When most people think of anthropology, images of Indiana Jones or Stargate SG-1’s Daniel Jackson come to their mind. Trekkies and Trekkers might think of Dr. Barron from the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Who Watches the Watchers” (S3E4). As students of anthropology, enthusiastic Trekkies and science fiction fans, we cannot help but wonder: do these characters provide accurate representations of what anthropologists do in real life?
In order to answer this question, we will examine anthropology and how it is portrayed in the Star Trek universe. In this first installment of a three-part series, we discuss the few occurences in which our discipline is mentionned in episodes from various Star Trek TV series. In the interest of brievity, we set aside the expanded universe, which includes movies, comics, books and video games. We hope to expand our analysis to these in the future, and should readers wish to discuss examples from the expanded universe, we would be happy to do so in the comments sections.
So what’s anthropology anyway?
We’ll give you the short version of that story: "anthropo" refers to man, humankind and "logy" refers to knowledge, the study of, science.
In other words, anthropology is the study of humans. Let’s examine the definition provided by the American Anthropological Association (AAA) of this discipline a little closer. In North American tradition, it is considered to have four branches: linguistic anthropology, archeology, socio-cultural anthropology and biological (also called physical) anthropology.
Linguistic anthropology is the study of languages and how they both reflect and impact culture. Archeology is the study of the past of humans: that’s right, ladies and gentlemen, Captain Picard is one of us! Socio-cultural anthropology is the study of cultures and relies heavily on participant observation in the field, that is long-term involvement in a research context to produce first-hand knowledge. Last but not least, biological/physical anthropology examines the biological origins of humans and their biological adaptation to their environment, among other things. A correlary science, primatology (the study of primates) is well known to the public. You may also know a little bit more about this branch of our discipline if you watch Bones, although most anthropologists would insist that their job has nothing to do with what you see on the show.
This short description is blunt and rather caricatural, but you get the picture. And you can read more about our discipline on The Geek Anthropologist, where we both blog regularly, or consult the AAA webpage to learn more.
Archeology is perhaps the branch of anthropology which enjoys the highest visibility in Star Trek. Picard himself is an enthusiast of this discipline, Vash appears in TNG and DS9 episodes, and Bajoran ruins are said to be the object of archeological investigation in several DS9 episodes. Yet, archeology is not presented as being closely related to anthrology. Instead, anthropology is mentionned on very few occasions, and generally only briefly, as it is in episodes ‘’The Galileo Seven’’ (TOS S1E13), ‘’The Game’’ (TNG S5E6), or ‘’Bliss’’ (VOY S5E14).
One TNG episode, however, “Who Watches the Watchers” (S3E4), is centered around a team of anthropologists. In the second installment of this series -- look for it tomorrow -- we will discuss the episode, and compare the representation it gives of anthropology and anthropologists with the current state of our discipline.
Do you know of other examples of representations of anthropologists in the Star Trek universe? Feel free to discuss them here!
Marie-Pierre Renaud is graduate student of sociocultural anthropology in Laval University, Quebec, Canada. She specializes in native studies and her work focuses on healing and reconciliation processes. As the founder and a co-editor of The Geek Anthropologist blog, which is dedicated to the anthropological study of geek culture and all things geek, she writes about women in geek culture, the representations of indigenous peoples in science-fiction, and the changing definitions of geekiness. She can be reached at thegeekanthropologist[at]gmail.com.
Rayna Slobodian is currently an Undergraduate student in anthropology at York University in Toronto, Canada. Her love for Star Trek is genetic, as she was named after the android from the TOS episode, “Requiem for Methuselah.” The human story has always fascinated her, especially when it comes to exploring life through imagination. Her anthropological interests include death studies, human factors in space, classism, ethics, and science and technology studies. Feel free to reach her at rayna.ca[at]gmail.com.
