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I regularly read nature, science, PNAS, Current Anthropology, Journal of Archaeological Science, American Antiquity, Antiquity, Archäologische Informationen, Archäologisches Korrespondenzblatt, (most of them on paper – my one big indulgence and luxury) and whatever tidbits I’m led to by finding them being mentioned somewhere. Whoever happens to share my particular interests can find a list of all the highlights of the current week, together with abstracts and the personal comments I feel compelled to make, here.

For the time being the archive of older entries also resides in my now defunct old blog which offers a search option.

(17-12-09) Articles to 2017-12-09

Bevan et al. offer two firsts that I have never seen before. In discussing summed probability data, they do not compare to a straight line but take the artificial wiggles introduced by the calibration method into account. Secondly they are the first archaeologists I ever read, who do not nonchalantly wave away problems, noting how well humans adapt, but recognize that a large part of the population simply starved and adaptation helped the rest barely to survive.

(17-12-04) Articles to 2017-12-04

Looking at their figure 1b, the whole of Kohler et al.’s conclusion rests on two, possibly even just one, data points – one (Kahun) an extreme outlier (as figure 1a shows) and the other (Pompeii) the probable artifact of exceptional preservation. That said, the comment by Elliott is still worth reading, even if resting, as it does, on extremely shaky foundations.

(17-11-20) Articles to 2017-11-20

If it turns out to be as reliable as they claim, Fryxell et al. demonstrate a valuable method to derive important biological and political/regulatory conclusions from easily available data.

(17-11-03) Articles to 2017-11-03

I don’t normally think a lot of the yellow press and only use its referrals to primary sources, I would not otherwise have found. The case of Wagner on Seddig et al. is an exception though – his comment is much better than I could have done, so I’ll just let it stand.

(17-10-28) Articles to 2017-10-28

Both Hwang et al. and Jung et al. completely ignore the importance and effect of spark gap width, although it has been successfully put into practical use in the twenties and theoretically understood in its basics since the late thirties. Both of them seem not to have heard of the flame enhancement possible through the generation of radicals, known and described in the seventies. The team I was a member of built better – and simpler/cheaper! – ignition systems than theirs in 1989 and my thesis ended with recommendations for further improvement. And yet the ignition systems in actual use today are no better than those imposed by the technical limits of the early sixties.

(17-10-22) Articles to 2017-10-22

Another relevant fact is the preservation of many artifacts in foreign museums. Just like a comparison of the “stolen” Elgin Marbles with their counterparts that remained at their place of origins, this also urges caution on the recent initiatives on repatriating works of art.

(17-10-12) Articles to 2017-10-12

Against my better judgement I posted last week’s list having only perused Boxell et al.’s abstract and before critically reading their content. The headline had pandered to my preconceptions, but in fact that study turns out to be absolutely, completely, and totally useless.

(17-10-06) Articles to 2017-10-06

During the past couple of years the large and growing replication crisis has been featured in numerous articles. It seems that finally and with the help of selfless lawyers, totally devoid of any monetary considerations for themselves, science has found the answer. As Marcus reports, experimental methods can now be placed under copyright and others cannot or must not replicate them, unless they pay a steep license fee first. Otherwise journals may bow to pressure and retract entire articles.

(17-10-02) Articles to 2017-10-02

Scott is every bit as good as Shablovsky’s review (list of 2017-08-27) claimed. He is somewhat vague on the distinction archaeologists make between states and chiefdoms and tends to lump the latter with whatever side of the divide he pleases. That said his main point is strongly established: States began as Mafia-like protection rackets and fought with outside raiders over extracting peasant farmers’ surplus. They certainly did not commence as some kind of Rousseauan social contract. (I keep wondering, why a totally discredited charlatan like Rousseau is still being cited instead of summarily dismissed. No current medical study sees the need to consider Galen’s bodily fluids, but anthropologists still seem to take Rousseau’s crackpot theories seriously.)

