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Bernard Uncovers the Social Sciences’ ‘Secret Life’

Anthropologist and ethnographer Dr. H. Russell Bernard visited St. Mary’s College on Monday, February 15, 2010 to lecture on “The Secret Life of Social Science.” He is the former Editor-in-Chief of the American Anthropologist journal anda  recipient of the Franz Boas Award from the American Anthropological Association.

Bernard spoke of how the social sciences, from anthropology to psychology, have a hand in running (almost) everything, even though most people today would never consider humanities as having such an impact on certain aspects of the daily life. “The topic today,” stated Bernard at the start of his lecture, “is not about anthropology, but what I hope anthropologists will take heed of.”

Famous for his work on statistical analyses relating to human cultures and societies, he naturally started by talking on a survey that he conducted which asked randomly selected individuals what they considered social sciences had contributed since the start of the 21st century.

Most of the individuals polled had stated that psychology had contributed and changed to some extent, but almost one-fourth believed that social sciences had either made no contribution at all, or had even made things worse. “We don’t really think of social science as having an impact,” stated Bernard, “but it does.”

He continued on with a discussion of how the act of polling, when mixed with psychology, can greatly affect marketing. This in turn greatly affects the lives of billions of people each day since whenever an individual is polled, they leave a trail of information about themselves behind.

That, he explained, is how tobacco industries in the United States are able to target the youth of the country by placing images of adventure or romance within their ads. This is what they agree will most likely grab the eye of the targeted age group, without having to use any text.

Before Bernard even gave his lecture, though, he took the time to sit down with a couple of students in order to answer questions and discuss anthropology over lunch. “I had a great time getting personalized advice from an anthropology god,” said junior Julie Franck. “It isn’t very often that students get to talk directly to someone who wrote the textbook they are studying from.”

He even found the time in order to visit an anthropology course and talk to the students in the class. “He is extremely approachable and friendly,” said junior Chris Morihlatko, “and was willing to help me out with finding connections for some jobs. Anyone interested in anthropology or sociology should take the time to read his material.”

Bernard was also able to produce some laughs from the gathered students, professors, and St. Mary’s community members during his lecture when he discussed how Queen Elizabeth created, in 1566, what could be considered the first lottery in order to help pay for taxes. “Lotteries,” Bernard said. “A tax on people who were bad at math!”

Overall, most attendees who were able to meet with Bernard before or after the lecture enjoyed his enthusiasm about the field of anthropology and his eagerness to hear everyone else’s stories. “He gave me personalized advice,” said Franck, “listened to my plans and made me even more enthusiastic to accomplish anything nearly as influential as his work.”

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