Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Welcome to Context and Variation!

Hello, everyone! I'm Prof. Clancy to my students, Kate to colleagues and friends. You can find me on Twitter as KateClancy, and in the blogosphere I tend to sign with my initials KBHC. Just to make things difficult.

I am an assistant professor of anthropology, and for the last year or so have been running the Laboratory for Evolutionary Endocrinology Blog, which is the lab co-directed by me and Prof. Rebecca Stumpf. I decided that it was time for me to create and define a space separate from the laboratory space, because I didn't necessarily want personal opinions, or even reviews of articles, to be the front page for what should be a more collaborative space that promotes the goings on of our lab. In the coming weeks and months I hope to convince my colleagues to contribute more there, and I will be re-posting some of my own material from the lab blog in this new space.

Who is my audience?

First, check out the About page on this blog. That will give background on me and the naming of this blog that will situate you as a reader. But below I've fleshed out this thinking a bit more.

I have two audiences in mind for this blog: laypeople interested in science, and my students here at the University of Illinois. I teach hundreds upon hundreds of non science majors every year, and I wanted to figure out a better way to connect with them than through a microphone in a giant auditorium. And through my experiences with these great students over the years, I have discovered that many of them are nervous or afraid of science, because either the material overwhelmed them in the past, or they thought they weren't cut out for it. I suspect there are a lot more people out there with these feelings.

These feelings do not reflect the reality of the intelligence of the students I have taught, so I suspect they don't reflect the reality of the intelligence of any other readers who happen upon this blog and feel this way.

To me, at least part of the issue is with learning how to think like a scientist, and that means knowing how to frame, and knowing how to filter. Framing means understanding the perspective of a given piece of evidence and put it in context. Filtering means being able to determine the scientific value of a piece of evidence. In an age of Google and Wikipedia, these are important skills for everyone, regardless of occupation. I think science blogs are excellent sources of information and inspiration for people trying to learn to frame and filter.

The other part of the issue, or at least the other part where science blogs can contribute, is in sharing the excitement of science with a broader audience. I love what I do, with a passion that is absolutely dorky in its depth. I enjoy sharing my perspective on news items, recent papers, my own work, and I enjoy hearing folks' responses. I like sharing something with someone they might otherwise have never read. And I really enjoy providing new information to people that goes counter to popular evidence (that's the troublemaker in me).

What will I cover here?

Because of my teaching interests, I read a lot about the evolution of human behavior. So for my students' sake, there will be links and sometimes commentary provided about that material. I especially like the kind of stories and journal articles that offer a fresh perspective on the interaction between biology and culture, especially those that do not try to demonstrate biology as immutable.

My research interests, however, reside more in women's reproductive physiology and evolutionary medicine. I am interested in hormones, the ovaries, the uterus and endometrium, in menstrual cycles and periods and the premenstrual phase. I also read a lot about the placenta, pregnancy, lactation, the postpartum period, birth and birth practices. You could say I work in the field of ladybusiness anthropology. Of course the term is tongue in cheek, but I would also contend that it is every lady's business to understand how her body works, how it responds to her environment, and what a marvel of evolution and adaptation it is.

I hope some of my excitement rubs off, and that we have an enjoyable conversation over here. I hope I and my readers grow as scientists as we think together about our species.


  1. Awesome! While I am sad the title of this blog is not "Ladybusiness Anthropology" it still looks great and I am excited to read along.

  2. Yeah, I'm kinda sad too... but part of me had a hard time believing I would ever get tenure with a blog titled "Ladybusiness Anthropology." It is in the description, and it will be a label for relevant posts, though :).