Articles to 2011-09-01

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First the link to this week’s complete list.

Hamann et al. show that from the age of three years on human children are more willing to share unequal rewards if they are gained through cooperation than if by chance or lone effort while chimpanzees do not make this distinction. Seeing that foraging for fruit is a lone effort while hominids have relied on cooperation for millions of years this looks like a sensible adaptation. It might be an artefact of the setup though. Having noted that chimpanzees observed in the wild and in captivity often share freely while controlled experiments didn’t duplicate this, Horner et al. suspected the artificial conditions and changed the setup. They found a significant prosocial bias.

A fortnight ago I trashed the results by Entringer et al. and still do. That said O’Connell et al. demonstrate that stress in pregnancy does have deleterious results and confirm that these differ between boys and girls.

I’m rather unhappy about Marchant. Experimenting without ethical approval is a crime and there are methods to deal with it both inside and outside scientific institutions. The papers however seem to be correct and it is silly and childish to ignore them and deprive the public of valid and valuable results. Retractions should be based on content alone except perhaps in the case of plagiarism, if and only if identical results are easily available elsewhere. As to the checking of results by replication, this used to be the norm in the scientific age but currently can’t usually be done for lack of funding. Decades ago Richard Philipps Feynman already warned about the collapse of the scientific edifice for this very reason. Current financial and career pressures such as the complete demolition of the akademischer Mittelbau (permanent non-professorial scientific university posts) have raised the temptation for fraud to unprecedented heights.

Veerman et al. show that television does not only destroy the mind but the body as well. According to them every hour not watching TV does not gather just one hour for doing something better but twenty minutes more. They do lack a little precision, though. The five years of life lost by excessive viewing might as well be only eleven minutes according to their confidence interval. And it looks a lot like them applying Gaussian statistics to a Poisson distribution with their standard deviations reaching well into negative daily watching times, which seems like an interesting goal to achieve.

The main conclusion in Organ is convincing. In figure 1A H. sapiens is a clear and far outlier. The same can’t be said for figure 3A. Here H. sapiens and all the other hominids lie well inside the general scatter. The maths in figs 3B to 3G is nothing but a bit of showmanship and the same result as for sapiens would have been achieved for about half the other species.

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