Anthropologist Underground

Anthropologist Underground
October 13
I'm Terrie Torgersen Peterson. I hold a BA in Anthropology from the University of Wyoming. I've done archeological field work at Haluzta in Israel, San Juan River cliff dwellings in the American Southwest, and in the Big Horn Canyon in Wyoming. I'm currently a writer and stay-home mom to two gorgeous, laughing children. I enjoy exploring the intersection of science and culture and my own life as ethnography. I also write for and You can email me: anthropologistunderground [at] gmail [dot] com.


NOVEMBER 29, 2010 10:20PM

Hooray for Science!

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In my anecdotal experience, it’s difficult to predict how myriad scientific and technological breakthroughs will evolve over time, or how all the apparently minor advances will culminate in amazing discoveries.  Unfortunately I tend to remember the major advances rather than the incremental building blocks that lead to great things.  

Remember jet packs? Everyone was supposed to have one by now.  As an adolescent I was hopeful that  Holodeck technology would be available to consumers by the time I graduated from high school.  
Some things emerge that are completely unexpected.  I never imagined cell phones, for example.  It wouldn’t have occurred to me to put movies on phones. Try explaining the Internet to older people who haven’t seen it firsthand, and you will gain profound appreciation for the massive scope of recent of technological innovations.  

As technologies evolve, they often become more accessible.  Consider how expensive and impractical cell phones were back in the Motorola Brick days.  


Fifteen years ago when I worked in a bike shop, quality aluminum-frame mountain bikes cost around a thousand dollars.  Today you can get a nice comparable bike for around four-hundred dollars.

My children have never seen a rotary dial telephone.  Or played board games bouncing around the back of a speeding station wagon.  I love watching 1950s and 60s-era movies to witness not only a surprisingly different social culture, but also a completely foreign technological reality. Scenes from many WWII movies or even M*A*S*H are fascinating. Most technological and medical advances we take for granted today are the result of incremental developments and discoveries throughout our history.  

Some breakthroughs are immediately and obviously compelling, and I have a sense that we have arrived at an important moment in history.  Like the first time I wore a car seatbelt as a child, or used email or Google.  A few days ago I heard this story on NPR.  I’m not sure how to mark this moment, but it’s certainly worthy of reflection and celebration.  

“A study that included nearly 2,500 HIV-negative men and transgender women who have sex with men has shown that a daily dose of Truvada, a pill containing the AIDS drugs emtricitabine and tenofovir, "can reduce risk of contracting [HIV] by an average of 44% - and by more than 70% if the subjects" follow the regimen closely,Los Angeles Times reports (Maugh, 11/23).”


You read that right.  Healthy men-who-have-sex-with-men and take this pill as directed reduce their risk of contracting HIV by over 70%.
According to the LA Times:

“The researchers observed 36 HIV infections in the group taking Truvada, compared to 64 in the control group taking placebo, a reduction of 43.8%. The reduction in risk, however, was very sensitive to how regularly the subjects took the medication. For those who took it on more than 50% of the days, as determined by pill counts and other measures, the risk fell by 50.2%. For those who took it 90% or more of the days, the risk fell by 72.8%.”

This is a watershed event. I can immediately imagine that this might translate across a variety of demographics comprised of people-who-have-sex-with-other-people. A similar treatment protocol might be useful for other viral diseases like malaria.
Correction 12/2: A similar treatment protocol is already in use to prevent malaria, which is parasitic not viral, in travelers.
Here’s the trial’s official website.

Well done scientists! All of you throughout the ages.

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hiv, medicine, science

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I've learned something new!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

stop the advance of the 451s
This kind of partial breakthrough can be dangerous however. Condoms are 99.9% effective. Those who take Truvada INSTEAD, thinking that it will be sufficient, have a 1 in 3 chance of contracting AIDS and an even greater chance of contracting some other STD.

This must be used with great care....

Thanks Elijah Rising!

Skypixie: I need to go back and re-read the study description, but my impression is that test subjects were specifically men who do not use condoms. I do agree that in a perfect world, at-risk individuals would start with condoms.
Actually it is in an "imperfect" world that the use of condoms is most effective, is it not? ;-)

I have serious doubts that anyone engaged in high-risk sex who won't use condoms, can be depended upon to properly and regularly use a pill. At least until a "morning after" pill of this sort is invented.
Skypixie: you've made me think about barriers to condom use and whether or not some people who don't use condoms might take this pill. I think the pope took a baby step toward reasonableness recently in allowing male prostitutes who have sex with men to use condoms.

I was thinking also about people in abusive relationships whose partners engage in risky sex elsewhere and refuse to use condoms at home. This pill might be something they could use discreetly.

I misunderstood the implications for preventing the spread of malaria. It's not a viral disease. PalMD has a great article about HIV. When I mentioned malaria, he kindly provided a correction:

"Malaria, a common parasitic disease and major cause of death in the world, is preventable, for example, in travelers with prophylactic medication and this is the standard of care.

Population-wide control of malaria focuses more on vector (mosquito) control."