The USS Hood (NCC-1703) was a lady without much luck. The 23rd century Constitution-class starship took a beating during a M-5 battle simulation when the computer-controlled USS Enterprise fired upon her. The event occurred in 2268, as the Hood, Enterprise, Lexington, Excalibur and Potemkin engaged in war games, only to have the games turn dangerously real when the Enterprise -- testing Dr. Richard Daystrom's M-5 multitronic computer, which was programmed using his own mental patterns -- killed the crew of the Excalibur and fired upon the unshielded Hood with full force when the M-5 went beserk.
StarTrek.com's look at the Hood continues our ongoing celebration of the Ships of the Line, which will carry on weekly until the end of the year. The latest in the bestselling Ships of the Line calendar series is available now; visit www.Amazon.com to purchase the 2015 Ships of the Line calendar. And if you're an artist or designer, be sure to enter the Ships of the Line Design Contest, currently under way, for a chance to have your art featured in the 2016 Ships of the Line calendar. Click HERE to enter.
Of course hyposprays exist, you silly sehlat! "You might feel a little pinch." Nurses have been saying that, or something like it, to everyone who’s ever received a shot for generations; it puts the pain and fear of injections into some kind of perspective, which we're all for. Because really, nobody likes needles. And no one believes they won’t hurt. So why are we still using 'em? As any Starfleet doctor worth his or her salt would say, "Where's my hypospray?" The answer? Closer than you think.
Some of you might be asking "What is a hypospray, now that you mention it?" Glad you asked. The hypospray is what everyone wishes a syringe could be: a device that literally sprays liquid medications through your skin by shooting them at very high pressure through a very small hole. Imagine taking a cup of water and tossing it at a sheet of burlap: none of that water's getting through. But if you take the same amount and load it into a water pistol, then put the muzzle right up against the cloth and pull the trigger, some of it will squirt through to the other side. That's basically what a hypospray does, but better, and on a smaller scale. Interestingly, the one Bones uses in Star Trek: The Original Series looks a lot like a conventional syringe, while the one employed throughout the 24th century was reportedly based on an inhaler, another trusty device that delivers medicine in handy spray form.
Hyposprays are Starfleet Medical's delivery device of choice for any number of reasons, but here are three:
● No more needles. Hyposprays are less invasive, gentler and less painful. Even in the 24th century, there are still people who hate going to the doctor (see: every starship captain... ever), and doing away with terrible needles only helps.
● A syringe shoots all of its cargo into one spot in the human body. A hypospray is designed to, well, spray its medication into a diffuse area under the skin, which lowers the amount you need.
● Hyposprays work through clothing — no need to get anyone to roll up a sleeve or even find a vein.
If all that sounds good to you, there's even better news: hyposprays are almost a real thing. The technology we have now, first patented in 1960, is most commonly referred to as a "jet injector." It's nearly as cool-sounding a name as "hypospray," although a few scientific journals did actually call jet injectors hyposprays around the end of the 60s. This was probably not a coincidence.
The jet injector was originally intended for mass vaccinations in places where supply of needles was an issue, but it was eventually ditched for a number of unfortunate reasons:
● Present-day jet injectors need to be right up against the skin in order to work, and when they fire, they break the skin just a bit. There's a risk of transmitting diseases from person to person if you jet-inject a lot of people in a row. This is an especially big deal if you're trying to vaccinate them against disease in the first place.
● Jet injectors have a lot of moving parts that make them annoying to maintain in decent working order, not to mention the fact that they are costly.
● There've been some reports that jet injectors can be just as painful as needles. In the 2009 Star Trek, James Kirk definitely seemed to find Dr. McCoy's hyposprays annoying at the very least!
As nasty as they are, needles are at least straightforward in concept. Where'd we get this weird idea for jet injectors anyway? Strangely, we may have industrial accidents to thank for that one. Under just the right combinations of unfortunate circumstances, a few unlucky people have been accidentally injected with needle-thin, high-pressure streams of lubricants and other unpleasant fluids — even right through their protective clothing (word to the wise: do not Google this unless you're prepared to look at things that would make even the most stalwart Klingon warrior flinch). Fortunately, someone eventually figured out that this awful happenstance might have direct medical applications, and the jet injector was born.
