Articles to 2014-06-13

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

If the trace element concentration in grain is reduced, as Myers et al. find under elevated CO2 conditions, then just eat more of it. This may sound glib, but people having to cope with malnutrition at all, typically don’t just get too little zinc or something, they get too little to eat in total. Of course Myers et al. fail to give any numbers, but from Gifford et al. the yield in edible carbohydrates is typically increased by more than 10 %, and if this increase is used to mitigate malnutrition, the lack in trace elements will not be increased and may well be alleviated too.

I was planning to write a lengthy refutation of Schulte-Mecklenbeck et al. but having read it in detail just can’t be arsed. I have never ever before seen such a pile of utter rot. All it proves is, that starting from totally nonsensical premises you can reach any result you want. Proof in point: Using just their raw data, my own conclusion would be precisely the opposite of theirs.

I freely admit to it being purely subjective or even an unwarranted prejudice of mine, but I’ve always disliked the image of the dumb and brutish Neanderthal. In history it was ever the highly cultured civilisations, that were overrun and annihilated by cruel hordes, never the other way round, so why should it have been different in prehistory? Admittedly he is short on proof, but I like Langbroek’s hypothesis. Unfortunately we lack Aurignacian burials completely, but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised by a total absence of the loving care and tenderness frequently shown to old and injured Neanderthals and even Heidelbergensiens.

The most glaringly obvious deficiency in Freeman et al. and Wieman is, that all they compare are pass rates with a total disregard to the amount of content actually learnt. My own experience as a pupil is, that you will easily cover at least two to three times the amount of material in straight frontal lessons than when doing experiments, which is why I always found the latter exceedingly boring. In fact I experienced one bout of about four weeks of very brisk purely blackboard lessons in Chemistry, given as a punishment for very bad class behaviour and followed by a tasking test, where I learnt at least two years’ worth of normal lessons and which turned out to be about the four most enjoyable weeks of all my time in school. So what all this boils down to seems to be, that lowering the standards and reducing the amount of matter to be covered will improve pass rates, hardly a result worth writing about. The use of identical tests for both groups goes to confirm this. You can only test for something actually covered in class, so a group having studied this and this alone will certainly be at an advantage over another having done this and five other subjects besides.

Years ago there was a much publicised study on academic achievement of school pupils in England. Testing for a large array of possible influences they came up with one single reliable predictor alone: If academic achievement was considered important and relevant in the family, children do well, if not, they don’t. What Hsin & Xie’s and Zhou & Lee’s results boil down to is exactly the same thing.

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