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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.
The power of trance, deep meditation, and biofeedback to affect unconscious body reactions in trained individuals is well established. So it might well be possible to achieve the same result as Robinson et al. by non-physical means. As such their study might contribute to understanding Shamanic voyaging.
Braun et al. and other, similar results are frequently misunderstood in the yellow press. If there is a preexisting partial immunity, it has always been there and thus is already included in the initial estimate for R0. It does not reduce previous estimates for the rate of acquired immunity needed to achieve herd immunity.
Herd immunity has become a politically loaded term. so more and more recent publications talk about the disease becoming endemic instead. They mean one and the same thing. Any epidemic has two and only two possible end points. Either it becomes suppressed and exterminated or it becomes endemic. From the start nearly all experts were in agreement that for Covid it will have to be the latter. I have changed my opinion twice. First I concurred with the majority view, then the extraordinary and unexpected success of the first wave of lockdown worldwide proved me wrong. It could have worked, in New Zealand it has, at least for now. But then the politicians everywhere willfully threw away their win before the finishing line. By now that chance is over and gone. So this is the fact and that is where we inevitably shall be coming to.
Zhang et al. and Bastard & Rosen et al. are way off my area of expertise and can’t really evaluate them. The one diagram conspicuously missing from both is the relationship from prediction to outcome. There may just be some predictive value in their result, from what I can see it seems to be quite small, though.
In Ludescher et al. the tree ring results fit the other proxies quite well except for one single excursion around 1820. Different signals for different proxies are to be expected, seasonality alone accounts for them. In figure 4c by comparison their proposed correction gets rid of most of the 1820 excursion but at the price of fitting the rest of the times series markedly worse. In all I'm not convinced by their conclusion.
Shaus et al. list many caveats for their work themselves. Looking at their figure 3 I find it hard to decide, whether the differences seen are due to different writers or just different pens and surfaces. Separate block letters in place of joined-up writing are notoriously difficult for modern graphologists. Their result is possible but it’s probably best to treat it as an upper limit not a proven number.
Rich collectors want to own beautiful things. It has always been such. The whole pursuit of science goes back to the curiosity cabinets of the landed gentry.
Cohen & Kessel is another attempt to get a grip on false positive rates for Cov2. This question receives surprisingly little attention. On the other hand it seems only really relevant for Germany. All other countries I looked at get several percent positive results out of their applied tests.
Fetaya et al. looks in danger of becoming one more source for the prevalent cases of circular reasoning in the humanities. Taking a single, individual text it may well be possible to reconstruct missing parts with some confidence. But those reconstructions will then be similar to (proto-)typical examples of their genre. You'll hardly ever learn anything new this way. The danger lies in adding these reconstructions to the corpus of known texts and basing future guesses and putative readings on them.
Baron et al. is the wrong region for the main questions on the Bronze Age collapse, but if the most favoured explanations with a breakdown of trade networks are correct, we ought to see the same phenomenon of pure copper
“Bronzes” in the Middle East too. If not, the explanation is probably wrong after all.
Hamer et al. do it again: no data, no spread, no variability, no hint of predictive value, just regression coefficients. And with one single exception those are given as dimensionless numbers with no hint of the – different and incomparable – abscissal units used.
Sheridan et al. supply quantitative evidence for something that has long been well established anecdotally. Sweden has introduced no enforced restrictions but has issued recommendations and the Swedes have generally adhered to them. This makes a nonsense of the malevolent claims that Sweden had irresponsibly let the epidemic run unchecked. When people have been trained and trusted to take responsibility themselves instead of being accustomed to a pervasive Nanny State, their own considered judgement tends to be superior to some sweeping and all-encompassing formal ruling.
If the growing season effect on radiocarbon dating is as strong as Manning et al. suppose, then it ought to be as relevant for short-lived samples vs. tree ring calibration in Europe and elsewhere too.
If anything I find it reassuring that top-down organized brainwashing is less than perfect in manipulating basic attitudes and in changing behaviour in less closely observed and controlled circumstances. What does make me afraid – and not for the first time – is Paluck & Clark's uncritical applause for the rising number of these kinds of studies establishing the science behind and perfecting Orwellian thought control. The last sentence and conclusion of 1984 comes to mind.
Alright, the Solutrean hypothesis is out. Although I liked it a lot, I accept the compelling facts and arguments against. But then, how else do we explain Becerra-Valdivia & Higham's extended figure 4? If this finding is indeed valid, of which I'm still not quite convinced, what other hypothesis could explain it? Initial entry from the north-west, from Alaska, doesn't fit – whatever route and mode of travel we assume.
Models are not data. Treating model results as data leads to false conclusions. I have stated this simple fact many times and Smith et al. and Voosen provide another example for it being true.
I love Lubinski. His result confirms all my politically incorrect prejudices and vindicates the English usage, where contrary to the German
“Geisteswissenschaft” there is no “science” in the term “humanities”. I especially enjoy the result for law and find some – by now means all – of my old school teachers correctly described here.
Siegenfeld et al. talk a lot of sense about what models are, what they can and can't do, and what makes a good model. Unfortunately nothing of all that will be taken to heart outside the epidemiological community (if there) and climatologists will continue to treat models as date and even use them to correct actual data.
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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