Fill the crania with mustard seeds, tap thrice - then spin around and make a wish?
"… cranial capacity was measured by filling the brain case with mustard seeds through the foramen magnum."
No matter how many times I read this in the methodology summary of a study - and it seems to be a fairly common method - it continues to amuse me.
It just seems so One Thousand and One Arabian Nights. You know?
For the curious, here’s the rest of how they do it:
"… Cotton was placed in the eye orbits, and other foramina were blocked. The skull was tilted to distribute the seed throughout, tapped twice to settle its contents, and then filled to the plane of the foramen magnum rim. The seed was then poured into a graduated cylinder and recorded to the nearest milliliter. The measurement was performed thrice and the average taken."
(And the study is: Zihlman et al (2008) Morphological Variation in Adult Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus) of the Tai National Park, Cote D’Ivoire, American Journal of Physical Anthropology 135:34-41 )
Dissertation data analysis 1.0: A list of useful computer programs for primatology graduate students
- A good reference management software program: There are many of these on the market. Some are free (Mendeley), some are ubiquitous (EndNote), while some are platform-specific (Sente-Mac). I use Sente, which has an embedded web-browser and pdf viewer (for mark-up and note taking) however it is a Mac-only and few people use it. Most of my friends swear by Mendeley, but I have yet to try it. The most important thing is to find one you like and stick with it. Accessing journal articles quickly and easily makes writing papers and “eventually” manuscripts with ease.
- Microsoft Excel (with VBA for writing macros). If you were like me, you arrived in graduate school with a passing knowledge of Excel. In other words basic knowledge of the most used functions (SUM, AVERAGE, STDEV, etc.) and a no real appreciation of the usefulness of this program. Moreover if you plan on collecting your data in the field electronically, chances are it will eventually make its way on to an Excel spreadsheet. Nearly everyone uses Excel (and other Microsoft Office applications) on a daily basis, but few use it to its full potential. Streamlining your data in Excel before importing it to other less “user-friendly” statistical analysis programs will save you lots of time. More importantly, if your data (behavioral data especially) end up as “strings” in your spreadsheets you will need to learn Visual Basic (VBA) macros to search strings and do basic data manipulation that Excel does not do well. Familiarize yourself with functions like (LEFT, RIGHT, MID, CONCATENATE, VLOOKUP, and HLOOKUP). Master “Pivot Table Reports” for quickly organizing data. Note: Office 2008 for Mac does not support VBA so Mac users make sure you get Office 2011.
- R and RStudio. R is an extremely powerful statistical computing language that is freely available. For someone with no experience with computer languages it can be intimidating. Seeing that blinking “>” and with no buttons to push for your “t-test” can make the best researchers quit and go back to SPSS. However, the R faithful have a strong online presence with plenty of help forums. Check out the Comprehensive R Network (CRAN) for all your R needs. RStudio is “integrated development environment” for R. In other words, it takes all the scariness out of that blinking “>” and turns R into to something more “user-friendly.” RStudio requires the full version of R to run, and makes importing data and packages much easier. Here is an excellent week-by-week introduction to R from a UPenn professor.
- NetLogo. Another freely available multi-agent modeling environment. This has its own package in R for extracting data from models and analyzing in R. I don’t use it, but my friends do.
- UCINET. Social network analysis is all the rage in behavioral biology and UCINET is the best of the social network analysis programs. While the learning curve can be steep (similar to R and MATLAB), do not fret! You can do just about all the SNA you need in this program and it comes with NetDraw visualization tool.
- MATLAB. If your institution has a license, MATLAB is one of the most widely used technical computing languages for research (both in academia and the private sector). MATLAB can be used for statistical analysis, data visualization, computational modeling, etc. I can’t speak much to using MATLAB as I just finished a seminar on it today (the real impetus for writing this post).