Hyposprays are almost here. We just need to make them less complex, cheaper to build and fix the cross-contamination problem. PATH is working on that last one even as we speak, and the other two challenges will no doubt be met by the time we've invented warp drive. They'd better be, or else we'll have to get our Melvaran Mud Flea vaccinations the old-fashioned way, and that won't be any fun at all. As Kirk said to McCoy in the 2009 film, “Stop that!”
Jon Sung is a contributing writer for XPRIZE and copywriting gun-for-hire to startups and ventures all over the San Francisco Bay area. When not wrangling words for business or pleasure, he serves as the first officer of the USS Loma Prieta, the hardest-partying Star Trek fan club in San Francisco.
XPRIZE is an innovation engine. We design and operate prize competitions to address global crises and market failures, and incentivize teams around the world to solve them. Currently, we are operating numerous prizes, including the $30M Google Lunar XPRIZE, challenging privately funded teams to successfully land a robot on the Moon’s surface, and the $10M Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE, challenging teams around the world to create a portable, wireless, Star Trek-inspired medical device that allows you to monitor your health and medical conditions anywhere, anytime. The result? Radical innovation that will help us all live long and prosper.
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Resistance to Diamond Select Toys' latest Star Trek product is sure to be futile. Available early next year, the Star Trek TNG Borg Cube Silicone Tray will let fans assimilate some tasty snacks. In other words, the silicone rubber mold can be used to cast gelatin, juices and chocolate in the shape of a 1.5" Borg cube, thereby turning one of the Federation's greatest threats into a bite-size morsel of deliciousness. Of course, fans can also simply use water to make awesome, Borg sphere-shaped ice cubes.
The Star Trek TNG Borg Cube Silicone Tray will cost $9.99 and come packaged in a full-color window box. The product will be available in March 2015 at diamondselecttoys.com, comic book shops or other online retailers. The TNG Borg Cube Mold is now available for pre-order.
StarTrek.com, for our latest weekly poll, asked Which Star Trek musical instrument do you want to learn to play? More than 10,000 fans participated and the Vulcan Lute hit all the right notes with readers, capturing more than half the votes. Here's the full breakdown:
Vulcan Lute (51%)
Ressikan Flute (28%)
Elanin Singer Stones (7%)
Mavig's Harp (4%)
Enaran Musical Instrument (3%, 299 votes)
Bajoran Rattle (3%, 295 votes)
Aldean Musical Instrument (3%, 269 votes)
Algolian Percussion Instrument (2%, 234 votes)
So, how did your musical intrument of choice perform in the poll?
Star Trek: Harlan Ellison’s City on the Edge of Forever #3 (of 5) will arrive in stores on Wednesday via IDW Publishing. Written by Harlan Ellison, Scott Tipton & David Tipton, with art by J.K. Woodward and a cover by Juan Ortiz, Star Trek: Harlan Ellison’s City on the Edge of Forever #3 continues IDW's first-ever full visualization of Ellison’s Hugo- and WGA Award-winning teleplay for the classic TOS episode. Issue #3 picks up with Captain Kirk and Spock stranded in the past of old Earth, searching for the focal point that altered the timestream and changed everything about the universe they knew. And once they find her, they could find themselves foiled by a force even greater than the Guardians of Forever... love.
Star Trek: Harlan Ellison’s City on the Edge of Forever #3 runs 32 pages and costs $3.99. Fans should also be on the lookout for a subscription variant that features a cover by painter Paul Shipper. For additional details, contact your local comic book retailer or visit comicshoplocator.com to find a store near you. And keep an eye on StarTrek.com for further news about IDW's Star Trek comic books.