(17-09-23) Articles to 2017-09-23

There can’t be and never has been any doubt about the strong anthropogenic influence on local and global climate. Pervasive deforestation, overgrazing, river regulation and depletion, drainage of wetlands, exhaustion of ground water sources, and the destruction of arable soil through over fertilization and unprecedented erosion take their toll. The one point in dispute is the focus of politically motivated single issue fanatics an carbon dioxide alone.

(17-09-16) Articles to 2017-09-16

Morelli et al. yield little that’s new and few surprises. They do display a glaring example of chartmanship though.

(17-09-08) Articles to 2017-09-08

Feeding a sackful of meaningless data into some statistics package or other and randomly pressing knobs until some result seems to look nice is not science. It may be a first step towards generating a hypothesis and devising a test for it, but no more.

(17-09-02) Articles to 2017-09-02

That said even more hope is to be found in the study’s serious weaknesses. Looking at figure 1A we find the weak trend to be driven by a few extreme outliers alone. Taking two or at most three points away it will vanish entirely. In table 2 the mean and SD are totally inappropriate values to describe the strongly skewed distribution. With the values given, one sixth (about 4) subjects in both groups have given less than minus ten or minus thirteen Euros in 2015, an obvious nonsense. In figure one all the error bars are standard errors. The SDs are five times as large drowning out all of the signal. The result, such as it is, is driven by a few extreme individuals alone.

(17-08-27) Articles to 2017-08-27

If there really is a sizeable anthropogenic contribution to global warming and if there is cause to limit it, then according to Petrenko et al. and Hopcroft methane offers a much better handle than carbon dioxide. This is quite ironic with the reckless waste and exploitation of valuable natural gas reserves being touted as the climate friendly alternative to coal.

(17-08-17) Articles to 2017-08-17

Frei et al. lists 13 co-authors who, as authors, all bear full responsibility and should all have carefully proof read the draft. Not one of them noticed the femur measured at nearly four and a half meters in length. Of course this is a small mistake and easily corrected, but such a glaring dereliction of duty makes one wonder, what other, bigger, and less easy to spot errors they may also have missed.

(17-08-11) Articles to 2017-08-11

An inclination towards and experiments with socialist redistribution of wealth is known form the earliest times of political writing in Greece and Rome. One of the earliest reports of the recurrent collapse of such systems is told in the Acts of the Apostles. So it is not without relevance when Sznycer et al. demonstrate that these intentions stem not from a desire for fairness and justice but from such basic and asocial instincts as greed and envy.

(17-08-10) Articles to 2017-08-10

Of course corrections of raw data are often necessary, valid, and usually fully justified. That said one can not fail but notice, that all corrections ever applied to measurements by people affiliated to the IPCC point in one single direction and never the reverse. Tollefson is just one more case in point [...]

(17-07-25) Articles to 2017-07-25

I’m impressed by Notroff, Clare et al.’s restrained and factual response to Sweatman & Tsikritsis. Non-specialist outsider views are usually ignored or summarily dismissed out of hand. This thoughtful and serious reply is in spite of the latter article bearing all of the hallmarks of a crackpot theory: they do protest too much, their so-called statistic is the result of cherry picking, and they lump all kinds of nonsense together with their stronger arguments. All that said, those arguments do carry some initial plausibility and deserve to be rebutted by good arguments as Clare and his coworkers have done.

(17-07-15) Articles to 2017-07-15

I am not sure, whether Margaryan et al. means anything or not. An admixture of, say, five percent of immigrants will leave a five percent signature in each of the full genomes of typical descendants a few generations later and can be detected. Mitochondrial genomes on the other hand follow a single straight line of descent. You need twenty genomes on average to find a single sign of a five percent admixture. Here we have 52 samples for the full 8 ka, typically less than six per relevant time slice. Seeing that even a total 100 % population replacement will still typically retain some common haplogroups, what is this small sample supposed to prove?

