Ryan J. Cook

Ryan J. Cook


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Lecturer, Department of Social Sciences

Research Associate, Adler Planetarium

Social Science Researcher, Citizen Science Alliance/Zooniverse

  • PhD, Anthropology, University of Chicago, 2004
  • BA, Anthropology, St. Cloud State University, 1996


Ryan Cook began his academic career just before the millennium, examining apocalypticism and technospirituality among new religious movements, including the Taiwanese group Chen Tao (God's Salvation Church). In 2002 he began a doctoral project in central Mexico, examining how scientific, religious, governmental, and lay actors conceptualize and debate the risk posed by an active volcano, Popocatepetl, and who did or did not have the expertise to talk about the volcano.

While following up both of these strands of research, Cook initiated a new project in 2011 on conceptions of landscape and disaster activated by a controversially diagnosed outbreak of mass psychogenic illness in an upstate New York community.

Just prior to joining MTU, Cook worked as a contract researcher. For an NSF-funded project at the Adler Planetarium, he studied science learning among volunteers in online citizen science projects. Cook is continuing his work on the Zooniverse with a study of ethics and expertise in citizen science as articulated by volunteers, researchers, and designers.

Cook brings to MTU experience in and enthusiasm for post-secondary instruction. He has taught courses on globalization, anthropology of religion, science studies, ethnic conflict, Mexican culture, urban America, educational psychology, and the paranormal in colleges and universities around the Midwest since 2005.

Areas of Expertise

  • Anthropology of (para)science
  • New religious movements
  • Environmental disasters
  • Knowledge, authority, and expertise

Recent Publications

  • in press, "Absence of Evidence: How Chen Tao Became a 'Suicide Cult'" in Sacred Suicide, James R. Lewis, ed., Farnham UK: Ashgate
  • 2013, "Insights for Informal Science Institutions from Citizen Science Projects", Zooniverse Education Blog Read More
  • 2013, "'I Didn't Want to Be One of the Contaminated People': Confronting a Mystery Illness in a Rural American Landscape", Somatosphere: Science, Medicine, and Anthropology Read More
  • 2010, "Foreword", Alien Images: UFOs, Photography, and Belief, Scott K. Murphy, St. Joseph MN: Befuddled Press

Recent Presentations

  • 2013, "Insights for Informal Science Institutions from Citizen Science Projects", Visitor Studies Association annual meeting, Milwaukee WI, July
  • 2011, "Nonexpertise: Negative Space or Negation of the Negation?" American Anthropological Association annual meeting, Montreal QC, November
  • 2010, "The Hills Are Alive: Folkloric Continuities in a Volcanic Risk Zone", Folklore Studies Program lecture series, Truman State University, Kirksville MO, March