Articles to 2016-08-28

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


Pavlicev & Wagner may be interesting, but is irrelevant IMHO. That tonsils and ossicles have their ultimate origins in gills may be so but tells us nearly nothing about their evolution and what they were selected for. The female orgasm seems to be a singular human trait, so tracing it back to something shared by all animals is no relevant explanation at all for its existence.


Apparently it takes four academics and a well publicised study by the university of Vienna to find correlations of excessive TV-viewing with being stupid and being misinformed. For the first I’m not too sure which direction the causality might go and the second seemingly is so novel and comes so unexpected that Till et al. was accepted by a reputable scientific journal. One part of their conclusion stands out. Apparently the answer for all problems is for Austria to produce more domestic TV programs. Lacking any receiver it seems I just don’t know what I’m missing.


Neanderthal body shape is often described as cold adapted. Others disagree and point out they were cool adapted only – lacking fur cover there is only so much physiological adaptation can achieve. Archaeology agrees that only modern humans can be shown to have inhabited really cold environments, Neanderthals were restricted to refugia in the cold episodes. While humans can be shown to have used fire for hundreds of thousands of years, it seems only moderns have achieved well insulated and heated dwellings and only they came up with close fitting sewn clothing to combat the real cold. This point of view seems to have gained additional support through the study by Collard et al.. That said I find their arguments singularly unconvincing. In the generally cooling trend of MIS 3 they compare two different time frames and their controlling for that is partial at best. As they admit themselves, a pure present/absent statistic is a poor measure of abundance. Species likely used for their fur alone are found quite frequently for Neanderthals too, even if less frequently at statistical significance (e.g. 20 vs. 42 % for mustelidae). And most of all there is a decided difference between caves and open air sites for both populations, but open air places are three times as frequent for moderns (25 vs. 7 %). Their table 5 tells us what fraction of canids was found in caves while the real question ought to be what fraction of caves contain canids. Reworking their table 5 we find:

Caves Open air
Mousterien Aurig./Grav. Mousterien Aurig./Grav.
Sites 66 % 64 % 7 % 25 %
Canidae 70 % 84 % 71 % 98 %
Leporidae 27 % 54 % 71 % 80 %
Mustelidae 22 % 36 % 71 % 75 %

So looking at caves and open air sites separately the difference between Mousterien and Aurignacien/Gravettien is still present but much smaller. (The first line is of course to be read the other way round and does not give the fraction of caves that are sites but the fraction of sites that are caves.) We also note that 27 % of Mousterien but only 11 % of Aurignacien/Gravettien sites were unspecified as to being open or closed and that many of the missing species seem to come from those less well reported ones when comparing the table above with their summary table 6. (This entry was slightly corrected on 2016-09-04.)


I agree with Ian Young that you ought not to draw far reaching conclusions from scant evidence. But then the same yardstick should be used to measure his own proof. When he compares the frequency of slight differences between supposedly word perfect copies of the same text to the occurrence of temporally diagnostic word forms in two entirely different sources describing the same event, that is about the worst example of apples and oranges I’ve seen in a long time.


Using the height of the Little Ice Age as the benchmark for their normal, Abram et al. see the trend to a warming climate beginning around 1850 and their normal range only left in the last few decades. If this is indeed driven by industrial carbon dioxide emissions, then their diagrams show an instant reaction to the first small increase and pronounced saturation of the effect the higher and more steeply the concentration rose.

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