The Value of Medical Anthropology

The majority leader of the House of Representatives, Eric Cantor, just personally attacked the worth of my dissertation research in an Op-Ed in the USA Today. My actual project in Bolivia. You can read the letter HERE.

Administering an epidemiologic survey to a Tsimane' participant.

Administering an epidemiologic survey to a Tsimane’ participant.

In defense of my work, I’ll just quote verbatim the first paragraph that justifies my research from my job app cover letters: The central question that motivates my research is why chronic stress tracks along the fault lines of social inequity among rapidly globalizing populations. This question is important because stress-related diseases have the highest global disease burden today and this burden is disproportionately borne by the poor and socially marginalized. My pre-dissertation and dissertation fieldwork, funded by two NSF grants, make a unique contribution to medical anthropology and population health research by investigating the role of culture as a stress buffer among a group of Amazonian foraging-farmers who seem to defy the usual connection between globalization, inequality and psychosocial stress—the Tsimane’ of lowland Bolivia. The Tsimane’ present a puzzle because despite two decades of rapid culture change and market integration they have some of the world’s lowest average levels of short-term stress biomarker measures and related adverse health outcomes. My dissertation attempts to solve this puzzle using long-term ethnography and a sociocultural epidemiologic survey to advance our understanding of the links between culture and the stress process.

Stay tuned for updates on the pending NSF response to the opinion piece.

UPDATE (10/2/2013): Not one to let a little momentum go to waste, I am planning to respond in an Op-Ed piece of my own (and it may be co-written).  Along with that, I have a crowd-funding launch in the works on to enable analyses of retrospective stress biomarkers collected during my NSF research project. I hope those who see the value in my research might consider supporting it tangibly as well.


The Tsimane' Community of Cosincho

The Tsimane’ Community of Cosincho

2 comments to The Value of Medical Anthropology

  • Kiran Jayaram

    Hi, Mr. Schultz.

    I think the attacks on the NSF and higher education in general are repulsive, but that’s not exactly why I’m writing. Perhaps you might want to take this opportunity to make your case to a broader public. If he went to USA Today, you might consider it as well. Write a version of the justification above, but make it understandable to a public less familiar with the (only slightly) technical language above. While on one hand, it’s exactly what the Representatives are demanding, but on the other hand, it’s a way to make the case for the significance of your research specifically and social science in general, which consequently confirms that the NSF made a good decision, and show that no additional accountability is needed.

    Just a thought. I’d be happy to support this in any way I could.

    Kiran Jayaram
    Ph.D., Columbia University (Applied Anthropology)
    Participant, NSF SIRD

  • Thanks for your comment, Kiran. Please see my updated post for more on the response I’m planning.