Articles to 2019-01-20

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


If, as Castelvecchi states, the question of learnability is related to the mathematical continuum hypothesis, this raises an interesting consequence. Learnability is, at least in principle, amenable to an experimental determination. Mathematics as an abstract art allows two internally consistent systems, one with the continuum hypothesis axiomatically declared true and the other false. It should the be possible to decide which of these mathematical universes is realised in reality, in the real, material universe we live in.

In the related case of geometries our universe is closer to the dividing line than the precision of our measurement, so that no decision can be made. Personally I expect this to stay the case however much measurements may be improved and I anticipate the same to turn out for this new conundrum. If so this state of affairs may be more amenable to a theological than a scientific interpretation.


I must admit that Timm’s article is the first I've ever heard of B3j and even more so about de Moor's fascinating hypothesis. Contrary to Timm I don't see the newfound ostracon putting the hypothesis to rest – far from it. In his short summary of de Moor I see no reference at all to Moses' flight and stay in Midian, an important if not the most important part of the story. Looking at Ramses' declaration of victory at Kadesh I see nothing strange at all in declaring a successful fugitive killed, all the more so as this is not written by the king but by somebody summoned to the king to account for the execution of a command.

De Moor's book has been ordered and will appear in these lists quite soon.


Water availability and irrigation have a notable influence on δ13C isotope values and this must be considered as an important confounder. But as I already pointed out commenting on Wallace 2013 (list of 2017-01-15), their connection does not allow us securely to deduce irrigation or anything else from them. They do not say so in the abstract, but if you read them closely Flohr et al. admit the same in their current article.

Seeing Flohr et al. and also Rose et al. below, it seems that current methods of funding force scientific teams into making overblown and unrealistic claims to the detriment of all. At least the more honest ones among them leave enough clear hints in their publications for the diligent reader to get at the truth. But with academic pursuit and science having changed from a calling into a trade and career, it is the less diligent ones who make up the bulk of the readership.


For most of their existence since the advent of agriculture, and probably long before that, humanity have been straddling the Malthus limit with a small rich elite and most barely surviving and eking out a meagre existence. As Gregory Clark has shown in his A farewell to alms, this limit has only very recently been broken by the abundance created in the industrial revolution and even that in only a small part of the world. There is no guarantee at all for the persistence of this recent and exceptional state of affairs. In fact Woodard et al. see us falling back into misery quite soon.


Unless there is a significant radiogenic source for some isotopes, the isotopic composition of elements is solely due to fractionation and no help in provenancing is to be expected. This rule has again if unnecessarily been proved by Rose et al. Unless and until practitioners in the field finally come to grasp with what isotopes are and how they come about we shall continue to waste resources in fruitless exercises like this.


Cobo et al. still cling to the wave-of-advance model although their figures 3 a&b clearly show the now well established stop-and-jump advance. I'm also unsure about their main conclusion. In all the examples I'm aware of, cultural diffusion tends to be much slower than the movement of culture with people.

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