The British psychiatrist Christopher Dowrick, author of Beyond Depression: A New Approach to Understanding and Management, has suggested that depression itself should be considered a culture-bound syndrome.

Read the rest here.

Read more about Culture-Bound Syndromes in The Geography of Madness

Running Circles Around Us

Posted in Africa, Clips, Culture, Running, Science on August 29, 2016 by frankbures

Crawley1From Scientific American

When the starting gun fires at the Olympic track in Rio de Janeiro, there is little doubt who will be in the lead. In the Men’s 1,500 Meters Asbel Kiprop will be up front. In the women’s 5,000 meters Almaz Ayana will run away, and she may also take the 10,000 Meters. In the marathon Helah Kiprop will push the women whereas Eliud Kipchoge will be the one to watch among the men. In the Men’s 800 Meters, David Rudisha will likely hold his title and maybe break his own world record.

In other words most of these races will be dominated by runners from, or with roots in, east Africa—namely Kenya and Ethiopia, with a few Eritreans and maybe a Ugandan also standing out. Mo Farah, currently at the top of the ranking for 10,000 meters, was born in Somalia and raised in the U.K., and now trains in the U.S. Bernard Lagat, who just won the U.S. 5,000-meter Olympic qualifier (at age 41) is Kenyan-American.

East African runners have dominated for the two decades since Kenyans started winning in the mid-1990s, followed by Ethiopians shortly thereafter. This has lead to great soul searching on the part of former distance powers like the U.S. and U.K. Yet reasons for that Crawley3dominance remain hotly debated, and science has had little definitive to say about it.

The reigning theory in the West is that runners from east Africa have some evolutionary advantage over runners from other backgrounds.

Read the rest here.