(17-07-09) Articles to 2017-07-09

Since the foundational studies on the domestication process by Gordon Hillman 1990 (list of 2013-06-22 and 2014-11-09) it should have been obvious to everyone, that full plant cultivation as a way of subsistence took place long before the first biological traits of domestication became visible. (In fact that process only started when plants began to be transferred and cultivated far from their regions of origin.) Perhaps now that Ibáñez et al. finally supply proof in an archaeological publication the fact may gain wider acceptance in the community at last.

(17-06-25) Articles to 2017-06-25

Defrance et al. is yet another blatant example of treating model outcomes as data. Explicitly calling a model run an experiment, as they do, is a travesty. As far as I know there are no real data backing up their claim and none of the paleoclimatic data I am aware of point in that direction.

(17-06-18) Articles to 2017-06-18

From Tacail et al.’s results it seems that not going to be weaned for at least 20 months or more makes infants lay down tooth enamel of a different isotopic composition in their first five months of life. Now here’s one to put overblown claims about the temporal order of cause and effect firmly in their place.

(17-06-08) Articles to 2017-06-08

The purpose of any theory is to make testable predictions. In the case of human genealogies this means describing in advance, what the next fossil found will look like given its age and provenance. So far every new find has come as a total surprise and yielded something entirely new and unexpected. As long as this continues to be the case, the suggested human family tree is still very far from being able to be called a theory.

(17-06-03) Articles to 2017-06-03

Ancient Egypt has always been somewhat outside of and separate from the rest of African archaeology. As Watson and Schuenemann et al. have now shown, the same is true for its population up to Roman times, showing closer ties to the Near East than to Sub-Saharan Africa.

(17-05-29) Articles to 2017-05-29

Admittedly, my inability to tell the difference between a content-free hoax and serious theoretical debate in the humanities probably says more about me than about the texts in question. But when this disability is shared by the editors and reviewers of respected journals from a leading publisher, we should begin to take a serious look.

(17-05-21) Articles to 2017-05-21

Reading Taylor et al. on the spread of horses around 1200 BC I can’t help but wonder if the very first of the recurrent Mongol invasions might not have occurred near the time of the breakdown of the Bronze Age societies. It can’t have been the only or even main reason, but could it have added one more to the diverse triggers all coming together at nearly the same time?

(17-05-14) Articles to 2017-05-14

For some time now I’ve warned about how indiscriminate squandering of precious natural gas in large electricity plants, where coal could be used just as well and where cleaning up flue gases is easy and cost efficient, would inevitably lead to a resurgence of coal gasification. As it happens China has now begun doing just that.

(17-05-06) Articles to 2017-05-06

Why is it that I all too often read long articles from the humanities and, try as I might, fail to detect anything resembling a meaningful content? In the SAA’s membership journal Michael Smith (an archaeologist, not a scientist this time) gives a lucid summary about what distinguishes a study with a worthwhile substance from one without. Required reading for all undergraduate students of the humanities, IMnsHO.

(17-04-29) Articles to 2017-04-29

If Eemian presence of humans in America, as reported by Holen et al. and Hovers, really can be substantiated, the next question is: Who were they, Neanderthals from Europe, Africans, Denisovans from East Asia or yet another group entirely?

(17-04-22) Articles to 2017-04-22

As befits the author, Eco is a wonderful book and great fun to read. But more than that, it is, despite its age, of great practical value. When Eco wrote it in 1977, the Italian academic system was in crisis and graduates had to write their theses ill prepared, under resourced, lacking time, and under financial pressure – in fact, under just those circumstances as the German system has been driven into in the last decade. In this current state of affairs his section 1.2 is, I believe, the best advice one give today.

(17-04-15) Articles to 2017-04-15

When Liebrand et al. find their data to be at variance with the political majority approved models, it is, of course, the measurement, that has to be wrong, never the modelling. And then there come Ludescher et al. and recklessly throw another spanner into the works. As most religions tend to find, it’s hard to stay a devout believer these days.

