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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.
When the humanities talk about theory what they mean is scholasticism, i.e. the endless regurgitation of previous opinions however refuted and invalidated they may be. The graceful dropping of known errors as in the sciences is never allowed. In the sciences a theory is a model that allows predictions going beyond those observations, that gave rise to the idea in the first place. As long as different disciplines use terms like “theory” in totally different and incompatible ways, no meaningful dialogue is possible.
Tolksdorf et al. find early hard rock mining for tin in the Erzgebirge form the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC. Now obviously mining will not have commenced before all the easy and pure alluvial tin sources had all been used up making that reach well back into the 3rd millennium. This opens up the question of the earliest tin bronzes again.
Marciniak et al.’s title is somewhat misleading. The declining health and wellbeing of the first farmers has long been an accepted fact throughout the literature on the subject. What Marciniak et al. do add to the debate is quite the opposite.
There has been a lot of doubt about the 4.2-event because it’s invisible north of the Mediterranean and highly variable at its latitude. Van der Meeren et al. finally explain why that is.
The Bundestag risk analysis for a possible epidemic of 2013 has been confirmed in quite disturbing detail. In view of that we should be reminded of an equally important and equally neglected one of 2011 concerning a wide spread breakdown of the electricity grid.
This week’s issue of PNAS happens to fall exactly on the feast day of Purim. Far beyond April 1st with it’s single, half hidden spoof article in some journals, on Purim in Israel all of parliament is given over to parody and satire as are whole issues of leading newspapers. This coincidence of dates is the only way I can make sense of Wu et al.
Hill and Lark et al. are neither new nor unexpected, but they place the well known criticism of this subsidy-trough on a much more secure footing.
Boudry & De Smedt’s definition of prayer is closely related and quite similar to magic. In Hebrew the verb “to pray” is used in a grammatically reflexive form, literally something like “to pray yourself”. In its (rare) base form the verb means something like expect, ask for, intercede for, or, perhaps, pray in the more common sense. It thus leads to a totally different, non magic view of communing with the divine in native speakers.
Weber et al.’s raw material study of the Venus from Willendorf sheds new light on the society and long distance relationships in the Gravettian. As so often it opens more new questions than it answers.
Several independent and quite different studies on ancient movement, relationships and descent.
Domínguez-Solera et al. is one more example of the valuable and ground breaking basic research from the team around Manuel Domínguez-Rodrigo. Its rigour is badly needed to stop the flights of phantasy so often still prevalent in archaeological interpretation.
The obvious thing would have been to look at those subjects’ blood lead levels taken years earlier and ask whether there might be a correlation. This is what Gibson et al. have not done. Instead they construct a complex multiple regression to predict blood lead levels. Nowhere, neither in the former nor the current article, do they tell us, how good their prediction is. As they do find a strong correlation with delinquency, the predictive value of some of the variables they actually do use seems to be quite good. We can’t easily tell which, but it is certainly not the binary choice between community water service and private wells – the only one mentioned in their title.
Contrary to what Barr et al. claim, their findings are not in opposition but exactly in line with the proposed explanation for brain growth. In contrast to muscle and bone, brain size can not be enhanced during life by training. The adult brain size is already fixed at birth, or more precisely at conception. It is also a very costly organ, not only in term of energy but also nutrients like phosphorus. So whatever the means and reason, nutrition, i.e. meat had to come first, brain growth later.
From the time I first heard it in an introductory lesson, I have always been annoyed by the glib assertion that
“people adapted” to climate crises. Hunter-gatherers have mostly had meat-rich diets. The very point of a cereal based agriculture was the much higher population density it allowed. So when Marshall claims people adapted by eating meat, what he really means is, the majority starved and a tiny remnant survived by reverting to hunting. Of course drought hits pasture land as well and the carrying capacity will have been even less than in pre-Neolithic good times.
As Hall and Wadman show the Covid vaccination is especially beneficial during pregnancy. Contrary to the generally well founded medication hesitancy an ongoing pregnancy is no reason to delay vaccination, quite the contrary.
I do not find Collins & Hatton’s and Miller & Wang’s claim substantiated by their own data. Looking at their figure 2a, before 20 ka BP beads are sparse to nonexistent in the south. After that, and including the single find at around 43 ka, the difference in size stays nearly the same up until the most recent times. What does happen after 2 ka BP is a large rise in the internal variability both in the south and east. So expressed in standard deviations the unchanged difference looks much smaller.
So far Buchan et al. is only one single study but with striking results. Vaccinated people are more easily infected and more easily become infectious with Omicron than unvaccinated ones. The efficacy of a fresh booster is only 40 % and it wanes quickly. As yet there are no studies I’m aware of to tell, if and by how much vaccinates prevents severe illness and death for Omicron.
