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F9.mediumThe fascinating discovery presented by Professor Lee Berger at Dartmouth on November 16th, "Almost Human—the Discovery of Homo naledi”, is truly remarkable for many reasons. The significant new discovery of the Homo naledi skeletons in the Rising Star Cave, and the complex collaboration that brought this discovery to light, make a gripping story of exploration, bravery, and science. But this is also a story of a transformation in thinking about scholarly publishing that is needed to forward understanding of a new species. As noted in National Geographic, “In paleoanthropology, specimens are traditionally held close to the vest until they can be carefully analyzed and the results published, with full access to them granted only to the discoverer’s closest collaborators. By this protocol, answering the central mystery of the Rising Star find—What is it?—could take years, even decades. Berger wanted the work done and published by the end of the year. In his view everyone in the field should have access to important new information as quickly as possible.”

To this end, two of the scientific research papers resulting from this discovery have been published in the open access journal eLife. A new journal, eLife provides open peer review and rapid publishing services on a state of the art platform. It provides researchers with high quality publishing that reaches a broad audience, and is supported by a collaboration of funders and researchers from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Max Planck Society, and the Wellcome Trust.

The lead researcher, Lee Berger, and the others on this project, including Dartmouth’s Associate Professor of Anthropology Jeremy DeSilva, knew the skeletons in the Rising Star Cave constituted a very important discovery and wanted the work broadly available and published in the best journals. Through the open access eLife articles and public access to the specimen files on MorphoSource, anyone with a 3D printer can make and study the fossils! The two eLife papers have already been cited in the published literature, and the metrics for usage provided by the platform give insight into the rapid spread of knowledge of these papers through social media as well.

elife-identity-header The articles in eLife are:

Homo naledi, a new species of the genus Homo from the Dinaledi Chamber, South Africa, by Lee Berger et al                DOI: Published September 10, 2015 Cite as eLife 2015;4:e09560

Geological and taphonomic context for the new hominin species Homo naledi from the Dinaledi Chamber, South Africa, by Paul HGM Dirks et al DOI: Published September 10, 2015 Cite as eLife 2015;4:e09561

John Hawks, in his piece “Homo naledi fossil discovery a triumph for open access and education” in The Conversation September 28th 2015, describes why the open access approach is so important to education.

“Not only the public benefits from scientific open access; science itself benefits. Showing the process of science in action, we create better tools for educators to equip students with the scientific method.”

For information about support for open access, public access, and open education, see Dartmouth College Library’s Scholarly Publishing and Communication Research Guide.

Writing a book can often feel like an isolating endeavor. It requires finding a wellspring of concentration, focus, and inspiration in the midst of a busy life. It is a process that involves quieting the mind as much as it demands finding and sustaining an intellectual spark – something that will carry you through long hours in front of the computer as you grapple with voice, character, or data as well as the slog of peer review-generated revisions or picking one’s way through an index. In this sense, books are very unglamorous things. They are at once beautiful and fragile, for all the ways they seem to be paragons of permanence, even in virtual form. Books are made through conversations – with oneself, with others, with ideas.

Sienna Craig working with two Tibetan medical doctors/colleagues in Mustang, Nepal

My latest book, Healing Elements: Efficacy and the Social Ecologies of Tibetan Medicine (University of California Press, 2012), involved more than a decade of research and many conversations with interlocutors in Nepal and Tibetan areas of China. This ethnography is about the defense and transformation of traditional medicine in the 21st century and about what it means to say that a medicine “works.” It is about what Tibetans call their “science of healing” and about how and why we humans suffer and fall ill. At its heart, though, the book renders a set of relationships with people who have shaped me – as a scholar and as a person. In this sense, the book belongs as much to me as it does to my dear friend Gyatso, a fourth generation healer from the Himalayan region of Mustang, Nepal, or to Mingkyi, a vivacious Tibetan medicine practitioner and anthropologist who lives between Lhasa and Oxford, not quite an insider in either world but somehow, remarkably, at home in both.

Prof. Craig and her research assistant in Xining, Qinghai Province, China in front of the Tibetan Medical Hospital where she did research

Pieces of this book predate my arrival at Dartmouth in Fall 2006 and include fragments of my PhD dissertation. Other passages were first shaped for academic articles and then had to find their way, skillfully, into the book’s narrative in new ways. I wrote a great deal of the text by engaging in another sort of conversation with my field notes: writing my way through these rough and ready versions of ethnographic reality, polishing them, lending them a sense of structure and coherence. That is to say the process of writing one’s way from notes to finished text transforms the dynamic reality of fieldwork into something more fixed, if no less real. Experiences like butterfly wings pinned up against a spot in time, affixed to argument. Sometimes I find this process deeply creative – liberating, even. Other times I find it profoundly constraining. In both moments, though, writing remains joyful. It is a gift and a luxury as much as it remains a necessity, the currency with which I am valued and earn my keep as an academic.

The Dartmouth Library and its people helped to shape this book in many ways; I will end by mentioning one. I wrote much of this book and revised the text in its entirety on the second floor of Rauner Library. I found necessary solitude and solace in the calm of the room: empty first thing in the morning, filled with undergraduates dozing beneath chemistry textbooks or Russian novels by afternoon. Sometimes from this perch I felt like a bird nesting in one of the trees on the College Green. The building sheltered me, allowed me space to breathe, while its grand windows provided a certain glimpse onto lived reality – life beyond the book, outside of the text, in the world.

-Sienna Craig, Dept. of Anthropology

Prof. Craig's latest book, Healing Elements: Efficacy and the Social Ecologies of Tibetan Medicine, is included in the current Dartmouth Authors book display in the King Arthur Flour café in Baker-Berry Library.