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I regularly read Nature, Science, PNAS, American Antiquity, Antiquity, Applied Energy, Archäologische Informationen, Archäologisches Korrespondenzblatt, Biblical Archaeology Review, Cambridge Archaeological Journal, Current Anthropology, Evolutionary Anthropology, Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections, Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, Journal of Anthropological Research, Journal of Archaeological Science, Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, Journal of Human Evolution, Oxford Journal of Archaeology, (several of them on paper – my one big indulgence and luxury) and whatever tidbits I’m led to by finding them being mentioned somewhere. For those marked in bold my personal subscription grants me access to content I can’t get through the University of Cologne.
Whoever happens to share my particular interests can find a list here of all the highlights of the current week, together with abstracts and the personal comments I feel compelled to make.
By now even the group around Pernicka are forced to admit, that tin isotope studies are completely useless. They don't do so openly yet but well hidden in Berger et al. they admit as much as clearly as could have been hoped for. So finally we may be able to move on to more promising endeavours.
How to counter misinformation? Anything but follow Feynman’s advice, stop assuming everybody else was stupid, and give the facts to the man in the street the same way as you would to your science peers.
Let us, for the sake of argument, provisionally accept two tacit key assumptions made in the letter to the American Mathematical Society as reported by Nature News: a) police forces are inherently racist and b) modeling key crime areas works. (N.B: There are good arguments to doubt both.) If this were the case, what would withdrawing help result in?
Pearce is another example and proof that anthropogenic climate change is real, severe, and possibly catastrophic. And again it's nothing whatever to do with carbon dioxide. Please note that about 90 % of what Pearce reports is well established science and only a small part of it is the new controversial hypothesis by Makarieva.
Every time the wise, omniscient psychologists find us ordinary common folks acting paradoxically and try to help us mend our uneducated ways, a great deal of skepticism is in order. Two articles this week are cases in point.
A large number of studies in psychology can be summarized as
“The ordinary people are so incredibly ignorant, only we psychologists have a true understanding of the world.” In most cases a close look at common folk belief makes it turn out to be correct.
Of course that doesn't make silly, misinformed nonsense any better, but unless and until you acknowledge the real sources and reasons behind it, your fight will be against windmills. [...] But where did they get it from? Do they really read the primary scientific literature where there was, indeed, a preliminary report hinting in that direction? Or did they get their ideas from just those mainstream media, who supply, employ and pay those very
“fact-checkers” that now take it upon themselves to censor what can and what can't be said on public platforms?
Kissler et al. is a new an detailed modelling for Covid 19. Their results do not substantially differ from my rough estimates through primary school mathematics. Their most important main point is, that they too do not see an end of the epidemic before herd immunity is achieved. [...] Just this, the highly detrimental effect of too strong mitigation in lieu of true suppression, is Kissler et al.'s main result.
I have no idea how something like Dorn et al. can ever get written much less published. Their study may have a certain value in quantifying the cost of anti-Covid measures but even those are highly distorted by wrong expectations. Their two main assumptions on which everything rests are plainly wrong.
From everything we hear, both the average and the median age of Covid deaths is something around 80. So it comes as quite a surprise to find a claim that each of these deaths equals an average of more than ten years of expected life lost. Looking at the source Hanlon et al. is a statistical fallacy and a complete misunderstanding of life tables.
Following R. P. Feynman (whom else?) I'd advocate the opposite of what Cornwall does: Do not treat your listeners as idiots, give them the facts, and do not choose idiots to disseminate them. The latter, admittedly, is hard to achieve when you have to rely on mass media for your communication. Even if some people are prone to listening more to some basketball stars than to their wise old grannies at home, what will promoting that tendency do to a society in the longer run? Haven't we had enough yet of centrally driven propaganda regimes?
Stahle and Williams et al. stress that there's more to a megadrought than simply lack of rain. So what else is new? They look at droughts – soil moisture to be exact – over the last 1200 years but only control for temperature since 1920. As far as one can tell from their data the current combination of warmth and lack of precipitation was at work in all the other droughts in the past too. Their claim of something unprecedented happening now is unsubstantiated.