Zhu et al. is something I’ve kept arguing about for years. The prevailing attitude in the Cologne archaeological department is to estimate carrying capacity from average values of productivity. When estimates of Palaeolithic population density fall well below this, it’s taken as a sign for efficient voluntary birth control mechanisms at work. I always maintained that what counts are not averages but recurring minima. For annual data I tend to place the relevant value at about minus 1.5 sigma. A rare 2 sigma event every 40 years can be absorbed by a community, so it has to be less than that.
Kraft et al. completely contradict a lot of what has been long established and taught in introductory courses. Women are mostly seen to work longer hours than men and to provide more and more reliable subsistence by gathering than men do by their hunting. Hunter-gatherers, the original affluent society, have much more spare time for leisure and socialising than horticulturists and early farmers. The latter can feed more people per area of land but have to work much harder to do so. Culture came with appropriating specialists and not with equally distributed leisure time.
I see no obvious faults in Kraft et al., but before I’m prepared to change the accepted view completely I need to see more independent evidence.
In Hangartner et al. we again have an intervention from the moral high ground and utterly beyond reproach. But again, what we really have is not the single example chosen for the trial but rather a general method adaptable to anything. True, ten percent of the standard deviation is a small effect, but that’s for a single round. Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann’s “Schweigespirale” readily comes to mind here. Enlighteningly the authors themselves call their intervention a bot in spite of entirely using human experimenters this time. That tells us where they plan to be going. So again we have one more example of state controlled public money being spent on forming the scientific base for large scale social engineering.
The recent massive dying out of languages has also more or less eliminated the formerly highly prevalent multilingualism in earlier societies. As Kwon et al demonstrate, learning and speaking several languages from an early age has large implications for brain organisation and promotes empathy and social abilities.
The advances McFadden reports on are precisely the theme of my diploma thesis thirty years ago. The details on the company site linked to in the article match my own results exactly. At the time my study was a small part in a large industry-sponsored project and unfortunately never taken up by anyone. One large difference I see is that our apparatus was large, clumsy, hand-made and unusable in a moving vehicle while they developed it to production standard exactly along the lines I suggested then. Their explanation of the process closely mimics the one I found and described in 1990.
There has long been a controversy about whether language coevolved with tool production and if teaching tool making required language in the first place. If de Marco et al.’s result is human-specific, it might show another route towards acquiring complicated manual abilities from teachers.
Compared to Khelifa all German students are incomparably privileged. Still what he has to say about the importance of learning English should be taken to heart and the earlier the better.
Thibault et al. confirm a long held hypothesis, but as far as I can tell they offer nothing towards the question of which came first or if both, tool use and language, coevolved simultaneously.
Is Kozlov serious when telling us to leave the decision whether to get vaccinated or not tho children of primary school age themselves?
As Dance points out, interested people are trying to muddy the waters by redefining the well-established term
“gain of function”. The point remains that the epidemic seems to have started right next to the laboratory, that had been experimenting with modification of just that family of virus for decades. Nobody has seriously suggested intent, but the possibility of an accidental release should at least be considered and examined. Those most forcefully trying to suppress even asking the question include people, e.g. Drosten and Fauci, who from their own publications secured lucrative grants and conducted just those kinds of research right there in Wuhan themselves. Possibly the best overview to date is still that by the German physicist Wiesendanger (list of 2021-02-27).
Ochs & Rotermund started an ongoing discussion on Academia.Edu .
With Kirscher et al. it seems that Böhme’s doubts on the African origin hypothesis, now mostly considered a well founded and proven theory, have to be taken seriously. Perhaps Deloison too deserves more credit than I have given her in the list of 2019-03-07.
There are calls for Bunch et al. to be withdrawn, maybe rightly so. But all the criticism I’ve seen so far were ad hominem attacks on the authors and nothing factual about its content.
Up to now I had found none of the early human finds in the Americas quite convincing. Callaway and of course Bennett et al. of last week are changing that. This one looks undeniably sound.
When a measurable value like the oxygen isotope ratio is determined by many discrete and different influences, it can only be used as a proxy for one of them, if and when all others are either held constant or reliably corrected for. At the height of the Ice Age with its huge amount of water trapped in glaciers the composition of the ultimate source, sea water, was noticeably different. That’s what marine isotope stages are based on. The airflow patterns too were dissimilar from today’s. None of that is considered or corrected for in Pederzani et al.
If China’s reactor as reported by Mallapaty actually succeeds, this will be the first working molten salt reactor ever and the Holy Grail of nuclear technology finally achieved.