(17-04-07) Articles to 2017-04-07

Both liberals and conservatives accuse each other of ignoring the science and neglecting critical scientific thinking in favour of following their given preconceptions. It is a valid and relevant question what exactly both sides mean, when they speak of science. Shi et al.’s is a novel, powerful and valid method to answer just that question and just like all new and untried methods its first results need to be scrutinized with care.

(17-04-01) Articles to 2017-04-01

Unless I’m seriously overlooking something important, the abstract, discussion, methods and main text in Dowlati et al. all four seem to imply that a) all subjects in both groups knew the purpose and aim of the study, and b) no placebo was used and all subjects were well aware of being either in the treatment or in the control group. Unless I’m totally wrong here, this study is utterly useless.

(17-03-24) Articles to 2017-03-24

The results by Schmidt et al. are well founded, but aren’t they trivial? Has it any bearing at all on fake news and its distribution?

(17-03-17) Articles to 2017-03-17

First the link to this week’s complete list as HTML and as PDF.

(17-03-11) Articles to 2017-03-11

Whatever your academic subject and whatever your political persuasion, Spinney is required reading for everybody. Also see Kahan et al.

(17-03-02) Articles to 2017-03-02

The environment of Beringia was not that different from that of Siberia at the time. If, as Amorim et al. say, there is a strong selection in the first wave of Native Americans similar to that found in Inuit, then that is much more compatible with the conditions postulated in Stanford & Bradley’s Solutréen hypothesis.

(17-02-24) Articles to 2017-02-24

It would be very easy to quibble with Janssen et al.’s modeling. The terms in their equations alternate between overly detailed, overly simplified, and wrong. But the value ranges chosen for all their parameters look like a very sensible order of magnitude, making theirs an eminently welcome contribution to a highly understudied field of enquiry.

(17-02-18) Articles to 2017-02-18

I have often criticised over reliance on and religious belief in computer models and shall probably continue to do so. Bassis and Chen however are two examples of well designed, simple, and comprehensible models that are actually helpful and explain a lot.

(17-02-12) Articles to 2017-02-12

Nothing much to comment on this week but one point I failed to make last week for lack of time.

(17-02-05) Articles to 2017-02-05

First the link to this week’s complete list as HTML and as PDF.

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Ordinary people’s choices are seldom as stupid and ill-informed as ivory-tower sociologists make them out to be. Are engineers really as sought after as Rozek et al. try to make out? From all I hear about career opportunities, pay offers, and forced early retirement, it does not look like it. What in American society are the real prestige jobs ...

(17-01-28) Articles to 2017-01-28

First the link to this week’s complete list as HTML and as PDF.

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Helen Czerski’s The Physics of Everyday Life is exceptionally cheap at only 11.24 € for the upcoming paperback. If it’s only half as good as Engel claims it is, it may make the ideal gift for less science oriented friends.

...

(17-01-22) Articles to 2017-01-22

First the link to this week’s complete list as HTML and as PDF.

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To my knowledge Croft et al. is the first report about a female menopause and grandmothering in a non-hominid species and should provide a good test for its differing explanatory hypotheses.

(17-01-15) Articles to 2017-01-15

First the link to this week’s complete list as HTML and as PDF.

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The first reports on oxytocin a few years ago led some to ideas, that a small addition to our drinking water or similar might solve all our social ills. As Samuni et al. demonstrate, the hormone and its Janus-faced counterside have been part of primate evolution for quite some time.

...

(17-01-08) Articles to 2017-01-08

First the link to this week’s complete list as HTML and as PDF.

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Cheon & Hong start from a plausible hypothesis – high ranking primates are known to monopolise high value food sources making it desirable for lower ranking ones to over indulge whenever there’s a chance. Unfortunately their study fails to prove their case and is systematically unsuitable for doing so. ...

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