There is a growing number of quantitative evaluations of interventions to slow the spread of Covid-19. This may allow us to get the desired result with less damaging means.
There has always been an important dichotomy between engineers and scientists on the one hand and journalists and politicians on the other. Van der Bles et al. have set out to resolve just that question and personally I'm gratified to find that the engineers were right about this all along.
As Klages et al.'s modeling shows, carbon dioxide alone was not sufficient to account for the extreme Cretaceous warming. Instead they demonstrate the importance of ice albedo. The role of industrial soot in darkening and melting high-altitude glaciers has already been shown. For the future it may be important to watch and control this important part of anthropogenic influence.
Again I have included a selection of what I consider to be relevant primary sources about the current crisis. This is a science blog and there is nothing I have to add to these.
So what shape shall we be in to deal with that sort of crisis in two months time? I'd say it can only be made worse by the large number of bankruptcies, collapses and breakdowns we are already beginning to see all over the economy at only 10 000 recognized cases for all of Germany. We ought to do everything to become stronger for when it's most needed and we are doing just the opposite.
I wanted to criticise Dalenberg et al. strongly but looking closely I found that to their credit they have addressed all the points, I wanted to make, themselves.
That said, the result, while (barely) statistically significant was small, observed in a control group, and well inside the natural variability. So does it tell us anything?
Their figure 2 bears the legend “Log. Concentration (ppm)” and values go up to 8 or 9. Trace elements at 109 ppm? Really? Of course if we were to read “Log.” as the natural logarithm we'd get about 8 ‰. Is this an example of stating facts clearly and legibly or of setting up a riddle of guesswork?
Clarkson et al. together with e.g. Walsh & Schwalbe and several others this week not listed here is an example of a very disturbing tendency. Many recent articles seem to be written and published not to be read but for their titles and abstracts to be quoted in the secondary literature. They claim or hint at results that do not hold up to even casual scrutiny.
Like the ancient priesthood, scientists, especially those of the humanities, live off working people's taxes. As I keep reminding the students in my first-year tutorial this creates an obligation to give something back, tedious as that may be. Sandford discusses an important aspect of just that.
So now Cologne too has finally reached the point, where scientific journals are no longer available through the university library. That throws us back to the seventeenth century when scientific contributions were personally distributed to interested readers through the post. Marginedas et al. is my first case in point and I thank the author for his trouble and generosity.
If, as Hull et al. claim, most of the carbon dioxide outgassing preceded the asteroid impact ending the Cretaceous, then the effect of all that gas on both climate and life was surprisingly small and strongly buffered by environmental feedbacks.
Liritzis is the first attempt at directly dating metal artifacts that I have ever seen. There are two caveats, though. Firstly radium dates the smelting of the metal from ore, not the casting, and thus not the artifact. On the other hand recycling old metal in a forgery would entail the destruction of a genuinely old artifact, a not very probable scenario. But more importantly, while Liritzis does mention testing the method on a recently smelted sample, he only lists peripheral and irrelevant measurements. What he does not report finding is a low radium activity compared to a higher thorium one. In fact while his samples do contain same uranium, there seems to be no thorium at all, which if true would totally invalidate the method. So let's wait and see.
The ability to withstand dehydration is an important aspect of early Homo's ability to conquer new habitats and adapt to a meat-based subsistence. In this context grazing ungulates are the wrong benchmark. Of all other hunters and scavengers only the vultures could venture as far and as long out into the unshaded open as early hairless and perspiration cooled hominins. This is confirmed by Hora et al's new result.
I’m not sure what it is that Song et al. are measuring and whether their results might be relevant for anything or not. But one thing is certain, when 60 % of a population consistently rise several decades in a row and only 15 % sink, this is not and can't be “social mobility” in any meaningful definition of the word.
Not all ecological changes are anthropogenic and nearly all predicaments for some species are counteracted by advantages for others as Cole et al. and Ohlberger et al. show. Of course there are some serious man-made problems and action is needed at several fronts, but slight adjustments of global climate parameters are not necessarily among the most important ones.
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