Undoubtedly climate has warmed significantly compared to the last trough of the Little Ice Age before or around 1850 and there has been noticeable warming in the last four decades. Up to 20 % more intensive precipitation – the upper limit stated by Kreienkamp et al. – is not negligible and neither is an up to tenfold rise in frequency. But then the floods seen in July were not 20 % above recorded history in their effects but much more. How come?
Coe et al. is in a predatory journal from a disreputable publisher. I have asked Prof. Wiegleb if that article really is written by him but nor yet received an answer. That said, as far as I can tell it is methodically sound and plausible in its conclusion so I decided to include it here regardless.
In current climate warnings we’re frequently told about an imminent complete breakdown of the Atlantic turnover. By contrast what Yin et al. show for the onsets of the last ten ice ages is a surprisingly small but sharp downward step of about 20 %.
At first glance all the cases for symbolic behaviour in Neanderthals seem sparse and somewhat far fetched as for example Leder et al. of last week and this week’s Martí et al. But then the same is true for everything by H. sapiens or AMH before the explosion at the onset of the Upper Paleolithic. So whatever set that off, it probably was not related to species (alone).
This week I found nothing to comment on.
I’m not really surprised that Vaesen & Houkes got written and accepted – there’s a lot that does – but what did surprise me was so many others taking it seriously, commenting on it and even agreeing. At least 90 % of what a grown human knows or is able to do is learnt, not only copied from others but actively taught whether formally or not. What more do you need? Is there any human trait that’s less obvious and beyond doubt than this one?
There may well be a climatic rise in the frequency and severity of El Niño events and some of that may be manmade. But as Berenguer et al. demonstrate the dought impacts for Amazonian forests depend much less on the weather itself than on preceding anthropogenic degradation.
Contrary to what Gatti et al. and Denning claim in their titles, the Amazonian rain forest has been a net carbon source for many years. The effects of fire and deforestation strongly dwarf that of net biome exchange so that changes and even a sign reversal of the latter don’t amount to much.
It’s not Willyard’s main theme and only hinted at in several places, but her article again confirms the old British result about what determines school success or lack of it. The only variable of measurable predictive power is, whether parents deem schooling important or not.
One secondary aspect in LiCata is, do journalists conform to public taste and interest or is public preference formed by journalists? And if the latter, what is the impact of journalists typically being unably to pass a primary school test in either maths or science?
If and when governments want to force something on the people against their will, who do not want to endure or perform what’s expected of them, what is the best and most successful way to go about it? Schmelz & Bowles is one more in a long row of well funded studies to provide just this solution. Surprisingly they are more open about their real concerns than is customary when they explicitly state
“Our findings have broad policy applicability beyond COVID-19 to cases in which voluntary citizen compliance is essential because state capacities are limited.”
All too often the worst cases of scientific fraud are committed by the best known and most prestigious representatives. When science has become a career instead of a calling, going against the flow has become a risk to be avoided. Thompson as reported by Enserink is bound to be just one case of many. In the current flood of irreplicable, overstated, and fraudulent results the whole endeavour of science is in danger of going down the drain.
Cheddadi et al. is a welcome confirmation but their results are not as novel as they claim. In fact the overlap of winter and summer rain in the latitudes of today’s full desert has been taught at Cologne university for decades.
More or less everything Maxmen cites is valid and relevant to a certain degree. Nevertheless what following her boils down to, is throwing away all the progress diligently accomplished in the last 400 years. Refusing to ask a question for fear of not liking the answer throws us back to before science and before enlightenment.
The WHO study in NEJM is one more proof, this time an especially substantial one, of the importance of body contact for human infants. The fatal book
“Die deutsche Mutter und ihr erstes Kind” by Johanna Haarer (list of 2016-10-12) was no exception, just an especially stringent example for the international Zeitgeist of its time. The pernicious influence of this way of thinking is much more pervasive today than most are prepared to admit.
Undisputedly getting vaccinated is a good thing and doctors ought to recommend it to their patients. But this is not what Milkman et al. is about and besides being a red herring it’s a means for the attraction of funding and enrolling a large reputable organization into collecting a large amount of otherwise unattainable high quality data. The real purpose is optimizing government lead mind control of the populace.
If you want something done well, do it yourself. I think Pearson is wrong, where she bemoans the proliferation of reviews. When there are only 11 studies in all, it’s far easier to evaluate them yourself, even if you’re prone to miss one or two, than scour all the worldwide literature for reviews already done, read them, understand their methods, and find out if and how they’re relevant to your own current question. You may then publish your results in a small way for a targeted audience of your known peers adding to the proliferation. I find it helpful to read something by somebody I know and trust and can reach when there are questions left open.
Even though I only know hom from his writing David Ussishkin is by far the best teacher of sound archaeological method I ever encountered. His current critique of the Lachish Gate Shrine is a case in point.
Bazant & Bush derive a simple safety guideline for mitigating airborne transmission that would impose an upper bound on the product of the number of occupants and their time spent in a room.
I have strong doubts whether Yan et al. is at all meaningful. Early on in the epidemic, more than 400 days ago, people panicked and tended to over react. By now they have become used to the situation and have heard reported case numbers every day for over a year. In general people are innumerate and number blind, magnitudes and trends are not obvious, and meaningful diagrams have been and are still universally withheld. Where once voluntary caution prevailed now even mandatory measures are widely circumvented. Results from a year ago have no useful meaning today.
Castro & Singer suffers from the same statistical fallacy as Goldstein, whom they cite, and Rommel et al. (list of 2021-03-30). They very strongly over estimate the number of years lost to Covid in the oldest age groups. Factoring that into their result, vaccinating the younger populations yields the highest benefit.
Currently it seems that the question of where and when modern humans mixed with Neanderthals and how that admixture spread with and among them is getting less clear and more complicated all the time. Hopefully the rising number of data, currently Gibbons, Hajdinjak et al., and Prüfer et al., will make a clear picture emerge.
The Eemian war shorter than our exceptionally long interglacial. Still according to Crump et al. Greenland was warmer and less Ice covered than today. There is no doubt about anthropogenic climate change and ecological deterioration being a fact, but carbon dioxide is not the only and probably not even among the largest contributors here.
Contrary to the simplified diagram in Challen et al. (list of 2021-03-12) Davies et al. show a higher mortality for B.1.1.7. from day one. So it is definitely more virulent after all.
Looking at the size of family gatherings round a revered grandparent in non-shrinking parts of society and at Meadows et al.’s population reconstruction, the three settlements at Vráble may well have been each inhabited by a single extended family.
If I read the diagram in Altmann et al. correctly, neither the lower immune reaction in older people nor the different spike proteins in the B.1.1.7 variant suffice to invalidate the current Biontech vaccine – but a combination of both might. On the other hand McCarthy et al. give us hope that while the current generation of vaccines may need to be updated those changes might be limited and permanent without the need of recurrent new formulations as for influenza.
And again with Ramo et al. and Zhang & Wei we have two examples for important cases of anthropogenic climate change, both nothing whatever to do with carbon emission from fossil fuel burning. Indeed in the case of Ramo et al. it can be convincingly argued, that increased use of fossil fuels might go a long way to mitigate the problem at least in the short and medium term.
Anthropogenic climate change is a fact and in the main it tends to be hugely detrimental. Thaler et al. provide just one more pertinent example. The main problem with the devout single issue carbon religion is, that they detract from the real problems and thus make things much worse. Biofuels are not mentioned in Thaler et al. but they are a well known and proven driver for intensification and resultant soil degradation.
Brauner et al. is the final published version of the preprint from the list of 2021-01-11. Comparing the two, their former conclusion about mask wearing has vanished without a trace. Granted, I had myself expressed doubt about that part of their results, but still, a change like that ought to have been mentioned and explained. As it stands now, the newly total accord with political orthodoxy smells a bit too Orwellian for my taste.
Koenig et al. seem to offer the first really promising treatment for those infected by CoV2 and those already suffering the symptoms of Covid. If it turns out to really avoid the development of resistance this will be a huge step forward and possibly the long-sought solution.
Stating that knowledge of the command line is conducive to efficient computer use for scientists seems like telling them that reading, writing and basic algebra might be good to know. But then seeing how many even in science, not just the humanities, are stuck to the GUI and the mouse Perkel might have a point after all in restating the obvious.
If confirmed Bova et al. and Hertzberg will change and invalidate not only the climate reconstructions for the Holocene but many (most) others as well. While their central tenet looks sound, a comparison of their figures 3a and b makes me wait for further comment.
A master’s thesis before graduation is supposed to teach you to pursue responsible science independently and mine taught me just the point in Piller amongst other things. [...] More even then Feynman that taught me never to rely on secondary sources alone for anything relevant to my main points.
Barsbai et al.’s result is not nearly as strong as Hill & Boyd claim, but still impressive. Of the 15 traits they compare between humans and other animals, ten are insignificant, three (storage, range, and density) are trivial, but two (paternal care and polygyny) are relevant and unexpected. As Hill & Boyd rightly stress, this is not to deny the importance of culture but rather to delineate just where it is most important and where culture studies may prove futile.
That emphatically does not mean this is an unimportant or useless study, quite the opposite. But why does no one ever have the honesty openly to say
“it was a sensible idea and well worth the effort to look, but in the outcome we did not find anything”?
Voosen’s comparison is quite a bit off. 1.5 TW roughly equals the electric output of his 1500 nuclear power plants. The total heat generated is more than three times that so we’re looking at nearer the 400 plants in actual operation.
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